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The Two Faces of Evil - Bring on the Night
By Demonprist



We're dead, thought a frantic Aluro as he watched Vultureman chase the
genetically enhanced mouse he'd created around the room. There was no
hiding the damage done now. Kembri would see the havoc Vultureman had
wrought and send them all off to be ground into burgers in
Sephi-vo-Notar's gut-chomping machine.
The nightmare that he had so desperately prayed to avoid was fast coming
true. In a matter of hours the mouse had grown too large to be contained
in its petri dish and had smashed open the glass. Even Aluro, who at his
age had seen many amazing feats accomplished in the name of science, had
been shocked at the rate of growth. If Vultureman's mouse took only a
couple of hours to reach its full adulthood stage, how long had it taken
Kembri and Sephi-vo-Notar to harvest Emanon?

Of more pressing concern at this moment, however, was this--how in the
Blue Moon of Plun-Darr were they going to escape the wrath of
Genvironment? No way would they be allowed to leave the underground
facility now, thanks to Vultureman. Visions of body bags danced in
Aluro's head as he watched the super-mouse race at an impossibly fast
speed around the room, skillfully avoiding any attempts to stop it. "Are
you gonna stand there like a slab of beef or are you gonna help me catch
this damn thing!" the Mutant cawed at him angrily.

"It's your stupid project, you deal with it!" Aluro retorted. "It wasn't
my idea for you to screw around with Kembri's formula!"

In his opinion, Vultureman deserved whatever grief he got and then some.
He was such an egotistical jerk that his personality alone merited a
good throttling. Unfortunately when he was caught red-handed, the rest
of the Mutants and Lunataks would go down with him. Most of the group
wouldn't have been any major loss to the universe, but Aluro certainly
wasn't about to get sucked down the drain with them. Neither did he wish
to see his countrymen (except for Luna) perish because of a madman's
fantasy.

The mouse ran under the bed, where after breaking out of the petri dish
it had lain in wait for its chance to escape the room. Vultureman got
down on all fours and thrust a groping hand into the space. He was
promptly rewarded with a sharp nip of rodent teeth and whipped backwards
with a holler, clutching his thumb. "Son of a--look out, he's coming
your way!" Vultureman shrieked as the white hellion streaked for the
door.

Aluro yelped and stomped his feet on the floor in an attempt to send the
creature back towards Vultureman so that he could trap it. But instead
of cowering like a normal mouse the miniature monster bared its teeth at
him and emitted a furious series of squeaks. Aluro supposed that if mice
could hiss, this one surely would have, for it looked on the verge of an
all-out temper tantrum--not unlike the one his feathered freak of a
co-conspirator was pitching.

"Caaaawwww, just keep him occupied, Aluro!" Vultureman ordered. He
snatched the top sheet from the bed as he tried to sneak up on the
rodent.

Not gonna happen, the Lunatak figured, and he was quickly proved right.
The mouse, sensing another threat behind it, whirled and darted for the
safety of the table on which Vultureman's homemade computer system was
perched. It reached the table in two seconds flat and clambered up the
side with razor-sharp claws.

"If he gnaws on my stuff I'll kill the little bastard!" Vultureman
vowed.

I hope he does, thought a spiteful Aluro. He caught the next sheet that
was tossed his way. They approached the escapee from both sides: Aluro
on the left and Vultureman from the right, both of them now armed with
sheets for detention purposes. The mouse glared at them with beady red
eyes as it contemplated its next move.

"Careful," Vultureman warned. "The last thing we need is for him to go
AWOL outside this room."

"Yeah, we wouldn't want you to lose your funding for these mad
experiments," muttered Aluro under his breath.

They'd gotten within arm's reach of the hairy little vermin when the
door suddenly swung open and a voice snapped, "What are you two geeks up
to? I can hear you hollering from down the hall!"

Aluro gasped and spun around, relieved to no end that it was only
Chilla. "Pest control," he grunted, not bothering to comment on her
name-calling.

As luck would have it the miserable mouse took advantage of the
distraction her appearance provided. It chose that moment to do a flying
leap off the table and scuttled between Chilla's legs, squeaking
victoriously all the while.

"Great! Thanks a lot, you stupid bitch!" screamed Vultureman.

Chilla was enraged by the unprovoked profanity. "Stick a fork in
yourself, turkey, because you're done!" she snarled, and spat a thick
wad of ice at him. Vultureman was hit head-on by her blast and encased
in a solid block of ice, frozen in the midst of his fit.

Aluro paused to relish the sight of someone sticking it to the arrogant
Mutant for a change. Then he grabbed Chilla's hand and raced out of the
room, dragging her behind him.

"Hey! Let go of me!" she squealed.

"No time to explain," Aluro panted while they followed the fleeing
mouse. "But if we don't catch that rodent before the Genvironment people
see it we're all dead meat!"



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Had Aluro known just how close to being dead meat he really was he would
have completely lost it. Even as he and Chilla were chasing Vultureman's
science project from hell down the halls of Genvironment Dr. Loen Tradyk
was frantically pacing the floor of his office, trying desperately to
figure out a way to stall Sephi-vo-Notar from logging into his record of
IPCF transmissions. By the greatest good luck--or bad luck--he'd
happened to overhear Quick Pick's relay to Officer Mandora when he'd
dropped by to leave his daily journal entry on Sephi's desk. The good
news was that the Thundercats were taking his files seriously; the bad
news was that Quick Pick's big mouth was liable to kill them all before
the day was out, if the reptilian scientist returned in time to plow
through his new tape collection.
Tradyk pondered the idea of erasing the recording but quickly dismissed
it. He wouldn't be able to do that without alerting Sephi to the fact
that his computer had been tampered with. He was a skilled technician,
but he wasn't good enough to get in and out of that particular knot
undetected.

