Zoners, Part 3
Kin-Sol was playing the controls of his communications board as
if it were a concert
Somebody had thrown an alarm at the commissary. Yi-Koon hadn't reported back. He'd played back a portion of the computerized monitor footage in the dining hall which showed two desperadoes breaking in, raising hell, knocking out Kara Zor-El with a stunner, and making off with her.
His first action was to activate a satellite spy-monitor which gave him a panoramic screen-view of the entire studio grounds on a large hologram over his regular monitors. His next was to stab a button that connected him to the New Kandor police department.
"Kin-Sol. Trouble at the studio. Terrorists have kidnapped Miss Zor-El," he rapped, and knew the cops would arrive within seconds.
He next barked a comlink order to the entire studio security force. "Condition Four. Two terrorists at commissary. Kidnapping Kara Zor-El. Yi-Koon missing, probably at parking area. Find and confirm. Police arriving."
Then Kin-Sol thumbed off his send-switch and raked each monitor with his gaze. He swore, fluently.
He'd just picked up the motionless bodies of Yi-Koon and his men on the hologram.
Jax-Ur and Faora rushed out of the commissary, Jax carrying the unconscious Kara. General Zod was standing nearby, at the side of the building, holding a sweating Rol-Lorr in front of him with an arm across his throat and a stunner up against his head.
"Good work, Ur," Zod said. "We have one minute, liberal estimate, before enemy forces arrive."
"Where's the production facility?" rapped Jax, still holding Kara.
Rol hesitated, partly from fear of the situation, mostly because he would as soon feed his mother to a Drang as help these thugs.
But his son and Bar were still hostages, and now, so was he...and Miss Zor-El.
"Where is it?" yelled Jax. Faora stepped forward, menacingly.
Rol pointed. "That direction. Two buildings down. Let me go and I'll help you get in."
"You'll help us get in," growled Jax, as they started off at a run, and Rol knew that he'd have to help no matter what.
Alarm sirens were going off all over the studio. Ghi-Sonn III was in his office with a producer and turned away from him in mid-harangue, his hands still grabbing the man's collar. "Command," he said, giving his communicator the voice-signal. "Why's the alarm?"
"Incident at the commissary," said the computerized voice. "Replay of alert from <Kin-Sol, monitor control." The voice of Kin-Sol giving the alert was heard.
Ghi-Sonn, not thinking, threw the producer away from him. He grabbed the top of the boss's desk to keep from falling down.
"Holy sun of Krypton and mother moon," he swore. "Get me Security! NOW!"
Jax, Faora, Zod, and their two charges got into the tech building by shoving in Rol's wafer for an i.d., and, when the guard on duty hesitated, by Jax saying, "Get us in right now or I'll have Faora kill him." The doors whisked open. The five entered.
Zod rayed down two interior guards. The Zoners had held
Rol and Kara in front of them to block off the guardsmen's stunner beams.
They pushed past a fortyish, bespectacled, thoroughly terrified receptionist.
On the way in, Jax stopped, smashed her communications console with a blow
of his stunner, and said, "Take the rest of the day off, Madam. I'll
the boss you deserve it. Go!" She went.
Faora, now holding Kara with her arms thrust under the blonde's armpits, hit a door-opener button with her shoulder blade, swung in through the opening portal, and saw some drop-mouthed techs in the hallway. "Leave," she said, loudly.
They didn't have to be told twice.
Zod, still holding Rol-Lorr by the arm-bar across his neck, said, "Which way is your best shop-lab?"
Rol sighed. "Down this way, two doors to the right."
Zod turned his head. "Jax, get the ballast out of your bollocks. This way. Move!"
The shop-lab they entered was filled with equipment, lab materials, and about thirteen guys working on various aspects of a high-tech mockup of a New Martian spacecraft. They all looked up at the new arrivals. Jax held the door open.
"You've got one minute to get out of here or things are going to be very unpleasant. Move! Move! Move!"
Jax slammed and barred the door behind them after they had finished moving. Then he reached into his tunic and took out a small package wrapped in protective metal foil.
Faora had set the unconscious Kara Zor-El against a wall. The girl sat in a slumped position, her arms splayed and her knees together. Rol was out of Zod's grip, but still covered by his stunner. Faora looked at Jax.
