Nineteen people. Sly and Carmelita Cooper, Conner and Carmen, and Bruce O'Coop. Dawn and Kalen, Bentley, Murray, Jing, Winthrop and Karla Weasel. Javari Ahma, Sergei Gurlukovich, Keri Tiikeri, Thomas Gerard, Elvena and Erik… and, bringing up the end of the line was Enforcer Carmelita Fox. The large group made their way into the lobby of Doctor Moreau's towering skyscraper. Conner turned to Karla and said, "I'm ready to do this. I'm not afraid; I'm ready to finish this so I can go home and relax."
"Amen to that," said Karla. She cracked her knuckles and kissed her husband. "Keep them moving and out of trouble. Kalen and Erik are competent fighters; use them if trouble comes up, okay?"
"Relax," said Winthrop. "No one is dying. Donovan isn't going to be an orphan. We're all going home."
Thomas checked a handgun he picked up in the street. He was still drying it with his shirt. "I bet it's going to be a pain getting home. Proving you're alive to the banks and government and the department of motor vehicles… but I can't wait to get back, too. I'm ready."
Conner snorted. "Yeah, ready to spend that blood money you collected from Moreau. Three years of interest tacked on; I bet you're excited."
Thomas sighed, avoiding eye contact with everyone else. "I spent three years in a cell. Unlike Sergei, no one came to visit. It was a very, very long time for me. Like you guys, I just want to go home. Go back to work. Get back to having a normal life."
Conner hugged his mother and sister together. He reached his arms around them both but slipped his right paw into his father's and shook. "I love you guys. You'd better be right behind me. I don't want to lose you again. Karla and I will make quick work of those things, whatever they are. Just be ready to get in that lifeboat thing."
"You remember what I promised if we all get home safely," Dawn murmured.
Conner released his folks and turned to his girlfriend with a grin. "A fantastic relationship. You won't regret it, sweetheart." He cupped either side of her face, kissed her briefly then turned to Karla. "I'm ready."
Murray patted Conner on the back. "Good luck, lil' guy."
Keri hugged her friend, gingerly, and said, "You're one hell of a team leader. When all this blows over, I'll still be around. Go get'em Conner."
Conner stopped in his tracks and looked closer at Tiikeri's arm. "Why are you bleeding? It's starting to show through your shirt."
She offered a lopsided grin. "I got stabbed during a fight. I'm a tiger. I've had worse. It happened hours ago; I'm not one to complain. Well, okay I am, but after taking a knife in the leg when we flew into India… well, I stopped complaining about stuff like this."
Kalen cleared his throat. "If things get thick, call out for Mister Poliandro. You'll need his assistance." He turned to Keri and added, "Those wounds may get infected if you do not take care of them soon. I suggest salt water once you clean them out with alcohol or peroxide."
Bentley shifted the bag full of artifacts from his shoulder, handing them off to Murray. "Conner, you're the only person who managed to defeat my security system. You'll do just fine. But do me a favor… don't get carried away because you might damage the lifeboat's life support systems… technically it's a Captain's Yacht life capsule. Big enough for all of us, though, if my calculations are correct."
"And I hear they always are," said Javari with a grin. She smiled at Conner. "Like Keri said… go get'em."
Sergei took Conner's paw and shook it. "Knock 'em dead, tovarich. Let's get home so I can take you out for another fun ride in my Shelby Cobra."
Karla waved her paws for everyone to back up. "Okay, okay! He's ready to kick ass." She turned to Conner and put a paw on his shoulder. "Let's get to it then, huh? I wanna get home to my son."
"Wait, I might be able to help shut down those systems!" Enforcer Fox reached forth and took Conner by the forearm. Without further warning, Karla disappeared, taking Conner and Carmelita Fox with her. The other sixteen people headed for the stairwell.
"I feel sick," murmured Enforcer Fox. "I think it's from teleporting."
"It's in your head, then. My abilities don't mess with your bodily functions," Karla said with a snort of indignation, as if insulted by the Enforcer's presence. "I know your fighting style now, so I could best you this time. Don't make me whip your tail."
"Will you two stop?" Conner ran his fingers back through his hair then withdrew his family's cane. "Where are the robots?"
Carmelita looked around at the empty hall. "I see scratch marks on the floor and walls. They were here. They must have gone back to their charging bases." She turned to Karla and sneered. "I'd flatten you if you tried anything. You don't have Winthrop to save you this time."
"Listen up, bitch, and take some notes okay? You tricked me once, but you won't trick me again with that little stun grenade crap." Karla cracked her knuckles. "It's just as well that those sentry things aren't here."
"Listen, I'm risking my neck to help you guys out. If you're going to be ungrateful, I'll stomp your tail and save everyone else."
"Try it, sister." Karla rolled her sleeves up.
Carmelita drew her left paw back, fingers balled up in a tight fist. "Let's rumble, then."
Conner stepped between them but they ignored him and started to come at one another. His temper flared immediately. Conner threw his paw outwards and shocked Karla, throwing her to the floor. With his other paw, he grabbed Carmelita's elevated wrist, inadvertently putting charge directly into her body. "ENOUGH! SAME TEAM, okay?"
Carmelita Fox's fur stood on end. She began to tremble. Conner drew his paw back from her forearm then winced when she turned away and abruptly threw up on the floor. "I… I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…" he trailed off, watching her for a moment.
The vixen dropped to her knees, dry-heaving. Her body reeked of adrenaline and she began sweating profusely. "Look out!" cried Karla from behind. Conner lifted his eyes, seeing one of the sentries come around the corner, heading towards Carmelita. His eyes widened and he picked his cane up from the ground, having dropped it when trying to separate the girls.
