Disclaimer: This story takes place in the universe of Scyphi's The New Adventures of Darkwing Duck, a world where Darkwing has returned after a seven year disappearance into the Negaverse, Gosalyn and Honker are all grown up and fighting crime as the Crimson Avenger and Techno, where Negaduck has recently nearly taken over St. Canard with a multi-dimensional army, and now after his defeat the world is going through a few changes.
It's extremely important that you read Darkwing Duck Returns and NADWD first, as the prominent original characters (and in some cases, lack thereof), plot developments and daring twists from those stories will be used without much (if any, at times) explanation in these continued stories.
Retake Five - Pt 1 – Back In The Saddle
St. Canard, The Bad Part Of Town
The Old Haunt had seen better days. Anyone who had ever so much as looked at the crusty old bar knew that. In the old days, it was a fact it's loyal patrons were resigned to: and anyone who wasn't a regular stupid enough to actually walk in risked a close-and-personal history lesson about why the place could never stay pristine – one typically taught by way of ramming faces through walls.
But in the present, it was something of a relief. The Old Haunt had always seen better days. So even when singed and ruined, it still felt like nothing really changed. The rest of the city, on the other hand… it was easiest to simply say that was a lot to come to grips with, and a good drink with old "friends" didn't hurt much in that regard.
It was difficult to believe, even now. Few people ever really believed that Negaduck could ever make good on his promises and threats. He had been around for years, after all, and the city was still standing. Supervillains somehow became easy to ignore when you saw them every other week. The idea that he and his gang were capable of amassing an army blindsided the desensitized populace, let alone his being capable of nigh-completely taking over their dear St. Canard and defeating its protectors – even temporarily. The day it happened, even the brutes, criminals and thugs that usually populated the Haunt were shocked as the city simply… fell. And before they could amass a means of fighting back, they fell as well.
Negaduck spent more time than anyone was comfortable with living like a king, bleeding the city dry and scheming to spread his evil across the globe, as St. Canard's people languished as mind-controlled shades of themselves. All the while, monsters prowled the streets and armies fought each other to the bitter end under or against the banner of the Negaverse.
The way those who managed to stay free described it, it was like being stuck in hell.
But now Negaduck was gone, and most citizens were trying to pick their lives back up after the dark times. It was surprisingly easy – there was a lot to be said about a population that could ignore supervillains in the first place, and then go back to their routine a few days after a total invasion. But it was still a shaky time, not the least for Negaduck's former gang… though a better word would be pawns, if they were honest. And they had no reason to lie to themselves any more.
Reginald Bushroot, Quackerjack and Rowe P. W. Lutra never used to frequent the Haunt. That was more Megavolt's speed, back when he was a member. But now they were there every day, it seemed – taking up space, barely drinking and silently annoying the management with their presence. Tonight's visit found them filling up seats at the bar, looking morose and trying not to attract attention.
The Old Haunt had but a single dingy tv with terrible reception, but it showed the news well enough. The faded image of a parade – yet another thrown in the honor of Darkwing Duck and his allies – flashed onscreen. It was ignored by the most of the bar-goers, except those muttering jeers at the unhearing heroes. Occasionally, Rowe or Bushroot glanced up at the screen while Quackerjack sipped something bubbly out of a curly straw – seemingly oblivious.
The reporter on the scene was just finishing up her report. "… and so, yet another celebration of our heroes' victory makes its march through crowded streets, while St. Canard tries to put behind the disarray Negaduck's invasion left us all facing."
Bushroot laughed under his breath. That she was able to say that with a straight face was impressive. She looked practically fresh out of school, yet the network had her doing a job usually saved for far more experienced reporters: a certain sign that even the major news outlets were still in disarray and desperate for new employees.
"As with the other parades and accolades the city has given them," the reporter continued, "invitations were also extended to known criminals Reginald Bushroot, Quackerjack and Rowe P. W. Lutra, along with an offer for a full pardon." Bushroot's laugh died instantly. He and Rowe put their heads down, but Quackerjack kept on drinking. "As well as certain as-of-yet-classified individuals who are confirmed to have come from different dimensional planes from our own. Again, they have all declined. Given these individuals' probable complicity in the events of the invasion, this reporter is unsure what to make of this… but it would be nice to have a few more allies as the city regrows."
She sounded almost hopeful. Bushroot had to chuckle again at the poorly hidden youthful idealism.
"This city really knows how to set itself up," he thought to himself.
The story was wrapping up, now. "Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how this city will go about recovering after the cataclysm. It may take months, or even years for us to return to where we were. There are still more questions to ask, many of Darkwing Duck and S.H.U.S.H. themselves, but for now there is much to celebrate – and this reporters intends to do so." She winked at the camera. "This is Julia Plumis, signing out for now."
The bar rumbled as the report went off, mostly lowlives jeering about the pretty reporter. Bushroot and Rowe, who by now were watching earnestly, look back down at their drinks.
"Well, that was boring." Quackerjack said absently. He had taken to balancing his drink on top of a toothpick tower. The others were mildly surprised he was even paying attention. "Who's up for Mr. Rooster's Neighborhood?"
"Oh, I don't know. Seemed pretty informative to me!" The trio turned. A burly bovine thug walked up to them, towing a trio of pug faced goons.
"Buzz off, mate," Rowe grunted, not bothering to look up.
"Hey, now! We wanted to thank ya! Helping to save the city and all. You boys are our heroes!" The entire bar erupted in laughter. Spurred on, the thugs stepped into the trio's personal space.
"Some villains." One of the goons joked. "This place is for real bad guys! What're you even doing here?"
"Having cheap drinks over persiflage with philistines, apparently." Quackerjack quipped, now juggling his empty glass in one hand. The thugs bristled, and the ever-present grin on Quackerjack's face grew wider.
"Hey! Are you insulting us?"
Quackerjack hopped off of the barstool, replacing his glass with his faithful Mr. Banana Brain. He leaned into the head head thug's face, squeaking obnoxiously at his souring expression. "How'd you guess, Bess?"
The lowlives were cracking their knuckles now. Bushroot sighed again, and Rowe stared intently at his drink – but they were both stiffening up, preparing to jump into action at any moment. Not noticing this, the head brute continued to posture. "I'll have you know we all lost a lot when Negaduck took over. Some of us lost a little money, some a little power. Some of us just can't sleep right no more." The rest of the bar roared in agreement. "But we ain't stupid like those folks throwin' parades. We know you lot helped him do it."
"We said buzz off, mate." Rowe muttered again, though sharper this time. "Negaduck's not our boss any more."
"Yeah, you turned traitor for the do-gooders just in time to get credit for it," the bull said. He snatched Quackerjack's collar and violently yanked him forward. The others tensed, but didn't move yet. "Problem is, that ain't enough for us."
"So… wait, I'm confused." Quackerjack said, giggling. He didn't even try to get out of the bull's grip. "Are you bothering us because we joined up with the 'do-gooders,' or because we didn't do it fast enough?"
"I… you… same difference!"
Bushroot suddenly stood up in attempt to cut off the conflict before it could continue. "Look, this is getting us nowhere," He said judicially. "Negaduck screwed over everyone. It's true. And we were there for part of it. So what do you want, a pound of flesh? Because that might be a problem."
"Oh, come on!" Quackerjack whined. "Let's just start playing around already!"
"Let it go, Quackerjack…"
"I would if he'd let me go!"
The thugs ignored their arguing. "Pound of flesh?" The bull said. "Well, now that you mention it…"
There was a sudden chorous of kliks, and suddenly they all had knives.
"Alright, fine…" Rowe downed his drink in one gulp and rose to his feet as well. "You lot asked for it…"
Twenty Minutes Later
"And stay out!"
It hadn't been the first time any of the three supervillains had been bodily evicted from someplace. It was the first time in a long while that the hands-on eviction had been handled by someone that wasn't a superhero, a supervillain or some kind of horrible magical superbeast, but that hardly made the feeling of hitting the tarmac less strangely familiar.
Not that it was in the least bit embarrassing, either, no matter who was doing the throwing. The phrase "you should see the other guy" would never have been more apt, should someone come along and ask about it. Chances are those thugs wouldn't be using those knives on anyone for quite a while – it would take a good surgeon to even find them. And that wasn't even mentioning the Old Haunt itself, which would probably need renovations for probably the first time since it was built.
It was one doozy of a fight, that's for sure. Each of them could and would wave it off by tomorrow, no problem. But no, what really bothered them was that it happened in the first place.
"Oh come on, mate, you know that wasn't our fault!" Rowe shouted as the other two pulled themselves out of the dirt. "We were just trying to mind our own business!"
"You're going throw out three loyal customers out to the street because some punks harassed them?" Bushroot added with a scornful sniff. He patted himself through a quick physical checklist, scowling when he noticed a few chipped roots. "That doesn't seem like good business."
The bartender was standing at the door, staring at them with icy, uncouth eyes. "Better than youse think," he grunted in a hoarse, worn-out voice. "Some 'punks' who got the whole bar behind 'em? I can sides with them easy. Turns out that crowd fulla guys what hates you makes up mosta my business. I can handle losin' three has-beens."
The three villains' stares hardened. "Can I nerf him?" Quackerjack said, grinning evilly and hefting a harmless looking – but certainly not actually harmless – toy pistol. The supposed nerf in its felt bullets could lay waste to the entire building with one shot.
There was a long moment, where Rowe and Bushroot actually seemed to be considering it. "Nah." Was the eventual reply. "We've got better things to do, mate."
Without another word, Rowe and Bushroot turned and walked away. Quackerjack lingered for a moment, his dark stare abruptly replaced with a childish grin.
"When you fish those other losers' heads out the plumbing," he laughed, turning away with a shrug. "Tell 'em they can play with us any time!"
The three stalked off down the street, aimlessly wandering into the night. After watching them go, the bartender let out the breath he had been holding since the pistol came out. "Supervillains, I swear…" he groaned, thinking about the unpleasant post-brawl mess he would have to clean up after closing tonight. To think they were complaining to him, after the state they left his establishment in…
"Now that was fun. What're we going to do next? I've been starving for action." "Rob a bank? Wreak some havoc? Set up a toy drive… of doom? I've always wanted one of those…"
"Let's just go back to the hideout, mate." Rowe sighed.
Quackerjack pouted. "We always go back to the hideout. I wanna have some fun!"
"It just ain't worth it, Quackie," Bushroot muttered quietly. "Maybe tomorrow."
Quackerjack mumbled something about them saying that every day, but Rowe and Bushroot ignored him.
Ever since the fall of Negaduck, the remains of the Fearsome Five had been rather subdued – in fact, as far as anyone outside their circle knew they had disappeared off the face of the Earth. After the time they were forced to spend helping to take their former boss down, the devious enthusiasm that had once led them to make headlines had disappeared, except in Quackerjack's case.
Bushroot often shut himself up in his lab instead of scheming, yet he never seemed to work on any new projects that could have otherwise resulted in amusing shenanigans. And Rowe did little but sit in his room, eating old fish and staring at the wall – or the news, watching footage of Darkwing's partner the Crimson Avenger – sighing dramatically in what Quackerjack felt was a completely pathetic show.
They weren't the only ones. The seedy underbelly of St. Canard was a proverbial ghost town, even if the city itself was starting to regrow some of the bustle and vigor that usually characterized it. After Negaduck's invasion failed, an enormous power vacuum had opened over the city's dark corners. But nobody took it. Sure, there were small-time pretenders who tried to make a name for themselves now that all the big names were out of commission – the Neo Cheese Gang, bless them, almost made the news the other day – but they were generally incompetents and newbies, not real movers and players. Organized crime like the Davidson Gang was ducking its head and supervillainy was at an all time low.
