All disclaimers in part one.
by Mandi Ohlin
Palace of Power
"So how do you use this thing again?" Scully examined the laser rifle that Dr. Right had handed out.
Mulder grinned, picking his own up and examining it. "Point and shoot. Sounds simple to me." She shot him a withering look, but as usual he ignored it.
Kelly frowned, noting that Right had only produced two rifles. "What about me and Lana? Don't tell me Kevin warned you about me ahead of time!"
"Actually, your Highness," Dr. Right said, addressing Lana, "I already had something in mind for you." As he spoke, he tapped an access code in a panel in the wall beside him. The panel slid open with a hiss, and the scientist reached inside only to bring out a Power Pad and Zapper, almost identical to Kevin's except that the Pad had a rounded design, with four action buttons instead of two.
Kelly let out a low whistle. "Hey, a Super NES Pad! Nice!" Those who were native to Videoland stared at her, and she sighed. "Never mind."
Lana was focused entirely on the Power Pad as Dr. Right put it into her hands. "This is for me?"
"It was supposed to be your birthday present," Kevin explained. "You're always saying you're tired of having to be the damsel in distress."
"Got that right," Lana said happily, as she allowed Kevin to strap it on for her. As he did, she turned and kissed him soundly. Simon looked disgusted, and Kelly grinned. When she pulled back, Kevin blinked a few times, dazed. "So how does it look on me?" she joked.
Zelda laughed, and Scully smiled. "Um-it-uh-um--" Kevin stuttered, still somewhat out of sorts.
"I can translate salivating boy talk," Kelly interrupted. "He says you look great."
Snapping out of it, Kevin looked at her curiously. "Why are you kissing up all of a sudden?"
"Because if anything those two--" here she pointed over at Link and Simon, both of whom immediately pretended to be looking elsewhere--"told me about our little trip is true, I'd be happy to at least have a nice solid blunt object to smash a bad guy with."
Scully leaned over to Mulder. "And I thought you had a one-track mind."
"Well," Dr. Right said, "it just so happens that I made a backup duplicate of Lana's Power Pad in case anything happened to it. I haven't done the same with the Zapper," he added, and Kelly's face fell.
She shrugged it off, strapping the Power Pad on. It looked exactly like Lana's, only it was grey with red buttons. Lana could tell, however, that Kevin's sister was still disappointed, and turned to the scientist. "Dr. Right, you've gotta have something."
"As I was saying," Dr. Right continued, reaching into the aperture and fiddling around, "I didn't make a Zapper duplicate, but I have completed a new prototype that's ready for a test run." Having said that, he retrieved what looked like a pair of metal bracelets. "I put this new laser through preliminary testing, and it might be what you need."
Kelly blinked. "New laser?" she asked, taking the bracelets and examining them. Despite the apparent thickness, they were lighter than she'd thought. "They look like manacles or something. Where's the laser?"
Dr. Right took the bracelets from her, pressing a button at the base of each to open them. "Let me show you how it works." Once she had fastened them on, a handle popped out under her right palm. A panel opened, and a small tube with a targeting sight came out. Right pointed to a green button on the bracelet. "Now press this button." Kelly obeyed, confused, and the button lit up.
"Come over here, and keep your palms open." He dragged her over to the far wall, which sported no equipment or doors, only some pictures of himself that Simon had put up. The rest of the N-Team followed, curious. "All right, now point your wrist towards the wall and get a target in your sights." She obeyed, still confused, lining up a rather badly painted pic of Simon on a horse. "Clench your fist and press in the trigger." Simon, realizing what was going on, opened his mouth to protest, but he was too late.
Shrugging, Kelly clenched her fist, squeezing the handle tightly. Immediately, a burst of blue-white energy shot out of the tube and struck the picture, reducing it to ash. "Whoa!" Kelly exclaimed. "That is so cool!"
"Hit the green button again," Dr. Right advised. "It's a safety to keep you from, say, clenching your fist and shooting yourself in the foot by accident." Grinning, Kelly pressed the button, and the light shut off. She tried the trigger again, and nothing happened. "And if you look at the display on your left wristband, you'll see how much power is left in your weapon. The Power Pad and the wrist scope run on two different energy cells, so you'll have to keep that in mind."
Simon, meanwhile, was kneeling down by the ashes of the painting, moaning in distress. "My lovely portrait! One-of-a-kind! Destroyed!"
"Uh, Simon-icus?" Kid interrupted. "You've got 40 pictures of yourself up there, and two more of them are exactly like that one was-icus."
Link turned and nudged Kevin. "You know, now might be a good time to get moving while he's distracted."
"You sure you're okay with this?" Kevin whispered. He'd expected Link to protest a lot more about being left behind. "I mean, we're leaving you here, with him and Kid and Gameboy--"
"And Zelda," Link finished with a grin. "Besides, someone's got to keep him out of trouble, and she'd never let me hear the end of it if I left her to do it herself."
"Good point." He punched Link in the shoulder. "Thanks. I owe you one." He gestured silently to Lana, who got the hint and silently began rounding up the members of their party as Simon continued to whine.
The Vampire Hunter barely noticed as the group jumped into a warp at the far end of the hall (although Kevin and Mega Man practically had to shove the FBI agents through). Link sighed as he watched them go, then turned back to where Zelda was standing. "I'm not so sure about that," he muttered, heading over to tempt rejection again.
Northridge Police Department
"So how is the treatment coming?" a familiar voice asked as Wilson stepped out for a breath of fresh air.
He immediately regretted it, brushing away the haze of cigar smoke. "It could be better. Anyone ever tell you about lung cancer?"
"Continually, but I've outlived a few of the people who have. What do you mean, 'it could be better?'"
Wilson sighed. "Werber wouldn't cooperate for a while, and now he's trying to put the blond kid under." The police chief snorted. "Good luck."
His companion paused. "And that would be because..."
"Werber said something about it being harder to hypnotize someone with a low attention span. If that's true, that damned kid has a worse attention span than most five-year-olds." Wilson glanced back towards the building. "As for Miss Anderson, she's almost as bad as he is. Besides, when Werber actually got her under, she just started mumbling and babbling Valley slang. We couldn't pick anything up."
"What about the third one?"
"That's going to be interesting." Saying this, Wilson began to pace like a caged lion as he spoke. "Number one, I know that kid fairly well by now. His father works for my precinct, and if the Walker willpower was passed down, it's going to be a long night."
The other man blinked and actually removed the cigar from his mouth."Now you're not making any sense."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "I met Det. Miles Walker when he was in the Academy. Someone had brought in a hypnotist for a demonstration, and he volunteered to be the victim. The hypnotist was with him for an hour before he gave up. Told me it was a family trait."
"We don't have forever," was the response. "If Werber can't get results, we'll just have to try alternative methods."
The warp opened in the middle of a dense forest as the seven travelers stepped through. Kelly blinked. "This isn't what I expected."
"That's because it's not Megaland," Lana answered. "Dr. Wily already knows the most direct routes, so we decided to take the back way through a few video worlds."
"So where exactly are we, then?" Scully said, but was interrupted by a buzzing noise from above. Without thinking, she grabbed the laser rifle and fired at the gigantic hornet that was speeding towards them. It disintegrated with a hollow blip, and Mulder let out a whistle of approval.
Kevin looked around at the massive trees. "Looks like Wizards and Warriors to me." He peered at the trunk of a nearby tree. "And that red door, if I remember right, should have a warp behind it."
"Which means we've got to find a red key," Lana added as three more creatures spotted them, and Duke barked a warning. Kelly turned off the safety and blasted them to ash. "Let's start climbing before the whole forest comes after us."
Scully looked up apprehensively. "Climbing?" Both Lana and Mulder, who was trying to hide his smirk, nodded. "If I'd had any clue this was how I'd spend my evening, I would have changed before we left."
"Look it at this way," Kelly said, pointing at the dress pants and sandals Scully was wearing. "At least you aren't wearing heels."
"I don't believe this," Detective Walker growled as he paced back and forth beside the crime scene, so to speak. "I don't believe that kid! When and if I get him home, I'm going to kill him."
Sighing, Tim O'Donnell patted him on the shoulder. "Miles, calm down already. You don't mean that."
