It had been months since Sarah Montgomery had thrown Madeleine Maby off of Mt. Rushmore to what she had incorrectly assumed was certain death. She had escaped with her monkey companion, Washington, and returned to her secret laboratory in New York. Madeleine, who had not died, had been taken back to her lab, where her children soldiers nursed her back to health. She had left the service of the United States Government and gone rogue, setting up her own secret laboratory deep within a little known cave system hidden inside the Appalachian Mountains.
And General Cuddles? General Cuddles was PISSED.
When he saw two of the smartest, most ruthless lab maggots to come under his charge go at each other with such ferocity and ingenuity he had felt a tingle run up his spine. He had felt, for the very first time since being assigned this shit detail, that there might be hope for this project yet. And then they were gone.
So he had ended up here, in the very last place he wanted to be.
“Welcome to Denny’s, sir! May I take your order?”
“Coffee. Black. You use real eggs in this place?”
“Real. Eggs. None of that poured-out-of-a-cardboard-carton crap. Real, actual, pulled from a goddamn chicken’s ass eggs?”
“Yessir, real eggs, sir.”
“So then if I were to ask you for a plate full of scrambled egg whites, ONLY the whites, you and the rest of the one-chromosome banjo gang back in the kitchen will know what I mean?”
“Good. Then one plate piled with scrambled egg whites and another plate filled to the exact same height with equal portions bacon and sausage. Understood?”
“And just so you know...” General Cuddles looked at the boy’s name tag. “Clarence, I can smell the fear-stink that comes off a gnat and I can taste a bad idea on the tip of your brain, so if anyone decides to add any ‘special ingredients’ to my order I will crawl into your ass feet-first, live inside you for nine months and then birth myself out of your urethra and call you ‘daddy’ until the day you die. If you’ve understood me, just nod that malformed horror you call a head and then scamper back into the kitchen with the rest of the rodents.”
Clarence nodded his head.
“Good. Now scat, and don’t be stingy on the coffee refills.” Clarence hustled back into the kitchen.
“You sure you want him to go just yet? He still might have some of his dignity left.” A slender, attractive woman in a stylish black trench coat slid into the seat across from the general.
“Disgusting abnormalities, all of them,” said General Cuddles as he looked around the restaurant.
“I thought these were the people you’re fighting so hard to protect.” The woman gave a devious look to the general with one troublesome blue eye while the other hid behind a cascading wave of brown hair.
“I fight for my fellow soldiers. I fight with and for the men who are willing to take a stand. The rest of these poor bovines have become weak by being mollycoddled by so-called ‘society’ and ‘progress.’”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said the woman. The general frowned and snorted through his nose.
“Here’s your coffee, sir,” said Clarence, timidly approaching the table. He set down a cup and then filled it out of a large, portable pot of coffee. “And you, ma’am? Can I get you...” He was cut off by Cuddles making a grand show of taking the cup and downing it in one gulp, after which he looked up at Clarence. Clarence poured the general another cup. “And for you ma’a....” The general repeated the show. Clarence poured another cup. This exercise continued until the pot was exhausted.
“That’s how fast you’re going to need to keep these coming,” said the general. “In fact, you should just leave a whole pot here. In fact, if you can move the brewing station to right here beside this booth, that would be great. Now, why haven’t you taken this woman’s order yet? Where are your manners?”
Clarence was shaking slightly. “Ma’am?”
“I’ll have a Grand Slam,” said the woman. “And some extra butter for the pancakes.”
“Sure thing,” said Clarence, jotting down the order.
“Thank you, sweetie,” said the woman, giving Clarence a wink.
“Oh, and Clarence,” piped up Cuddles. “Don’t think you need to bring our food out together. Don’t let that ‘sweetie’ comment fool you, this lady is just as big an asshole as I am, and I don’t want my egg whites sitting under a heat lamp out of some bullshit sense of chivalry, so you just go ahead and bring them plates out when they’re ready, okeedoke?”
“Yessir,” Clarence said, then exited.
“I’ve got to say,” said the woman, “I was a bit surprised to hear from you, much less receive such a... hospitable encounter.”
“Hospitable might be a bit much. After all I do have fifty class-A marksmen scattered throughout a mile radius of this place and thirty more undercover soldiers ready to take you down the minute you look at me wrong, so I don’t exactly come in peace.”
“Fair enough. In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I also have twenty-three of my people stationed with electro-pulse emitters and magnet cannons aimed at your 16 operations vans ready to completely destroy any maneuver made against me and mine.”
“HA!” sneered Cuddles. “We have 17 operational vehicles!”
“Oh please,” said the woman. “That other one is a Mercedes S-class sedan with nothing more than GPS, some walkie-talkies and automatic windows. If we wanted to compromise that ‘operational vehicle’ we’ll just slash its tires.”