The machine, hovering three feet off the ground, accelerated towards Carmelita. Charged with adrenaline, she suddenly lifted her head and closed her paws around the hull of the machine in an attempt to ward it off. Four more sentries came around the corner at the other end of the hallway. Conner and Karla jumped into the fray.
Karla teleported one and caused it to reappear in front of another, facing the other direction so that they both collided. Conner charged his cane, ran up along the wall then jumped back towards the incoming sentry bots. He brought his cane down, connecting with a target; all of his stored current rushed from the cane and into the robotic contraption. It hit the ground, rolled several times and came to a stop, smoking from the seams.
Karla used a telekinetic blast to drive the fourth sentry through the wall, another wall, a third wall and out the side of the building. Only designed to hover a few feet off the ground, the fourth sentry began to fall several dozen stories.
Conner spun about, striking the second sentry and sent it sailing into the third. His electrical strike put a great amount of raw energy into the unit, which was transferred to the third unit when they collided like billiard balls. Both sentries struck the wall and fell to the floor, smoking like the other one he attacked.
Karla took a deep breath then sighed in content. "The trick is to keep them from getting close." She turned to face Carmelita then gasped. "Conner!"
He turned back towards Enforcer Fox and quirked his brows in confusion. She was sitting next to the first sentry, looking confused and upset about something. Conner and Karla approached her cautiously. The vixen looked up with moist eyes then back down at the sentry in front of her. It was frozen solid, encased within a block of ice. Upon further inspection, a wisp of evanescence surrounded Carmelita's paws.
"What… did I just miss?" asked Karla in a soft voice.
"What's wrong with me?" asked Carmelita weakly. "I did this… I turned it to ice. How did I do that?"
"That's not normal," said Karla.
Carmelita put her paw against the wall, trying to get to her feet. When she did, she left a frozen paw print on the wall. "What did Moreau do to me? I've never had this happen before. But I only just learned that I can regenerate after an injury. And now… this? I didn't want this! I didn't want any of this nonsense. I'm some sort of freak now."
Karla frowned. "Can you control it? Can you turn it off before you accidentally freeze something else besides that drone thing and the wall?"
"I don't know how!" Carmelita exclaimed. "I don't want this!"
The door at the other end opened and Javari Ahma peered through. She saw Carmelita Fox on her knees half-way up the hall and approached with everyone else out in the stairwell. Thomas Gerard followed her into the hall, looking to remain cautious. Javari looked at Conner and Karla then back to her former boss. "What happened to her?"
"We're not sure," said Karla. "I'm not sure if she's injured or if the gene splicing mutations given to her by Moreau are starting to manifest."
"She seems to be in pain," Conner added.
Javari smirked. "She deserves to know pain." She approached Enforcer Fox and said, "This is karma, lady. Remember how you treated me? Do you?"
Fox looked up with tears in her eyes. "I didn't want this."
Thomas glanced back at Carmelita Cooper in the doorway then towards Carmelita Fox again. "What's wrong with her hands? Why are they smoking?"
"Back off, Gerard," said Fox in a raspy voice.
Thomas growled in irritation. "You treated me like hell while I was your prisoner. You foul bitch, you're upset because you treated everyone like hell and now it's all coming back to you. I hope whatever Doctor M did to you turns out to be fatal. You deserve to die!" His voice raised in volume at the end of his statement.
She trembled for a moment, as if trying to hold back her emotions. Thomas remained relentless despite Conner giving him a dirty look. The bear stepped in front of Javari in a protective way then continued to belittle the kneeling vixen. "What did you do to that machine? It's encased in ice. Is that what you do now? Seems fitting, since you were always the ice queen. I guess your heart is leaking. I hope you roll over and freeze yourself to death in your sleep. I, for one, will be glad when you're gone. Why don't you do us all a favor and put your paws around your own throat right now!"
"NO!" Carmelita stood up and punched him in the gut with all of her pent up rage, guilt and sorrow. The large bear went spiraling back, hit the wall and slumped to the ground. By the time he hit the floor, his body was frozen solid. Enforcer Fox widened her eyes then glared down at her paws in horror. Her heart began to pound rapidly in her chest. The other fourteen people came through the doorway and crowded the hallway, trying to see what happened. Carmelita Fox choked on half-stifled sobs. "S-stay back. All of you. I… I don't know what I've done and I can't control it. Just st-stay the hell back."
Bentley knelt beside the frozen bear and checked for life signs. He touched the man's throat then withdrew his hand quickly because of how cold the bear was. The turtle pulled out a small scanner that was tucked away in the metallic thigh of his bionic right leg. He waved the scanner over Thomas' body then put the device back into its place. "I can't tell if he died from the shattered spinal column or from having his brain and organs frozen solid. But I'm sure it was very painful for about three seconds. He's gone." No one else spoke. "He froze solid and when he landed on his back, just a second later, part of his body shattered from the inside out. But it's all held together, encased in a thin yet durable shell of ice. She must have somehow frozen water particles in the air, plus a mammal's body is mostly made of water. It was quick, but like I said before, I doubt it was painless."
"Dios mio," said the Enforcer under her breath. "I just killed a man. I… I," she continued to stammer.
"Hey," Conner said. "Snap out of it. Grieve when we get out of here." He used his cane to take Fox by her bicep. He helped her to her feet then said, "Through the door at the end of this hall, right dad?"
Sly cleared his throat and nodded. "Yeah, the observatory. It's a glass room that surrounds the top floor." He eased through the crowd and took the lead. He opened the door at the far end and everyone followed, stopping to look out through the glass to take in the view of the city from high above. Water was starting to squirt in through a crack at the top of the dome left by Clockwerk. He turned away from the glass and said, "Okay, Enforcer… the city is on Lockdown Mode, so we can't get into the Penthouse without your eyes."
