By Kim McFarland
It had been a dark and stormy night. Now it was a damp and hazy morning, and people were going to work. Traffic was in its usual mess. No matter how far civilization advanced, it looked as if that would always be a problem.
Quiverwing Quack and Honker Muddlefoot had avoided the traffic by arriving at SHUSH Central an hour earlier. They were in the fabled Storage Section used by the agency's Research and Development department. The most bizarrely dangerous devices were hidden here, in an underground, cement-lined storage room below the SHUSH Headquarters building. They had had to pass a retina print identification test to get in. Honker was used to it; Quiverwing always flinched when the bright light flashed in her eyes.
"It's sure a lot of fuss to go through, just for Spring cleaning." Quivering commented. "Though it doesn't look like there's been a lot of that." She blew on the top of one of the containers, raising a cloud of dust.
Honker sneezed and fanned at the cloud with his clipboard. "We can tell the length of time something has been in here by the depth of the dust covering it. The oldest stuff we can carbon date."
"Ha ha. I'm starting to understand scientist humor. I've been around you too long." she smiled, undercutting her sarcastic tone.
He smiled back. "Thirty-two years, and you're just now figuring that out?"
"Yeah. So, anyway, what is the big deal with all the stuff down here? Why does SHUSH have one of its top mad scientists cleaning this place out? And what do you need me here for?"
Honker cleared his throat. "This isn't just a storage room, as you could tell from the security checks we went through. This is where we store the developments of R&D that are too dangerous to be released. Some of the things here could cause incredible damage, on a physical or sociological level."
"Er, yeah. If this stuff's so dangerous, why keep it around at all? Isn't it safer to get rid of it altogether? That way it can't fall into the wrong hands."
He shook his head. "If something can be invented once, it will be invented again because people know it can be invented. Once it was known that atomic bombs were feasible, it was just a race to see who developed them first. If we keep these devices and the accompanying documentation here, if one of these things is duplicated we won't have to start back from square one. At least we are finally getting rid of a lot of the paper, by transferring it to optical storage."
"Oh, putting it on computer? Won't that be a security risk?"
"No, the optical storage devices will be in here too. They will just take up a lot less space. One optical disk can store tens of thousands of pages."
"Ain't modern techno-loggy won'erful?" she said, imitating his father.
"The reason I'm doing this is that I'm the least mad of the scientists here. All of the scientists on staff are brilliant, but what they create is not always beneficial. I decide what is too dangerous to be used. I'm the only person familiar enough with this room to go through it. It's a chore, but someone has to do it."
"Oh. And, let me guess, you want me here so in case anyone ever gets ahold of this stuff, I'll know what I'm up against as I get blown away?"
"More or less."
Honker called the room's inventory up on his handheld terminal. Then he went over to one of the boxes. "This one is a perfect example of technology is too far ahead of its time to be released." he said. He opened the box - which had very little dust - and looked inside. Half the files had been marked as processed and verified, which meant that they could be thrown away. He took those files out. Removing a tarp, he revealed a device that looked like an artillery setup, with a gun mounted in front of a chair - except that the gun looked more like a death ray, and it was pointed towards the chair.
"That looks familiar, but I don't remember where from." Quiverwing commented.
"I believe you saw an earlier version of this when you were a child. The Norma Ray-"
"Yeah, I remember that now. It gives people psychic powers. What's so incredibly dangerous about that?" she asked.
"That was only the initial stage of the research. Back then, although the research produced results, the theory behind it was faulty. Originally Dr. Bellum believed that by irradiating people with Norma Rays, she could produce psychic powers."
"Well, that's what she did to Launchpad. What was wrong with the theory?"
"Um, the theory was greatly expanded after the incident with Major Synapse. As a matter of fact, it strengthened a major evolutionary theory. Are you ready for a lot of exposition?"
"You're asking me that now?"
"Uh, right." He cleared his throat - the dust was still bothering him - and began, "Evolution as we know it follows two distinct tracks. One: the physical body evolves to fit into its surroundings. Two: the mind evolves to take command of its surroundings. Evolution of the body produces creatures that fit certain biological niches. But it is evolution of the mind that creates whole new forms of life."
Quiverwing's expression was a blank. He elucidated, "It is the presence of a mind, however primitive, which separates animals from plants. Animals have the ability to learn from and react to their environment, unlike plants. The higher animals have, in addition, consciousness. They are more intelligent, and possess emotion, self-awareness, and a greatly enhanced ability to learn as opposed to relying mostly on instinct. The highest animals presently evolved, in other words people, possess sentience. They use their minds to shape their environment. It happens in most animals, as we know. There is even evidence that intelligence appeared in dinosaurs before they became extinct."
"Sort of, anyway. Okay, I get it so far. Survival of the brainiest. How's the Norma Ray fit in?"
"It is no longer the Norma Ray. As the theory was expanded, we realized that the Norma radiation only produced a temporary side effect mimicking the next stage in evolution. This next stage is the development of the mind independent of the body. Mind, able to affect things directly without using the body at all. Psychic powers' as we know them are the faint beginnings of this."
Quiverwing was beginning to understand. "So, psychic powers are the next step in evolution? I can see why it's so dangerous. I remember what happened when Launchpad volunteered for the Norma experiment."
"Yes, it's all in the write-up." Honker opened the oldest of the folders. "His case was one of the milder ones, fortunately-"
"Milder? Are you kidding?" she exclaimed. "He lifted your whole house without knowing what he was doing! He could fly and see the future, and a lot of other things, until it wore off."
"I know. But, thankfully, he lacked the one thing that could have turned the experiment into a disaster. He did not have the imagination to use his powers. As we found out in later experiments, the more a power is used the stronger it becomes, in a geometric rather than an arithmetic progression. Even in the short time the effect lasted on Launchpad, he did develop markedly."
"Yeah. Say, what other experiments were done? I never heard anything else about the Norma Ray after that. I thought it had been junked."
"We did give it up for awhile. But after the new theory was developed, it was taken out and refined, as the Aki Ray. Under the strictest security, and with no human subjects. We experimented on plants and lab animals. We had created a ray that would actually accelerate mental evolution, rather that a gizmo that would give someone the ability to do party tricks."
"Huh! So what happened?"
"Various things. Some of the subjects evolved, but regressed soon thereafter. Many died from the strain. A few went out of control in one way or another. Only two could actually be called successful results. One, a lab cat we irradiated, actually developed and retained intelligence. I believe you and Darkwing know of the cat. Fluffy."
"Uh, yeah. You mean that he was created by SHUSH? Why'd he become a villain?"
Honker shook his head. "We don't know. We can only suppose it is because he was unable to adjust, since he possessed a Human mind but was hampered by an animal body."
"So what was the other success story?"
"We decided to try the ray out on a more primitive life form. An invertebrate. A slug, to be exact. History has shown the result of THAT experiment too."
"Eesh. So, what would happen if you shot a person with the Aki Ray? He'd get psychic powers, or what?"
Honker shook his head. "We don't know. And, based on the results of the Norma Ray, we won't try the Aki Ray on a human anytime soon. Not until we have the technology to understand and control what we create. Which is why the device is in storage down here."
"If you aren't going to zap anyone, why's it built pointing at a chair?" she asked.
Honker shook his head. "Dr. Bellum built it. She wanted to use human subjects. She's a brilliant scientist - but if someone didn't hold her back she'd have destroyed the world by now."
"I believe it."
He pulled the cover back over the object. The folders that had been processed and verified he placed in a container marked TOP SECRET - SHRED IMMEDIATELY.
Later that morning, after the sun had burnt the haze away, an elderly drake in a long, dun-colored coat was wandering the streets of the city. To the passersby he looked to be deep in thought, walking toward no specific destination. He paid no attention to the people around him.
He was thinking that although it had been years since he had seen this city, he remembered it startlingly well. Well enough that the additions to the towers at the center of the city looked strange to him, as did the replacement of streetlamps with glowing strips on the sides of the roads. Where he lived little had changed in the last few decades, because he had not wanted it to change.
He had recently come to grips with the fact that he was getting no younger. He was in good physical condition for a duck his age, but there were things that if he wanted to accomplish he had better do them now. Back home life was no longer much of a challenge; he had held the city so tightly under control for so long that people were trained not to resist. Without a bit of opposition to squash, being in power was downright boring. So he had come here to alleviate ennui, and also to settle an unfinished score.
He avoided admitting to himself that he might not be up to taking on the whole city any more. His grudge was not really against the whole city, he reasoned; it was against the one duck who had denied him this city. He had humiliated him time and again by defeating his attempts to subjugate this St. Canard. Well, Negaduck was not about to let that rest. He was going to have his revenge, if it was the last thing he did!
The problem was, he had no idea how. Darkwing Duck had retired long ago. His protégé, The Quiverwing Quack, was the city's current resident do-gooder. He was not interested in fighting her. So how was he going to find Darkwing Duck?
His wanderings took him to the SHUSH Central building. He had walked here out of habit. He looked at it appraisingly. He had bluffed his way inside in disguise more than once. There was always something worthwhile in there. Well, he had no better ideas at the moment, so why not? It would be entertaining, if nothing else.
He was stopped at the door by a guard. "Halt. Do you have business here?"
Negaduck snapped, "Of course I do! Don't you know who I am?!"