"The hell I don't! He's twenty-two. I can't legally ground him, so I'm just going to kill him." Walker scowled angrily. "I just can't believe Rick would be stupid enough to walk off with just anyone."
"Well, from what a few witnesses told us," O'Donnell added, "the guys were dressed like FBI agents. Not the ones we know, but they had IDs and firearms."
"Oh, yeah. That makes me feel a hell of a lot better."
O'Donnell sighed and glanced over at the row of shops nearby. "Look, I'm going to get some coffee. You want some?"
"That would be great. Make it black." His friend turned and shoved through the crowd. Walker sighed and stepped underneath the police tape, staring at the scene. A couple of engineers were examining the game machine for any crossed circuits, and a lab tech was checking for any physical evidence. "Jesus," Walker murmured, covering his face with one hand. "Rick, what have I gotten you into now?"
"Detective Walker, none of this was your fault by any means."
Startled, he turned to see a man in his late forties with graying hair, a receding hairline and a hawklike nose. The look in his eyes suggested someone who knew what was going on. "Excuse me?"
The other man smiled thinly. "You really shouldn't blame yourself for a crisis you helped to avert. It's a bad habit."
Probably one of the higher-ups in the department. "Yeah, but this is my son we're talking about here."
"And Romeo Roberts, Stacey Anderson, and Mike Vincent." He must have looked surprised, because the other man continued. "They've taken them, Detective. They couldn't get their hands on Kevin Keene, so they grabbed the next best witnesses."
Another enigmatic smile, then a frown. "For once, they don't know. I work for these people, and trust me, they always have to be the ones keeping secrets. Anything unknown is a threat in their eyes."
Walker just stared at him, not wanting to make a scene. "You know, don't you?" The other man nodded. "Who are you?"
"A friend, although I usually deal with Agent Mulder." Walker suddenly found a piece of paper shoved into his hand. "Ten minutes."
With that, Deep Throat turned and left, leaving Walker more confused than before.
"Son of a bitch!" Mulder exclaimed as he dropped just in time to avoid having his head chopped off by a Blader. Rolling, he grabbed his rifle and took aim at it. "Scully, look out!"
His partner was preoccupied trying to second-guess the pattern of several floating platforms, and turned just in time to see Mulder vaporize the Blader an inch from her face. "Mulder! I just had the timing down!"
"You're welcome," her partner muttered as he stood and came up behind her at the edge before the series of platforms that were moving back and forth. Scully was watching them intently, trying to get the rhythm.
She held up a hand. "On the count of three, we start. One....two....THREE! Go!" She jumped onto the first platform, and Mulder followed suit, just managing to get to the next platform in time to hop to the one after it safely. But she mistimed the last jump, and lost her balance, falling forwards into the chasm.
Mulder made a grab for her, but failed, nearly falling off himself. By sheer luck, he propelled himself to the other side of the chasm instead, landing flat on his face. He scrambled to his feet and looked down over the edge into the blackness. "Scully!!"
"You don't have to yell, Mulder," he heard her say nervously. "I'm right here." Surprised, he looked up to see Gameboy floating over the chasm, with Scully kneeling on top of him and hanging on for dear life. "I think."
A green question mark showed up on Gameboy's screen. "Was performance satisfactory?"
Scully patted his side absently. "Yeah, you were great. Thanks." As Gameboy floated over to the safe side beside Mulder, she hurriedly slid off. "As soon as we figure out how to wrap this case up, I'm taking a long vacation." She glanced up behind them. "Great. More of them."
"Would you two knock it off and come on already?" Kelly shouted from the door in the wall at the far end of the catwalk. The other three humans had used their Power Pads to get across and Mega Man knew the platforms' pattern by heart. The two agents shrugged and charged across the catwalk, randomly picking off any Bladers or other contraptions that dared to get near.
They just made it to the door as Gameboy fed the lock the security codes stolen from Wily's files. "Guess he didn't bother to change the locks," Kevin joked as the door slid open. "Get down!!"
The rest of the group ducked in time to avoid the bursts of energy that shot out of the room. As the robot in question paused to power up, Kevin, Lana, Kelly, and Mega Man dived into the room, scattering to give their attacker multiple targets. Mulder and Scully just got out of the way. Gameboy remained hidden by the door, extending a probe into the electronic lock to try to hack into the security system. The door slid shut.
Kevin stared at the robot in shock. "What the hell? This isn't Pharaoh Man's stage!"
In response, the gold-and-black robot fired a single massive burst at Kevin, who used his Power Pad to slide to one side. It was close, though; he could feel the heat of the blast. Pharaoh Man chuckled. "And who says I have to be predictable?"
"It would be nice," Lana commented, opening fire on the Robot Master. Pharaoh Man leapt into the air and laser fire rained down on his targets.
As Pharaoh Man's feet hit the floor, Mega Man charged up his arm cannon. A few of the shots scored, but Pharaoh Man dodged most of them and fired at Lana instead. The Princess dropped to one knee and returned fire. He then opened fire on Mulder, who dropped, rolled and returned fire, without much of an effect. Lana, Kevin, Scully, and Mega Man just started firing and dodging.
Something occurred to Kelly, and she started edging along the wall behind the robot. But it wasn't easy dodging the crossfire.
Kevin spotted her out of the corner of his eye and realized what she was doing. She glanced up and pointed to her Power Pad, and his suspicions were confirmed.
If he remembered correctly, the best way to beat Pharaoh Man was to beat Bright Man first, and use his Flash Stopper to freeze Pharaoh Man. They had something just as good. Jumping a volley of energy blasts, Kevin aimed at the robot's helmet, actually managing to score a few hits and disorient the Robot Master enough for Kelly to hurry. Nudging Lana, he pointed at his Power Pad, and she got the hint.
Kelly swore, rolling to avoid a blast and jumping to avoid another. A beam shot out at her, and she just barely managed to backflip out of its path. But she didn't know if she could dodge forever. Mega Man chose that moment to charge Pharaoh Man, arm cannon blazing, and drew most of the fire away from Lana and Kevin.
Then he was struck directly in the chest by one of Pharaoh Man's shots, and went flying backwards into the wall. Seeing that his usual opponent was down, the robot ceased fire and turned towards the agents in the corner.
"NOW!" Kevin yelled, and the three of them hit their Pause buttons as Scully opened fire on Pharaoh Man. "Let's send him back to the scrap heap!"
"Shut up and shoot!" Lana shouted as she, Kevin and Kelly opened fire into the frozen robot. Unable to fire back or dodge, Pharaoh Man de-digitized.
Kelly grinned. "All right! That was cool!" Just then, the Pause wore off, and the laser blast erupted from the barrel of Scully's rifle, missing Kelly by an inch and singing some of her hair instead. "Yeow!" In her surprise, she slipped and landed on her rear end. "Okay, maybe not."
Realizing what had just happened, Scully flinched and moved to help her up. Lana and Kevin hurried to Mega Man's side. "Mega Man, are you all right?" Lana asked. There was no response. "Speak to us!"
Slowly, Mega Man opened his eyes. "Next time we do this, Captain N," the little robot said, "you draw their fire."
Relieved, they helped him to his feet. "You sure you're okay?" Kevin asked as Mega Man stumbled to the spot where Pharaoh Man had stood.
In his place was a pile of energy canisters. Mega Man stooped and picked one up, absorbing the energy into his body. "I feel mega awesome!" the robot exclaimed.
"Get a few more canisters," Lana advised. "Just in case. We don't know what Wily has in store for us."
"That wasn't it?" Mulder asked in disbelief.
Kevin shook his head. "You kidding? We still have to figure out how to break into Skull Castle. And unless Gameboy actually manages to hack all the way into Wily's security system, we're gonna have to go through the front and get through all the levels."
"You missed this, didn't you?" Lana said.
Kevin grinned. "Yeah."
Just then, both the far exit door and the door they had come through slid open. "Access gained," Gameboy beeped.
"Or we could take the shortcut," Kelly finished.
Kevin didn't look all that disappointed.
Walker nearly jumped at the voice as his 'informant' appeared out of nowhere. "Don't scare me like that." He calmed down and turned to face the man. "Now where is my son?"
"I can't answer that."
"Then what good are you?" Miles Walker was getting angrier by the minute, and seemingly larger as well.