Fox silently moved to the retinal scanner and rubbed her face against her forearm to rid herself of tears. A moment later, the door swished open. "Everyone inside." Everyone made their way into the room except the two Carmelitas'. Cooper looked at Fox with a frown. "What?"
Carmelita Cooper shook her head. "You've had such a hard life here. I just wish you didn't have to suffer like this."
"Get in there." She pointed to the woman's family in the penthouse living room. "Go, now."
As soon as Carmelita Cooper stepped in, joining her loved ones and their friends, Enforcer Fox stepped in the doorway, arms folded. "I'm not going with you. I can't. I think I've been programmed to subconsciously obey Alphonse. I feel compelled to go back for him as he asked. I had to make sure the rest of you would get out of here, first… he never said I couldn't help you… but I DO have to go back for him because he asked me to come back and free him."
"Wait, we can help you," said Conner. "Don't be silly. If you stay, you'll die."
"I know. But someone has to stick around and make sure this place doesn't survive. Bruce," she shifted her eyes to O'Coop, "If you're right and this place goes into orbit then lower Atlantis will flood from the breathing and power conduits that are going from this city down to that one. He'll die and I'll either drown or be blown out into space. It doesn't matter. Clockwerk will be killed when this place falls into a decaying orbit because it will explode during atmospheric reentry. I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt. Javari, you're a good girl. Sergei, take care of her. I wish I could apologize to Gerard but…" She sighed with a shake of her head.
"Stop this nonsense," said Sly. "You're coming with us."
"Sly is right," said Carmelita Cooper. "You're a part of me. We'll accept you as family. Just get in here and close the door. C'mon."
Enforcer Fox shook her head then pulled the door shut and placed her paws against it. A shell of ice frosted over the door so that they couldn't reopen it from the inside. She could hear them pounding on the door from inside the Penthouse. Fox calmly walked to a computer control panel and spoke in a firm voice. "Recognize Carmelita Fox, Enforcer, Alpha, Romeo, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. Perform emergency lifeboat launch, Penthouse Captain's Yacht. Set Coordinates for Florida; unlock manual controls once they reach the surface. Begin immediate separation sequence."
She stepped back, feeling the room begin to shake. Carmelita raced back into the long hallway, avoiding Thomas' body. She took to the stairway and hurried down, two steps at a time. The area continued to shake as the Penthouse lifepod separated from the top of the building. Exhaust from rocket boosters began to filter into the stairs, coming from above. She covered her face with the backside of her arm and continued to race down the stairwell. As the submersible yacht lifted above the city, flames and smoke filled the staircase, causing the paint on the handrails to bubble.
Fox waved her paws at the incoming booster exhaust in an instinctive manner. To her surprise, a wall of ice appeared. The intense heat began to circumvent the wall. She waved her paw all the way around herself, creating a bubble of ice to shield herself. The large round ball of ice began to slide down the steps, occasionally bouncing off the walls as it picked up speed in the stairwell.
Carmelita Fox felt her heart racing. The translucent ice shield allowed her a slight glimpse of the staircase as she rushed towards the first floor at break-neck speeds. The ice bubble slammed into the door leading out to the first floor lobby, splashing down in the seven inch water puddle on the floor. The ice shattered and she crashed into the door, then all went dark.
"Where is she?" Conner said, watching through a window. He saw flames gushing from the windows of the top five floors of the skyscraper. "Dammit! I saw her die once; this is beyond acceptable!"
"Conner, please." Dawn placed a paw on his forearm. "Baby, she lived through so much already. I'm sure she won't drown. You're talking about a broken neck, a three mile fall, fire and water… she's designed to regenerate. She'll be fine."
"Scant solace without being able to know for sure," he murmured with a sigh of defeat. "I'm glad the rest of you made it out, though. But I feel awful about Thomas. He helped me in the past. I know he was a scumball but he gave up his freedom and his money to try and make choices he could live with. He didn't deserve to be killed, especially from an accident without any sense of honor or meaning."
"I suppose you're right," said the boy's mother. "He didn't deserve a needless death… but he made his lot in life based on choices that were tied to bad karma. He has no one to blame but himself for what happened."
"You did well, Conner," said Carmen. "I owe you a home-cooked meal."
"Hard to complain with that, huh bud?" Sly offered his son a grin. "I know Carmen makes good Italian dishes." He got a look from his daughter and smiled in return.
Jing King placed a paw on Conner's shoulder. "You have every right to be proud of your work. Now I am able to see my father again. You're able to go home and relax. You've given all of us our lives back without asking anything in return."
"She's right," said Bentley. "Conner, because of you, I can go home to my wife. I just hope she hasn't moved on after three years."
Conner offered an almost shy grin. "I can promise you that Aunt Penelope hasn't moved on. She's the first person I contacted when I woke. In fact, she's in Florida waiting for us to come home."
"I look forward to finding my sister and making up with her," said Keri.
Sergei slipped an arm around Javari. "I look forward to getting married, tovarich."
"You're all invited," Ahma added with a bright grin.
Erik drew Eleven closer to himself. "We can have a normal life now," he murmured to her. She replied to him in dulcet tones but her words went unheard by the rest.
"So," Winthrop turned to his wife. "No separation, no divorce?"
"Yeah, I think we make a good team," Karla told her husband.
"Well that settles it," Murray announced. "Everyone is happy because Conner did an awesome job."
Bruce turned to his nephew and drew Sly into his arms. The two hugged. After a brief silence, the older gentleman said, "You raised the boy well. He was ready, thanks to you and your wife. Thanks to your team being around to help him. My brother never bonded with his team the way you did… so they weren't available to you the way Bentley and Murray are available to your son… You've started a new trend… Coopers that have a family-atmosphere with their team." He turned to Conner and said, "Keep this new tradition alive, young man. It's paid off. I'm sorry I haven't been around for several decades… but I have a lot to do and when we return to shore, I'll be taking my leave again before too long."