General Cuddles pursed his lips tightly and drew in a deep breath. “We need your help.”
“My help?” laughed the woman. “That’s a bit humorous, seeing as how you work for the military’s technological R+D department and I work with a techno-terrorist organization whose sole mission is to halt, hinder or destroy any and all militaristic technological advancement.”
“We’ve got a couple of lost sheep.” Cuddles tossed two dossiers onto the table. The woman picked them up and flipped through them. She whistled.
“Sarah Montgomery? As in The Montgomery Conundrum, Sarah Montgomery?”
“The one and only.”
“I thought she was dead?”
“Hardly.” Clarence put a fresh pot of coffee on the table, which General Cuddles proceeded to drink straight out of. “Turns out these ladies can take a punch. And a fall off a national monument. You can see why we might find this... upsetting.”
“Understandable. But why me?”
“We’ve got no idea what these women are capable of. Maby cleared out her entire lab and all of her prototypes when she left, Montgomery’s been working on her own for years now, who knows what they’ve come up with. You want to stop the production of rampant, unchecked military technology it doesn’t get much bigger than these two, especially left to their own devices. Believe it or not, we reined them in over at B.I.T.C.H., gave them guidelines, projects with parameters. They’re free radicals now, and I’m not going to lie, this one’s going to be messy. Very messy. Too messy for us to get officially involved in, if you catch my drift.”
“Drift caught. So you come to the person outside the grid most adept at taking down experimental fringe technology, figuring you could play a little ‘The enemy of your enemy is your friend?’” said the woman.
“We were thinking something along the lines of ‘The devil you know is better than the one you don’t.’”
“Ah. A little ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’”
“It takes one to know one.”
“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
“Don’t go chasing waterfalls.”
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
“I’m glad we understand each other.”
Clarence came to the table and delivered General Cuddles’ order. He told the woman her food would be ready in a few minutes.
The woman leaned over the table. “OK, Cuddles. You’ve told me the job, now give me the offer. What’s in this for me?”
“A clean slate,” said Cuddles. “We completely expunge your record.”
The woman laughed. “Come on, Cuddles! My boys are techno-wizards hell-bent on destruction. If I wanted my record clean I could have broken into your system and done it myself years ago. I love my record. In fact, I broke into the system and ADDED things to my record. That bestiality warrant didn’t seem a little weird to you?”
“You mean that’s... not real?” said Cuddles, looking a bit dejected.
“Try again, general.”
“We’re prepared to pay. Handsomely,” said Cuddles, taking out an envelope and passing it to the woman. She opened it, took out a piece of paper with a very large number written on it.
“I would have expected a bit more.”
“That’s your base fee,” said the general. “We want them alive. Get them both to us unharmed, we double it. However, we understand, due to the nature of the mission, that that might not be possible. You’ll get a bonus on a sliding scale according to the quality of the product upon delivery.”
“So if one of them loses a leg in this thing, that takes a few thousand off my tip?”
“Legs we don’t really care about. An arm, though, we’d have to dock you.”
General Cuddles shoveled a large forkful of egg into his mouth, then paused. He chewed slowly, thoughtfully.
“Son of a bitch.”
The general turned around and whistled loudly. He spotted Clarence near the back of the restaurant and waved him over to them.
“You know what a special order is, Clarence?” Cuddles asked the boy once he arrived at the table.
“Like if my friends here asked for home fries instead of hash browns, you’d do that, right?”
“Or if she ordered a garden salad and asked for no tomatoes, you wouldn’t put any tomatoes in her garden salad, correct?”
“So then tell me why, when I very specifically asked for no one to put any ‘special ingredients’ into my food, did I get eggs lightly flavored with snot?”
“Don’t bullshit me, son, I know boogers when I taste them. Someone launched a snot rocket offensive on my eggs, and I want to know why?”
“It wasn’t me, sir, I swear!” said Clarence, beginning to sweat.
“That doesn’t matter,” said General Cuddles. “You’re responsible. See, what I imagine happened was something like this: You went into the back and placed my order, and then you told the cave dwellers who work back there that the guy who ordered them was a real dick. So they take it upon themselves to try and take me down a peg or two. Now what you should have done is gone back there, placed my order, and said ‘The man who ordered this is one stone-cold slab of fucker, and if any of you even look at this food incorrectly he won’t have the time to give you the bone-smashing you so richly deserve because I will have already killed you dead as disco, ground you up into bits and turned you into a goulash of appeasement to beg for his forgiveness. But you didn’t, did you? Did you?”
Clarence shook his head.
“No, you just went back there and bitched, didn’t you?”
“And now I’ve got a mouth full of nose treasure. Normally that doesn’t bother me. I work in the military; I figure there isn’t a meal that goes by where I’m not ingesting the detritus of some mess hall flunky. What concerns me currently is that this snot came from the type of drug-addled, disease-ridden, ridge-browed mouth-breathers that can only be found in two places: the most inbred backwoods of West Virginia or the kitchen of a Denny’s.”