Deep Throat paused. "I can tell you this: the answer has been sitting in front of you all along. Has it occurred to you that business in your department has been moving oddly lately? The mob of reporters vanishing, the lab results coming in so quickly? The fact that you've been investigating for the past few days without being mobbed once?"
"Are you telling me that this case has been monitored since the beginning?"
"Close to it, yes. But think about this, Detective: who, outside of yourself and Agents Mulder and Scully, could have had access to all your reports and the results?" With that, Deep Throat turned and started walking off.
"Hey!" Walker yelled. "That's it?"
"That's all I can tell you, and all you really need, Detective. Good luck." Then he was gone as silently as he had come.
Angered, Walker pounded his fist against the wall, and leaned heavily against it, dismayed. Then it hit him. Who else could have had full access?
He turned on his heel, ignoring the looks of passersby and stormed back to the arcade. "Tim!" he shouted, catching sight of his partner and pulling the man away from the crowd. "I need you to find out where the Chief is!"
"You are a complete and total waste of space!" Mother Brain complained, for what seemed like the millionth time. "It's been almost two weeks--two weeks, you hear me?--since Captain N disappeared, and still we're stuck in a rut!"
"Yeah, this isn't what I'd call first-class accommodations," King Hippo added, coming out of the sleeping quarters.
Mother Brain lashed out with a tentacle, catching Hippo under the chin and flinging him against the wall. "Shut up, you imbecile!" She turned back to Wily, who had long ago ceased to care what she thought. "You couldn't even accomplish the simple task of kidnapping a teenage amnesiac with no weapons at his disposal!"
"Mother Brain," Wily said after a moment, staying calm and oozing false charm, "to begin with, Captain N had regained his memories once I made it there. Not only that," he wheezed, "he had outside help from several sources, two of which were armed."
"YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN PREPARED FOR THAT!" she shrieked. King Hippo and Eggplant Wizard cringed and covered their ears, and Wily couldn't help but flinch.
Eggy chose that moment to open his big mouth. "So why weren't you prepared for the Princess ambushing your ambush?" He hastily added, "...your Greatness."
"For once," Wily sneered before Mother Brain could smash her henchman, "the avocado has a point."
"That's eggplant!" Eggy cried.
Wily ignored him. "Suffice it to say, Metroid is still undergoing repairs by my maintenance robots. I have offered you what hospitality I can. And even though I failed to bring Captain N to you," he added, "he's stuck back in his own world."
As if on cue, there was a loud and agonized creaking, the sound of metal being bent and warped by tremendous strength. A bolt of laser fire struck the console beside him, sending sparks flying in all directions. "Wrong answer!" a familiar voice shouted. "You want to try Door Number Three, or just call it quits?"
The villains turned to see who was standing in the hole where the doorway had been. "No!" Mother Brain yelled. "It can't be!"
"Sorry," Kevin said, "but you just can't get rid of me that easily."
Wily didn't waste any time. "If you two are done trading cliches," the scientist snapped, whipping out a remote control and flipping several switches, "Attack!"
Immediately, several panels in the floor between Kevin and the villains opened to admit a swarm of tiny robots that looked like laser cannons with feet. The cannons started firing, and Kevin dived out of the way.
Mega Man, holding a large chunk of metal over his head, appeared in the doorway. "Where did you want me to put this?" He saw the swarm. "Oh, there." With that, the little robot tossed the doorway at the walking cannons. It landed with a crunch, flattening them immediately. Kevin whipped out his Zapper and started firing back on the few that were left.
"Don't just sit there!" Mother Brain yelled at Wily. "Kill them! Hurt them! I don't care!"
"I'm trying!" Wily shouted as half a dozen Bladers came out of a panel in the ceiling, swooping down on Kevin. Before they could even get near, Lana took them out. The scientist pounded on the panel. "Someone's hacked into the security system! I can't even get one of my Robot Masters online!"
Panicked, Eggy started flailing his wand around, sending vegetables flying. As some touched the floor, they grew to huge proportions. Lana turned to see a giant cauliflower the size of a Pinto rolling straight for her. She hit the Jump button, but nothing happened. "Oh, no! I'm out of power!"
Suddenly, an even bigger tomato slammed into the cauliflower from the side, sending it smack into Eggy and Hippo instead. The rest of the flying veggies vanished, save for the splatted tomato and broken cauliflower that buried the two henchmen. "Thanks!" Lana shouted to Mulder and Scully, who had wisely taken the side entrance.
"You dolts! I'm going to have to do this myself!" At that, Mother Brain's jar started spinning like mad, going so fast she was a blur. When she finally stopped, the jar was equipped with about a dozen cannons.
She lashed out with a tentacle, grabbing at Kevin and lifting him into the air--and his Zapper fell to the floor. "Well, well," she cackled. "It looks like I'll be around to see the end of the Game Master after all." Kevin tried in vain to grab his Zapper.
"Excuse me!" a voice yelled as Kelly kicked open a vent panel and dropped down, firing at the jar. "I'm the only one who gets on my brother's case, thank you very much!"
Kevin snatched up his Zapper and blasted right through the tentacle that held him. Mother Brain howled as she dropped him to the floor. He rolled and tried to fire, but realized that he was also out of power. "Uh-oh." The power meter on Kelly's bracelet was also dark. "We could use some help here!"
"Out of power?" Mother Brain cackled with glee. "Too bad."
There was still some power on Kelly's Power Pad. Her brother glanced over at her and grinned. "One...two...three..." Kevin whispered. "GO!"
As he dived in one direction, Kelly pushed the Power Pad in the other. Mother Brain aimed at the faster target, firing like crazy as she tried to hit the girl, who was literally bouncing off the walls. "Wily! Why aren't you doing something?"
"I'm rather busy right now," Wily murmured.
Some of the gunfire was directed at Kevin, who ducked behind some equipment. "Oh, this is great."
"Captain N!" Mega Man was charging up his Blaster with the Pharaoh Shot he'd acquired. "I'll mega-cover you!"
Mother Brain wasn't expecting the extra firepower, and Kevin made it across the room just as the jar turned, revealing a small panel. "Kevin!" Mulder shouted, catching on to the Game Master's plan. "Catch!" He tossed his laser rifle at Kevin just as Kelly's power ran out and Mother Brain figured out what was going on.
But it was too late. Kevin didn't even bother with a catchphrase as he aimed and fired, scoring a direct hit into the circuit board of the jar. Mother Brain let out a shriek that was actually shriller than usual, and stopped firing. The jar began to spin around, faster and faster, completely out of her control.
Kevin glanced over at Mega Man. "Hit her with everything you've got!" The two heroes started firing at the whirling dervish in the center of the room.
"You idiots!" Mother Brain managed to cry. "Get me...outta...here...now!!!"
"Yes, Mother Brain!" Eggy and Hippo scrambled out of the mess, getting close enough to Mother Brain for Eggy to pull out a device and press a button. With that, they all vanished in a flash of blue light.
"She escaped!" Kevin cried. "Damn it!"
Lana came up behind him and smacked him lightly on the head. "Oh, calm down. You know it'll take her a week at least to recover from this one."
"But what about Wily?" Kelly asked.
Scully glanced up briefly. "Like the man said, he's busy." Wily gulped. This time Scully was the one with a laser rifle to his head, and the turnabout didn't please him all that much. Mulder started laughing.
"I'm so glad you're amused," Wily said sarcastically. "What do you want from me, Your Highness?" His tone was anything but respectful.
Northridge Police Department
"All right, Doctor," a voice said. "Pack up and get ready to move out."
Werber looked up in surprise to see Johnson standing in the doorway. At least, that was what the badge said; the man had consistently positioned himself in shadow so Werber couldn't see his face. Wilson was the only one that Werber could have positively identified, and the chief didn't look too thrilled to hear the news. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. he said, pointing at Wilson. "As usual, you covered your tracks sloppily. We have to get them out now."
Wilson turned pale. "I wouldn't--I never--"
"We have a leak," his boss added. "Now let's go."
Werber shrugged and packed up his satchel as the other agents hustled the teenagers out of the door into a van parked outside the back. Still holding on to his cigar, Johnson strolled over to the Lincoln that was pulling up.
The window rolled down. "It's not going smoothly, I see."