"I understand," said Sly.
"I have a lot to do, too," said Conner to his uncle. "I have to head back to Ethiopia and return the Nehushtan cane. I want to get an education and I want to date Dawn and help her find her half-sister." He grinned at his new girlfriend. She winked in return. "Plus I want to help Steven get those artifacts separated. That way I can relax." He glanced back to the porthole window. "I appreciate you guys changing the subject for me but I'm still worried about her."
The circular lifeboat reminded him of the "Captain's Yacht" from a fictitious starship on a TV show he liked as a kid. Conner glanced back at the brass plate on the wall, across the room, which read, "Captain's Yacht." Beneath, smaller words mentioned something about the date when it was built, its purpose and that it's an emergency escape pod. Conner shifted his gaze back to the window just as the yacht punched through the glass at the top of the dome. The shaking caused everyone to brace themselves.
Carmelita began pacing once they were clear of the dome ceiling. "I hope this damn thing is as sea-worthy as it is supposed to be. Without being tested and after being slammed through a glass dome that even Clockwerk couldn't directly penetrate… I just worry; don't mind me." She continued the pacing.
A gentle hum began. Bentley cleared his throat, gaining most everyone's immediate attention. "It appears that the propulsion system has become active." Without warning the submersible vessel listed and everyone spilled to the floor with a grunt or a gasp. Bentley pulled his glasses back to his face and looked over towards one of the portholes then exclaimed in shock. "C-crusher!" An enormous eye pressed against the window, peering in at the group of seventeen people.
Karla grit her teeth together. "I thought we fried that thing so it couldn't take commands from Monreau anymore!"
Dawn half-hid behind Conner as the lifeboat leveled out. "She's right, we shocked the antenna on its head, right?"
Conner approached the window and placed a paw against the glass. "Gee, a squid on a submarine. Where've I heard this cheesy plotline before?" He grit his teeth then channeled raw energy into the metallic ring surrounding the porthole glass. The electricity channeled through to the outer hull, shocking Crusher in a sensitive area… his face.
The lifeboat listed again but quickly leveled itself. All at once, it broke the surface like an enormous fisherman's bobber. Everyone spilled to the carpeted floor again. Conner hurried back to his feet with his father and uncle on either side. Bruce cleared his throat. "Boys, we may need to go topside."
Sly craned his neck, peering through the window. "No sign of that thing. It looks to be raining pretty hard out there." His tone changed, showing a bit of excitement. "I see Dimitri's luxury yacht! It's darn close, too!" Sly blinked and drew his head back. "He just fired some sort of deck gun. I think he might be fighting Crusher. Let's go check it out."
"You'll need my help," said Karla from behind. "I won't take 'no' for an answer. So let's find the topside hatch for this place. Everyone spread out."
Eleven and Erik headed for the bedroom. Winthrop and Karla headed for the room where Carmelita Cooper's body had been stored earlier. Murray headed for the galley, Bentley headed for the utility room. Kalen began stomping his heel on the carpet, looking for a hatch hidden in the living room. He nudged a tattered sofa, riddled with bullet holes, and continued stomping his foot. Carmen's ears perked, as did her mother. Carmelita perked up and announced, "I think Kalen may have found something."
Sly passed between Javari, Sergei and Keri, withdrew his cane and used the hooked tip to tear at the carpet. Jing moved around to the other side of the sofa and pulled it the rest of the way to the nearest wall. Bruce took the carpet and pulled on it as Sly continued to tear a square shape into the floor. Carmelita approached a flat hatch and frowned. "No hinges; no clear way to access it."
Dawn began checking the walls until she found a control panel. She opened the small square door and skimmed the words until finding one that looked promising. She pressed a button and the door panel opened inwardly on unseen hinges.
Carmelita Cooper stuck her head down into the dark section and waited until her eyes adjusted. "Okay, everyone… This leads down into a sublevel that appears to have a way out. I see a small square section with water in it… I think it may go out beneath this thing. I see scuba gear that appears to be designed for a mandrill's body. Jing might be able to fit in it; Murray or Javari may be able to fit in the other."
Jing knelt besides Carmelita. "What is the plan, Mrs. Cooper?"
Carmelita kept her head inside the square hatch. "I think you should head for Dimitri's boat. Take Javari or Murray with you."
Keri placed a paw on Carmelita and Jing's shoulders. "I'm a tiger; I bet I could fit. Javari has a loved one, with whom she's recently become reunited. Murray should stay here just in case Crusher tries to stick a big ole' finger into this thing. He's a strong guy, he might be able to help in some way. Let me go."
Carmelita lifted her head and looked over Keri then nodded. "Okay, Jing and Keri… head for Dimitri's boat first. Don't look back for anything, just make a bee-line for his boat so we can tell him that all of us are all right. Then he can figure out how in the hell to get us out of here."
Carmelita glanced back at her husband by the window. "What, babe?"
"I see a Coast Guard ship in the distance. It's headed this way." Sly gasped, a sound mirrored by everyone else, as the lifeboat listed again. Water came up over the hull, covering all the windows around the living room. "Everyone hold on!"
Carmen fell through a doorway with a scream followed by masculine laughter. She sat up in Murray's arms, glad that he caught her. Everyone else in the living room grabbed on to something or slid up against a bulkhead. Murray eased her to her feet as the boat evened out once more then floated back to the surface.
Carmelita scrambled to the window, opposite of Dimitri's boat. "What the…holy hell!"