"Let's get cracking," he said.
Nar-Es was outside the commissary, standing beside To-Bin, both of them wondering where the hell Kara had been taken to. Hi-Lor, the photographer, ran up to them. "I heard," he gasped, a stunner in his hand. "I heard. Where is she?"
Several security men came around the corner in a hovercar. "All of you, get back inside. This is an emergency," shouted one of them.
"Sheol with that. They've taken my girl," hollered Nar-Es.
"Get back inside, or I'll have you stunned," said the squad leader. "This is a terrorist situation."
To-Bin stepped closer to the hovercraft. "And this," he said, pointing to himself, "is the personal assistant to Ghi-Sonn III himself."
Hi jumped into the hovercar. "Take me with you. I've got to find her."
"No. Get out," snapped a guard, trying to shove him out. Hi braced himself and stuck his stunner against the guard's face. "We're wasting time," said the photographer.
"Frab it. If you get injured, the studio loses a million credits to insurance," said the leader. "Get out of the car."
"No," said Hi. "I hereby release the studio of liabilities
in the case of my injury or death.
Witnessed by Tanth To-Bin himself."
The guards were ready to fry eggs on their foreheads.
The leader sighed. "Get in and keep down, or I'll knock your brains out. Come on."
Nar-Es and To-Bin watched the hovercraft speed towards the lab complex.
At the same time the alert reached the cops, it was relayed by a hidden tap that could have gotten the tapper a year or two in the Zone himself. But Van-Zee considered it a necessity. The police didn't exactly disapprove of him, but their relationship wasn't nearly as cozy as Batman had with the police on Earth.
Van, a distant relation of Kal-El and Kara, was a virtual double of Superman. He was also a scientist, husband to an Earthwoman in Kandor named Sylvia, and father of two children, Lyle and Lili. He was also one thing more.
When the blinking light went off in his lab, Van quickly went to a safe, unlocked it, and took from it an earphone that connected him to the secret police channel. His eyes narrowed as he listened closely.
"Kara," he muttered.
Then he spoke a command in ancient Kryptonese, and a section of wall whisked open, admitting him, and whisking shut a second later. Van-Zee quickly strode down a dimly-lit hall, spoke another word, and went through a second opened door.
Before him was another chamber, fairly large and filled with various
vehicles, weapons, trophies, and costumes. He took one from a hanger
and donned it. It was black with a bird's emblem on the chest.
He took a dark cape scalloped to suggest the wings of a dark hunting bird,
and a cowl that hinted at the head of such a bird of prey, with a mask
that covered all his head except for his face below the nose. A dark
jet-belt completed the ensemble. Then he got into a
hovercar of ebon black, activated its engine, and tore off down a secret passageway that would open onto a secluded spot.
He thumbed on a communicator. The face of his partner Ak-Var appeared on a small screen. "What's happening?" said Ak.
"Somebody's at Ar-Rom Studios," said Nightwing. "Terrorists. Possible murder. And Kara Zor-El has been kidnapped."
"I'll be there," said Ak-Var, and faded from the screen.
And Nightwing sped on, confident that Flamebird would arrive as backup. He'd be needed.
Superman and Supergirl had given the Kandorians their new life on Rokyn. She was also a relative of Van-Zee's.
If the Dark Knight of New Kandor got his hands on the perps first, they'd be lucky to have ten bones intact among them.
Professor Vakox had cooked a few breakfast-pacs for himself and the two boys and ate with one hand while fixing the Phantom Zone projector with a tool in his other. The gun lay right in front of him, and neither Hal nor Bar were about to try and grab for it. It wasn't a stunner. It killed.
Finally, Vakox put down the long, narrow grasping tool, unscrewed a loupe from his eye, and sighed. He looked up. "We're going next door," he said. "Don't get any cute ideas, and you'll both stay healthy."
Bar was practically zombied with fear. Hal was scared, but had been calculating the chances for action after the other Zoners and his father had left. Every scenario involved taking a chance on Vakox opening up on them with the gun. It just wasn't worth it.
