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Quick summary: mind-controlling alien invaders are attacking the Earth, and I was worried it'd be just me, Hybrid, and Gearbox trying to save the world by ourselves.
Well, it turned out the three of us didn't have to fight off the whole alien invasion all by ourselves. Turns out there were seven of us.
I exaggerate a bit. No non-humans were affected by the mind control,
which includes us, the Unearthlies, the Ethereals, most of the
Darksiders, the Society of Lycaon, Gorillopolis, anyone in
Atlantis or Draculopolis, and various other heroes and villains. That's actually a
pretty good number of metas to fight off an invasion force.
none of them are here in Metro City to help us out. And we really do
need help bad. 'Cause about the time we realize the Thrugs are up
there, they realize they've got a city full of mind-controlled slaves to
turn against us. So Hybrid, Gearbox, and I get stuck
having to fight off and escape from Iota, Daphne,
Black Hat, Shrieker, and Warzone, as well as a couple dozen
On the bright side, they use very few of their
special powers -- Warzone doesn't fire any rockets, Iota doesn't use his
neural stunners, Black Hat doesn't scramble Gearbox's diodes again.
Shrieker gets off some screams, but they're mostly unaimed. Daphne gives
us the most trouble because all she has to work with is punching
people, and while she's not really superstrong, being completely indestructible means she can punch a hell of a
lot harder than a normal human. I finally end up dropping an ice
coating all over the ground, and the three of us beat a fast retreat
while they're all slipping and sliding.
Things are a little
chaotic for a few minutes. Every time anyone sees us, they start heading
after us, all blank-eyed and emotionless. Not too hard to avoid them
-- a few more ice patches, and we duck down an alley while everyone else
slides on the ice.
And actually, things get a bit scary when
Squid Kid shows up. She's having no trouble at all using her powers --
she's got all her tentacles out, and unfortunately, mind-controlled
Lenore Pittman is a hell of a lot more ruthless than non-mind-controlled
I'm not particularly surprised that Lenore is an
effective combatant -- I saw her wrap up a full dozen of the Clone
Ranger's duplicates last time he blew through town, and that was with
only eight arms to do it with. But I'm surprised how close she comes to
taking us all down solo. She has all three of us tied up very rapidly,
and we're fortunate that Gearbox has his head screwed on straight --
metaphorically speaking. He launches his head at her on an
eight-foot-long spring and knocks her unconscious.
incident is incredibly unnerving for Hybrid and me. In Hybrid's case,
it's because she and Squid Kid are friends, and she couldn't bring
herself to strike a friend. For me, it's more a matter of Lenore's
complete silence and unemotional detachment as she attacked us -- Lenore
is a wisecracker by nature, prone to laughing and
throwing off distracting patter both in and out of fights, and the idea
of a dead-serious and dead-silent Squid Kid really threw me off.
we get out of Lenore's tentacles, Gearbox heads straight for the
nearest building -- a now-empty auto shop. He drags us into a
back office where we aren't visible from outside the building. "For
now, I suspect the only way any of them can track us is by sight," he
says. "Better to lay low as long as we can."
"Thisshh ishh really
bad," Hybrid says. She's nervous as hell and her fangs are out, but she
doesn't seem to be in a berserker rage -- just agitated and scared.
"What the heck do we do?"
"I wish I knew," I say. "We need to
calm down as much as possible, Hy, so claws in, if possible. We need to
figure out how we can do something about the Thrugs, and I've got no
clue about how to do that. None of us can even fly up there, can we?"
actually can configure myself into a helicopter,"
says Gearbox. "But it's a very small helicopter that can only carry one
person. But I think we should focus on finding the other non-human
heroes in Metro City to see if we can help keep them safe."
"Yeah, they can help fight the Thrugs, too," I say. "Can't do much with just three people."
there'ssh the three of ussh," says Hybrid. "And there'ssh... I'm
drawing a blank on any othershh. Are there any otherssh?"
"Telepathy won't work on Jonni Rotten's brain," says Gearbox.
also isn't supposed to work on anyone using a psi-scrambler," I say.
"But Iota was in lockstep with the rest of them back there."
often neglects to turn on his psi-scrambler," says Gearbox. "We can't
know if he was mind-controlled because he left his scrambler off or
because his scrambler was ineffective."
"That'shh our problem," says Hybrid grimly. "Not enough evidenssshe for anything."
"True enough," says Gearbox. "I can
tell you that this seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. Global
broadcast chatter has come to a near complete stop, but automated
satellite imagery does show Thrug ships all over the planet. This is a
"And we've already loshht, haven't we?" asks Hybrid.
if we can't organize," I say. "And we'll have to start doing that on a
local level. Think it's safe to hit the Panic Button, Gearbox?"
good to me," he says. "The Thrugs' technology lets them travel the
galaxy, but communications have always been one of their weak points.