They wouldn't ever admit it, but the problem was hope. Negaduck's defeat had created an atmosphere of mirth and blissful confidence that hovered about the city like silver lining. St. Canard has barely survived, and ultimately defeated, oblivion. Nobody wanted to be the one to break the illusion, even the nastier elements out there. After all, if one were stupid enough to be the first one attacking the city after a cataclysm like that, they would have every hero and crimefighter from St. Canard to Mouseton hunting them down and out for blood… and it would not be pretty.
It was a strange day when the greatest crooks in St. Canard, possibly the world, spend their days sitting in bars grousing about days gone by. Especially when the person responsible for that is Negaduck. But there it was. Thanks to him, the Fearsome Five were spending another night at home wallowing in their uncertainty and sullied reputations rather than doing what they did best. And frankly, Quackerjack was starting to get tired of it. Used to be any one of them could pull off a plan that would bring the city to its knees – or at least to a wobbly, stumbling panic.
And now they were trudging down the street, kicked out of the only bar in town that would take them. It was tragic, really.
Quackerjack had thought once or twice about just leaving the ragged remains of the Fearsome Five and striking out on his own again. It wasn't as if he hadn't done so before. And he knew Rowe and Bushroot had thought about the same more than once. But for some reason, when push came to shove none of them felt inclined to walk away. There was always some excuse or another: it too tedious to find another place that could store all his fake teeth; he couldn't think of anybody else who could really laugh at his jokes; he still owed Bushroot ten bucks from a few years back; or whatever reason he could think of for why he just wasn't leaving… at least not yet…
These thoughts came to a literal screeching halt as he and Rowe crashed into Bushroot, who had suddenly stopped. Quackerjack looked up: they had made it to old industrial building they called home sweet hideout, but that didn't explain the sudden pileup.
"Hey!" He whined, not that he didn't mind an excuse to cut off that train of thought. "What gives?"
Bushroot simply pointed ahead. Rowe and Bushroot followed his finger, and quickly found that their troubles for the night were not quite over yet.
"Oh, what now?!" Rowe groaned, throwing his head back in frustration.
The door to the hideout was ajar. Aimless and possibly washed up or no, no self respecting villain ever left their hideouts unlocked they were expecting someone to "sneak" in, and there were no deathtraps planned for tonight. Someone had busted in – which seemed unbelievable, given that this was one of Negaduck's old hide-aways (the security systems made even Quackerjack nervous). But that seemed to be life for the Fearsome Five these days.
"Just what we need." Bushroot groaned. "An uninvited pest."
"Sounds like fun!" Quackerjack grinned. "Let's give 'em the old Fearsome Five welcome!"
Quackerjack's smile fell into a disappointed scowl. "Aww…" He affected his best "whiny kid" voice, and latched onto Bushroot's leg as if he were a child begging for a toy. "Come on, Papa Bushroot! Pleeeeease?!"
"I mean," Bushroot said sharply, shaking his leg to throw Quackerjack off. "Let's be informed first." He leaned down to chat with some grass growing through the cracks of the sidewalk. After a short but muffled conversation to convinve them to help (muddled with wild tangents about urban planning and photosynthetsis, as it were) the tiny blades obligingly grew into long, winding tendrils. They grew like wildfire, slithering across the ground and into the open door.
A few minutes later, it returned with a status report: the kind of messenger one could only get in a city like St. Canard.
"Bad luck, Quackerjack," Bushroot said, listening to the grass gab away. "There's no one inside. But someone did leave us a package."
Rowe tensed, ignoring the excited "ooooh!" that the whole street could've probably heard from Quackerjack. "Ominous, mate. A bomb, d'ya think?"
"Not unless someone's crazy or ballsy enough to plant a gigantic explosive right in the middle of our lair and then just leave the door open?"
"I would do it" Quackerjack said absently.
The other two looked at him for a moment. Then caught each other's eye. That was a very good point, worth at least a second thought.
"Yeah…" Rowe started slowly. "Buuut… there's no motive."
Quackerjack grinned. "True. If I were going to take this place out I'd do it in a much more festive way than random delivery…"
Laughing at the joke – or at least what two of their number hoped was a joke – the trio made their way inside to inspect things for themselves.
The "package" was difficult to miss – not while it was sitting in the middle of their living room. It was large crate, seemingly made of metal. The sides were nondescript and totally void of any identifying marks, and it was far too heavy to lift unassisted. Even with the three of them together, they could barely get it off of the floor.
"Okay…" Rowe panted, as they finally gave up moving it for now. "Who delivered this?!"
There was no answer to be had for that question either. There were no signs of a mailman: no foot prints, no handprints on the door, no tracks where someone might have push or pulled the box.
Whoever arranged to have this brought in was good.
"I'd settle for knowing what it is." Bushroot sighed. He hit his fist against the metal, and winced. "There must be some way to open this stupid- oh!"
At the sound of the word "open" the crate whirred to life – and Bushroot's complaint died on his lips. The metal sides began to shift, revealing small glimpses of some manner of inner workings pushing and moving parts from inside.
The top of the box retracted, and some kind of mechanism attached to a speaker and camera rose from within. A voice came out of it, garbled and unrecognizable. "Gentlemen."
"Jack-in-the-box!" Quackerjack squealed.
Bushroot had to restrain his comrade from diving for the box. "Who are you?" He said warily.
The voice response was careful and measured, almost businesslike. "I suppose you could call this an… elaborate phone call."
"At least it's not some kind of evil robot. Again." Bushroot whispered to Rowe so that the box – or whoever was on the other end – couldn't hear. "But still…"
Rowe nodded quietly, keeping his eyes trained on it.
"I am an interested party," the voice continued, unaware of their quiet conversation, "looking for the remains of the group known as the 'Fearsome Five.'"
Quackerjack opened his mouth, but Rowe beat him to his response. "You just missed them. They're the three suckers who just walked outta here without talkin' to the creepy robot box."
Bushroot and Rowe turned and began heading back for the door, already thinking about where they could find a new place to lay low. The box, and its mysterious controller, were willfully but instantly ignored.
Bushroot glanced at Quackerjack, who hadn't moved with the other two. "Come on, Quackie."
"B-but… jack-in-the-box…" Quackerjack cried. His eyes were stretched out so that they were big as saucers, and he looked at Rowe and Bushroot like a kid asking for a Christmas present.
"A-are you seriously doing the puppy dog pout?" Rowe laughed. "What are you, a high school cheerleader?"
The voice quickly interrupted the banter, it's tone insistent. "I assure you, there is no need to be brusque! This is not a threat. It is a job offer."
Bushroot rolled his eyes, though he did still turn from the door. "Oh, that's even better."
There was a muffled scoff audible from the other side. "I have a task for which I need… unique aid… and for which I am willing to pay a great deal."
"That's the definition of 'a job,' yes." Rowe drawled. "Anything to actually keep us here?"
There was a pause. "Let me be clearer. By 'a great deal' I mean I will pay you more money than you can possibly imagine."
"I don't know," Rowe's crossed his arms. "We can imagine quite a bit."
Another compartment opened in the side of the crate, revealing a small, thin briefcase. Rowe took the initiative to open it,,, and he nearly had a heart attack upon seeing what was inside.
It was money, rows and rows of evenly spaced, incredibly valuable dollars. He could hardly believe it.
"That's our pay?"
Even garbled, it was hard to mistake the smugness in the voice's tone now. "That's your advance."
Rowe choked on nothing at all. "We could buy…"
"All the fish in Audubon Bay?" Quackerjack finished, getting increasingly giddy every second that money was in their possession. "A metric ton of spore mold? A lifetime supply of Silly String?!"
"The task itself requires resources." Now that it was satisfied it had its foot in the door, their mysterious contact began to elaborate. "Some of which I can and will provide. Some of which I cannot. You will also need a team of decent size."
"I don't know if you've been watching the news, mate," Rowe said snidely, or as snidely as one can while holding a fortune in their hands, "but the Fearsome Five is rather low on membership these days."
"I trust you will be able to overcome that handicap."
Rowe paused to think it over, but whatever he might have come up with was interrupted. Bushroot snatched the suitcase of his hands, strode to the empty space in the box's side and thrust the whole thing back into the hole. "Trust and twenty thousand will buy you a ride on every cab in Duckburg, but not with this load of criminal errand boys."
Rowe sent a longing look back to where the cash was stuffed, but after a moment's thought decided that Bushroot had the right idea and went back to ignoring the box's presence. Only Quackerjack remained enthusiastic.
"W-what?! Look at all that money! Guys?!"
Unlikely Quackerjack, the voice seemed to not care about this development. "I can see you will need some time to think over my offer." It said calmly, like it expected results regardless. "This 'box' will remain operative for one week and will open with the phrase… 'open.' After which I'm afraid I'll have to look elsewhere."
The speaker and camera began to retract into the box again. With a final "good day, gentlemen," it disappeared – leaving the remaining five apparently alone with the gigantic and nearly immovable eyesore.
As soon as contact was cut, Quackerjack whirled upon the others. His eyes were furious, beyond the mere disappointment he was prone to in the past. Usually, Rowe and Bushroot could handle him – but now they almost took a step back.
"Okay, fellas!" He shouted. "What the hell?!"
Rowe sneered and stood his ground. "Come on, Quackerjack! Don't tell me you trust that… whoever that was?"
"Obviously, but come on! That was a lot of cheddar, and it clearly wasn't going to stop there. We've worked for shifty people before. We're shifty people."
Rowe and Bushroot faltered, shuffling uncomfortably, which Quackerjack saw as invitation to keep up the tirade.
"Ever since Negaduck got carted off to the Negaverse, you two have lost your nerve. Don't think I haven't noticed, you staying in your own little corners walling in your little setbacks! 'Oh, she doesn't love me!' 'Oh, I'm so aloooone!' It's been boring!" He was just letting off steam now, and ignored the offended looks on his partners' faces at the unflattering imitations. "Why can't we go out and work through those feelings with a good-old fashioned bank robbery like the old days? Or, I dunno, by taking the perfect job?! It's what we do, remember?"
Bushroot turned away, sighing. "Is it?"
Quackerjack whipped his head to Bushroot, eyes bulging out of his head. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I dunno Quackerjack." Bushroot rubbed the back of his head, looking and feeling very awkward. "We lost Liquidator. Megavolt switched sides. NegaCrimson probably has too. And we're never going back to Negaduck. Maybe it's time we just… bowed out."
"You… what? Bow out?!"
"He's right, Quackie." Rowe groaned. "After all of that, crime just doesn't seem to have a point any more."
"Beats being pointless!"
Quackerjack's shout was so abrupt that Bushroot and Rowe really did jump this time, taken aback by the sudden fervor. But to their surprise, when Quackerjack continued talking he was calm – a total 180 degree turn, even from his normal demeanor.
"Rowe," he said. "Do you remember why you first joined the Five?"
Rowe blinked. "Me? Well, I… uh… huh… almost forgot about that." He scratched his head, trying to recall the exact details. "Let's see… I was ticked about the way surface folks treated the ocean, wasn't I? Wanted to get some revenge, save the seas. You know, mate: good intentions and all."
"Uh huh." Quackerjack raised an eyebrow. "And since then, have you ever once done anything to help the environment, even a little? Join a rally? Blow up a factory? Pick up litter?"
Rowe blinked. "I… no, I guess I haven't. Must've slipped my mind." His eyes narrowed "What's it to you, mate?"