The only real option they had was to get out of Genvironment altogether.
How could they do that and stay alive at the same time?

"Gotta move, gotta move!" he muttered, and then it hit him: moving was
the answer.

There was a slim chance that they could make their escape in the form of
a transfer to one of the more obscure bases in another galaxy. He would
have to convince Kembri that the 'guests' were too much of an imposition
(which shouldn't be too terribly hard to do given the general's current
opinion of them) and carefully suggest that they be moved to another
base. Then they could stage a hostage situation in which the Mutants and
Lunataks hijacked the transport ship.

To be sure, this idea was not completely foolproof, but time was short
and Tradyk didn't see any other immediate way out. Kembri was on his way
back from the council meeting and Sephi was due in shortly to run his
reports. Tradyk decided to corner Sephi first and plant the idea in his
mind; it was well known that Kembri would listen to the Mutant more
readily than any other of his crew. Praying his plan would work the
Thunderian quickly left his office and went in search of his despised
co-worker.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The world is a wonderful place when you're free.
Emanon was quickly discovering just how much of life he'd truly missed
out on. This realization both angered and thrilled him. Angered him
because Kooky Kembri and Snotty Sephi had lied to him to keep these
exciting secrets to their greedy selves. They'd told him that Third
Earth was nothing but a vast, boring wasteland, and he'd believed them.
Thrilled him because now, free, he could do as he pleased and never
answer to anyone ever again--anyone except the almighty Set, of course.

Right now Emanon, having stumbled upon the joys of a city called Calis,
was happily making his way through a throng of shoppers while munching
on a delightful chocolate confection--the proprietor had called it a
'candy bar.' And he had been ever so polite and friendly too! All he'd
done was walk up and look at the elderly man curiously and the smiling
vendor had given him a free sample. What a treat it had turned out to
be! Chewy, sticky caramel blended together with crunchy peanuts and
covered in a sheath of chocolate--positively paradise!

After visiting several more booths in the marketplace the shapeshifter
had come to realize that all he had to do was join the crowds around the
various merchants, and they would automatically give him a free handout
of whatever ware they were selling. He was glad now that he'd had the
foresight to switch shapes before entering the city limits. People were
arguably more friendly here, but the sight of an eight-foot tall demonic
looking creature strolling down Main Street would test even their
flexible tolerances.

Besides, it was fun to change bodies once in a while and experience the
foibles of being in another form. Emanon smoothed a hand down the front
of the outfit he was now wearing. Being a woman was quite an interesting
experience. He'd found this particular form a safe bet, figuring that if
Genvironment people were on the loose anywhere in the vicinity they
wouldn't think to look for him in the body of a teenaged human female,
and a rather delicate-looking one at that. The face was cherubic enough
to melt even the sternest adult, an added bonus if someone should happen
to confront him.

Emanon had been looking for a fight, but those plans had instantly
evaporated when he'd left the soundless forest and found himself on the
verge of a blossoming civilization that began with the riverfront.
Curious to see where this sprawling route led, he'd boarded one of the
large ferryboats leading into this mystifying juggernaut . . . and
there, in the heart of Calis, had entered into a new world full of
wonderful treasures and experiences. It was like being born again, only
this time he was coming into paradise instead of hell. Just as fortunate
for him was the fact that he'd been able to pick up his current shape on
the boat without anyone being suspicious. All it took was an accidental
bump into the original young woman and no one was any the wiser. Emanon
had been careful to stay out of sight of her and the rest of the
passengers the rest of the trip.

Curly red hair (well, more of an orange, if you wanted to get technical)
bounced along as Emanon skipped towards the next booth that had caught
his eye: a soda pop merchant.

Soda was fun--especially the little bubbles of fizz that tended to go up
your nose and make you sneeze. Most sodas tasted pretty good, though
there were a few that Emanon hadn't liked. Those were almost always the
diet ones, because whoever manufactured them had had the idiotic idea to
take out all the sugar, all the caffeine, and all the other good stuff
that made pop so delicious. Snotty Sephi was a big advocate of diet
sodas. He could hear the reptilian now: "What is this trash? It tastes
like snarf snot. Get rid of that sugary junk and get me a diet drink!"
Emanon couldn't help but giggle as he recalled the episode in which a
guard had made the mistake of bringing regular pop into a viewing. How
would Sephi know what snarf snot tasted like?

Diet sodas sucked--it was a fact of life. Sugar was one of the greatest
ingredients one could ingest, and if you took that out of soda pop you
took out all the fun. With few exceptions he could usually tell right
off by the smell which ones could be downed in a single gulp and which
ones were to be avoided.

