Shades of Grey.
The Mallard residence... Afternoon...
Drake was sitting on his couch looking intently at the television. Next to the set was Gosalyn's old Digiduck 64 gaming console. Inside the console was the cartridge for 'Justice Ducks: Mano-a-Mano.' Drake was so engrossed in his game that he didn't even notice the racket in the kitchen.
Eventually, Launchpad walked into the living room carrying a large plate of sandwiches. He put the plate down, grabbed a seat, and started munching away. "Mmm, 'Justice Ducks.' So this is why you wouldn't let Gosalyn take her Digiduck to college."
Without taking his eyes of the screen, Drake responded. "Not true, LP. Gosalyn will have enough distractions at college without her Digiduck. The last thing she needs is to spend all her time glued to a TV playing some dumb video game. I kept the Digiduck here for her own good."
Launchpad rolled his eyes at Drake's rationalization. Then he glanced at the screen, where Bouncer Beagle and Gizmoduck were duking it out. "Hey, DW! You're not playing as yourself! I'm shocked!"
"Ah, LP, how little you know me. Sure, I only fought as Darkwing Duck in 'Justice Ducks: One For All,' but that was then. This is now. I have matured since then. I have realized that playing as other characters broadens my horizons. It proves that I am a superb player, and not some talentless hack who relies solely on Darkwing's vastly superior move-set to win."
"Are you sure it isn't because Gosalyn found a way to beat Darkwing with any available character?"
"Of course not, LP."
Launchpad rolled his eyes, grabbed another sandwich, and watched the fight unfold. It wasn't long before Gizmoduck's life meter turned red. Moving in for the kill, Bouncer gave Gizmoduck a swift kick to the gut. While Gizmoduck was bent over in pain, Bouncer grabbed him, raised him over his head, and slammed Gizmoduck into the ground. The normal post-fight events played on the screen, and Drake started a little victory dance.
Launchpad was impressed. "Wow. Was that Bouncer's finisher?"
"Yep, yep, yep." Drake finished up his dance. "The codebook calls it a 'powerbomb.' I like it." Drake pointed to the controller. "You wanna play?" Launchpad nodded and Drake tossed him the controller. "So, d'ya have any favorite characters yet?"
Launchpad shrugged as he picked up the controller. "Not really. Most of the time I just have fun fighting in matches that might actually take place." Launchpad paused as he looked through the fighter roster. "Fights like... An 'Eggman' verses... 'Agent Grizlykoff'--er, I mean 'Agent X.'" Launchpad chucked as he selected a fighter bearing Grizlycoff's likeness. "Heh, heh. I wonder if old Griz is getting any royalties from being in the game."
Drake snorted. "I doubt it. Look at the effort it took for us to get royalties." Drake shook his head at the memory of the royalty debacle. "Besides, Grizlykoff is so out of touch he probably doesn't even realize he's in the game."
While Launchpad fought, Darkwing took a headphone set off the end table. "Well, as long as I'm not doing anything, I might as well see if anything is going on tonight." He tuned the headset to the police frequency and turned it on.
A short while later, Darkwing took off the headset. "I hate to interrupt your game LP, but--"
"We've got a case?"
Drake chucked. "Got it in one, LP. I'll fill you in on the way. Now..." Darkwing paused as he sat down in the armchair. "Off to Darkwing Tower." Drake tapped the mouse statue disappeared.
Western Saint Canard... Warehouse district...
"Huh, this place looks like Gosalyn's room." Darkwing was standing knee-deep in debris inside a warehouse. The entire interior of the building had been trashed. Most of the support columns and all of the shelves had been knocked over. Whatever had been stored in the warehouse had reduced to rubbish.
Darkwing grimaced as he began wading through the debris. A squelching sound accompanied every step he took. "Like Gosalyn's room... Only wetter. Well, at least we know the building's fire suppression system..." Darkwing trailed off as he stared up at the ceiling.
Shaking his head, Darkwing continued his investigation. He sifted through the debris, looking for any clues that would tell him about the warehouse's past. About who had owned it, why it had been trashed, and by whom. Then, after ten minutes of searching, he found what he was looking for.
It was on one of the remaining support columns, just above eye level. It was an insignia painted on the column. The original insignia had been three gray equilateral triangles, stacked in such a manner that their edges formed a single, larger triangle. However, a second insignia had recently been spray painted on top of the old one. The new insignia consisted of a red 'anarchy A' inscribed in the center of the triangles. Crude red 'wings' extended away from the 'A,' reaching far beyond the edge of the original insignia.
