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The Two Faces of Evil - Taking Care of Business
By Demonprist

"Kembri, Tradyk's-s-s got most of our vis-s-sitors ready,"
Sephi-vo-Notar's detestable voice lisped over the intercom. "All we're
miss-s-sing is one Mutant and two Lunataks."
"Fine. I'll be up in a few minutes with the remainder. Make sure the
others don't go anywhere until I get there," Kembri said, and punched
the out button while he resumed his rough thrusting into the malicious
evil enchantress beneath him. She snarled some unintelligible curses and
sank her wicked nails into his back, raking them across the flesh hard
enough to draw blood.

"Bitch!" Kembri's eyes were aglow with dark excitement; the wounds
merely spurred his passion onward in its mounting perversion. He slammed
into her harder and began furiously biting her nipples. Pain was not
only part of the attraction of the sex act for him but for her too. When
that serum had taken effect it was as if her mind had swelled to the
same gargantuan size of evil beauty as her body. He was glad, now, that
he had taken the time to consider her offer. The benefits were well
worth any aggravation involved.

"Aahhhh! Hurts! Aahhhh! You're hurting me!" the hellion shrieked in a
deafening voice, but there was cruel glee shining brightly in her eyes.
She retaliated by clamping her thighs tightly around his waist and
squeezing her powerful muscles as hard as she could, all the while
cursing him and calling him ugly gutter names.

"You're no princess, princesses don't use such foul language," Kembri
grunted, his breath shortening as a result of her scissoring legs. He
gathered all his strength and shoved himself so far into her that he
could actually feel her insides giving way. "You're a whore." She hissed
her fury at the crudity, spat at him and missed. "You're a nasty little
whore," the general repeated insistently, "and you're gonna get what a
whore deserves!"

With that he manacled both her hands so she wasn't able to scratch him
and pinned her arms above her head flat against the desk. She screamed
bloody murder but since his earplugs were still good the noise didn't
bother Kembri one iota. Anyone passing by outside the office might have
heard their raucous interlude, but none would have dared intrude. Even
if his partner's big lug hadn't obediently taken up post in front of the
door when commanded to do so the general's status here was enough to
make his colleagues think twice before interrupting him in the middle of
anything. Kembri had the enviable luxury of being able to do whatever he
wanted when he wanted, and woe to the fool who dared deny him his
pleasures. Growling with pure unadulterated lust the cougar Thunderian
put his last remaining stores of energy into a particularly forceful
thrust and climaxed with a mighty roar.

She hadn't come yet, so he withdrew from her and hurried over to the
closet. There he found the tool he wanted.

"Hurry up! Hurry!" came the noisy howl. Kembri turned to see her
writhing on the top of the desk in frustrated ecstasy. Her legs were
still as he'd left them--spread wide open, affording him a glorious view
of that dark purple patch shadowing a bruised womanhood. Smiling,
ignoring her obvious distress, he slowly ambled towards her. The
deactivated Pepper Spike's shiny glass orb reflected the overhead light
as he passed it from hand to hand.

She sat partially up, eyes widening with malevolent delight. "And just
what the hell do you think you're going to do with that?" she sneered.

"This," Kembri barked back at her, and forced the entire length of the
spike into her, right up to the orb. "A smart-mouthed broad like you
needs to be taught a lesson." Sweating almost as hard as he was
grinning, the general worked it back and forth to the tune of her
orgasmic cries. "Maybe I ought to use a real Pepper Spike next time, eh?
Something with some acid on it and give you a real workout!"

Her reddening face wrenched into a grotesque distortion of sexual
satisfaction. Beads of sweat dotted her hairline and soaked the top half
of her wild purple-and-white mass. Abruptly she hit her peak and
screamed her pleasure to the ceiling and beyond, while Kembri made a
mental note to use stronger earplugs next time.

When Luna's orgasm had subsided she collapsed upon the desk, looking
like the beached sea spawn from hell. "I swear, you get better every
time we do this," she sighed rapturously.

Kembri laughed and went to pick up his clothes from the floor. "And to
think the evening's just begun." He frowned, noticing a prodigious rip
in his expensive pants. "Just be sure and give me forewarning when you
get horny so I can save my clothes from the shredder. Deven's doesn't
make these for peanuts, you know."

Luna cackled from atop the desk, making no move to get dressed yet.
"Never shacked up with a moon woman before, General? We Lunataks are
very lusty folk you know."

"Obviously." The general chucked his ruined pants into the wastebasket
and took out a fresh pair from the closet.

She watched admiringly as he put them on. For a Thunderian Kembri sure
had a great ass. "I wonder what everybody would say if they knew you
skipped a council meeting to diddle me," she said teasingly. She
fingered her bitten nipples with pride, wincing a bit as her lengthy
nails scraped several particularly sore spots. "Sure wouldn't do much
for your career if you were caught humping a guest you're supposed to be
guarding from the coppers."

Kembri rubbed a clean towel across his back and frowned slightly when it
came away streaked with thin lines of blood. He went through his closet
again and picked a black cotton T-shirt to wear. Over this he drew on a
light blue nylon windbreaker. "Do I smell another come-on here?" he
asked mildly, sliding his feet back into the Thunderian regulation
combat boots he almost always wore while on duty at the base.

Luna swung her shapely legs over the edge of the desk and stood. "You
can take it any way you want it," she leered. "I still haven't had my
turn yet . . . shall I break out the crop so we can play my favorite
domination game?"

In spite of his pressing sense of duty Kembri felt the sap rising again.
That was one of the great things about the serum he'd invented. The
never-ending masculinity made it possible for him to get laid from here
to New Thundera and back without ever feeling worn down. "I would, my
pet, but as you just heard we have business to take care of."

"A pity." Luna smiled shrewdly at him and casually threw on her clothes.
"You're the general. I thought you made all the rules, so who's to say
you couldn't mix business with pleasure?"

Good grief, she really was insatiable. Kembri stifled a laugh and shook
his head. "Not this time. Duty calls. Did you take your medicine like a
good little girl?"

"Every last drop, Daddy," she crooned with a smacking of ripe plum lips.

"You know what to do, don't you?"

Evil smile as she put on her boots. "Of course." She lovingly patted the
sack slung loosely around her ample hips. "How 'bout you?"

General Byron Kembri paused to admire the sleek hard lines of his
paramour's newly improved body and silently commended himself for having
had the foresight to think of such a plan. "Ready and waiting, so let's
do it. The sooner we deal with these albatrosses the better."


"Hold it still! Hold it still!"
"I'm trying!"

"You couldn't hold a pack of rabid snails down if your life depended on

"And you couldn't hold a tune if it had a handle!" snapped back Panthro
as he weighed down his piece while Mumm-Ra wrestled with the other half
of Set's Heart.

Capturing the wayward box had been easy enough. All they had to do was
wait until the twins came within an inch of turning everybody into
dartboards and snatch the halves out of their violent flight. Now they
were struggling with the morphing furies as Mumm-Ra tried to put both
pieces back together again--a feat that the box was dead set against.

"Oh no you don't you little bastard!" Mumm-Ra slammed his other hand
down on the shifting part of the box that was fast forming itself into a
flat black spear to try to tunnel its way out from underneath. A
venomous hissing ensued as the mage scooped up his fighting prey and
quickly rushed it over to Panthro's half, which was giving the
Thundercat almost as much of a hard time as Mumm-Ra's was him. "Grab it
and hold it up but for the love of Amon don't let go!"

"No, I thought I'd let it stop and smell the roses," Panthro said
sarcastically, but he did as Mumm-Ra ordered. "Man, how I hate this
supernatural stuff," he grumbled.

Mumm-Ra had to push down on his piece before he could get it within
reach of the other half and it suddenly occurred to him: "How do I do
this?" he yelled at Mumm-Rana.

She never got a chance to tell him because at that precise moment the
one-sided morphing Heart slipped like butter through his fingers and
made a ferocious leap from his hands to the floor. It bounced off the
stone and rocketed for the nearest wall, resuming its crazed trajectory
while Mumm-Ra fired off a volley of obscenities in the ancient tongue at

"What did he just say?" a wide-eyed Wilykat asked the priestess when he
thought he recognized a contemporary curse's equivalent.

"I'll tell you when you're older," Mumm-Rana said, and went to aid her
brother. Clearly this was going to take a lot of work.

She spread her hands and pointed her fingers at the loose box. Ten bolts
of bright blue lightning streaked from their tips and nailed the flying
freak head-on, spinning it in a frenzy as if it were a demented toy top.
It tumbled to the ground with a metallic ring and started morphing into
misshapen forms again, albeit at a slightly slower pace than before.
"Now try it," Mumm-Rana said.

Mumm-Ra scooped up the box and got a spine-tingling shock.
Literally--the Heart, having pegged him as Enemy Number One, unleashed a
powerful charge of electricity that set the mage's hair on end. "You son
of a--" Mumm-Ra ran after it with fists aloft swearing profusely the
whole time.

Meanwhile some of the Thundercats were doing their best to present
straight faces. The whole situation had it not been so grave was more
comedic than they cared to dwell upon. Watching their former enemy and
his sister chase a psychotic puzzle box around the pyramid was actually
funnier than any of them had thought it would be. "At the rate they're
going we won't see tonight's dinner until tomorrow evening," Tygra
commented with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"My stomach can't hold out that long," Lion-O said. He drew the Sword of
Omens and charged into the chaos, thinking to aid in the capture.
"Hoooo!" More blue beams coming from the Sword attacked the
somersaulting box. Lion-O was pleased to see it stop instantly in
mid-flight. Then his eyes widened when he realized what it was doing in
answer to his interference.


The Heart's half was further splitting but did not separate completely
into pieces. Instead its cut parts slimmed down their sides to form a
single triangular shape with an elongated tip like that of an obelisk.
The tip broke apart into four smaller peaks that folded back like petals
on a flower as if revealing the center of the bloom--but something much
more harmful than fragrant nectar came spitting out of the blackness.
Scorching red lightning flew out of the triangle and put a decent-sized
crater in the floor two feet in front of Lion-O's boots--or where his
boots would have been had he stayed in place. As it was he was lucky to
avoid being pelted with stone shrapnel from the hostile response.

"Thanks a lot, Lion-O!" Mumm-Ra shouted, more irritated than ever. "Make
my job harder, why don't you!"

"Any time!" Lion-O sassed back, and darted for the safety of a statue
when the Heart sent a few more red bolts at him for good measure.

"I've had enough of this," Mumm-Ra snarled as he watched the Lord of the
Thundercats dodge from statue to statue avoiding the occasional red
lightning that crackled his way.

"So have I. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to redecorate this
place?" his sister said wryly.

Mumm-Ra whirled on her. "You know you could help instead of just
standing there offering smug commentary!"

"And you know perfectly well why she's leaving it up to you," Durakkon
butted in suddenly. "So cut the squabbling and show that box who's boss
before someone really gets hurt." His violet eyes flashed with the
immovable sternness of parental authority.

"But Father--"


"All right!"

Angrily Mumm-Ra stomped over to Panthro, who was at his wits' end trying
to keep his part of the box from escaping. "Give me that!"

Panthro looked ready to argue but one look at Mumm-Ra's stormy violet
gaze convinced him that arguing was in vain. He cautiously passed the
still-squirming ebony square to the mage, who tore it out of his grip
and squeezed it in his own hands till his knuckles were bone white from
the exertion.

Mumm-Ra cast glaring eyes around the chamber until he located the
spitfire's twin. It had Lion-O cornered behind the ibis statue while it
fired random bolts of the red lightning to keep him from
counterattacking. "I got your lightning bolts right here!" Mumm-Ra
hollered up at it. He lifted his box half above his head and waved it
tauntingly at the other as if the entire Heart was an actual sensate
being with acute vision rather than a bewitched object.

In truth the puzzle box was sensate in a special way because of the
unholy power its obsidian and gold wrapping kept tucked within its
fathomless depths. Mumm-Ra could feel the fierce psychic emanations that
flowed like a raging river from it. Each hateful sentiment was like a
poison needle penetrating not only his body but his soul as well,
infecting it with the putrid taint of pure evil. By virtue of his unique
resistance to it (or perhaps it was just so much wishful imagination on
someone's part) he was able to avoid being dragged down completely into
the quagmire of Set's rage. The Heart was furious with him for
reawakening it, furious, and it wanted him dead, dead and out of the
way, reduced to a pile of maggot-riddled refuse and burnt into ashes to
be scattered among the desert sands for eternity . . .