"With an imbecile like Wilson, what can you expect?" The passenger door opened, and he slid in alongside his partners. "Their medical reports show no sign of the infection. I'm starting to doubt that the source of these disappearances is not what we originally believed."
"Then why should we bother? Let's end this project now. Get rid of those children and get back to the task at hand."
The third, an older British man, elegantly dressed and poised as always, held up a hand. "No, no, my friend." He glanced at Johnson. "So Mallory's theories might be closer to the mark?"
"Considering the display in the shopping mall, I'd be inclined to agree."
"If this is an event of that nature," the Brit continued, "then consider the possibilities. Our arrangement over the past few years has become increasingly suspicious. It has come to the point where no one is entirely sure that we will not be cheated." He smiled. "But if we leave ourselves a back door, an escape route, there will be no need for an arrangement."
The doubting man returned the smile ever so slightly. "A refuge where they cannot follow."
"Possibly. Then again, it is only conjecture." The Lincoln started its engine and followed the van. Outside, Werber turned, confused, and was promptly given a blow to the head, knocking him unconscious. "Very good. They'll drop him off at his hotel room, and when he wakes, he'll be none the wiser. And if he knows well enough, he won't talk."
Johnson cleared his throat. "Where exactly is this safehouse you mentioned?"
"Less than five miles away, but well hidden and unused. Who would expect to find us there?"
"Hey!" Kevin jumped as Dr. Right's viewing device, hooked up to the Warp Zone Shifter, switched to the swatch of wooded land just outside of town. "Zoom in, right there!"
Lana frowned as the image focused on a dilapidated old warehouse, nearly impossible to see amidst the overgrowth, with half the roof caved in and no clearly visible route to or from the building. "What is that?"
Kelly blinked. "Hey, yeah! Everyone thinks that place is haunted. Even the developers won't touch it."
"There's some story about a murder or something and a bunch of workers dying when the roof collapsed for no reason," Kevin explained. "Something about a curse."
"Well, it's jinxed at least," Kelly continued. "It's almost swampland out there. The only road to it I know of was washed away. They can't get heavy equipment out there or it'll sink."
"How do you know about it then?" Scully asked.
Kevin shrugged. "Mike and I went exploring, and Kelly tagged along."
Mulder was studying the image. "If they haven't carted them out of state by now, that would be just their style. A patch of land that the town's forgotten about."
Wily muttered some imprecations, but everyone ignored him. The scientist was tied to his chair with a length of copper wire that Mega Man had thoughtfully discovered. Lana had confiscated his lab coat to make sure he didn't have any tricks up his sleeve, and he wasn't thrilled.
"What's that?" Mega Man pointed to the screen, and everyone turned to look, even Wily.
It was faint and indistinct with the trees to cover, but there was a flicker of light and what looked like a line of figures on one side of the building. "Guess they found the road," Kevin said.
Lana squeezed his shoulder. "Remind me to trust your hunches from now on."
Northridge Police Department
"I swear to God," the officer said, "this is where I saw him headed."
Miles waved a dismissive hand at her. "Not your fault."
"Look, Miles," O'Donnell said, "this is stupid. I know you want to find Rick, but if the Mayor finds out you pulled a bunch of men off an investigation because of an anonymous tip--"
Miles was ignoring him. "Shut up, Tim. They beat us to the punch, that's all." He gestured at the dirt. "Check out the tire tracks here. Almost as fresh as ours. They couldn't have hauled out of here longer than fifteen minutes ago, by the looks of it."
O'Donnell frowned. "Where could they go? The Sheriff's department got into this, and there's some real FBI agents here now. They've got all the roads leading out of town blocked off."
The detective was looking out at the suburban and wooded area past the city. "Who says they even left town?"
"Since when was there a tunnel here?" Rick whispered as the line of cars turned off the road and suddenly were speeding through an underground tunnel that was in better shape than the back road they'd just been on.
Stacey bit her lip. "I don't know." She clutched Mike's arm. "I'm so totally bugging! Like, I want to go home!"
Absently, Mike patted her on the shoulder. "Yeah, I know the feeling, Stace."
There was a long silence as the van's occupants were plunged into darkness. Rick leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to think back. Maybe Kelly hadn't been completely insane. But he couldn't remember disappearing in the first place. The last thing he remembered was nearly getting clobbered by Julius and Romeo, who were trying to work on passes in the gym, and Stacey telling them they were all idiots--
Rick blinked. Funny, until now he hadn't noticed a break in his memory at all. Maybe Werber had managed to jog something loose even with the pretending. If he could remember on his own, before they got it out of him, he could figure out what to do.
"Hey, Stace?" Mike spoke out of the darkness.
"You dig those nails any deeper, you're gonna draw blood."
Rick had to smile.
"This isn't quite what I imagined," Werber muttered as they were hustled down the narrow passageway, with a dirt floor and rusted metal walls, into a slightly neater room with a scattering of medical and scientific equipment.
The door closed behind them, and one of the newer captors--a man even taller than Romeo and built like a tank--stood in front of it. Rick glanced up at the emotionless, pock-marked face and shuddered. Not only was he huge, there was almost something inhuman about him.
Mike scowled. "All right, where the hell is the Doc?" The "agent" nearest to him responded by dealing a blow to his stomach, causing Mike to double over in pain.
"Hey!" Romeo yelled. "Knock it off!" Before he and Rick could take a step, their arms were pinned behind their backs.
The Brit raised a hand. "Stop this now. Violence will only set us back."
"He just wanted to know, like, where the doctor was!" Stacey cried.
"The good doctor's services are no longer needed," was the calm answer. "We're going to try a different method." He opened a door to reveal an adjoining room with a host of scanners, vials, and equipment.
Wilson spied the examining table. "What? In this hell-hole? Are you kidding?"
"Do you have a better idea?" Johnson murmured, standing beside him. "All the roads leading out of town are barricaded. There isn't even a decent airfield here. So unless you have a plan, be quiet. Your position in the circle is growing even more tentative."
One of the other men was pulling on gloves and opening some vials, filling up a syringe with some sort of chemical. "When did this turn into a bad Frankenstein ripoff?" Romeo whispered.
"Well, we had the T-1000 already," Rick muttered. "It figures."
"Mr. Walker!" Johnson exclaimed. "Did I just hear you volunteer?"
"No you didn't," Rick snapped, struggling against the grip of the two men who were holding him. The Brit beckoned for them to bring him through the door. But that was about as far as they got, for Rick wasn't going down that easily.
Stacey suddenly let out a shriek, driving an elbow into the gut of her captor. Surprised, he relaxed his grip, and she pulled away. He grabbed her shoulders and spun her to face him, only to get a knee in the groin. "Don't touch me! You're totally gross!"
Taking advantage of the distraction, Romeo twisted and broke free of his captors' grip. When they rushed him, he pushed through them like he would an offensive line, knocking them to the ground. Mike recovered from the blow he'd been given, tackling one of them to the ground. In the chaos, no one noticed the blue light behind the medical crates in the corner.
"Everybody was kung fu fighting...." Romeo joked as he ducked a punch.
"Don't start that now!" Mike yelled. None of the agents had drawn their weapons, and he wondered why until he saw the stack of crates and the amount of chemicals in the room. Even with a C in Chemistry, he could tell that it wouldn't be a good idea to start a shootout so close to all those chemicals.
The Brit was apart from the fighting, and had pulled something out of a drawer. Unfazed by the chaos that was reigning, he carefully loaded the darts into the tranquilizer gun, one by one. "Sloppy job indeed," he murmured. "Next time we won't stray from the Plan."
"What next time?" a voice said, and he turned in time to see Fox Mulder spraying something in his face before the world went black.
Mike had learned to take a lot of things in stride. After a malfunctioning T-1000, being welded in a storage closet with four other people by a geezer with a ray gun, and being kidnapped by some crazed nutcases, not a lot was going to surprise him.
Then the one who pinned his arms behind his back dropped as a tranq dart hit him in the shoulder. Agent Scully jogged over to him, tranquilizer gun in hand. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Mike said, lying through his teeth; it felt like someone was sawing away at his leg like a tree trunk. "Where the hell did you come from?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Scully turned and fired as the door guard suddenly moved from his post, the hulking mass unaffected by the dart that hit him in the shoulder. She fired twice more, and the three darts still had no effect.