"I found a surface hatch!" cried Bentley from another room. Carmelita, Sly and Conner all raced to the utility area to find Bentley sitting unceremoniously on his backside. "I found it when I fell… quite by accident I assure you. The ceiling hatch above me is so flush with the interior that I didn't realize it at first… then I fell and hit a half-hidden lever… look." He pointed to a square panel above them with a light blue LED track light that surrounded the panel. A light on the wall read, "Depressurizing." The light changed color on the panel and read, "Atmospheric air detected." Then the hatch slid open on unseen rails until it disappeared from their immediate view. A ladder lifted from the floor, ripping through carpet. It stopped in front of the hatch.
Conner was the first to ascend despite a glare from his mother. He made it to the top then shouted down to the rest. "The New Atlantis Dome just shot into the sky. At least I think that's what it is!"
Carmelita and Sly came up next, followed by Bentley. Even Crusher, halfway between Dimitri's yacht and the life-yacht, paused to watch as a cylinder of water rose into the sky to partially conceal the city-sized dome, which launched into the stratosphere. Bentley cleared his throat into his fist. "I, uh, think that's why we shifted just a moment ago… the city must have hit us as it lifted upwards… we bounced off of it and flopped back into the sea. I hope Dimitri's ship is alright."
"Look!" Carmelita pointed over at Crusher, who abruptly disappeared into the ocean in a hurry, headed opposite of the direction from the incoming Coast Guard ship. "I wonder where he's going." She lifted her gaze back to the sky. The pillar of water continued to conceal the departing New Atlantis Dome, looking like an enormous hurricane without the cloud cover. "I've never seen anything like this."
Sly put a paw on Carmelita's shoulder. "I dare say it's finally over." He glanced back towards Dimitri's yacht and put his arms up, waving them overhead. "I see a glint of light on the deck, astern. I think it might be lens glare from binoculars or something. Wave your arms, gang."
All four of them held their arms up. Carmelita smiled. "I see two people in scuba gear. Jing and, presumably, Keri."
"I see'em," said Conner. Over on the other side of the large, round lifeboat, another hatch opened. Erik and Eleven came up to the top. They hurried over to Bentley and the Coopers. Conner grinned. "I sure as hell hope it's finally over. I'm ready to sleep for, like, a week."
Sly grinned at his son. "I figured you'd be tired of long naps."
"Ha freakin' ha," said the younger Cooper with a moue of disgust. "Yeah, maybe you're right. I just," he trailed off, hearing a large splash. His eyes cut back to the water between their small ship and Dimitri's yacht. The water began to rise up between the two boats. Conner's eyes widened. "The girls are out there!"
Another hatch opened, slamming back down against the outer hull. Karla and Winthrop came up to the surface. Karla teleported and reappeared near Sly and Conner, directly in front of Carmelita. "What's going on?"
"I don't know, something's going on out there. It's stirring up the water. Can you rescue them? Bring them back or drop them off on Dimitri's boat."
"One sec." Her husband ran up from behind. She turned to Winthrop and put a paw up. "Stay put, you." Then, before anyone could argue with her, she disappeared.
Over on Dimitri's yacht, Karla and Jing King appeared on the aft deck, just a few feet from Dimitri. Karla disappeared again. She appeared fifty feet above the waterline and brought a paw to her forehead to block out the morning sunlight. As she fell, she surveyed the area then disappeared again. After a moment, she reappeared on Moreau's yacht, adjacent to Conner. "I didn't see the other one. I did see a lot of debris floating up from beneath. I couldn't tell if it was Crusher again."
"Crusher!" shouted Bentley. Everyone, including Erik and Eleven turned to face the enormous pink arm rising up from the brine. "Conner, how did you beat it before?"
"Wait here." Karla disappeared. Winthrop reached for her but was too late to stop her. She appeared atop of Crusher's head and inspected the antenna. She rubbed her chin for a moment then disappeared. This time, she reappeared on Dimitri's boat just as Jing was removing her facemask. "Who was with you?"
King glanced up. "Keri Tiikeri. She was struck by that thing out there. She skipped across the surface like a smooth stone and was in one of it's arms being pulled under last I saw… then you appeared out of nowhere; suddenly I'm here. We must find her."
"I'm working on that. Hold tight." Karla turned to Dimitri. "Keep firing at that thing. Try to draw its attention away from us. Try leading it towards the Coast Guard ship; they'll be better prepared to deal with it. Once they engage it, get away from this area quickly. I'll bring over a few others from the lifeboat and you take them to Florida. The rest of us will stay and search for Keri."
"Wow, you're one hot momma… yeah, Dimitri'll do anything you want, babaliscious!"
"Shut up and get ready to flee the area." Karla disappeared. She appeared a moment later with Erik and Eleven. "Erik, use your obtenbration to protect this yacht so the rest of you can get away. We'll meet up with everyone at Conner's base camp, where Steven and Penelope are waiting for us." She disappeared. Seconds later, she reappeared with Winthrop, Javari and Sergei, Murray and Bentley, Bruce, Carmelita and Sly Cooper. She made a quick headcount then announced to the group, "LISTEN UP! Conner, Dawn, Carmen and Kalen will be stayimg on Moreau's yacht to find Keri. The rest of you will be headed back to Florida to start distributing the artifacts with Steven. Penelope is there and so is my son. So keep that place safe just in case anything unseen happens." She paused, snapped her fingers and disappeared again. A moment later, she reappeared with Kalen. "Since my son is there and since we have a priority situation involving these artifacts… knowing how much trouble they can be… I'm sending Kalen with you guys. He's formidable, as is Erik. You guys may need all the help you can get with taking back those artifacts… just in case, you know? I'm going to help them look for Keri. Dimitri, head towards the Coast Guard ship but fire on Crusher during your retreat. They will handle that thing; they have the firepower. Then make your escape to Florida. I'll see all of you soon. Stay out of trouble if you can!"