Shadows began fluttering behind his eyes . . .

"It's opening!" cried the boy as he watched in awe of the unfolding
spectacle. "Rani, it's opening up!"

Like a vision from the past . . . there was something strangely familiar
about the way the triangle-box shifted in the air as it pointed its
lightning-spewing tip at his head--

"Look out!" hollered Lion-O, but Cheetara beat him to the punch. Even as
the petals drew back with an audible click and the charge prepared to
expel itself she was streaking across the chamber in the blink of an
eye. She caught Mumm-Ra by the elbow and pushed him out of the way in
the nick of time. They both landed facedown, shielding their heads from
the explosion that sent dangerous stone projectiles every which way.

"It's coming right at you! Both of them!" cried Wilykat.

Cheetara and Mumm-Ra looked up to see the first triangle attacker
winging its way down to them at top speed. In addition to that menace
the second half that Mumm-Ra had been carrying, freed during the
confusion of his narrow escape, was scaling back its contours to form an
identical triangle. Now they had two Heart pieces to battle.

One of them--the first triangle--buzzed over Cheetara and nicked her
shoulder with its pointy tip. Mumm-Ra heard her cry out in pain and
suddenly that was it for him. He'd had as much of this thorny legacy as
he could stand for one day and his temper was way past the boiling
point. "That does it!" He jabbed a finger at the cavorting triangles.
"Get back here you miniature metal monsters!"

Both boxes did a sharp U-turn in the air and soared back to him but not
out of obedience to his incensed order. Their tips peeled back to allow
the red lightning free aim at him, but they didn't yet release their
deadly hail. Instead they barreled right towards the center of his chest
like possessed drill bits.

Amidst shouts for him to flee Mumm-Ra stood his ground and let the white
heat of anger channel through his body. It was such a powerfully blazing
inferno that he felt something else spark inside, some other power that
had long lain dormant but was now coming to life with a vengeance and
bursting forth with all the glory of a brilliant fireworks display.

The boxes were right on top of him and about to bore through his brand
new body as if it was pudding.

"I can't look," groaned Wilykat, though he remained riveted to the

"He's rat bait," muttered Oanahaptu.

Side by side the halves of the Heart raced straight for Mumm-Ra--

--and halted only an inch away from his skin.

The next thing everyone knew the boxes had been catapulted backwards in
a frenzy of irregular morphing and were now being tossed together in a
tempest of whirlwind energy. Blue and red lightning bolts danced
throughout the chamber in a calypso of chaos above a captive audience.
The Heart tried to defend itself with a few heavily charged sparks but
instantly found its body being bent and molded to another's will. It
resisted with all its might . . . and for perhaps the first time in a
long time, the evil of Set failed to escape the influence of an
outsider's power.

"Eyes of Horus, he's doing it!" breathed Malesenkha. She called out to
her husband, "Durakkon! Mumm-Ra's doing it! He's got the Heart on the

"I see it!" the pharaoh cheered. "That's my boy! I knew you could do it,

Mumm-Ra took no notice of the crowd's excitement. He was too angry to
pay any attention to their admiration. That box had caused him nothing
but trouble since the day he'd first laid eyes on it and now it was
hurting others, and that was absolutely unacceptable. What was laid to
him he could bear, but when his family and friends were menaced the
fierce warrior's instinct inside him roared to awakening. He felt his
own power connect . . . sought it mind and soul as something burst
within and flooded his body with the unimaginable fire of life . . .
fueled that fire with every fear and wrath that the horrors of Set
inspired in him. He reveled in his sheer magical strength and launched
it to the surface for the inevitable, ferocious explosion that blasted
the pyramid's roof clear off and took the Heart with it in its
tremendous tornadic force.

"YES!" Kat yelled at the top of his lungs. "You go Mumm-Ra!"

Thundercats and Egyptians scrambled outside to see more and to their
dazzled delight the party wasn't over. Mumm-Ra spun more and more energy
into the tornado, which had quadrupled its size to become a towering
funnel of fury that belched red and blue lightning as it churned and
thrashed about before their disbelieving eyes. They realized that he was
using this tornado to wear out the bad-tempered Heart and buy them some
time to figure out the enormity of this puzzle.

It's a great move, thought Cheetara as she held her wind-whipped hair
out of her face. If the Heart were rendered impotent even for a short
while, then perhaps that would make it easier for Mumm-Ra to explore
this mysterious realm of magic Mumm-Rana said he possessed. From what
she'd heard today timing might make all the difference between life and

Even as she watched him tap into and unleash his awakening power she was
awestruck. Set against the backdrop of a vivid hailstorm of crimson and
sapphire lighting up the boiling twilight skies Mumm-Ra was a
fascinating sight to behold. The howling winds lashed at his hair and
tangled it about his face; yet he stared firmly into the maelstrom he'd
created and stood fast, fearless now, arms raised to the heavens and
legs splayed apart in the classic mage-commanding-a-demon pose. She
could see as well as sense the untamed force within his being; while the
lightning flashed and cut its jagged scythes through the dark skies he
seemed to be bathed in an ethereal light all his own. It was enough to
take her breath away.

The tornado began decreasing in power, wrapping up its tentacle of a
cloud to let the cartwheeling boxes spill down from out of the depleting
winds. Mumm-Ra caught them--one in each hand--and as if someone had
flicked a switch the twister vanished. That strange exhilarating power
surged within his body in seconds and he became engulfed in a blinding
ray of light that could be seen for miles.

Cheetara could just barely make out what Tygra was saying as the
architect mouthed, "Beautiful!"

Within this ball of energy Mumm-Ra was suspended in a world apart from
all else. Time had stopped outside; nothing else mattered except this
moment, this now, and he heeded that guiding instinct without a second
thought as he took both boxes and smashed them together in one big black
blob that morphed into a lone box. It twisted and turned in accordance
with the spontaneous manipulations of his fingers like taffy until it
solidified . . . and the magic departed him in a thunderous shock wave
that left everybody fallen in a raze of bodies.

Darkness descended once more and the stars were allowed to twinkle in
their hazy constellations when the heavy cloud cover thinned and
dissipated. One by one the Thundercats and their Egyptian cohorts rose
to see the gold-laced ebony malevolence of the entire Set's Heart
glittering at their feet.

Mumm-Ra staggered over to the group. He was a disheveled mess from head
to toe--kilt askew and rumpled, hair sticking out all over the place,
and there was a dazed faraway look in his paled violet eyes. Before
collapsing in exhaustion he kicked at the puzzle box and managed to
whimper a few words: "Can we go home now?"


It was nearly ten by the time Evil Chaser Mandora reached Cats' Lair.
She parked her bike next to a bizarre-looking metallic blue vehicle in
the main courtyard and frowned, wondering who owned such a fancy set of
wheels. The sleek compact shape reminded her of pictures she'd once seen
of a few late-age First Earth sports cars, and she realized that this
was a Lotor-Espritanza, a very rare and expensive racer. To her
knowledge Quick Pick had never owned such a vehicle--though his tastes
were such that this speedster would certainly meet with his approval.
But he hadn't driven here; he'd come on the back of the Electra-Charger
with her. So where had the Lotor come from?
She climbed the courtyard steps and hit the speaker button at the front
door. "Officer Mandora here."

"Door's open, Mandora," responded Ben-Gali. "Please come in."

The Evil Chaser noted with interest that his voice sounded nervous.
Quick Pick must have already briefed him on Genvironment's
cloak-and-dagger doings.

Getting to the main control room was a cinch. She'd been through the
twists and turns of Cats' Lair so often on previous visits that the
routine was memorable: straight through the front hall; take a right up
the stairs; go up another two flights and down the hall to the left.
Mandora found Ben-Gali agitatedly waiting for her outside the control
room, and he was not alone. Another Thunderian was animatedly arguing at
a moderately low volume on a C-phone behind him. He had to be one of the
strangest looking people she'd ever run across. Not that very many
surprised her. His thick wavy copper hair stood out on all ends over his
scalp and bounced whenever he made an excited gesture. Jade green eyes,
a pert nose that turned up slightly at the tip and a wide mouth gave his
friendly face a comical appearance, which even now in his irritation
couldn't be concealed. Clothed in a white skirt with blue wraparound
belt and rainbow tie-dyed T-shirt with matching gold sandals, his
wardrobe was a blatant disregard to good fashion taste. If he'd walked
into her office back in Calis looking like that her first instinct would
have been to toss him in the nearest holder with the rest of the
small-time perps. She surmised that this odd little fellow was the owner
of the Lotor-Espritanza, but what he was doing here was anybody's guess
for the moment.

"Mandora!" Ben-Gali's face was pale and he was sweating a bit around the
edges of his forehead. "Thank Jaga you're here! I can't get a response
on the Thundertank--"

"Settle down, Ben-Gali. Where's Quick Pick?"

"In here at the main console," Ben-Gali said as he escorted her and the
still-yammering color palette inside. "Mandora, do you have any idea who
we're dealing with--"

"Genvironment. Yes, I have some background on it," she said calmly.
"Let's not panic until we have all the cards in our deck."

Mr. Garrulous' voice intruded on their conversation. "Listen, mon ami, I
do not give a fat rat's fart what kind of foreign dignitaries you have
to cross swords with. I want those charts sent over here ASAP, got
that?" He scowled as the person at the other end of the line made his
displeasure at being ordered about loudly known. "Aw, man, just tell 'em
you'll spring for tacos one night or something--hey! Give that back!" He
squealed and grabbed for the C-phone when Mandora swiped it out of his
hand and disconnected the call. "I was using that!" he snapped, giving
her a sour glare.

"Not any more. Who are you?" Mandora demanded in a no-nonsense tone.

"Be nice, Mandora," Quick Pick admonished from the center of the room,
where he sat diligently working an enormous screen before him. "Voyles
is a friend and a contact of mine. He's gonna help us out with a couple
of things."

"Yeah, so treat me right or I walk," grumbled the disgruntled
Thunderian. As he fished his C-phone out of her grip Mandora noticed
with some amusement that he was several inches shorter than she was.
"I'm a taxpayer. I know my rights."

"Do you realize--" she began to lecture him on the importance of
discretion, and stopped when his name drew her attention. "Voyles?
Edward Voyles, the art dealer?"

"Antiquities mostly, but I dabble in some artwork from time to time."
Gone now was his earlier peevishness upon being recognized. He bestowed
a ten-megawatt smile upon her as he asked sweetly, "What can I do you

"You can start by explaining your presence here." She chose to let his
suggestive wording pass. Maybe later she would get to write him up for
some misdemeanor. Revenge was a dish best served cold after all.

"Relax." Voyles' lazy smile was calculated to put her at ease. "I wasn't
followed and this--" he indicated the C-phone--"is equipped with a
state-of-the-art scrambler. Nobody within listening range would hear you
if you started reading me the riot act."

Mandora turned to Quick Pick. "Explain yourself, mister."

"Like I said, Voyles is lending a hand," her partner cheerfully replied.
"I cracked another code just like I told you and got us a new piece of
the puzzle. Voyles is here because he used to run bootleg in a couple of
galaxies. We can use his knowledge of star charts to locate

She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "What good will star charts do us?"

"A lot of good," Voyles said. "If we map out a suspected area underneath
a particular belt of stars, we can do a land sweep and eventually turn
up the stone where your perps are hiding. Of course, we need Q. P. to
break the last code before we can get a definite starting point."

"We already have one," Ben-Gali said. "Quick Pick showed me all the
passwords he collected. They add up to form a pretty weird sentence, but
we both agreed that it points to Plun-Darr as the place of origin."

"True, but there's another file," Quick Pick admitted. "That's the one
we really want. It's got the big prize inside."

"I thought you said this sixth file was the latest one," a surprised
Mandora said to him. "Did Tradyk send another one that we missed?"

"Well, yes and no. I found a loophole that indicates the presence of a
seventh file embedded within the sixth's program. It supposedly contains
an enormous master list of all Genvironment personnel. Names, faces,
addresses, fetishes, you name it. Tradyk was even nice enough to include
his personal cheat sheet--a copy of Kembri's clone formula. At least
that's what he tells us."