"The whole reason you went bad in the first place, and you forgot it? You wanna know why?" He gestured for Rowe to come closer and started to whisper, as if it were some kind of secret. For his part, Rowe was too intrigued to immediately refuse. "Because you were too busy messing with people, that's why. Smashing and grabbing, and having the time of your life!"
Rowe furrowed his brow, for the moment listening as Quackerjack went on. "You're a guy that'd mess up anybody's day in search of a good time. You don't care about the ocean! You just care about living life on your terms, and sticking it to society all the way! Am I wrong?" Rowe opened his mouth to respond, but Quackerjack cut him off. "Of course not! Would you really go back to Neptunia and be some kind of crusader after all the fun you've had?"
Rowe was silent for a long time, considering what Quackerjack was trying to say. There was an inkling of truth in it – he did enjoy the hedonistic side of villainy. And he hadn't thought about Neptunia in what felt like years. Whether or not that included "messing with people" was a story for another day, but it did give him pause. When he finally replied it was clear he was still thinking, and so he only muttered. "Right, mate. You've made your point."
"He can be taught! And you, Bushy-"
"Don't even try it, Quackerjack." Bushroot said sharply. "You know very well I don't enjoy being a supervillain. I'd rather have never been one at all, but circumstances never allow me to stop."
"Oh that's right!" Quackerjack smirked. "You want a family! To be a successful mutant-plant duck with a picket fence and a place all your own where the world won't bug you!"
Bushroot scowled. He said nothing, but looks could kill a glare like his would have at least caused serious maiming.
Again ignoring the dirty look, Quackerjack continued. "You say that as if we don't all know that every time you are left alone, you're annoyed into making a scene anyway. Then it's back to marching armies of trees into the city." Bushroot gritted his teeth, irritated at his friend taking his past exploits out of context, but still refused to justify it with a response. Quackerjack, again, took silence as a sign to continue. "Deep down you know your experiments are too much for the world to handle. You don't want the world to handle you! I bet you could be making billions on grants and patents alone, but instead you prefer to steal cash and literally beat away the people trying to bother you with a stick. Or a branch. Or a trunk. Whatever."
"I don't hate the world, Quackerjack." Bushroot said, keeping his voice carefully even.
"No, but you have to admit you like batting it around a bit. So why deny it?"
"Deny?" Bushroot and Rowe shouted at the same time.
"Yes, deny. I'll admit both of you guys are a little soft hearted. Maybe I am too. So we've lost out on things we really wanted." He glanced at Rowe, a surprisingly soft and understanding look on his face. "So we have to face the fact that we can't be who we want to be." He glanced at Bushroot, who still nodded despite his clear annoyance. "But we can't just give up and go at it alone! So the world took stuff from us! We're villains! We take it back on our terms! We let Negaduck force us to do his bidding for too long. We had to – ugh – work with do-gooders to set it – double ugh – right. But that's shouldn't keep us from being who we are."
Rowe and Bushroot looked at each other.
"At least, it's not gonna keep me from being who I am." Quackerjack said, abruptly turning around. The others reached out in shock, but he ignored them yet again. He was already storming to the exit. "I'm gonna go wreak some havoc, with or without you. You wanna villain up and join in?" He opened the door, but didn't look back. "Be my guest..."
The door swung closed, with Quackerjack on the other side. But a second before it would have slammed shut for good, a shout rang out.
The door flew open again. "What?"
Bushroot sighed. "Wreaking havoc isn't cost effective. You're going to get yourself killed. You could at least have some sort of plan."
A slow grin spread across Quackerjack's face. "Does that mean you're in?"
Bushroot rolled his eyes. "On 'wreaking havoc?' No." Quackerjack's face fell. "But someone clearly has to keep you out of trouble."
Rowe nodded. "There's something to be said for doing wrong right, or vice versa. S'long as we're sticking together."
Quackerjack thought this over. With a shrug, he figured that it was at least close enough. "So we're taking the job, then?"
"Why not, mate?" Rowe chuckled, and cheerfully threw his arms around his companions. "I think we can handle trying out the villain thing on our own, at least for a while. Who knew: Quackerjack being the voice of inspiration."
"That's not inspiration," Bushroot droned. "That's well directed madness."
"Whatever works!" Quackerjack said with a smirk.
But Bushroot wasn't done. "This sentiment is all well and good, but it's still just the three of us. How are we supposed to make any headway?" Rowe faltered – this clearly hadn't occurred to him either. But Quackerjack was, once again, not bothered.
"Haven't you chuckleheads been watching the news?"
Bushroot shrugged – but while he typically locked himself in his lab and didn't interact with the outside world for days at a time, Rowe at least got out and watched tv every once in a while. He searched his memories for what Quackerjack meant. "Ah…" His eyes lit up. "He's right! Last I heard there ought to be criminals coming outta the woodwork these days."
It was true. Apparently, during his invasion Negaduck hadn't just seen fit to lord over the whole town, he also wanted to lord his ultimate victory over his would-be "rivals" in the villain game. His forces systematically broke into every prison in the area, kidnapping anyone who had made St. Canard's Most Wanted Charts. Some he left behind due to risk, like Nanite. Some were beyond his reach, like Moliarty. And some were rumored to have gotten away, like Dr. Slug. But in the end almost every villain who had ever fought Darkwing Duck ended up under his control.
As the stories went, whenever he was bored he would make them dance like puppets or simply kowtow to him in whatever over the top and humiliating way he thought up that day. This went on daily, over and over again until the day Negaduck was finally defeated. And once his mind control spell went down, all the criminals he kidnapped slipped away into the city free and clear.
There were probably more criminals on the streets now than before Darkwing first appeared. Authorities were hard at work trying to track them down, but with the disarray the town was in and the current relative inaction of the criminal element it was proving difficult to find anyone.
Which made this the perfect opportunity to do some recruiting.
"So all we need to do is find enough crooks to put a team together." Rowe mused. "How hard could it be, mate?"
"I've got it!" Quackerjack bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. "Let's hold-"
"Don't say it!"
Bushroot threw his face into his hands with a groan. "Is it too late to choose retirement?"
The Fearsome Five's Warehouse - Six Days Until The Offer Is Rescinded
Bushroot's nervousness turned out to be well founded. Their interviews did not have the most… conventional of starts.
"F! E! A! R! Whose the fiercest team by far?"
There were probably stranger things than sitting through an extravagant cheer number dedicated to oneself but written by, directed by and starring a mutant half-frog, half-duck. But not many.
"S! O! M! E! Who're the crooks we want to be?"
The otherwise perfectly normal frog sitting with them on the nice clean desk they'd set up to look official was just the icing on the cake. Though it was perhaps even stranger that they all knew that frog by name.
This did not bode well for the rest of the interviews.
"Fearsome Five! Fearsome Five! Goooooo VILLAINS!"
Frogduck did a backflip and pirouette, landing on his knees for a big finish.
Keith - his faithful frog companion - burbled in response, which Frogduck took as raucous applause. He jumped to his feet (over-jumping and nearly bumping his head on the ceiling in the process) and started bowing dramatically, soaking in the imagined ovation.
The poor trio of villains witnessing all this just sat there for a moment, unsure of how exactly to respond..
Rowe was the first one to try. "Uh… that's was nice and all, mate, but… what does that have to do with…"
"Anything?" Quackerjack cut in.
Rowe glanced at him, but continued on. "… with what you would bring to the team?"
"Besides excellent dance choreography," Bushroot quipped. Quackerjack chuckled and nudged Bushroot's ribs.
"I think the coordination started to dip around the forty-five minute mark, myself."
Frogduck blinked. "Team? What team?"
"Uh…" Rowe faltered, cursing himself for letting himself fall into this. Conversations with Frogduck always seemed to end with everyone confused. "The team we called you here to join, mate? The actual Fearsome Five?"
"But there's only three of you."
Rowe's eye twitched. "That's not-"
"Wait!" Frogduck threw his hands up. Rowe relaxed – perhaps he had finally gotten the point. "So these aren't the auditions for Fearsome Five: The Musical?"
Quackerjack burst out laughing, mostly because it looked like a vein was about to pop out of Rowe's head. "The what!?" He slammed his head on the table, trying to ignore the obnoxious laughter coming from right beside him. "I swear, every time we work with this guy…"
He pushed himself off the desk and leaned forward, about to lay into Frogduck for wasting everybody's time. But before he could, Bushroot suddenly stood up and started clapping.
"Bravo, Frogduck! A wonderful performance!"
Confused, Rowe and Quackerjack lean in close to their comrade. "Uh, what are you doing, mate?" Rowe whispered so that Frogduck couldn't hear.
"Just clap with me." He replied. "If we don't we'll never get him out of here!"
Out of the corner of their eyes, they could see one of Bushroot's plants crawl out of its pot and open the door. Realizing what Bushroot had in mind, the other two reluctantly joined the act.
"Um… yeah. You were great, mate." Rowe said flatly. "We'll definitely consider you for the… er… 'part.' Whatever it is."
"Bravissimo! A thrilling performance!" Quackerjack said, in a parody of a formal voice. "Now go home!"
Frogduck actually swooned, with a blush that looked strange on his green skin. "I'm so flattered!" He bounded over to the desk and vigorously shook everyone's hand in turn, then picked up Keith the Frog and dropped him on his shoulder. "We did it Keith! We're in the big time!"
Another of Bushroot's plants rose behind Frogduck and started gently but steadily pushing him and Keith towards the exit.
"That's right!" Bushroot shouted cheerfully. "Wait for our call! Don't call us, we'll call you!" Quackerjack snorted. Bushroot nudged him, keeping up the fake smile.
Oblivious to the obvious insincerity, Frogduck took another gracious bow as he slipped out of the room. "I just want to thank you all for giving me this opportunity!" He cried. "Especially you, mate!" He added, pointing to Rowe.
The vein in Rowe's head was back. "I ain't your-" Bushroot clamped a hand over his mouth, cutting off his retort before it could keep Frogduck from leaving.
"Okay, thank you! Bye now!" Bushroot said. Frogduck opened his mouth to say something else, but he had crossed the threshold into the hallway. Bushroot's plant promptly slammed the door in his face.
All three of them slid down into their seats, groaning loudly.
"Tell me the rest of them won't be that bad…" Rowe said, a bit muffled by the way his hand was smacking his face.
"P'shaw!" Quackerjack scoffed, waving it off with his usual disregard. "Surely there's at least a few villains in this town who can wow us!"
"You guys really are the tops, I ever tell you that?"
"Only a half dozen times since you sat down, Swenlin." Bushroot sighed in exasperation.
"Or do you prefer Cementhead?" Quackerjack added.
Cementhead threw his arms out, almost as if he were inviting his interviewers to give him some kind of chummy hug. An intimidating gesture, given that he likely weighed nearly a ton. "I prefer whatever gets cash in our collective pocket faster, my friends! I'm a team player, see? And you boys've got the makin's of a real force, you know that?"
"Our pleasure, mate." Rowe said flatly. "And we can get a lot of use out of a half-ton powerhouse like you?"
Cementhead chuckled to himself. "Oh, I'm more than just muscle my friend!" He flexed one of his arms for irony's sake, but there didn't seem to be any actual offense behind his schmoozing. "I've got leadership skills! You guys're a little lacking in that department, if you don't mind me saying so…"
Three pairs of eyes glared in his direction. "… we kind of do, actually…"
"It's not that you're not well run, o' course not!" He put his hands up in a mock-"surrender" gesture. "It's more that you need a strong hand to get you to that 'next level,' if you catch my drift. I got that kinda insight."
"Let me get this straight…" Bushroot said incredulously. He gestured to one of his plants, who opened the door ahead of time just in case. "you want to be our new leader!"
