By Dave Eber and Jose Garcia
Dr. Zaius surveyed the crowd assembled before him. It was made up of the cream of the Jammer hierarchy: scientists, technicians, commandos, cyber-apes, and even Battlechimp Potemkin himself. They had all gathered to witness a demonstration of his latest invention, which lay hidden behind him, under a tarp. The ape scientist allowed himself the tiniest, self-satisfied smile. Dr. Zaius had hinted that this invention would profoundly change the face of the Secret War, and he did not intend to disappoint his guests. Dr. Zaius cleared his throat, and the assembled group settled down and turned their attention toward him.
"Ladies, gentlemen, and simians, thank you all for joining me here today for a demonstration of what promises to be a revolutionary new breakthrough in trans-temporal transversal technology. Up until now, travel to and from the Netherworld has only been possible by one of two means: "natural" portals, and artificial portals created by a Gatemaker. Both methods come with significant drawbacks. Natural portals exist in varying degrees of stability. The less stable ones are, by their very nature, unreliable at best, whereas long-term stable portals are a highly coveted resource. Because of the nature of our operations, we can ill afford to hold and defend stable portals, much less wrest control of them from our adversaries. Instead, when we are lucky enough to locate a stable portal, we are forced to keep its existence a secret, an act which, as you all well know, presents a host of unique difficulties all its own. Even when we are lucky enough to maintain possession of a stable portal, we are subject to the vagaries of fortune regarding its utility. We are limited to traveling to its place and time of egress in the real world. We may need a point of entry to Hong Kong in 1856, yet have to settle for one that leads to London, or the Himalayas, or Borneo, and even then this presumes that the portal even opens to the juncture we wish to travel to at all.
The drawbacks inherent in the Gatemaker are so well known that I scarcely need list them. The duration of the portals it creates is unreliable in the extreme, and of course, there is no way to control where these portals will lead. Furthermore, they require the use of vile, corrupting, chi-powered technology, which we normally abhor and use in this case only begrudgingly. But worst of all, they only create portals from the real world to the Netherworld, thus making them wholly insufficient for our needs.
Thus, it becomes clear that what we need is access to stable portals that allow transit to and from the Netherworld, that we do not have to hold and defend, and which open to the times and locations of our choosing. As of today, this need has been fulfilled. Ladies, gentleman, and simians, allow me to present to you, The Discombobultor!"
Dr. Zaius pulled the tarp aside with a flourish, revealing an odd, green-colored, mechanical device about the size of a Dumpster. The machine sported a variety of pipes, wires, levers, and controls, and had a large metal sphere set in a housing at one end. The crowd murmured softly as they examined the device. Dr. Zaius gave them a few moments to wonder at his invention before speaking again.
"The Discombobulator is a fantastic and wholly unique device, in that it presents the first ever means of creating artificial portals from the Netherworld to the real world. That alone would be a cause for amazement, but the Discombobulator is much more advanced than this. Not only will it allow us to open portals at our command, but it also allows us to control the precise location within any open juncture where the portal appears. No longer are we slaves to chance and caprice. We now have the means of opening portals to any location in any open juncture we wish. What's more, the portals the Discombobulator creates are wholly stable, even more so than natural portals. So long as the machine remains active, the portal will remain intact. This means that we can open a portal to any location and juncture we wish, strike quickly, and then shut the portal down and move on afterwards. No longer do we have to scour the Netherworld for usable portals. No longer do we have to skulk about in the tunnels, fearful that our enemies will steal our gateways to the real world. With this device, we shall take the upper hand in the Secret War!"
The crowd began to buzz with excitement as Zaius finished, then quieted as Battlechimp Potemkin himself stepped forward. The Jammer leader regarded the ape scientist with a measured gaze.
"If what you claim is true Zaius, then we truly do have a revolutionary invention here. Are you ready to demonstrate the device?"
"Naturally," replied Zaius. "With your permission, I will begin the demonstration."
"Very well." Zaius ambled over to the controls of the Discombobulator and put on a set of lab goggles. He flipped several switches on the control panel, and the machine began to hum to life, causing the assembled crowd to instinctively step backwards about a foot. As Zaius worked the controls, the gears, valves and pistons within the machine began to crank in unison, and oily black fumes spewed out of the pipes. Dr. Zaius raised his voice, so that he could be heard over the din.
"For our first demonstration, we shall open a portal to San Francisco in the 2002 juncture." Zaius pulled several levers and switches on the Discombobulator, and then hit the main switch. Immediately, the machine kicked into high gear. The metal sphere began to spin within its housing, and, as it picked up speed, blue arcs of electricity began to crackle around it. The assembled crowd shielded their eyes and backed away even further as smoke belched furiously from the machine, which now churned and roared furiously, threatening to blow apart at any second. Finally, there was a loud crack, and a flurry of lightning bolts arced off of the sphere to a spot on the cavern wall. The crowd blinked and rubbed their eyes, and when their vision cleared, they saw a shimmering white hole, about 3 meters around, projected into the wall of the cave. After a moment's hesitation, they moved forward and peered inside.