"Dr. Loen Tradyk," Ben-Gali read from a screen at one of the smaller
terminals nearby. "Forty-seven years old, been with Genvironment for
twenty-one of those years. Extremely bright with a special propensity
for genetics," the Thundercat said, skimming the scientist's profile.

"He's defecting. Why?" Mandora studied the picture that cropped up
onscreen. Loen Tradyk gazed back at her with mournful brown eyes
deep-set in a lightly tanned craggy face. Even close up he looked like a
tired, broken man, which his slouched posture, receding hairline, and
droopy ears seemed to readily attest to. She knew anyone in his line of
work would have experienced some sort of deterioration over the years,
but the shell Tradyk's picture presented seemed unfairly extreme.

"Says the Emanon Project--and that is a very interesting file, by the
way--gave him a bad case of the conscience," Quick Pick said from his
station. "Leading us to the major shareholders in this game. Make no
mistake, we're playing with the big boys now, so you better bring plenty
of health insurance for when they come to pound on us."

"Get to the walking phlegm," Voyles cut in impatiently. "He's the one
who frosts my cookies the most."

"The notorious Sephi-vo-Notar," Quick Pick obliged, pulling up a new
file and accompanying picture, "wanted in nine galaxies for known
offenses including murder, kidnapping, and industrial espionage, among
other things. Last known position was when he sought political asylum
with one of Galaxy Sector Ten's governors."

"Man, I think he got uglier since I last laid eyes on his diseased mug,"
Voyles growled at the pockmarked reptilian face splashed across the

Ben-Gali raised an eyebrow. "Since when are you so familiar with
Slithe's cousin?"

"Since the cheap bastard stiffed me for a cool million on a Hainehurst,"
the dealer said in disgust. "He made such a fuss over the dumb painting,
whining that he absolutely positively had to have it come hell or high
water, and then after I went to the ends of Third Earth to secure that
piece of crap he decided he didn't want it anymore. And to top that off
he refused to pay my retainer fee. I always charge a service cost for
undertaking these expeditions in case the job doesn't pan out and we
come up with a whole load of nothing for our trouble. When I confronted
him over it he wrote me a phony check that landed me in hot water with
my bank. Couldn't find hide or hair of him since. Now I'm out the
expenses plus my commission and I'm stuck with this godsawful painting
that no one will touch with a hundred-foot pole." He snorted and shook
his head, sending spiky tufts of orange hair into springy motion.
"Hainehursts are supposedly quite popular, worth at least eight mil a
pop, but for the life of me I've never seen one that somebody actually
wanted. They're ugly little rags." Voyles thought for a second and
added, "Plus vo-Notar smells bad. His breath alone would've choked a
herd of shit-dipped camels to death."

"As bad as Sephi is he's not the worst of it," Ben-Gali said, scowling
slightly at Voyles' liberal use of profanity. "That
general--Kembri--he's the ringleader we'll have to go up against."

Mandora eyed the photograph that now appeared in place of the repulsive
reptilian's, a markedly more attractive shot than his associate's. "One
of yours."

"Cougar Thunderian," Ben-Gali affirmed. "It says in his profile that he
was former head of command under Lord Claudis. But I never remembered
him serving while I lived on the old Thundera."

"Probably because he was undercover the whole time," Quick Pick pointed
out. "If Genvironment's existed for as long as Tradyk says it has it
only makes sense that Kembri would want to keep it a secret."

"It ain't a secret no more if all of us know about it, is it?" Voyles

"I mean, some of the stuff they were doing wasn't all bad. Their disease
and cure research branch was something of a revered influence," Quick
Pick continued. "Did you know they were able to isolate some genes that
cause certain kinds of cancers and develop genetic vaccines for them?
Anyway," he said hurriedly when Mandora tapped her foot as a
not-so-subtle clue for him to move on, "the files. The seedy side to
Genvironment's business is where this--" he now typed in a few commands
and the word EMANON in big black bold letters filled the screen--"comes
in. Kembri was mass-producing clones on the sly."

"You mean he was trying to," Mandora said.

"No, I mean he's already done it," Quick Pick corrected her, and tapped
more instructions into the computer. "Take a look at this."

The screen displayed a lengthy document and for time's sake the escape
artist gave an edited version of it. "Before Thundera blew up Kembri was
getting government funding from Claudis for his legit stuff. Part of
Genvironment, the operations that were common knowledge, received
backing by leading countrymen who wanted the general to explore the
frontiers of genetics in the hope of eliminating disease."

"Or finding something closest to immortality itself," Mandora put in.

"Yep. Build a better army and the world will beat a path from your door.
Can you imagine the uproar that would've raised? Claudis funneled money
into Kembri's pocket for that very purpose. Then somewhere along the
line when Thundera got into a scrape with Plun-Darr during a war the
general was approached by several important enemy brass."

"It doesn't give the details of the encounter, but the manifesto isn't
hard to figure out," Ben-Gali said. "Kembri struck a deal with
Plun-Darr's King Bolgar and turned double agent. He betrayed Thundera in
order to accept even larger amounts of money to illicitly further his
studies into the realm of cloning."

"And he succeeded," Quick Pick bobbed his head. "He and Sephi-vo-Notar
cloned a whole bunch of Claudis' people and sent the duplicates into
undercover missions."

The Evil Chaser cocked her head. "Spies."

"Then there was a big stink when one of the doubles was involved in a
botched mission and Kembri had to do a little damage control. Claudis
trusted him a lot, you see, so he unwittingly handed the general a
golden opportunity on a silver platter. He appointed Kembri the chief of
investigation in this matter."

"Big mistake," said Voyles.

"You're telling me. Kembri had a sweet deal going that afforded him
unlimited access to the planet's most important resources. Military,
scientific, financial--"

"Go on," Mandora prodded. "I'm beginning to see the picture."

"To make a long story short Kembri robbed Claudis blind. Stole whatever
he could get his sticky fingers on, right down to the kitchen sink and
then some, and he used his pooled booty to help create the juggernaut
that is Genvironment today." Quick Pick scrolled down the document.
"Kembri's your classic textbook military psycho. Strong-willed, used to
getting his own way and never takes no for an answer."

"It doesn't help that he's well-backed, either," Ben-Gali said. "He's
got the money, the moxie, and the connections to recruit any number of
mercenaries to do his bidding. Tradyk stated that he and Sephi-vo-Notar
are like two peas cut from the same pod. He even mentioned that Bolgar
was partial to him as well, which is really amazing considering that
Bolgar had a reputation for being one of the most cold-hearted and
vicious rulers in a hundred-year history of Plun-Darr."

"So basically, if we mess with Kembri and his Genvironment goons, we'd
be sticking our heads into a giant nest of hornets," Voyles said with a
shrug. "Yeah, that's the kind of thing I like to do on a nice Sunday

"Can't be helped. He's ordered a big-game hunter called Safari Joe to
kill the Thundercats for making inquiries about a series of
Genvironment-related murders. We think the unmarked Skeeter Z was given
to him as a perk." Quick Pick scanned the rest of the document as fast
as he could. "Kembri was able to keep a cork on the Genvironment bottle
when another scientist tried defecting several years earlier by giving
the guy a swimming lesson in the River of Despair. Unfortunately Choscal
B'aari--I think was his name--flunked it."

"Control would have a record of that death in their files downtown,"
Mandora said. "We can call in and have them messenger a copy to us for

"Can't. All Cats' Lair computers linked to Calis headquarters have been
locked out. We've been down since last month," Ben-Gali told her.

"Wassey," Quick Pick said.

Mandora's lips thinned in a frown that was mostly concealed by her
uniform helmet. "The chief? He's a bullheaded ignoramus and a pain to
deal with, I'll admit . . . but a crook?"

"He was the investigating officer in the B'aari drowning, and he
interviewed everybody Choscal knew, including two widely respected
scientists who publicly testified at an open hearing he set up. No prize
for guessing who those scientists were." Quick Pick clucked his tongue
in a parody of disappointment. "Always a shame to see the law

"Hearsay," Mandora said, even though her blood was doing little under a
boil at the mention of a fellow officer selling out. Having carried a
lifelong respect for justice and order with her she found it disgusting
that cops who swore such an important commitment would be tempted to
betray it. "What else did Tradyk put in this file?"

"Well, when Lynx-O and I were tinkering with one of the earlier files we
found out Wassey was on some special council that reviews Genvironment's
registered works and lobbies other scientific communities for support.
He's a somewhat essential informant to them since he's their main link
to the legal world. He gets paid double his police salary for keeping
them up to date on permissible avenues of research and any loopholes
available should they become necessary in cases where morality is an
extremely fine sketch. Throws up a red flag there, wouldn't you say?"

"But it's no hard evidence," Mandora said.

"It's enough to warrant looking into."

"Maybe, but it still doesn't give us tangible proof that Wassey's a
stooge. Before we go charging off after anybody with a cocked gun I want
both barrels fully loaded."

"We gotta get some proof then," Voyles said with perky determination.
"If we had Tradyk in the flesh then we'd have bankable testimony. Until
then it's our word against theirs. If we don't fit Genvironment into a
nice tight frame they can slither out from under the law's thumb and
come back to stomp all over us."

"And they would too," Ben-Gali sighed. "Tradyk was very thorough in his
descriptions of Kembri's and Sephi's cruelty. They're the kind who love
inflicting pain just for the sake of it."

"I see," Mandora said quietly. The fact that in her line of work the
enemies almost always turned out to be the meanest bastards this side of
the moon didn't daunt her an ounce. Cases like these were what she lived
for. "And the Mutants and the Lunataks? How exactly do they figure into

Quick Pick culled a security camera's picture of the fugitives from the
file even though she hadn't asked for it. "Slithe contacted Captain

"Mercenary creep," Ben-Gali muttered, remembering the time he, Pumyra,
and Lynx-O had been hauled around in the Vertis.

"--and had him track down his cousin's whereabouts. When he and the
others slipped past Bragg they called up Sephi and got him to hide them
at Genvironment. I don't think that they knew exactly, if anything,
about the true nature of Genvironment. I mean, Shiner had to go through
some pretty hairy connections to locate Sephi. Took him well over a year
to find what Slithe wanted. I'd say that the reptilian was just saving
the information about his cousin for a rainy day, like if the Mutants
ever got sent up for their crimes and they needed an escape route.
Friends in high places and all that. But the jailbreak coincided with
that of another, one of Kembri's pet projects named Emanon--"

"--Who is responsible for a string of unsolved killings on New
Thundera," finished Ben-Gali.

"A clone?" Mandora asked.

"Yes. Not just any run-of-the-mill clone, either," the Thundercat said
with increased alarm. He showed her a picture of the project's namesake,
which elicited a distasteful curl of the lips from the officer. "This
one is designed with every genetically superior characteristic in mind.
It's bred to fight to the death--preferably yours."

"Holy shit," murmured Voyles. "I've seen that dude somewhere before,
haven't I?"

"Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living," Mandora said. "An ancient Egyptian demon
priest that's inhabited Third Earth for centuries."

"Damn! They cloned him? You know what a treasure dig in his sandbox
would be worth if I'd been able to visit the Desert of Sinking Sands?
That guy's probably sitting on some of the greatest archaeological and
artistic works of the universe!"

"That mummy's had it in for us Thundercats from day one," Ben-Gali said.
"He's a powerful and dangerous adversary in his own right. According to
Tradyk Emanon is twice as bad as Mumm-Ra. Lion-O would no doubt agree
with him on that one too."

"How would he know?" Voyles asked with a curious glance.

Quick Pick clarified it for him. "The Thundercats on New Thundera were
attacked and almost destroyed during that one incident I told you about
a month ago."

"Ah. Mumm-Ra couldn't have done it instead of this clone, could he? How
the hell could somebody have gotten that close to the guy to clone him
without getting their balls put in a sling at the very least?" Voyles
was more excited than ever now. Not because they were facing a
potentially deadly threat, but because he was a part of something
special, something mysterious here, an adventure that could prove to be
profoundly altering for eternity. Opportunities like this didn't come
along every day and he fully intended to sink his teeth into the meat of
the matter.