"So you agree! Excellent! When do I start?"
A second passed while they processed this.
Then Quackerjack leapt out of his seat and tried in vain to yank the several hundred pound behemoth towards the door. "… we'll call you." He grunted. "Try not to chip any blocks on the way out!"
"Y'sure? Cause I could talk to you guys for hours. You've got those intelligent kinds o' faces, I ever tell you th-"
One Threat of Chiseling Later,
"… so you see, thanks to my past experience as a news reporter my expertise lies in getting the right information in and making sure the details we want get out." The latest candidate was dressed to success. None of them could remember ever seeing anyone show up to a villain's hideout in a proper business suit, unless one counted Negaduck and Darkwing's odd fashion choices.
She was very proper about it, as well – polite, courteous, and informative. She had actually brought a resume, which was incredibly convenient. But then, Bianca Beakley had always been a savvy negotiator, even back in her reporting days. "With my skills your team could handle intel in a way no other gang is smart enough to consider. Plus I make a very charismatic front, if I do say so myself."
"That's very impressive, Ms. Beakley," Bushroot said appraisingly. "I can see why you thought you would be an asset to our team."
"Even if you did spend the last decade in jail," Quackerjack snickered.
Beakley reddened slightly. "Eight years! I didn't spend all of it in jail. Some of it I spent… er… minimum security."
Rowe, the only one present who had never been on either end of a proper job interview in his life, laughed boorishly. "A luxury prison? Nice, mate…"
Beakley caught the three of them smirking at her, and realized that this probably didn't do much about her villain cred.
"Until I got caught trying to escape!" She blurted out, trying to spin.
Quackerjack laughed again. "Oops!"
"And now you're here. Go fig, mate!" Rowe crossed his arms, but looked interested. "So, when do we get to see that bug suit, with the wings and the weird eye things?" He had not been around when the Bugmaster first attacked St. Canard, but it seemed like an interesting gimmick. He was rather excited about seeing it.
Beakley rubbed the back of her head, looking even more embarrassed. "Well… I… uh… you see, when Darkwing foiled me the first time, I sort of lost my old effects."
"So why not just build some new gear?" Bushroot asked, furrowing his eyebrows. "Put together a new suit?"
Like the thread that pulls apart the knot, Beakley sensed her professional presentation was on the cusp of unraveling. "You see, I only picked the 'Bugmaster' idea the one time, because it was convenient!" She stammered. Her voice suddenly got high pitched and quick. "I never thought I'd end up keeping it, even after I got caught. So I… uh… never bothered to remember how the gadgets worked. Then getting out of jail proved a little harder than I thought…"
Three sets of unimpressed eyes stared at her.
"So I focused on keeping my ears to the ground!" She threw out quickly. "I'm a treasure trove of priceless information!" She pulled out her resume, which included a list of interesting details she was willing to share. But the look on their faces told them this would likely not be enough. "A-and I've been working on a new identity! One that's a lot more befitting. It just takes a while to work out the kinks…"
"It's been how many years now?"
"Hey!" She shouted in offense. "The perfect supervillain moniker isn't something that just comes to you!"
Quackerjack leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. "I literally came up with all this in a minute in a half."
Bushroot grimaced, remembering his start. "Mine just kind of fell in my lap."
Rowe just shrugged. "I don't even have one."
Beakley deflated. "Everyone's a critic," she sighed.
"Next!" Bushroot shouted, though on a more personal note he added. "But if we need someone to crunch data, we'll let you know."
The next interview found the three huddled behind their desk as a cavalcade of unlikely but all equally dangerous projectiles flew about the room. Their warehouse, which had never been the most pristine of hideouts, now resembled a warzone… that is, if one were fighting a war with the most unusual ammo you had ever seen.
"Woohoo!" Quackerjack laughed. He caught a flying pie out of the air and took a bite. "I love this guy!"
Rowe and Bushroot ignored him. "Who is this guy?" Rowe shouted, ducking a kitchen sink (plus garbage disposal).
"Uh…" Bushroot stammered, leafing through his notes as an actual live great white shark went sailing over their heads. "Anthony Carmichael! Says here he was a baseball pitcher who went nuts and – AGH – started throwing stuff at people for money!"
"He does know we're on his side, right?"
Quackerjack continued to laugh. "I dunno what you guys are so tense about! This is f-"
"Shut up, Quackerjack!" Rowe and Bushroot yelled at the same time.
Everyone froze as a very large, very ominous flashing object flew past them and embedded itself into the closest wall.
"Ooh, hey!" Quackerjack said, recognizing the blinking projectile from one of Negaduck's old Christmas wishlists. "That's one of those old timey WW2 torpedoes! Like in the movies!"
"A what?!" Rowe gasped. "Where in the seven seas did he get one of those?!"
"WHO CARES?" Bushroot shouted, already heading for the door. "RUUUUUUN!"
One Hasty Retreat and Extensive Repair Job Later,
"-sssso you ssssee," said the hissing voice of their current interviewee. Camille, the Chameleon, looked slightly uncomfortable in her chair – the thermostat was on the fritz – but no less confident. "I'm really quite the… versssatile lizard. I can do anything at all you boysss want me to do. And maybe even more than that, I'd sssay…"
"I see. And so eager too! Why do you want to join us?" Rowe said, a little giddy to have an applicant that didn't immediately look like a mistake. "Seems like as long as you avoid Darkwing you can get away with whatever you want, mate."
"True. But to tell the truth, I'm lonely. It's a sssad life, being me." She turned to Bushroot, and the gleam of adoration twinkled into her eyes. "At leassst, until I heard about you!"
Bushroot blinked. "Uh. me?"
"Of courssse!" She stood up and sauntered over to the trio's table. They were too stunned to stop her. "Sssuch a brilliant mind, wrapped up in that handsssome floral package. Girls like me jussst love flowersss, you know." She leaned in, reaching for his bright lavender hair. Bushroot slid back, his eyes bugging out of his head. "Especially you, the lovely ssstamen to my pissstil."
Bushroot looked as thought someone had clocked him in the head with a brick. Quackerjack started laughing. "B-b-whaaa?!"
"Ssssurely you can sssee it! Me, a mutant lizard-duck. You, a mutant plant-duck!" She leapt over the table and started closing the distance between them. "We were made for each other. Just wait and sssee!"
Quackerjack, though starting to laugh, figuring he ought to at least make a token effort to stop this before Bushroot started molting. Rowe gripped his arm and pulled him back to his seat, shushing him. "Wait a tick, mate. We can't look away now!" He stared at the scene as if it were a train wreck, or an unfolding disaster. With a shrug and a giggle, Quackerjack leaned back in his chair and watched along with him.
Meanwhile, Bushroot scrambled out of his chair, holding it in front of him like a lion tamer facing a rampaging beast.
Camille continued to coo at him, undeterred by his obvious panic. "I can ssso sssee myself, resting in your soft leaves and sssoaking in the afternoon sssun together. What a perfect ecological pair we would make!" She made no attempt to get past the chair – she only puckered up and blew him a kiss.
Bushroot was beyond words: "aaaaaaaa-"
Quackerjack laughed so hard that he, too, fell out of his chair. "Ha! I think you broke Bushroot!"
"Oh." She pulled back with a pout. "Ssso sssad. I didn't mean to ssstartle my petite little horticultural hunk-"
"NEXT!" Bushroot suddenly screamed at the top of his lungs. "Better yet, recess!" He stammered. Before the others could react, he had already leapt over the table and was well on his way down the hallway. "Bye!"
The others watched him go, his comrades with more than a little amusement. "You heard the man, mate." Rowe chuckled under his breath. "Sorry, it doesn't look like Bushy's quite mature enough for a relationship just yet. Snrk."
"He's really just a big baby!" Quackerjack laughed as he led Camille to the door.
Another Hasty Retreat Later,
After Bushroot returned – once he could prove Camille was safely miles away from the building – and swore the others to never speak of that again, the auditions continued.
Such as they were, anyway.
"I don't get it…" Rowe said, after about thirty minutes of waiting. "Wasn't Dr. Slug supposed to be here by now?"
"Yeah," Quackerjack shrugged. "But that guy never shows up to anything."
"I guess we should feel lucky he merely didn't show up." Bushroot said. "Last time Negaduck tried to send him an olive branch, he sent us a bomb in response. Granted, Negaduck was trying to ambush him too. Those guys didn't like each other."
Rowe gulped. "Well, mates… in that case… next?"
Yet Another Overused Hard Cut Gag Later - Four Days Until Deadline
Looking back on it, none of them would be able to tell exactly how Tuskernini got past the interview stage – let alone how he finagled a "field test." Bushroot would claim that they had trusted his prior experience would give them better results in person. Rowe would blame his charismatic air and earnest enthusiasm. Quackerjack insists that they were just bored.
Either way, they lived to regret it.
"I don't like this…" Quackerjack whined, tugging at the hem of his dress.
"You don't say, mate?" Rowe grumbled, his irritated glare almost invisible under several pounds of clown makeup. "I thought you loved this sort of thing. Didn't you and Megavolt used to dress up like stupid stuff all the time?"
"Don't mention that name to me!" Quackerjack barked. "And it was only funny when he got the embarrassing costumes!"
Embarrassing was right. With the heavy-duty clown makeup and over the top jester outfit – even by Quackerjack standards – Rowe looked like something out of an overenthusiastic children's book. Meanwhile, Quackerjack was stuck with a long, frilly dress and an obviously fake blonde wig. Here they were, sitting in front of a bank just waiting to be robbed, and they were almost too humiliated to move.
"Oh sure, choose now to throw a fit about this." Bushroot sighed. With his numbered letterman jacket and his floral "hair" slicked up, he looked like the picture of a 50's all-American jock. He supposed it was less ridiculous than either of his comrades, but he wasn't particularly happy with the change in attire either.
"So," he said, directing his eyes to their giddy would-be director, "what's the point of all this, again?"
"The scene is simple!" Tuskernini said with a theatrical flair. He was hefting a film camera around with him, which made the others nervous. The last thing they wanted was physical proof that they had done this. "A staple of the horror genre. We pan down to the young damsel and her roguish but dimwitted beau, as the hideous monster clown prepares to eviscerate them!" He pointed to the bank, whose denizens would soon bear witness to this ridiculous farce. "As our audience witnesses what seems to be a moment of inhuman terror, they will certainly flee! Leaving the bank clear for us to empty of cash! Brilliant, if I do say so myself!"
"Okay…" Rowe said slowly. "So… in that case, mate, wouldn't it make more sense for him to be the clown?" He jabbed his finger to Quackerjack, who stuck out his tongue.
Tuskernini shrugged. "I despise typecasting."
"Plus, do you really want to be the damsel instead?" Bushroot quipped.
"Actually, I was thinking-"
"Alright, Tuskernini!" Came a new voice. "Give yourself up peacefully and… what the?"
Bushroot slapped his forehead. "Ohhh, this isn't happening."
Filling with dread, the group looked up to find Launchpad McQuack and Techno had gotten the drop on them while they were grousing. The two were geared up and clearly arrived ready for a fight, but now they were were frozen as they took in the sight of the assorted baddies and their absurd outfits. The two looked from Quackerjack and Rowe, to Tuskernini, to the facepalming Bushroot over and over again, as though they couldn't process what was going on in front of them.
Well, at least it wasn't Darkwing himself…
"Whoa, I've heard of Villains on Parade," Launchpad said shakily, "but… heh… this is ridiculous… heh hehahaha!" He burst into relentless giggles, doubling over and falling to the ground as they became too much for him to stand up straight.