He stepped up to the proprietress, a petite woman who looked about the
same age as he was in real life. She was wearing a skillfully rendered
variation on an ancient Egyptian costume which allowed her sleek tan
tail to fall gracefully out the back of it. As she turned around to hand
a small plastic cup of soda to someone else, he noticed the elegant
feline features that marked her as a Thunderian. For a moment his blood
chilled as he instantly thought of Tradyk, but then he relaxed. This
woman wasn't a Genvironment personnel--she simply didn't have the cold,
calculating look of a scientist or guard. Her countenance was much too
sensual to be one of them.

Thinking of Tradyk made him wonder how the little man was holding up
under his overbearing superiors. Tradyk was okay, when he wasn't
attempting to make him do something he didn't want to do. Out of all the
people who lived in Genvironment Tradyk was the only one Emanon could
stand to be around without experiencing the intense desire to shred him.
He had understood that the Thunderian was only acting under Kookmaster
Kembri's orders, but it still pissed him off all the same. When he
wasn't in the mood to obey an order, forget it. Unfortunately for him
resistance was futile. The nasty little death-dealing devices implanted
in him (which, thanks to Set's timely intervention, he had had removed
after taking a crash course in surgery from The God) were an effective
threat to ensure compliance--grudging, but compliance nonetheless.

The Thunderian soda woman approached him now with a kind smile and smoky
voice. "Would you like to try the root beer?"

Emanon beamed. Root beer was his favorite, particularly because of its
gaseous properties. Under the right conditions he could uncork a hefty
belch for his amusement. "Yes, I sure would!" As an afterthought he
added, "Please."

The cat-woman smiled again and went to pour him a cup. She handed the
fizzling drink to him with the same graceful movements she'd used during
their entire exchange. Emanon leaned his head back and guzzled the root
beer eagerly, finishing it off with a lip-smacking flourish. "Aaahhhh."

The woman chuckled. "Delicious, isn't it? I call it J.B.'s Brew--for
myself, since it's my own recipe," she said in a husky drawl.

"It's a pretty good one. You really make it yourself?"

"Well, no, I'm just the headmistress. The corporation that I run does
the actual brewing. I had an opening today in my schedule, so I decided
what the heck, tout my own product." She grinned, exposing a set of
impossibly perfect teeth. "You new in town, honey?"

"How could you tell?"

She sent him a sly glance, jade green eyes flickering over his body. "I
can always pick out the newbies. They're the ones who wander around with
this bug-eyed look plastered all over their faces. Calis tends to do
that to you, if you've never explored it before." She reached out and
patted his shoulder. "Just be careful out there, 'kay? The city's a
grand place, but it isn't considered big and bad for nothing."

Emanon flashed her a charming smile. "Oh, I'm an old hand at taking care
of myself. Believe me, I can handle myself when it comes to trouble."

"A sweet little thing like you?" The root beer peddler appeared
skeptical, but decided by the cool look in those eyes that this was no
shrinking violet. "All right, sugar. Have fun," she said with a wave as
she headed off to tend to another interested passerby.

"I certainly will," Emanon giggled, more to himself than to her. Fun was
the name of the game and he intended to play it out to its fullest. He
deserved it after surviving all the bleak days of his former occupation.

His mission to track down Mumm-Ra long forgotten, the shapeshifter moved
away from J.B.'s root beer booth to check out other points of interest.
He spotted a flashy one labeled MADAME C'S FORTUNE TELLING--PALMS READ
TAROT CARDS PSYCHIC CONSULTATIONS, and crossed the brightly-lit street
to study it.

"Fortunes foretold, lucky charms!" called out a gaily-dressed young
human brunette. This, apparently, was Madame C. She wore an odd but
colorful gypsy outfit studded with all sorts of shiny jewelry. Silver
and gold hoop earrings bounced from her earlobes as she danced around
onstage before a captive audience to the throbbing bass beat of raucous
rock music. "Who wants their fortune told? Come on, now, there's got to
be one of you who's curious to know what fate has in store for you!"

"I'll try it!"

Heads turned to the redhead who had spoken. Madame C's face lit up and
she extended a hand. "Come right on up, miss!"

Emanon made his way up onstage to the gypsy, where he was then seated in
front of a large cherry oak table boasting an opaque crystal ball in the
center. Madame C sat opposite him and began her spiel. "Now, then, what
will it be, young lady? I read palms, I play the cards, I can tap into
your psychic self and reveal all. And in my spare time, I'm also an
executive at the CN downtown. I head the programming department." She
winked and leaned forward expectantly.

Reveal all? Emanon frowned for a second. Surely this silly woman didn't
think for one moment that she could tap into his mind and find out about
him . . . yet, he felt slightly uneasy when he sensed the strange aura
around her. She really did possess some kind of power.

Better not risk it. Emanon didn't want her accidentally learning
anything she wasn't supposed to know; otherwise he'd have to kill her.
Since he was surrounded by people at the moment that wasn't possible to
do without getting caught. It was time for Plan B. Abruptly he bolted
from the stage, leaving a startled Madame C and audience behind.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Elsewhere, in an ancient mammoth castle located in a remote province, a
speakerphone beeped at top volume. Black Jack--known professionally as
Jack Severson--answered it with a mouthful of ham on rye with
mayonnaise. "Anshient Evenigs."
"Goot avternoon. I vould like to speak to Edvard Voylez, pleaze."

"Sure, jus' a sec." Jack hit the hold button and wolfed down the rest of
his sandwich. "Voyles, it's your prince on line two!"

"Got it!"