The guard opened the door. Inside was a small hallway, with heavy doors at the other end. They were locked electronically. The guard did not open them. Negaduck said, "Well?"
"We need to check your retina prints." The guard indicated a strange device with a camera lens and a screen. He was watching Negaduck carefully, his hand resting on his gun.
Negaduck looked at the device. Retina prints? What the heck were those? He asked, "How exactly does this machine work again?"
"Don't you know?"
"Look, I haven't used THIS machine. You know how fussy these things are! I don't plan to spend all day trying to figure out how this particular one works!" Negaduck said in a low, threatening voice.
The guard bought it. He said, "Well, you look into the eyepiece here, with your right eye. It'll scan your retina to verify your identity."
"Oh, nothing fancy this time? Fine, then." He put his eye up to the eyepiece. And he slid his hand to the hidden pocket in his coat, ready to grab his gun.
The guard pressed a button. A light flared in Negaduck's eye. He yelped and jumped back. He snarled as he blinked, trying to clear his vision.
The guard was looking at the screen. It cleared and displayed a name: DARKWING DUCK. The guard stared at it in surprise, then looked back at Negaduck. Negaduck caught sight of the screen, and was startled momentarily too. But he knew an opportunity when he saw one. He said, "Are you going to let me in now, or do I have to show up in full costume?"
"Uh, sorry, yes. Uh-" Flustered, he quickly he pressed a code on the door's keypad. The lock clicked open. Negaduck walked through, wondering how the machine had identified him as his old enemy. Well, they were physically identical, down to their fingerprints. Their retina prints, whatever those were, must match up too!
What now? He had no battle plan. Habit guided him to the Research and Development section. Before he reached the main area he saw an elevator that he did not remember. It only had a "down" button. Curious, he pressed it. And nothing happened.
He saw a blinking light out of the corner of his eye. It was another of those retina scan things. He put his eye to the eyepiece. Moments later he was half-blind again, but the elevator was whirring. The door opened. He stepped inside and pressed the only destination button there was.
When the door opened - two or three stories down, by Negaduck's estimation - he thought he had stepped into someone's attic. It was just a storage room! What the heck?
By the elevator door was a large container of files. The title on the top folder caught his eye: NORMA RAY/AKI RAY PROJECT. He had heard of the Norma Ray; FOWL had once gone after that device in an effort to create psychics. A silly idea, Negaduck thought; typical of FOWL. Even if they had created a psychic squad they wouldn't know what to do next. Chances are they'd make them predict stock prices. Alert for the sound of the elevator, he flipped through the folder.
The few case histories in the folder proved more interesting than he expected. That thing had actually created what looked like super powers! This was worth stealing after all! And it would be especially good for Negaduck, because the powers it created were based on the mind, rather than the body. Although his body had aged, his mind was as sharp as ever!
He looked around the room. Many of the boxes and covers in the room were covered with dust. A few were not. He looked at those items. He did no more than glance at the boxes of files that he opened. When he removed a tarp from a large object consisting of a laserlike gun pointed at a chair that bore a stenciled label "AKI RAY", he knew he had found what he was looking for. He pressed the button. Nothing happened.
What? Was it broken? Even if the beam was invisible, the machine should have been making some sound. He looked around the back of the machine, and found a coiled electrical cord. Of course. There was no socket behind the machine. All of the walls were blocked by boxes and gizmos. The only outlet that he could see was right by the elevator. Just one foot beyond the reach of the cord. He went back to the machine and tried to shove it forward. The dang thing was heavy. He set his back against it and pushed with his legs. It slid reluctantly.
When he judged he had moved it far enough he stopped. His back hurt from the effort. "After all that, this had better work." he growled to himself as he shoved the plug into the socket. He flipped the switch to "ON". The machine hummed. What had the case studies said - don't think while being irradiated? Fine. He sat in the chair in front of the ray.
He felt as if his mind was being blasted with light, mentally blinding him. He could barely see because of his confusion. He was paralyzed, unable to get out of the chair. And the off switch was out of his reach!
Suddenly the machine stopped. He just sat and stared numbly at it for a moment. Then he got out of the seat shakily. He did not notice that the switch was now set to "OFF".
He left the SHUSH building. He was still dizzy. He found a bench in the nearby park and sat down. His mind gradually cleared. Well, apparently his brain hadn't been toasted after all. So, did the ray work?
He got up off the bench. Pain shot up his spine; he must have strained his back moving the machine. He gripped the bench for support. He heard a crackling. Where he had grabbed the back of the bench, the wood was splintered. What?
He put his hand on another part of the bench. The wood was solid. He pressed down hard. Nothing. He imagined the wood breaking. And his fist went through the bench like a pile driver. He withdrew his hand from the hole and slapped the back of the bench. The whole thing tore loose from its metal moorings, exactly as he imagined, and flew across the park. Unfortunately, it struck nobody.
The ray had worked after all! He tore the other benches up for practice, hurling them as far across the park as his pained back would allow. Some of them sailed out of sight over the trees, and landed in the middle of a road, judging from the sound of cars crashing. Outside the park's gate he wrenched a parking meter out of the sidewalk cement. He smacked the nearby car with it. The hood caved in. After a bit more abuse Negaduck smelled gasoline. That thing could burst into flame into any minute. Wouldn't that be pretty? As he thought about it, the car caught fire.
An alarm sounded in the Audubon Bay Bridge tower. On the monitor Quiverwing saw a tiny orange flare. From the dirty black smoke rising from it, it looked like a gasoline fire. And, she saw on the city map in the corner of the screen, it was right next to SHUSH Central!
Negaduck was thoroughly enjoying himself. He had not been able to cause such destruction with his own bare hands since he had stolen the powers from the rest of the Fearsome Five! Using the meter as a club, he hit the back bumper of another car. It tumbled across the road and knocked down a telephone pole on the other side. Live wires fell to the ground, sizzling and sparking. He raised his club to strike a fire hydrant. It flew away by itself, and water fountained high into the air, before Negaduck touched it. All he had done was imagine the result! This was great! He could wreck things just by thinking!
Something small flew overhead, trailing sparkling green smoke. It looped around itself in an improbable pattern, writing a cursive Q in the air. Negaduck saw a familiar motorcycle leap over the traffic confusion. A redheaded woman in a green leotard and Robin Hood hat leapt off. Before she landed she had drawn her bow and nocked a gas arrow. "Freeze!"
He grinned nastily and picked up a piece of gravel. He flicked it at her with his thumb. It hit the gas canister on her arrow, causing it to explode in a cloud of knockout gas. She held her breath as she ran out of the cloud. Negaduck swung at her with the meter. She leapt over it towards him, landing a kick on his back. He swatted backhanded at her; again she evaded him. She kicked him in the back of his knees, knocking him to the ground face first. He looked up to see her standing over him, a glue arrow drawn and ready.
When she saw his face she stared. "You? Don't supervillains ever retire?"
"Yes, me. You just can't keep an evil duck down." He stood up slowly and dusted himself off. She kept the arrow pointed at him. "I have a message for you to give to Darkwing Duck."
"I'm baa-aack." He grinned at her with narrowed eyes.
She felt a sudden disorientation and impact. Then pain. She broke through her daze to see that she had been knocked backwards into the brick building opposite the street. The glue bomb arrow had exploded on top of her, sticking her to the building.
Negaduck grinned viciously. Now THIS was power! While she watched, vainly struggling against the glue, he threw off the dull grey coat he had been wearing. Underneath he was wearing a canary yellow double-breasted jacket with black buttons. From underneath his cape he took out a red, wide-brimmed hat. He walked up to her and said, "I have another message for him. Goodbye. But I'll give it to him in person." He took a small object out of his coat and threw it to the ground in front of her. She was blinded by red smoke.
By the time the smoke blew away and she had freed herself he was gone.
Negaduck watched the scene from the top of a building. This was too good! He could have done away with her then and there, but she was not his quarry. She was just the bait. He knew Darkwing well enough to know that any threat to his darling protégé would draw him out.
Then he looked about himself. He did not remember getting all the way up here. How had he done that? It was almost as if his memory had skipped a few minutes. He concentrated, trying to remember.
Blinding pain hit him without warning. His vision blurred; the sunlight was suddenly too bright for him. Before he closed his eyes he saw a building topple, as if swatted aside by some force-
- something plummeting to earth, exploding into shrapnel as it fell - a green light stabbing down from the sky - streaks of light, curving around a sphere - a gigantic, grotesquely mutated creature - an aurora lighting up the sky - a glowing, tearing whirlpool - electrical pain-
He heard himself scream. Sounds crashed all around him. His legs weakened. The slap of cement against his knees jarred through his mind. Things fell to the ground all around him. Some landed on his hat. The visions stopped, and the pain faded.
He remained where he was for several minutes, recovering. When he opened his eyes again he saw that the ground around himself was littered with shattered glass.
A subdued and still sticky Quiverwing was admitted to SHUSH Headquarters. She went directly to the Research and Development area and found Honker. He did a double take when he saw her. "What happened?"
"Turn on the news, and we'll both find out what happened." she muttered.
"Are you all right? Should I call a medic?" he asked, concerned.
"Not unless they can do something about mortally wounded dignity. I got an ugly suspicion, and I want you to tell me I'm wrong. Turn on the news."