"It doesn't say anything in here about how Emanon came to be. I assume
that's what Kembri's formula will detail," Quick Pick said. "All we know
now is that he exists, and frankly, that's enough for me."

"Mumm-Ra was with Lion-O and the others when our lair on New Thundera
was destroyed." Ben-Gali paused before reluctantly confessing, "Lion-O
was trying to engineer a peace treaty between the Thundercats and the
demon priest, with apparent success."

"That's what he told me when we met," Mandora confirmed. "Then Safari
Joe reared his bald head again and threw everybody into a tizzy."

"As if things weren't already chaotic enough around here, what with
Genvironment and Tygra getting hitched," Quick Pick chuckled nervously.

Voyles was confused by the flimsy joke. "Who?"

"Tygra. One of the Thundercats. He sort of hopped the first flight off
New Thundera to elope with the queen of the Warrior Maidens. During an
important Thundercat meeting no less."

The antiquities proprietor burst out laughing. "All right! My kind of

"They had a proper wedding," an annoyed Ben-Gali chastened them.

Mandora cleared her throat. "Getting back to the subject at hand . . .
have you reached any other Thundercats?"

"Lynx-O and Wilykit are on their way here now," Ben-Gali reported. "But
I haven't been able to get a hold of the others yet." Worry clouded his
sapphire blue eyes. "You didn't see them when you passed over the white
pyramid, did you?"

"No, I ran into some kind of storm over there that was too wild for me
to ride through. They're probably headed back by now anyway so I
wouldn't worry unless we have to." She turned her back on the others and
paced a slow beat around the control room thinking things over. "What
about that message? The one that you said was a puzzle."

"Oh yes, the mystery sentence!" Rejuvenated at the prospect of another
code-breaking session Quick Pick hastily assembled his collection of
passwords. "Okay, each file was sent containing a password that had to
be disabled before we could read the info. Most of the files were just
warnings, telling us that the Mutants and Lunataks were in dire straits
and that their guardians were a wacky bunch, but Tradyk kept adding more
and more stuff to beef them up. Now each password was a word that is
somehow related to Genvironment, and when you put them all together they
form a meaningful sentence." He fumbled for the paper on which he'd
written it and read it aloud to them. "'Unholy alliance below our stars
trains.' That, I believe, is the key to opening the seventh file Tradyk
hid inside the sixth."

Mandora digested this. "Interesting clues. Didn't he give you the
password for the last one?"

"Would you leave a valuable password lying around in the open where
anybody could find it?" Quick Pick retorted. "Transmissions can be
intercepted or diverted if one has the right gear for it, and it's a
safe assumption that Genvironment could hack open anything if they were
of a mind to. Tradyk gave us a teaser on what was in this final file but
he's letting us figure the main course out for ourselves."

"Cheap geek," Voyles said, but his tone was that of admiration.

"He's covering his own ass, and unless he magically pays us a visit to
tell us the password we're on our own. But don't fret, it's not totally
hopeless." Quick Pick grinned. "He really was a smart bugger. The key is
staring us right in the face!"

Everyone looked to the screen where Emanon's flat cold stare was splayed
across it larger than life. "It certainly is," the Evil Chaser whistled.


"'Night Chief," Evil Chaser Third Class Officer Carter called as he
headed towards his bike. "Have a good one."
"Yeah, you too," Carlemon-Wassey grunted back as he stuffed a handful of
pistachios into his mouth and picked a different path away from the man.
Thankfully his vehicle was all the way over on the other side of the lot
so he didn't have to put up with any unwanted escorts. He was never much
of a conversationalist and disliked small talk, even though Carter was a
likeable cop and popular among his peers in the force.

Besides, he had other things on his mind that prevented him from a
leisurely chat. He was recalling the terrible contents of a file he'd
pressed Sephi-vo-Notar into passing along to him. The chief had made up
his mind that he, as one of the big fish, had a right to know what kind
of lunatic was running around in or near the pond, so after a rather
unpleasant discussion with his reptilian cohort he'd learned the basics:

There was a clone named Emanon that had gotten loose. It was very
deadly. Very easily angered. Very hard to capture, according to its
creators, which was why Sephi had ruled against a large manhunt. They
didn't want the thing to know it was being followed, otherwise it would
go to ground and the search would drag on for months. The less people
that knew about it the better; that way mass panicking could be avoided
if perchance the clone decided to off the first fool who crossed it. In
the (very) likely event it did kill someone the death could be covered
up satisfactorily as long as he kept a sharp lookout in time for
information. That was his stock in trade, after all. Kembri wasn't
paying him just to sit at a desk and provide stimulating conversation.

He would have preferred that to be the case, however. Especially since
the very thought of the killer clone entering his jurisdiction made his
heartburn sizzle with all the intensity of a four-alarm wildfire. Sephi
had told him that so long as this Emanon was left to its own devices it
would probably be content to wander around the planet evading capture.
Forcing confrontation meant a surefire death sentence. In addition to
possessing incredible strength and cunning the clone was well versed in
the ancient and mystifying arts of the supernatural. With a flick of its
hand or a blink of its eyes it could reduce a top-notch soldier to
ashes; merely by organizing and controlling the fluid process of thought
in its mind it had the frightening ability to batter even the most
ferocious of brutes to pieces. Pity the poor civilian bastards who,
blissfully unaware of its explosive wrath, might accidentally stumble
upon the clone.

To cement that point Sephi had also sent him a picture of one very dead
Baron Tass. It had not been a pretty sight--the chief had had all he
could do to keep the quarter pound burger he'd eaten for dinner from
aborting its intestine-bound travels. To think that Kembri was
responsible for bringing such a horrid creature into existence! What
kind of nut would dream of making something that dangerous and not take
into consideration that it might turn on him?

Its picture hadn't been much better than the baron's was. Even now as he
walked across the deserted parking lot to his police vehicle, crunching
pistachios all the way, he clearly remembered the hateful ruby red stare
burning out from the mass of deathly-looking blue-gray skin surrounding
it. Wassey shivered at the memory. He'd met hardened career criminals
who possessed more gentleness in their murderous eyes than that Emanon.

Funny, but every time he thought about it he got the creepy-crawly
feeling that its evil gaze was on him everywhere he went. Like now.

Oh, don't be stupid. It was just a picture. Be grateful you didn't see
the real McCoy.

The sky beyond the IPCF base was aglow with colorful city lights. Calis
nightlife had come out with a vengeance, as it always did as soon as the
sun went down. Judging by the boisterous shouts and exuberant music
carrying on the merrymaking was in full swing. Wassey burped softly,
thankful that he hadn't pulled evening duty tonight. Though the city had
an excellent overall safety record there were always the few requisite
troublemakers in several choice hotspots ready to ensure that the police
earned their pay, and he was feeling too edgy to be up to the task.

He dug into his pocket for the remote control key chain and had his car
unlocked and running well before he reached it. Maybe it was just his
imagination, but it felt a mite colder outside tonight than usual. Oh
well, everyone knew weather forecasters weren't one hundred percent
right all the time. Then again it could be a full-on hit of the willies
thanks to that file's disgusting contents. All the more reason to look
into retirement. If the Genvironment insanity was any indication of what
was going on in the world today you could shove it. This kind of
aggravation he didn't need. Wassey planned to live to be ninety and
still drinking his health when most of his peers had gone the way of the

His indigestion kicked in and produced a reasonably loud burp in protest
of the forbidden food. The chief sighed as he cracked open a few more
shells and popped the treats into his mouth anyway. Once he got home and
plunked down in the hot tub with a whole bowl of pistachios (screw
doctor's orders), some antacids, and a stack of movies on the side he'd
be okay.

Wassey yanked open the car door, taking a minute to squirm into a bucket
seat that was two sizes too small for him, and cursed the vehicle
manufacturer softly for thinking that all butts were made from the same
size mold as he slammed the door shut again. No sooner had he lifted a
hand to turn up the heater than a big black band of the strangest
substance he'd ever seen shot across his midsection and pulled back
tightly pinning him against the seat.

Surprise nearly made him choke on his nuts. "What the--"

Simultaneously an icy metal prod jabbed into the back of his neck.
Wassey froze and heard a quiet rasp coming from the back seat. "Not
another word. Try anything and you're a dead man."

A mugger, he thought detachedly, probably a new kind of
weirdo-weapon-toting junkie. Wassey obediently remained still and silent
while his mind rapidly ran through a list of possible actions and
discarded them all. He knew the threatening touch of a gun when he felt
one and recognized that the odds weren't in his favor at this point.

"I want to know something, Carlemon," continued the hair-raising voice.
"Are you really on the Genvironment council?"

"What has that got to--"

"Answer me!" hissed the intruder, his dagger-like fingernails painfully
ripping open the scalp when they tore through Wassey's thinning hair and
bent his head backwards into the gun barrel.

Pain lashed through his throbbing skull. Why the hell is this wacko
asking me about Genvironment? Wassey wondered fearfully. Unless . . .
Kembri might be tying up loose ends . . . Despite strict warnings that
he destroy the copy of the wayward clone file in the computer after he
was done reading it, he realized he'd forgotten to do so before locking
up his office for the night. Sephi-vo-Notar could have logged on to the
Calis link at any time and found the file still in existence in his box,
and as insurance against Wassey's liability--

"I'll blow your fuckin' head off, I swear I will, and then you'll be
spitting pistachio shells out the bloody stump of your neck!" snarled
the mystery being, and this was uttered with such dripping wet
malevolence that any ideas the chief might have had about further
resistance instantly evaporated. Whoever he was this guy was deadly

The hollow noise of a weapon being impatiently cocked seemed deafening
amidst the sepulchral silence inside the car and spurred him towards
cooperation. "Y-Y-Yes," stammered a now-terrified Wassey. He spat out a
gummy wad of crushed pistachios that had quickly taken on a rancid
flavor. "Yes I'm on their council list!"

"Thank you. That's all I needed to hear." The aching pressure from the
gun let up and the bone-chilling rasp fell silent.

Wassey couldn't resist. "Mind easing up on the hair too?"

Accordingly the claws released their fistful of his hair. He wished he
could reach up and explore the damage done--he could feel several thin
trickles of warm blood slipping down the back of his neck--but was
unable to do so because of the gel-like rope holding him in bondage. A
new operative's joined the fold, Wassey decided, and began to think that
this was a sick practical joke. The spook's voice had a strange element
of authority to it, not the kind that was the chiseled product of years
of hard cultivation but a much stronger, more powerful type, the kind of
iron-willed authority that was naturally inborn. It was the voice of
someone who was accustomed to nothing less than having his own way in
everything he undertook, no matter how small or large the stakes, and it
held within its ominous chords the promise of ripe violence if
gratification was not instantly forthcoming. In fact, the speaker's
harsh tone reminded him more than a little of Kembri, and Wassey
wondered if the general had had a brother somewhere in the works. That
would certainly shed some light on this unwelcome surprise encounter,
even if only a dim flickering. The prospect of a mugging still had him
worried--but he figured that as long as he played by the assailant's
rules he'd come out in one piece. The basic rule of such sneak attacks
was to give the aggressors whatever they demanded and avoid getting
smashed in the head afterwards. "Kembri didn't tell me he was testing a
new mole," he offered nervously. "If you wanted to learn about me you
sure didn't have to go to all this trouble."

No response met his idle chatter. Crazy bastard's got no sense of humor,
the chief thought, and started to fidget. His captor was giving him the
spooks and he wanted out of here. Forget the car, I'll just call a cab,
he told himself, and tried to reach for the door handle but found it
blocked by a spreading patch of the same strong obsidian alien that was
anchoring him to his seat. "What . . . the . . . what is that stuff?" he
squeaked. It pulsed and flowed like liquid metal in front of his very
face, and frighteningly enough, it embodied an odious life force all its
own. He couldn't recall ever having seen anything like this awesome
oncogenesis, which was multiplying at a stunning rate as it formed an
impenetrable barrier between him and the car door.

Gnawing unease lent a shrill note to his voice with his next question.
"Uh, I've got an early morning call, so, uh, are you gonna let me go
soon? If you need anything else you can always come into the station and
have my secretary set up an appointment. Any time, any place, you name
it, I can meet with you later on, you know."