"Think he's finally gonna go for that butt-ugly watercolor you've been
peddling?"

"He damn well better, or else I can forget about that slick set of new
wheels, in which case I will set about destroying my office in a
homicidal rampage."

Edward Jo--no e on the end of that middle moniker, thank you very
much--Voyles, better known to his colleagues as just plain Voyles, shot
across the marble floor in his wheeled lounge chair like a silver
bullet. He brought his finger down on the speakerphone's button hard
enough to startle a few passing coworkers outside the office, who,
though spooked by the noise, were not surprised at his ferocity. Voyles
had a solid reputation among the dealers for being the most colorful (to
put it politely) alumni, a reputation he diligently strove to maintain.
Animated to the point of hyperactivity, never still for more than five
seconds whether engrossed in a task or frittering away free time, he
liked to keep on the move, seeking, finding, learning--all for the sheer
love of it. He'd learned the hard way that life was too short to spend
it knee-deep in useless clutter.

Voyles had been many things--some legal, some not--throughout the course
of his life. Soldier, ferryman, gambler, tour guide, bootleg runner, and
prison guard were just a handful of previous occupations he'd held.
Given his penchant for thriving on adventure, he would accept almost any
job as long as it entailed with it an element of excitement.

His current passion--one he hoped to parlay into a permanent career this
time--was antiquities dealing. This castle, rumored to have been built
during the Second Earth period when a renaissance boom resulted in the
creation of many beautiful works of art, was the perfect base from which
to conduct his business, named appropriately enough, Ancient Evenings.
Contrary to most civilians' beliefs that antiques were boring business,
Voyles led an existence rife with intrigue. Picking up antiques along
the way wasn't as easy as it seemed. Many of the rarer artifacts
conveniently happened to be located in areas where expeditions weren't
welcome. Smuggling was often involved, a dangerous undertaking if
stubborn inhabitants vehemently opposed the removal of objects they
considered theirs by right of landowners' property claim. Never mind the
fact that the antiques would be left to rot in their unmarked graves
anyway as they usually served no purpose to ignorant folk; those people
just didn't want anyone else to have them. That was where specialized
dealers such as Voyles came in. He was in charge of acquiring new pieces
for his dealership, which divided its operations into two parts. One was
commercial, open only to the private clients who wished to collect rare
pieces for their personal caches before they arrived fresh on the
market. The other half dealt with museums seeking to display treasures
on loan from him to the public.

If nothing else, Voyles prided himself on his salesmanship abilities. He
could sell ice to Eskimos and blazing coals to desert nomads. Though his
offbeat appearance tended to detract from an otherwise dependable
background, his voice, which also had once been that of a carnival
barker's during a short stint with a traveling circus, made up for it.
It flowed through his lips like a honeyed river--powerful yet smooth
with charm, entrancing prospective buyers first into a state of
infatuation and then into a firm commitment as they eagerly laid out
their money for whatever prized work of the ancients that was newly
excavated. It was no secret that Voyles, despite his eccentricities, was
the darling of the antique world. His naturally friendly demeanor
further aided his rise to the top; he enjoyed his success but neither at
the expense of others nor himself. To Voyles, money was merely a means
to an end, fun to accumulate and fun to spend but not worth throwing
one's life away on. Adventure--that was what he craved, and that was
what he sought in all that he did. Life was a grand game to be played
out to its fullest.

Today that game promised to be even more scintillating than usual,
thanks to the expected call from the 'prince'--their agreed-upon cover
for him whenever they exchanged highly sensitive information; though
they had known each other for years neither of them was a big believer
in coincidence. Playing the paranoia route kept them both healthy.

"Voyles. Speak now or forever hold your piece."

"Ja, ja, goot to hear from you. I am eenterested in zat painting after
all, I thinks."

The dealer had to choke back a well of laughter at the ridiculous
high-pitched accent. Quick Pick was very convincing when he needed to
fake an alternate identity, but sometimes his choices bordered on the
flat-out weird. "Glad to hear it, my boy. I've had six calls this
morning already from folks asking about it. Pretty popular piece, if I
do say so myself."

"Zen it ees goot I called you ven I did. You vant ve should meet later
to discuzz a prize?"

Voyles unself-consciously hitched up part of his genuine Egyptian cotton
kilt to scratch an itch high on his inner thigh. Part of his devotion to
oddness required that he favor flamboyant clothing as a rule; dressed in
the most outrageous costumes his nimble mind could put together he felt
ready to meet the world on whatever terms it demanded. Clothing was
after all an outward expression of the inner spirit, and Voyles liked to
project his louder than a paisley tie, polka-dot Day-Glo socks, and
plaid leisure suit. "Yeah, sure, lemme check my schedule, maybe I can
fit y'all in sometime today." He made a pretense of intently flipping
through the various notes scattered among his desk in case passerby
glanced inside the open office. "I got a nine o' clock that canceled on
me this afternoon. Wanna drop by Calis for drinks?"

"I vill have to talk to my zecretary undt zee if zat vill vurk out for
me. I vill call you bok." Click.

Rather than get irritated with the caller's curt response Voyles was
elated, for Quick Pick's reluctance to use the open line meant that he'd
stumbled onto something big. He jumped up and poked his head out the
door to bark an order to his assistant. "Jack, you better take the other
calls. Princie boy's gonna come on my other line to haggle for a while."

