What's Gone Before: The villainous Puppet has resurrected the dead pharaoh, Rath-Det, who has ensnared both his evil benefactor and the beauteous Silhouette in his mind-control power. While Mr. Amazing, through amazing strength of will, has only just freed himself from the Puppet's control. Outside, the rest of the Fellowship struggle against a mob of mind-controlled subjects. Kid Gloves, realizing at least some of the people are being controlled by an on-site adversary, is trying to jury-rig something to disrupt the signal while Blacklight tries to find the controller himself. And now, the conclusion of Night of the Mind-Tyrants...
To Crush the Pharaoh
Mr. Amazing stared up at the repulsive, dessicated figure that he gleaned was some sort of Egyptian mummy come to life. It seemed absurd, but his foggy memories began to coalesce into vaguely coherent patterns. He remembered hearing a rumour of a heist planned for the train station, and arriving just in time to thwart it. Things hadn't gone entirely well for him, because he remembered being knocked out. When he awoke, it was on a makeshift operating table, with the little man preening over him... Then, nothing much, save vague, shameful memories of allying himself with the nefarious Puppet.
Still, he recognized that things were pretty bad at the moment.
Lucky for him, the mummy seemed not to have noticed him, even though he had spoken out moments earlier. Apparently, being on the floor, he was either beneath the mummy's notice...or, more plausible, considering the flat, sunken state of the mummy's eyes, literally beneath his line of peripheral vision. Either way, he was not yet afflicted by the same paralysis that had struck the others.
He smiled to himself and touched his luck scarf, the scarf that was supposed to bring him luck so long as he fought for what was good and decent. It seemed he was truly on the side of the angels once more.
Now, if he could only figure out what to do with his luck.
* * *
The Man-Fly hugged the wall, craning his head to peer into the brightly lit room beyond, where the Silhouette and the others seemed to be at the mercy of, of... He was not quite sure he could trust his senses. He clenched his fingers around the barrel of his dart gun, and prepared to launch himself into the room.
The Man-Fly stiffened and looked around, the eerie, multi-faceted eyes of his mask concealing his shock. "Dennis? Where are you?"
I am not with you, Artie, save in mind. You were the only one I was sure would be in the museum, Artie. To make contact, I needed confidence, and I knew the Man-Fly would be in the heart of things. There is danger, Artie. Terrible danger--
"If your 'danger' is seven feet tall and wrapped in bandages, then I would say you're too late."
There was a momentary silence, and the Man-Fly sensed that the shock of his revelation had momentarily caused the Dreamstalker's concentration to falter. Then:
What's happening? Has he spoken? Said what he wants? His plans?
"He only asked when the dawn would come."
Ah, of course. Things are happening here. I can't be sure how long I can maintain our connection -- so heed me. The light, Artie. Douse the liiighht...
This time, the voice in his head did not return.
Slowly, the Man-Fly turned once more to the room, to the scene out of some tawdry horror flick, complete with stage lights. His injured left arm was completely numb thanks to a nerve pinch he gave it; it no longer hurt, but it was also useless. Hefting his dart gun, steadying his nerves, he leaped into the room, the words from a poem by Kipling echoing in his head.
Cannon to the right of them
Cannon to the left of them
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred
* * *
The mob of controlled people closed in, making it harder and harder for Blacklight to weave between them. In moments, he would be right back where they had started, too hemmed-in to run. And there was no sign of a controller -- the man who was manipulating many of these innocent people to act in this murderous way. He had looked everywhere, throughout the crowd. Not one of their attackers seemed to possess the necessary will, or equipment, to be controlling the others.
Beneath his featureless black mask, the blood drained from his features. A very scary thought had just occurred to him. No one in the crowd seemed to be the controller. That only left...
Kid Gloves sprawled across the front seat of his sonic car, wrenching wires free from beneath the souped-up dashboard, beneath the multitude of dials and gauges and levers. He glanced out into the rain-ravaged night, at the figures coming for him, like drowned corpses. He turned back to his wires, twisting the blue about the red, the green about the yellow. His fingers felt numb from fear, and the press of time. Could he accomplish it in time? he wondered. He glanced once more at the street, the figures almost upon him.
Suddenly the bearded, crimson-garbed figure of the Rajah blocked the view.