Techno hovered down to the ground, trying to focus on the situation at hand. "Come on, Lauchpad. It's not… that… snrk…" Unfortunately for his self control, he got a good look at Quackerjack's pouting face as he yanked at his dress' many ribbon. He collapsed against a nearby lamppost, laughing uncontrollably and banging his gloves against the metal pole.
"Our enemies are incapacitated!" Tuskernini shouted. Which, admittedly, was one way of looking at the situation. "This is our time to… hey! Where are you going?"
He looked up to find that Rowe, Bushroot and Quackerjack were already leaving.
"Yeah... this has officially gone too far." Bushroot said, without looking back.
Quackerjack ripped off his dress – revealing his jester costume underneath - and tossed it over his shoulder. "You're on your own, Tuckerninny!"
They quickly hurried into an alley, where hopefully no one could see them. As they disappeared, Rowe could be heard muttering. "I wonder if we just act like this never happened, everyone'll just forget all about it…"
Tuskernini shook his fist at their retreating forms. "Ugh! Actors! Always so tempermental…" A pair of shadows loomed in front of him, making him jump in surprise. Evidently Techno and Launchpad were not as "incapacitated" as they seemed. "And that's not even mentioning the critics!"
He moved to defend himself, but before he could a pair of handcuffs were slapped upon his wrists. They retracted instantly into tight binds, cutting of any further acts of villainy.
"I… heh… think that's enough shooting for one day… hahaha… Tuskernini," Techno declared as heroically as he could, which admittedly wasn't much when one was still fighting back giggles.
"That takes care of him!" Lauchpad grinned. "Just leaves the Fearsome Threesome! Shouldn't be too hard to spot in those- hey! Where'd they go?"
The two heroes looked up, only just realizing that the source of their laughter was gone. Quickly hooking Tuskernini to a tree, they split up and searched the area – but it was no use. It didn't take long for them to conclude that the other villains had since vanished without a trace.
"Ah, Crimson's gonna kill me!" Techno groaned. "I never got a chance to take a picture!"
One Costume-Incineration and Promise-Never-To-Speak-Of-It-Again Later - Three Days until Deadline
"Okay, mates. Yesterday was a fiasco." Rowe growled. The desk was set up again, but he was starting to lose his patience for the whole thing. "But after that I need one good interview. Just one good interview. So… moniker and powers, plea- hey!"
He paused as he saw the nervous-looking woman Quackerjack had led into the room. "Who are you, mate?" He shouted. She didn't answer at first, so he turned to Quackerjack. "Who is she, mate?"
"Search me!" Quackerjack shrugged. "I found her skulking about the lair. Figured she got lost on the way here."
The woman chuckled sheepishly. "Um… yeah! I'm a new villain in town! I'm answered the ad? About the villain teamup? That you advertised?"
"… no, you didn't!" Bushroot said flatly. "I recognize you!"
"You're that reporter from the news! Bloomis, or something…"
"It's Plumis!" She said indignantly. Then she froze, realizing her mistake. "Or at least it would be, if that were my name. Which it's not…" She saw the cold looks directed at her and sighed. "This isn't fooling anybody, is it?"
"No, not really."
Rowe sighed. Clearly his wish would not be granted today. "Okay, fine. I'm not even going to ask how you got in here. What is it that you want?"
"You're trying to hire supervillains! The public deserves to know why! Plus, you three are – or at least were - heroes of the rebellion against Negaduck. Your stories are an important piece of the larger narrative! I'd be honored to get our side of things… maybe with an exclusive interview?"
"Exclusive, you say?" Rowe rubbed his chin, thinking of the lavish luxuries a little tv fame could bring. "I kinda like the sound of that, mate. Course, we'd need a little confidentiality. Maybe we could be in charge of editing."
Quackerjack nodded. "As archvillains, we have to keep our privacy after all."
"Plus," Bushroot said pointedly. "We could always use a little positive spin. Perhaps a promise not to go blabbing about the whole 'building a team' thing?"
"You're building a team?" She gasped. "That's interesting…" Rowe and Quackerjack glared at Bushroot, who recoiled sheepishly. "However, for an exclusive like this it'd be up to the network what does and doesn't get released. And…" she winced, knowing that what she was about to say would not go over well. "I'm afraid it would… er… go against my journalistic integrity not to-"
"Yeah, okay mate. No dice." Rowe said flippantly. "Bushroot, if you'd do the honors?"
Plumis only got out a quick "bwaah!" as she was suddenly lifted off her chair by gigantic vines and unceremoniously tossed out of the window.
"Whoa!" Quackerjack chuckled. "Hardcore!"
Bushroot rolled his eyes. "She'll be fine. We're on the bottom floor."
Rowe banged his head on the desk. "I quit, mate. We've only got a few days left before the guy in the box rescinds his offer, and we can't even find a few measly cohorts."
"You sound like Negaduck."
"Don't you compare me to-"
"No… he's right. We've been thinking about this just like Negaduck. Trying to get a bunch of thugs we can boss around, with powers we can exploit. But… that's not us."
"It's not." Bushroot nodded, nonchalantly pushing Quackerjack off of him. "Or at least it shouldn't be."
"I guess so. No more minioning for us."
"Exactly! We're not an attack squad, and we're nobody's henchmen. We want to be free villains? Let's be free villains." The others looked at him, slowly trying to process onto what he was getting at. "I have an idea about how to fix our problem. Maybe even all of our problems. Bring up our list of applicants."
Bushroot began sifting through his now gigantic stack of notes. "I think I know what you're getting at," he said with a growing smile. "And I think I've got just what you need."
"Well let me in on the gag, would ya?" Quackerjack whined, stomping his foot on the ground like a child.
Rowe smirked at him. "Just play along, Quackie. You'll catch up. But we've got a few calls to make. There's one person especially who I know will want to know about this…"
One Day Before the Deadline, Darkwing Tower
The view from the Audubon Bay Bridge was shaping up quite nicely in the time since Negaduck's defeat. The City of St. Canard was almost indistinguishable from the lively metropolis it had been before the invasion – in fact, the remaining atmosphere, like the air itself had still not quite forgotten from recent disaster, seemed to give the fair burg an added sense of dignity.
Or at least, that's the way it looked to St. Canard's resident hero. Looking upon his city was one of Darkwing Duck's favorite pastimes, especially now.
Repairs on the Tower were long since done. The Thunderquack, the Ratcatcher, and the Avenger were all ready for action. The city, for once, was calm - except perhaps when they were cheering their conquering heroes. Darkwing particularly enjoyed that part. But there was still work to be done. Things were changing all over, and he had to be ready. As much as it pained him, these changes also meant that for the first time in a long while Darkwing would be doing much of that work on his own – without SHUSH, unless he absolutely had to. It was a daunting prospect, but then again most of the challenges a crimefighter had been of the larger-than-life variety. One more wouldn't kill him.
At least, he hoped it wouldn't.
A voice interrupted his musing. And luckily, it was one of his favorite voices in the entire world.
"Hey Dad! Where're you hiding?"
He looked down below to see his one and only daughter, Gosalyn Mallard, looking for him. She was wearing her Crimson Avenger outfit – similar to his own, in red and black – but she had forgone the hat and mask as usual while not patrolling. Unlike him, she wasn't a fan of being completely decked out in heroic gear all the time.
Even in the safety and privacy of the hideout, Darkwing wasn't 100% in agreement with losing the precaution, but he supposed she had earned the right to be casual. She had more than proven that she had vigilance.
The years had been tough on his little girl – though not so little any more – and she had spent far more years without him than he would ever be comfortable with. But to see her now: she was the heroine that saved the entire city (not to mention himself, multiple times), a young woman with her life ahead of her, the very picture of spirit and justice with potential that easily surpassed his own – not that he would ever tell her that. Just looking at her made him prouder than he had ever felt before.
He was so busy swelling with pride that he almost didn't hear what she was saying. "Hello? Dad? Honker wants us all to pool what we've got together!"
With a start, he realized that he had been out here for longer than he intended. Hadn't he just been musing that he had work to do? There would no doubt be time for wistful views later (although, he supposed, there never seemed to be a "later"). Now was time for action… or, more accurately, paperwork.
Gosalyn didn't so much as flinch as he suddenly swooped in from nowhere and landed directly in front of her. "I know, I know," He said, dusting himself off. "Just enjoying the view."
"You're taking a break?" She tilted her head, sporting with a familiar smirk. "You? The workaholic?"
"What, I can't enjoy a picturesque panorama of my scenic city every now and then?"
"I guess not," she shrugged. "But believe it or not I want to get this over with while we still have daylight. I do have finals coming up."
Darkwing pretended to scoff. "You want to study?" He said, copying her grin. "You? The consummate slacker?"
She faked a scowl. "It's easy to steal jokes, dad." She grumbled.
"Just taking back what you inherited." He said lightly. He turned towards the center of the hideout, where his supercomputer and a table full of paperwork were surely waiting. Gosalyn immediately matched his pace. "Come on," he said, changing gears, "I want to take a crack at that data too."
"Jokes aside, I'd really rather be out there patrolling." Gosalyn said.
"Me too. We've been hitting the streets far too scarcely these days. I feel like a cook who left his oven running. I'll turn around and the city will be on fire." Gosalyn nodded, knowing exactly how he felt. She probably knew the feeling better than he did lately – it was her, and not him, who had almost singlehandedly kept the city's defenders from falling apart during the invasion. "But really, it's the other way around."
"Yeah…" She replied. "I don't think I'll ever get used to St. Canard being… safe."
"While it lasts. Usually I'd say something big is brewing, but against all odds it's seems like it's just quiet out there. It'd get me stir crazy if not for the…"
"Constant adoration?" There was a snide accusation in that response he didn't like.
"Reassurance from the public!" He corrected testily. "You know the mayor's eating this all up!" It was true, Mayor Kim had on more than one occasion asked the heroes of St. Canard to his office simply to gush about their good work and the effect it was having on the city. They had each been given more medals than they could actually wear. "He's the one who requested the fewer patrols. Says the sight of us hunting down crime might scare away the recovering tourist trade. Which, you know, means less people to take part in major city events!"
Gosalyn raised an eyebrow. "I know. I was there when he said it. I'm just not sure when things like that beat out doing our job."
They had finally reached the center. As they approached, Launchpad immediately chimed into their conversation.
"Probably since they started throwing parades in our honor!" Launchpad laughed, waving like they hadn't only been gone for a few minutes, tops. Darkwing averted his eyes and mumbled a lame denial under his breath. Launchpad was a far better partner than Darkwing could ever ask for, but the years had made him just a mite too perceptive.
"Hello, Darkwing," Honker Muddlefoot said slowly, from his seat at the supercomputer. He lifted his head for brief moment to nod politely, then turned back to logging data. "We were waiting for you."
Darkwing chuckled to himself: some things never changed.
Honker was another kid Darkwing couldn't help but feel pride for, almost like one of his own. The boy had come a long way from his nervous, nebbish roots. As the Crimson Avenger's sidekick Techno he had saved all of their lives countless times, and there was no one he trusted more to watch his little girl's back. Granted, the two were getting closer than he was completely comfortable with lately, but he was fighting down the urge to do something about that just yet.
"Sorry about the delay!" He walked over so that he was standing behind Honker with a clear view of the screen. "What have we got so far?"
"Very little we don't already know. Negaduck's forces are all cleared out, they've all either run to their own universes or have been remanded to SHUSH or UIO custody. Though it's not unreasonable to assume that some still remain hiding on the streets, there's not enough to be an actual threat. And it's unlikely that anyone from this universe would show them hospitality."