General Cuddles took a small electronic device out of his jacket that looked like a cell phone.
“I’ve been in combat. I’ve been outgunned. I’ve fought hand to hand with a lion cranked up on amphetamines, and I’m terrified of what might happen to me after ingesting something from those troglodytes.”
General Cuddles flipped open the device, revealing a large red button.
“If I’m terrified, and you caused it, do you know what that makes you?”
Clarence shook his head. General Cuddles moved his thumb to the button.
“Don’t do this, Cuddles,” said the woman.
“That makes you a terrorist. And do you know what the U.S. Government does to terrorists?”
Clarence shook his head. General Cuddles pressed the button.
“Get ready to find out, Clarence.”
The large glass windows of the Denny’s exploded inward. Men in all black flak suits, armor and weaponry flooded into the restaurant.
“Ah, shit,” muttered the woman. A loud, vibrating noise came from outside and suddenly all the lights went out. Everything electronic shut down, circuits fritzed, sparks exploded from the larger electronic devices. An old woman with a pace-maker collapsed in a booth near the door. Three men in black rushed Clarence, threw a bag over his head, cuffed his hands, picked him up like a battering ram and ran out of the restaurant. The woman looked down at her wristwatch, a fancy affair which had been full of bells and whistles but was now dark and unresponsive.
“Dammit. I really liked that watch,” said the woman, taking it off and tossing it onto the table.
“I know a way you can get a little funny money,” said Cuddles, pushing the dossiers further towards the woman. “Get yourself a nice new watch.”
“I’ll do it,” said the woman, taking the dossiers and getting up from the table.
Deep within her mountain hideaway Madeleine Maby was in a training room, surrounded by exercise machines, sparring weapons and practice equipment. She was dressed in sweats, a headband holding her hair out of her eyes, bouncing on the balls of her feet with her hands in fight position. In front of her was a wall covered in spikes, slabs, staffs, knives and poles. Madeleine cracked her neck, checked her breathing and then steadied herself.
The wall roared to life. Weapons of all sorts jabbed, swung, punched and stabbed at Madeleine, who became a blur of movement, evading the attacks, blocking weapons and returning punches.
The machine moved faster. So did Madeleine. She was huffing and panting now, grunting with the force of contact and occasionally yelling out in pain.
"COME ON, YOU PUSSY-ASS WALL, GIVE IT TO ME."
The blows came so hard now that even when they were blocked they knocked Madeleine off-balance. She began favoring one leg over the other, and the machine noticed. It attacked hard on Madeleine's upper right hand side with a heavy bo staff. When Madeleine put out both hands to absorb the hit the wall threw out a quick low attack on her left leg with a hard hit to the knee. Madeleine screamed in pain and fell to the floor. The wall stopped its attack and retracted all its weapons. Madeleine sat on the ground and pulled her damaged knee up to examine it.
The skin had torn, but instead of blood or bone there was only a mess of wire and metal. A few sparks shot out of the wound. Madeleine gritted her teeth.
A small box came out of the wall. Madeleine opened it, revealing a host of tools. She got to work fixing the wound. As she began soldering and rewiring she winced in pain. Although she had recovered extraordinarily well from her fall from Mt. Rushmore there had been some damage that had needed some extra-biological assistance. Her body was now filled with attachments, prosthetics and wires. She could have healed well enough on her own but she had insisted on the additions. The fight with Sarah had been brutal, and Madeleine wanted to be prepared for the next time. Because there would be a next time. Madeleine would see to that.
"Give me the rundown," Madeleine spoke to the room. On the wall opposite the weapons wall a large screen played back a recording off the fight and displayed statistics and analysis of Madeleine's progress and skill level. Madeleine was taking in the information while continuing the work on her leg when suddenly the entire room shut down and went black.
"What the fuck?" Madeleine reached out for her gym bag and took her communi-watch. She pressed a button and spoke into the watch.
"Hinkley, what's going on?"
In a small screen on the watch face a video of baby Hinkley appeared. He was sitting in a command center in an OshKosh B'Gosh uniform and wearing a headset.
"Something happened to the main exterior generator," said Hinkley. "We're running on back-up at the moment, so all secondary power usages have been shut down."
Madeleine cursed. "It's probably those raccoons again. Why do they plague me so?"
"We're sending maintenance outside now for repairs, we should be back to full capacity soon."
"I'll do it," said Madeleine, closing the wound with advanced medical adhesive and rising to her feet with a small groan of pain. "I'll take one of the assault rifles with me. It'll do me good to kill something small and cute." Madeleine limped slightly out into the hallway where a small indoor vehicle awaited her. She climbed in, threw the assault rifle into the back, and took off for the cave's main entrance.