I'd be willing to bet they're not monitoring the airwaves at all."
antenna rises from one side of his head, and a yellow light at the end
flares up bright. "Attention to all non-human Metro City heroes or
anyone else unaffected by the Thrug mind control: please join us in the
back office of the auto shop at the corner of 28th and Binder. Please
There's a crackle from a speaker in Gearbox's
chest. "You idiots!" Jonni screams at us. "They're monitoring the
airwaves this time!"
The plate glass window in the front of the shop explodes, the office door splinters, and Express is in the room with us.
don't know if you've any idea how terrifying it is to face a
speedster in combat. They can see almost every attack coming, and they
have no trouble avoiding you -- but you have almost no chance of
countering their attacks. It's like being in the middle of an angry mob.
Even if you're tough enough to withstand a dozen attacks per second,
you've still only got a couple of seconds before they run out, research
your weaknesses, and come back with something that will hurt you. It's not impossible to beat a speedster, but it is usually pretty damn hard.
only element in our favor right now is that Express isn't actually in
control of himself at all. If he were, he would've known not to start
out on Hybrid. It isn't that she's particularly well-suited for fighting
him -- in fact, after a staccato flurry of thumping noises that seem to
come from nowhere, she's thrown against a wall, covered in cuts and
contusions that haven't had time to start bleeding yet.
jumps on Express -- of course, someone with a computer brain would
have the only chance of figuring out where a speedster would be. Again,
it doesn't do much good -- it takes a few seconds, but he ends up
largely dismantled and flung all over the office.
Express turns on me, his face completely emotionless, his body blurring as he begins to accelerate.
should've started with me. I've had time to prepare for him now. And
this office isn't large enough for him to avoid the ice coating the
Derek probably could've gotten out of something like this
under normal conditions -- I suspect that slick floors are the type of
thing that speedsters learn how to avoid early in their careers -- but
when he's being controlled by alien invaders who don't have his
experience with superspeed? No way.
He skids right into my fist, and he goes down for the count.
I wish that was all there was to this, but there are almost certainly
more mind-controlled people on the way, both normals and superhumans.
Gearbox is scattered all over the floor trying to piece himself back
together, and Hybrid is just getting to her feet, healing fast but in
full berserk combat mode, all yellow eyes, fangs, claws, and foaming
"Hybrid, calm down, please, we don't have time for this," I plead.
"Shhnaaarr," she snarls. "Guh-gonna rrrrip him, gonna tearrrr..."
Hy, whatever you do to calm down, do it now, please, please." If
anyone else comes through that door, we're all done for.
shudders, gnashes her teeth at me. At my feet, Gearbox has fitted most
of his torso, most of his head, and part of one arm back together.
"Shhhyaaaa," she slurs, "Shhing. Shhhing shhomething for mee!"
"What? I -- I don't know any music. Hybrid, I've never been able to sing at all!"
a click on the floor as the last piece of Gearbox's head snaps in
place, then a burst of static, then he starts to play some kind of
classical music. The effect on Hybrid is almost instantaneous -- she
throws her head back, gives one big full-body
shudder, then goes up on both toes and does a series of quick
pirouettes. When she slows to a stop, she's completely back to normal
"Thanks so much, Gearbox," she says, dropping to the
floor next to the robot's head. "I owe you big time. Did you tune into a
"No, I have a wide selection of music on my
playlist," said Gearbox. "But I suspected you might appreciate something
by Gounod. Quickly, can you find a large box? It's
taking too long for me to put myself back together, and we should get
out of here as fast as we can."
"Don't leave too fast," says a voice from the doorway. "You might miss your ride."
Wheelman and Jonni. Glad to see both of them, but a bit surprised to
see Greg. The guy looks perfectly human to me -- maybe he's a
genetically engineered lifeform, like Hybrid?
idiots," rages Jonni as she pushes past Greg into the office. "Why would
you even risk using a cell phone during an alien invasion?!"
out, Jonni," says Gearbox, sounding a bit irritated as Hybrid starts shoveling him into a nearby
trash barrel. "The Thrugs have never managed to tap even the simplest
Earth cell network before. How could we have known they would've changed
their game now?"
"Your first clue should've been the fact that
they were using mind control when they've never done it before," yells
Jonni. "And your second should've been that they were kicking our
asses, which they've also never done before! Should've been a good sign
that they'd finally brought their A-game, right?"
"Yo, Gearbox, you alright?" says Wheelman. "Looks like you went all to pieces on us."
ha, it is to laugh," says Gearbox. "Not sure we have time for much
banter, Greg. We should get to your car before any other Thrug attacks."
with me," says Jonni, turning to look outside. "We gotta find some
place to hide out. Hey, there's Squiddie. Nice to see you finally made
"Ahh, dammit!" Hybrid yells. "Dammit, dammit, dammit!"