He turned on a television monitor. Onscreen, a news reporter was describing what the camera could see, without adding any information. Just outside SHUSH several cars had blown up, and the glass windows in all the buildings for a block around had simultaneously shattered. Honker looked incredulous. Noting his expression, she exclaimed, "All that happened just outside, and you didn't hear?"
"Um, I thought they were just testing in R&D." he stammered. She slapped a hand to her forehead and rolled her eyes. "What did you want me to disprove?"
Watching the monitor, she said, "I fought Negaduck. Right, Negaduck. Age hasn't mellowed him much. He never laid a hand on me. He just looked at me, and I slammed into a wall. Before that, he was playing street hockey, with cars as pucks."
Honker was getting the same feeling as Quiverwing. "Let's check downstairs."
They could see immediately that the Aki Ray had been moved - dragged, judging from the scrapes on the floor. Honker put his hand on the casing. "Warm. It was used less than an hour ago."
"How could he have gotten down here? That elevator's the only way!" Quiverwing exclaimed.
Honker said nothing. He pulled out his pocket Cray and connected its hookup wire to a socket. He tapped in an information request, added his security code, and read the answer off the screen. "Honker Muddlefoot. Quiverwing Quack. Darkwing Duck. Honker Muddlefoot. Quiverwing Quack."
"That's who's been in here today?" Quiverwing guessed. "Why would Dad come down here?"
"No, that's who has passed the retina scan-" Honker stated.
"Didn't Negaduck frame Darkwing once because their fingerprints are the same?"
Quiverwing stopped. "...And if they have the same fingerprints, they might have the same retina prints."
"Are certain to have." Honker corrected. "They are physically identical."
"Oh, great. How'd Negaduck know about the Aki Ray, anyway?"
"I have no idea. But, if he has used this - and it's clear he has - he is now more dangerous than ever."
"Really?" she said in mock disbelief.
"You don't understand how serious this is." Honker said. "Remember what happened to Launchpad because of the Norma Ray. Imagine Negaduck with those powers."
"I'd rather not."
Honker's fingers blurred on the tiny computer keyboard. Soon the screen filled with data from the Aki experiments.
Quiverwing looked at all the numbers flowing meaninglessly on the screen. "Oh, why didn't you just say so?"
"Wait." Another minute of pattering at the keyboard organized the data into a graph.
Quiverwing looked at it. "That's a learning curve, right?"
"Right. You see that the Aki Ray, according to all experiments, produces much more dramatic results. And think that Negaduck is much brighter and more ambitious than Launchpad. He will exercise his powers, and in so doing gain more power. You have already seen what he can do, less than an hour after irradiating himself! And we don't know where the effect will plateau off, or if it will!"
"So, where is Negaduck on this curve? A guess?"
"I don't know. We have nothing to compare him to. But, I would guess-" He pointed at the bottom of the chart.
The full force of the threat was now apparent to Quiverwing. "Er, didn't you say that the experiment failed? The subjects died, or they went back to normal?"
"Those were lower life forms. Plants and lab animals. The more developed the life form, the more pronounced the effect. If a subject is intelligent enough to control and channel the power..." He did not need to complete the thought.
Her alert chose that moment to go off. Grateful for the distraction, she took it off her belt and said, "Quiverwing Quack here."
"Quiv? What the devil is going on?! Negaduck just broadcast a threat on all TV stations that he was going to rip St. Canard apart unless I stop him!"
She groaned. "Yeah, Dad, it's true. It's a long story, but I think it's going to get a lot shorter."
"Whoa, kid. No matter how mean he is, he's only Negaduck. I know his weaknesses. We-"
"Hold it, Dad. One: I am not a kid. Talk to your grandchildren if you don't believe that. Two: What's this we biz? You're retired, remember?"
"I'll make an exception for Negaduck. I may not be as spry as I used to be, but neither is Negs."
Quiverwing rolled her eyes and looked at Honker for help. He took the communicator. "Mr. Darkwing, this is not just one of Negaduck's usual rampages. He has gained powers from the Aki Ray."
"Aki Ray? That's like the Norma Ray, isn't it?"
"Yes, but exponentially more powerful. And so is Negaduck."
"Shoot. No matter what his shoe size is, I can still beat him. Meet me in the tower." The communicator clicked off.
Quiverwing looked helplessly at Honker. "Negaduck will clobber him!"
"Unless we can convince him not to get involved in this case."
She folded her arms. "This is my father we're talking about."
"True." He unplugged the Cray from the wall socket and put it back in his pocket. "But we can try."
"Yeah, right. Let's get up to the tower before Darkwing rushes in where angels fear to tread."
In Darkwing Tower, Launchpad was uncovering The Thunderquack. "You're sure Quiv can't handle this, DW?"
"Launchpad! I would think you would be with me on this! I may be - mature, but so is Negaduck! And I'm smarter than he is! Darkwing Duck is not going to cower from any villain's threats, especially Negaduck's! Look, are you going to pilot this thing or not?"
"OK, DW." Launchpad said nothing more. Drake's pride would make this lure irresistible to him. Launchpad would not try to dissuade him, because he knew he could not succeed.
Quiverwing's Ratcatcher shot into the tower through the window. While Honker was recovering from the ride she took off her helmet and approached Darkwing. "Look, Dad-"
"I know what you're going to say, Gosalyn, and-"
"I'm still a match for Negaduck!-"
A piercing whistle startled them both. Shocked, they looked at its source. Honker was taking his fingers from his mouth. Launchpad silently wished that he knew how to do that.
Seeing he had their attention, Honker said, "Mr. Darkwing, this is not just Negaduck any more. He now has powers that are unknown, even to himself. And they will increase at an exponential rate. What happened with Launchpad, Hotshot, and Flygirl pales in comparison."
Darkwing spoke with the air of someone patiently explaining to a slow child, "Darkwing Duck's main asset is his intellect and his ability to think on his feet and outwit his foes. That, at least, has not diminished over the years. And, Quiverwing, I may not be able to bench-press as much as I used to, but you still haven't managed to snatch the pebble from my hand!"
"Dad, we don't have the time for this!-"
Honker said, "Wait a minute, Quiverwing. I have an idea - would you two spar for a minute?"
"Do what?" Quiverwing looked at him in surprise.
"Afraid, kiddo?" Darkwing teased.
"Oh, all right." She detached her cape from her shoulders. He did likewise. They bowed ceremoniously, then crouched and glared at each other.
Darkwing made the first move. He feinted a blow to her neck. She blocked it, and countered with one of her own. Darkwing, grinning, grabbed her wrists. She found herself on the floor. He had swept her ankles out from under her with one foot. He said nothing, but his triumphant smile was loud enough.
"Best two outta three." she growled as she got up. Her father had been keeping himself in shape - he had been old once, and he was determined to make the best of it the second time around - and what he had lost in strength he made up for in trickiness.
"Anytime, kiddo." he replied.
He was trying to annoy her, she could tell. It wouldn't work this time! She grappled closely, not letting him use his fancy moves. She managed to maneuver him into a hammerlock. He tried to tuck his bill under so she could not tighten her grip on his neck. She said, "Had enough?"
He gasped in reply. She loosened her hold; she did not want to hurt him for real. He paused for a moment, sucking air, then suddenly reached back, grabbed her, and flipped her over his back.
She was startled, but recovered quickly enough to land on her feet. That put him off balance, and she tossed him to the ground.
Launchpad jumped forward. "DW! You OK?"
He got up. "Never better." he coughed, trying to recover his breath. "Tiebreaker!"
"No, that's enough." Honker said. "Darkwing can still fight. If strength isn't the main factor, he just might have an advantage. Negaduck might not expect him to be able to fight at all, and underestimate him."
"Honker, for Heaven's sake! Negaduck won't have to lay a hand on him! Not with his powers!"
"I have an idea. Let me go check on something at SHUSH." He went to one of the motorcycles.
Quiverwing watched as he left - via the platform that would lower him to the bay bridge level, rather than by driving down the bridge support cable. Darkwing said, "What's he up to?"
"Beats the heck out of me." she replied.
"You married a real weirdo, Gos."
"I know. I'm used to them." She patted him on the shoulder. "You are okay, right?"
"Just knocked the wind out of me!" he snapped. "Okay. Negs is psychic as all get out now because of the Aki Ray. That right there tells me his fatal weakness. We did Major Synapse in by zapping him with the ray while we made him think. Let's just do the same thing to old Negs."
Quiverwing thought a moment, trying to find a flaw with that battle plan. The best she could come up with was "It might not work."
Darkwing grinned and elbowed Launchpad. "Since when has that ever stopped us?"
Within an hour Quiverwing, Darkwing, and Launchpad had moved the Aki Ray out of storage and installed it in the bill of The Thunderquack. When they were done Launchpad spoke through the ship's loudspeaker, "Testing, testing. Can you hear me?"
Quiverwing and Darkwing, who had been right in front of the speakers, shouted over the ringing in their ears, "YES!"
"Whoops, sorry." Launchpad said with a sheepish grin.
"Never mind. Let's get going." Darkwing said, climbing into the cockpit.
"How we gonna find him?" Launchpad asked.
Darkwing pointed at a column of smoke rising from the inner city. "Oh, I dunno." Quiverwing said.