"Can do. For your sake I hope he buys that piece of crap. He's been
dicking you around on it long enough."

Voyles laughed. "Amen, brother."

He went back inside and shut the door. Thanking his lucky stars he'd had
the good sense to make his office a soundproof one he settled in his
lounge chair with its plush padding and waited for Quick Pick to call
back.

Fifteen minutes passed before a light on his desk started to flash.
There were four lines altogether at the dealership's headquarters; the
fourth one was Voyles' private number. Only a handful of people knew it
and they never used it unless there was a dire emergency. He opened up
the communication lines with the press of several buttons--in the
unlikely event someone outside tried to eavesdrop on his conversations,
they would hear nothing but static due to the scrambler he'd installed.
Being a former computer programmer had its benefits.

Quick Pick's normal voice filtered through. "Can you come over to Cats'
Lair?"

Voyles blinked in surprise. "Yeah, I s'pose I can swing it when I shut
down for the night. Why? What's on your mind?"

"Sephi-vo-Notar, for starters."

"Yeah? You finally dig up something major on the creepozoid?"

"You are not going to believe this. He's one of the main partners of
Genvironment!"

"No way!" Voyles smacked his desk with the palm of his hand. "How'd the
slimy bastard land a cushy job like that?"

"Hand-picked. The king of Plun-Darr has this major deal going with him
and a bunch of other eggheads. Revolting stuff--"

"Genetic experiments?"

"Among other things."

"Son of a bitchin' pickle." Voyles exhaled noisily as he ruffled his
hair, which resembled an indignant feline after it had just been given a
bath. "How come you want me to meet you at the cat box?"

"Long story," Quick Pick said hastily, as though he feared exposure any
moment by unfriendly parties. "But I'm gonna need you around for some
chart mapping. I've got a message here that's part of the puzzle and I
think we can use it to our advantage, assuming you know the territory
well."

Voyles' pointy ears pricked with keen interest. "Do tell, mi amigo."

"Can't right now. Ben-Gali's using the can but he won't be gone long,
and he might not take too kindly to me blabbing the secret to anyone
besides Mandora and the other Thundercats."

"Tightwad variety, eh?"

"You got it."

"So pull the stick out of his ass and loosen him up. I don't bite . . .
unless I get pissed off, of course."

Chuckles came from the other end. "Gotta go, Voyles. Drop by as soon as
you can, but be careful." Meaningful pause. "It goes without saying that
Genvironment's a prickly group."

"Yeah, well, you know what they say about porcupines and fascist
ego-driven organizations--the only difference is that the pricks are on
the inside."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"It's about to go down, all right. Just the way we like it."
"Is it?" The tone was rife with disapproval. "Emanon was supposed to
have been at the white pyramid by now. Instead he's running around Calis
like a kid turned loose in a toy store!"

"You aren't worried . . . are you?"

If he had been a cartoon character it was a sure bet that one would have
seen steam pouring out of every orifice just like in animations. "No,
I'm not worried. I'm concerned that this is going to delay the plan
indefinitely. You know as well as I do that time is of the essence
here."

Crimson eyes flickered lazily in response. "Perhaps. Then again, if we
play our cards right we can arrange it so that time is on our side for a
change."

"Forget the games, will you? I've changed my mind. Just waste them all
and be done with it!"

"And what is this whole doing if not a game? You yourself said it was
all part and parcel of the terms--terms that you agreed to even though
you had nothing to do with setting them up," warned the other. "You
wanted suffering and I'm giving it to you on a silver platter. These
things take time and skill to execute properly. Then your triumph will
be all the more sweeter for having denied yourself the cheap thrill of
sudden death." A sly smile hinted at past deeds, the nature of which was
clearly and fondly remembered.

"I've overreached the limits of my patience! Sudden death would suit me
just fine as a consolation prize. And I fail to see how you could
possibly have one ounce of control over this situation when the trump
card is missing in action and the opposing forces are getting ready to
lay out their hand!"

The temperature in the area dropped several degrees with the wintry
glare directed across the room at the dissenter. "Look who's talking
about lack of control. You're supposed to be the Master of masters, yet
you can't even control your own family. Next time don't bother to join
the game if you can't abide by the rules." That last part was bitten out
sharply.

Anger boiled over fast. "Don't you ever bring them up in my presence
again, you got that? I'm doing the best I can! You'll just have to have
another talk with Emanon and set him straight. I've got my own problems
to take care of right now. I've got my idiot brother riding my back and
one hell of a headache. I am in no mood for any more crap today."

"Well you'd better wake up and smell the stink, because more of it just
got dumped into the ring. Bitch sister had the other half of the Heart."

The room fairly shook with the heat of fury. "WHAT!"

"See for yourself. She's trying to get him to put it together even as we
speak."

The spell-induced view, widening to provide them with the latest
details, elicited a wrathful shriek. "RRRRAAAAGGGHHH! Do something, you
fool! Stop it before it happens!"

Deadly silkiness glided through the air. "Watch who you're calling a
fool. Remember I am your best and only chance of opening the portal to
Chaos. You'd better not alienate me if you want to see your dream made
reality."

Ebony eyes met blood red ones. "Is that a threat?"

"It's a fact . . . Setuusekht. You came to me. I am not obligated to you
like the rest of your patsies. I am free to do as I please. Treat me
right and we'll reap the rewards a million times over."