Stretched out before them was a street from somewhere in San Francisco, alive with people and noise and color. Shirtless black teens sporting six-inch afros played hoops in their All-Stars and Clydes. A girl in cut-offs and a tank-top roller-skated by, her poker-straight, cornsilk-blonde hair trailing out behind her. A coffee-skinned rastafarian, dreds spilling out from beneath a colorful tam, softly strummed his guitar on a park bench. Two shag-haired teenage boys in bell-bottoms leaned against a wall, smoking cigarettes and eyeing a pair of girls in skin-tight Sergios and Candies. Across the street a '73 Impala low rider pulled up to the curb, the sounds of Sly and the Family Stone on the radio.
The gathered crowd watched the scene, silent and unmoving, until they parted ranks as a lone chimpanzee came to the fore. He was dressed in an iridescent purple suit and a matching wide-brimmed hat, topped with a red feather. Gold chains dangled around his neck, and the barrels of a cybernetically-implanted minigun filled the left sleeve of his white fur, red satin-lined jacket. He stood before the portal and gazed out upon the scene before him, then turned to face the crowd. When he spoke, his voice was deep and smooth. the sound of silk and thunder and a funky bass groove.
“Out of sight.”
“You say he opened a portal to the 1970’s, Mr. Graham?”
“Call me Curtis. Yeah, that’s right. It was an accident, but nonetheless, that’s what he got.”
The Prof sat back in her chair, her eyes focused off somewhere in the distance, then she looked up again.
“This is incredible. No one has ever been able to open a portal from the Netherworld to the real world, much less to a closed juncture.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it’s fantastic and all that, but that’s not why I’m here. Potemkin has some big plans brewing, and he’s already set them in motion. If he pulls them off, well...things could get bad. Real bad.”
“You’d better explain.” The Golden Gunman shifted his position slightly as he leaned against the wall. Zheng Yi Quan stood next to him silently.
“Well, it’s like this. As you said, this is a closed juncture. Now, Potemkin knows a gold mine when he sees it. He knew the Ascended wouldn’t be expecting any kind of serious activity going on, so they wouldn’t be on their guard. He had a few teams slip in and go underground right after the portal opened, about three months ago. I went in with them. Our mission was to scope out prime Feng Shui sites, and to recruit whoever we could. It wasn’t hard; there were a lot of fringe types and radicals around who bought into our rap, or who just wanted to get paid. We kept it all very quiet, so the Ascended wouldn’t get wind of what was going down. Once we had everything set up, we moved into phase two.”
“Yeah, that’s when we really put the plan into action. We hit a dozen major Feng Shui sites simultaneously, completely destroying them. We hit spots in New York, L.A., London, Hong Kong, Chicago… as many different places as we could. Then we hit another half dozen major sites over the next week. We made it look like the work of radicals or criminals, but it didn’t really matter. We caught the Ascended totally off guard. Between the surprise attacks and the subsequent disruption of their chi flow, they’re all messed up. They don’t know about our portal, so they haven’t figured out that we’re behind it. That’s made it even easier to hit them, and every time we do, things just get worse for them.”
The Prof leaned backwards in her chair, letting the news sink in. Then Zheng spoke for the first time.
“So why did you come to us?”
“Because, for the first time, Potemkin actually has a chance of succeeding. I’m talking about the big picture here. You know what I mean? We’re talking about the total destruction of every feng shui site in the world. Things have already been shaken up. Our people on the ground in 2062 say there’s been a critical shift. Not a major one, but big enough that the Archies got all freaked out. Now that I don’t mind, and generally speaking, I’m down with Potemkin’s cause as much as next guy. I’ve been fighting all my life against oppression, but if we pull this off, it could mean...”
“...it could mean the end of all life on earth as we know it,” the Prof finished. “No one really knows for sure what the outcome would be if every Feng Shui site were to be obliterated, but the best guess is that without the natural flow of chi energy, the world would be thrown into chaos, and every living thing would sicken and die."
“Except that Potemkin doesn’t see it that way, or at least, he’s willing to take that chance if it means overthrowing the 'tyranny of chi.’ That’s why I came to you. Look, I’m taking a big risk coming here, but this thing is seriously out of control. I don’t like turning against my people, but this has to be stopped.”
“We need to shut the portal down then,” Zheng said. “Cut off his access to the juncture. We’ll have to destroy the machine.”
“No, no good. That won’t work,” Curtis replied. “They moved the Discombobulator back to the Monkey House. You’ll never get at it there. Besides, even if you could, we’ve got already got a network in place in the juncture. Even if you cut off outside access to the Netherworld, the teams already in place will just continue the mission. You’ll have to find a way to stop them from the inside.”