Like his first query that one also went without an answer. Wassey's
acidic gut churned with fear and the suspicion that he was being set up
for a bad tumble after all. "If--If you hurt me, you'll have this
precinct all over your ass. You'll bring an entire intergalactic army
down on you like an anvil!" he threatened with false bravado. Cops
always looked after each other. It was an unspoken and unwritten code.
One of the inviolable laws of life that everyone implicitly respected.

More silence. Finally there was a slight rustling noise, like crisp wind
over dead leaves as the midnight monster withdrew its tentacles from his
body and the car door. "You're right," agreed a soft rumbling from the
back seat.

Relief washed over Carlemon-Wassey. It was going to be fine. He'd been
scared over nothing at all. He was the chief of Calis' InterPlanetary
Control Force--no two-bit hoodlum would risk facing the heat of every
cop within a million light-years for an assault on one of their leaders.

That blind faith was dashed to pieces moments later, however, when the
gun barrel was suddenly mashed against the base of his skull and his
assailant's smug-sounding gravelly tone filled the stale air once more.
"I wasn't quite sure where I'd seen you earlier, Chief Wassey. Now that
my curiosity has been satisfied I have no further use for you."
Whereupon the speaker drew close enough for Wassey to glimpse in the
rearview mirror a set of ruby red eyes illuminating a wickedly sharp
smile in its death's head just a fraction of a second before he
witnessed his own brain matter exploding onto the car's interior.


"What is taking so long?"
Luna was pacing--or rather; she was making Amok do the pacing for
her--as they waited in the west wing, inside the conference room, for an
escort to take them to their transfer ship. Her infamous tolerance level
for delay was manifesting itself in the usual manner.

"I win," Tug-Mug said to Red Eye. Red Eye grunted and reached into a hip
pocket. From it he withdrew several wrinkled pieces of currency and
handed them to his comrade with seeming indifference.

Aluro cast a questioning gaze at them. "We had a running bet to see how
long it would be before Luna started complaining about the wait," the
fat Lunatak cheerfully explained as he stuffed the money into his glove.
"I said it would only be five minutes before her mouth went off. I won
seven bucks."

"That's all?"

"A dollar a minute. She came in under ten and that's what I bet," Red
Eye said. Aluro nodded.

Luna shot them each a poisonous glare. She smacked Amok petulantly with
the crop and he lumbered closer to the group. Out of habit they backed
away, well aware of the damage Amok could do when his mistress was on a
rampage. "I do hope you're having plenty of fun at my expense," she
screeched. "Because when this incident is over I'm going to have some
sense pounded into your pea brains!"

"Shut up, Luna." Luna shifted position on her seat to see who dared
speak to her so insolently. Aluro met her beady eyes with an icy look of
his own. "If it wasn't for you none of us would be in this mess."

"How dare you blame me!" she screamed, and several people winced at the
harshness of her grating voice. "It's not my fault the whole project
went up in smoke! This was his--" she waved her riding crop at
Slithe--"stupid idea! He's the one who brought it up!"

"Nobody held a gun to your head, Luna," Chilla said. "You could have
said no instead of accepting his lame proposal. We didn't have to tag
along with him and his pathetic crew. They can take care of their own
worthless hides."

"Now just a minute--" an insulted Slithe hissed.

A gun cocked noisily, drawing everybody's attention. "Let's go," the
Genvironment guard said humorlessly. "Your ride's waiting."

A sullen band of Mutants and Lunataks followed their armed escort down
into the bay, a massive open space that resembled a giant garage of
sorts, with its array of vehicles and equipment. Only the ever-present
army and the stalactites decorating the ceiling along with the hanging
lights lent testimony to the fact that this was actually a hollowed-out
cavern beneath the mountain. Kembri had decided that its natural
roominess made a perfect spot for aerial, nautical, and land transport
storage. Fifty vehicles of assorted sizes and makes, many of them other
decommissioned Skeeter Zs, lined the walls, and including the
canvas-covered hulks that were grouped off to one side it was probable
that at least thirty more were being kept.

To their surprise the escapees were not being led to any of these
vehicles, which was what they were expecting. There were three obvious
choices that would have been perfect for transporting a large group such
as they. Instead the bevy of guards pushed them through the area,
bypassing the immense ships in favor of a sealed tunnel. In front of it
were General Kembri, Sephi-vo-Notar, and Loen Tradyk.

The head guard saluted his superiors and his company did likewise. "All
accounted for, sir," the leader reported.

"Excellent." Kembri smiled--he could be an especially handsome man when
he smiled--and addressed the hideaways. "Sephi," he said as he nodded in
the Mutant's direction, "has brought to my attention the fact that you
are not suited for life underground. Based on my observations I'm
inclined to agree with him," the general said, the smile fading as a
flinty look appeared in his dark orange eyes. "We have another base
located in this galaxy that will be more appropriate as a hideout.
Perhaps there you will be safe from the authorities, and we will be able
to resume our normal schedule without further interruption."

"Where are we going?" Jackalman piped up.

"You will be es-s-scorted to the warehous-s-se, where a ship of our
designation has-s-s been prepared for you," Sephi-vo-Notar said, and
motioned to a guard standing next to a control panel on the wall
opposite him. The Thunderian employee nodded and punched in a code that
opened the sliding tunnel vault, revealing an infinite expanse of
pavement leading to who knew where. It looked to be large enough for any
one of the crafts in Genvironment's transportation menagerie.

"It's too long to make the trip by foot. Sephi and I are going to drive
you there," Tradyk said, carefully concealing his displeasure. He hadn't
counted on Kembri's insistence that more than one personnel accompany
them to the warehouse and he castigated himself for this lack of
foresight. Sephi's presence posed a decidedly thorny challenge to their
escape plan. As if they didn't have enough problems . . .

Two nondescript black vans pulled up behind them. Sephi directed them to
park in front of the tunnel entrance and the drivers got out. "Keys are
in the ignition, sir," one of them said to the reptilian.

Sephi nodded and pointed to the vans. "Half in this-s-s one, half in the
other," he ordered the Mutants and Lunataks. While the refugees followed
his directions and split up he moved off to speak with Kembri. "It's all
s-s-set, then?" he asked in a low voice.

"Regular as clockwork," Kembri assured him. "I trust that they'll be
taken to the necessary transport?"

"I s-s-spoke with Jeres-s-s before I called you. The train is-s-s fully
modified to include our specifications-s-s."

"Wonderful." The general's smile returned, deeper than before. "For the
first time since these fools got here I'll be able to sleep well

"You'll have to track down Wass-s-sey and see that he files the right
reports-s-s after we leave," Sephi said, his beady yellow eyes following
Tradyk's movements as his coworker took command of the van containing
the Lunataks. The back of it was weighted down by Amok's considerable
bulk despite the reinforced chassis. "I couldn't get a hold of him
before he shut down for the night."

"He's next when we recapture our Emanon," Kembri said with a slight
purr. "I don't trust him to keep his ears open for us around IPCF

"He's gotten s-s-sloppy lately," Sephi agreed.

"Safari Joe is in place, so you'd better get going. He knows how to spot
you so you don't get caught in the crossfire."

"He'd better. If that hunter shoots-s-s me I'll slice his balls-s-s off
and cook them up for breakfast," the reptilian cackled. He narrowed an
eye at Kembri. "What about Princess-s-s Luna?"

"What about her? I don't need her. She's served her purpose."

Even though he was sure this meant what he thought it did Sephi asked
anyway, "I figured, s-s-since you went to such trouble for the woman,
you might want to keep her around as-s-s a concubine."

The general's nasty laughter rumbled softly in his chest. "With a voice
like that? Fuck Princess Luna."

"You already did," noted Sephi wryly. Chuckling, the two men departed
for their respective positions--Sephi behind the wheel of the first van
and Kembri jogging back up to his office to monitor the rest of the
evening's chores.

Inside the Lunataks' van Aluro was sweating bullets. "What's so funny to

"Don't know, but you can be certain it wouldn't be funny to us if we
heard it," Tradyk said. "I'm not sure how we'll handle Sephi yet. I
hadn't planned on him coming along." He was sweating quite a bit

"He can't do anything if you're a hostage, can he?" Chilla said.

"Maybe. Maybe not. There's never been any great love lost between us."

Luna stayed silent, which was far more disturbing to Aluro than it would
have been had she resorted to her usual nagging and moaning. It wasn't
like her to keep quiet under such dire circumstances. He cast a
surreptitious look at her from the corner of his eye and noticed
uneasily that she was grinning satisfactorily to herself, like she was
in possession of a juicy secret. Maybe she is, he thought with growing
unrest. He spotted the expensive-looking pack tied to Amok's harness.
Where had that come from?

She caught him staring at it. "Candy to keep Amok in line," she huffed.

Aluro didn't believe that for a second. Amok very seldom defied his
stubby mistress. Rebellion just wasn't in his genes. He wanted to sneak
a peek inside the pack but he had no idea how to do that without
throwing Luna into one of her hissy fits, so he reluctantly decided to
let it be for the moment.

Luna, bless her soul, wasn't as willing to let silence settle the
matter. She checked him out and spied the sparkling tip of a diamond
case peeking out over the top of his belt. "I'll show you mine if you
show me yours," she cackled slyly, pointing with her crop towards the
disc he had hidden.

Before they were herded off to the west wing Tradyk had cornered Aluro
one more time and shoved it into his hands. "For the love of Claudis
hide this and don't let on that you've got it. We're going to need it
when we meet up with the Thundercats," he'd hastily explained. Aluro
figured it must be documentation of Genvironment's clone project in case
the Thundercats didn't believe their tale and Tradyk had to produce
proof to back up the story. Regardless of whatever was on the disc
though he had no intention of letting Luna get her grubby hands on it.
If Tradyk felt it was valuable enough to risk smuggling along then he
was going to do his damnedest to protect it. "Souvenir," he muttered
when she glared expectantly at him for a response.

"I can't believe they're going to let us out of here so easily," Red Eye
said as the drive through the tunnel commenced.

Tradyk trained his watchful gaze on the van in front of him. "They
aren't, trust me. When we set foot in that warehouse that's when it'll
all go down."

"If we pool our skills we can escape," Chilla said, her face ripening
with a determination and strength that Aluro had never seen in her
before. He found her all the more appealing for it. "We just have to
stick together, wait for an opening and isolate those watchdogs."

"What happened to the part about the Mutants fending for themselves?"
Tug-Mug jibed.

"Well of course I wasn't talking about them," she sneered with a gust of
frost. The frigid personality that had become second nature to her
hadn't thawed entirely in spite of their predicament. "They can rot for
all I care. Vultureman almost got us killed with his idiotic cloning
game. He deserves a little grief of his own." Privately Aluro agreed
with her on that one. He was still aching with humiliation and
resentment from the Pepper Spike scene.

The drive to the warehouse lasted shorter than they thought it would, or
perhaps it was just that they were all preoccupied with escape and
therefore oblivious to the passage of time. As the vans drew closer to
the end of the winding tunnel everyone's alertness heightened just a tad
more. Postures straightened and eyes sharpened; muscles flexed and
bodies tensed in preparation for battle. It was said by many that the
only way to leave Genvironment was in a body bag. The Lunataks and
Tradyk, at least, were determined that they would leave upright--flying
if not walking out of the underground menace.

Sephi activated the code that caused the tunnel vault to open. He led
the way into the circle of the warehouse, which was half the size of the
cavernous bay, cruising at a slow pace towards an unpleasantly familiar
red and yellow vehicle.

"Kembri's putting us back on the circus train," Luna said in surprise.

Tradyk felt a tingle as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He
had the creepy notion that there was a specific reason they were being
reunited with the train, but he couldn't put his finger on it. "Nobody
moves until I give the signal, understand?"

"What about Sephi-vo-Notar?" Aluro anxiously asked.

"I'll handle him," Tradyk said in a tone that was modulated to quash
argument. "For Jasu's sake don't deviate from our plan. We can't afford
any mistakes." Instinctively he touched the folds of his vest, where his
pistol was concealed inside it as best he could.

The Mutants' van slowed to a crawl and stopped next to the head of the
train. Tradyk drove up behind them and parked ten feet away from their
bumper but didn't shut off the engine. He longed desperately to throw
the gears into full speed and peel out of there, but the double doors
leading to the outside world were still sealed. Not only that but in
addition to the two guards Sephi had brought along in his van a dozen
more were waiting alongside the circus train, with weapons drawn and at
the ready. They wouldn't get an inch without being filled full of holes.