There was a soft growling in the throat of the other, quickly curtailed
as he realized, painful though it was, that his agent was right. Still
insolence, however refreshing it might be sometimes, had no permanent
place in a working relationship. "Doesn't it bother you that they have
both pieces of the Heart now? If Mumm-Ra unlocks the secrets he'll be
unstoppable! Then the entire game is fucked!" He pounded the stone next
to him with a white fist. "Let me tell you something, I have worked too
hard and too long to see this flushed down the cosmic toilet because of
some repentant punk! I want him out of this equation!"

He was further angered to see a sinister smile in response, until the
other spoke. "Settle down. The damage is not beyond repair. True,
Mumm-Ra is a weak link in our chain right now, but that problem can be
eliminated before it gets out of hand. The same holds true for Emanon. I
will deal with both of them as I see fit. That was our agreement."

"But what if--"

"If."

"If."

"If."

They kept a steady gaze fixed between them, each carefully examining the
other for signs of weakness, until at last the owner of the jet black
eyes backed down. "All right. I'll go with that. But how do you propose
to handle it?"

"There are two sides to every coin. Even while they are searching for
the first key, we will be looking for the second. Don't forget I have a
direct link to the brat. I'll pick his mind to pieces until I find that
key."

Good humor was restored once again as the implication set in. "Well . .
. it seems that once more you have succeeded in winning me over despite
my hellfire impulses. Sometimes you scare even me, but I like the way
you think. You have no idea how thankful I am that you're on my side."

"Trust me. I've never let you down before. There is no situation so
hopeful that it cannot be poisoned by an industrious enough evil."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"You have got to be kidding."
"You know I'm not." She patted him on the back before placing the ebony
and gold-laced squares on the edge of the cauldron and then stepping off
to the side. "Two halves equal one. You can do it."

"When snarfs fly," grumbled Mumm-Ra, but he grudgingly accepted the
pieces of Set's Heart. He supposed it couldn't hurt to try. Anyway, the
kind of magic imprisoned inside this box was far too wild for him to
control. An evil this black-hearted would not allow itself to be
manipulated by anyone--not even those who would wield it in the unholy
name of darkness.

Mumm-Ra studied the two separate boxes briefly before holding them up in
both hands. He felt stupid, like a hapless court fool being asked to
perform a feat of impossible magic for the amusement of the royal
family, knowing full well that his limitations prevented him from doing
so. Nevertheless he took the half of the Heart that was in his left hand
and placed it on top of the half that rested in his right.

Nothing happened.

"Told you so," Mumm-Ra said, feeling curiously disappointed.

"It ain't over till the fat Luna sings," Wilykat pointed out.

The box moved. It started trembling, slightly at first then quickly
escalating into an all-out seizure. Mumm-Ra was so surprised by its
sudden animation that he nearly dropped it . . . but the strange thing
about this life force was that he couldn't drop it even if he'd
consciously tried to withdraw his hand. He was inexplicably compelled by
some inner power to hang onto it, and in fact he had to clamp both hands
tightly around the box to keep it from spilling out of his grip. His
reaction seemed to anger the demonic force trapped inside and it caused
a fierce storm of red lightning to crackle out from the golden grooves.

"Hit the deck!" yelled Panthro as several particularly nasty bolts flew
sizzling their way. Everyone except Mumm-Rana and the spirits dropped to
the floor to avoid being burned. Lion-O got a furtive glimpse of
Mumm-Ra's panicked expression and then he had to duck down again when
another fork of lightning danced his way.

The newly humanized mage shot a frantic look at his newly found sister.
"How do I stop this?" he cried.

"You don't," Mumm-Rana answered with a smug grin. "It's going exactly
according to plan."

Mumm-Ra would have lapsed into an apoplectic fit then but he had no time
for any further outbursts. The box was increasing its struggles to the
point where not even a gallon of Krazy Glue would have kept it adhered
to his hands. He was nearly knocked off his feet by the sheer violence
exuded by the raging beast within; yet somehow he managed to retain both
the box and his balance. His body fairly rocked with all the power of a
formidable earthquake while all about him the red lightning cast its
wrath. Despite his fear of being struck down by the Dark Lord it did not
fail to escape his notice that none of the blazing bolts came close to
hitting Mumm-Rana or him. They skewed off on an invisible tangent
instead of plowing into the siblings.

He didn't even get the chance to ponder the why or how of this unusual
manifestation. Even as his mind posed the questions the box was shifting
yet again, only this time it was actually shifting, as its twin shapes
melded into one indistinguishable mass in a white heat of passion.
Mumm-Ra heard a shriek and realized it was his own, for the power
generated by the instant fusion had created a searing fire that spread
through every cell in his body. It was then that he was finally able to
let go of the hellion, collapsing backwards into the cauldron with a
tumultuous splash.

"Positively wonderful!" Durakkon declared amidst a backdrop of clashing
red electricity. Not everyone agreed with him though, for the air reeked
of that heavy hard to breathe ozone scent which often accompanies such
lightning.

Reunited with its other half the Heart now spiraled into the air until
it was nearly at the top of the tomb chamber's ceiling. Then it split
into two parts again, with one piece staying airborne while the other
anchored itself to the floor. Between the two a column of viciously
twisting energy erupted to complete the connection.