"Oh, shit," Mike muttered.
Then there was a blast of blue light, and the behemoth was suddenly encased in a block of ice. "Hey, Scully," Mulder said, brandishing the ice ray they'd stolen from Wily's lab, "we've got to get ourselves one of these things."
"Okay, guys," Romeo said uneasily as the three burly men advanced on him. "Look, it wasn't anything personal, you know. I mean, I'm sure you're all nice guys in real life, but my friend was being dragged away, and I kind of got worried." He trailed off. "I'm a dead man, aren't I?"
They never got a chance to answer as a stun ray knocked them all out cold. Kelly grinned. "Miss me?"
"You know," Romeo said with a smile, "for once, I'm actually thrilled to see you."
"I'm so flattered. Come on!"
"I think the lady told you to get your hands off of her," a voice said. Startled, the man holding on to Stacey turned, loosening his grip as she drove an elbow into his stomach and kicked the man in front of her in the shin. He made another grab for her, only to be punched in the face by Kevin. Duke came at the other man from behind, chomping down on an even worse place than where he'd bit Wily.
The man let out a yell of pain--and dropped as a tranq dart hit him in the neck.
Seeing her rescuer, Stacey let out a squeal and nearly bowled him over. "Kevy!"
Lana cleared her throat. "Sorry to interrupt, but we're not all safe yet."
The doctor was filling up a syringe as soon as it became apparent that the other three teenagers couldn't fight off the men outside. It was taking four men to get Rick down on the table, and in the struggle they were unaware of the change of pace in the other room.
One of them managed to slam one of Rick's wrists down and strap it into the restraint, then the other. The doctor advanced with the syringe, his expression emotionless.
Which was the same expression he had when Kelly brought the petri dish down on his head hard enough to crack the dish in two.
"Buenos noches!" Mike yelled as he did the same to two of Rick's captors with a slat from one of the packing crates. Kevin and Stacey knocked out the other two as Lana hurried to undo the restraints.
Rick grinned as his wrists were freed, then blinked at Lana in confusion. "Do I know you?"
"Long story," Lana said.
Kevin nudged his old friend. "Mike, I thought you were failing Spanish."
"Taco Bell commercials," Mike and Romeo said in unison. Kelly snickered.
Scully dashed into the room. "That's all of them," she said, then froze. "Uh-oh. Where's Mulder?"
The man moved silently down the corridor, his escape unnoticed in the commotion. His cohorts would most likely get out of this mess easily, but he wanted to be the one to report what he had seen. Besides, this project was not authorized by the Syndicate, anyway. He had to have something to show for it. Wilson could take the fall.
"Going somewhere?" He turned and found himself staring down the barrel of a very strange-looking gun.
He remained calm, lighting his cigar. "Not at the moment, it seems. What do you want now?"
"I want the truth. You know that. I want Samantha."
"O ye of one-track minds." He blew a puff of smoke. "And if I don't tell you what you want to know, what will you do? Give me the cold shoulder?"
Mulder scowled. "I'll break you in half. And I mean literally." He gestured with his gun for the older man to move back to the storage room.
Johnson obeyed, still looking at Mulder with a mixture of contempt and disdain. "You'll never learn, will you? I have all the power, Agent Mulder. You have nothing."
"I'm the guy with the gun aimed at your head."
"Still, nothing." Johnson flicked his cigarette into the air, directly towards the conveniently leaking crates. It landed on the straw and dirt floor, inches away from the chemicals.
The lab room was only a few feet away from the crates, and its occupants were definitely going to be caught in the blast. And Scully was stepping out the door. "Mulder?"
"Johnson" seized his chance and dashed down the corridor. Mulder turned, prepared to follow, but realized what was about to happen. Looking down at the power meter on the ice ray, he saw that he only had power for one shot.
As the crates burst into flame, he aimed and fired. The blast hit dead center, the ice spreading to encase the crates and part of the floor and wall as it quenched the flames just in time.
Scully came up beside him, followed by Duke. "I don't even want to know, do I?" Neither of the agents noticed the figure crawling through the shadows, opening a panel in the wall and tapping out a numeric code.
"I doubt it," Mulder answered, when the ceiling above them suddenly creaked and groaned as the ground began to shake. "Earthquake!! We've got to get out of here!" he shouted to the group of teens emerging from the lab room.
As he spoke, there was an unpleasant screeching sound, and one side of the ceiling suddenly dropped several feet as the supports on that side cracked. Stacey screamed with good reason; it missed smashing her in the head by an inch.
"We're gonna have to take the shortcut," Kevin said, pulling the small remote out of his pocket. He glanced over at Stacey, Rick, Romeo, and Mike, who still had no clue what was going on. "You guys trust me? This is gonna be a wild ride!"
Bits and pieces of mortar were beginning to come down, and the shaking was becoming even more violent. "Who cares, Kevin!" Lana shouted. "Just punch it!"
Kevin grinned and pressed the button on the remote, and his four friends gaped as the swirling blue warp opened up. "What the hell?" Mike shouted. Duke barked and charged at the warp, leaping through without hesitation.
"Stop staring and move!!" Kelly shouted, grabbing Romeo's arm and pulling him forward. Lana was doing the same to Stacey, who for the first time in her life was speechless with shock. Rick glanced around, shrugged, and ran for the warp. Mike limped after him, followed by Scully and Mulder. Kevin stayed back to help Lana and Kelly with the other two, and just made it through a second before the entire ceiling collapsed.
The warp closed as the earthquake turned the swampy area into a sinkhole, pulling the last remaining ruins of the warehouse into its depths as the police cars came into view.
"It's about mega-time you got here!" Mega Man shouted from the other side of the lab as the group stumbled through the warp. "I can't hold them back much longer!" He was literally holding the metal door of the lab on, having welded it back onto the wall after he'd torn it apart.
Something--or rather, several somethings--were pounding on the other side of the door, leaving large dents as they did so. "Oh, Doctor?" Kelly asked the bound scientist. "Care to explain this one, hmm?"
He chuckled. "So your friends couldn't override my timed backup force. Too bad."
Ignoring the shocked exclamations of his friends, Kevin glanced around. They were low on power, they had unarmed members in their party, one with a bad limp, and there was really no chance of them beating back more robots if Mega Man couldn't hold them off.
He looked over at Gameboy and smiled. The game computer's screen was flashing a message: DOWNLOAD COMPLETE. Which meant that he had all of the schematics for the Warp Zone Shifter. "Hey, Gameboy! Get over here and gimme the coordinates for the Palace!"
"Compliance," Gameboy answered, floating over and flashing a series of numbers for Kevin to enter into the remote. Lana dashed over and pulled Mega Man away from the door, taking the small energy canister he handed her and powering up her Zapper.
She dashed back to Kevin, who was still entering numbers. "Do we just need the remote to get them home?"
"Yep, if we charge it up good. Gameboy got the schematics. Why?"
She turned, whipped out her Zapper, and blasted the main Warp Zone Shifter device. Wily screamed as she smiled at him. "Now we can go."
"Lana, you're awesome," Kevin said with a grin as he pressed the activate button, opening up the warp to the palace. "Everyone MOVE! One more stop!"
This time, nobody lagged behind.
Palace of Power
"Ow! That hurt, dammit!"
Lana shook her head as she finished dabbing the elixir onto Mike's cut wrist and wrapped it with a fresh bandage. "It won't in a minute, trust me. You'll be thanking me when it's halfway healed an hour from now."
Stacey giggled. "Wuss."
He would have lunged for her if not for the stab of pain his hip gave him. Kevin sighed and moved over to where Romeo had managed to get into an argument with Simon over breakfast foods. "You kidding? Every time I get one of those frozen waffles, they always turn out soggy! At least pancakes survive a lot more!"
"Hmph." Simon snorted. "Well, you're not a hero, are you? Any respectable hero will tell you that waffles are the only breakfast of champions, not those flat blobs you call pancakes."
Romeo snorted. "What are you, the Wheaties spokesman? Come on, pancakes rule!"
Kelly was sitting nearby with Kid Icarus and Zelda, watching with amusement. Kevin tapped his sister on the shoulder. "How did this start?"
"Well, at first it was hair," Kelly whispered, "then ears, then being condescending to fish, then this. I'm starting to lose track."