“How are we going to get to them? There’s only one portal, and if it’s in the Monkey House, how are we going to get at it?
“No, you misunderstood me. The portal is still in the same place it was to begin with. Potemkin didn’t want to risk shutting off the Discombobulator, since even Dr. Zaius had no idea if would open to the same place again. However, it was too risky to leave it in the cave, so Potemkin had it transported back to the Monkey House without turning it off. Since the power was never cut, the portal stayed active. It turns out it doesn’t actually need to be near the portal itself once it’s been opened up.”
“How are we going to get past the guards?” the Golden Gunman asked.
“There’s less opposition than you think. Potemkin figured secrecy was the best way to keep the portal safe, so there’s only a skeleton force guarding it. I can’t get you in myself – I can’t let anyone know I’ve been talking to you – but I can show you where it is, and if you’re slick, you should be able to get past the guards, since they won’t be expecting you.”
The Prof put her palms together, brought her hands up to her mouth, and took a deep breath. Then she turned to Zheng and the Gunman. “This isn’t going to be easy. You’ll be heading into unknown territory, and going up against an entrenched and well-hidden enemy, with no backup or support. You’ll be completely on your own.”
Curtis and the Prof looked at Zheng Yi Quan and the Golden Gunman, who regarded them silently. The room was still for a few moments, and then the two glanced over at each other. There was an almost imperceptible shrug between them, and then they turned back to the Prof.
“So, when do we begin?”
Zheng parried the axe kick with effortless grace. The strike left his opponent wide open, and Zheng drove his heel into the man's solar plexus. The crowd seated above the Death Ring erupted in a clamor of shouts. In the flickering light, money changed hands. Zheng could just make out the Golden Gunman in the audience. The Gunman was posing as a gambler, and from the amount of money he was collecting, Zheng assumed that his fallen opponent had been the favorite. So far, other than Zheng beating up three men, and the Gunman making a killing of a different sort, they had achieved very little. They were no closer to making any real contact with Master Chin's organization, or to determining if he was connected with the Jammers.
The gate to the ring opened, and two Chinese men in black linen outfits and crimson sashes scurried out. Without any fanfare, they dragged Zheng's crumpled opponent through the gate and slammed it shut behind them. The roar of the crowd quickly subsided, and again Zheng could see bets being made. He looked up at the Gunman, who caught his gaze and adjusted his sunglasses.
The gate opened again, and Zheng turned to face his next opponent.
Taggert crawled out of the ventilation shaft, and lit his Zippo. He appeared to be in some kind of storage room. Chin's tournament had to be taking place nearby. The sound of distant shouting had grown steadily louder as Taggert searched the massive network of restaurants, clubs, sweatshops and laundries, deep within the heart of Chinatown, that made up the core of Chin's dirty little empire.
There was a rustle behind Taggert.
"I think I'm stuck."
Taggert helped Cho out of the shaft. Despite his bulk, once he was free of the shaft he landed with all the grace of a rather chubby cat.
"I thought you karate types were supposed to be skinny."
"Karate is Japanese." replied Cho as he adjusted his trousers. If he was annoyed, he didn't let it show. Taggert didn't really know much about Fatty Cho, but he trusted him to a degree. Cho worked Chinatown, which was never an easy job, and having seen Cho's apartment, Taggert was pretty sure he wasn't on the take. Taggert liked to work alone, but he was out of his element here, and Cho knew his way around. One of Cho's informants had tipped him off about the tournament. Taggert had enough dirt on Chin to put him away for a spell that would make the Manchu dynasty look like the intermission of a double feature. The trouble would be making the charges stick. Chin had city officials, cops, and judges all over the state in his pocket. Taggert just hoped that Chin resisted arrest.
For the fourth time the gate opened, and again Zheng's opponent was unceremoniously dragged off. Then the lights dimmed, and a hush fell upon the crowd. Someone was standing behind Zheng.
"You have bested four of my men. You are strong enough, but can you be trusted?"
Zheng turned to face the speaker. He appeared to be in his late 50’s, with hair graying at his temples. He was supremely calm, poised, and full of unspoken menace. Zheng had no doubt that he had found Master Chin.
The Gunman took stock of his surroundings. The gamblers, gangsters, and martial artists in the audience were looking on in respectful, or perhaps fearful, silence. Down in the Ring, Zheng was talking with someone who had to be Master Chin. This was the moment of truth. Chin would naturally be suspicious, and the Gunman hoped that Zheng could keep his cool well enough to fool him. Plan A was for Zheng to into Chin's good graces, and from there hopefully find out if he was involved with the Jammers. The word on the street was that a bunch of fringe criminal types were pouring into the city, and Chin was looking to cut a deal with them. Rumor had it that this new element were somehow connected to the bombings that had been going on all over the world. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was all they had.
Plan B came in two parts. The first was tucked away in The Gunman's ankle holster. The second was tucked into the small of his back.
