Dangerous Toys

Issue #1

Green Lantern Annual #1

the Atom Annual #1

Seven Soldiers of Victory #1

Hawk and Dove
Annual #2

the Secret Society of Super-Villains Annual #1

Supergirl Annual #4

Green Arrow Annual #1

Bad Blood Annual #1

Power Girl Annual #2

Superboy Annual #1

Teen Titans Annual #1

the Justice Society of America Annual #1

All-American Comics Annual #1

Birds of Prey Annual #1

Higher Learning Annual #1

Team Titans Annual #1

Ambush Bug Special
(Special being a relative term here)




Annual #1

FDC presents an all-new series
by Steve Seinberg!



The wave of disorientation that hit the group was like nothing any of them had ever experienced before.

Most of them had teleported before in one fashion or another, whether via advanced technology, magic spells, a co-worker’s ensorcelled cloak in one case – hell, Dr. Gauss, a.k.a. ‘The Folded Man,’ could practically write down ‘Teleporter’ as his occupation on his tax forms.

However, despite most forms of teleportation (or, ‘spatial displacement,’ as the more egg-headed types put it) resulting in at least some mild sensations of nausea and temporary confusion, never had any of them known these feelings to be intense to the point of incapacitation.

The raggedy hoodlum known only as Mister Terrible pushed himself upright and tried to shake the cobwebs out of his whirling head...tried to take some stock of their situation. He swayed on his feet, idly making straightening gestures toward his tattered outfit, a red and green visual assault meant to be a mockery of the uniform worn by a very highly regarded costumed hero called Mister Terrific. Mister Terrible’s clothing didn’t actually end up any straighter for his efforts, but the half-hearted attempt at least helped him to think.

Solid foundational facts he could cling to:

1) he and his partners had been in the employ of one of these super-genius, mad scientist/criminal mastermind types...although oddly enough, Terrible couldn’t quite pull the guy’s name out of the kaleidoscope of thoughts careening around inside his skull at the moment;

2) someone had invaded their home base just enough so as to drop off one of their bitterest enemies (and again, the name of this guy, too, didn’t want to yield itself up for inspection just now, either, so bad was the disorientation)...and this enemy had then triggered some kind of emergency failsafe teleport-device on his person so as to escape them;

3) Terrible and the rest of the boss’s hench-people had all followed the fleeing enemy-guy through his emergency teleport-gate, with orders to tackle him, and then bring back bloody souvenirs for the boss’s mantelpiece; and

4) upon emerging from the ‘teleportal,’ Terrible and company had found that the fleeing enemy-guy had set up his escape hatch pretty well: it landed them all practically on the doorstep of that fabled group of heroes, the Justice Society of America (the group of brightly costumed do-gooders that Mister Terrific trooped around with, as it happened) – alarm bells went off all over the place like they were signaling the apocalypse, and fleeing enemy-guy got to flee some more as the doors of the JSA’s world-renowned Brownstone HQ were flung open and began to issue forth its heroes.

And that’s when the disorientation effect knocked them all on their duffs. It must have been some kind of delayed-reaction kind of thing, although thinking about it now, Mister Terrible realized that his boss had teleported him to and from places all over the world on plenty of occasions, and the disorientation was never this bad, and it was never delayed – it was always instantly felt upon stepping across whatever weird, crunched-up space exists between points A and B when you ‘port between them. As soon as he arrived at a location, he’d feel a quick wave of queasiness, and that was about that (well...maybe he’d upchucked once or twice...but then that was that, and he’d pretty much gotten that under control after the first few times).

But then, even as his partners and the JSA geeks all started to rise to their feet as well, and shake off their own ill feelings, Mister Terrible noticed a few more things that made him more than just a little uneasy...

For one thing, while even the most human, least outright powerful of their bunch – like Terrible himself and the Folded Man, who was just a regular joe underneath the weird, dimension-manipulating pajamas he always wore – even they were starting to recover...but big, evil Ishmael Gregor, the demonoid known as Sabbac, was down on one knee, looking like he was about to retch or faint or weep openly or something. This was unusual and probably very much not good, as Gregor was arguably the most powerful among them, with probably only the homicidal ‘Blackrock’ chick, Lucia, able to compete for the title, or maybe the lunar-dependent Blue Moon on those few nights each month when the moon was full. Gregor was moaning and hissing in his native Russian, and the big pentagram branded onto his big, shirtless chest was issuing forth more evil smoke and steam and brimstone than usual, as his eyes threatened to do total backflips in their sockets.

Another alarming thing: while it was great that only a trio of JSA members seemed to be at home just now to answer the alarm klaxons that Terrible’s group had set off by inadvertently stepping through that teleportal and immediately into JSA villain-detection range...Terrible had the presence of mind to realize that even as a few of his cronies started to converge with all due hostility on the heroes, the three heroes themselves looked just as wobbly and disoriented as Terrible and his crew, and they hadn’t teleported anywhere.

And finally, not only did the JSA do-rights look as shaky and dizzy and weak as Terrible himself felt as they poured out of the Brownstone...probably the very biggest thing to realize was that the Brownstone itself, which had formed such an admittedly impressive backdrop for what would probably have been (and still might be) some intense hostilities...was gone. The three JSAers were still there, gamely stepping up toward Blackrock and Livewire and the Puzzler – the more aggressive and bloodthirsty members of Terrible’s crew – but the Brownstone itself had apparently decided to go visit Coney Island for the day. It was suddenly just gone. And there was no gaping hole to indicate where it had been, either. Just...all of a sudden, Terrible and his peeps and these three little JSA types (kind of very lower-level, dregs-of-the-JSA-barrel types, at that) seemed to be on some street in Manhattan that looked like any other downtown street in Manhattan, and one that by the looks of it, had never played host to the Brownstone at all.

Just what in the hell was happening here...?

The lithe Italian sorceress who went by the name Virtuosa didn’t know this just yet, but she was as confused by events as Mister Terrible, and would have been just a bit surprised at the keenness of his analysis of the situation.

For her part, she, too, was having some trouble with nausea and with recall, but she was fairly certain that most of the costumed-but-non-JSA people arrayed about the city intersection were not exactly teammates of hers. She couldn’t manage to pluck the details from her fevered whirlwind of thoughts at the present moment, but the things that did jump out for her were that she had been visiting the stronghold of a certain mad scientist type with a teleporting friend...that they had dropped off a captured former ally of theirs who was an enemy to the mad scientist and now an enemy of theirs as well...that this was meant as a peace offering of sorts to the mad scientist, and a show of good faith that they had had nothing to do with whatever it was that their former ally had done to antagonize the mad scientist, as the former ally had been acting alone and against specific orders...and that the former ally had then jumped through some kind of emergency teleport-gate he’d had set up for just such a last-second escape.