Sephi and the guards that had accompanied him got out. The guards opened
up the back of the van and motioned with their rifles for the Mutants to
exit. When they hesitated at the gesture Sephi snapped his fingers and
the nearest guard let off a shot that struck the bumper, startling them
into fast obedience. "You didn't have to do that, hoo hoo!" Monkian

"We don't have time to was-s-ste, simian," Sephi hissed. "I have better
things to do than babys-s-s-sitting."

Tradyk decided that if things were going to come to a head it would be
when they boarded the circus train. "Get out and do exactly as Sephi
says," he told the Lunataks in a low voice. He switched off the van's
engine and as calmly as he could exited the vehicle.

Aluro squeezed Chilla's hand as they stepped out into the warehouse. He
hadn't intended to provoke a response from her, for the gesture was
meant more as a way for him to muster dwindling courage rather than
serve as reassurance for her. Nevertheless he was pleasantly surprised
when she returned the squeeze.

Sephi was waiting for them at the head of the train. The two guards had
joined their cohorts and the whole squad formed a half-circle facing
them, weapons aimed at the fugitives to discourage troublemaking.
"This-s-s is the plan, yes-s-s?" the reptilian scientist said as he
scanned the group with icy lantern-yellow eyes. "You will board the
train and depart immediately for Is-s-sopher Eight, another one of our
storage bases in this galaxy. It's a fair dis-s-stance from Third Earth.
The coordinates-s-s are already entered. You won't need to pilot the
train manually." His malignant gaze flickered to the two hulking guards
he'd brought with him. "Gerdu and Burton will be accompanying you."

The two guards--both looking like they were anticipating a month-long
stay in a guerilla infested jungle instead of a routine transfer, what
with all of their extensive armory--stepped forward and stood to
attention. Gerdu was plainly Plun-Darrian; his repulsively oversized
rodent features took in the fugitives with minimal interest. He sniffed
once loudly, his long white whiskers twitching on each side of his huge
nose. Burton, the other guard, was an inoffensive blend of
Thunderian--his catlike face and hands could attest to that much--and
something else that none of them had ever recalled seeing before in
their lifetimes. At a distance Burton appeared to be nothing more than
your average Thunderian. Up close that impression was proved wrong, for
his eyes, while nothing that could be considered ugly or threatening,
were unusual enough to guarantee him many a second glance. Within the
irises' silvery circles, which gave them an eerie reflective
luminescence, the fat black pupils resembled rectangular lumps of coal
turned on their sides. Even if the man had been able to conceal his
distinctive eyes from public view he still would have garnered stares,
however--the twin gnarled stumps protruding from the base of his
forehead were situated too low on his skull to be covered by either hair
or hat. When he cast an expressionless gaze across the room Aluro had a
not-so-weird inspiration that Burton was another one of Kembri's
homegrown mishaps, even though he didn't seem to be nearly as
nightmarish as Emanon.

Both guards weren't massively muscled as they had thought such escorts
might be, but they were built sturdy enough to hold their own in any
fight. They also carried an assortment of weapons on their belts and in
their bulging uniform pockets, giving them the extra advantage over
anyone who made the mistake of tangling with them. Pepper Spikes were
apparently fashionable among Genvironment's hired guns. Every armed
guard seemed to tote several of the deadly wands around his waist no
matter where he happened to be. A special clip on each of the spikes'
triggers prevented accidental discharge.

Sephi smiled in approval of his choices. Neither of these men was among
the best of mercenaries, but the fugitives didn't know that. The guards'
intimidating appearance gave every impression that they were streetwise
hard-nosed fighters, ready to pop any loser who gave them a problem, and
this tough-guy image would keep the Mutants and Lunataks in line for the
duration of the journey. The reason he had chosen Gerdu and Burton was
that they were among the most doglike loyal and not likely to question
the strange circumstances prompting this risky mission, which was plenty
enough for what he and Kembri had planned. They were also conveniently
expendable. They would follow through with their orders as expected but
in all likelihood wouldn't be coming back, if Safari Joe could be
trusted to execute the ambush properly. "There will be more of our
ass-s-s-sociates at the base to greet you, s-s-so you shouldn't have any
problems getting in. Bes-s-st you leave now as IPCF has-s-s renewed
their search on Third Earth," he added as an incentive to get the group
on their way.

Slithe jerked a thumb in Gerdu's and Burton's direction. "What do we
need them for? Vultureman and Aluro can s-s-spell each other at the
controls, yes-s-s."

"Protection, cous-s-sin. That train is the only vehicle big enough to
hold all of you," Sephi lied smoothly, "and it's-s-s a speedy machine in
its-s-s own right, but it doesn't possess-s-s any defenses-s-s-s-s. If
you come across cops or Thundercats-s-s, these two will swat them away
as-s-s-s easily as flies."

"Only two guards are coming with us?" Monkian asked, and Tradyk could
have kicked him for saying such a stupid thing. They didn't need
additional escorts. They would have enough trouble on their hands as it
was with just those two guards. He breathed a silent prayer of
thanksgiving that Sephi apparently was not, as he had feared, travelling
along with them, for then their trick would surely have failed.

Still, he was plenty uneasy. This was way too slick; Sephi should be
protesting their departure a whole lot more than he was. Even getting
the reptilian to agree to this transfer had been absurdly easy. He
seemed rabidly eager to hustle them out of Genvironment. Tradyk's worry
increased substantially by the minute.

"They'll be enough for the likes-s-s-s of you," Sephi-vo-Notar said
sharply. "Now get going s-s-so you don't miss the orbital target."

The Mutants and Lunataks along with their sentries and Tradyk boarded
the train without further argument. Tradyk slid his right hand
underneath his vest, making it look as if he were merely rubbing a chest
sore with indigestion as he closed a fist over his pistol. He was sure
he could pull it out in an instant when he needed to use it but he had
to have enough leeway between him and the guards, or else they would cut
him down before he got off one shot. Thankfully Gerdu and Burton
cooperated by taking up position in front of the control panel as they
readied the train for takeoff.

Aluro was watching Tradyk closely, waiting impatiently for the signal so
that they could give their guards the boot and escape unhindered. Tradyk
caught the fierce glare directed his way and mouthed in the barest of
movements, "Not yet."

"Roddy for tahk off," Gerdu said into his communicator when the circus
train was aloft. He sounded like he had a mouthful of peanut butter
jammed into his cheeks.

There was a humming noise next, a purr of electrical motor while the
enormous double doors rolled open to allow them exit. Beyond lay the
great dark expanse of desert: Third Earth at night had never looked so

The train shifted gears and eased outside, guided by the navigation
program Sephi had ordered installed. Gerdu kept watch over the system
while Burton pointed the muzzle of his weapon at the cons. His gaze was
zombielike save for the occasional flickering of his strange silver

Twenty minutes into the voyage Tradyk made his move. "Oh, damn it," he
said with great annoyance. Massaging his forehead, he gave Chilla a
pained grimace. "You don't have anything for headaches, do you?"

Chilla feigned a look of doubt. "I don't know, let me check. I might
have a few tablets in here somewhere." She made a show of rummaging
through her purse, dumping it out onto the small table nearby to pick
through the contents. When it became evident that no pills existed among
the usual female supplies she looked to Aluro. "You wouldn't happen to
have any spares, do you?"

Aluro shook his head. "Not a one."

Enter Tug-Mug. "Wait a minute. I know where Bragg keeps his private drug
stash." He scrolled over towards the guards, who were quick to focus
attention on him. The fat Lunatak waved a dismissive glove in their
direction. "Cool it, boys. There's a plastic bag with some aspirin under
the seat there. Wanna toss it over?"

Gerdu and Burton exchanged looks as each weighed the possibility of a
threat. Burton finally shrugged as if to say, "It's fine with me." He
focused those zombie eyes of his on one of the monitors off to the side
and his partner bent down to retrieve the medicine. Gerdu straightened,
turned around to hand the bag containing the pills to Tug-Mug--and found
himself staring deep into the heart of a black barrel.

"Drop your gun," Tradyk said, his quiet murmur managing to carry over
Burton's shrill squeals of pain. Tug-Mug squeezed his testicles harder
and made a throat-slitting gesture with his other hand, indicating to
Gerdu that he would suffer the same incapacitating fate as his buddy if
he didn't comply.

Gerdu decided that the risk of having his balls crushed paled in
comparison to what his boss would do to him if he let these reprobates
get out of hand. He went for his rifle and earned a laser bullet in the
arm for his trouble. The rifle clattered harmlessly out of reach to the
floor and Red Eye snatched it up.

Tradyk moved off to the side, keeping his own gun pointed at Gerdu while
Red Eye moved in to cover Burton. Tug-Mug released the Thunderian guard
and scrolled back to wait in case his services were still needed. "Get
on the floor facedown. I'm not going to tell you again," Tradyk snapped
at the guards.

A wheezing, teary-eyed Burton obeyed, one hand clutched protectively
over his crotch, but the stubborn Gerdu ignored the warning. He
pretended to kneel at first but suddenly bolted up with a flash of metal
in his left hand, and Tradyk saw that he had a knife. "Damn you, I said
to--" He gasped and his pistol flew out of his hand as he stumbled
backwards to avoid the slashing weapon when the guard would have
disemboweled him.

Gerdu tried another swipe but never got to finish his motion, because a
vigilant Tug-Mug used his handy spring-action tripod to bulldoze into
him. The rat landed on his back with a heavy thud and stayed there,
unable to rise with the Lunatak's corpulent body on his chest.

During the commotion Gerdu had created Burton was able to recover and
try his own hand at restraint. He let off a few indiscriminate rounds
from his gun that hit Jackalman in the leg and nearly took Aluro's head
off but was prevented from seriously injuring anyone else once Chilla
saw an opening. She waited until there was a lull in the gunfire and
promptly froze Burton in the act of aiming at Tradyk.

"Do him too," Tradyk nodded at a panting Gerdu as he picked up his gun
that he'd dropped. "I don't want any more--"


A smiling, six-foot tall Luna stood over the fallen scientist and waved
a lead pipe at her utterly shocked comrades. "So much for these
Genvironment freaks. Meet your new captain," she said with a haughty
toss of her head.


"Are you sure you don't want to come back to the Cats' Lair with us,
Mumm-Rana?" Lion-O asked. "There's plenty of room."
The priestess smiled and politely declined his offer. "I appreciate your
hospitality but I must repair the white pyramid if I am to regenerate my
own power." She peered over his shoulder towards the Thundertank where
her brother was sitting with Cheetara and chuckled softly as a
bedraggled Mumm-Ra stuck his tongue out at her. The wound on Cheetara's
shoulder that the Heart of Set had inflicted was minor, and easily
treated with a small bandage. "Mumm-Ra can spend some time enjoying his
new life before we get down to business. For now, it is enough that the
Heart is whole again. He has been exposed to his power and with practice
he will improve."

"What . . . ever," yawned Mumm-Ra, and leaned against Cheetara as his
eyelids slid shut.

"Poor child, we've fair worn him out today," Oanahaptu pointed out.
"Rana, let's let these good people go home so everybody can get some

"I'm up for that," voted Panthro, and stretched muscular arms above his

"When will we see any of you next?" Lion-O asked.

"Not to worry," Durakkon said airily. "My daughter will of course be
keeping close tabs on you. Someone's got to teach my son how to use that
confounded black box. The rest of us . . ." he shrugged lightly as he
cast a fond glance at his wife and mother, "we'll be around."

"We're like bad pennies," Malesenkha said with a mischievous gleam in
her eye. "We always turn up sooner or later."

"Let us not forget that there is another bad penny out there," Mumm-Rana
warned solemnly, and the others agreed with silent nods. "Safe journey,

The ride home was spent in meditative silence--when they weren't deep in
discussion. Each of the Thundercats was reliving the incredible sights
of the day in his or her mind, pondering what it all meant and what
future evils they would have to face. Every once in a while someone
would bring up another question or comment, inspiring a few energetic
debates that quickly spun out of control due to conflicting views.
Mumm-Ra was the only one from whom they never heard a peep. He was sound
asleep in the back seat, curled up in a blanket next to Cheetara.