Hal stood up. Bar was still sitting against the wall. "Bar, get up," he said. He glanced at Vakox, who was holding the projector under one arm and the gun in his free hand. The professor did not look pleased.
"Get up, Bar," said Hal. He hooked an arm under his friend's armpit and hoisted him to his feet. Bar-Bann blinked, looked around.
"We're still here," he said.
"We're going next door," said Vakox. "Walk just in front of me."
The person next door was Old Man Es, who had been retired so long not too many people could remember what he had done. The presence of the threesome on his doorstep triggered a hum-tone and a hologram of them above the screen on which Es was watching a soap opera. He didn't know the guy too well, but he knew the two youngsters. They'd busted one of his creeping vines with a discus one day, and Tanthos Bann and Lorr had agreed the boys should repay him with a month's garden work...after both boys were able to sit down to eat.
The man must be a relative. Es peered a little closely at him. Looked a little familiar, but he'd be lucky to recognize his own grandson these days.
Es shuffled to the door and thumbed open both controls.
Hal wanted to tell Old Man Es to run. But he just didn't dare.
Va-Kox stepped in front of the boys, once inside, and stuck the gun in Old Man Es's face. "Give me your wafer," he said, tautly.
Es hesitated, his hands trembling.
"Come on, old man. I can take it from your hand, or take it off your corpse."
"No need," whispered Old Man Es, and took his credit wafer from his tunic pocket. It also served as an ignition key to his hovercar.
Hal and Bar were edging towards the door.
Va-Kox took the wafer, studied it for a second, and then put it casually in his tunic. Then he wheeled and smashed the old man over the head with the barrel of his gun. Es groaned and went down in a heap of senseless flesh. Blood came from a scalp cut.
The two boys broke and ran. They almost made it to the door control.
"Hey!" yelled Va-Kox.
A bullet caromed off the metal above the door control. The boys stopped running, and slowly turned. Va-Kox still held the gun, and it was smoking.
"Quit playing cute," he said, and marched the boys out to the garage. The three of them got into Es's hovercar. Va-Kox keyed in a coordinate for the car's route and it took off. He kept the Zone projector at his feet.
The gun was trained on the boys for the entire ride.
Inside the tech-lab of A-R Studios, Jax was working like a Trojan. Zod and Faora stood guard at the doors. The General admired Jax. This much pressure, and the man was doing precision work like the professional he always was.
They had disabled the cameras that would have given the cops and
monitor men a view of what the threesome were doing. They also plugged
the vents through which the police would have sent sleep-gas. Some
wiseguy had already cut the power to the building, but Jax and Zod
had hotwired an emergency generator to give them what they needed.
Zod, a master of military sabotage, had raided the cache of chemicals used for equipment maintenance and vid-development, taken what he desired, and left it in two plastic bags on the counter where Jax worked. He felt nostalgiac. It had been a long time since he'd really been able to use the tricks of his trade.
Kara still slumped at the wall near Faora, the stun-charge still good for the better part of an hour. Faora kept an eye on her. She was the one reason the New Kandor cops and militia hadn't broken in with full force yet.
Rol-Lorr had been stunned and laid out carelessly on the floor. He really didn't matter a damn to them.
"How much more time, Ur?" said Faora. She eyed the ceiling panels, figuring that an assault would probably come through there, if it came at all.
"Few minutes," muttered Jax, pulling the tail of his tunic up to wipe the sweat off his face.
Faora shifted her weight to her other foot. "You'd better hope Va-Kox can follow instructions."
Zod cut in, smoothing the waters. "Faora, my dear, the worst-case scenario is that we get sent back In. That's all they can do to us, barring an unfortunate accident if they do assault."
She snapped a venomous gaze to him. "They may have stunners, but they're authorized to use deadly force in capture," she said. "But I'll kill my share if that happens. Maybe even if it doesn't."
"Control, my dear," murmured Zod. "The most important weapon in a fighter's armory. Give Ur a little more faith, and a little more time."
Jax made another connection. He wasn't going to need much more time.
And Kara, slumped against the wall, sat and dreamed.
This is what she dreamed:
Kara found herself lying on a lumpy lawn of short but uncut blackish-green grass. The sky was dark, but there was a huge moon. Before her, some distance away, loomed two ramshackle houses. She shook her head and wondered what was happening.