They flew over and, sure enough, Negaduck was there. He was playing street hockey again. A few cars scattered about the area had burst into flame.
Negaduck heard the familiar sound of The Thunderquack's engine. He watched as it approached, eagerly anticipating the coming battle.
The ship did not land. It hovered overhead. A voice echoed over the speakers. "We meet again, Negs! I thought you'd finally gotten enough sense to realize you'll never be able to defeat the Masked Mallard!"
"That's because you'll never come out here and face me yourself!" Negaduck shouted back.
The airship's bill opened, revealing the Aki Ray. Surprised, Negaduck called, "What are you doing with THAT?"
"Why don't you try to figure it out yourself, Negs? Can you second-guess me? I don't think so!" Darkwing said in a singsong, teasing voice. The ray cut on, bathing Negaduck in Aki radiation. Darkwing continued, "Maybe I found the reverse switch. Maybe I've used it on myself. Or maybe something else. Why don't you guess!"
Negaduck collapsed to the ground. The ray seemed to be blanking his mind. He could not make sense of what Darkwing was saying over the confusion in his mind. One thing he did know, though - he hated Darkwing's tone of voice! Infuriating!
"We got him!" Quiverwing crowed. "And we don't even have the splattered brains this time!"
"Not yet. He's still moving." Darkwing said.
Negaduck glared up at the airship that carried his enemies. All of his anger was focused on that one object. His rage lashed out, an invisible force.
The ship's fuel tanks exploded, enveloping it in a cloud of smoke. Metal parts rained from the smoke cloud, crashing into the streets below. Negaduck still was not satisfied. He imagined pounding on the dome of the hull, mashing the passengers inside. The hull dented inward. He continued until he was sure than the passengers must be completely crushed. For good measure he pounded the bill of the plane until it was flat on the street, and the Aki Ray within smashed into oblivion.
"Now THIS is power!" Negaduck shouted in vicious glee. His energy was becoming visible as a crackling field around himself. He tore the wings off of the airship and threw them towards the horizon.
From a hiding spot on the top of a building, Quiverwing said, "This doesn't look like what we had in mind."
"Nope." Darkwing said. "Thank goodness the ejector seats worked. It's a good thing he was too busy pulverizing the Thunderquack to see."
"My baby..." Launchpad said softly.
"Hey, we're alive, and that's what counts." Darkwing said. Then he saw the look on Launchpad's face. "Uh... I'm sorry. That ship meant a lot to you." He patted him on the back.
"Yeah... She's a goner." Launchpad murmured, unable to take his eyes from the scene. Negaduck was still mutilating the vehicle.
"C'mon. Let's go back to SHUSH. I hope Honker's come up with something." Quiverwing said.
"You did WHAT?!"
"Look, I know it didn't work, okay? Have YOU come up with anything better?"
Honker looked silently heavenward for about a minute, as if praying for patience. Then, still staring upward, he said, "The danger of making a person think during irradiation was a flaw of the Norma Ray. It was corrected in the Aki Ray. Re-irradiation will not harm the subject; it accelerates the progression exponentially!" He looked back at them. "In English: you've created a monster!"
Cowed, Quiverwing replied, "Er, no argument there. Um, so what have you come up with?"
Honker adjusted his glasses. "There is no known way to control or cancel out powers created by the Aki Ray. I don't have time to research that. We'll have to get him to use as little power as possible, so they don't increase any more. That will minimize the danger. So to speak.
"Mr. Darkwing, I have something for you to use. Have you ever worked a waldo' before?"
"Er, you mean those things where I put my hand in a sensor glove, and a radio-controlled hand somewhere else does just what my hand does? Yeah."
"It's the same principle. I remembered something that we confiscated from The Fearsome Five. It's a large robot, about twenty feet tall, that is operated the same way. You would wear a set of sensors, and a visor that will allow you to see what it sees."
"Is that what the sparring was about?" Honker nodded. Darkwing said, "I'm in!"
"Good." Honker called up a file on a nearby terminal. "This will tell you all about the device."
Darkwing glanced at the illustration, then said to Honker, "You have to be kidding!"
"No, I'm not. Quiverwing, Launchpad, I have more weapons for you to use. Dr. Bellum's specialties. When we're done, Mr. Darkwing, I'll show you the equipment." He beckoned them over to the elevator.
Down in the storage room, Honker consulted his inventory diagram again, then began searching through the containers. Soon he lifted an item out of a wooden crate. "Here's something we might be able to use." he said, checking a gauge above the grip. "An emotion controller. It doesn't have many settings, but the ones it has may prove useful."
"An emotion controller? How's that so dangerous?" Launchpad asked.
"It's certainly something you don't want to let fall into the wrong hands. Aim it at a summit conference, and a war could be declared."
"Huh. What settings does it have?" Quiverwing asked.
Honker read off the dial. "Anger. Thanatos. Agape. That's it."
"Thanatos and agape? What are those? One wouldn't happen to be fear, would it?" she asked.
"Um, thanatos is a sort of death-wish setting. Agape - well, it's a kind of love."
"No fear setting? Why not?" she wanted to know.
"It works by manipulating the electromagnetic currents in the brain that determine emotion. I suppose that one wasn't as easily defined as the others." He had already put the weapon down and was searching through another box.
She lifted the weapon and jokingly aimed it at Launchpad. He flinched. She said, "Well, it might work. Shoot Negaduck with a love ray, what'll you suppose will happen? Blow his mind, maybe?"
"Quiverwing - you've got it backwards. It's aimed at you, not away from you."
"Really?" She looked at the weapon. "How can you tell? It looks the same from both sides."
"The power light is on your side, not the firing side."
"Yeesh! Bad design."
He shrugged and opened another box. The weapon inside it was larger; Quiverwing put the emotion controller down and helped him lift it. "This is one of the more destructive ones - but in a humane way."
She read the marking on the side of the box while he checked its power level. "Anti-neutron ray? What's that?"
"You remember the neutron bomb, which would destroy living matter but leave buildings intact? This will do the opposite. It will leave living matter unharmed."
"You mean, you could shoot it at me and I'd be all right?"
"Yes." he answered with a faint smile. "But your clothes wouldn't be."
She swatted him lightly. He opened the next box at hand. "What's - oh, I remember this." he said with a frown.
This one, for a change, was small enough to operate one-handed. He said, "It was designed with the idea of breaking command chains and creating a distraction, thus disorganizing the enemy..."
"Hmm. How does it work?"
"Well... it creates a harmless, but severe gastric disturbance in the targeted individuals."
Honker lifted the flap of the box which had been obscuring the label. BURP GUN. Launchpad laughed behind his hand.
Gosalyn groaned. "So why is that buried down here? How dangerous can THAT be? Even at a summit conference?"
"It's not dangerous at all, really." he said, laying it back in its box. "We put it down here because nothing got done at SHUSH R&D after it was invented. It was too much of a temptation for practical jokes."
"If Dad got that, Gryzlikoff's dignity would have been in shreds." she commented.
"It was." Honker said, shutting the box. "There's one other thing I can think of right now. Gos, would you help me? It's buried deep in these boxes."
Launchpad watched as they moved boxes. He wished that Honker had asked him to help; he would have liked to feel useful.
"OK, here!" Honker lifted out a crate. "I hope this one's in working order."
"It's got a lock?" Quiverwing said. "None of the others do. Isn't that overkill, what with the other security measures?"
"Not really." He tapped in his code. The lock light flashed green. He opened the box. Inside was a heavy, complicated device.
Quiverwing tilted her head to look at it sideways. "Turn it so it's standing on its shoulder pad, and it looks like a miniature skyscraper."
Honker removed it from the packing gingerly. He checked its power level. "Drained. Good."
"Why? How can we use it then?" she asked.
"Oh, the power cells are stored elsewhere. This was created for military use. It's the most directly destructive weapon we have here."
"So, what does it do? Shoot antimatter? Or, how about launching a quantum black hole?" Quiverwing guessed.
"No. It fires an electrical burst." Honker said.
"That's all? she asked, disappointed.
"A HUGE electrical burst, conveyed by plasma. It was tested only once, at a demolition site. It can knock over a building if aimed at the foundations."
"This little thing?" she asked, picking it up. It weighed less than thirty pounds.
"Yes. Now you see why we store the power cells separately."
"Uh huh." She looked at the box label. " B. F. G. 9000'. What's that mean? Or is it another scientific thing I wouldn't understand?"
"I don't think so. Big Fragging Gun'." Honker replied.
"I can dig up a few more weapons on short order; the military section always has a few things like one-man rocket launchers and things-" Honker began.
"Er, Honk." she said, taken aback.
He looked back at her questioningly.
"We just want to beat Negaduck. We don't want to atomize him. Do we?"
Honker looked away as he shook his head. "If it were anyone else I'd agree with you. But this is Negaduck. You have seen what he can do when he gets power-"
"The Magic Eye of somethin'-or-other." Launchpad murmured.
"Quaxocoatl." Honker said. "He will certainly cause much more destruction than he did when he stole the powers of the rest of The Fearsome Five. He has never hesitated at murder before, Gosalyn. Remember your first adventure as The Quiverwing Quack', when we were children?" he said grimly. "We can't afford to show him mercy."
"'Fraid I'm with Honker, Quiv." Launchpad said softly.
"When you put it that way... but I don't have to like it."