"Thank heaven, Rajah," he gasped, grinning. "Keep 'em off me for about three seconds and I'm done."
"No, Kid, I'm afraid not."
"Huh?" The Kid looked over, for the first time noticing the black box the Rajah carried attached to his sash. The Kid seemed to recall noticing it in the car on the way here, but not paying it much mind. The Rajah seemed to be keying something into it with one hand, while drawing the curved dagger from his sash with the other.
The dagger was purely ceremonial -- a Sikh thing. The Kid's eyes flared wide as he realized the Rajah seemed about to put it to a decidedly non-ceremonial use. Instantly, Kid Gloves understood.
"Aw, Rajah," he said, anguished and also utterly helpless, pinned between the seat and the dashboard. "Not you."
The knife rose...then a smear of black light collided with the bigger man, sending him sprawling.
"I knew it!" shouted Blacklight, standing over the fallen Rajah. "I knew it had to be one of us -- uh!"
His feet went out from under him as the Rajah scissored his legs, catching Blacklight's between his own. Instantly the Rajah was up, the knife flashing again. Blacklight blurred to the side, the knife clinking against cement where his head had been. Then a deafening sonic boom sent the Rajah tumbling end over end, to sprawl unconscious some yards away.
"Je ne comprends pas," said the Canticle, her sonic scream having done its work. "I dought 'e was one of you?"
"He was," muttered Blacklight bitterly, rising to his knees. "He still is, if we can get the Puppet's disk off him. I... Hey, Kid! They're still coming!" He had thought taking out the controller would free a good hunk of the mob, but apparently the final commands were still being relayed. He looked around, but the black box had come free from the Rajah's belt in the confusion, and in the darkness, on the rain blackened macadam, he could not see it anywhere. "The damn thing would be waterproof," he muttered.
He looked up, a pretty young woman standing over him with a golf club, ready to tee him off to the afterlife.
Kid Gloves slammed a bright red button. A tiny directional speaker sprouting from the hood of the car started spinning madly, and instantly the girl stiffened, stepped back, and dropped her club.
Others began to shake, shivering as if waking from a terrible dream.
"You did it!" screamed Blacklight, laughing hysterically. "Hot dog! You did it, Kid."
There were still possessed people, controlled by the more up-to-date self-motivating neuro-hijackers, people coming on with murder blazing like bloody fire in their eyes. But the odds were now lessened. The odds were, in fact, almost negligible.
Kid Gloves ignored his outburst, already crouching by the unconscious form of the Rajah, the man who was like a second father to him. It must have been in Montreal, he realized bitterly, when they were captured by the Puppet -- it was then that one of the neuro-hijackers must have been attached. It must have had some sort of delayed action programming, he thought. He was positive the Rajah had been his normal self earlier. It must have kicked in as they started for the museum, as it looked like they might threaten the Puppet's plan.
Looking up, his face a twisted grimace of fury, Kid Gloves said, "Let's wrap this up out here...then let's get that mind-controlling son-of-a-bitch!"
Blacklight stared. It was the first time he had heard the Kid use language that didn't seem lifted from an Andy Hardy movie.
* * *
The Man-Fly hurled himself into the room, dart gun drawn.
Douse the light, Dennis had said. Easier said than done, he thought grimly. There were six heavy lamps around the room. Six. A big room. Not very good odds.
Particularly as he had no idea why the lights were relevant. The Creature Feature messiah did not strike him as the kind to get scared of the dark. But he trusted Dennis Welbeck. More to the point, he knew Dennis' expertise ran far more to the arcane than did his.
"What?" roared the mummy, startled by the intrusion. "What god are you?"
The Man-Fly, weak from the wound in his left arm, flung up his right arm, aiming his pistol at one of the lights.
"The lights!" he shouted, though he doubted the Silhouette could help. "Smash the lights!"
Then he stiffened. Something closed about his mind like an oily rag -- closing, then drawing tight. He screamed instinctively, but it came out a snort between gritted teeth.
"No," sneered the mummy. "Though you...wear the head of a beast...I can sense you are...but...a mortal man. And mortals are but toys to Rath-Det!"
Outside, thunder and lightning raged overhead, echoing nature's distress. Blacklight tripped in mid-run as his muscles no longer responded to his command, and he went tumbling over the rainy street. The Canticle tried to cross herself, to ward away the foul presence she felt reaching out for her, for all of them, but to no avail. She wailed as she felt her body become but a minor appendage to the swelling aura of Rath-Det's consciousness...