"Suh, suh, she's here, Brother," said a voice. "Cuh-can I talk to her now?"
"You festering halfwit, she'd probably think she was stuck in an episode of 'I, Claudius' if you did," rasped another. "But rules are rules. We'll both speak to her."
Awake or adream, Kara had a quick reaction to the unknown. She whirled to face it, arm and fist raised, her body turned in a defensive stance.
This is what she saw:
Two men. One of them, rather short, definitely fat, with
black hair and beard, clad in a dark brown suit with a string-tie at his
collar, an oddly-shaped amulet serving as the tie-piece. His eyes
were large and gaped somewhat frightenedly at Kara, at the other man, and,
presumably, at everything else he gazed upon. A small, gold-colored,
chirping beastie of some sort perched on his shoulder. There were
guano marks on that shoulder, but the short, fat man didn't appear to
notice or care. Kara guessed that he was the stutterer.
The other one was taller and lankier, with wolfish brown hair
and beard, a prominent nose upon which gold-rimmed glasses perched, a fawn-colored
coat with four pockets on its front, a black shirt with no buttons, fawn-colored
pants, and brown cowboy boots to complete his ensemble. He stood
in a more easy, angular fashion, and his look of casual cruelty was almost
innocent. Almost. Kara pegged him as the insulting one.
"Tell me where I'm at and who you are," she said, evenly.
The lean one spread his hands and began, "Well, Miss Zor-El, allow me to welcome--"
"Yuh, you're in the Dreaming, Miss Zor-El," burst in the fat one, pushing eagerly in front of his brother. "We've buh, been asked to g-give you some info, info--"
His speech was cut short by a hand across his mouth. The lean one pulled him back by the collar. "Pardon my brother, miss, but if we waited on him you'd be awake before you could learn anything. This is the Dreaming, and we're the owners of those two fine houses you see over there. He owns the one on the right, with the junk out front."
Kara looked. Some old tires and trash had appeared on its lawn, but she could swear that it hadn't been there when she first looked.
The fat one looked dejected. "Th-that's not fair, brother," he said. "I had it all, all tidied up for her and you go and duh-dump that junk on it."
Kara walked up to within three feet of them, and stood with her hands on her hips. "I don't have time for this. What am I doing here, and what business do you have with me?"
"Yuh-you're dreaming, Miss Zor-El, we told you that," said Fat, smiling shyly at her.
"For once I agree with my brother," said Lean. "Yes, Miss Zor-El, you are dreaming. Our boss asked us to look after you while you're here today, and to help you out a bit."
Kara ran a hand through her hair. "Is this some gimmick another idiot villain has cooked up for me? Are you Lesla-Lar in drag, or something?"
The fat man chuckled. The lean man looked at him and his lips peeled back from his teeth. Then he caught himself and turned back to Kara.
"No, Miss Zor-El," said Lean. "Really, there's a lot I can't say to you, because I'm going to have to let you remember some things once you leave. This is on the level. You can regard us as friends."
"Uh, I'm your friend," said Fat.
"Will you shut up, you inglorious imbecile??" raged the bespectacled man, shaking his brother by the lapels. "I'm trying to give her some information here, and you're stuttering as repitiously as a woodpecker hammering at a log!"
Then Lean found himself pulled away by two strong, feminine hands. Kara Zor-El looked down at him coldly and decisively, and he suppressed a gulp.
"What have you got to say to me? And quit yelling at your friend," she said.
The littler man sighed and straightened his coat a bit. "He's my buh, brother," he explained.
"Then quit yelling at your brother. It isn't nice. And spit it out, whatever you've got to say." She looked at Fat. "Or better yet...you tell me."
The lean man didn't say a word. With a more calm air, his rotund brother began.
"You, uh, did our boss a good turn a while back. We can't talk about it, but he still really appreciates it. He says to tell you hi, and his sister says hi too. Anyway, when you wake up, you need to know that there are four of these Zuh, Zoners around, and they're holding you hostage, and that man, and his son, and another kid. There's a lot of people trying to get you out of this mess, and one of them's that Batman fella."