"What's it doing?" Pumyra asked Mumm-Rana, when she deemed it safe to
rise to her feet.

"Learning," the priestess answered. "The Heart has forgotten its master
and so needs to be reminded of its place. It will teach Mumm-Ra, and he
in turn will control it when he learns to master his own power."

"However is the boy to do that when he can't even hold on to the bloody
box?" Oanahaptu asked rhetorically as a sputtering and thoroughly soaked
Mumm-Ra climbed out of the cauldron, assisted by Cheetara.

"Watch it, I think that thing's going to pull another fly-by," Panthro
said when the cyclone's column disappeared and the halves snapped
together with a thunderous crash. Everyone watched closely to see what
the devilish box would do next, and it didn't disappoint its expectant
audience. In a flurry of morphing it assumed one unidentifiable shape
after the next before settling down into a perfectly formed cube.

Mumm-Rana nodded at her brother. "Go get it."

"Do I look like a dog?" a cranky Mumm-Ra growled, squeezing more water
out of his hair. A longsuffering expression on his face, he slapped his
hand against a wet linen-clad thigh and slunk over to the Heart in a
trail of purple cauldron water. Hesitating with his hand spread out over
the top of the box, he looked over to the group and asked, "Maybe I
shouldn't touch it again?"

"Don't tell me you're wussing out over a silly little black box," Lion-O
teased condescendingly, and was pleased to note the tightening of
Mumm-Ra's mouth. With a flourish he scooped the Heart up and stood
triumphantly with it raised in one hand.

"Happy now?" the mage retorted sarcastically as he propped his other
hand on his hip.

Lion-O grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.

"I wouldn't hold it like that if I were you," Oanahaptu cautioned.

"Why?" Mumm-Ra scowled at her. "What's wrong with the way I'm holding
it?"

His grandmother pointed at the Heart. "That!"

Mumm-Ra looked up and was horrified to see the box assuming a
dagger-like form with the point directed skyward. A thick thread of
lightning penetrated the pyramid and struck the dagger's tip, sending a
blast of high voltage rocketing through the area. He was flung head over
heels out of this radius from the impact, unhurt but badly shaken.

"So much for that electrifying experience," Wilykat cracked. He picked
himself up off the floor, having like everyone else been knocked down
like a domino.

Mumm-Rana calmly levitated herself over to the fallen Mumm-Ra, ignoring
the sparks given off by the rapidly gyrating box--which now for the
second time separated into two halves that were literally bouncing off
the walls of the tomb chamber like a pair of psychotic wind-up toys. As
she helped her brother to stand, she said, "Aren't you going to do
something about this?"

Mumm-Ra shoved damp locks of mahogany out of his eyes and gave her a
dirty look. "And what, pray tell, am I supposed to do? I can't even keep
it still, let alone control its power!"

"You need only believe that you can control it. You're its keeper,
Mumm-Ra. You alone can harness it to your will."

Her response made him mad. That wasn't what he wanted to hear.

"Better hurry up, Mumm-Ra. It's going to trash my pyramid, and then how
will you ever gain the skills you need if I am put out of commission,
having to spend my time resting and replenishing my own powers?" the
priestess said with a hint of sly smile.

"You're a real bitch, you know that?" Mumm-Ra snarled at her. He stalked
off towards the Ping-Ponging boxes from hell as Mumm-Rana burst into
hearty laughter.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"We're gonna die. We're gonna die," Aluro mumbled to himself, pacing in
front of Chilla. Holed up in the relative safety of Tradyk's debugged
office thanks to a code key the scientist had given Aluro this morning,
they were trying to enjoy a respite from trouble with little success.
After a hasty but discreet search that had lasted over an hour the
Lunataks had been forced to face the hard truth: Vultureman's
genetically enhanced mouse was beyond capture. Whatever he'd done to
it--mutated its brain cells to improve its thinking skills, most
likely--he'd succeeded in his endeavors. The rodent was now roaming the
halls of Genvironment, unknown to all but three people until the moment
it was discovered digging into someone's baloney sandwich or leaving
deposits on a bigwig's desk.
"Will you stop that, Aluro? You're going to wear a hole in the floor.
Why don't you explain to me what that loser Vultureman has to do with
all of this?" Chilla said. She was still peeved at being insulted by the
birdbrain.

Aluro stopped pacing and stared through her as if she weren't there.
Then his eyes focused clearly when it dawned on him that she'd asked a
question. "Okay, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that
we're finally leaving Genvironment."

"We are?"

"Don't get excited just yet. The bad news is that when we do depart,
it'll be by way of body bag exactly like Tradyk said." Aluro started
pacing some more. "And you can thank Slithe, Luna, and Vultureman for
signing our death warrants, because they got us into this whole mess in
the first place!"

"I don't understand--"

"Slithe planted this bug in Luna's ear so she'd help him and the rest of
those mangy freaks escape Bragg's custody instead of leaving them
behind--which of course any sensible person would have done," he said,
holding up one finger. "That passes the next share of the blame to Luna
since she was dumb enough to listen to him, and because Amok's got her
back she roped the rest of us into it." He raised a second finger. "And
last but certainly not least, Vultureman is the icing on the cake
because he thought it would be a dandy idea to break into Kembri's
goodies, copy his cloning formula, and start breeding his own friggin'
army!" A third finger joined the other two briefly until Aluro made
fists of his hands.