"I hope not." Honker replied.
Some time later Honker returned to Darkwing. He said, "What do you think?"
" It's so crazy, it just might work'." Darkwing said, a shade of disbelief still in his voice.
"Good. The robot and its control suit are in separate storage; they're too big for the subterranean room. Come with me."
Honker lead Darkwing through the Research and Development center. After they passed another checkpoint requiring retina print verification, they were admitted into a warehouse. Honker consulted the inventory chart on another computer screen, then led Darkwing to a grey canvas tarp draped over what looked like a twenty-foot-tall, out-of-proportion humanoid. Honker drew a garishly colored jumpsuit wired with sensors out of a box in front of it. "Put this on."
"Ugh. Didn't it come in any better colors? This clashes with my hat." Darkwing griped as he dressed.
"Hmm. It's a little big on you, but that shouldn't be a problem." Honker commented, looking Darkwing over. "Here's the helmet."
Darkwing removed his hat and put it on. Its visor was solid black. He could not see anything. "Well, THIS is a lot of help."
"I'll turn it on." He felt Honker flip a switch on the outside of the helmet. The inside of the visor lit up.
"I see a whole lot of nothing." Darkwing reported. "Isn't it supposed to show me what the robot sees?"
"It will." Honker agreed. "As soon as I power it up." He went underneath the canvas briefly, then called to Darkwing, "Getting anything yet?"
"Nope. Hold it, something's coming on ... I just see green now."
"That's the tarp over its eyes."
Darkwing raised his hands, as if trying to lift something off of himself. Behind him, the twenty-foot robot duplicated his actions, down to the smallest gesture. He succeeded in removing the tarp, and let it drop - from the hands of the robot onto himself. He staggered under the sudden weight. "HEY!" his voice boomed from the robot. He looked back at the source of the voice - and saw the wall behind the robot on the visor's screen.
He heard a strangled sound in front of himself. He turned to look - and saw a tiny Honker, unsuccessfully trying to keep his composure. "Hey! What're you laughing at?!" the robot boomed in a tone of annoyance.
"Sorry, nothing..." Honker giggled. It was too funny, seeing a robot in the shape of a giant teddy bear mimicking Darkwing, even trying to look back at itself. "The machine works. It'll just take a little getting used to. You're moving for the robot, not yourself. That's what you have to remember."
"Okay, I think I got it." Darkwing took a tentative step forward. The clank of the robot's footstep sounded directly behind himself. Startled, he jumped forward - and the robot leapt over his head. It spun in midair and landed in a quack fu pose.
"All right, all right!" Honker exclaimed hastily. "Stand still." He flipped the switch on Darkwing's helmet. Taking it off of him, he said, "You'll do better outside, when you have room to move. In here, you might accidentally run yourself over."
"Hah! I'd never do anything that silly!" Darkwing scoffed.
Honker did not have the heart to tell him that he had just come within inches of doing just that. "Anyway, let's get this thing outside. Quiverwing and Launchpad should have the weapons set up by now. You read about the weapons built into the robot?"
"Yeah. They're just what I'd expect from Quackerjack. Well, let's get moving."
"You go with Quiverwing and Launchpad. They should be right outside that door. You can just walk the robot. I have a few more things to do." Honker retreated back into the SHUSH Central headquarters.
"Since when did HE become Mr. Gung-ho?" Darkwing muttered to himself as he put the helmet back on. He felt for the area of the helmet that Honker had pressed, found the switch, and flicked it on. The warehouse sprang into view in the visor's screen. He looked around carefully. Everything looked tiny, because the robot was much taller than he was, of course. He walked up to the doors and opened them - the robot's hands were almost too clumsy with the knobs - and walked through it, ducking his head but from the crashing sound not far enough. Outside, Launchpad and Quiverwing were on the Ratcatchers, staring at him, aghast. Then Quiverwing started giggling behind one hand.
Darkwing folded his arms and tapped one foot. "Just WHAT is so funny?!"
That did it. Quiverwing laughed loudly and helplessly, almost falling off of her Ratcatcher. Launchpad was snickering too.
Darkwing flicked the switch on the helmet to turn it off, and lifted the visor. "What the heck are you laughing at?!"
"I'm sorry..." she giggled, wiping tears from her eyes. "But you... that huge t-teddy bear... it acts just like you!" She dissolved into laughter again.
Darkwing looked back at the robot. Well, he supposed it was funny. "Great. Maybe we won't have to fight Negaduck at all. I can make him die laughing." he muttered. "Well, let's go." He put on the helmet and tapped the button again. He found that he could now see over some of the smaller buildings. It was like he was a giant! He could not resist saying, for the first time in years, "Let's... get... DANGEROUS!"
He looked back down at Launchpad and Quiverwing. "Will you two PLEASE stop laughing?!"
Negaduck was just ready to begin another spree of destruction when he heard a piercing wail split the air. He looked up, startled. An air raid siren? But there were no airplanes in the air. No matter even if they were; he could smash them out of the sky just as easily as he had destroyed the Thunderquack. There was a lot of traffic, but it was all heading out of the city. No sign of The National Guard. Were they giving up so quickly? He was disappointed; he had been looking forward to a fight!
Well, if the people were leaving, he could still wreck the city. The last time he had been able to really lay waste to St. Canard in style was when he had stolen the powers from Megavolt, Quackerjack, Bushroot, and The Liquidator. Come to think of it, that was not a bad starting point at all! It would take a lot of power, but that's what power was for! He concentrated, gathering his energy to strike out. He was jarred out of his concentration when he saw that the buildings suddenly seemed to be shrinking.
"What the-!" he looked around wildly. The city was not shrinking; he was enlarging, as he had when he had gained the Five's powers! Of course! But now he did not have silly specialized abilities; he had raw destructive power at his command. He called into existence a ball of energy - he was not sure just how, but he was getting used to being able to do things like this just by thinking - and hurled it at the Audubon Bay Bridge. It hit the towers further from the peninsula, unfortunately not destroying the bridge. He started to create another ball of energy, but he was distracted by a heavy clanking sound behind himself.
He turned around. Then he stared in wide-eyed surprise. Marching toward him, cracking the pavement beneath its feet with its weight, was a twenty-foot-tall teddy bear. He rubbed his eyes. Was this another hallucination? The teddy bear was still there when he opened them again.
"What in the...?" he said again as the bear walked up to within arm's reach. Was Quackerjack behind this? It looked like something he would build. He watched as it raised one paw, as if to shake hands.
The center of the paw suddenly opened into a set of vicious, sharp-toothed jaws. The bear lunged forward. Negaduck dodged to the side in time. The bear smashed into the building beyond. Quickly it extricated itself and faced Negaduck again. It advanced on him again, its paws raised for another attack. Negaduck seized its wrists and held them apart. The robot's strength was not enough to overcome Negaduck's power. Negaduck grinned into the robot's blank face with a predatory look. "Nice try, Winnie! Prepare to meet your mechanic."
The bear cocked its head to one side, as if smiling. Then Negaduck felt something sweep his legs out from under himself. He fell back, knocking over a phone booth. The bear was standing over him. It began to topple forward, its paws aimed at his face. He rolled to the side. The paws, with the full weight of the robot behind them, punched through the street and into the sewer below.
Negaduck watched while the bear struggled to extricate its arms. This was too interesting to end quickly! The bear stood and regarded Negaduck silently for a moment. Then it cried, "O-HIIIIO GOZAIMASU!" and leapt startlingly quickly at Negaduck, landing a powerful kick on his face. Negaduck fell backwards, tripping over the telephone booth. The glass shattered, cutting into his foot. Negaduck snarled with pain and tried to pull the fragments out.
The bear folded its arms and chuckled. "I am the teddy bear that flaps in the night! I am your worst night-bear!"
"YOU?!" Negaduck looked up. He recognized Darkwing's voice. "I pounded you flat!"
"You should know you'll never defeat the Masked Mallard, Negadope. You should have given up while you were behind." The robot struck a fighting pose, daring Negaduck to attack.
"You know something? I hate you. I really hate you!" He glared at the bear. The bear began to advance again. Negaduck's glare intensified. "You're dead, Darkwing!" he shouted. A bolt of energy rushed unbidden towards the robot, electrifying it. Then the robot began to tear apart, piece by piece. Fragments flew away from the body, until only a framework and the central mechanical compartment remained. Negaduck seized the compartment. "You're DEAD!" he screamed, crushing it with his energy.
Darkwing, dazed, pulled the helmet off of his head. He had pushed the cutoff switch as soon as the cameras had stopped transmitting. He would have pushed it sooner, had he not been electrified by feedback from Negaduck's energy attack. He could not see what Negaduck was doing to the remains of the robot - he was behind a building, to avoid letting Negaduck see him - but the sound effects were quite enough for his imagination. Thank heavens the robot was remote controlled!
Quiverwing sped up to him on a Ratcatcher. "Dad? Are you okay?"
"Never better." Darkwing coughed as he leaned against a telephone pole for support.
"Launchpad and I got the weapons set up. We need you to help us work 'em. C'mon."
"Right behind you." He got on the back of the Ratcatcher.
They zipped over to where Launchpad and Quiverwing had set up a number of weapons, no two the same. Darkwing commented, "Looks like a smorgasbord."