Virtuosa was having great difficulty pulling forth the identities of anyone who wasn’t here on the street with her in person, but she also seemed to recall that her own teleporting ally had immediately and very ungallantly ditched her, ‘porting out himself, but leaving her behind to face any possible wrath from the mad scientist and his gallery of metahuman flunkies. It had seemed the lesser choice of two evils at the time to follow them through the new teleportal that they raged through in their hasty pursuit of their quarry – better that than to stay with the mad scientist in his own lair and explore his definition of hospitality.

So here she was, fighting off vertigo and clinical-level confusion, and she, too, noticed that the big, red demon-looking creature known as Sabbac was practically kissing the pavement under the weight of his own incapacity, which was very surprising – as something of an expert on sorcerous lore, she knew of Sabbac, and had expected him to be made of vastly hardier stock than this.

She had not yet noticed that the JSA members also seemed disoriented and rather trembly in their tracks – truth be told, as there were only three of them stacked up against nine extra-human criminals, Virtuosa wasn’t overly concerned with them just yet. She was, however, concerned with the fact that the Brownstone from which they had issued forth had somehow simply vanished into the urban twilight.

She watched as several of the villains nearby engaged the three game but outmatched heroes, and she took a firm grip on the bow and the violin with which she could play mystical melodies that could rewrite the world around her...and she tried to formulate some kind of game-plan that might end with her not being jailed or killed.

The villainess called Blue Moon was torn: on the one hand, she always enjoyed a chance to show off her great strength, and especially when any such opportunity involved the pounding of any so-called ‘heroes’...but on the other hand, something felt off here.

Blue Moon was a magically-empowered assassin, who was essentially a normal human woman during the daytime, but who gained the power of flight plus tremendous might and durability at nighttime, with that might and durability growing ever greater as the moon waxed toward full. In fact, when she was at her full moon peak, she could stand toe to toe with the best and brightest the hero world had to offer: Superman, Wonder Woman, that big-mouthed Power Girl...

It had been an hour or so after sundown when Blue Moon and her group had gone crashing through the hastily erected teleportal in pursuit of...someone she couldn’t quite put a name to at the moment...and the moon was at about three-quarters just now, so she was definitely feeling her oats, as they said, and ready to juggle locomotives if there were any around and she got bored enough. The disorientation effect had hit her just as it had hit all of them, but she’d shaken it off more quickly and more completely than most of the others, it seemed. She was certainly doing a lot better than Ishmael Gregor, who was down on one knee, mewling, and scoring grooves in the pavement with his clawed, clutching fingers, and practically baying in pain or sickness.

Gregor, they could worry about later, though. What bothered her at the moment wasn’t the fact that three of her hottest-headed teammates were rushing straight into combat with the trio of heroes that had popped up in their faces from out of the JSA Brownstone...it was rather how they were going about it.

She wouldn’t, of course, expect anything but instant hostile engagement in such a situation from those three – but they should just be smarter about it, that was the thing.

Livewire and the Puzzler were both glory-hounds, self-adoring ditzes for all their intelligence on paper, who both hated Superman passionately, and by extension, all of his allies in the ranks of the super-powered boy scouts and girl scouts. They’d never miss a chance to flex muscle against any self-declared costumed hero that might arrive on the scene, regardless of what else might be happening. And then Lucia, the woman who was bonded to the alien Blackrock artifact and had taken its name as her own...Lucia had apparently been a South American revolutionary when Lex Luthor himself hooked her up with the alien gemstone, chosen by him because she was, as she later recounted it, ‘Like an avatar of the concept of bloodthirstiness itself.’ Blue Moon never did find out if those words had come from Luthor, or if Lucia was just indulging in a bit of self-aggrandizement, but whichever it was, she had to admit that Lucia did certainly like to spill blood with the fervor of a berserk Viking whenever possible.

The problem here, though, again, wasn’t that the three women were engaging the three JSA benchwarmers confronting them; the problem was in how they were going about it.

Blue Moon had tangled with the JSA on several occasions at this point, and had made it her business to study them – she was a professional after all. The three members getting up in their collective face at the moment were certainly not three of the hero group’s most well-known or most powerful, but as with any annoying super-cop, they had their surprises, and it always, always paid to never underestimate them.

Here you had the martial artist known as the Judomaster, the mimetic substance-mimicry guy called Amazing Man (in Blue Moon’s opinion, by the way, this was possibly the single stupidest hero name currently in use among the ranks of the white hats), and the swordswoman known as Nemesis, who seemed to be acting as field-leader. The tricky facts for each:

Judomaster, a supremely athletic Japanese woman, emitted some kind of ‘aversion field,’ such that you couldn’t land a direct blow on her. If she didn’t want to be touched, struck, shot, stabbed, poked, kicked, elbowed, or bitch-slapped, she wasn’t going to be. The best way to lay a beat-down on her was to deliver a more widespread or scattershot assault...like, Blue Moon herself wouldn’t try to get in there and just unload a bunch of right crosses and uppercuts, because she’d be there whiffing unsuccessfully all night long – she’d have, say, her crewmate Effigy over there, unload a sheet of flame at the woman that was six car-lengths wide and two stories high, and see if the nimble wench could dodge something like that. Instead, Livewire was trying to tag her with lightning bolts, which was doing nothing but tearing up the surrounding landscape and setting off car alarms.

Nemesis, a tall Greek redhead, was almost as agile as Judomaster, carried a couple of finely made swords and a passel of other bladed weapons, and could perfectly copy any physical feat or fighting style she observed. This meant that not only could she bust out moves lifted in the past from people like Batman and the Huntress, but she was copping new material from her ally, the Judomaster, even now, as the combat unfolded. She was dodging blast after blast from Blackrock, sending Lucia into a battle-rage that would be of no help to anyone.

And finally Amazing Man...a big, buffed out, African-American guy who hailed from New Orleans, Amazing Man could absorb the physical properties of any material he touched. Get his mitts on some metal, and bang, he was a guy made of living metal, with all the strength and unbreakability that that implied. Touch some stone, and he was a guy made of stone. With that in mind, what you wanted to do was to stay out of his reach, and swat him down from a distance. Now him, Blackrock could pepper with blasts – that would be a fine strategy. She was too busy with her grudge-match against Nemesis now, though. Instead, they’d left the Puzzler to tangle with him. The Puzzler, who had a body composed of ever-changing, interlocking ‘puzzle pieces’ that she could separate and rejoin at will with a kind of self-directed telekinesis...puzzle pieces made of some kind of mysterious, indestructible material. Puzzle pieces she was currently trying to flay Amazing Man with by whirling about him in a high-speed storm. This would have turned a normal human into something like a bloody frappe in a few seconds, sure. With Amazing Man, though, all it did was allow him to transform his own body into the same material that hers was made of. Instead of killing him dead, she’d essentially granted him the same imperviousness that she enjoyed.