Inside the museum, Rath-Det cackled as his awesome mental power snaked out to the beings even beyond his sight. The Man-Fly glimpsed Mr. Amazing still on the ground, his face ashen from some recent ordeal, his eyes bloodshot, but seeming still in control of himself. The Silhouette had had faith that Mr. Amazing could free himself from the Puppet's domination. He hoped she was right. With the last vestiges of his self-control slipping away, the Man-Fly twitched and sent his dart gun flying, to hit the ground and skitter across the floor to halt at Mr. Amazing's knee.
The Spirit of Decency did not hesitate, did not think. He swept up the dart gun, turned in a single, fluid motion, and fired into the mummy's thigh. The creature roared with shock more than pain and reared about to find the source of this minor irritation. Mr. Amazing was already rolling across the floor, firing wildly at one of the lights.
One light exploded into darkness even as Mr. Amazing stiffened, his arms snapping back so that his shoulder blades almost touched.
"You!" roared Rath-Det. "Petty insect, I shall --" Suddenly darkness slithered up Rath-Det, occluding his head in a sheaf of black. "No! The light! Where is the light?"
The Man-Fly spasmed, finding his body was his again. He looked around, suddenly realizing the Silhouette was nowhere to be seen. Then he looked at the weird shadow draped like a cloth over Rath-Det's face.
Obviously Mr. Amazing's unexpected attack had momentarily caused the mummy to relinquish his hold on the Silhouette, who acted on the Man-Fly's frantic yell in her own inimitable way.
But this only bought them a second or two. And the generator powering all five remaining lights was on the far side of the sarcophagus. Mr. Amazing, still on his knees, obviously reached the same conclusion. Without a word, only a glance at the Man-Fly, he netted his hands into a stirrup.
Rath-Det was already losing his air of panic, realizing the darkness was not a true indication of the light level in the room. In moments, his mental control would reassert itself, perhaps forever.
Sucking in a deep breath, the Man-Fly ran, launched himself off Mr. Amazing's hands, and went sailing over the sarcophagus, almost brushing the mummy's knee. He hit the floor hard and awkward on the other side, dislocating a shoulder, but he fought back the pain, whirled on his back, and kicked out savagely at the generator.
The lights flickered, then went dark.
And Rath-Det screamed.
* * *
Outside, the heroes suddenly found themselves their own again. Roberta raced toward the front steps of the Royal Ontario Museum, ignoring the remaining people still in the sway of the Puppet's neuro-hijackers.
The doors burst open and a black and yellow figure stumbled out into the storm.
"Out of my way, you dumb broad!" shrieked the Raven, his eyes wild with hysteria. "I ain't staying here a minute longer!" He barreled into her.
For a moment, Roberta's photographic memory replayed the horrific scene of the Raven firing two bullets into the unconscious body of Bartholomew Mortimer. Though she had the body of a grown woman, she was still guileless in the ways of humanity, and its countless cruelties. The image of the cold blooded murder still appalled her. She clung to his arm, swinging him around.
"Let go!" he screamed, his talons sparking harmlessly off her metal skin. "It's a nightmare in there, it's -- uh!"
She slugged him harder than she would a normal man, but the Raven was no ordinary man. The blow lifted him off his feet, the reverse wind velocity wrenching a tear through one of his wings. He hit the pavement and skidded a few yards before coming to a semi-conscious halt with a clang! as he collided with a fire hydrant.
"Well, welcome to dreamland," quiped Blacklight.
* * *
The Silhouette crouched by the Man-Fly, peering at him in the almost complete darkness brought on by the extinguishing of the lights. "I need a bed," he muttered through gritted teeth.
"You need a bloody hospital," she said, her brows knitted in concern.
"Dust," she said, glancing at the empty sarcophagus. "Literally. He just crumbled, though I couldn't tell you why." She glanced at Jerry, the Puppet's henchman, curled in a fetal position in one corner, shivering. She doubted he'd be bothering anyone, at least for the moment. Then she looked around, sharply. It was difficult to make out much in the darkness, but a flash of lightning bathed the room in momentary brilliance, and she cursed. "The Puppet's gone!"
"He's gone, too."