"Yep. You know what, I'm glad SHUSH has Honker to decide what gets buried in the storage rooms. I can't believe they invented some of this stuff!"
"Yeah. So, what do we have?"
"First, communicators. You, me, Launchpad and Honker are all on the same band. Honker'll be coordinating us. The weapons-" Quiverwing started listing the weapons that they had at their command. Launchpad listened silently, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
Darkwing nudged him in the ribs. "Don't worry, LP. They'll be pointing away from you."
"He's almost done with the bear." Quiverwing said. "Don't worry about innocent bystanders. There won't be any. Honker's pulled strings at SHUSH and had the city evacuated. Oh, he also had The Muddlefoots take the kids on a camping trip'."
"Good." Launchpad said.
Quiverwing picked up her weapons. "Let's get going!"
Each took the devices that they had been allocated, and they spread out.
Negaduck stared at the mass of metal that had once been machinery. It began to glow red. Then it started losing its shape, running into a pool of molten metal.
Launchpad hurriedly set up one of the weapons. He had decided against starting with the rocket launcher; the other might work without having to kill Negaduck. He mounted it on the hood of his Ratcatcher, aimed it - Negaduck was not moving, so he had a clear shot - closed his eyes, and fired. The weapon hummed.
It occurred to Launchpad that, as much as he would hate to use the rockets, he would if that was what it would take to kill Negaduck, because their lives were all at stake. He realized that he might not survive this battle. This might be his last stand. But if it meant giving his life to protect St. Canard and his family... well, he would do that if he had to.
He opened his eyes to see what effect the weapon was having. It did not seem to be doing anything at all. Was Negaduck really immune to the "agape" setting? Then he realized something. Embarrassed even though nobody could have seen his error, he switched the weapon off and turned it around, aiming it away from himself.
Reluctantly Negaduck looked away from the former Thunderquack when he heard the buzzing of a motorcycle engine behind himself. Quiverwing's Ratcatcher had driven behind him ... dropping a line of circular, flat objects, each about a foot in diameter, behind itself. He was amused. Land mines? Did they really think that those would harm him?! He flicked a bit of power at the one nearest the departing motorcycle to detonate it. Nothing happened. Puzzled, he lashed out with more power. Again, nothing.
Suddenly he was furious. They put out LAND MINES, as if he was stupid enough to step on them?! This was insulting! He directed a blast at them. They flew into the air, along with chunks of pavement. And shattered when they landed. Negaduck picked up one of the fragments. DINNER PLATES! They had fooled him with THAT stupid trick?! He screamed in rage.
Hastily Launchpad shut the weapon off. It was only making Negaduck angrier, and that was not good. He spoke into the communicator. "The emotion thing ain't helping. What about you guys?"
Quiverwing spoke. "Darkwing, I see you. We can attack Negaduck from two sides without getting in a crossfire. Ready?"
"You bet!" Darkwing said. "Launchpad, step back!"
Negaduck looked around for his enemies. Where were they? If they thought they could kill him from hiding they were mistaken! His question was answered immediately. Darkwing and Quiverwing stepped out of alleyways beside buildings on opposite sides of the street. Each had some kind of weapon. Darkwing's began making a rattling chatter that he recognized as a machine gun.
Quiverwing stared. The bullets were ricocheting away from Negaduck, as if repelled by an invisible barrier. "Darkwing! They're not hitting him!"
"I see!" Darkwing said, not stopping.
"Well, let's see what he does with THIS!" She said, taking aim. A red beam of light shot out toward Negaduck's yellow coat. When it hit the sphere it spread, like water striking glass. It flowed around the border of a sphere, in the center of which Negaduck, bathed in red light, grinned back at them. "Idiots!" he smirked.
Launchpad, watching with amazement, had moved to a position from which he could fire at Negaduck without hitting Darkwing and Quiverwing. He loaded and positioned the rocket launcher, gathered his nerve, and squeezed the trigger.
The firing tube kicked hard against his shoulder. The rocket sped towards Negaduck, who had turned to look. As it approached him, the missile slowed to a stop in front of his face.
Negaduck saw Darkwing run back into the shelter of the alley, abandoning Quiverwing. He shouted, "You can't escape!" He snatched the missile out of the air and flicked it at Darkwing.
The concussion of the explosion knocked Darkwing forward onto his Ratcatcher. Bricks hailed down around him - but the buildings on either side of the alley did not collapse.
When the rubble stopped falling he stood up, shaking the debris off of himself. That had hurt. He felt shaken, out of breath. He couldn't take abuse like this the way he used to, he admitted to himself.
He swept bricks off of his Ratcatcher and opened the crate containing the BFG-9000. He picked it up, slid an energy cell into the body, and checked the power level. Full power. If this didn't wipe him out, nothing short of a comet would.
When he came out he saw Negaduck waiting for him. Quiverwing was not there; she must have retreated to her Ratcatcher too. "What else do you have?" Negaduck asked, amused. "Come on, give me your best shot!"
"You asked for it!" Darkwing said, and raised the weapon to his shoulder.
"What is THAT?!" Negaduck said. With a flick of energy he sent Darkwing sprawling back, while the weapon remained hanging in midair. Negaduck examined it. "This is a BFG-9000! And it isn't even my birthday! Do you know how many military bases I've raided trying to find one of these?!" He took it. "At last, my arm is complete! Oh, what to waste first...?" he murmured as he swung it around idly. Then he grinned and, arm straightened, aimed it at Darkwing.
Darkwing scrambled up when he saw Negaduck pause and stare at the gun. He ran back into the alley and, out of breath, shoved more of the debris off the Ratcatcher. And saw that the instrument panel and most of the controls were smashed. He looked across the street. Quiverwing was still in the alley on her Ratcatcher, speaking into her communicator. He heard, "I saw it. Are you all right, Dad?"
Miraculously, his communicator had escaped destruction. "Just peachy. My Ratcatcher's out of commission!"
"I guessed. What is Negaduck doing?"
What was he doing? Half expecting to find himself looking down the muzzle of the BFG, he peered around the corner of the building.
Negaduck was trying to remove the gun from his arm with his other hand. It was no longer a separate object; somehow his hand and arm had blended with the metal and plastic. The gun was now an extension of himself. He glanced up and saw Darkwing. He raised the gun.
Darkwing ran across the street when he heard the weapon powering up. In the seconds the gun took to fully charge before firing he was able to make it over to Quiverwing's alley.
Honker's voice spoke over her communicators. "Get away from Negaduck! Now!"
"You have the best timing!" Darkwing exclaimed.
"Get away from Negaduck! Far, and fast!" Honker said. "Look up!"
Darkwing did. A single green star shone in the sky directly overhead. In broad daylight.
She leapt onto her seat; Darkwing swung up behind her. She drove out of the alley and turned the first corner she could, before Negaduck could get a clear shot.
Over the roar of the motor Darkwing asked, "Where's Launchpad?"
"I don't know. He must have beat it too. Wait a minute, I bet I know where he'll be." She turned a corner.
Launchpad was waiting for them at a vacant Hamburger Hippo stand. Quiverwing took off her helmet and said, "I knew it."
"First time I've come here when I'm not hungry." Launchpad said. "What's happening?"
"Watch." Quiverwing pointed to the star. It had grown brighter in the past few minutes.
Another motorcycle pulled up. Honker hopped off of it and took off his helmet. "Did any of the weapons work?"
"Not worth diddly." Quiverwing replied. "They didn't even dent him. Great for urban renewal, though. I didn't even get a chance to try the anti-neutron ray, and Negaduck has the BFG!"
Honker shook his head. "At least it bought enough time to reprogram the satellite. That'll be enough."
"Is that what that light is?" Darkwing said. "A satellite?"
"Yes. Left over from the Star Wars' program." Honker said distractedly as he tapped codes into his Cray. He typed ACTIVATE, then looked at Darkwing. "You had better take off your hat. I don't know how color sensitive the satellite's cameras are after all these years."
Darkwing did. "My hat? What's that got to do with it?"
"I programmed it to look for a red hat like Negaduck's, seen from an overhead view."
Darkwing hid the hat under his cape.
Honker pressed the ENTER key. They looked up into the sky. The star grew brighter. The light stabbed downward and bathed them in green light. Only Honker did not cringe. "It's only searching." he said.
"Whew. For a moment I thought we'd survived Negaduck to be fried by obsolete war weapons." Darkwing laughed nervously.
The light moved away. They could see that it was searching the city like a spotlight.
Negaduck saw it as well. It moved over him, and stopped when it reached his hat, which had been knocked off his head and onto the street. The light narrowed and intensified. The red material burst into flame.
Negaduck understood what was happening now. They were trying to kill him with a satellite based laser! He looked up at the source of the light. He was too far away to destroy it. But-
Quiverwing let out a cheer when they saw the laser beam suddenly focus and intensify. Darkwing did not; he did not like to be a mere spectator to the battle between Good and Evil. He had wanted to be the one to bring down his old foe!
Launchpad pointed. "Hey, what's that?"
They saw something shoot up into the sky, its path parallel to the laser beam. It quickly vanished into the distance.
"Don't tell me!" Quiverwing stated in disbelief.
"I won't." Honker replied.
"What do we do now?" Launchpad wanted to know.
"How about writing our wills?" Quiverwing suggested.
"Already done." Darkwing replied.