He immediately leaped past his dexterous teammates and tried to tackle Livewire out of the air. She managed to push back away from him – Livewire could levitate on cushions of electricity, and her abilities in this realm increased in cityscapes, where there was power humming all around the environment – but the Puzzler had clearly just given the heroes a bit more of an edge than they’d had coming into the fight. Now who would they assign to square off against Amazing Man? Blue Moon figured she might have to wade in and see if her own strength could outmatch whatever the hell it was that the Puzzler was actually made of (the Puzzler would never give with simple answers on that score, either: “Come on, it’s a puzzle! I’m a puzzle!”). Hopefully Amazing Man wouldn’t be able to absorb Blue Moon’s magic strength when she tried to clock him, but it seemed like that might be a risk she’d have to take...

She was getting ready to step up, her long, white cape flapping in the night-breeze in a way she had to admit felt pretty majestic...and that was when the commanding voice rang out from above, resounding in their ears, and she realized a second later, directly in their minds as well...

Martyn Van Wyck had spent his early and mid-twenties bumming around the outskirts of the music business in Seattle, his delusions of grandeur arriving on the scene almost twenty years too late to capitalize on the fame and momentum of the Grunge Era. A decided lack of talent probably also played a significant role in Martyn’s inability to make any headway in the music scene, as did a deep-rooted laziness, plus some thoroughly unrealistic expectations.

Martyn’s fortunes had taken a turn for the bizarre one night, however, when he was literally abducted by aliens – like, in an honest-to-god flying saucer. Why they’d picked him, Martyn had zero clue, but they’d done all kinds of weird experimentational crap to him, and when they finally turned him loose, Martyn found himself transformed into a white-skinned, flame-headed character who could fly, could survive in the vacuum of deep space, and best of all, who could emit seemingly limitless amounts of fire from his hands or his eyes or his mouth, and who could then control and shape that fire with his mind. He’d taken the name ‘Effigy’ (okay, someone else had had to clue him in on the unfamiliar word, but he’d adopted it immediately), and vowed never again to use or respond to the name Martyn Van Wyck, which he would forever associate with a time of deep disappointment, killed-dead dreams, and general, soul-crushing loser-ishness in his life. Effigy had entered the world of super-human affairs (on the crime side of things, almost by default, as being a hero was hard frigging work), and intended to never look back.

The problem was, though, that in situations like this one here at present, in which scads of other super-types were also running around – super-types with way more experience than he himself had – he oddly enough felt more than ever like plain old, dim-witted, hard-luck Martyn Van Wyck. He should have been in his glory, a young fire-god rubbing shoulders with the biggest and baddest super-crooks going, but he felt like a scared little kid about to be exposed at any minute as a fraud playing at a game of being grown-up.

He watched almost idly as that sexy Blackrock chick and tasty little Livewire and that wacky Puzzler broad (who was weirdly hot, too, despite being inhumanly composed of puzzle pieces that seemed to be made of some material that looked like a combination of metal and plastic) all geared up to paste the smug mugs of the hero squad racing out to mess with their group. He wasn’t sure what to do, which was the problem – being not sure of what to do seemed par for the course for him, even while everyone around him seemed so absolutely self-assured. Should he lend a hand, and start lobbing fireballs at the heroes? He wanted to help, and he wanted to grab some of the action for himself, too, but he was afraid that not only might he miss the heroes, but worse yet, he might accidentally tag one of his teammates in the process.

He was relieved of having to make a decision, though, when the voice broke out, ringing in their ears, and even, he thought, sounding out directly inside his head, too.

They all paused in what they were doing, and looked up at the owner of that voice.

Martyn “Effigy” Van Wyck nodded in recognition: he wasn’t sure about everything that was going on around him just now, as he felt kind of out of it and even more confused than he usually did, but the big green guy floating in the air above them all, telling them to “stand down,” whatever the hell that meant, was the hero and long-time Justice League member known as the Martian Manhunter. He looked huge and imposing in person, all muscle and alien nobility (Martyn Van Wyck didn’t actually think the word “nobility,” but that was the concept embodied before him).

The Manhunter began telling them all that there were various crisis points breaking out around the globe, and he wanted some answers from them. Martyn had no idea what they might have had to do with any global crisis – all he remembered from earlier was that his whole group had been teleportaled here to bag some super-creep, but that the creep had disappeared, leaving them to deal with a few JSA geeks who were too weak to make that big group’s A-roster (although damned if the two chickies weren’t aces at filling out their tight body stockings – high marks there, from Martyn Van Wyck!). Anyway, the Manhunter droned on, and Martyn grew bored with it all pretty quickly. The thing was, that when his group was out and away from their mad scientist leader (whose name Martyn couldn’t come up with right off the top of his head for some reason, which seemed weird, but...he let that drift for now), they had no designated field commander. Martyn wasn’t sure what to do next or who to follow. He chanced a look at his crewmates, even though the Martian was still jabbering in their heads about ‘visitations’ and ‘extra-dimensional’ something-or-others.

Martyn saw that the three JSA members had kind of ceased their active hostilities, and were looking up at the big green goon in the air, and Martyn’s own homies – even psycho Lucia Blackrock – were also on pause for the moment.

Then Martyn caught Mister Terrible edging over toward him, with stacked blonde, Blue Moon, in tow. Martyn found himself momentarily distracted by Blue Moon’s curves, on awe-inspiring display, what with the steamy outfit she tramped around in: it was like a dark blue one-piece bathing suit with long sleeves, and she accessorized with a cape, short gloves, and knee-high pirate boots, all in white. It quite frankly did things to Martyn’s libido (hell, all of his female teammates were concentration-breakingly fine)...

Terrible whispered at him. “We need to split, VW.”

“Don’t call me that,” Martyn told him. “The name is Effigy.”

“Hey, I’ll call you Effigy Cougar Mellencamp if you want, if you’ll just help us out here. You’re the man for the job, right?”

“What do you want?”

“The boss has been drilling me on the great big scout troop for a couple of months now, dude. That green guy up there? His big weakness? Fire.”