Chilla was shocked by this information. "So that's why he was having a
fit over that mouse! What did he do to it?"

"Cloned it. He needed a test subject before he tried out the formula on
himself, so he swiped some mouse cultures or something to do a trial run
on first. He altered some of the genes so that his mouse would have
superior characteristics compared to a regular mouse." Aluro passed a
sweaty hand over his balding pate. "He's crazy, Chilla, I'm not kidding.
Vultureman has gone totally insane and he's dragging the rest of us down
with him."

"Then let's report him to General Kembri. Maybe he'll end up fodder for
Slithe's cousin's gut grinder," Chilla offered hopefully.

"That's the last thing we want to do!" Aluro hissed. "Kembri will skin
all of us alive because we knew about it and didn't say anything!"

"It's too late to worry about that, I'm afraid," said a quiet voice from
the doorway.

Chilla and Aluro jumped nervously as Loen Tradyk padded inside. "They
found the mouse, didn't they?" Aluro whimpered.

Tradyk was clearly puzzled by this new development. "What mouse?"

"Vultureman's done it. He made this genetically enhanced mouse as a test
so he could try out Kembri's formula later on himself," Aluro explained.

Tradyk's eyes closed. "Imbecile."

"No argument there," Chilla said.

"Well, there's not much point in worrying about a campfire when there's
a forest fire burning, is there?" Tradyk didn't wait for either of the
Lunataks to comment on that as he quickly outlined their escape plan and
the reason for its sudden formation. "I already talked it over with them
and Kembri and Sephi agreed that you can no longer stay here, so the
general's ordered a transfer to be ready within fifteen minutes. I'm to
gather all of you together and we'll join the main escort force at the
docking bay."

"Well what the hell are we waiting for?" Aluro said, relieved that there
was actually a light at the end of the tunnel. "Let's board that ship
and get out of here while we're still breathing!"

"There's a catch."

Chilla's pert nose wrinkled with irritation. "I don't like the sound of
that."

"I'm coming with you," Tradyk said. "It's time I severed my ties to
Genvironment, and not just because of the danger involved. I've put
myself in jeopardy many times in the past. This situation is just the
straw that broke the camel's back. If anyone stands a chance of blowing
Genvironment wide open, it's me. I have the knowledge and the evidence
to prove everything that's happened here ever since the place was built.
Chilla, I'm speaking freely in front of you because Aluro has assured me
that you can be trusted," the Thunderian said, hurrying on when the
visibly surprised woman would have interrupted him. "He'll have to
explain to you later about the deal he had going with me. What I need
from you now is your cooperation if you're all to leave here alive.
You'll have to stage a hostage situation in which you overpower the
guards and the pilots, and then take me as a prisoner to ensure Kembri's
compliance."

"Wouldn't it just be easier for you to ride along as an escort, see that
we arrive at whatever station we're supposed to be going to?" Chilla
asked.

Aluro snorted. "Kembri's a dick. You think he's gonna let us waltz off
into the wild blue space yonder, knowing what we know?"

"Aluro's right," Tradyk said. "Kembri may see this as his opportunity to
be rid of us for good." He paused and ran a hand through his dark brown
hair. "Even if the Emanon Project hadn't taken such a drastic turn for
the worse you'd have been killed anyway. Kembri doesn't want witnesses.
I've been on his hate list for years so I should know. If I tried to
leave the base of my own volition he'd have me executed. As long as he
keeps me here he can milk as much out of me as he needs until he decides
that I've outlived my usefulness to him. But if we make it look like I'm
being forced into going along with your demands then he won't risk
killing everyone with, say, a shot of poisonous gas, or a hidden
explosive. You see what I'm getting at here?"

"He sacrifices us to keep all his secrets," Chilla rasped angrily. Her
breath left an icy trail of vapor swirling in the room.

"Let's not waste any more time haggling over it. Get the other Lunataks
and meet me in the west wing as soon as you can. Tell them--" Tradyk
thought for a second--"Tell them the truth: that unless they cooperate
they'll die."

"Okay. Vultureman's frozen in his room 'cause he pissed off Chilla. You
going to bring him along with the rest of the Mutants?" Aluro wanted to
know.

Tradyk sighed. "We have to, Aluro. It's bad enough that Emanon's out
there somewhere. We don't need any more replicated basket cases running
around Third Earth. He can't continue his research on vulture clones if
he has none of the necessary materials to work with."

"What if he doesn't want to go?"

"Let me worry about that. Go get your comrades," Tradyk admonished.
Obediently Aluro and Chilla fled his office to round up the rest of the
Lunataks.

Alone, Tradyk opened a desk drawer and took out a sleek black pistol. It
was a special piece he'd had made for such an occasion. He had hoped
there would never be a need to use it, but deep in the back of his mind
he'd always known a situation with such high stakes would someday rear
its ugly head.


This was the way it was as a tense aura descended upon Third Earth at dusk. Here and there watchers sensed discord brewing and made note of it for future reference. One in particular was keeping a keen vigil tonight. His pieces were ready and lined up in their respective positions. A few were in decidedly vulnerable straits and would have to be corrected before the evening was out to ensure a strong defense. Otherwise the playing field was complete. It was time to bring on the night . . . and with it, the darkness. Next Chapter


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