Honker spoke absently as he pattered on the Cray's keyboard, trying to change the satellite's program. "At least the city's evacuated."
"Yeah. So am I." Darkwing replied, squinting into the sky.
The laser began swinging around as Negaduck reached its source, a satellite in geosynchronous orbit above St. Canard. It was a relic, but still serviceable. He wished that he had known about it years ago; it would have been a perfect compliment to many of his plans to take over St. Canard. Now it was nothing more than an obstacle.
Cameras on the outside focused on Negaduck. The laser, designed for minute movement to pinpoint targets on the planet's surface, began to swing slowly towards Negaduck. Negaduck's power wrenched it from the satellite, cutting it off from its power source. He hurled it downward, back towards St. Canard.
The satellite's cameras were still tracking him. Furious, he lashed out with his power. In silence the stabilizer wings shredded into the distance. Small craters appeared in its hull. Unsatisfied, Negaduck tore it apart, then sent its fragments plummeting soundlessly to earth.
Back in the city, Darkwing, Quiverwing, Launchpad and Honker watched as streaks of light, like shooting stars, appeared in the sky. "Make a wish." Quiverwing said in a flat voice.
Honker had been working furiously at his computer, trying to fight Negaduck with the satellite's tools. When the camera view flared and then dissolved into static he took his hands from the keyboard. He said nothing. Now, watching the fragments burn up as they reentered the atmosphere, he said, "He is becoming too powerful to control."
Quiverwing glared at him. "Will you please stop saying that?!" she snapped.
Darkwing touched her shoulder. "Easy, Quiverwing. He's doing the best he can. We all are."
Embarrassed, she said, "Sorry... You've given us a fighting chance, at least. We wouldn't even have had that."
"It's all right." Honker replied softly.
"Ah... I don't mean to interrupt, but..." Launchpad pointed into the sky. A speck was descending back towards the city.
Negaduck had sensed his enemies. Darkwing was among them! "No more playing around! Now, Darkwing, you're going to die!" They seemed to hear the voice subsonically, in their bones rather than their ears.
"It's me he wants." Darkwing said without taking his eyes off the sky. "Get away."
"The heck." Quiverwing replied.
"I may not stand a chance against him, but if I don't then neither do the rest of you. Go on. If you don't, who'll raise my grandkids? Those Muddlefoots? GO!"
"Yeah." Launchpad said.
"You too, LP. Beat it!" Darkwing ordered.
"Nope." He put a hand on Darkwing's shoulder. "I'm in."
Darkwing turned to him. "I said get lost! Now isn't the time to be a martyr! And that goes for you two!" he said, exasperated, when he saw that Quiverwing and Honker had not moved.
"Mr. Darkwing, we will have to confront Negaduck. The sooner we do, the better chance we will have. If anyone can ever defeat him, it will be us, and now."
"You egotist. You just can't stand sharing the spotlight!" Quiverwing said.
The tone of her voice belied her hard words. He looked at her for a moment. "Kiddo, if we make it through this I'm going to ground you!" he said with a little smile.
"Everyone has weapons?" Honker asked.
"Here, Dad, take a spare." Quiverwing handed him the anti-neutron gun and took a laser cannon. Reluctantly Launchpad lifted the missile launcher again.
Honker said, "On my word, open fire. Everything we have left. All at once. He may not be able to defend himself from multiple attacks, and if one of us can get through-"
"Right." Darkwing said.
Negaduck reached the ground again. He had homed in on his enemies. He glared for a moment. Darkwing could feel Negaduck's fury as a tangible force. The rage was increasing his power. Without any outlet, it was acting on him, reshaping him. Negaduck was increasing in size as he approached. He swatted at a building as he passed it; it crumbled into rubble at his touch.
Negaduck spoke. "Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company!!" He raised his left arm, pointing the BFG at Darkwing. The metal moved, as if Negaduck was shaping it into something else. Darkwing closed his eyes, waiting for the blast.
He opened his eyes a few seconds later. Negaduck was trying to aim the weapon, but he was having a hard time because the metal and plastic were melting and reshaping like a restless amoeba. "Stop it!" he growled as he struggled to force the weapon to return to its original form.
Darkwing and Quiverwing stared. Behind themselves, they heard Honker say softly, "It has already begun."
The weapon would not come under control. It melted and flowed like wax. Negaduck tried to pull it off of his arm. Then he saw his other hand. It was different, wrong. And it was changing as he watched. He stared at it in horrified fascination.
Darkwing, Quiverwing, and Launchpad were staring too, with similar expressions. Negaduck's hand was reshaping itself as the weapon had. From each fingertip, new fingers were budding, as if to create a new hand on each finger. Negaduck was obviously unable to stop the process.
Darkwing said, "Eww! What the heck?!"
Honker murmured, "Fractal pattern, it looks like a variation on Koch. This is new..."
"Honk, you got something to share with us?" Quiverwing demanded.
"He has gained an incredible amount of power in the last few hours. But he can't control it."
"Your CD has a scratch." Darkwing muttered. "I know our goose is cooked! Pardon the ethnic humor."
"No offense taken, Mr. Darkwing. I mean, this may work to our advantage!" Honker said without taking his eyes off Negaduck.
"How?" Launchpad asked in complete bafflement.
"He gained his power too quickly. It looks like he's losing control of it. Without an outlet, it is taking control of him." Honker pointed. "It's reshaping his body, obviously against his will."
"Are you sure that's a good thing?" Darkwing asked.
"No. But it's less bad."
Negaduck suddenly swung his hand into a building, as if trying to destroy both the building and the hand. The building collapsed. He screamed. Reflexively Quiverwing, Honker, Launchpad and Darkwing put their hands to their ears to block the sound out. But his cry was not carried by sound. It was projected directly into their minds.
Negaduck pulled the hand back. The pain was already fading, as if the broken bones were already healing themselves. At least it was not turning into anything worse!
He noticed the tiny figures. They were just standing there, watching this happen to him! And one of them was Darkwing!
Darkwing saw Negaduck's glare lock on him. He said "Split!" to the others. Each dashed off in a different direction. Darkwing jumped onto one of the Ratcatchers. If Negaduck wanted to get him so badly, then Darkwing could lure him away from the city. And maybe come up with a plan before he got killed.
He turned the ignition key and flicked a few switches on the control panel. The machine purred, ready to take off quickly. Darkwing looked back up. And stared.
Negaduck was not trying to catch Darkwing. He was crouching, his arms wrapped around himself, as if trying to fight off an attack of nausea. His body was shaking, vibrating.
If it could be called his body. Negaduck was becoming less recognizable with every second. The mutation that had started with the weapon and his hand was now spreading. His body was increasing with size, its proportions altering unpredictably. An eerie glow wreathed him; the excess power, too strong to be contained by his body, was bleeding into the atmosphere around him. Darkwing felt his feathers tingle, as if from electricity.
Darkwing heard a burst of static from his communicator. "While he's distracted! Use your weapons! NOW!" Honker ordered.
While Darkwing was picking the controllers up he saw Quiverwing's laser beam needle into Negaduck. This time his power did not bend the light. Negaduck screamed, the sound projecting into the minds of everyone nearby in a shocking blast. He could be wounded! "Good shot!" Darkwing called into the communicator.
Launchpad's voice said, "Eww! Oh, dear..."
"Huh?" He stared at the communicator in puzzlement, then looked up. And breathed, "Oh, dear."
Negaduck was mutated beyond recognition, and still changing. The wound was not bleeding. Flesh was oozing from it, taking bizarre shapes, as if trying to evolve but lacking a goal. It was crackling with excess energy.
A missile exploded just behind him. He jerked away, as much as he could. He screamed again. This time the blast of pain and rage stunned them. As the scream continued glass shattered in all of the nearby buildings.
Fighting against Negaduck's screams, Quiverwing glanced down at the laser to see how much power it had left. And saw that it had somehow armed itself while she had been watching. "What-?"
"What in the-!" Honker heard over the communicator.
"The missile thing ain't working any more! It's gettin' hot!"
"Mine too. The anti-neutron controllers are going haywire!"
Honker began, "Get away from the weapons, they're over-"
He saw flashes of light and heard explosions from various locations. One by one, the weapons all detonated, each in its own fashion. There was a static silence on the communicator circuit. Honker shouted, "Is everyone all right?!"
"Just peachy." Quiverwing said. "I threw the laser away. Can we go home now?"
Darkwing had thrown down his weapon before it had detonated, but he was still too close to it when it blew up. The overload had stunned him momentarily. "Good thing after all I didn't have the BFG." he muttered.
Negaduck was still there. Still mutating. Darkwing tried to make any sense out of him, and couldn't. He was huge by this time; he could have looked over the tip of a five-story building - if he could have stood up, or was even built to stand any more. Darkwing could not find what had originally been legs in the jumbled mixture.
He had to get this menace out of St. Canard! And the only way to do that was to lure it, with its bait of choice. He jumped back on the Ratcatcher - it was still working! - and gunned the motor. He rode towards Negaduck, hoping that he would see him. He called out, "Hey! Forgotten about me?!"
Something that was barely recognizable as once having been a face turned towards him. It looked as if it was trying to speak; Darkwing heard nothing that he could interpret as words. Darkwing circled him on the motorcycle. As uncoordinated as Negaduck was now, it would never be able to catch him. He could get it mad enough to chase him, though.