"Fair enough." He ticked that off the mental checklist, at least for now. "But there are other threats. Anything rear its ugly head while we were… focused on other things."
Gosalyn glanced at him, and he realized with a start that she had been right next to him the entire time. "That's an odd way of saying 'fighting for the survival of our entire universe.'" She quipped, though he could see she was as focused as he was.
"And nothing much, DW," Launchpad said. He was looking over a list of reports from outside St. Canard. Some rather far outside. "No international problems have made headlines, and neither The Agency nor any of our friendly alien pals have anything major on their plate."
"One crisis at a time, huh?" Gosalyn chuckled. "Funny how that always works out."
"I don't know. Seems like when it rains, it pours here in St. Canard." Darkwing said shrewdly. "There has to be something awry. Anything unaccounted for? And what about the missing crooks?"
Unsurprisingly, he and his team had been on the jailbreak situation since almost immediately after the war had been won. Mopping up this particular mess of Negaduck's was not proving easy. Like roaches, the various criminals had scurried to shadowy safety almost immediately.
"Well... to answer your first question, it seems that there's a tiny... er…" Honker paused. He glanced at Gosalyn, looking slightly apologetic. "… multiversal discrepancy. At least one of our less-than-trustworthy multiversal allies is not entirely accounted for." He stopped again, this time with a wince. "In particular, the Darkwarrior version of Gosalyn."
Darkwing caught Gosalyn's eye, but she had less of a reaction than he expected. She still looked as surprised, no doubt, but perhaps she had partially expected this. "And what does 'not entirely accounted for' mean?"
Launchpad shrugged. "Maybe she hitched a ride with someone else?"
Gosalyn hummed, rubbing her chin in thought. "It's possible... but I doubt it. None of the other doubles had any reason to stay here, so they all went home no problem." She stopped, and her expression darkened as she thought of her remaining double. "Darkwarrior II is another story. She's probably not going to start hunting us for revenge again, so she has nothing keeping her here, but… remember what she said, about being a fugitive back home?"
"You would know better than us." Said Honker.
Gosalyn nodded, continuing her explanation. "Seems she killed her Launchpad and Agent Mia – Director Gingevere of SHUSH, there – in a vengeful rage after they took down her father's empire. I don't know if she would've done the same thing now if she were able to repeat it, but she's probably Public Enemy #1 there. She can't go back home. And she probably has just as little to look forward to anywhere else."
Darkwing groaned. "So she's probably here."
"Or in the Negaverse."
"Hopefully she'll keep laying low." Launchpad said hopefully.
"I don't know about that." Honker said, with a tiny smirk. "She is a Gosalyn."
Everyone around the table, even Gosalyn herself, snorted.
Darkwing pushed his humor down for a moment. "I notice you didn't answer my question about the missing crooks."
"That's because we still have very little." Honker replied, sounding much like he was getting tired of this conversation. "Most criminals in this city are keeping out of trouble for the time being, especially the ones Negaduck let out of prison."
"I don't blame them. Free, after what Negaduck put them through?" Launchpad mused. "You know, I hear he made Ammonia Pine mud-wrestle the filthiest demons Negarian could conjure up every single night."
"I head that too!" Gosalyn said. "Seems she practically begged to be locked up again after all that, provided they gave her a private shower with 24/7 access."
Darkwing sighed. "If only the rest were so easy to catch."
"At least they're unlikely to cause further trouble for a while, unless something or someone makes them."
Gosalyn glanced at their analyst. "Is that your roundabout way of bringing up the Fearsome Five, Honk? Or what's left of them…"
"You mean Bushroot, Quackerjack and Rowe?" Darkwing asked, catching on. "That… I'm not so sure about."
"They seemed so… well… not dangerous last time we saw them." Launchpad said. "Kinda like they were lost."
Darkwing turned over the small amount of info they had on the Five's activities, tutting to himself. "Looks like they found themselves again, if the rumors about them trying to hire other supervillains are true."
"It seems that way." Honker said, turning completely away from the screen for the first time. "Remember, Launchpad and I ran across them with Tuskernini of all people. They were disguised, but it was definitely them."
Gosalyn suddenly punched him on the arm. It was meant to be a light jab, but he still flinched as if it hurt. "I'm still mad you didn't get me any pictures!" She grinned cheekily. "I mean, Quackerjack in a dress?"
Honker rubbed the spot where she punched him, pouting slightly. "Stranger things have happened."
"True." Darkwing quipped. "I once saw him in a suit and tie." He looked down at his files, and sighed. "Still, I was hoping they would find themselves on the side of right."
"Just like Megavolt?"
There was a pause. Darkwing nodded. "And NegaGos, yes. We may be having some peace and quiet now, but..." he sighed. "We could use all the allies we can get."
"Not everyone turns out the same way, DW," Launchpad said, patting his hand against his friend's shoulder. "Simple fact of life. Just look at me and my family. Why, I've got about a dozen-"
What would have likely been a very long and involved anecdote was suddenly cut off, as a loud klaxon echoed through the hideout.
"Proximity alert!" Honker cried. The computer's monitor split into a dozen smaller screens, each showing different camera views.
Both father and daughter jumped up in stereo. "Who is it!? What is it!? An attack!?"
Honker looked closely at the footage, trying to make out the approaching shape. "It's… " He leaned back with a gasp, though for once not a frantic one. "Eek! Or Squeak! Er… one of Morgana's familiars. I can't tell which." He winced apologetically. Despite the tense mood, Gosalyn chuckled. On the screen, a tiny bat could be clearly seen, panting heavily as it lugged along an envelope almost as big as it was. "He seems to be carrying some kind of… letter."
He pressed a button, and the beleaguered bat was let inside unhindered. It carried itself to the table and promptly collapsed, the letter fluttering down beside him.
Darkwing sprung to action. "Is Morgana in trouble!?" He shouted, zipping first to monitor, then to the window as the bat fluttered in and collapsed on the nearnest table. "Is that some kind of warning message?"
"Not so soon after Bob!" Launchpad cried, a sentiment shared by all of them. Darkwing and Morgana hadn't dated in years, but that didn't mean she wasn't family. And with everything she had sacrificed during the invasion, including the loss of her husband's life, no one wanted to see her suffer any further.
But Eek shook its head no, and started tittering away in unintelligible bat-speak. It seemed rather intent on getting their attention on the envelope instead of him, but in their concern it was being ignored.
Gosalyn gently pushed her father out of the way so she could talk to their little visitor. Of the group, she was the only one that had any real experience dealing with Morgana's familiars, or familiars in general in truth.
The bat burbled something personal, which Gosalyn immediately understood. "It's Eek!" She shouted. "But it's a false alarm. I… guess..." She made a sign for the others to abandon battle stations, and then leaned in to make sure she heard Eek better. As he continued to elaborate, her attention turned to the envelope.
"Someone dropped this off at her manor. For us. She checked it over, but it didn't seem dangerous. Just… weird."
"Weird, huh?" Launchpad shrugged. "Well, as long as it's not dangerous, might as well see what it is." Before anyone could stop him, he picked up the envelope and began tearing it open.
"Wait!" Everyone shouted, but it was too late. Launchpad had already torn open the top, and once he did the letter began to spark and flash. Everyone but Launchpad hit the deck, expecting some kind of titanic explosion.
What they got instead was some confetti and canned fanfare.
Crimson poked her head out from under a desk. "Uh… what?"
"Hey, it's like a parade!" Launchpad said. He picked up some of the falling confetti. "Nice!"
"Launchpad!" Darkwing shouted. "You can't just open up a suspicious letter like that?"
"What? Morgana said it wasn't dangerous!"
"What if she had only checked for magical dangers? This could have easily be… I dunno, horribly radioactive confetti!"
"Darkwing," Honker noted, "if this were radioactive I'm sure our sensors would have…" He faltered as Darkwing turned his glare on him. "… never mind, forget I said anything…"
Gosalyn groaned, seeing that this wasn't going to go anywhere constructive. "Look, let's just read the thing. Or are we not going to follow the obvious clue?"
TO DARKWING DUCK AND HIS MILDEWING FRIENDS!
IN CELEBRATION FOR YOUR YEARS OF SERVICE, WE THE PROUD MEMBERS OF YOUR ADVERSARIAL POOL DO HEREBY INVITE YOU TO A CELEBRATION IN YOUR HONOR. THERE PROMISES TO BE REFRESHMENTS, ACCOLADES, AND A SHOCKING TWIST THAT WILL LEAVE YOU SPEECHLESS!
NO RSVP NECESSARY. WE ONLY ASK THAT YOU COME ALONE. WITH EACH OTHER. YOU GET THE IDEA: NO COPS.
COME PROMPTLY AT EIGHT UNLESS YOU PLAN TO BE LATE, MATE! (in the margins, Quackerjack had doodled himself saying "Rowe let me get away with that!")
THE FEARSOME FIVE*
On the other side of the invitation was written an address and a time to arrive – only a paltry few hours into the future.
Launchpad tilted his head. "They're still calling themselves the Fearsome Five? Aren't there only, like, three of them?"
"Oh yeah, because that's what important here."
"Besides, they addressed that." Honker said. He pointed to a tiny blurb on the edge of the letter. "See?"
Indeed, under the main message was a small note:
(*) WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO KNOW?
"Well, I've got nothing to do tonight." Crimson said, stretching her arms out in a way far more casual than an ominous invitation would usually make a person. In the years she had spent dealing with these sorts of situations, it could be said that she had grown a strong sense of when and where a problem required intensity.
Unlike her father, who had little middle ground between "unconcerned" and "intense as the sun."
"How can you be so flippant! This is obviously a trap!"
"Of course it's a trap, Dad!" She rolled her eyes, though her stare belied the maturity that came from age and experience. "The question is, are we just going to let it lie? It's also our only lead on what the Five is up to. And I for one don't think those three are the kind to just turn around and murder us right after everything we went through!"
"Perhaps, but the situation requires at least some gravitas."
"I know that! But now isn't the time to go into overdrive. We barely know anything about whatever the heck this is in the first place, but you know you already decided to spring the trap the moment you read that. Don't deny it."
Darkwing turned red. "Hey! Darkwing Duck does not deny anything!"
Gosalyn, Honker and Launchpad glanced at one another.
Honker ventured to change the subject. "So, we're going. That much is clear." Darkwing and Gosalyn eyed each other, Gosalyn with a noticeable smirk. "So what about backup?" Techno continued. "The Five has always been a serious issue in the past. Even without Negaduck's resources or ambitions, those three could pose a surprising danger. Especially if we're walking in blind."
"That's… admittedly less of a clear cut issue." Darkwing sighed. "In the past, we had SHUSH."
"We still have SHUSH, DW," Launchpad said, though they all already knew what Darkwing was referring to. His expression was surprisingly frank.
"You know what I mean." Darkwing said. "In the past, we had Hooter."
"So there's a new boss in town. Hooter's retirement was a big loss, but that doesn't mean we can't trust that new Director, Navis." Launchpad said hopefully. Darkwing almost sighed again. He knew that whatever Launchpad was saying, what he was really thinking of was SHUSH Agent Mia Gingevere – a usual ally to Team Darkwing in many ways. The two of them had become rather close to, and the sudden, mutual distrust between the two groups was trying for both of them.
"I'm just…" Darkwing started, fishing for the right way to say this. "I'm not sure. Don't get me wrong, I don't think she's evil or anything. She's dedicated to justice, you can tell that just by hearing her talk. But I do think she's untrustworthy, because she's a spy who doesn't want to trust us either. We've seen that sort of thing before: she's liable to do something overblown and invasive rather than simply field our advice."