Mister Terrible and Blue Moon both actually smiled at him, and Martyn found an answering grin blooming slowly across his own stark white features.

“I give you a three-count, and on three, you cover his ass with flame like you’re trying to give him twenty coats of paint all at once, okay? Then you pick up Gregor over there and follow us. Yeah?”

Martyn hadn’t noticed before, but big Ishmael Gregor was down and semi-out, moaning and grimacing, and grinding his teeth, which sounded kind of like he was crunching up rocks between them. What the hell was wrong with Gregor?

“Dude. Effigy. You with us?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, man, I’m cool. I got this.”

“Okay, here we go.” Mister Terrible looked at Blue Moon, who nodded back at him, and then tried to catch the various eyes of their posse members. “One...two...three.”

Martyn Van Wyck – Effigy – rose up and forward slightly into the air, and emitted toward the Martian bigmouth what felt like almost a small sun’s worth of flame. Great results, too: as Terrible had said, the Martian curled up into a ball in mid-air, shrieking and whimpering, and basically left unfit to do squat against them right now while they made a break for it. Best of all was the fact that since Martyn controlled flame with his mind, he could keep it in place. He could keep it from burning out...so it just hung there in the air around the Martian, keeping him walled in and tortured.

Martyn – Effigy – then darted over to pick up Sabbac, immune to each other’s heat and flame, oriented on Blue Moon, now ferrying Mister Terrible through the sky, and he and his fellow crew-members flew.

The woman named Lucia would have been hesitant to admit such a thing to anyone, but she was utterly delighted when the American youth called Effigy engulfed the self-righteous Martian in flames. The latter’s screams, both audible and telepathic, had tasted delicious to her, and to the alien Blackrock mineral to which she had become bonded, as well. The Blackrock had embedded itself upon their introduction those few months past, into the center of her breastbone, and had then extruded tendrils and sheets of itself outward, half covering her copper-colored flesh with its own material, creating a sort of costume and armor that she now wore at all times, darkly glittering and all but bursting with immense black energies...and ever since, she had felt the Blackrock in her mind, and they had essentially fused into one new symbiotic creature, far greater than the sum of its parts. It helped that they had similar bloodthirsty leanings, as well...

Lucia knew that Effigy himself hadn’t been the one to hatch even so rudimentary a plan – she had thought to herself on more than one occasion that the challenged-for-brainpower young man had been fortunate that the aliens who had transformed him into a walking conduit for elemental fire had, like her own beloved Blackrock had done with her, left him constantly ‘attired’...his benefactors had gifted him with what seemed to be a permanent suit of deep red body armor that he never needed to remove, and so he was therefore spared the daunting and mentally draining task of dressing himself every morning. But as he had surely not been the one to remember that fire was the bane of the Martian, Lucia had to grudgingly allow a point in her mental ledger for Mister Terrible. She had seen Terrible sidle up to Effigy, Blue Moon behind him, and she knew that it was Terrible that they all had to thank now for orchestrating such an effective distraction and escape path.

As the Martian writhed and screamed in anguish, Lucia watched as Blue Moon picked up Mister Terrible and headed away west, and up...toward the top of the Empire State Building, she realized a moment later, which, closed to the public and largely inaccessible to most at this hour, would allow them a platform from which to regroup slightly and devise some more solid overall getaway scheme. She watched as Effigy scooped up the surprisingly incapacitated Ishmael Gregor – more urgings from Terrible, no doubt, as Effigy would have barely thought to escape himself, let alone bring along Sabbac. Left to his own devices, the boy would more likely have stood idly by, watching his flaming handiwork, and congratulating himself on how pretty it was, until the Martian’s teammates arrived to beat him senseless.

Lucia saw hotheaded little Livewire pick herself up into the air to follow their teammates. Livewire was more of a hoverer and a levitator than a true flyer, and it did take her longer than her other airborne allies to get up a good head of steam, but she was managing to make tracks through the skyway now, sizzling and crackling above the concrete hallways of Manhattan as she went, dwindling into the sky. The Folded Man, too, made his own departure, stepping outward and upward into four-dimensional space courtesy of his self-designed, high-tech, dimension-hopping suit. Lucia didn’t watch too closely, as they all knew from experience that trying to watch Dr. Gauss coming and going in this fashion tended to do unpleasant things to the eyes and the brain of the observer, as three-dimensional sensory equipment was never intended to process such phenomena.

Lucia was about to erase the tall, slinky brunette in the evening gown from their midst – the sorceress was not a part of their group, and while the details remained hazy for Lucia, she knew that the brunette had arrived in their stronghold shortly before all this chaos had erupted, and had helped to deliver an enemy among them...an enemy who had then led them all here, to this confusion and disarray. Lucia had learned long ago that in times of crisis and battle, it is generally better far more often than not to remove any unknown quantities from the playing field. She had erred once or twice in the opposite direction, and had regretted it every time.

Interestingly, though, the Puzzler seemed to have beaten her to it, and was addressing the tall brunette woman even now. Lucia spared a glance toward the heroes, but the Martian was still penned up in the cage of flame that Effigy had constructed, and the three JSA members were milling about below, trying to figure out how they might possibly help him. Lucia grinned again, and felt echoing laughter in her mind as the Blackrock shared her mirth.

She was ready to intercede between the Puzzler and the woman, Virtuosa, but the Puzzler seemed to have things surprisingly well in hand. The brunette was telling the puzzle-piece woman that she could help them if they would take her with them rather than leave her to the tender mercies of the heroes. She claimed knowledge of the Dark Arts, and versatility and such, and offered that the Puzzler’s group might need her just as much as she currently needed them, and it would be of benefit to all to let her join them for the time being...at least until they could sort out what was happening to them.

To her credit, the Puzzler did not simply swallow any of this whole.

“You’re a witch, I get it. And you work the majority of your ‘sorcery,’ or whatever you call it, through that violin, right?”

The slinky brunette nodded.

“Okay, then hand it over first, and I’ll take you with us.”

“Hand it--? Do you realize that this is not only an exceedingly rare Stradivarius, priceless in and of itself, and that it furthermore once belonged to Isaac Bowen, the Fiddler...but it now also carries great enchantments, applied many times over. This instrument is irreplaceable!”

