<--Previous: For Whom the Bell Trolls
"You can't just burst into every dive in Centropolis and hit targets like a pair of crazed ninjagirls!"
"It was fun," Aly says.
Granny frowns, and Sarah's expression turns hangdog. Awhile later, she turns to Aly and says, "It was fun, huh?" Aly has moved on. She sits with cryptic expression in her yellow-green eyes and does not respond.
Granny Flat moves like paper, flows with the breeze, slips under the cracks of doors and yet her punch packs the full strength of a healthy if, admittedly, elderly woman. She's a two-dimensional character, but not in the way most people imagine. Granny exists in two different dimensions, aspects of her appearing in our world, others existing in a wholly other universe.
She has been much studied, one of two humans on earth—- still living-- with bodies known to contain non-baryonic particles, exotic matter. A similar particular blend caused the Dimensional Man, aka "D-Man," to explode, littering Centropolis with tiny deposits of exotic fairyplainium that took months for The Custodian-- that oddest of champions, who helps clean up after superhero fights and metahuman disasters-- to gather. Mixed with conventional gamma rays, those particles played a role in the creation of GammaGirl, too. She can fly, for example, because of the exotic matter's gravity-repelling properties.
Metaman and his teenage cousin, Metagirl, can fly, but no one has yet explained the complexities of their Rubidian physiology. As near as anyone could tell, he's "Because-he-can-man."
The effects of exotic matter on GammaGirl's body and Granny's marigolds have drawn a great deal of attention.
The old Bookreader Building boasts a fine, Edwardian spire and a patterned blend of gold and red bricks. Pillars frame the weathered doorway. It stands at Buckeye and Eleventh, where crowds now gather. Along the sidewalks people have placed flowers and photos and cards, Lady Amazonian action figures and dolls and paraphernalia. Bristol board collages from schoolchildren. Here and there people stop and snap photographs. GammaGirl knows to expect flashes as she lands, the sounds of clicking cameras, and she retains her composure.
She hasn't spent time at the location. She's a superhero, not a detective. The Masked Owl has already examined the site in detail. Metaman and Metagirl swept the area with microscopic vision. Sara Okumura and Granny Flat processed the data. It hasn't occurred to her that she could bring more than her zeal to find Lady Amazonian's killer and, if she's lucky, throw a few punches, zap a few force-bolts, kick some supervillain butt.
She becomes aware of something, movement in her body, a wave of electricity. She feels impending panic and then, firm resolve, wondering if she, too, has been targeted. Litter moves around her. People feel something like a breeze, though the air remains still.
Suddenly, GammaGirl knows what was happening. They're being drawn to her.
She hears the rain, a sheet moving across the city, and takes to the skies to outrace it.
When she arrives at Granny's house, she finds Bobolink has joined them.
The day before, the young wonder and Masked Owl searched a cluttered closet of a Gutan City apartment furnished, it would seem, from last spring's cleaning. Commissioner Borgo turned his usual blind eye to the investigations of the masked duo who, in this case, were working on behalf of an internationally-recognized organization. Flies buzzed over a bowl of coagulated Luci's ChileTM. The apartment's computer yielded little more than a record of his multiple visits to metahuman-themed forums, where he tried to drag anyone who cared into an argument about the inherent deviance of superheroes. He'd also been cyber-stalking someone named "Amber" with whom he attended high school.
The computer had not been operated in a fortnight.
"It appears, old chum, that the Troll has abandoned his hole."
"Holy Internal Rhyme, Masked Owl! But what about the drawings the police found?"
"Signs of a twisted mind, but we already knew that." The comic-book script he'd been drawing depicted superheroes subjected to cruel and unnatural acts. The crudely-drawn victims included, of course, Lady Amazonian, now missing, and presumed incinerated by some means unknown to science, in front of Centropolis's historic Bookreader Building. The illustrations had been made some time ago; none featured fresh dark wet ink.
"They improve over time. The quality, I mean."
"As you know, Bobolink, I've made a special study of forensic document examination, and they all appear to be made by the same hand. Even a wretch like Dustin Clery must improve on some things, given practice.”
Bobolink knew his mentor was probably right—and yet something bothered him about those latter drawings, the torture and dismemberment of Earth's mightiest heroes, better rendered, obsessively detailed. An odd lighthouse stood in the background of the last one, towering over a rough beach littered with bodies and torn spandex.
Thunder rumbled outside.
They'd had little more luck with Mrs. Clery. The toughest of the underworld had cracked when faced with the Owl, but if this woman were concealing information about her Dusty—-and they both had the feeling she had been-- she concealed it still.
"The Troll," she said. "It's just awful. Some girl called him that in high school. So pretty soon he made it his, you know, name. Maybe he wasn't no football jock, or no brainiac going to college on some fancy scholarship. My boy had his problems, I know. All those crazy things he posted at online memorial pages, I know that weren't normal. Ain't easy to raise a boy alone in this world." She dabbed her eyes. "But he's no killer. Maybe you square-jawed types should've just left him alone. Anyone could've seen he was troubled.'
The rain hadn't started falling yet, but they could feel it coming as they stood roadside, by the world-famous Birdmobile. "I'm returning to Centropolis," said the Masked Owl.
"I'd like to go with you, sir."
"A hunch? Or has one of Granny’s Girls caught your eye?"
"Holy Trivial Sausage! But I'd like to keep working with them. At least while you're tied up with the League. Nothing major's going down in Gutan, anyway, and the Commissioner's people have things under control for now”
"Mask at twelve o'clock," says Sara Okamura.
Bobolink endeavors to maintain his poker face. Rain pounds on the shingles and pours down the windows.