Before anyone could say anything further, Karla disappeared once more. She appeared adjacent to Dawn and Conner back on the other ship, arms draped around both of them. She smiled and winked at Carmen. "I have them working on leading Crusher back to the Coast Guard. I told them that Erik can protect them from that thing if necessary. Then, after the Coast Guard engages that creature, they need to hurry back to Florida and start working on a plan to get those artifacts spread out across the globe. So it's just the four of us beautiful people left to find Keri Tiikeri."
"Did Jing say what may have happened to her?" Conner's tone showed his concern.
"She said Crusher pulled Keri under." Karla frowned then added, "But she's wearing scuba gear. She has breathable air. That thing's suction cups won't touch her body, the swimsuit is insulated… I'm sure she'll be fine."
Conner sighed and nodded then turned to his girlfriend and sister. "Okay, gang. Let's get back inside. Dawn, start looking at the controls to see if you can figure out how to use whatever equipment we have at our disposal to find Keri. Karla, get a quick areal view then we can set up a search grid. Carmen, you take the wheel. After all this is said and done I still have to return this cane to Ethiopia and … if I have to, I'll use the damn thing to open up the sea so we can find her more easily. Whatever it takes."
Karla offered a stern glare. "You remember what Steven said. If you do something like that while the Coast Guard can see… it'll raise questions and we don't want that. Plus, with all the attention this area is getting right now, from the launching of that city, every satellite in the sky is pointing this way… don't you dare open up the sea again. Not here, not now…" She frowned at his expression then softened a bit. "Look, hon, we'll use it as a last resort if absolutely necessary to save her life, okay? Let's just search, first."
"Fine." Conner sighed. "Just… fine."
"Look let me do some recon real fast." She disappeared, reappeared on Dimitri's yacht, gave her husband a kiss on the neck then disappeared again. She reappeared high in the air, halfway out to the Coast Guard ship then blinked from existence once more. She reappeared again, just off the starboard bow, only to gasp. Crusher was coming up alongside the ship. She glanced to the left then zeroed in on the bridge and teleported onto it.
The ship's intercom blared over the loudspeaker. "ACTION STATIONS, ACTION STATIONS! GENERAL QUARTERS – report to battle stations!" The ship began to list.
Karla appeared on the bridge and said, "GOD you boys look cute in your little uniforms and your cute little helmets. But no one is going to believe you saw a random woman show up on your bridge then leave. So heed what I say but for the love of God, don't put my arrival or departure in your report unless you all want to face a section eight. That squid thing is off your right side. It's going to try and punch a hole in your hull so you'd better figure out a way to send high power electric current through the hull. I forget what that's called… degaussing? Or is that where you do that thing to keep barnacles growing on the… well WHATEVER… you know what I mean. You need to zap that sucker then when he moves off, shoot at him until he goes away. Toodles!" She ended by blowing a kiss at the Captain then disappeared. She reappeared outside the bridge, in mid air and said, "OUR SECRET!" then disappeared again until she returned back to Moreau's lifeboat.
Once she appeared adjacent to Conner, she said, "This is our chance to make a move. The Guard is completely tied up with Crusher… damn that thing moves fast under water. Anyway, I saw him. He was lifting his tentacle-things from the water and he didn't have Keri. Furthermore we should start a grid so that we can…" The boat listed hard, catching her off guard. She teleported everyone inside the cabin. Water splashed down from the hatches in the ceiling, leaving wet splotches on the carpet.
Karla poofed then reappeared by the window. Her eyes widened. "WHAT?"
Conner hurried over to her. "What's wrong?"
"There are two Crushers?" Karla grit her teeth and rolled up her sleeves then disappeared. She returned to the flat surface of the disc-shaped lifeboat and folded her arms. Crusher emerged from the depths. She held her paws out and shouted at the top of her lungs… and just like that, Crusher disappeared.
Karla flopped unceremoniously onto her backside, panting softly. "Damn. I got really emotional there, didn't I?"
Dawn came up through one of the hatches. "Where is it?"
"I… I have no idea. I teleported it but I didn't have the energy to make it appear at any one place in particular. Uhm…" She got to her feet and scanned the area. "Damn, girl… y'know I have no clue where he wound up. Hmm…" She stopped, facing Dimitri's boat and the Coast Guard ship in the distance. A sigh passed her lips. "I only see the one climbing up on the side of the Guard ship. That one's already accounted for. I dunno where the other went."
A scream startled both girls. They looked up at the incoming, screeching creature that fell from an untold distance. Karla pulled Dawn to her breast and they both disappeared, back in the living room section. The second Crusher slammed into the sea, creating an enormous wave. Karla threw her left paw up, slamming shut both hatches in the immediate area. Carmen dashed into the utility room to close the other. A moment later, a wave washed over their enclosed boat.
Dawn wiggled out from Karla's right arm, her face pressed against the felox's bosom. Karla offered a wry grin. "Sorry, doll… old habits die hard."
Carmen returned to the room with slightly damp hair. She watched Dawn and Karla with furrowed brows. "Did I miss something?"
Conner ran his paw over his face. "Karla thinks she can smother people in her tits. Long, long story."
"I didn't know that was possible, anatomically speaking," said Carmen.
"I'll show you later," Karla said with a wink. Her face became serious. "Right now, though, we gotta find Keri and-or get the hell out of here before those things kill all four of us. Dawn, get to the computer and figure out the propulsion system on this… fake building saucer-thing. Conner, figure out which direction is forward so we can get to work. Carmen, make sure all the hatches are secured properly. I just slammed them shut to keep the water out."
"Since when did you become the leader?" asked Conner with a slight grin. He turned to Dawn and Carmen. "You heard the lady. Let's either find Keri or save our tails… or both, hopefully. We have to hurry, though. Keri's arm was cut up and that will make swimming difficult for her." Everyone began to move in a different direction.