"His name is Nightwing!" yelled Lean.
"Shut up!" yelled Kara, and Lean shut up.
The fat man continued. "They're going to try something really nasty, and yuh, you're going to have to try and stop them when you wake up. But you can't wake up for a while yet, 'cause you're still asleep. But it's like, real, real important that you stop them. And that's all."
She turned her head from one to the other, and then back again.
"So, do you know what this really nasty thing is that I'm going to have to stop?"
"Oh, yes," said Lean, emphatically.
"Yuh, yuh, yes we do," confirmed Fat.
She waited. Finally, she said, "Well, what is it?"
Lean spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "We can't tell you."
"Well, why not?"
"Buh, buh, because it'd ruin the story," said Fat, and his gargoyle pet chirped agreement.
Kara dropped her jaw down to her belt-buckle. But these two guys were giving her a look of utmost seriousness. This must be a dream. That was all there was to it.
"Well, is that all?" she asked, half in resignment and half in exasperation.
Lean put his hand behind his back, and drew it back again with a small wine glass full of reddish liquid. "No, Miss Zor-El. Here, drink this. It will allow you to remember something of what you have learned here. Here, please. Drink it."
She looked at it quizzically. If this was a hoax, if this was some nutcase from her past offering her a glass of poison...
Fat broke the silence. "Guh, go ahead Miss Zuh, Zuh, Zor-El. It's not poison. My bro, bro, brother is telling the tru, tru..."
Kara sighed, took the glass, and drained it.
It tasted hot, but not unpleasant. She didn't feel woozy, or smarter, or weaker, or stronger. Well, whatever effects it had would just have to be checked out in the long run.
This just had to be a dream.
Fat had a flower in his hand, and he was holding it out to her. "Muh, muh, Miss Zor-El, I just wanted you to have this before you go. It's a, uh, moly-flower. I borrowed it from my br-brother's garden, but I'm giving it to you, so it can be from us both."
Lean's eyes widened to an astonishing degree. "From my garden?
You went and took something from my garden, you idiot? Tramping around
in your big, oafish feet? Did I tell you to do that? Well,
I'm going to give you a damned big reason to wrap a string around your
finger not to forget next time!" And with that, he leaped on his
brother, bore him to the ground, and
started pummeling him. Fat was bawling. Lean reached out his hand towards a rock on the ground.
He found his hand caught by the wrist.
Kara Zor-El yanked him up, hard enough to dislocate his shoulder. She held him two inches off the ground, her hand grabbing his shirt under the collar, and the blood drained from his face. "Let's see how you like it," she said, and drew back her fist and smashed him in the face.
Lean went sprawling on the ground, his nose broken, blood streaming from his nostrils, his glasses knocked away, tears streaming to his eyes. "Don't hit me!" He begged. "Please don't hit me again!"
The blonde beauty stepped up, about to give him the clincher, when Fat threw himself between them. "Please don't hit my brother!" he begged, not stammering at all. "Please don't! He's my bestest friend in the whole, wide world!"
Kara stopped, wondering if anything in this crazy dream was going to make sense. She looked at Lean. "If you hassle your brother again, I'm going to knock your head down till the top of it's level with your shoulders. Clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Lean, meekly.
Fat gently helped Lean up, taking his hand. "Huh, here, brother. Here's your suh, spectacles. Let's get you inside and put a wet washrag on your nuh, nuh, nose there."
"Oh, gods, take me in my house, not yours, you booby," protested Lean, holding his bleeding snoot with both hands. They walked off. As they did, Kara saw the gargoyle on Fat's shoulder turn and give her a wink.
Then she sat cross-legged on the ground and waited for herself to wake up.
Nightwing and Flamebird had talked to the head of the emergency police squad on comlink and asked to get a first crack at the problem. Knowing their record, and knowing that, for some unworldly reason, the Chief of Police had a benign relationship with those two idiots in masks, the task force leader had said, "Fifteen minutes. Then we go in."
The two heroes had activated their jet-belts and soared into the air, landing on the roof of the building in question. It was already surrounded by a force of police and militia, with a few security men and one kid holding a stunner for flavoring. Some of the men looked up, particularly the ones who had only heard of the two masked men, and silently saluted them.