"I'm told that you pay your fighters well. If you pay well enough, I would be interested in joining your organization." Zheng wasn't comfortable with deception. This wasn’t out of any moral qualms, but because he wasn't confident in his ability to fool the mind behind Chin’s evil, calculating, eyes. Chin started at Zheng for a moment, an enigmatic smile playing on his lips. He opened his mouth to speak. Then, a voice boomed out from above the ring.
"Freeze you bastard! You're under arrest!"
Fatty Cho couldn't believe his eyes. Across the cavernous room, Taggert was trying to arrest the head of Chinatown's criminal underworld in front of half of his henchman. The entire room was silent for a moment. Then Chin spoke.
"Taggert, you are far less intelligent than I had believed. What makes you think you will leave this place alive?"
Taggert pulled a small black box from his pocket and extended its antenna with his teeth. "This." He pressed a button on the box.
Fatty Cho hit the dirt. He had just finished placing the charges, and was far too close to the last of them for comfort. Explosions wracked the room, and for a moment the gloom was erased by billowing fire. Most of the audience dived or were knocked out of their seats, a few falling into the ring. One of Chin's thugs toppled onto an evil-looking spike.
Fatty Cho got up and kicked a man drawing a gun. The paperwork on this was going to be murder.
Plan B it was. The Gunman dived sideways over a row of seats with both guns out, pouring out a river of lead into a cluster of mooks who were drawing a bead on the crazy cop that started it all. The Gunman didn't know who the cop was, but wasn't going to stand by and watch him get killed.
A Chinese thug in a white suit popped up out of a ruined pile of benches and opened fire with a MAC 10. The Gunman ran ahead of the barrage, firing sideways as he ran, the chairs disintegrating behind him. The thug's chest erupted red as the Gunman put three rounds through his ribcage. Shots rang out in front of him. The mad cop was taking cover behind two bodies and exchanging fire with three of Chin's men across the room. Suddenly, the cop spun around and pointed his gun at the Gunman.
"I'm on your side, you crazy bastard!" yelled the Gunman as he ducked and exchanged fire with the hoods across the room.
The cop hunkered down and reloaded his pistol. "Shit! I'm out of ammo anyway, so I guess I'll have to trust you for now."
The Gunman dived behind a bench just a split second ahead of a rain of lead that peppered his surroundings, covering him with woodchips. As fast as most people can snap their fingers, he had his guns reloaded.
Across the room, a different fight was brewing. A fat Chinese man was fighting with three martial artists in the flaming wreckage of the stands. The fat man moved with a grace and speed that belied his girth, delivering sweeping kicks and punches in rapid succession. The Gunman wasn't sure whose side the fat man was on but he seemed to be holding his own. The smoke made it impossible for the Gunman to see into the ring.
The cop popped up and fired off his hand-cannon three times into the smoke and gloom. The Gunman heard a scream. "Why are you backing me up?" yelled the cop over the gunfire.
"People as crazy as you are usually on my side." replied the Gunman. "On three."
Taggert took the cue, and both of them came up firing, laying down a barrage that caught four hoods across the room and ripped them apart. As the last of the bodies had fallen, the cop turned the Gunman and said "Name's Taggert, let's go nail this Chin..."
From the Gunman's left four martial artists leaped at him screaming. The Gunman turned and fired without thinking. One of the four fell, his head snapped back as a 9mm copperjacket ripped through it. Then they were on him. The Gunman dove and twisted, narrowly avoiding their attacks. The Gunman’s shoulder hit a bench and he rolled over it, firing both guns into a screaming, bare-chested martial artist, taking out the man's legs before plugging him between the eyes. That left two, and the Gunman's pistols were empty. Taggert clocked one of them with the butt of his massive pistol, but he wasn't faring too well. In the time it took the Gunman to reload the cop took two punches and a kick that took the wind out of him.
"Down!" the Gunman yelled. The battered cop complied, and the Gunman fired off six quick shots that finished off the remaining two attackers. Taggert got up, pushing a dead body off of himself.
"Christ, this is getting messy."
The Gunman glanced into the ring. Zheng was engaged in furious combat with a tall, lithe, black martial artist who moved with lethal speed and intensity. The hall itself was a mass of unconscious, busted up, and bullet-ridden bodies. Some of the benches were on fire. There was no sign of Master Chin.
"He got away!" yelled Fatty Cho as he drew up alongside them. The Gunman didn't have time to worry about that. He wasn't a martial artist, but he knew that Zheng was in trouble and needed back up. As he drew a bead on Zheng's opponent, a set of double doors burst open and a small army of martial artists came rushing through, screaming bloody murder as they bore down on Taggert, The Gunman and Fatty Cho.
"Hope you got a plan, mystery man,” said Taggert.
"Don't worry,” the Gunman replied. “This is what usually happens."