"She's with them!" I shout, "The Thrugs got her! Watch out!"
get through the office doorway and get ready to fling some ice shards
at her. She's just outside the garage, balancing about ten feet off the
ground on six of her tentacles. By now, she's had her tentacles out long
enough for her to shift into her quasi-demonic, oily-black-skinned, grinning monster form, and
she's lit by the garage's flickering fluorescent lights. She looks like
something out of a horror movie.
"Am I the only one here leaking fluid?" asks Gearbox. He picks the damnedest moments to exercise his sense of humor.
calm," Squid Kid says in that bizarre three-part vocal chorus she does
whenever she gets like this. "I am here in good fellowship to offer
"Wait, wait," says Hybrid. "Is she mind-controlled? I haven't heard any of them talk yet."
am not mind-controlled," says Squid Kid. "Although in a way, I am, but
in other ways, I am not. This will require explanations, will it not?"
"What the hell?" says Wheelman. "Lenore, what's up? Why are you talking that way?"
person you know as Lenore Pittman is currently controlled by outside
forces," she says. "I am called Tu'golaxug of the Outer Reaches by the
cosmic dust creatures of the Dimension of Screams. I am the entity
bonded to Lenore and responsible for her powers. But her mind has been
suppressed by artificial means and, though I am normally dormant and
passive within her, I was able to take over her motor functions when her
appearance finally took on an aspect similar to my own. I am ready now
to assist you in your efforts to halt this current crisis and restore my
friend Lenore to her usual high-spirited nature."
If this were a
comic strip, there would be a beat panel right here -- nobody saying
anything, just looking stunned and blinking
"What the hell did you just say?" yells Jonni angrily.
Kid takes a deep breath. "The person you know as Lenore Pittman is
currently controlled by outside forces. I am called Tu'golaxug of --"
"I heard you before!" says Jonni. "I want it to make sense this time!"
don't think we have time for long explanations," I say. "She's on our
side -- that's gotta be good enough until we can get to safety. Where's
your car, Wheelman?"
"It's the sweet Escalade across the street," says Greg.
of course, the universe picks that moment to screw us again. Miss
Mega ends one of her superjumps by landing on the Escalade and crushing
it into scrap.
And hey, just 'cause things couldn't be bad
enough yet, she shows up with way too many of Metro City's heroes and
villains -- Chrome Cobra, Atlas, the Star, Gamma Girl,
Penitente, Devil Wasp, Malice, Vertigo Man, Strych-9, Black
Hat, Big Earl, the Candyman, Electroshock, Johnny Staccato,
Metalhead, Splatter, and probably more on the way. None of them say a
word, and they've all got the same dead-eyed stare. They're all
powering up energy beams or readying weapons or picking up terrifyingly
large objects to throw at us. They're moving like they're all
synchronized -- they're all going to attack at the same time. You can
almost hear the metronome counting down.
We are so dead.
There's a flash of light.
we're not dead. We're somewhere else entirely. A high-tech bunker of
some kind, with rough-hewn rock walls. All six of us are standing on a
metal matter-transport platform.
"I was lucky to retrieve you
when I did," says a liltingly accented voice from a shielded chamber
near the back wall of the bunker. "But I've only earned us a temporary
It's a woman, seven feet tall and bizarrely thin,
wearing a red costume that's simultaneously beautifully regal and
armored like a tank. She has long blonde hair, pale green skin, no nose,
and gigantic black eyes. Four arms, seven digits on each hand, nine
joints on each finger.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Nebular Kha'an,
better know to the world as Princess Nebula, stranded alien turned
"Princess Nebula, nice to see
you," says Gearbox. "Let me get my legs reattached, and I'll be glad to
kick your butt back to the Large Magellanic Cloud."
remind all of you, very quickly, that I just saved you all from certain
defeat, if not outright destruction," says Nebula. "Try to use your
vaunted machine logic for once, Gearbox."
"So wait, Princess Nebula was behind this all along?" asks Wheelman. "What about the Thrug ships orbiting the planet?"
could you all try to be somewhat less stupid than the average
superhero?" says Nebula. "I estimate we have less than five minutes
before my teleportational beam is tracked to this location. I have
information to impart, and we all have limited time to prepare."
"Fine," I say. "Spill and make it quick."
"Thank you," she says. "First and most obviously, I am not behind the invasion, and I am not
affiliated with the Thrugs. They and my people have been enemies for
centuries, and I have no interest in aiding them in conquering a world
that I intend to rule over myself someday. As for what you Earthers are
doing here -- well, I need allies right now. There are allies I'd rather
have, but they're either being controlled by the Thrugs, or they're too
widely scattered. There were six of you in one place -- better to use
one teleportal beam to get all of you than to use multiple beams that
would make it even easier for the Thrugs to latch onto my signal."