When she arrived she got out of the vehicle and entered a code in the keypad near the entrance. A fake rock wall slowly rose up like a garage door, opening the cave to the outside world. Madeleine began to return to the vehicle when she saw in the cave's mouth a feminine silhouette against the sun setting on the horizon.
"Who are you?" Madeleine called out.
"I'm an analog ghost in a digital world." The woman began walking slowly into the cave. Her right hand was resting on her swaying hips, where Madeleine believed she could see a holster. Madeleine looked at the automatic in the back of the cart. If it really was a gun, and if the woman was any kind of shot at all, Madeleine knew there was no way she could make it in time. Madeleine had to think fast. She moved her hand over to her watch and paged Hinkley back at command. She left her finger on the talk button, broadcasting straight to Hinkley.
"You took out the generator," Madeleine said.
"That's just the beginning of what I'm going to do," said the woman, still approaching.
"You've got no idea what you're getting into here," said Madeleine, beginning to feel a small, cold shiver at the base of her spine. "It'd be best if you just turned around and left."
"Or what? You're going to page your baby army with your little Dick Tracy watch?" said the woman. "Sorry, sweetie. That's not going to stop what's coming."
"Who are you, bitch?" said Madeleine.
The woman stepped into the flat, green-tinted halogen lights at the back of the cave's entrance. She brushed a wave of dark hair out of her bright, sparkling eyes. A smile crawled across her face revealing two large dimples.
"I'm Emily French."
The color drained from Madeleine's face. Her eyes widened. Her mouth dried and a knot formed hard and fast in her stomach. She jumped for the automatic in the back of the cart. Barely before she could leave the ground Emily French pulled the gun out of its holster, aimed and fired.
There was a hum and a bright flash. There was a fizzle and crack as everything electronic that laid before the woman had shorted and died. Madeleine fell hard to the ground. She reached down for her left leg. Nothing. She checked her right shoulder and the small of her back. Nothing. All of her enhancements were dead. Out of reflex and panic Madeleine pulled her communi-watch and pressed talk. "HINKLEY!" she yelled, then looked at the watch to see only a blank screen staring back at her.
"That's a real shame," said Emily French, standing above Madeleine. "That seemed like a damn nice watch."
"Montgomery, you are so dead."
In her hidden laboratory in Brooklyn, New York Sarah Montgomery was engaged in a heated battle. Washington had beaten her an unprecedented four times in a row at Mortal Kombat, and unless she could pull it out in this final round, she would be forced to admit defeat to a primate with the intelligence of a 14 year old.
"I was just being nice to you before," Sarah said, working her control as fast as she could. "You are now fighting Noob Saibot. No one can defeat Noob Saibot."
"You poor, poor fool," said Washington, shaking his head. "Kitana can easily defeat Noob Saibot. Kitana can defeat God."
Suddenly the doorbell rang. "Who the hell is that?" asked Sarah, looking back towards the door. Washington used the distraction to execute a punishing double-combo, destroying Noob Saibot.
"Oh, come on, that is so cheap," said Sarah.
"Wow," said Washington, staring at the screen. "It's just... you're so dead. I mean, Jesus. How many times did I kill you? Have you been keeping track because I, I just totally lost it. My poor monkey brain can't count that high."
"Shut up," said Sarah. She got off the couch and went over to the video monitors showing the outside door. Standing on the welcome mat was a figure in a trench coat and fedora that was obviously three babies standing on top of each other. The baby on top looked up at the camera, showing a large fake mustache and dark glasses. A small pudgy arm reached out of the top of the coat and waved a white flag.
"Well, that's surpri... actually, you know what? That's really not that surprising. What the hell happened to our lives?" Sarah buzzed the babies inside.
After disassembling their disguise and accepting hot cocoa from Washington the babies all sat on the couch. Washington sat in his bean bag chair and Sarah took her place on the armchair. "So," said Sarah. "I take it Madeleine's not dead."
"Actually, at this point we're not really sure," said the head baby, still wearing his fake mustache. "We've been staking out your place for the past couple of weeks, but something has happened back at base camp. Something bad. We didn't know what else to do."
"You don't have any information?" asked Sarah.
"We got an S.O.S. message before communication shut down entirely. The message came with an image." The head baby took a digital image viewer from his uniform and passed it to Sarah. Sarah turned it on. The picture displayed showed a large mound of rocks, just outside the entrance of a cave. Painted across the rocks in red spray paint were the words, "Bonjour, Sarah! Je viens pour vous. Bonne chance."
Washington came up behind Sarah and looked at the screen. "What's that?"
Sarah's eyes burned. Her muscles tensed so tightly her cheek began to twitch. Her face turned red. Sarah grimaced. Through clench jaws she growled her reply.