“I can honestly say that at this exact moment in time, I could not possibly care less about any of what you just said. Value, pedigree, whatever – all I know is that it’s a big smoking gun in your hands, and I’m not about to turn you loose among me and my crew with that thing. Hand it over, and you can ride along for now – otherwise, I’ll leave you here to dance with them.” She cocked her right arm, and her thumb detached itself from her hand with a small ‘pop,’ and then jerked itself in mid-air back toward the heroes, before hovering for a moment and then reattaching itself, fitting itself snugly back into its customary location, extending out from her palm. “I guess you might slow them down for a little while, which might keep them from trying to follow us. Or hey, I could just kill you, instead. What do you say, slim?”

The brunette scowled – no less lovely for it, actually – and then offered her treasure. “And the bow?”

“Sure, gimme. Now hop on up, like a bride going over the threshold. Put your arms around my neck, and don’t be afraid to hold tight – I don’t need to actually breathe anymore since I got downloaded into this body, so you can’t choke me or anything.”

“I will surely keep all of that in mind.”

“Fab.” The Puzzler picked up Virtuosa, the violin and bow now held one in each hand, each of which were detached from their respective arms at the wrists, and floating slightly forward of where they normally would have been, giving her arms a slightly elongated look as the Italian sorceress nestled in them. The Puzzler looked around at Lucia, knowing the other woman was still there watching, and she gave with a wink, her puzzle-piece eyes apparently capable of that, although Lucia hadn’t known that until just now. “And away we go.”

The Puzzler lifted up into the sky, her legs breaking into more puzzle-piece components that first stretched out behind her in an optical illusion trail as she went, and then raced after her upper body. She followed the rest of the group west, leaving Lucia momentarily behind. Lucia saw the lone JSA male, his flesh still dressed up in the Puzzler’s mystery material, tear a fire hydrant from the asphalt, and try to use his own hands to angle the resulting jet of water toward the Martian in his burning cage. The water fell well short, and Lucia assumed it would be at least another few minutes before Effigy got so far away (or so distracted by something shiny...or something curvaceous) that he would be forced to allow the flames to gutter and die. She considered killing one or more of the heroes before taking her own leave, as she had been rather frustrated by the earlier brief skirmish, unable to tag her jackrabbit target.

Then she reconsidered – as the Puzzler had said, leaving someone behind might slow the Martian’s pursuit, and she and the Blackrock both sensed something very strange about the goings on here this evening. The JSA members, objectionable though they might be, seemed ‘normal’ to Lucia, as did her own crewmates...but nothing else did. The Blackrock was throbbing with a kind of cautionary pulse, and it was aiming this in her mind at almost everything. If leaving the three JSA members behind would occupy the Martian – who, in hindsight, had indeed seemed to include them in his orders to cease and desist, almost as if he had no idea who they were – then she might be wise to leave them after all.

With a last disappointed growl at the lack of bloodshed this confusing evening had offered up so far, the woman known as Blackrock leaped up into the sky, and was gone, like a vanishing clap of thunder...

Normally, Leslie Willis – the electrically-powered young woman called Livewire – would have been the first one, even in a crisis situation, to bitch, moan, complain, snipe, bait, sow dissent, annoy, prod, aggravate, undermine, and generally make a gargantuan pain in the ass of herself among her fellow super-criminals.

This evening, though, as she touched down in a shower of sparks onto the sky-scoured roof of the Empire State Building, the howling winds whipping themselves into a frenzy at these heights, Leslie was uncharacteristically quiet...thoughtful, even.

She stepped down out of the air not long after Blue Moon and Effigy had carted up Mister Terrible and Sabbac, respectively. The Folded Man stepped out from between gusts of wind not long after, when no one was looking, and they didn’t have all that long to wait until first the Puzzler showed up toting the tall brunette woman with the violin, and then Blackrock arrived, bringing up the rear.

Several of the others started in right away, arguing about where to go, what to do, what to prioritize. Gregor was in a pretty bad way still, although the rest of them seemed more or less okay, but for the continued confusion and memory problems.

Mister Terrible wanted to see about reconnecting with their boss...but then allowed that this would be more easily accomplished if only any of them could remember exactly who their boss was.

Effigy and Blue Moon wanted to know whether they shouldn’t be doing something to try to help Sabbac. The Puzzler and psycho-Lucia were more concerned with what to do about the violinist (apparently her name was Virtuosa).

Leslie decided it was up to her to point out their larger problem.

“All this niggling crap, these little nuisances you’re all whining about: these are just symptoms. You know – of the real problem?”

They all looked at her. Petite little spitfire, with her skin as white as Effigy’s, and her shock of spiky hair just as chalk-white to match – she was physically the smallest of the bunch of them, but she knew how to command attention. Knew, hell – she craved it. She lived for it. That need had driven her to become a successful Metropolis radio personality before her mutant powers of electrical manipulation had manifested, feeding her manic hatred and jealousy of Metropolis’ hero, Superman, and vice versa, hatred feeding the power.

But manipulating electricity wasn’t the sum total of her mutant gifts. Not even the half of it.

“Oh, yeah,” she told her crewmates, “we got way bigger problems than who’s gonna burp poor little Ishmael or what to do with Twiggy’s violin. Do none of you geniuses realize that we’re not on our own world anymore? We’re not. I’m positive now – we’re not on our own Earth.”

The group continued to look at her. Effigy’s eyes strayed down to her breasts, then her waist, her hips, her legs, and back up again in reverse order, but then her words seemed to penetrate even his denser gray matter, and she had them all again.

“Look, you all know I’m not just, like, a little generator of lightning bolts. I can tap into all kinds of energy, including broadcasts in the atmosphere. I can feel the waves in the air, and I can even pick up information. I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the last few months, and I’ve started to get familiar with some of the general patterns in the air. They form a sort of...I don’t know, informational landscape?”

She looked over at the Folded Man, the most scientifically-minded of their bunch. He shrugged and nodded at her, as if to affirm that her phrase was doing the job well enough, and she should go on.

“Well, everything is different here. It was fine when we stepped through that first portal, right? It was fine when the JSA alarms went off, and the three big-shot heroes came trooping down their front steps at us...but then everything changed. At first, I thought the JSA geeks’d done something to us. It was only then that Gregor went down, right?”

Mister Terrible agreed. “I think so, yeah. And that was when the JSA squad seemed to get hit as hard as us by the...whatever it was. And then their Brownstone was gone.”

“What?” A few of them had apparently not even registered that rather major development, but a few more backed up Terrible.

“So you see what I mean? I don’t know how we got here, but I think it’s a sign of something kinda big and kinda bad, you know? I think a bunch of us got somehow ‘ported not just to New York, but then to a different world’s New York completely, and I think those JSA feebs got zapped here right along with us. I think that that Martian we saw is this world’s version of the Martian, and I don’t think he knew who the three heroes were any more than he knew us. Let me ask you guys: do any of you remember who we were working for when we left HQ just, what – an hour ago? Do you remember who we were chasing that led us to the Brownstone?”