Enforcer Carmelita Fox sat up with a soft groan, face to face with a beautiful, exotic looking woman who appeared to be nude in the water. They were inside of a cave with Carmelita sitting on a rock. The woman stepped from the water and clothes began to wrap around her furless body, as well as leather boots of perfect shine, a loose fitting white V-neck blouse and beautiful jewelry. She offered a mysterious smile and said, "I'm Idona." As she stepped from the water to the rock, water appeared slow to retreat from her scale-dusted legs. It turned to mist, as if the sea was trying desperately to reach for her in one last futile attempt.
The woman's hair, full ringlets of ocean in hue, pooled on her shoulders then spilled down her back, like running water. Even in the dim illumination, Carmelita could see the sparkle of gems, which peppered her earfins and fingertips.
Carmelita rubbed the side of her face with a grunt of displeasure. Her clothes were soaked and her hip hurt from lying on the wet rock. "Am… I supposed to know you?"
"Perhaps," said the woman with a smile. "But not you, personally. Sly Cooper's wife to be exact, my dear. What do you remember?"
Fox looked down at her paws. "Helping everyone escape so there wouldn't be enough time left to save Moreau."
"If you perceive him to be dead, are you no longer programmed to obey him?" The smooth-skinned woman tilted her head and moved close to the vixen. Carmelita noted that she had a normal bi-ped appearance with an elegant tail of scales. They glistened various colors at different angles from the dim illumination. Carmelita couldn't describe her looks beyond that of a peach-skinned woman with smooth skin… skin, not fur… smooth skin like that of a pig or dolphin but… with a phenomenal figure. "Miss Fox?" she asked.
Carmelita blinked and looked back up at the woman's face. "I… sorry. I don't know. I think it may have simply been a hypnotic suggestion or something. Then again, my mind was always too strong to fall victim to that sort of thing in the past… but those were memories from Carmelita Cooper and I may not have the same mental fortitude. Anything is possible… I don't know. Why?"
"No dear, it wasn't brainwashing. It was a small device placed inside of you," said Idona. She reached a delicate hand behind the vixen's ear and dabbed a spot, half hidden in unruly locks of dark hair. Carmelita flinched. Idona smiled inwardly and drew her hand back, showing the vixen her fingertips, now with blood on the ends. "You see? You should have drowned. I didn't save you from that fate, darling. You saved yourself. You froze the water around you in an icy shell and you froze yourself. Your body is somehow able to handle such but the device placed inside of you was unable to stand up against such cold. I directed the cocoon here into this submerged cave. You see, dear, skin tightens when you freeze… I surmise that it caused the flesh of your scalp to split where the small device was implanted behind your ear. I plucked it away and discarded it. You don't need stitches; you heal surprisingly fast."
"If I was inside a ball of ice, I should have suffocated."
Idona nodded. "You weren't breathing when I managed to shatter your shell. You were as blue as the ice I found you in… well, your lips, eyelids… at any rate, Miss Fox, you were dead. While looking you over, I saw blood on your head. I found the little metal device and plucked it from your scalp to inspect it… then the bleeding stopped. I looked closer… the wound was nearly gone. All that remains is the blood left in your fur, dear. While that close, I heard you take a breath… and so I waited for you to awaken. Remarkable abilities you have, Miss Fox. You're nothing like Sly Cooper's wife."
"I don't know if I should take that as a compliment or an insult."
"Either way. It doesn't matter to me; you're immortal so you're one of us."
Carmelita tilted her head. She had very vague flashbacks to memories implanted in her… a bank in Prague… People like Karla Chintzy – the woman she met in Alphonse Moreau's lobby. "Wait. People like…?"
"Supernatural, dear. People who either can't die or people who offer the world something extraordinary. The average, mundane person fears people they cannot comprehend… so we stay in the shadows and do what we feel is best for this world, ultimately to make it more comfortable for ourselves."
"I'm a supernatural?" The vixen shook her head firmly. "No, no, you've got it all wrong. I'm a genetically engineered clone… the creation of a man I trusted who turned out to be a troublesome, dishonest bastard."
"Are you normal or natural?"
Carmelita shrugged. "Apparently there is NOTHING natural about me."
"Then if you're not natural, you're supernatural, Miss Fox. Some supernatural people reject our society. Some try to fight against the peace and betterment we offer. We need people with a strong sense of morality and justice like yourself. Some people with our abilities simply try to live amongst the rest of society so they feel some semblance of normality because while they can cope with who they are, they can't cope with being shunned."
A lump appeared in Carmelita's throat then disappeared. She swallowed a second time then a third. Finally, she nodded. "Fair enough. I'm interested in what you're saying… tell me more. Show me. I thought I had an exotic, secret role in helping the world to become a better place and it was all a lie. I felt like I had meaning and I was heartbroken when I found out that my meaning was a sham. But if you can restore that sense of meaning to me… well, I would appreciate it. I lived my short life as a clone, thinking that I somehow made a difference. I felt like some clandestine hero. I would like to feel that way again."
"Hmm… perhaps you'll make a clandestine superhero. But you'll have to remain anonymous for the rest of your life."
Carmelita grinned at the mermaid. "Lady, I lived in a secret city under the sea that was hidden from the world. I'm used to remaining anonymous and hidden from the rest of the world. Where are we?"
"Antarctica." Idona tilted her head, seeing Carmelita's expression. "Does that surprise you, considering your abilities?"
"I don't feel cold."
Carmelita Fox blinked. "How did we get this far?"
"I swim fast. You'll have to cocoon yourself again for me to move you where we need to go. We're headed to Tibet. I would like to introduce someone to you."