For a moment, Darkwing studied the insignia. Then, with a thoughtful look on his face, he turned and exited the building.
Back at the Ratcatcher, Launchpad was listening to the police radio. He looked up as Darkwing approached. "Hey DW, guess what... The police actually figured something out! They did a background check on the owner of the warehouse, and found out it was owned by a gang leader. They think he used it to store stolen loot and supplies, and that the warehouse was attacked by some rival gang." Launchpad chuckled. "They finally did something right... I guess there's a first time for everything, eh DW?"
"That there is, LP. Unfortunately, this isn't that time."
"This incident does involve gang activity. The police got that much right. However, the damage was not done by gang members."
"How do ya know?"
"Simple, LP. The wreckage was wet. Even though the incident took place many hours ago, the wreckage is still water logged. For it to take this long for the wreckage to dry, it must have been thoroughly soaked during the incident. No gang could get that much water into the warehouse."
"Couldn't they have just set off the smoke detectors and let the sprinklers soak the warehouse?"
Darkwing chuckled. "You're really thinking today, LP. They could have, if the warehouse had sprinklers. The warehouse was... Not up to code. There were no overhead sprinklers. Indeed, the warehouse had no fire suppression system whatsoever."
"So, how could all that water get there?"
"Simple LP, the gang had help. They had the help of someone powerful enough to completely flood a warehouse that is miles from any large body of water..."
"You mean Splatter Phoenix is back?!" Upon seeing Darkwing's dumbstruck expression, Launchpad explained. "Well, y'know... She could paint a picture of a lake inside the warehouse and bring it to life and use that to flood the place..."
Darkwing raised his eyebrow at his sidekick. "...Launchpad, I never thought I'd say this, but you're thinking too hard. Just think about water, and yell out the first name that comes to mind..."
"Neptunia?" Darkwing buried his face in his hands. Sensing he guessed the wrong person, Launchpad thought for another moment. Finally, it dawned on him. "The Liquidator..."
Saint Canard... Business district...
Three figures were standing next to their parked car. They were all young, as the oldest couldn't have been more than 25. All wore sunglasses, jackets, bandanas, and various other clothes favored by their generation. At first glance, they were just a nondescript trio of youngsters. Nondescript, except for the fact that, somewhere, each wore an insignia consisting of three gray triangles...
"Joey, you sure we should be doin' this?" The first one asked. "I mean, this serious stuff! If we ain't careful, we're gonna get in too deep!"
Joey, obviously the group's elder and leader, cast a stern glance at his companions. "You think I don't know that? Just getting into this is getting in too deep!" Joey glanced around to make sure nobody noticed his outburst. He then continued in a hushed tone. "Thing is, we don't got a choice. You saw what the Angels did to Mark's place! If they bring that kind of power to a fight, we Greys are gonna be toast!"
Joey took off his sunglasses and put them in the pocket of his leather jacket. "Okay, I'm goin' in. You guys chill here. And stay inconspicuous! We ain't in Angel territory, but we ain't in Grey territory either."
Trying his best to look casual, Joey walked away from his companions and into one of the nearby stores. It was a small store, old, and somewhat run-down. From the outside, it looked like just an ordinary mom-and-pop business. But Joey knew better. For weeks there had been rumors about a new gang leader in town who would loan out his 'super thugs' to whomever could pay his price. The rumor said that the organization was centered in this building. After the incident at the Mark's place, Joey was convinced the rumors were true, and he was determined to get one of these thugs.
Joey entered the foyer of the shop. On the inside, it looked even more run down than the outside. There were cracks in the wall and cobwebs in the corners. A quick look around showed the room was deserted. Undaunted, Joey walked over to the desk, where there was a small sign reading 'Ring bell for service.'
"Quaint." Absently, Joey rang the bell.
A moment later, a door behind the desk opened and a dark figure wearing a trenchcoat and fedora came out. Between the heavy trenchcoat, hat, poor lighting, and the figure's naturally dark complexion, it was impossible to determine the figure's identity. Silently, he strode up to the desk.
"You in charge here?" Asked Joey. The figure nodded. "Good. I want to do some business with you. My name is Joey--"
"Joey 'the Future' Matthews... Yes, I know exactly who you are. You are one of the top field commanders of the West Grey gang. In fact, you are the self proclaimed 'Future' of the Greys, and the expected successor of Mark Aaronson." The figure paused and regarded the stunned expression on Joey's face. "You will find, Mr. Matthews, that I am quite well informed. Now... I believe you said something about doing business..."