No one could fill the silence.

“Anyone want to argue with me? Anyone got a better explanation for what happened to us, and why we can’t remember certain stuff?”

“She is right.” All eyes turned to Ishmael Gregor.

The mighty Sabbac was trying to push himself up from his knees, and was having a real rough go of it.

“Little Leslie is correct. We are...on different...different world.”

They all stared at him, and then nodded acceptance.

“What, are you kidding me?” Livewire was not having this. “I say it first, and no one buys it from me, but Gregor says the same thing, and it’s The Gospel?” She threw up her white-gloved hands. “You people make me ill, you know that?”

“Let him talk, Leslie. Gregor, what do you know about all this...?” Blue Moon seemed to be speaking for all of them...

“Some of you...some of you know about Gregor...yes? I am empowered by...six lords of demon. They each give power to Gregor, and their initials make up Gregor’s new name.”

I knew that!” The Puzzler had to lean in to claim credit. Her index finger floated, detached, above her hand as she pointed out her reasoning. “It’s an acronym: the first initials of each of the demon-lords’ names make up the word ‘SABBAC.’ And that’s the ‘magic word’ you say to change back and forth from your human form to your big, tough devil-form.”

“It is this one, yes,” Gregor groaned out. He still seemed to be visibly suffering. “So you see this problem?”

Most of the group shrugged at each other and then looked at the Puzzler again. “You guys can’t solve this one? Okay. Think about it: he gets his abilities from six demon-lords, right? If you buy that as being literally true for the sake of argument here, then you’d have to allow that his demon-lords live in your basic Hell or Hell-type ‘infernal realm’ that’s tied to Earth, right? Our Earth.”

“Ohhhh!” Several of the others echoed this or variations of it together.

“See? So if we all somehow got bumped sideways to some other Earth...”

“I get it.” Blue Moon brushed back her long blonde hair, full and shimmering in the moonlight. “He’s cut off from the sources of his strength.”

“But hey,” Livewire piped up. “If this really is a different Earth – like I said it was – and they have a version of the JLA Martian here, then wouldn’t they probably also have Gregor’s demon-lord things here, too?”

Gregor groaned again. “They do...but these versions did not agree to letting Gregor carrying their power. In our world, I killed the one who came before me. Stole his power. In this world...he may still be out there. Or maybe they never give power to anyone here. Either way...power from demon-kings of our own Hell, back home...power is fading in Gregor.”

They all considered him: Ishmael Gregor, former Russian mob boss, turned large, demon-creature. Jet-black hair swept straight back from a sharp widow’s peak, a matching goatee, blast-furnace eyes, heavily developed musculature, and his deep red skin all usually combined to spell out a truly terrifying appearance and presence. Now, however, he was clearly ailing – even the wicked-looking horns that sprouted from his forehead and rose up and back to end in sharp dagger-points just behind his head now seemed to be drooping slightly.

Blackrock stepped forward slightly. “We have to fix this. We have to make him well again.”

Several of the others cocked their heads and their eyebrows in expressions that seemed to say ‘Not necessarily...’

“We cannot kill him or leave him behind,” Lucia continued, arguing with their expressions. “What if the authorities here were to find him? Could they not somehow use him to track down the rest of us?”

The Folded Man took his turn. “I think Blackrock is right, actually. If they have something like STAR Labs here, they’d possibly be able to cobble together some kind of device to home in on our vibrational frequencies, which – us being from a different plane – would be unique on this Earth. That might be a little bit unlikely or far-fetched...but then again, so is finding ourselves on a parallel world. For that matter, so are demon-lords and electric girls and Folded Men...”

“So, what – do I gotta keep carrying him around? How long I gotta do that for?” Effigy clearly fancied himself to be meant for grander work.

“Not long if we don’t play this smart,” Blue Moon told him. She addressed the group: “We need to find someplace to go to ground for a little while. Figure out what to do. Can we get home? And if we can, how? And if we can’t...what do we do here? What do we do as a group – which, I think, staying as a group would be our smartest play at this point – and what do we do about Gregor?”

The Folded Man again spoke up. “A lot of you can fly, but I’m afraid you might be leaving evidence of your passage up there like sky-writing for the wrong kinds of eyes to see every time you do it. I mean, some of it can’t be helped, but...let me find a place where we can hole up. If geography here is like it is back home, then there’ll be some nice, woodsy parts of Westchester – that way. Some pretty wealthy types have big, secluded houses out there, and the same wealthy types also vacation a lot. I think it’s our best bet for right now. I can 4-D myself over there and find something, and then come back and tell you where it is.”

“But then we gotta fly over there, right? And you said that was bad.” Effigy sounded less worried about possible detection by authorities, and more resentful that he might have to cart Sabbac across greater metropolitan New York, and then slightly upstate.

The tall, slender sorceress known as Virtuosa raised one elegant hand. “Not necessarily. If the Folded Man assents, and you are all willing, I can weave a spell that will allow us to step across space in small groups to the location he finds.”

The members of the small assemblage all looked at each other, and began to shrug in ones and twos, lacking any better ideas, and now, thanks to the Folded Man, all of them also somewhat paranoid about any possible advanced sensory equipment that might be out there, scanning the skyways, and ready to call down forces unknown upon all their heads.

Virtuosa raised a questioning eyebrow at the Folded Man himself, and he, too, shrugged, assenting. “This will require a small bit of preparation,” she told him. She looked around, and then gestured toward a different part of the observation deck, clearly wanting the two of them to adjourn to that area for whatever bit of spell-casting she intended. Blue Moon, apparently fancying herself leadership material at this juncture, silently appointed herself to accompany and observe.

Gregor watched them go, his eyes still quietly blazing. He had as yet failed to reveal two important items of which he had been aware almost the instant they had all been transported to this other Earth.

For one thing, he knew that this world’s counterparts to his six demonic benefactors – Satan, Aym, Belial, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, and Createis – were already apprised of his presence, and had been since the instant he appeared here. They were unsure what to do about him just yet, however. He could feel them beginning to debate, though, and he seemed to intuit that his predecessor’s counterpart did exist here as well, which might complicate things.