"Then it is agreed. We will help you to destroy Old Saint Mary's Cathedral, the Bank of America, and the Tien Hou Temple, and in turn you will assist me in crushing the Big Boss, eliminating my last rival for control of the West Coast."
"Solid. You get our back, and we'll do right by you."
Master Chin nodded slightly. "Very well. Then there is just one more small detail to attend to. The girl," he motioned to a blonde standing behind Funky Monkey, "is a spy."
"What?" Funky Monkey turned to face the girl. She looked around nervously, as if she might bolt, until Che Gorilla stepped up behind her and put his hands on her arms.
"What makes you so sure?"
"I make it a point to know who I'm dealing with. Miss Chase is a freelance spy, most likely working for the Big Boss."
Funky Monkey turned to face the girl. "Serena, baby, is this true?" Serena just shrugged and smiled weakly.
"Oh baby, I'm very disappointed in you." Funky Monkey shook his head ruefully. "Che, rip her arms off."
"No," Master Chin interrupted. "Not in my club." He motioned to a trio of his men, who stepped forward. "Take her out back and take care of her." The men nodded, then took Serena by the arms and led her out of the back room, through the kitchens, and into the alley behind the club. Then they stopped and turned her around. Serena stared at them defiantly as one of them pulled out a .38 and pointed it at her forehead.
"Hey sugar, what's going on?"
The thug turned to face the speaker, a tall, smiling, dark-skinned cocktail waitress with wide hoop earrings and a huge afro. As the thug brought his gun up, the woman lashed out with a crescent kick, knocking the gun aside. Serena used the distraction to topple the thug on her right with a karate chop. Then she spun around and delivered a pair of roundhouse kicks to the stomach and face of the goon on her left. Meanwhile, the dark-skinned woman blocked a punch from the goon, punched him in the face, and then flipped him over her shoulder, sending him into a pile of empty packing crates with a loud crash. She then turned to Serena.
"We've got to get out of here. My car's around the corner. C'mon!"
The two women dashed down the alley and around the corner. Behind them, half a dozen thugs spilled out of the back of the club. Serena climbed into a waiting El Dorado, and her companion jumped behind the wheel and gunned the engine as their pursuers rounded the corner. The thugs drew their guns, then scattered as the car sped down the alley in reverse. The dark-skinned woman whipped the wheel around as the car hit the street, tires squealing, then shifted into gear and took off.
"Nice driving," Serena said once they were clear. "Thanks for saving me back there. Who are you?"
"My name's Isis, and you're welcome. What the hell was all that about?"
"I found out some things that those guys would rather I didn't know about. What about you? Why did you help me out?"
"I saw those goons taking you out through the back, and I knew they were up to no good. They're Chin's men, right?"
"Yeah, that's right. How'd you know?"
"I saw him come in earlier. I've been working at the club for two weeks, waiting for him to show up."
"Because one of his pushers sold my brother some bad junk, and it killed him. Chin's been flooding the streets with it. Everyone knows it, but no one will talk because they're all too afraid of him, and because he's too well connected. Besides, no one cares about another dead junkie anyway. No one except me. I've been tracking Chin down, waiting for him to show. I would have made my move today, but he went right into the private room in back, and I couldn't get in there. I saw you and your group show up too. What's going on, and who was that really big dude in the overcoat? He was like a gorilla."
"Um, yeah. Look, it's kind of complicated. You know all the bombings that have been going on lately? The ones that have been all over the news?"
"Those guys I was with are part of that, and they've got something planned for right here in the city."
"Are you kidding me? What does that have to do with Chin?"
"Chin was meeting with them because they've got a lot of muscle, and Chin wants their help taking out one of his rivals. In return, he's going to help them blow up a couple of spots in Chinatown.”
"But why? What's the point?”
"Like I said, it's complicated. Here's the deal…" Suddenly, there was the crack of a gunshot, followed by several more. Serena and Isis ducked as a bullet punched a hole in the back window. Serena turned to see a bunch of cars hot on their tail, with thugs leaning out the windows taking potshots at them. Isis cursed under her breath as she slammed her foot down hard on the gas pedal.
"Hang on, girl. You can explain it to me if we get out of this alive."
Billy Chow ducked as one of Chin's thugs swung a sword at his head. He caught his attacker’s arm on the backswing, and then delivered a rapid series of jackhammer punches to his midsection. He then spun around and delivered a punishing back kick to another thug who was trying to jump him from behind. Then he heard the growl of a motorcycle, and he dived aside as a biker sped by him and unloaded with a sawed-off shotgun, narrowly missing his head.