"Well, she was installed by Norrin…" Techno said, a tiny hint of bitterness there. They all knew about the Vice President's lack of respect for them.
"We've heard about your first impressions, Dad." Gosalyn groaned. "But she runs the biggest criminal investigation organization on the planet. Even if she's new, she's not going to be stupid about this."
"It's not about being smart or stupid, it's… it's…" He faltered. "You'd understand if you had met with her like I did!"
"But we haven't met with her, Dad." Gosalyn pointed out in a clear "whose fault is that?" tone. "Not in an official context."
"Because she doesn't want you involved in affairs unless you have to be. She wants to keep our connection as tightly controlled as possible – under her jurisdiction." He let that sink in for a moment. "I don't need to tell why that alone makes me want to give her less rein over our activities."
Gosalyn flinched as she finally saw his point. "You're afraid that if we do this, and SHUSH does get involved, they'll roll in, force us out and make a mess out of everything. And if this really isn't as bad as our most paranoid thoughts make it seem…"
"It's happened before."
The others looked at each other, each silently – if begrudgingly – agreeing with what Darkwing had to say. "Fine," Gosalyn conceded. "We scope this out alone. Just like the note-"
Gosalyn rolled her eyes. "Whatever it is!" She said testily. "Just like it says. Can we at least set something up to let SHUSH know where we are in the likely case this goes wrong?"
"Naturally! I'm way ahead of you!" Darkwing said, with a bit of smugness over his foresight. He tapped away at the computer, still posturing as he set up a simple "deadman's" alert system to call for backup, just in they didn't come back. "Wary's one thing, stupid's another. Not that the honored heroes of St. Canard would ever be caught unawares, of course!"
Gosalyn sighed dramatically as she walked over to where her hat was stashed. Honker hid a snicker behind his helmet, though whether it was at Darkwing or Gosalyn's theatrics – or both - was unclear.
"Don't be like that!" Launchpad added 'helpfully.' "Takin' down a bad guy ambush, just like the old days? This ought to be fun!" He laughed in his usual good-natured way, somehow missing the ugly looks that both father and daughter were shooting his way.
Honker actually had to turn away, before his 'good-nature' got him in hot water too…
That Evening. A Few Hours Before The Deadline
Another reason for Darkwing to be proud of his daughter and her sidekick: when off duty they may be your average teenagers, but when on the job they were all business.
The banter continued, but there was more purpose and meaning behind it – at least in theory. Their identities were intensely guarded – no-slip ups, no confusion. It was a skill they had mastered years ago, and had become as adept at maintaining it as Darkwing Duck himself. Now they were as the world knew them: Gosalyn was the Crimson Avenger. Honker was Techno.
And Launchpad was… Launchpad. Which, now that Darkwing thought about it, was odd. But then again, he always had been. It was anyone's guess why no villains ever followed up on that…
And speaking of things that make little sense…
"I was all set up to say 'another abandoned warehouse?' when we got here…" Crimson said, as they gaped up at the location the card has sent them to. "I had a whole quip planned. Because seriously, when is it not an abandoned warehouse?"
"There's the Elemental Underground." Techno noted.
Crimson ignored him in favor of continuing to gape. "And yet they managed to surprise me."
"You and me both!" Darkwing exclaimed. "I can't wait to see whose idea this was!"
The building certainly had been an abandoned warehouse at some point, but at the moment it looked like a warehouse undergoing a significant identity crisis. The outside had been painted a mix of purple, green and grey. The windows were missing, and some were in the process of being replaced with solid glass panels. Likewise, the skylight had been replaced with something flashy and highly visible.
Most bizarrely, above the entry was a large marquee depicting a group of sinister looking ducks in trenchcoats lugging a sign that said "THE FEARSOME DIVE!" as if they had stolen it. Even if they hadn't had a map, they probably could have spotted this place miles way.
"One thing's for sure," Techno said. "It certainly isn't subtle."
"Thanks for stating the obvious, Tech." Crimson grunted.
Launchpad gave Darkwing a nudge. "You know what, DW? I think this is the weirdest trap I've ever seen. And that's counting the time with the dog-riding flamingos."
"You might be right about that, Launchpad." Darkwing chuckled, remembering that crazy caper all too well. "So let's go trip this tawdry trap, shall we? Crimson? Tech?" Partner and sidekick turned to attention, at once ready to hear a plan. "You two see if you can sneak in the skylight, while we go in the front door."
Crimson's eyes widened behing her mask. "The front door?" She paused for a moment, thinking it over. "Actually, that makes sense. That way Tech and I can catch 'em off guard." She pulled out her grapple gun, while Techno activated his jet boots. "Just don't to anything I wouldn't do!" She smirked.
Darkwing returned the snarky, but fond, look. "Same to you."
Once Crimson and Techno were out of sight, Darkwing and Launchpad strolled up to the entrance and threw the doors open, not unlike a cowboy storming into a saloon.
"Ah, complete darkness. The old fashioned approach!" Darkwing laughed pompously, purposefully talking loudly to mock his would-be trappers. "Every crimefighter worth his salt knows what that means."
"You said it, DW. Though why they'd pay you in salt, I don't know."
Darkwing glared at him. "That one had to be on purpose, LP." Launchpad just shrugged, smiling sheepishly. "Fine. Let's just find a clue of some kind."
"What about that?" Launchpad said, pointing directly in front of them. In the middle of the room, under a large spotlight, was a gigantic jack-in-the-box. It was done up like a present, with a rainbow of colors and a little ribbon on top.
It was, frankly, almost impossible to miss. Darkwing scowled, trying to cover the way he'd been too busy admiring the darkness to do so. "Well," He scoffed. "That at least confirms that this whole charade was Quackerjack's idea…"
"You're one-third right, Dipwing!"
The jack-in-the-box suddenly exploded with a burst of confetti. At the same instant the lights suddenly clicked on, allowing the heroes – who had all hit the floor the moment the box went up – to finally see what they had walked into.
The inside was as lavish as the outside, with tables, chairs, and the chicest of bars spanning across a large sectioned area. There were additional levels being built with lounges, blinky lights, and what might have even be the makings of a dance floor in the corner!
More importantly, however, were the people that were in those lavish surroundings. They quickly spotted at least a dozen crooks there – not including the Fearsome Threesome, as Launchpad put them. Bianca Beakley was at sitting at the bar in plain clothes, alongside a group of small time thugs, mockingly tipping a drink in their direction. To the side Cementhead leaned against a pillar, arms crossed and rocky jaw chiseled into a smirk. Even Hammerhead Hannigan could be spotted well in the back, though he seemed to be more interested in enjoying his drink than taking part.
But front and center were Bushroot, Rowe and Quackerjack, who were almost casually standing around the two heroes. Darkwing fell into a fighting stance, throwing them a suspicious look. In response, Rowe merely pointed straight up.
A moment later, there was a sudden crash as one of the skylight windows fell off the base... and a much smaller thud, as it landed in the familiar shape of Camille the Chameleon – with Crimson and Techno in tow, momentarily stunned but otherwise unhurt. They recovered quickly and twisted out of Camille's grasp – or perhaps Camille had let them go, it wasn't clear - diving into formation with Darkwing and Launchpad and matching their battle-ready stance.
"I knew it was a trap." Darkwing whined.
"I think we all sort of figured that, sir." Techno noted, to his chagrin.
"So then why are we here?"
"Heroic caveat, I'd bet." Bushroot tutted patronizingly, like a teacher giving a lecture to a four year old. "Even after years of fighting monsters, spies, doppelgangers and alien invasions, you hero types still can't resist an obvious set-up."
Darkwing sighed. "…he's not wrong…" he said under his breath. But loud enough for everyone to hear, he pulled out his trusty gas gun and aimed it straight at the nearest supervillain – which happened to be Rowe. "Suck gas, evil doers!"
"Easy, mate, easy!" Rowe threw his hands up, though he didn't truly seem worried. "Put the gun down! Nobody's killing anyone!"
"At least not yet." Quackerjack said absently. Rowe – who was still facing down a live barrel – threw him an irritated look.
Bushroot merely chuckled. "I'd believe him. Believe it or not, we really are here simply to celebrate."
Crimson tightened her fists. "We'll file that under 'or not.'"
"It's true!" Rowe said. Despite still having Darkwing's sidearm leveled his way, he never lost the casual tone, as if still in control. "You see Darkwing, we owe a lot to you. For years, we've been tussling it out with you. We each have our own reasons, but we've all been changed by the experience. It may have taken me a while to realize it, but changed for the better, I'd say!"
"Better?" Darkwing shouted, outraged. "You all went merrily on back down the road of crime!"
"Exactly, mate! Don't you see? Crooks and blighters are what this city does best! See, Negaduck wasn't from around here. He didn't get it either! In the end, all he wanted was his win. His heel over all our heads. But we, the felons of St. Canard, know better. And now that now he's gone, we've come to realize that St. Canard is better off without him! What it deserves is a better class of criminal."
"The kind that will rob and plunder it with the loving care and respect it deserves!" Quackerjack chimed in, laughing wildly.
"Hence our little get together, here." Bushroot said bluntly. Unlike the other two, he made sure to talk clearly and simply, so the heroes understood what was going on. "We're going to bring the St. Canard underworld together in a brand new way. Free range supercrime. No overlords trying to make minions out of us. No sadistic conspiracies bringing down our own individual ambitions. It's a new age of fraternity and professionalism for us villains."
"Fraternity and professionalism?" Quackerjack pulled a face. "Makes us sound like a gentlemen's club."
"No minions, huh?" Techno repeated. "So what's all this, then?" He gestured to the room full of villains and thugs, all of whom were eyeing them with intentions that were hard to like.
"Naah." Quackerjack explained. "We may be an organization with class, but we're not a syndicate. At least, that's not the plan."
"Not all of these guys want to be part of the deal." Rowe explained. "And hey, that's their choice. Some are just here to appreciate the décor, and get a good look at tonight's big event. This is going to be the hottest new spot in town – imagine people paying to rub elbows with supervillains! It'll be a goldmine!"
"Why, we're a staple of this city's culture!" Cementhead added, raising his hand to his chest. The other villains cheered in response.
"I think we got the idea out of a comic book." Quackerjack shrugged. Everyone glared at him, which he of course ignored.
"So you're some kind of New Deal for crooks and supervillains. Sounds nice and progressive." Crimson said, her best icy sarcasm rolling off of her voice. Her hand was still tight around her own gas gun, though she had yet to draw it. "That still doesn't explain why we're here. What's your 'big event?' Plan to kick off your little scheme by getting rid of us? I can see Quackerjack doing it, but it's a little dark for you Bushroot!" She glanced at the third ringleader of the pack. "And especially you Rowe!"
But Rowe just grinned. "Not at all, mate!" He laughed, impishly leaning into her face. "In fact, because we owe and respect you lot so much, we wanted to let you know there's no hard feelings!" He stood up, addressing the entire group. "We may fight, but you're all right."
The response from the crowd of villains was a bit less enthusiastic this time.
"Well… more or less. We still don't like you very much, mate."
"And to let you know that in this new game of ours we've got no intentions of getting personal," Quackerjack shouted, so that the whole room could hear. "The soft open of the Fearsome Dive is an actual, factual party in your honor!"
There was another loud pop, and confetti started to fall from the ceiling. The air filled with beats as loud disco music suddenly started playing from the speakers. Several of the villains got up from their seats and began to dance.