"That reminds me," Zelda muttered, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind one of her pointed ears. "What the hell is a Vulcan anyway?"
Kevin turned to Kid Icarus. "What's with her?" he whispered, pulling the archer out of his seat and away from the two girls.
"Something about Link going for a kiss, Simon having a fight with his whip, and the whip throwing a tantrum," Kid answered. "Trust me, you don't want to know the rest."
Link was over bothering Scully, who was trying to understand Dr. Right's technical descriptions of the equipment in the infirmary. It was hard enough without Link getting in the way, complaining of imaginary wounds just to get her attention.
Gameboy was busily uploading information into the Palace computers, and Mega Man was checking to be sure he didn't accidentally upload a virus or worse. Rick went over and joined Stacey in teasing Mike.
Scully finally had enough and glared at Link. "If you don't shut up," she snapped, "I'll give you some real battle scars to worry about."
"What is it with the women around here?" Link muttered.
Only Mulder stood alone, watching the Palace viewscreen. Curious, Kevin went over to the FBI agent. "Agent Mulder? You all right?"
"Hmm?" He blinked, having been lost in his own thoughts. "Sort of. Trying to figure out what to put in the file report."
"Whoa." Kevin stared at him. "You're not going to--"
"I can't put the truth in. That would be like handing Videoland over to them." Mulder didn't specify what he meant by "them" but Kevin could guess. "Scully and I can make something up to give to the Assistant Director when we get back."
Lana spoke up from where she had been standing, listening to their conversation unnoticed. "It's killing you, isn't it?"
Mulder groaned. "I've spent almost my entire life trying to find evidence of the extraterrestrial, the paranormal, et cetera, ever since my sister was abducted. All I've gotten out of my search for the truth are vague hints and colleagues who call me 'Spooky.'"
"So now you've got proof that you aren't as nuts as people think," Kevin finished, "and you have to keep it under wraps." Mulder nodded. "Damn. I'm sorry."
"It's probably better this way," Mulder finally said. "If I even mentioned Videoland in the report, I'd probably find myself in a straitjacket before I even had a chance to prove it."
Something occurred to Kevin. "You know, we've got to figure out a story to tell the cops. We're not gonna tell them the truth."
Lana looked at him. "We? You're not going back, are you?"
"Maybe just to drop the squirrel off," Kevin sighed. "I don't know what I'm gonna do about Mom and Dad, though."
"You're going to tell them the truth, Einstein!" Kelly snapped, storming over to them.
Kevin blinked. "Kelly, you kidding?"
"No way! Kev, you weren't there to see them, but I was. I know. When you vanished the first time, Mom went completely postal on me and Dad. Dad wasn't in as great shape either, but Mom was paranoid as hell. She kept insisting on driving me everywhere, always looking over her shoulder for kidnappers. It was a miracle Dad let me get the car." She stopped. "Oh, damn, I left it in the parking lot. Hope nobody's keyed it or anything."
"Kel?" Kevin cleared his throat. "Your point?"
"The point is, the general consensus was just that you'd run away, and she went crazy. Now you've disappeared after being chased by what they think is a serial killer. If you think I'm going to let you stick me with living with them after this, you've got to be kidding me."
"Yeah, if I tell them, they'll either think I'm nuts or ground me for life."
Kelly rolled her eyes. "Like they could actually stop you." She gestured to where the warp remote was recharging. "We could always use that to go back and forth."
"Yeah, we. That is, if you want me to corroborate our story."
Mulder elbowed Kevin. "I think you're being blackmailed."
"You're telling me." The Game Master groaned. "Let's get the guys together and make sure we'll be telling the cops the same story."
Lana was standing there, confused, and Kelly looked at her. "Lana? Are you all right?"
The Princess of Videoland frowned. "I don't understand. What's an Einstein?"
Kevin looked over to Romeo and Simon, who were currently having a shouting match about pigeons. "Let's just say that Belmont doesn't qualify."
A steady rain was falling, churning the already soft ground into a soup. The recovery crews trying to case the sinkhole were having difficulty even without the rain, and Miles Walker was starting to think they wouldn't find a thing. So far, they'd found the remains of a car that matched the make and license of the car that had taken off with Romeo, Rick, and Stacey.
They had found a few unidentified bodies in the wreckage, but none of them matched the FBI agents or the kids. But the search was still on, and there was no guarantee that they had made it out.
He leaned back against the squad car, closing his eyes. If I'd only been here five minutes sooner...
"Dad! Hey, Dad!"
His eyes flew open, and he glanced around. Was he hearing things already? He wasn't that old, no matter what the guys at the station said.
"Dad! Down here!"
Then he saw the group of figures stumbling around the rim of the valley towards him, with Rick in the lead. Mulder and Kevin were supporting Mike, who vehemently insisted that he was fine. "I can walk, dammit!"
"You kidding?" Kelly said. "Both my legs are intact, and I'm having trouble with this sludge! So shut up!"
Surprised, Mike obeyed. "Thank you," Mulder said.
Positive now that it wasn't a hallucination, Walker hurried to intercept the group, slipping a bit on the wet ground as he reached his son and grabbed him in a bear hug. "Dad," Rick said, "I'm not going to be able to go to practice if you crush my ribs."
Grinning, Walker released him, throwing an arm around his son's shoulders. "I ought to break your legs if it would keep you out of this kind of trouble." He turned and yelled back at the row of squad cars. "Hey, Tim! Get me some blankets and the doc now! We found them!"
It was amazing how well the police swallowed their story, mainly because all the accounts matched up. Also, Kevin had the feeling that Detective Walker was so glad to see Rick in one piece that he was willing to look past the lack of detail.
According to the story Mulder told the police, Kevin and Kelly had chased the kidnapper to the mall only to be knocked out in the back of the arcade. The FBI agents had been caught off guard, and Romeo, Rick, and Stacey were carted off because they'd seen part of it. Mike had been grabbed from the hospital as well, but no one knew why.
The underground tunnel leading to the warehouse, miraculously, hadn't caved in; it had been reinforced in such a way to avoid collapse. Mulder had used it as his explanation for their escape. Personally, Kevin thought that whoever these people were, they had started the mild earthquake that sunk the building. It hadn't been high enough on the Richter scale to do any noticeable damage elsewhere. Perfect way to cover their tracks.
The emergency crew had checked them all out and proclaimed each of them in perfect health, aside from some bruises. Lana had come with them through the warp, and had wisely made herself scarce when the police were taking statements. She was currently sitting with Rick and Romeo, trying to sort out what they remembered of Videoland. Stacey was being chewed out by her parents, who had just arrived. Mike was still in the ambulance; the elixir had gone a long way to healing his injuries, but the doctors didn't want to risk anything.
"Hey, Captain N, want one?"
He turned to see Kelly standing there, a can of Pepsi in each hand. "Detective O'Donnell let me into his stash."
Kevin accepted the can and popped it open. "Thanks. So was it weird enough for you, Squirrel?"
"Yes it was, and don't call me that." She took a swig of her Pepsi. "The deal still stands, right?"
He sighed. "Yeah. I still don't get why you're making such a big deal of it."
"Well, it's not just Mom. I missed you too. And if anyone ever asks you, I never said that."
"Kevin! Kelly!" They looked up to see Cheryl hurrying towards them, with Ned close behind. Kevin braced for impact, but Cheryl plowed into Kelly instead. "Thank God you're all right!"
"Mom," Kelly said, "wrong one. Kevin's over there."
Cheryl released her daughter and smiled, sniffing back tears. "I know. I figured it was your turn to be humiliated."
"Oh, great," Kelly said sarcastically, but she hugged her mother back anyway.
Ned was staring at his two kids. "Kevin, what on earth happened?" Kelly shot her brother a meaningful look.
Turning, Kevin beckoned to Lana, who got up and approached them curiously. He took her hand and guided her over to stand beside him. "Mom, Dad, this is Lana," he said. "And we have a really long story to tell you."
"Well, we found Wilson," Miles Walker said, flipping through the reports as Scully gratefully took the paper cup of coffee she was handed. "Broken in two."
Putting the cup down, Scully took the file photo from him to get a closer look. "My God. Any evidence as to what killed him?"