Billy got to his feet and looked around. St. Mary's Square had turned into a war zone. This morning it had been completely peaceful and quiet, like the calm before the storm. The Guiding Hand had heard a rumor that Master Chin was going to make a move that night, so Chow had rounded up all the loyal students, monks, and Shaolin brothers in Chinatown for a showdown with the traitor. Then everything had blown up at once. Billy had expected to find Chin's men there, but not the hordes of punks, bikers, anarchists, thugs, and hoods that had also suddenly appeared, not to mention all the cops, suits, and mafia enforcers as well. Like a spark in a gas tank, Chinatown had suddenly exploded in a massive, chaotic melee, with everyone going after everyone all at the same time. The only thing Billy could tell for sure was that Chin's forces seemed to be allied with the bikers and hoods and radical types, and that Chow’s band was in deep trouble. Only the fact that everyone was busy fighting each other had kept his group alive this long, but that wouldn't last. They were too badly outnumbered, and he hadn't even spotted Master Chin.
Suddenly, the din of combat was pierced by the sound of a horn blaring. An 18-wheeler came barreling down the street, knocking aside the police cars that had been set up as a roadblock like they were toys. It screeched to a halt at the intersection in front of the park. Caught up in the heat of battle, the combatants converged on the truck like a swarm of angry bees. Before they could tear it apart, the back doors of the trailer blew open as a midnight-black motorcycle shot out of the back of the truck like a rocket, scattering the crowd. A colorful mix of street-fighters, rednecks, brothers, and just plain bad cats poured out of the trailer behind it, with Zheng Yi Quan and the Golden Gunman in the lead. Before the crowd of thugs and hoods could get their bearings, an El Dorado, a Corvette, and a Ford Mustang raced into the intersection, each from a different direction. John Tower and Isis Fox got out of the first car, Spencer’s Beauties emerged from the second, and Taggert stepped out of the third, shotgun in hand. Everyone dove into the fray with guns firing and fists flying, and the mob momentarily scattered before this new assault.
Billy was snapped out his reverie by a loud yell. He turned to see a trio of Master Chin's thugs racing toward him, each one armed to the teeth. Billy brought his hands up in a fighting stance and prepared to meet their attack. Things had just gotten a lot crazier, and the battle was still far from over.
Taggert unloaded his shotgun into the first of the three punks. The blast slammed into the punk's chest, flinging him backwards over a park bench. Taggert pumped the shotgun and pulled the trigger again. This time there was only a tiny click. Taggert swore and whipped the stock of the empty gun around, breaking the second punk's jaw. Then the third punk punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Taggert went to draw his pistol, but his attacker was already on top of him. The punk raised a lead pipe over his head, preparing to crack Taggert's skull like a ripe melon.
Suddenly, there was a loud kiii-yaaah, and Billy Chow leapt into the air. He spun and kicked, and the punk dropped like a ton of bricks and Billy's foot smashed into his head. Billy bent down and extended a hand to Taggert.
"Thanks," Taggert said as he got to his feet.
"Don't mention it. It looks like we're on the same side. You're Cho's partner, aren’t you?"
"I was, until I got suspended. Who are you, and what are you doing out here?'
"My name is Billy Chow. I'm here looking for Master Chin."
"Looks like we both want the same thing. The problem is, he's made some friends." Taggert motioned to the fallen punks. "These aren't Chin's men."
"No, they aren't." Billy replied. "They have us outnumbered."
"Then we need to get some friends of our own."
"What are you talking about?"
"C'mon," Taggert said, drawing his .44. "Follow me." The two men headed off across the park, fighting their way through the hordes of thugs that surrounded then. As they moved, Billy's followers and several of the other Dragons, including John Tower and Isis Fox, joined them. Taggert stopped when they reached the other side of the square.
"There," he said, pointing to a group of thugs in cheap suits. They were arrayed in a defensive half-circle, and were blasting away at anyone who got too close. Inside the circle, ringed by bodyguards, was a short, middle-aged man with a receding hairline. Taggert singled him out.
"That's the man they call 'The Big Boss.'" He's the biggest crime-lord on the west coast. Only Master Chin is as powerful. The two of them have been bitter rivals for a long time, but neither one has been able to take out the other."
"So?" asked Billy.
"So I'm guessing he's here because he's looking to settle things with Chin once and for all, only he didn't count on Chin having a bunch of new friends. Now, I don't like this scumbag any more than I like Chin, but right now, we all want the same thing. If we're going to take Chin out, we all need to be on the same side."
"How are you going to make that happen?" Tower asked. "You're a cop. As soon as the Big Boss sees you, he'll blow you away. I don't think any of us are going to get any closer either."
"I can get you to him." Everyone turned to see Serena Chase approaching the group. She was dressed in a clingy blue jumpsuit, and was holding a submachine gun. Despite having been in the thick of the battle, her hair was perfect.
"Who are you?" Taggert asked.
"This is the girl I was telling you about, John." Isis said. "She's the one that told me about how all this was going to go down. What are you doing here?"
"I've got to make sure the Jammers don't succeed in carrying out their plan."
"The guys who have been blowing everything up. Chin's allies. Never mind, it's a long story."