This distracted the heroes for just a moment, allowing Cementhead to somehow slip behind them. "Come on, you crazy do-gooders you! Join the fun!" He "helpfully" shoved them towards the center of the room, laughing loudly at their confusion. They were too surprised to resist.
"I was not expecting this." Darkwing stammered. He looked rather shell shocked.
"I don't think any of us were." Crimson replied, sharing her father's expression.
"I was!" Launchpad added gleefully. "That's why I brought this!" He pulled a rainbow-colored party hat out of his jacket and stuffed it on top of his pilot hat. The others looked at him like he had grown three heads. "What? The note did say it was a party!"
"Have fun!" Bushroot yelled over the music. He, Rowe and Quackerjack stood to the side, smugly watching the show. "And do try to be careful. I think Quackerjack designed most of the games…"
And with that, Team Darkwing was consumed by the party like a roach stuck in a bad motel. By the time they realized that this was indeed the worst kind of trap, they were already ankle deep in food, party favors – some of which were, indeed, unnecessarily deadly - and awkward dance sessions with their enemies.
As it turns out, turns out mutant lizards and ducks made of stone seriously have the moves, though that's about all the intel they were able to get through all the rush and madness…
Downstairs, A Short Time Later - Deadline Expiration Imminent
The party was still in full swing, and the Five were happy to note that their indomitable heroes had yet to make their escape (in fact, as Rowe especially was happy to note, they had spotted Crimson getting down on the dance floor more than once). The novelty had run out, and while everyone was having a surprisingly good time the fun had by now shifted to finding new ways to ensure the do-gooders didn't leave early… mostly just for the sake of messing with them.
At least nobody had started a fight. Yet, anyway.
This was sure to keep everyone busy, so nobody noticed as Rowe, Quackerjack and Bushroot slipped away from the party and entered the back area. It was a secret for now, but once their team got into full swing they intended this to be their headquarters, away from prying eyes.
They headed down two layers of steps, into a basement that wasn't on any blueprint (as an old Negaduck hideout, such things were to be expected). Rowe and Bushroot brushed off a few flecks of confetti, looking quite happy with themselves. But while they looked like they had at least had a little fun, Quackerjack was covered head to toe in party favors and grinning like he'd had the time of his life.
Though that didn't stop him from having questions.
"Don't get me wrong, this was the most fun ever." He said, playing around with Launchpad's party hat. He had somehow gotten ahold of it during the festivities, and was now hanging on one of the puffs of his jester's cap like a tassel. "But I'm still not sure why we threw Darkwing of all people a party."
"Well for one," said Rowe. "We owe him. He and Crimson did save our lives, mate."
"Yeah, but he does that all the time!"
"Secondly," Bushroot cleared his throat to draw Quackerjack's attention. His explanation was a little more on the stern side. "it was necessary. If we just reformed the Fearsome Five normally, Darkwing and SHUSH would've thought of Negaduck right away cracked down on us like you wouldn't believe. We legitimately don't want to be like Negaduck, but there's no reason for them to understand that. So we want them to be confused about us, so they can't figure out where we stand."
"An obvious front like this and an open invite is just the thing to keep 'em going until we're good to go." Rowe added.
"Oh." Quackerjack paused for a moment, then cheerfully went back to following the group. "Here I thought we just opened this place to stick it to that guy who runs the Old Haunt."
"Well, that too."
They continued to walk in silence for a few moments, before Bushroot started up the conversation again.
"Although… gentlemen, I had a thought."
Quackerjack grinned. "A dangerous pastime," he quipped, making Bushroot roll his eyes.
"I'm serious. If we're going to be serious about this being a 'new game,' we should probably draw up rules of conduct."
Rowe and Quackerjack groaned dramatically. Quackerjack actually clutched his face, falling to the ground in mock-horror.
Bushroot glared at them. "Don't give me that, you know I'm right. We were already thinking about it anyway."
"And we know that you know what we know you're right," Quackerjack whined. It was a testament to how well they knew him that the other two followed that immediately. "Can't we leave it at that?"
"Yeah, don't be a stiff, mate. I thought we'd keep it more to 'overall guidelines,'" Rowe said defensively.
Bushroot raised an eyebrow. "With this group of crazies? I say go for structure. Even pirates had a code."
"Fine. But let's draw that code up after we take care of unfinished business."
They had arrived. Below the club was a huge room that led to several smaller corridors – one of Negaduck's more secure hideouts, just in case they really had to lie low. They had already set up a computer – nowhere near as powerful as Darkwing's, but manageable – and a series of cameras to feed into it. That way they could see everything that happened upstairs.
The place was largely empty, but that could be fixed in time. What was really important was the object in the center of the room.
The jack-in-the-box, as Quackerjack called it, had remained unresponsive ever since their last conversation with its mysterious master – even as they moved it all the way down here. But Bushroot had since given it a thorough inspection, and figured out how it worked reasonably well: by his estimation, it was "a surprisingly simple device for such a ridiculously obtuse plan." Quackerjack had laughed at this, but Rowe didn't care much.
In the present, Bushroot was silently but unanimously chosed to be the one to do the honors.
"Well, here goes…" Bushroot said nervously as he opened up a panel on the side. He glanced back at them, making sure they were all behind this. Seeing that they were, he barely hesitated before pressing a big, red button: labeled "CALL."
The effect was immediate. The camera and speakers rose out of the box again. There was a moment of unbearable static, and then the voice was echoing through the room.
Its tone was sharp, as if they had interrupted it in the middle of something important. There was a authoritative sting to it, as though this wasn't the only thing it saw as an interrupting. "Yes? What is it?"
"It's the Five. You wouldn't believe it, but we decided to take your job offer after all."
There was a pause. When it ended, the voice sounded much less irritatable. "Excellent. I was beginning to worry that I would need to look… elsewhere. I will send you an advance on your pay and the specifics of the job at a later date. But before you get started, you will need to develop additional resources."
"No need. We already made a few connections and buffed up our ranks."
"I am well aware that your group has been trying to expand." The voice responded, prompting surprised responses from the trio of villains. It continued on, unable to see their suspicion. "Such information is, of course, useful for someone in my position. But no, what I mean is that there are several tools you will require to accomplish my tasks, and you will need to take the steps yourselves to… ready their use."
"I see. And what are these tools supposed to be?" Rowe shuffled irritably. "Where are we supposed to get them from, mate? For a single job, you're certainly giving us a lot of supplementary work."
"They are inside this box. After this call ends, it will open and reveal them. This is all simply preparation, you understand. You will be well compensated."
The trio looked back and forth at each other, but each remained silent. They were already in for a penny: they might as well make back a pound. Even if it did mean evasive employers piling on additional work.
"I trust you will be able to ensure their full potential on your own." The voice concluded. "I will be in contact. Do NOT call after this point."
With a sharp click, the call dropped. The speaker retracted into its compartment, which sealed itself – most likely so the device could quietly self-destruct to leave no trace. There was a long hiss as the box's shell came apart, each side falling away from it to reveal a smaller section within.
There were two things sitting in the compartment. The first was a second box, containing what looked like a pile of mismatched metal junk. The other was a painting.
It was a portrait - to be specific - of a pale woman with long, shaggy black hair and a manic look. She was surrounded by an explosion of color and indiscernible shapes. There was a note, titling it "The Artiste, by Melody Amber Phoenix."
"Tacky." Rowe drawled.
Quackerjack snorted, but Bushroot showed more of an interest. "Whoa!" He leaned in close to inspect its level of detail. "I can't believe it, but that looks just like Splatter Phoenix!"
Rowe blinked. "Who?"
"You got me!" Quackerjack said, shrugging. "Sounds like a burger joint."
Bushroot groaned. "Okay… Rowe I understand. He's newer. Comparatively, anyway. But come on, Quackerjack! Didn't you ever read the underworld newsletter back in the day?"
Quackerjack, as usual, was unabashed. "Can't say that I did." He said flippantly. "Too busy playing with toys, believe it or not! Toys like this one!" He squealed, turning to the box of metal parts. He picked up each of the pieces in turn and turned them over in his hands. "Building blocks, now with jagged metal edges! That's my kind of playtime!"
Bushroot threw his hands out to stop him. "Wait! We should probably-"
But it was no use. Quackerjack had already started putting the pieces together. As soon as he connected each in turn, they would hum and glow, and a magnetic pull began to join others even if Quackerjack hadn't touched them.
"- have… it… checked out first…"
The parts assembled themselves quicker and quicker. Soon, they didn't need Quackerjack any more. He stepped back and watched as a shape formed – arms and legs, then a head and a chest. A complete body slowly but surely began to take form, standing higher and higher with every added part.
"Oh… boy…" Rowe said shakily, his neck craned as he took in this new development.
It was a huge, golden robot – easily several heads taller than any of them. It had lanky arms and bulky legs, and its chest seemed a size too big for the rest of it. It's body was covered with buttons and diodes, and there were light bulbs sticking out where a person's ears and nose might be. At the top, a
It stood up. Then it turned to look at them. For just a brief moment, its eyes flickered red.
Then it spoke, with a voice that was as booming as it was tinny and monotone. It's eyes were normal again. "I. AM. ARMSTRONG! I. AM. YOUR. FRIEND!"
It might have been impolite, but none of them had a response. Even given that they had no idea what to expect from their benefactor's "resources," seeing a robot assemble itself from trash right in front of you tends to be a jarring experience. This outdid Frogduck's cheer session by far.
Naturally, it was Quackerjack who broke the ice.
"This is better than building blocks! It's a Transformer!" In a way only Quackerjack could, he jumped forward and wrung the robots large, imposing hand as if it were his long lost brother. Rowe and Bushroot could have punched him. "I've got a great feeling about this!"
The others glanced nervously at each other as Quackerjack began to chat amicably with their guest – and, apparently, newest member.
"Mate…" Rowe started slowly, not taking his eyes off their robotic surprise. "Why do I get the feeling we just dove into a whole new can of worms?"
His mutant comrade only shrugged. "Villainous caveat, I'd say…"
Author's Note: This merits some explanation. If you've seen Scyphi's prologue on his own page, then you already know. If not, then hightail it over there, read The New Adventures of Darkwing Duck - if only because it's amazing - and come back. As one of the best fics I've ever seen, I had always admired TNADWD's world, setting and characterization built high on top of what's already a great foundation. It stands as the only fanfic itself that I've ever been seriously invested in writing further fanfiction about.
Imagine my surprise when I approached Scyphi with the idea and he was all for it! It's been quite the privilege. And in tandem, we've built what is hoped to be a fun, compact set of continuations for the TNADWD continuity, focusing - at least at first - on a few unlikely protagonists in the wake of the pretty big events of the end of that story. Expect twist, turns, an update every two weeks, and the occasional plucked feather.
The first of these, Retake Five, is a multi-part story that focuses on the Fearsome Five now that they're leaderless, low on members and in need of purpose. Because after all, who doesn't love a set of eccentric but dangerous villains? Big inspiration here: for Flash fans, or comic fans in general, the Rogues stand out as one of the most distinctive villain groups out there - and the big reason for that is the way the balance between principled crook and occasional comrade. The whole "professionalism and fraternity" bit is a big shout out to them.
Lastly, I leave you with my Duck reference of the day: you might remember The Old Haunt as Megavolt's villain bar of choice in the original series. Bad guy hangouts are fun, and the original, tron-split Negaduck trashing the place was one of my favorite scenes of the old show. See how many more you can find!
Next Time: The Five have begun their first steps towards a brave, bold era in villainy! But to get started on their mysterious benefactor's machinations, they need to shore up their numbers. And what better way to do so than an... unconventional prison break? No worries, it should be Simple, Mate! - or so you'll see, next time!