Pumyra noticed the tender way her friend's hand was stroking the
Egyptian's glossy mane, which was draped across her lap while he used
her thigh for a pillow. "He's gorgeous, isn't he?" she whispered
admiringly so as not to wake the sleeping beauty. Cheetara said nothing
but grinned in response. Every woman should be so lucky to have a man
like this for a companion, she thought with wistful longing.

Their hope of not disturbing Mumm-Ra was short-lived. The tank's
communicator startled them all when it crackled to life with a jarring
report of static. "Thunderstrike calling Thundertank! Do you read?"

Panthro opened the line so that he could talk back. "We read, Lynx-O.
What's up?"

"How quickly can you get to the lair?"

His ears pricked at the note of distress in Lynx-O's voice. "We're about
an hour away from it. What's wrong?"

"Ben-Gali and Quick Pick have unraveled some of the puzzle," the elder
replied. "We're in big trouble with Genvironment. They've put out a
contract hit on us. Safari Joe is their hired gun!"

"What's going on?" a sleepy Mumm-Ra mumbled when the intermittent bursts
of radio static became impossible to doze through.

"Lynx-O's calling us," Cheetara told him. He yawned twice and sat up,
shaking his head to make the lethargy evaporate, then leaned forward and
listened attentively to the conversation.

"Joe is only the tip of an iceberg," Lynx-O continued. "Apparently the
entire organization wants us dead. Ben-Gali tried calling you earlier
but didn't get any answer. He asked me if I'd try to find you."

"We're safe," Panthro reassured him. "We were with Mumm-Rana at the
white pyramid all day. Are you at the lair now?"

"Just left it five minutes ago to meet up with you. I thought it best
that someone escort you in just in case. I haven't heard everything yet
but I understand that Genvironment is one mean machine."

"It's that big?" Tygra said.

"Mandora, Wilykit, and I are on our way," Lynx-O said. "Be careful, my

"Likewise, Lynx-O," Lion-O said. "We'll keep our channel open--"


The explosion cut off their communications and sent the tank shuddering
into a tailspin through a hailstorm of dirt and debris. "How in--"
yelled Panthro as he fought to keep a rein on the steering amidst
startled cries. He jammed the brakes and wrenched the tank around into a
defensive position. "Who fired on us?"

"I don't see a thing," Lion-O said as he quickly took in the surrounding

"Well that blast came from somewhere," growled Panthro as he programmed
the tank for battle mode. Guns popped out from every conceivable orifice
of the tank and all available Thundercats manned one. "Set perimeter
scanners for possible ambush."

Lion-O stood up and did them one better. "Sword of Omens, give me sight


The Lord of the Thundercats was sent flying over the edge of the tank
and crashed into the ground while more debris rained down on him. His
comrades were hit with the same barrage of shrapnel and hightailed it
for more secure cover. Coughing and spitting out the bitter taste of
dirt and sulfur Lion-O rolled over just in time to see a small glass orb
dropping out of the sky straight down on top of him. He didn't bother to
stick around and find out what it was going to do. He leapt to his feet
and took off at a dead run for the nearest shelter, an empty irrigation


Immediately a thick cloud of black smoke erupted into the air. Lion-O
was luckily out of the line of fire but he smelled some of it and nearly
collapsed. "Sleep gas!" he croaked at Panthro, who had brought the tank
around the bend and was motoring his way. "Shut your vents! Get out of

Lion-O turned to make his own escape from the gas and tripped on a clod
of overturned dirt. Weird shadows swam in front of his face and he knew
that he was dangerously close to passing out. Even worse, whoever was
shooting at them must be somewhere close by. There was no answering
report of gunfire from the Thundertank as yet another ear-ringing blast
registered throughout the area. If the shooter saw him go down for the
count he would be easy for the picking. And then he realized the only
person they knew of who possessed such orb bombs was Safari Joe. They
looked exactly like the ones used in the Warrior Maiden bombardment.

How many of those little glass orbs did the hunter have?

What else could they contain? Were they filled with substances more
dangerous than simple sleep gas?

"Move, you fool!" he panted to himself, laboriously getting to his
knees. His legs felt rubbery, as if at the first hint of weight they
would crumple. Lion-O coughed and spat out the sickly-sweet lemony taste
of gas lingering in his mouth. His nasal passages flared and he sneezed
out more of it before attempting to stand. He needed to lean against the
side of the ditch for support as he did so.

>From the now protectively enclosed Thundertank Panthro and the others
were worriedly watching him through the glass shield. "He's inhaled some
of that shit," the mechanic said. "We've got to get to him or
Genvironment will take him out!"

"But we didn't see anybody firing on us yet," Tygra reminded him. "How
can we be so sure it's them?"

"You heard what Lynx-O said. Who else would want us out of the picture?"

"Emanon," Mumm-Ra said darkly, his body tensing for a fight.

"Not his style," Cheetara said, gripping his hand tightly when she
sensed his nervousness. "He aims to kill. This is just sleep gas."

"Not all of it," Tygra said as he hastily plowed through a computer
readout. "Those first few explosions were bona fide bombs. Whoever is
doing it wants to cripple the tank and leave us defenseless, and that
gas will further incapacitate us. Then they'll kill us."

"Well I'm not hanging around here so they can have a free shot," Panthro
said. "Hold on!"

He gunned the engine and the tank lurched towards the spot where Lion-O
was trying to hide. Tygra and Pumyra waited with guns drawn, ready to
repel future attacks.

Lion-O heard them coming and clambered the rest of the way out of the
ditch to meet them. The moment his head cleared the top of the hill an
arrow whizzed across his shoulder and put a neat hole in the strap of
his sleeve. He wasn't hurt but the impetus from the shot knocked him
backwards, and as he fell he saw another bright glass orb fly overhead
right where he was standing only mere seconds before. It landed well
away from him and exploded with a jarring blast. A volley of arrows from
the other side was quick to follow in answer but none hit any visible

"Who--" Lion-O broke off when a slip of a girl landed in a graceful
somersault next to him and shoved a bottle under his nose. The sharp
odor of the smelling salts quickly dispersed whatever gas-induced
hangover remained. "Nayda! What the hell are you doing here!"

"Later for that, let's get inside the tank! The others can hold off the
shooter!" Willa's younger sister cried, and snatched his hand. Lion-O
didn't need to be told twice and followed her. This time when they got
to the top of the ditch they waited to leave until Panthro had brought
the tank to the very edge. He opened the lower hatch in its front and
hollered at them to run for it.

They made it inside the gaping jaws of the Thundertank without incident
and scrambled through the crawlspace to the back while Panthro beat a
fast retreat down the path they'd come. "Radio Lynx-O and tell him we're
being attacked," he told Tygra, weaving around the craters the bombs had
created. Tygra nodded and reached for the communicator.

"Safari Joe," Lion-O wheezed to Panthro. "He's got more of those goofy
glass orbs."

"Where is the cowardly bum?"

"Hiding close by, I bet," Pumyra said.

"One of our watchers spotted him late this afternoon making tracks for
your Cats' Lair," Nayda informed them. "I took a squad along to follow
him and lend you a hand just in case. Luckily for you we got here in
time or you'd have been ground beef," she said as she fingered the hole
her arrow made in Lion-O's shirt strap. She gave Mumm-Ra a hungry
once-over when she spotted him. "Who's the babe?" she asked eagerly.

The 'babe' was saved from having to answer her by one of the passengers.
"Can't get a hold of the Thunderstrike," Tygra said in disgust. "Our
system's been cold-cocked."

Mumm-Ra was watching everyone with alert curiosity save for Nayda. Her
staring made him somewhat uncomfortable and gave him the odd feeling
that she was eyeing him like a starving person would a fresh side of
meat, so he avoided direct eye contact with her. His earlier fear
alleviated now that he knew Emanon wasn't responsible for the ambush he
was puzzled as to why the Thundercats were upset. "Why the fuss if we're
facing one man?"

"Those orbs came from random directions," Panthro said, his eyes
steadily scanning the road in the tank's headlights. "We can't get a fix
on the trigger man so it could only mean that he brought some
Genvironment personnel with him. Maybe even a whole army."

"I'm setting the infra-red scanners now," Pumyra reported. "If there's
more than one person out there we'll soon know."

"Is there another way to the lair that isn't so exposed?" Lion-O asked

"Nada. We're stuck driving straight down a picture-perfect ambush

Nayda took her eyes off Mumm-Ra long enough to ask, "What about a

"This is the shortcut."

"Panthro!" Pumyra called out. "One hundred sixty yards ahead of you to
the right!"

Panthro looked into the scanners and saw a grove fast coming up in the
area Pumyra had singled out. "Let's see how Joe likes a taste of his own
medicine," he snapped, and fired off a shot from one of the front laser
cannons. Trees and grass went flying in the next second . . . as did
dozens upon dozens of the deadly, shiny glass orbs.

"Oh shit," muttered Panthro as he slammed on the brakes and threw the
tank into reverse, its treads spitting dirt everywhere in a wild race to
get away intact.

"It's a trap! Heads down!" roared Lion-O, diving to the floor of the
vehicle along with everybody else.

BOOM-CRACKA-WHUMP-BOOM-BOOM! went the little orbs as they found their
targets and detonated in a deafening cacophony. One hit the top of the
tank and exploded noisily, leaving a huge dent in the folding doors.
Ears ringing from that bomb Mumm-Ra lifted his head and saw his own fear
mirrored in Cheetara's amber eyes. Now they really had something to be
scared of.

Panthro had the pedal to the metal while he struggled to keep control of
the steering. As more explosives rained down on them from neighboring
trees he let loose with a stunning volley of invectives that would have
made a hardened space pirate blush, cursing Safari Joe and his parentage
as far back as he could go.

"I didn't know Panthro knew those kinds of words," an awed Nayda shouted
to be heard above the barrage.

"This is nothing, you should hear him when he's really mad!" Wilykat
yelled back.

BOOM-BOOM-CRACK! The tank suddenly veered out of control and made ugly
shredding sounds while Panthro fought with the steering. "What's
happening!" Lion-O yelled.

"We've lost one of the treads!" Panthro snarled. "It's caught up in the
machinery somewhere and--"

He didn't have time to finish his explanation. Having lost the stability
of its treads the disabled Thundertank spun off course and crashed into
a towering oak. The collision sent people tumbling about like toys, but
because everyone had been crouching on the floor and therefore not
riding high enough to be thrown against anything there were no serious
injuries. The worst of it was a split upper lip suffered by Panthro when
his head smacked into the wheel during impact. But the blood pouring
down his chin didn't daunt him as he tried in vain to restart the tank.
"Come on baby, come on!" he coaxed his baby pleadingly but to no avail.
The tank's engine refused to turn over. That last explosion had badly
damaged the vehicle. Nothing short of a new transmission would get them
going now.

"I hate to add to our problems but we've got other things to worry about
than the tank, Panthro," Wilykat whimpered as he disentangled himself
from Nayda and Lion-O.

"Like what?" he asked as he fiddled with some wiring.

Pumyra's ears twitched when the acute whine became louder and she looked
into the sky for its source. "Like a Skeeter Z coming in fast!" she
cried out as a sleek little fighter zoomed into a nosedive towards them.

"Shit! Go, go, get out of here!" Lion-O ordered everyone out of the
tank. "Head for the forest!"

"But Safari Joe will shoot us down!" Nayda protested.

"If he doesn't get us running that ship sure as hell will if we stay
here," Panthro said, and short on the heels of his sentence came the
rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat firing of the Z's guns. "Move it!"

Skeeter Zs were the most feared and despised of Mutant attack vehicles
among Thunderians. Highly prized for their incredibly acrobatic
maneuvering ability, they were able to carry a light but deadly payload
of ammunition and score devastating hits against their targets thanks to
a technologically advanced radar defensive/offensive system. A single
Skeeter Z was capable of razing an entire Thunderian village in just
minutes. For these reasons they had been the ships of choice to launch
air strikes against fleeing peoples when Thundera was dying.

The Thundercats were well aware of the Skeeter Z's threat, but Mumm-Ra,
who had never seen nor heard of the danger it posed, saw nothing wrong
with stopping to watch the oncoming ship slash its way towards them in a
hail of bullets. "How can it move so fast like that?" he asked aloud,
shielding his eyes against its bright strobe.