Almost instantly, Joey's expression returned to normal. "Yeah... Yeah, I did. Word on the street is that you're the guy to talk to about... Well, lets just say that for a price, you give guys a little extra muscle. I happen to be interested in acquiring a 'little extra muscle.'"
"Ah, I see you are also well informed." The figured cast a glance at a smirking Joey. "All right then, you need some muscle. May I ask what for?"
Joey scowled. "...Lets just say I could use some help defending my boarders..."
"Sounds like you've got yourself a little gang war. And judging by your expression, I'd say you're loosing the war." Joey's scowl deepened. "But lets not dwell on that. You need muscle, I'll provide it... For a price, of course...."
"I wanna see this muscle before I pay for it."
Joey thought he could see a smile on the figure's shadowy face. "My, aren't we blunt today? What ever happened to the good old days? When two people could just stand around and talk before getting down to business. When deals were made at a leisurely pace..."
"They died when people got sick of other people talking too much. Now, what does this muscle look like?"
From a pocket in his trenchcoat, the figure pulled out a test tube filled with water. "Behold! This little tube will provide you with all the muscle you need!" The figure uncorked the tube, and poured the contents onto the desk.
Joey cocked an eyebrow. "Ooooh, a puddle. That'll really hurt the Angels. Unless they bring a sponge..."
The figure pulled out a second test tube, which was also filled with water. He poured a few drops on the puddle. Suddenly, the puddle started bubbling. Startled, Joey stepped back and watched as the water started expanding. The water rose up, then condensed itself into an all too recognizable form.
The Liquidator crossed his arms and smirked proudly at Joey. "No sponge will defeat the Liquidator! That I guarantee!"
Back in his tower, Darkwing was pacing in front of a large electronic map of Saint Canard. "So... We already know that the 'Angel' gang has enlisted the help of the Liquidator. And that they are intent on using him in their little gang war with the 'Grey' gang. So far, they've already hit two Grey outposts."
"Two?" Asked Launchpad. "I thought all they hit was the warehouse. When was the second strike?"
"Actually, LP, the warehouse was the second strike. I had the computer run through all recent police reports. One of the reports was of a small shop being looted. A pretty minor incident, but the police did notice an unusual amount of water damage in the store. That, coupled with the fact that the store is within the Grey territory, makes me think it was a related incident."
Darkwing walked over to a computer console and tapped a few buttons. In response, the electronic map focused in on the western quadrant of Saint Canard, and several city blocks were highlighted by a light gray glow. Two red 'X's appeared within the gray area.
"This," Darkwing gestured to the highlighted area, "is the supposed territory of the Grey gang. The two places the Liquidator hit," Darkwing pointed to the two 'X's, "are both along the eastern edge of the territory, which supports the gang war motive. Since he's been unhindered so far, the Liquidator will probably strike again, and strike soon. But this time, we'll be there to stop him!
"Are we going on a stakeout?" Asked Launchpad.
"That we are, LP. To the Thunderquack!" Launchpad eagerly ran off, while Darkwing stayed behind for a moment. Darkwing took one last look around his tower. "Now," he said to no one in particular, "lets get dangerous..."
Western Saint Canard... Evening... In a not so abandoned alley...
Joey Matthews was standing in the center of the alley, and was being flocked by other members of the Grey gang. "Yo! Everybody chill and listen up!" Joey paused while the chatter died away. "That's bettah. Here's how it went down: I found to the guy, talked with him, and got the help we need."
One of the other members spoke up. "So where is this 'help' then?"
Joey cast a stern glance at the speaker. "This is gonna sound stupid," Joey pulled out the vial, "but its right here! This guy must have some real dirt on the Liquidator, cause Liquie is doin' his grunt work."
"Are you sayin' the Liquidator is in that tube?"
"That's exactly what I'm sayin'! Whenever we need help, we just pour Liquie out, and tell him what we want done! Afterwards, The blue guy goes right back into the bottle."
"So how long does Liquie stay with us?" This last question was asked by Rachael, one of the gang's more level headed members.
Joey replied with a thoughtful expression on his face. "That's the odd thing... You'd think the boss would want his goon back as soon as possible, so he could hire him out again. But this guy said we could keep Liquie as long as we wanted...