And the other item he hadn’t yet revealed to his companions, as he felt he might need it as a card to play later should their sentiments begin to drift from “Let’s see if we can help Gregor” to “Let’s cut Gregor loose and dump his body in the nearest landfill”...that other item was the fact that the pathway home was not yet completely closed. If it was, his power would be just as completely gone, and he would be stuck back in his small, weak, human form (a prospect that, after experiencing existence in his current, magnificent form, made him want to scream, kill something, and vomit all at the same time). Even as he could feel the six demon-lords of this plane debating him, he could still also feel the faint connection to his own home world’s demon-kings...who were also pondering what to do about him. Would it be worth the expenditure of effort it would require of them to try to drag him back home, across inter-dimensional space? Or would it be an acceptable loss to simply sever their connection to him after investing their significant time and energies in empowering him in the first place so that he might carry on evildoing in their names? Gregor was not certain, but he believed that the two groups of demon overlord counterparts were possibly even holding discussions with each other, across the weakened dimensional barrier.

What this all meant to him in immediate terms, however, was that the way home was perhaps not quite irrevocably closed to them, if they only knew how to find it and traverse it.

Sabbac held his head in his mighty, clawed hands, and tried to do the one thing for which he was still so poorly equipped: Sabbac waited...

“This symbol...” Lovely Virtuosa tapped the sideways figure-eight that he wore on his chest with one delicate finger.

Dr. Edwin Gauss cleared his throat. “It’s...it’s the symbol for infinity.” The Folded Man sported a strange, mostly drab-colored bodysuit of his own design that allowed him to step down into the utter flatness of two dimensions or up into the unknowable complexities of four. It also functioned as fairly effective body armor, leaving only his face exposed to the open air, yet he found he could still somehow feel the alluring Italian woman’s touch, even through the suit...and he found himself liking the sensation quite a bit, perhaps more than was wise. He darted a glance at Blue Moon, who was watching the two of them, and he hoped that she wasn’t picking up on his immediate attraction to the tall, willowy sorceress – Blue Moon seemed like the type who would always be pragmatic enough to use something like that against a person if it would further her individual cause to do so. Fortunately, she seemed to be more intent on whatever it was that Virtuosa was gearing up to do.

“Yes,” the sorceress told Edwin, her eyes – both dark and bright at the same time somehow – testifying that she was actually fairly well acquainted with infinity. “I will form a sort of tether between us – like the sorcerous equivalent of tying a rope around your waist – and when you find a suitable location where you think we might all be safe for a time, you must close your eyes, and both call to me by name in your mind, and picture this symbol as you do. This will be like tugging on the ‘rope’ and telling me that you are ready for me to follow. You can do this?”

Gauss nodded. “Find a good spot, then call you by name in my mind while I picture the infinity symbol. Not a problem.”

“And then what?” Blue Moon didn’t want to be left out of the process. “You just zap us all over to wherever Folded Guy is?”

Virtuosa smiled at Edwin first, before turning to the blonde powerhouse. “It is not quite so simple as that. As I said, Dr. Gauss will be the tether. When he finds an acceptable place to serve as our new temporary base of operations, I will bring people to him. The spells I am using do have their limits, however, and I can only convey three people at one time.”

“So, but you can still do it, right? You what, you just make a couple of extra trips?”

“Edwin,” said Edwin.

Both women looked at the scientist.

“You can call me Edwin,” he elaborated for Virtuosa’s benefit. “You don’t have to call me Dr. Gauss. That’s so formal...”

The brunette smiled at him again, and Blue Moon looked baffled. “Keep the blood in your big brain for now, Eddie, okay? Focus. So you make a few extra trips instead of just one,” she asked Virtuosa again, “but you can get all of us there, yes?”

“Yes. But there is one thing more. I will have to ferry each group across myself. When I make the trip, if I intend to return here, I will need a tether on this end as well.” Her firm gaze was a bit unnerving, even to someone more hardened, like Blue Moon, perhaps because those dark/bright eyes had no irises or pupils... “Would you like to serve in this role? It would mean I work a similar spell with you, and you will be the last to accompany me to our new location.” The fact that she had a small red gemstone embedded in the otherwise smooth skin of her forehead was also a bit unsettling...

Unsettled or not, though, Blue Moon, ever on guard against betrayal, was clearly running down the possibilities in her head: while it wouldn’t make all that much sense for these people to cut her loose, if they did want to do that for some reason, they’d have the perfect chance to just step through the Italian broad’s magic doorway, and then pull it shut behind them, leaving Blue Moon abandoned in this other-Manhattan, with no resources, and with the next sunrise – which would herald a new interval of powerlessness and normalcy stretched out ahead of her until the following nightfall – bearing down on her. But then she seemed to shake off that thought, reasoning that if the group as a whole intended to start pruning away members, they’d already be dumping big, red body parts of the ailing Ishmael Gregor in various parts of the city.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll do it.”

“Very good,” Virtuosa approved. “Then for you, once I pass through to the other location, you must also think of me by name, and you will picture this symbol.” She tapped one of the two clasps that fastened Blue Moon’s white cape to the shoulder-fronts of her dark blue bodysuit. One of the clasps was in the shape of a small, five-pointed star, while the other one – the one that Virtuosa was gently indicating with her finely manicured fingernail – was a slightly larger crescent moon that seemed to glow with its own silvery internal light.

“Think your name, picture the moon – got it.”

They looked at each other, and Virtuosa raised the violin and bow she had retrieved from the Puzzler. “Do not worry,” she told them, “there will be no pain.”

“Wait one second.” Blue Moon looked at Edwin. “You’re a big-time teleporting guy, right, Doc? So can’t you just step sideways back to our real world? Isn’t there some way you can just bop yourself back home?”

Edwin shook his head. “With this suit, I can travel in two or four dimensions as easily as we all generally travel in three...but only within the confines of our natural universe. This here...” He swept his arms open and outward to indicate the world they now found themselves in. “This is a completely different universe. It’s possible – obviously – to travel between universes, but it’s no simple thing. I was the youngest person to ever graduate from MIT’s physics program...I’ve been written up repeatedly as being the intellectual successor to Terry Sloane, the original Mister Terrific...and I haven’t ever gotten even close to cracking the physics involved in that kind of travel. I’m guessing Virtuosa hasn’t been able to achieve it coming at the thing from her own field of expertise, either...?”

The sultry mystic shook her head, still slightly smiling at him.

“Anyway...this is our best plan for now. I can start trying to figure out a way home, but that’ll take resources...tech at my disposal, power supplies, security, you know the kind of set-up. Let’s get out of the city, stake out a place to lay low, get some food and shelter for those of us who still need such things, and then we can start to figure out what to do and how to do it.”