"You don't suppose he's still...?"
For the first time, she allowed herself a smile. "No. I don't think he's still."
* * *
The Puppet cursed himself. He had foolishly run upstairs when he should have made for the front doors. But more of those do-gooders were probably outside, so perhaps it was best to find an alternative egress, he reasoned.
He whirled around, slamming his shoulder blades against the hard railing. Something moved in the darkness. Lightning flashed suddenly through a window, momentarily etching out the figure of a tall man in jodhpurs and a white shirt. The Puppet inhaled sharply, staring about wildly.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that it was a long way down.
"L-look," he stammered. "We can make a-a deal, friend. I mean, I'm sorry about controlling you, and everything. But, see, I wasn't exactly myself, was I? That demon was manipulating me, as well."
Mr. Amazing said nothing, a grim set to his jaw. He had been violated, possessed, manipulated. He had turned on his friends and allies, and almost precipitated the end of civilization as he knew it. All thanks to the designs of this evil man. The Puppet could protest all he wanted about being controlled, about being not responsible, but obviously Rath-Det's powers were severely limited while still encased in his tomb, or else he would have been freed long ago. Obviously, he needed a peculiarly sympathetic consciousness.
Mr. Amazing stepped forward.
The Puppet squirmed against the railing, squeezing shut his eyes. "Please don't hurt me!"
Mr. Amazing stared at this man squirming before him, and he felt no pleasure, no satisfaction. Even after all that the Puppet had done, he had no desire to hurt the man in kind. And, slowly, Mr. Amazing smiled, relieved by that final realization, the release of the fear that had worried at him most. Whatever the Puppet had done, he had not taken the one thing Chet Morgan, the man known as Mr. Amazing, prized above all others: his own sense of decency.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said with finality. "Just come along quietly."
They sat around the secret headquarters of the Fellowship of the Midnight Sons under the guise of being the offices of the Trans-Dominion Shipping Company. It was a jovial gathering, even considering the physical state of many. The Man-Fly, out of costume, bore a sling about one arm and heavy bandaging about the other. Dennis Welbeck, the Dreamstalker, had the brow of his head neatly wrapped in bindings, and his face was still discoloured from bruises. Kid Gloves' lip was puffy, and a couple of band-aids covered over minor abrasions.
Mr. Amazing rifled through the cupboards behind the bar. "Where's the Aspirin?" he asked.
"Here." The Rajah, clutching his head with one hand as he sat on the couch, held up the little bottle, rattling it.
"The headaches should diminish over a day or two, as your brains get used to functioning on their own again, and are relieved of the strain of waging a continuous subconscious battle against the neuro-hijackers," said Blacklight, speaking more as a medical student than as a speedster.
"All in all," remarked Dennis conversationally. "I think we did rather well. The world is safe, at least on the homefront; the Puppet and the Raven are in jail; and Rath-Det is, well, dust."
"Yeah," said Blacklight, "does someone want to explain that to me? Just what the Devil did we fight? What was he?"
"Perhaps a man like us," said Dennis, after a moment of contemplation. "Literally. I mean, why should our generation be the first to produce people with strange abilities? Or perhaps he was something more, some other life form entirely. Either way, he clearly derived his abilities from photosynthesis. His need to be resurrected with those big lights, combined with the prominence of the sun in my dream (back in Act 6, remember? ~the ed.), suggested that much. The Puppet could only resurrect him at night, when he would be free of interference from the authorities, but night was clearly the one time Rath-Det would be powerless."
He took a sip of brandy. "At the peak of his power, three thousand years ago, he may have been literally unkillable. So his enemies sealed him in a sarcophagus where he would be cut off from the sun. It didn't kill him, but it weakened him sufficiently that the only mind he could ever influence was one of similar devilishness. Unfortunately for us, he found such a mind when the Puppet visited his exhibit in Montreal. But three thousand years of isolation wreaked a terrible toll even on his unusual constitution. He was so weak when he was revived, and using so much power so fast to control us, that the energy derived from the light was all that was keeping him alive. Take that away and, well, poof."
"And the Canticle?" asked Kid Gloves.
Blacklight shrugged. "I don't suppose we've seen the last
of her. She was gone when the commotion had settled down, though, leaving
only a whiff of incense. Like the man said: poof."
THE END...for now...
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