"Do you work for the Big Boss?" Tower asked.
"No." Serena replied. "It's more like he and I have been contracted by the same people. Look, it's not important. What matters is that I can get you to him without you getting shot. Right now it looks like you need my help, and I could use yours too. What do you say?"
Taggert and Billy looked at each other, and then Taggert looked back at Serena.
"Let's do it."
The black sedan stopped at the waterfront, and Master Chin stepped out, along with four of his thugs. His face betrayed no emotion, despite the fact that his empire was crumbling all around him. Today should have seen the demise of his greatest rival, and marked the beginning of his undisputed control over the west coast. He had taken great pains to make sure that the Big Boss knew where he would be this morning. That, at least, had gone as planned. As expected, the Big Boss had walked right into his trap. Chin hadn't expected those idiot monks to show up, but even they were of no real concern. However, he hadn't expected that nuisance Taggert to appear, much less that strange Chinese fighter from the Death Ring and his partner. He had no idea what to make of the pack of rabble they had brought with them, and he certainly hadn't expected them to ally with the monks and the Big Boss against him. Even then, they might have held their ground, had not the Monkey and his undisciplined scum fallen apart and turned tail. Fortunately, Chin had prepared for this contingency. There was a cargo ship waiting to take him back to China. He would have to lie low for a while, and rebuilding would be a painfully slow process, but he would rise again from the ashes.
Chin and his thugs turned to face the speaker. Billy Chow stood down the dock about 30 yards away.
"Betrayer of Shaolin, your day of judgment is here. Your crimes will go unpunished no longer."
Master Chin regarded Billy with a quizzical expression. "Who are you, and what are you talking about?"
"My name is Billy Chow. I speak on behalf of the Guiding Hand. Many decades ago, Kan Li the traitor betrayed Shaolin. Taking his stolen knowledge, he fled to this land and founded an order of thieves and assassins. You are heir to that order, and you have continued his tradition of corruption and wickedness. Now, finally, the Hand has come to make you pay for decades of treachery. Master Chin, you have offended Shaolin. Prepare to die!"
"I think not." Master Chin stepped backwards onto a cargo pallet, and then motioned with his hands. The pallet began to rise, pulled upward by a crane on the cargo ship, as Chin's vassals drew their guns and opened fire. Billy leapt into the air, his motions a blur, as the bullets whizzed by him. He leapt over the car and tore into the thugs, moving with inhuman speed. In moments, they were all dead. Billy looked up to see Chin standing on the cargo pallet, now high above him.
"Farewell, young fool," he hissed. "Your vengeance will have to wait for another century or so. But here's a little something to remember me by." Master Chin reached into his robes and withdrew a grenade. He pulled the pin, and then dropped it onto the hood of the sedan. The car blossomed into a fireball, and Billy leapt into the air. The force of the explosion propelled him directly toward the pallet, and he let out a yell as he hurtled toward Master Chin.
Dr. Zaius looked up nervously as another rocket hit the outer shell of the Monkey House, causing dust to spill from the ceiling above his workshop. Outside, he could hear the sounds of nearby fighting. Bonengel’s and Boatman’s forces and the armies of all four Monarchs had converged on the Silent Forest and besieged the Monkey House, leaving the Jammers hard-pressed to defend it. After all, they still hadn't fully recovered from the attack last year, and the recent assault on Homo Omega's fortress had left them drained even further. There simply weren't enough men or apes to hold the line. The only reason they hadn't been overrun is that the Four Monarchs were all attacking each other, and Bonnengel's forces were fighting with Boatman's forces, and on top of all of that, the Monarchs and Architects were busy fighting with each other as well. All of them wanted the Discombobulator, which was humming quietly in a corner, for their own. None of them wanted anyone else to get their hands on it. Even so, the Jammers had started to fall back, and the evacuation had begun.
Another series of explosions rocked the monkey house, this time causing chunks of the ceiling to crash to the ground. When the dust had cleared, Dr. Zaius looked over to see a strange figure standing in the middle of his workshop, seemingly oblivious to the destruction around him. He wore a long white robe and small round glasses, and there were several strings of beads around his neck. He had very long, very straight black hair, and his fingernails were unnaturally long. He also carried a gnarled cane. Strangest of all, though, was the oddly shaped, baseball-sized luminescent crystal that hovered near his shoulder.
"W-who are you?" Dr. Zaius asked. "How did you get in here?"
"The source of all this trouble, I presume. Yes? And just how did you cause all this trouble?"
"What do you want?"
"Ahh, this must be it," the intruder said, noticing the Discombobulator for the first time. He began walking toward it.
"Hey!" Dr. Zaius yelled angrily. "You stay away from that!" The orangutan began ambling toward the intruder. Without turning in his direction, the mysterious figure idly raised his hand, and Dr. Zaius froze in place like a statue.