"But enough about that! We've got what we need, and that's what matters! Earlier today, the Angels took out one our stashes, so it looks like they're gonna keep up the heat. You guys go out and keep watch on the rest of our stashes. The moment any Angels show up, call me..." Joey put the tube back in his pocket. "...And I'll take care of them. Now move out!"
Joey was just getting to his car when Rachael caught up with him. "Hey Joey, you got a minute?"
"For you Rach, I got all the time in the world." Joey opened the door for Rachael. "I'm headed off for a bite. Hop in. We'll talk on the way."
Rachael got into the car, and they took off. A moment later, Rachael spoke up. "All right Joey, I saw that look in your eyes back there. What didn't you tell them?"
"That's what I like about you Rach... You're always watching, always thinking...." Joey smiled to himself as he continued driving. "What I didn't say back there is that you don't just pour Liquidator out of the tube. You do that and you just get a puddle of water.
"To get Liquie to work, you gotta add some of this." Joey pulled the second tube out of his pocket and handed it to Rachael. "The guy I talked to called it 'Deuterium.' Looks like water to me..."
"That's 'cause it is water," replied Rachael. "Deuterium is the name for a Hydrogen molecule that has a neutron in its nucleus. The guy must have meant that this water has more--"
"Gah, shut up Rach! You know I don't know jack about science, so spare me the explanation!" Rachael sullenly handed the tube back to Joey. "Hey, sorry babe, but I just don't care... Anyway, we add the Deuterium to the first tube, and Liquie pops up. The more Deuterium we add, the more powerfully he is. I guess Liquie runs on the stuff or something... Basically, the Liquidator works for us until we run out of the stuff. When it's gone, I guess he just leaves."
Rachael sat silently while she thought about what Joey had said. At length, Joey spoke up again. "Yo, Rach... Suppose we got our hands on some more of this Deuterium. D'y'think we could keep Liquidator forever?"
"Maybe, Joey..." Rachael spoke slowly, thinking things over. "But Deuterium is really scarce stuff. It's used for nuclear stuff, and not much else. 'Sides that, it's real hard to concentrate it. It would take some heavy duty processing plant. I don't think we got anything that big in Saint Canard."
"Ah, well. It was just an idea..."
"One other thing Joey. Earlier, you were positive that the Angels brought in outside help to trash Mark's place. Could they have gone to the same guy you did? Do they have..." Rachael broke off, trying to find the right words.
"Calm down, Rach," soothed Joey. "I may have worried about that earlier, but not now. This guy does not rent economy thugs. There's no way the Angels could cough up enough dough to pay this guy. Their help came from somewhere else."
"So... This really set you back, huh."
"Ooooh yeah..." Joey sank into his seat as he recalled the cost.
"You gonna be okay, then?"
Joey perked up and cast a sly glance at Rachael. "If I say no, will you pay for dinner?"
Rachael just shook her head and sighed.
Western Saint Canard... In an alley just outside Grey territory...
Angela Redwing was the founder of the Angel gang. Since their creation, the Angels had been upstarts, forced to fight for what little territory they had. They were always being pushed around by the larger, more established gangs.
"...Like the Greys. But that all ends tonight!" Angela tightened her grip on the tube she was holding. "After tonight, everything changes. Joey will be gone, and the rest of the Greys will be running around with their heads cut off. They'll be ripe for the picking..."
At that moment, Angela's scout pulled into the alley. He quickly jumped off his motorcycle and ran up to Angela. "It's all clear," he reported. "I spotted all their patrols, but they're all at the boarder. There ain't nobody guardin' the Grey-Mart!"
"So the place is abandoned?"
The scout smiled maliciously. "I didn't say that. There's Greys all over the place, but none of them are on guard! They don't suspect nothin'!"
"Good! Then its all set." Angela stuck the tube back in her pocket and rushed to her bike. "Now remember the plan. I go in alone. And nobody attacks until the Greys start panicking. Once they do, hit 'em hard!"
With that, Angela gunned the motor, and sped out of the alley.
High above the Saint Canard skyline, the Thunderquack cruised through the sky. From the cockpit, Darkwing looked down upon the city. As the Thunderquack circled over the Grey boarder, Darkwing watched for any large explosions, floods, or other events that might indicate the Liquidator's presence. Intent on his search, Darkwing paid no heed to a lone motorcycle driving strait into the heart of Grey territory...
Joey set down his order and glanced across the booth towards Rachael. "Sure you don't want some fries? I got plenty, so sharing's no problem..."