"Looks like something fell on him, but he was found pretty far from the wreckage," Walker answered. "Like he was put there for us to find. You're sure you don't have a clue what these men wanted?"
The two agents looked at each other. "Nothing that makes any sense," Mulder said with a straight face.
Walker sighed. "Either way, the Commissioner wants to blame somebody, so Wilson's it. Which means we'll have a new chief eventually."
"You don't sound too unhappy," Mulder said.
"Kind of guilty, actually. With Wilson gone, a few people who've been in line for promotions are moving up there. It's morbid if you ask me."
Scully tried to hide her smile. "What are you up for?"
He shrugged. "Sergeant. Took long enough. Tim and I always joked that I'd get promoted over Wilson's dead body."
"Never thought it'd come true, huh?" Mulder asked.
"I don't know," Walker answered, taking the report from Mulder. "This is going to be one interesting report to file. We start out with one serial killer, who breaks into the hospital only to destroy Radiology, then attempts to kidnap Kevin, fails, hotwires a car, leads the Keene kids on a car chase, vanishes into thin air. Then a bunch of guys the Chief's working with kidnap the whole lot of you, and no one remembers exactly what happened."
Mulder rubbed the back of his skull. "It's hard to remember much after I got whacked in the back of the head at that arcade."
Walker looked at them suspiciously. "A number of witnesses said you four were sucked into the machine."
"Detective, a number of witnesses there were video-brainwashed kids," Scully interrupted. "Some of them may have been on drugs, or even paid off by whoever Wilson was working with."
For a few moments, Walker regarded the two agents without saying a word. Then he shook his head and sighed. "I don't really want to know, do I?" The looks on their faces gave him the answer. "All right, fine. As long as it's over and done with."
"You might want to talk to Rick," Mulder suggested.
Walker grinned. "Oh, I'm going to have a talk with him, for damn sure." He looked past them at the road leading back towards town. "Oh, great. I'm going to go head off the media psychotics."
Mulder had to laugh. "Never a dull moment." Walker snorted and turned away.
"So," Scully said once he was gone. "Now what, Mulder?"
He shrugged. "Dig out every scientific explanation you can come up with. We're going to have to figure out what to tell Skinner."
"Wonderful. I don't think even mass insanity will cover this one." Scully finished off the coffee with a gulp. "But if I can use the reports and notes from this whole week to make it sound plausible, I can get some decent technobabble in there. It's going to be a long night."
Mulder chuckled. "Scully, sometimes you amaze me."
"Forget it, Mulder." She stood up and pulled on her coat. "I'm still not letting you drive."
Skinner stared at Mulder and Scully for a long moment before speaking. "That's it?"
"Pretty much," Mulder answered. "Why?"
The Assistant Director took a moment to remove his glasses, wipe them, and put them back on before giving the file a second look. "Agent Mulder, there are an abnormally large number of holes in this investigation. Even for you two."
"We didn't have much to fill them with aside from speculation," Mulder answered.
"It's the lack of speculation that bothers me." Skinner set the papers down on his desk. "What I want to know is what exactly you two think has happened so I know whether or not to close this file."
Before Mulder could answer, Scully beat him to it. "Sir, all the evidence points to the older man who held us at gunpoint in the hospital. He took credit for his 'creation,' attempted to kidnap Kevin Keene, and spent the whole time muttering nonsense. Most of the behavior I observed was typical of an obsessive sociopath."
"We're assuming he saw Kevin on the news and became obsessed with the case," Mulder said. "Since Rick Walker described the same man in the old warehouse, we also assumed that he was buried in the sinkhole."
Skinner sighed. "Almost every bit of factual evidence in this report is completely implausible: the silicon in the wounds, the disappearance of a body from Radiology that should have been there, a sinkhole resulting from an earthquake." He closed the folder. "But, if the evidence is correct, the case is currently closed."
Neither could hide their surprise at that statement. "Excuse me, sir?" Scully asked.
"Don't go patting yourselves on the backs just yet. It seems there are a lot more people who want this case put to bed." He stood up and handed Scully some of the paperwork. "If there's nothing else, you're both dismissed. The Inquisition's over."
"Don't need to tell me twice," Mulder muttered as he opened the door for Scully and followed her out of Skinner's office.
The man with the cigar watched them go.
"Are you ready yet??" Kevin called up the stairs for the fourth time.
A chorus of female voices answered, "NO!!!" Kevin sighed, and Rick and Romeo chuckled.
Romeo had borrowed his uncle's army fatigues and dog tags, and called it his costume. Rick was wearing a baseball uniform. Kevin was dressed as Han Solo; over the past few days, they had introduced Lana to the "good parts" of movies and television, which involved a viewing of the Star Wars trilogy. The rest of the group had goaded Kevin and Lana into going as Han and Leia after he had jokingly suggested it.
Of course, his suggestion for Kelly to go as Chewbacca had been loudly shot down.
"Relax, Keene," Rick said. "We've still got half an hour."
Romeo grinned and snapped off a mock salute. "Sir, I volunteer to go check if they're still alive!"
"Shut up," Rick answered, laughing. "We all know what you really want to check."
"Yeah, well, you're too late," a voice said, and Lana came down the stairs, patting anxiously at the coiled braids. "Kevin, these are going to drive me crazy."
"Hey, you won't have to explain who you're dressed as," Romeo said. "One look at the sticky bun hairdo and everyone'll figure it out!"
She even looks gorgeous with that hair, Kevin thought, then shook himself out of it. "What took you so long?"
"Part of it was the hair," Lana said, "and then we spent twenty minutes explaining to Stacey why her cheerleading uniform didn't count as a costume."
"She ever figure it out?" Rick asked.
At that, Lana grinned. "No, but we talked her into changing anyway. She brought a backup." As if on cue, Stacey came down the stairs, wearing a skin-tight cat costume. Romeo and Rick's eyes bulged out of their sockets. Lana moved to block Kevin's view as Stacey pulled on her long jacket. "Kelly's coming down in a minute."
"Okay," Kelly called from the top of the stairs. "Nobody laugh until I'm all the way downstairs, okay?"
They turned and stared as she came downstairs. Kelly was wearing a brown fedora and leather jacket she'd borrowed from an earlier costume of Kevin's, with a sleeveless blouse, jeans, boots, gold hoop earrings and a belt with a whip attached. "What are you supposed to be?" Rick asked.
She whipped off the hat and grinned. "Dakota Jones. Indy's daughter. I wanted to be creative."
Romeo was eying the whip. "You're not planning on using that or anything, are you?"
"No, it's one of those fake ones from the Halloween shop on Reseda." Kelly grinned as she put the hat back on. "I'd probably get sued if I carried a real one in public, though, so that was out."
"You're strange," Kevin said.
"Yeah, I know." The doorbell rang. "I'll get it." She picked up the bowl of candy and opened the door.
Mike laughed when he saw Kelly. "Hey, kick-ass costume!" His hip and hand had pretty much healed thanks to the elixir Lana had used, and he was walking around as if nothing had happened.
He was wearing a black T-shirt, black leather jacket, and black boots and jeans. His long hair was slicked back, and a pair of sunglasses obscured his eyes. In his restored right hand was what looked like a double-barreled shotgun in the dim light of the evening.
When he saw Mike, Rick burst out laughing. "You had to be the Terminator, didn't you?"
Mike did his best Arnold impression. "Hasta la vista, baby."
"Please tell me that's a fake," Kelly said, pointing at the shotgun as Mike stepped inside. Mike tapped on the plastic with his knuckles, revealing it to be an old repainted Super Soaker made to look like a real gun. "Oh, good. Forget the whip; I'd hate to explain that to the cops."
Mike saw Stacey's costume and did a double take. "Damn, Stace, looking good!"
Stacey grinned. "Meow." Kelly and Lana rolled their eyes.
Cheryl came into the foyer with a bag of Snickers. "Are you all leaving now?"
"Yep," Rick said. "I've got to take Teej around tonight." He looked down at the baseball uniform he was wearing. "The baseball freak wants to go trick-or-treating again. I don't know why Dad can't take him."
"And we've got a few parties to crash, too," Romeo said. Kelly surreptitiously pushed the warp remote deeper in her jacket pocket so Cheryl wouldn't see it. Ned and Cheryl hadn't been too thrilled about the idea of Videoland, even when Kevin had opened the warp to show them, but Lana had made a surprisingly good impression on Cheryl. Next to Kelly, she was the model of politeness.