"Remarkable," said the intruder, looking over the Discombobulator. "Crude, but truly remarkable. You managed to achieve the impossible, you know." He turned back to face Dr. Zaius. "And just how did you do it?" Dr. Zaius remained motionless, and the intruder smiled.
"Ah well, We’ll have time for that later. Right now you and I and this fascinating device of yours must get going." The intruder turned back toward the Discombobulator and studied it for a few moments. Then he waved his hands over it in a series of complex gestures, and the crystal floating beside him flared brightly. The intruder then put his hands on the Discombobulator and began folding it. It was as if it was made of paper, and he were creating a particularly complex origami sculpture. Within seconds, the Discombobulator had been reduced to the size of a matchbook, which the intruder then pocketed. He then turned back toward Dr. Zaius.
"And now, for you." The intruder waved his hands again, and this time uttered a few strange words. The crystal flared again, and then moved to position itself above the helpless simian. Much as the Discombobulator had been folded up, so the crystal began to unfold, creating a larger and ever more complex shape, until it completely surrounded Dr. Zaius. Then it began to refold in on itself, and within moments it was back to its original shape and size. It moved to hover directly in front of the intruder, who smiled at the tiny, trapped form of Dr. Zaius inside.
"Well, it seems almost everything is taken care of here. All we have to do is cover our tracks, and we'll be on our way, yes?" The intruder looked around the room, until his gaze fell on an oddly-constructed dynamo sitting on a workbench. He waved his hand, and the dynamo hummed to life, blue energy crackling all around it. The stranger extended his hand, and a bolt of sorcerous energy arced from his fingertips to the device. Instantly, it began to accelerate, and the energy crackling around it began to change colors. The intruder turned away from the machine and traced a large rectangle in the air with his cane. The air in front of him shimmered, and then changed to reveal a mirage-like image of an empty tunnel somewhere within the Netherworld. The intruder stepped into the image, the crystal following behind him, and the image vanished. In the empty workshop, the dynamo sped faster and faster as bolts of energy shot out of it in all directions.
Outside the Monkey House, cyborgs battled armored knights, abominations fought with BuroMil soldiers, and Inuit shamans called down icy storms on Aztec warriors. Suddenly, a massive explosion rocked the battlefield. The force of the blast threw everyone to the ground, halting the battle. When the combatants looked up again, the Monkey House was no more. All that was left of it was a burning husk, and flaming debris that rained down over the Silent Forest.
"So this is it?"
"Yes," Zheng replied. Billy stared at the portal with a mixture of wonder and awe. The portal rested within the doorway of a broom closet, which itself was within an abandoned factory. Instead of mops and brooms, there was a swirling gray mist inside the doorway. Fatty Cho, John Tower, Isis Fox, Billy Chow, and Taggert stood nearby, all of them looking at the portal, Zheng, and the Golden Gunman with uneasy curiosity.
"I've heard the stories, but I never thought I'd actually see one. Well, not for twenty years or so anyway." Billy smiled.
"So everything you were saying was true?" said Taggert.
"Absolutely," The Golden Gunman replied. "You're welcome to look for yourself, if you like. In fact, you're welcome to join us. We could use your help." Taggert hesitated for a moment, and then turned back toward the Gunman.
"No, no thanks. I appreciate it, but I don't think so. Robot monkeys and evil kung fu guys are just a little too much for me. Besides, it looks like I'm going to need to keep an eye on things here while this thing is open."
"That's true." Zheng's face darkened. "This portal will not remain a secret for long. Too many know about it already. If we can not shut it down, you may have much indeed to keep you busy."
"Do you think the Jammers will be back?" Tower asked.
"I don't know," the Gunman replied. "We pretty much dismantled their setup here, and they won't have the advantage of surprise again. Still, Funky Monkey got away. It's possible they might try again, or they might try to open a new portal here, or somewhere else. They're pretty unpredictable. You'll just have to keep your eyes open."
"We should be going," said Zheng. Billy Chow touched his fist to his open palm, and bowed slightly at the waist.
"It was an honor to fight alongside you."
"Thank you," the Gunman replied. "Who knows, maybe we'll meet again." He turned toward the misty doorway.
"Wait," Isis called out. Zheng and the Gunman turned around again. "You said you guys came from the future, right?"
"Well, not exactly," the Gunman replied.
"You know what I mean. You've been there, right?"
"Yes," Zheng replied.
"Well..." Isis hesitated, trying to find the right words. "What's going to happen? I mean, you know, what do we have to look forward to? What about the 80's? What are they like? Does it get any better than it is now?"
The Golden Gunman looked at Isis for a moment. Then he smiled.
"Goodbye," he said. Then he and Zheng stepped through the portal, and were gone. Isis and the other four stood silently in place for a few minutes, each of them staring at the gray mist. Then, slowly, they all turned together and began walking away. As they departed, none of them noticed the mists blur, and then vanish, leaving only an ordinary, empty broom closet behind.