Lion-O glanced back to see how close the Z was to them and saw him
staring up at it like a bewitched fool. "Great Jaga! Get a move on,
Mumm-Ra, he'll mow you down like a blade of grass!" He raced to rescue
the hapless Egyptian before Safari Joe plugged him full of lead.

Mumm-Ra's fascination with the tiny streaking ship evaporated the second
the first line of shots plowed into the ground. Realizing that he was
definitely in serious trouble he began to beat a path back to the group.
Lion-O caught up with him and all but dragged him towards the safety of
the woods where the others anxiously waited.

The Skeeter Z's high-pitched whine grew almost unbearable; Safari Joe
was closing in on them. They weren't going to make it. "Get down!"
Lion-O yelled at Mumm-Ra and shoved him to the ground before diving on
top of him. The ship zoomed overhead in a cloud of dust as the last
shots kicked up dirt all around them.

"Get up, come on, we've gotta get out of here before he makes another
pass!" Lion-O urged. Mumm-Ra thankfully didn't waste time questioning
him and obediently ran for cover. They made it to their friends just as
the Skeeter Z whipped around in a sharp U-turn and buzzed the cove

The Thundercats raced deeper into the forest before tension finally
exploded. "You idiot!" Cheetara shrieked at him and slapped him across
the face. Startled, Mumm-Ra jumped away from her when she tried to
pummel him with an angry fist. "Yow! What did I do?" he asked in

"That was stupid, Mumm-Ra, fucking stupid! You have no idea what Skeeter
Zs can do!" Lion-O scolded.

Mumm-Ra blinked back the sting of tears and rubbed his sore cheek,
staring solemnly at him. "This is really serious, isn't it?" he asked

"How could you guess? I've never seen anyone crazy enough to stare down
an attacking Z!"

"I've never heard you say the F-word before. Not even when you were
upset with me for casting my spells on the Thundercats."

"Well . . . I'm sorry. I didn't mean to curse at you," Lion-O sighed
erratically and through the cover of leaves above watched the Skeeter Z
fly by again as Safari Joe scanned the countryside for victims.

Thoroughly subdued by his new friend's anger Mumm-Ra answered meekly,
"It's okay."

"I'm sorry I yelled at you, believe me, I am. It's just that . . ."
Lion-O paused and searched for the right words to express himself.
"Dammit, Mumm-Ra, you're not immortal anymore! Safari Joe wouldn't have
hesitated to drill you any more than he would have us!"

Cheetara hugged him tightly now and gave him a stern but affectionate
glare. "You had me scared to death," she accused, shaking him by the

Now it was Mumm-Ra's turn to apologize. "I'm sorry," he murmured as he
wrapped his arms around a quick-to-forgive Cheetara. "I'm sorry," he
whispered again to her, burying his face in her hair. Caught up in the
excitement of the moment, his foolish impulsiveness had blinded him to
the immediate danger. "I . . . sort of forgot about . . . being mortal

"Just don't ever pull a stunt like that again, all right?" Lion-O asked

The Skeeter Z zipped past another time. Trees seemed to snatch and claw
at them with spindly limbs but this illusion was only caused by Joe's
searchlight casting eerie shadows in its illumination of the forest.

"How do we make it back to Cats' Lair without attracting his attention?"
Nayda asked when the engine noise had died down.

"We don't," Panthro said grimly. "That thing can waste us before we ever
set one foot out of here. Our only hope is to stay concealed until help

"We can't stay here forever," the maiden pointed out. "He may get tired
of the waiting game and start tearing up the forest. Sooner or later
he'll find us."

"He's gone again," Wilykat said, cocking his ears to the right. "I don't
hear it anymore."

"Me neither," said Mumm-Ra, who had joined him by a fat oak tree to keep

"He's doing a fly-by. Searching for us," Tygra said, and minutes later
he was proved right when the spine-chilling whine intensified and then

"Forget the ship. We need a fast escape route," Lion-O said. He turned
to Panthro. "What if we took the trail into the Berbil Village? It's
good cover most of the way."

His friend shook his head. "We'd have to cross the plains first before
we got to the safest ground. Joe would spot us too quick."

"What about Calis?"

The group turned to give Kat curious looks. "Calis is over seven hundred
miles from here!" Tygra said.

"Not if you take the riverboat," the teen said. "Kit and I know of a
dock close to the Unicorn Forest. There's an innkeeper who ferries
people cheap."

Tygra remained stubborn. "We're a heck of a lot closer to the lair than
we are to Calis. And we have our defenses based there."

"Yeah, but Safari Joe probably has the whole path booby-trapped with
more of those stupid bombs of his. Plus we don't have the tank to make a
clean getaway anymore," Kat argued. "Like Nayda said, if we stay in the
forest too long he might get fed up and start blasting at the trees. We
can get to the river and by then we'd be out of his reach." He met the
adults' stares with a pleading one of his own, hoping for once to be
taken seriously in spite of his desperate suggestion. "Besides, we can
go shopping for necessities there anyway. Mumm-Ra'll need something
other than that skirt-thing to wear."

Mumm-Ra brightened at the prospect of a shopping trip. His kilt was
chillier than he liked to admit.

Cheetara nodded thoughtfully. "The Unicorn Forest has some of the best
trees for miles," she said. "Less chance for that hunter to see us if he
keeps flying around."

"It's still a long way to hike," protested Tygra. "There's no guarantee
that we'll find what we need in Calis."

"Are you kidding? If you can't find it in Calis you won't find it
anywhere else," Panthro said.

The Skeeter Z did another fly-by but this time it opened up its guns.
Shots rang out in rapid hellfire and splintered a few trees at the edge
of the forest. Safari Joe was indeed getting impatient.

"I say we go with Wilykat's idea," Pumyra said once the strafing ended.
"We'd never make it back to the lair without being attacked."

"I don't even like the thought of abandoning my tank . . . but we don't
seem to have any other options," the reluctant Panthro sighed. "Lion-O,
what do you think?"

Lion-O peered into the blackness above and noted the strobe light's
path. His eyes followed the Z as it looped back for another scan. "I
think we'd better get going then."

"Lynx-O and the others have to be warned somehow or else they'll fly
right into Joe's attack," Cheetara reminded them.

"I can double back and get the rest of the girls to lead Safari Joe on a
wild goose chase. Perhaps that will buy you a little time," Nayda

"Arrows against a Skeeter Z? No contest there," Panthro said with a
slight roll of his eyes.

"We can evade his fire," the young woman said with a trace of defiant

"Nayda, trust me, you can't face off with him," her brother-in-law
warned. "That ship will chew you to pieces before you ever get off one

"Who said anything about facing off with him?" She patted Tygra's
shoulder. "I'm a big girl, Tygra. I can handle a silly little
spaceship." She turned to Pumyra with a critical eye. "We look about the
same size. Give me your clothes and you can have mine."

"You'd risk your lives to be decoys for us?" the puma woman said with

"It's worth a try."

Before anyone else could argue with her Nayda dashed back the way they'd
come. It felt longer, but only a few nerve-rending minutes passed until
she returned with her squad. Several other warrior maidens suddenly
appeared in the grove. They looked to Nayda for guidance and she singled
out one of them, a willowy blonde in a skintight tan leather dress,
motioning for her to come closer. "Lorre, you trade clothes with

While the women ducked behind the trees and exchanged clothing Safari
Joe continued strafing the edge of the forest, trying to get his prey
out into the open where he had a better shot at them. "Trina, do you
still have that dauber mud handy?" Nayda asked of a petite brunette when
the tricksters came forward for last-minute adjustments.

"In my pouch," the girl answered as she helped Pumyra to straighten the
top she'd been given.

"Give it to me. This'll work so much better if we have makeup too."

"What's dauber mud?" Panthro asked. He winced as the effort of speaking
reopened the bloody cut on his lip. Nayda withdrew a healing salve from
her own sack and handed it to him along with a clean rag to stop the
bleeding. He half-smiled his thanks and the maiden beamed back at the
burly Thundercat.

"We use the mud for cooking," the blonde named Lorre said. An impressed
Mumm-Ra watched her adjust her dress on Cheetara so that it hung
properly. "Make a clay shell around a nice fillet and bake it for a
half-hour over the campfire, your food comes out better than anything
your mother could fix."

In the background the Skeeter's guns clattered again, louder than the
previous attempts. The thick crack of exploding wood and the outraged
squeals of disturbed animals were quick to follow.

"He's getting closer," Kat said, alarmed.

Trina produced the required mud and Nayda took a small amount of the
rust-colored goop, smearing it across her cheeks in stripes so that she
had markings similar to Pumyra's. She took another handful and dabbed
splotches of it across Lorre's back and shoulders while Lorre took a
vial filled with some strange dark brown liquid and splashed it through
her hair. The end result was a coiffure that bore a decent resemblance
to Cheetara's own spotted mane. Lorre noticed Lion-O studying her with
respectful interest and smiled cheerfully as she held up the empty vial.
"Goose juice. We get it from the wild neryth gooseberries we grow. Great
for insect bites." She scooped up some of the dauber mud with her index
finger and drew streaks on her own face to match the ones Cheetara had.

Mumm-Ra was trying not to stare openly at Cheetara and failing
miserably. Lorre had been considerably less endowed than the female
Thundercat was, and her dress highlighted what it should have concealed.
The daringly risqué scoop neckline didn't help matters either.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the outfit showed far more than she
probably would have liked Cheetara didn't seem to be embarrassed by the
seductive appearance that she presented. She was preoccupied with tying
back her hair underneath a brown scarf borrowed from one of the maidens,
who had remarked that her fair locks would be more easily seen from
above. Guiltily and with hot cheeks he averted his gaze from her creamy
skin, from the delicious fullness of her breasts as she reached up to
finish the knot in her scarf, thankful that no one seemed to notice his
accursed desire. He told himself that this was natural and to be
expected; he was reacting as any normal male would to the alluring sight
of a beautiful woman. It was just going to take him quite a while before
he got entirely used to his new body, that and nothing more.

The decoys and the originals faced the others for inspection and Nayda
nodded her approval. "They'd win first prize in any costume party,
wouldn't you say?" she asked Panthro with a wink.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Nayda?" a concerned Lion-O asked.
"It's plenty dangerous."

"No honey, dangerous is trying to spear the black widow shark when she's
in heat," drawled a voluptuous freckle-faced maiden with frizzy hair the
color of gold dust. Several of the others tittered in amusement at her

"We'll be fine," Nayda reassured Lion-O. "Wait till Joe starts chasing
us and then make your break. As soon as we ditch him we'll let the rest
of the Thundercats know where you went. Ready, girls?" The troop picked
up their weapons and prepared for flight, awaiting further orders.

"Good luck," Lion-O said, and the others chorused him.

Tygra planted a quick kiss on his sister-in-law's forehead. "You be
careful or your sister will have a new tiger rug to add to her
collection," he admonished. Nayda flashed him a plucky grin and then
dashed off into the forest with the other maidens in fast pursuit.

"Head south until we come to that bent ash tree and then keep following
the beaten trail," Kat told his friends now. "It's the quickest way to
get to the Unicorn Forest but don't go into the thicket like you
normally would, 'cause there's a creek just down the road leading to the
river and that's where this ferryman lives."

"What if he's not home?" Panthro said, giving the teen a skeptical look.

"We'll worry about it when we get there," Lion-O said. "Just pray that
Nayda can lead Safari Joe away from us and warn the others."

Halfway into their runaway flight moments later Cheetara stopped and
took Mumm-Ra aside. "I almost forgot. That one girl, Lorre, she wanted
me to give something to you."

Mumm-Ra disinterestedly accepted the wrinkled piece of parchment she
pulled out from the front of her dress and handed to him. "What is it?"
he asked, trying to distract his suddenly lascivious mind from dwelling
on thoughts of how delightful it would be to put his fingers where that
paper had just been.

Cheetara grinned cheekily at him, noting with wry amusement how his gaze
had strayed. Those expressive violet eyes of his completely gave him
away. "Private invitation to her hut."

It was a pity that she ran off to rejoin the others just then, for she
missed the spectacular blush staining his handsome face, which
complemented his mahogany hair rather nicely.

                    Next Chapter

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