Stacey put her hands on her hips. "So are we gonna go sometime tonight or what?"
"Yeah, yeah. We'll be back by midnight, Mom," Kevin added, turning towards the door.
"Have fun!" Cheryl paused, a worry surfacing. "And stay out of trouble!"
As they filed out the door, she heard Romeo say, "She actually expects us to do both?" Kelly took off her hat and playfully whacked him with it. "What? What'd I say?"
Palace of Power
"Wow!" Rick looked around at the crowd of video game heroes dancing and eating and milling about. "How'd you get all these people here?"
"It wasn't hard," Lana said. "A lot of the video worlds we've visited celebrate Halloween. The rest just wanted the excuse to party."
Kevin frowned, remembering the last time they'd thrown a party at the Palace. "We made sure security was intact tonight, right?"
Lana nodded. "Dr. Right came down from Megaland again to make sure our defenses weren't tampered with."
"Geez," Kevin said. "We ought to build him his own lab in the Palace what with all the time he's been spending here."
"We'll bother with that later," Lana sighed.
He caught the look on her face and took her hand. "Shall we?" Lana gave him a radiant smile as he pulled her out onto the crowded dance floor.
Mike and Stacey were already tearing up the dance floor. Although they weren't really into fast dancing, Link and Zelda had made up for the moment and were really getting into it. Even Rick was out there, having been dragged onto the floor by a girl from California Games. Duke and Kid Icarus were hitting the snack table. Romeo was leaning against the wall by himself, looking around the room in amazement. After a few rejections, he'd reconciled himself to being alone.
So it was a shock when Kelly dashed up to him and grabbed his arm. "Dance with me?"
He did the mother of all double takes. "Excuse me?"
Sighing, she pointed to where Simon was scanning the crowd, jumping up and down to see over people's heads. "I take back every nasty thing I ever said to you. Please."
Romeo grinned. "Hey, if you insist!"
"Shut up and dance." Tossing her jacket onto a nearby chair, she grabbed him by the dog tags and pulled him into the crowd. Simon gave up and went to pester someone else.
The track changed to "It's the End Of the World As We Know It." Lana raised an eyebrow at the chorus. "That's one I haven't heard before."
"It's just a song, Lana," Kevin said.
She shrugged and glanced over his shoulder, and her eyes widened. "Kevin, look!" He turned to see Romeo and Kelly dancing and singing along with the lyrics, and actually not yelling at each other. Kelly took off the fedora and stuck it on Romeo's head. He made a face, but that was about it.
"Whoa," Kevin said. "Now I've seen everything. Who spiked the punch?"
Lana burst out laughing as Dr. Right burst into the room, Gameboy following. "Your Highness! Your Highness!"
Concerned, Lana and Kevin broke away from the dance floor to intercept him before he started a panic. "Dr. Right, what is it?" Kelly, Romeo, Mike, and Stacey followed and crowded around them. "What's going on?" Duke, Simon, and Kid Icarus turned and headed over, Mega Man set the music on a loop of tracks, and Rick managed to reluctantly disentangle herself from his date.
"We've got a transmission from Kongoland," Dr. Right said. "Guess who got her resources together to attack."
Immediately, Lana was all business. "Zelda! Link!" she called to the Hylians. "Party's over," the Princess of Videoland explained as they came over. "Can you clear the guests out of here as quickly as possible?"
Zelda elbowed Link. "That means no brawling. Be nice."
"Aw, do I have to?" Link whined.
Zelda nodded and turned to Lana. "Go ahead. We'll cover for you."
They were in Dr. Right's makeshift lab in minutes. "Great," Kevin said after listening to the recording from Prince Plenty. "The Brain is back."
"Not for long," Lana said. "Get your Power Pad and Zapper. We'll have to go to Kongoland now if we want to stop her."
Kevin opened his jacket to reveal the Pad already strapped on beneath his shirt. He took it off and strapped it on correctly. "Way ahead of you. Mother Brain's never gonna know what hit her."
"No kidding," Rick said. "Especially with five more on your side."
Simon gaped. "What?"
Dr. Right pressed a few buttons, and a drawer slid out, containing several Power Pads and weapons. "I took the liberty of making some extras," the scientist said nonchalantly. "Just in case."
Mike pulled out a laser rifle, tossing the plastic shotgun to the side. "All right! A real gun!"
Kelly leaned over to Lana. "See? I'm not the only psychopath here." She shrugged off her jacket and took the familiar wrist lasers and Power Pad. Stacey, Rick, and Romeo were all selecting weapons, and Lana grabbed the belt she'd used in their raid on Skull Castle.
"Well, they're armed now, Your Trustingness," Simon muttered. "I hope you're happy."
"You bet I am," Lana said.
Stacey put her hands on her hips. "Are we gonna get moving or what? We've only got, like, until midnight or something!"
Kevin grinned and flipped a switch on the wall, and a round panel slid back to reveal a swirling blue warp. "After you, Cinderella."
The rest of the N-Team jumped through. Mike hung back, a strange smile on his face. He turned to Dr. Right, put on the sunglasses, and adopted an Austrian accent. "I'll be back."
With that, he jumped backwards into the warp.
Dr. Right stood there, shaking his head. "Now what on earth was that all about?"
Shaking his head, the scientist pressed a few buttons to close the panel. As the warp closed, he could faintly hear the final chorus of the song through the audio line to the party that was clearing out in the main hall.
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine....
"Mulder, what are you doing in here?"
Half-awake, Mulder glanced up at his partner, blinking for a few seconds before his brain could find an appropriate response. "I should be asking you the same question."
Scully sighed, pulled open a drawer, and withdrew a set of keys. "Forgot my keys. Your excuse?"
"Oh, nothing really." He picked up a remote and rewound the tape in the VCR back a few minutes. "Saw something on the news, and just decided to come and think up an excuse in case Skinner saw it."
"What do you mean?" Curious now, Scully moved to stand beside him as Mulder pressed the Play button.
A news anchor's face appeared on the screen. "Speaking of Halloween, the evening is living up to its reputation with a number of strange sightings. In Northridge, California, a citizen reported seeing seven teenagers disappearing into a pool of blue light. A woman from Paterson, New Jersey reported seeing one of her trick-or-treaters floating into the air for his 'trick,' and in Baltimore--"
Mulder hit the Pause button. "What do you think?"
Scully was shaking her head. "I don't think Skinner will even notice."
"No, Scully, I didn't mean that. What do you think about this whole case?" Mulder leaned back in his chair, smirking at her. "Chalked it up to a dream yet?"
She shook her head. "No. My subconscious could not have concocted anything that odd." Scully pulled up a chair and sat down beside him. "But even if this proves the parallel universe theory, there's still a vaguely scientific basis behind it. And I wouldn't classify it under UFO activity, or even paranormal."
He stopped smirking. "Not paranormal? Are you kidding?"
"Mulder, I spent some time listening to Dr. Right's theories about the warp zones, and though the technology is way beyond us, most of what he said was scientifically correct. Well, the basics, anyway."
As she spoke, his smile faded. "Actually, that doesn't make it so painful. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for."
Scully sighed and reached over to squeeze his hand. Mulder looked up, surprised at the rare gesture. "Well, maybe it was. We did find out what happened to Kevin Keene, after all."
"Scully, what's your point?"
She released his hand and lightly tapped him on the head with a pencil. "Think about it, Mulder. You're always the one saying that the truth is out there somewhere. We did find out the truth." She rubbed her temples. "And it was indeed out there. Way out there."
He looked at her for a long moment, a thoughtful look crossing his face. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. You got what you came for?"
"I guess. I don't dare go home now with all the partiers roaming around." She leaned over, peering at the plastic bag on his desk. "What's that?"
Mulder turned the bag towards her. "My dinner. Want one?"
"Mulder," Scully said, taking a potato chip, "you really need to change your diet." He shot her a look. "What? It's the truth!"
Smiling, Mulder pulled out the bag of sunflower seeds and shut the VCR off, handing his partner the bag of potato chips and lifting his own bag in a toast. "To the truth, then." She rolled her eyes, and Mulder grinned. "Happy Halloween, Scully."