The Kandorian crimefighters had each broken out a heat-and-motion detector from their utility belts, keyed its controls to detect human warmth and motion range, and, holding the small devices in their palms, ran them over the top of the building. Flamebird's flashed yellow over one section. He motioned to his partner. "Over here, Wing," he said.
Nightwing quickly made his way over. Flamebird was scurrying over the area, determining the dimensions of the room. He looked up at his grim companion. "So you want to go in here, through the ceiling?"
"No," said Nightwing, and walked over to the spot over an adjoining room. He stamped his foot. "We go in here, through the ceiling. And then through the wall."
Both men replaced the detectors in their belts, took out small laser-torches from another compartment, plugged them into small power packs at the sides of their belts, and went quickly to work on the roof.
Hi-Lor anxiously tried to catch sight of the two heroes, but they had moved out of his range of view on the rooftop. He stood, stunner in hand, side by side with the squad of security men and the cops and militiamen, and licked his dry, cracked lips. He wondered, crazily, if they'd make a movie about the events of this day. And if so, he wondered who would play his part.
He also considered things to be really unfair.
It just wasn't right for a nice lady like Miss Zor-El to be kidnapped, on the very day when you finally admitted to yourself you had a crush on her.
Inside the lab room, Jax-Ur, making a last connection, looked up. Zod was coming back in the doorway backwards, dumping a trail of fine grey powder from the developers' lab behind him. He trailed it almost all the way to the tabletop where Jax was working, then sat the bag containing the rest on the floor near the end of the powder trail.
He smiled like a nostalgia freak at an antique film festival. "Ah, Faora. Did I ever tell you about the Lurvan campaign? I tell you, it was just there that I really put that sabotage op to its best use..."
"I've heard it," said Faora. "Half a million times I've heard it. Write your memoirs when we're finished. How about it, Jax? Are you finished?"
Jax-Ur looked up. "I am. Get the girl and take your places." He tore open the metal foil from the package which had been in his tunic, clasped it in a two-pronged grasping tool, and eased it into an open area within the device he had just completed. Then he slammed the casing shut over it. It wasn't as much power-element as was used in a standard set, but, with the added resistance he had crafted, it should work.
Faora and Zod were standing in front of the device now, with Kara, still sleeping but seeming to stir, held in Zod's arms. Jax-Ur threw a switch. Then he took his place in the spot where his allies and Kara had been.
Then only one man remained in the room, and that was Rol-Lorr, and he was still unconscious on the floor.
And the device, still left on, was beginning to heat up. The plastic bags of chemicals on either side of the contraption began to sear and smoke.
The substances within them began to bubble.
Nightwing and Flamebird had dropped into the office adjacent to the lab where the Zoners worked. Now both of them finished spreading a thin trail of acidic mixture on the wall between the rooms, in an arc pattern that would eat away the two thin up-and-down strips of the wall five feet apart and the connecting portion above the two strips. It would allow them to make a brand-new doorway.
They silently watched the acid do its work, bubbling away at the wall material. They dared not let it eat all the way through, lest the smell or sight of its action on the other side clue the terrorists in on their operation.
Flamebird looked at his partner. Nightwing crossed two fingers of his right hand, the go-ahead signal.
Both of them charged at the wall, smashed into it between the acid-ravaged portions with one shoulder apiece, and crashed through like a two-lobed wrecking ball.
They hit the floor, expecting stun-fire or something deadlier, and rolled, then leaped up, belt-weapons at the ready, in crouches.
Flamebird saw an unconscious man on the floor.
Nightwing smelled smoke, poked his head above a lab table, and saw no one else occupying the room.
Instead, he saw a jerry-rigged projector, still stabbing forth a white beam. Two plastic bags full of heated liquid were on either side of it, boiling and bubbling, heated by the active elements of the projector.
"Somebody's over here!" called Flamebird.
"Get out! Booby-trap!" yelled Nightwing, at the same time.
And the projector went up in a pillar of fire.
And the scattering blaze touched the incendiary chemical trail Zod had thoughtfully left for it on the lab floor.
Almost before they could hear the roar, the two masked men witnessed a vision of Hell.