"I'm fine, Joey. Really." Rachael sat back and took a sip of her soda.
Joey shook his head. "Ya go to Hamburger Hippo and you don't get a hamburger OR fries... Sometimes I wonder about you Rach."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. So, did'ja catch the game last night?"
"Nope. I was too busy--" Joey was interrupted by his cel-phone ringing. "Hold up." Joey put the phone up to his head. "Yo, make it quick, I'm on a date."
"This is not a date!" Cried Rachael.
Joey cast a sly glance at Rachael. However, his expression changed once he heard what the caller was saying. "What? Redwing's headed to the... You can't be serious! ...Okay, I'll get there as quick as I can. In the meantime, keep an eye on the boarder. This may just be a diversion. Now get movin'!"
Joey promptly got up and headed to the door. Rachael hurried to catch up. In a concerned tone she asked "Yo Joey, what's goin' on?"
"Trouble," was the only response Joey gave.
In olden days, Lords commanded their own personal armies and resided in large Keeps. When not in battle, the Lord and his vassals would gather in great halls and have feasts and celebrations. However, in modern times, the closest anyone could get to being a 'Lord' was to be a gang leader. And gangs never feasted in great halls. They hung out at strip malls...
The Riverside Strip Mall was located in the heart of Grey territory. It was also the unofficial headquarters of the Grey gang. Almost all important meetings took place there. Many of the employees were Grey members and several of the owners were former Grey members. Because of its association with the Grey gang, the place was often refered to as the 'Grey Mart.'
Angela Redwing was on top of a parking garage two blocks away from the Mall. It was an old parking garage, that had been abandoned for several years. From here, Angela could safely watch the mall without being seen herself. With her eyes glistening, she pulled a tube out of her pocket, uncorked it and poured its contents onto the ground. Angela pulled out a second tube, which was only a third of the way full. Again, she uncorked the tube and poured it onto the first one.
Angela smiled grimly as the Liquidator rose up from the puddle. He casually glanced at Angela and asked, "You rang?"
"Yes." Angela's voice was quivering with anticipation. "Over there is the Riverside Strip Mall. I want you to destroy it. Level it to the ground! Don't spare anything!" By this time, Angela was grinning maniacally. "And if anyone tries to stop you, wipe them out!"
Liquidator bowed dramatically. "Your wish is my command." He calmly walked to the edge of the garage and jumped off. As he cascaded down to the ground, his watery voice floated up, "Consider it done..."
Still grinning maniacally, Angela gazed down the street at the Mall. Moments later, a geyser of water shot up from the center of the mall. Pandemonium ensued soon after. Watching the carnage unfold, she never noticed a gray car pulling up to the mall, or the Thunderquack circling overhead.
Joey's car skidded to a stop in front of the Riverside Mall. Joey hurriedly exited the car and raced toward the building, heedless of the hoards of people leaving the building.
"Joey! Hey Joey! Wait up!" Rachael tried to follow Joey, but got caught in a mob of fleeing people. After fighting her way out of the mob, Rachael paused by a bench to catch her breath. "Figures. He's always rushing in without thinking," she muttered.
As she stood there panting, she took a look around the strip mall. Aside from the panicking people, most of the mall looked normal. Then her gaze shifted to the central complex. The entire facade of the building and been ripped off. Beyond the entrance lay nothing but wreckage.
"The Angels have got to behind this! I don't know how, but I know they are..." Rachael cautiously began moving towards the central building. "Man, it looks like a title wave went through there... But how could that have happened? I mean, the Liquidator works for us..."
Suddenly, a geyser shot up from one of the buildings adjacent to the wrecked one. Instinctively, Rachael dove for cover behind a nearby piece of sculpture. "And to think I used to hate these things," she muttered as debris rained down on the sculpture.
When the debris stopped falling, Rachael got up and looked around to see if anyone had been hurt. Fortunately, by this time most people had cleared the area. However, as she scanned the scene, something caught Rachael's eye. Looking closer into the dark, Rachael thought she could see a speck of light against the black background.
"Where's that coming from? It looks like its from the old parking garage. But that place has been closed for years. Why would anyone be..." Rachael trailed off, momentarily lost in thought. Then it hit her. "Someone's watching us! Someone knew this was going to happen! Someone... Might have planed this... The Angels!"
Forgetting about everything else, Rachael raced off to the abandoned parking garage.
To be continued...