They are regathering in Granny's parlour, sifting through evidence. She wavers and moves out of her chair, feet barely touching the ground as she greets GammaGirl. Her adopted granddaughters, Aly Cat and Sarah Wolfchild, have just returned from their search, which scared the droppings out of quite a few lowlifes but brought back little of apparent value. Sara Okamura has spent the day being a high-tech armchair detective. They await the return of two more of Granny's gang.
Tea is available. Hard candy and chocolate covered gummi bears may be had, GammaGirl knows, from the ceramic jar, shaped like a hen, that sits on the side-table.
She'd contacted the League Tower, of course, where they will soon be sending a full report. Blue Pajandrum encountered the Azamoth an hour ago and disappeared, presumably on another one of his space-adventures. The rest are deep in investigation and world-saving, but their mascot, "Scooter" Simmons has decided to come to Granny's.
“What do you know," GammaGirl asks, "about non-baryonic particles?"
On a barren rock a few miles across from the beaches and roller coasters, the freak shows and boardwalks of Catbox Island, rises EDB Penitentiary, grotesque parody of a theme park castle. The boys have never been here before, and a few of the cons jeer and coo over leather-jacketed "Ace," who feels just a little nervous. They don't know what to make of his companion; a few shout special epithets. Some believe him to be another descendant of Moreau’s century-old experiments, but Sa'raa knows this is the real island of lost souls.
Robert "Ace" Sera and Sa'raa have been re-checking into people who with high tech and a hatred for capes. The League stands behind them; the fact opens quite a few doors.
Granny's boys have come to see the geriatric and now senile evil genius known as the Organist. It seems fruitless, at first. They're no experts, these teens, but they're pretty sure he's demented beyond reason. In his Golden Age he built death rays and giant killer robots, but they doubt he could change a light bulb now.
They uncover only one fact of which the League has apparently been unaware. A long-lost grandson has visited, two or three times, quietly, in recent months. Someone named "Biff McFlurry."
The afternoon sees them at McMurdo High. Principal Mastroianni expresses suspicion, but the youthful adventurers have become favorites with the kids for their daring, edgy style, and Mastroianni has always held the League in high regard. As the sky grows dark, he informs them that, yes, a Biff McFlurry did, indeed, attend the school. He was a quiet boy who lived with his adopted parents. He works, the principal believes, at the local Radio Shack. They look at the yearbook photo. He bears no resemblance to the young man the security cameras captured at EDB.
Now that they take another look, they realize that kid, who clearly borrowed McFlurry's identity, is familiar. The face has been disguised, but, now that they see it, they're certain they can identify this other Biff McFlurry.
Facial Recognition Software pretty much confirms it.
"What's wrong with this picture?" asks "Scooter" Simmons, when he hears the news. He's smiling despite the fact that the storm has drenched him. He sports a small beard, now, tries to look like a young man instead of a teen sidekick. Bobolink greets him, old friend, youthful comrade in arms. Sarah Wolfchild also seems enthused, though Granny's other girls remain circumspect.
"And I convinced myself he was just a bystander," says GammaGirl. "The Troll's known for stalking metas. How can he be involved? Really involved? He just a loser."
Sara looks up as her computer whirrs. "It fits!" she says. "Well, not the Troll-- that's just 'messed up,' as they say. But yes…. Yes! Non-baryonic particles can be used to stabilize a wormhole. Theoretically. The Organist had been working on something like that when they finally put him in prison for good. The fairyplainium particles that clung to GammaGirl…. Well, my estimate's not perfect, of course. I'm missing too many variables...."
"Now dear," says Granny. "I've checked over your math and it looks pretty good to me."
"Given what it would take, based on this model, to stabilize a wormhole for the few seconds.... Teleport Lady Amazonian out and some cooked matter back in her place... To throw detectives off the trail. Aly and Sarah, too. They really thought this through...."
Teleportation. GammaGirl feels a growing hope.
She could have been teleported.... Perhaps three-hundred-and fifty kilometers, approximately." She calls up a holographic map. It hangs over the coffeetable. "Ace" and Sar'aa return to home base as the group stares at the three-dimensional map.
"I have it!" says "Scooter." "Bobolink, those drawings y'all sent to the League's computer. You got me thinking when you said they were familiar. Can't believe I didn't see it before. I've been there with Metaman. He was.... Uh... Showing me sites connected with the history of superheroes. That lighthouse: it's in Fort Charles, where the Organist's first secret base was!"
"That's it! That's it!" says Sarah. "It would be too much, much of a coincidence!”
"Yes! If I recall," says GammaGirl, "it was hidden in the side of a mountain. They sealed it off after Captain Destiny caught him, that first time."
Granny beams as young Sara completes the math. "Fort Charles is three-hundred and forty-five kilometers away from where Lady Amazonian—" She pauses. "Vanished."
"We can't wait for the League," says GammaGirl. "I'm going now."
"'Ace,'" says Granny. "Would you be a dear and fire up the Jalopy?"
GammaGirl says she'll meet them there. She suggests "Scooter" return to the Tower, but he disagrees.
"You have any training?" asks Aly. She sounds doubtful.
"I trained a bit with Bobo, here," he says, "and I have a membership at the Denton Academy of Martial Arts."
"He's had some pretty good teachers," says GammaGirl, as she finishes her self-examination and readies to take flight into the eye of a raging storm. "Let's not waste any more time! Notify the League and let's get going! Demeter—- Lady Amazonian—could still be alive! There's hero work to be done!”
Don't miss the thrilling conclusion: Bikini Girls with Machine Guns!!!