"Okay, so do you have some sort of safe haven we can get to?" Hybrid asks. "Or a hidden ship?"
"No, nothing of the sort," says Nebula.
did you just give us a five-minute postponement from getting
slaughtered?" asks Jonni. "If they're going to find us in a few minutes
and we've got no way to escape, they're going to send in a bunch of the
really big guns to wipe us all out!"
"No, you ridiculous
dessicated skank, I have a real plan for victory," sneers Nebula. "I'm
going to teleport all of us onto the bridge of the Thrug flagship! We
can either destroy their control beams there or cripple the invasion by
destroying the enemy generals!"
"I do not perceive the purpose of that action," says Squid Kid -- or rather Tu'golaxug.
"What are you talking about?" scoffs Nebula. "You don't perceive the -- Wait a moment, you -- you aren't Squid Kid, are you?"
a good plan, Too'go -- Tu'guxal -- Tu'golaxug," I finally manage to
choke out. "It's the obvious location for the Thrugs' mind control
"The Thrugs don't have a mind control weapon," says Tu'golaxug. "Perhaps you are not able to perceive that?"
"Wait, what are you talking about?" says Wheelman.
have senses far beyond what any of you possess," she says. "The mind control signal is being broadcast
from the Thrug ships, but it is not technological in origin, and if I
remember what Lenore had learned previously, the Thrugs are not capable
of natural psionics."
"Gearbox, is she correct?" asks Jonni.
"I really don't know," says Gearbox. "My own senses can't determine that. It is possible, though. The signal is... unusual."
"Can you amplify it so we can hear it?" I ask.
don't have time for this," says Princess Nebula. "They'll triangulate
our location soon. We should teleport into the Thrug ships while we have
"One moment, Princess, please," says Gearbox. "Yes, I can amplify the signal. Listen."
comes out of his chest is... well, it's music. Some kind of pipes. Someone plucking a string instrument. Not really a
great tune, but it's music all the same.
"Goddamn," says Greg. "I know where that's from. Nebula, I need to borrow your car."
don't have a car," says Nebula curtly. "And the Thrugs have a lock on
us. Sensors indicate there are at least a dozen speedsters tunneling
down to our location. We've got 90 seconds, probably less."
"What do you mean you don't have a car?" says Wheelman.
"I don't have a car," says Nebula. "Cars are stupid."
"Okay, anything with wheels."
species evolved beyond wheels when you humans were still stuck in the
trees," says Nebula. "We need to beam out of here now."
"Like hell," says Greg. "Gearbox, can you shapeshift into a car?"
"I can," says Gearbox. "I can only carry two people, maximum. Sorry, but I'm just not that large a robot."
"As long as you have four wheels and a steering wheel," says Greg. "Everyone gather around."
While Gearbox starts re-configuring himself, Hybrid says, "Greg, what's up? Time's running short, man."
running too short for explanations, actually," says Wheelman as Gearbox
finishes turning himself into a red-and-yellow two-seater dune buggy.
"G-Man, I'll apologize in advance for this, but it's absolutely
"I don't know what you'd have to apologize for, Greg," says Gearbox.
for getting us all killed," says Princess Nebula. "We have less than a
minute, and I don't know why we're wasting time with this. There aren't any roads out of here,
Greg gets into Gearbox's driver's seat. "Hybrid, get in now," he says. "Okay, Gearbox, I need you to get bigger, please."
"This is really my maximum size, Greg," says Gearbox. "Sorry, but I simply can't grow larger."
"Gearbox, man, just listen to me. Get bigger, please."
"Yes, Master," says Gearbox. And damned if he doesn't actually grow larger. He's got a back seat now with an extra two seats.
"Everyone get in," says Wheelman. "Gearbox, get larger, please."
Master," says Gearbox, quickly adding another two seats in the back as
we all pile in. "I don't know how I'm doing this. And I also don't know
why I keep calling you master, Master."
"Because right now, you're a car," says Greg. "And there's nothing I can't do with a car."
now, all of us heroes have gotten in, and Gearbox is growing a roof,
doors, windows, windshield wipers, fuzzy dice, cup holders, and a new
paint job that looks like a winged sandal. A small forest of
pine-scented air fresheners have sprouted up around Jonni. Nebula is
still outside the car gawking at us.
"Princess Nebula," Wheelman says as the bunker starts to rumble, "We have 20 seconds. Get in the car now."
she climbs into the back seat, Nebula says, "I don't understand any of
this. What use is this? We're inside an underground bunker. Where are
we going to go?"
Greg adjusts the rear-view mirror. "We're going to go meet my family," he says.
He turns the ignition and revs the engine. He shifts into drive and punches the gas.
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