He was nearly knocked from his motorcycle by a blow of rage from Negaduck. Darkwing regained control in time to avoid meeting with a telephone pole, and turned to a road that led out of town.
"Whoa - where's the action goin'?" a woozy voice said over the communicator.
"Launchpad? Is that you?"
"Yeah. Boy, those missiles sure pack a wallop. Thought I was far enough away. What'd I miss?"
"Darkwing must be trying to lead Negaduck away from St. Canard, since our weapons are now useless."
The sounds of pursuit stopped. Darkwing glanced into his rearview mirror, then turned his motorcycle around and stopped. "Hey, what's the matter? Can't Mr. All-Powerful catch tiny little me?" he yelled.
Negaduck did not respond. It had stopped moving, and was beginning to glow. Darkwing drove closer to gain his attention, calling, "Come on! Can't catch me!"
Negaduck looked through a haze of confusion and panic and saw Darkwing buzzing around on the ground like a fly. He came closer, shouting incomprehensibly, infuriatingly.
Darkwing saw something that might once have been a hand extend toward him. He just managed to dodge as it slammed into the street, cracking the pavement. He drove just out of its reach and then turned back, once again daring Negaduck to catch him.
The hand lifted and pointed at him. And then shot forward, the arm extending to snatch him off of his motorcycle.
Quiverwing heard over her communicator, "It's got him!"
"It has Dad? Oh, holy-!" She ran toward her motorcycle.
What was holding Darkwing did not feel like a hand. The flesh was still mutating. What had once been white feathers were now fused into scales. His struggles had no effect. Negaduck lifted him up, far over the street, as if to drop him. Darkwing stopped fighting and grasped a few of the scalelike feathers, praying that they would bear his weight.
"I see him! What's he doing?!"
"I dunno." Launchpad replied into the communicator. "What we gonna do? I'm fresh outta plans!"
"Don't do anything!" Honker's voice cut in over Quiverwing's.
"Listen to me!" Honker said. "Don't make him use his power any more!"
"What?!?" Quiverwing shouted into her communicator. "Look at him!" Then she paused, staring. The air around Negaduck was glowing like the gas inside a fluorescent light.
The energy in the air made Darkwing's skin itch furiously. Where he was encased in Negaduck's hand also tingled; the energy was running through the flesh was more powerful than that which bled into the air. He could not tell if Negaduck was trying to say anything; he was more concerned with the immediate possibility of being crushed or suffocated. Into his mind Negaduck shouted "STOP IT!" deafeningly.
Why wasn't Negaduck crushing him? It could now if it wanted to!
The glow in the air brightened. The tingling of the energy sharpened into a shock, as if an electrical current was running through his body. The hand loosened suddenly. Darkwing fell; but instead of hitting the street far below he landed on another glowing, tingling extrusion that might have originally been a foot. He glanced back up. What he saw made him leap the rest of the way to the ground.
"Honker! WHAT'S HAPPENING?!"
"garble - rgy is o - garble - uncon - garble"
The signal dissolved in a roar of static.
Quiverwing put the communicator down. Whatever was happening to Negaduck, it was also distorting their communicator signals. She could no longer see Darkwing. She hoped that meant that he had escaped.
The unrecognizable thing that had been Negaduck thrashed, as if in pain. It was haloed by a glowing aura, like that of a streetlamp in fog.
Darkwing scrambled away after a rather rough landing. STOP IT! bellowed into his mind again. STOP IT!
He turned and shouted angrily back, "You did this to yourself! I can't do anything about it!"
An appendage extended towards him. Darkwing dodged behind the only thing handy, a telephone pole, hoping that would save him. But the appendage did not reach him. The glow surrounding Negaduck whirled around it, tearing into the flesh. Before it could reach Darkwing it dissolved. Darkwing's mind was numbed by a deafening mental howl of pain.
The cry had taken on a note of desperation. The energy was whirling around Negaduck in the form of cometlike streaks. The streaks that achieved escape velocity flew off in random directions, scorching whatever they touched. The noose of energy tightened around Negaduck. Where the energy touched Negaduck, its flesh dissolved into the energy storm, adding to it. Its thrashing did not avail it; instead, it brought it into contact with more of the energy.
Darkwing was caught between fascination and the urge to get the heck away. He had backed far enough away that the energy in the air no longer made his feathers stand on end. He couldn't leave; this was his battle, even if he could do nothing more.
The energy was constricting and becoming denser, collapsing like a protostar. As it tightened it took more of Negaduck up into the storm. The mental screams became less coherent. Then they abruptly cut off as the energy suddenly contracted from a whirlpool into an unbearably bright point. The point remained for only a second, then it exploded, releasing its energy.
Darkwing closed his eyes against the flare of light. The afterimage on his inner eyelids showed a flow of light, almost like liquid, rushing outward. He heard the roar, and felt the energy wash over him, not shocking him like electricity would, but making his feathers crackle. When he opened his eyes again the light was gone. He could see the energy spreading outward and upward in a glowing white hemisphere, weakening and dimming as it expanded. Where Negaduck had been, Darkwing saw nothing.
Static crackled on Darkwing's communicator. Then he heard quite clearly, "-l was that?!"
He grabbed the communicator and spoke into it. "I heard that. Quiverwing! You're okay?"
"Oops, I didn't know it was working again, heh heh. Yeah, I'm all right. Honker? Launchpad?"
"Me too. What happened?"
Darkwing had made it to the spot where Negaduck had vanished. "There's no sign of him. I didn't see it, the light blinded me."
"I see you, Dad. Honk, Launchpad, come on over."
In a minute Quiverwing was with Darkwing, looking at the rubble without much idea of what they expected to find. They were joined by Honker and a battered Launchpad. When Darkwing caught sight of him he said, "LP! Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I guess..." Launchpad murmured, rubbing his head gingerly. "I got knocked back by that blast. Hit a brick wall, I think. Boy, I got a headache like you wouldn't believe."
Honker took Launchpad's flight cap off and examined his head. "No concussion, I think."
" S Good. But I feel like the TQ." Launchpad murmured.
"The... oh." Darkwing said.
"Okay, Honk, you know the question that's on everyone's minds." Quiverwing said. "What the heck happened to Negaduck?!"
Honker adjusted his glasses as he began, "It looks like Negaduck developed his powers so quickly that he couldn't control them. When he could no longer control them, the energy ran wild, acting on whatever it could - and since he was not directing it at anything else, it acted on himself. I'm not sure why it mutated him... perhaps it was an evolutionary force, and accelerating it to such a fantastic degree... hmm." He took out his Cray and tapped in some quick notes for future use.
"Er, that's nice. But what about the rest of it?" Quiverwing tapped her foot.
"Oh." He looked up. "That's easy. Once he panicked and completely lost control, the energy went wild. It was strong enough to convert into its raw form, like heat ignites a fire. After Negaduck was destroyed, it had nothing to restrain it, so it dissolved."
"I wouldn't call that dissolving." Darkwing said. "It nearly blinded me."
"A sudden release of energy has byproducts in the visible spectrum." Honker agreed.
Darkwing murmured to himself, "I always thought I'd be the one to bring Negaduck down for good. But he did it to himself. What a cheat." He paused as he surveyed the damaged cityscape. "I can't believe he's finally dead."
Honker said softly, "I think."
"Honker, you said evolutionary force'?" Quiverwing asked, an uneasy expression on her face.
They exchanged grim looks.
The searing pain faded, first from his nerves and then from his mind. When what his body had become had been dissolved by the energy he had been left with nothing, but for awhile the pain still haunted him. The terror and confusion slowly receded.
He had not realized that his eyes were closed. When he did he looked at himself. His body was back to normal again!
He heard a laugh. Although it was dark here, he could see someone walking towards him from a red-lit tunnel. When it came closer he saw that it was a red goat wearing a cape and using a trident as a walking stick. Negaduck looked around. It looked like he was in the inside of a cave.
The goat said, "Boy, when you go out, you don't do it by half, do ya!"
Go out'? Then he hadn't survived. He had killed himself with his own power. How disgustingly poetic. "It's better than dying in my sleep." he growled.
"You were the star attraction down here for awhile. I'll show you a tape, you'll love it. The staff was betting on whether you'd make it or not. O'course I knew what would happen - your reservation just came up. Made a pretty penny offa it, too." he grinned.
"Did I take out Darkwing Duck, at least?" Negaduck asked, looking around.
Lucifer shook his head regretfully. "Nope. The little creep got away again."
Negaduck said a common expletive.
"Hey, I've tried to do that to him. The little goody-goody keeps getting away."
Negaduck straightened his cape and jacket. "Oh, the h*** with it. What now?"
"What now? Now, we go and get you fitted for a set of horns and hooves, and a pitchfork." He draped an arm around Negaduck's shoulder and led him down the red tunnel. "Can't waste talent like you, can we? That was a nice try, but you got a lot to learn about supernatural power and all that kinda stuff. But don't worry, you got all eternity to learn."
What is the business with the Japanese characters in the logo, and what does "Ahiru" mean? If you really want to know, I'll tell you.
All characters in this story are copyright © Disney, and used without permission but with a heck of a lot of respect. This story is copyright © Kim McFarland. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only, provided no changes are made to the story or the credits.
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