Blue Moon balled her fists on her hips and scrutinized them both for a long minute, as if trying to squeeze out any evidence of treachery with her very eyesight. She finally relented, perhaps realizing that her lack of x-ray vision was getting her nowhere, and every second wasted on it was a second closer to dawn.

“Okay,” she allowed. “Let’s go.”

For the second time, Virtuosa raised her violin and her bow, and softly, low beneath the howling of the wind, she began to play...

The witch-lady with the fancy violin seemed to be as good as her word...at least this time.

Valerie Van Haaften – the Puzzler – still wasn’t sure what to make of the sorceress just yet. Some of the men were obviously buying into her physical charms, but while Valerie couldn’t really summon forth too many details about what their group had been doing before being so rudely shunted over to this other-Earth, she was positive that Virtuosa had not only not been a part of it, but Valerie was pretty sure she’d been working for some other faction. Sexy dame or no, she was one to keep the detachable eyes on – that was for sure.

Valerie actually figured it would be best to use this current stretch of downtime to not only scope out Virtuosa, but also to size up her other crewmates. She knew that they’d all been gathered together by some mover-slash-shaker back home, and that they’d formed a sort of loosely knit unit of operatives who did their boss’s bidding, but she was finding that if she’d known any of her current mob well before, the details had gotten largely misplaced in transit when they’d been shuffled sideways into this Earth-that-wasn’t-their-Earth.

At least the Folded Man had been able to find them a good place to hunker down and take stock. He’d been right about Westchester. It had taken him a couple of hours, but he managed to send word back to Virtuosa through whatever weird magical telephone line she’d set up between them, and next thing you knew, hop, skip, jump, here they were in this big-ass house set back at least a hundred yards from the only road nearby, and the closest neighbor was barely in the same zip code. The house clearly had owners, as it was furnished, and there was some family-style crap on the walls and scattered around on the furniture surfaces, but it also had kind of a mothballed quality to it. All the dishes were clean and stacked neatly in the cabinets. The fridge was bare of anything short-term perishable (it actually had very little inside it beyond a six-pack of beer, an unopened jar of pimentos, and a box of Arm & Hammer baking soda). There was no laundry in any of the hampers or in the washing machine or dryer. None of the sinks, tubs, or showers showed even the slightest drop of water not yet evaporated. Gauss explained his find to the group simply by repeating what he’d put forth earlier about these ritzy types taking lots of vacations; when Valerie had pressed him off to one side later, though, he admitted that the people who owned this particular house seemed to be counterparts of people he knew back on their home Earth, and both versions seemed equally travel-happy.

This did raise some interesting questions in Valerie’s mind about the possible parallelism between the two worlds, but answering those would take time, and some gathering of firsthand empirical evidence.

Meanwhile, the group decided to settle in for a stay. The plan was for the information-gathering types to start running down some details on this new world. They set Livewire up in front of the computer in the upstairs office so she could start communing with this world’s internet. Virtuosa wanted one of the bedrooms so she could play some kind of mystical fact-finding ditty on her violin. Gauss was to scout around from his fourth-dimensional hidey-hole, and also pilfer some food and supplies for the group, including some clothing they could wear beyond the gear they’d showed up with. This was especially important with respect to Blue Moon, who was the only one of them who could really pass for normal (Gauss could actually pull it off, too, if he’d just take his damn Folded Guy suit off, but for the moment, he was refusing to do so).

For her part, Valerie wasn’t necessarily going to be the best at compiling intel (although she could pick up some data at night, when it would be difficult to see her zooming here and there through the nearest business districts, emptied of most traffic in the late hours), but she was top-notch when it came to assembling other people’s information and then sifting through it for patterns.

She was actually looking forward to that part of it. It was true that some of the others were less than thrilled about their current situation – Sabbac, for one, obviously – but Valerie saw it as a possibly great opportunity. Assuming there weren’t any serious, “Twilight Zone”-style differences coloring this world that they just hadn’t uncovered yet, then they might have a real advantage here. If they were truly unknown – and the Martian mind-reader not knowing any of them seemed to be a good indicator that this was indeed at least a possibility – then they were loose in a world where they had valuable information about its heroes, but those same heroes wouldn’t know squat about any of them. If they could just stick together without self-destructing, they’d be like this secret little society of super-crooks all primed to make a big mark.

“What’cha readin’?”

Valerie looked up to find Martyn Van Wyck – Effigy – standing nearby, looking restless. She realized idly that his ever-flaming head didn’t seem to present a problem with respect to the house’s smoke detectors, which was something none of them had thought to worry about beforehand. No harm done, though, it seemed...

Valerie was currently kicked back in one of the wooden kitchen chairs, her feet propped up on the table. “Newspaper. Just looking for the crossword puzzle, the jumble, some Sudoku – anything like that. Heh. Heh heh...” She started chuckling at something on the page in front of her.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, I was just flipping past the want ads, and this name here of this company caught my eye: Sologig, it’s called.”

Van Wyck shrugged, a million miles from understanding the joke. “I don’t get it.”

Valerie looked over at him. “It’s not the name itself, but if you read it backwards, it says ‘Gigolos.’ Like it’s some sort of secret-coded job placement ad for out of work man-whores. Heh...”

“Oh, you mean like dudes who are hookers for, like, chicks who are hard up? Lemme see...”

Valerie held up the paper, indicating the ad, and watched with a mixture of amusement and a kind of despair as he visibly sounded out the word with his lips. Van Wyck was clearly not one to do much reading even in regular, forward-running fashion, let alone backwards, and this seemed to be pushing his reading capabilities to their meager limits.

“Do you see it yet? My arms are getting tired.” They weren’t – the Puzzler’s arms and other body parts didn’t actually get tired, not in the way that flesh and bone human body parts did, but Effigy didn’t need to know that.

“Oh. Huh, yeah! ‘Gigolos.’ Ha ha. That rules...”

He then wandered off, probably looking for things to burn that nobody would miss.

Valerie looked at the ad in question again. A secret job placement ad, she’d said.

A secret little society of super-crooks, she’d thought.

It would work, she was suddenly sure of it...if only they could crew up properly, and not fall into the usual bad guy pitfalls of trying to cross and double-cross each other for fun and profit.

Sure they didn’t know yet what had happened to them to have brought them here, which was definitely a damn good question worth answering...but until they did, if they just played things smart, then their current circumstances might actually be even more lucky break than misfortune. It was all a mystery, yes, this weird dimensional displacement or whatever it was, it was all quite the puzzle...but they’d figure it out. Figuring out puzzles was what Valerie Van Haaften was all about, and she had a good feeling about this one...

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