The vixen balked. She furrowed a single brow, creating a subtle crease in the fur pattern on her forehead. "If you're a mermaid, how can you get to Tibet?"
"We'll be meeting someone off the coast of India that can get us the rest of the way there." Idona motioned to Carmelita with her hands. "Wrap yourself in ice again. Let's not waste time, darling."
Idona's slight smile broadened. She lifted a red rock, one that Carmelita immediately recognized. The first time Fox'd seen it was in Sly Cooper's fist as he eluded her the day they met, fresh out of the academy. Carmelita had to remind herself that those weren't her real memories.
At the same time, Idona began to ponder how it was that Moreau managed to implant all of Carmelita's memories… or at least select ones… from the real Carmelita.
The ex-enforcer blinked and shook away the reverie then asked, "How did you get the Firestone of India? It dissolved into Alphonse's clone and caused a tree to grow or something."
Idona lowered her head, looking upwards at Carmelita. "Really? What did you think it was?"
"A seed wrapped in some sort of amber; fossilized tree sap. It's that old."
"It was older than 'that old', Miss Fox. And no, it isn't fossilized tree sap. Similar chemical composition, darling. But it's not exact… it's not fossilized. Miss Fox, my dear, you have to use your imagination."
Carmelita Fox tilted her head. She reached for the Firestone of India and squinted in the dim illumination then handed it back. "The whole thing is a seed?"
"Exactly. Do you think a fossilized barrier would be so easily eroded by stomach acid, or that a tiny seed would even survive stomach acid? No, Miss Fox. It grew from his throat and the entire 'stone' was a seed. ...IS a seed. The little dot at the center is the nucleus of the seed… modern scientists simply haven't seen seeds like this one before because they don't exist anymore, so they thought it was a stone a hundred years ago when it was discovered and named. Modern scientists thought it was a fossilized seed. Silly creatures, these mortal scientists. After all, they think I'm a fictitious 'creature'. Yet here I am."
A look of understanding dawned on Carmelita's facial features. "Oh! That tree that grew down in True Atlantis… Fruits and seeds grew on the branches and you managed to get one. …But why?"
"Because it's one of the artifacts. So another produced itself. The tree grew up through the ground, broke through the mantle and sprouted up through the ocean. I plucked a seed then one of the people in our society managed to find a way to stop the tree from growing with his special ability. I brought him out here to perform that task and noticed your ice bubble. I put your bubble into a current pattern and took him home. I came back for you. Now you're here in Antarctica. It's quite simple. Don't look so surprised. Now, we've wasted enough time. Figure out how to cocoon yourself again, Ice Queen. It's time to go."
"Give me a moment to figure out how to do what I did." Carmelita got to her feet, took a deep breath then exhaled in a sigh. "Okay… let's see here."
About eighteen to twenty hours later…
Somewhere in the Atlantic…
Itching between the toes preceded a fuzziness that illuminated the backside of her eyelids. Keri Tiikeri tried closing her paw into a fist but couldn't. She turned her head only to be splashed in the face with warm salt water. Her eyes opened to retreating sea foam. She began to sit up, finding that wet sand encased her left paw. Her right one was covered in dry, crusty tan granules. Another wave lapped at her left hip.
She groaned softly but her voice cut out intermittently. Further up the beach was an abandoned hut with several planks missing from its walls, which allowed her to see straight through it. She glanced over her shoulder, wincing from the pain of achy muscles and noted tall buildings in the distant afternoon haze. She began to stand up.
A long palmetto leaf clung to her chest with caked wet sand clinging to her tattered clothes and messy fur. Her head lowered to take in her appearance, noting that one of her shoes were missing. A flashback occurred – she recalled it being pulled off of her foot when struck by a powerful wave. She remembered her other foot dragging along the bottom and feeling intense elation of finally being near land. She also recalled that the next wave hit her so hard that she tumbled, striking her head…
The memory ended. Keri scanned the beach then a wry grin tugged at the tigress' muzzle. Wearily, she approached a black object sticking up out of the sand as a smaller wave drew back from the shore. She stumbled out into the water and yanked it out of the ground then rinsed the dirt from the shoe. She began to waddle up the beach, brushing sand off of her arm. Her bandages were missing but the wound appeared to be in far better condition.
A sign, further up in the scattered grass, was lying on its back, pointing north. In faded paint, it read, "Red Bay, Andros."
Keri rubbed her chin for a moment then reached into her pockets, finding heaps of wet sand in them. She thought for a moment while working to turn the pockets inside out then shook her head. She cleared her throat, trying to get her voice back then sighed. "Where the hell is Andros?"
There were no roads along the coastline and the sun was high above, making it difficult to figure out the cardinal directions. She began trudging up the shoreline. There was a man, an avian with a large colorful beak, walking along the waterline with a basket on his back.
Keri headed back down into the sand and approached him. Again, she cleared her throat and asked, "Where is Andros?"
"Andros?" he asked then waved his winged hand about. "This… all of this."
"Where am I?"
He seemed to ignore her question and reached into the basket on his back and withdrew a sea sponge. "World's best place to find these." He smiled, seeing the confusion on her face then proudly announced, "These's is thee Big Yard, and you are lookin' very lost bebe' girl."
She shook her head, "I'm very lost. I don't know the Big Yard."
"Sweetheart, you're in the Bahamas! The biggest island in the West Indies, on the western shore! Bonefishing, sponges and amazing wildlife are all around you, darlin'." The toucan's beak contorted at the corners of his mouth to represent a smile. "Where did you come from? Are you hung over? If so, get some water."
"No, I…" She shrugged. "I needed a change of scenery. How do I get to…" She paused to ponder a city in the Bahamas where she knew there would be civilization. "…Nassau?"
"Head north to Red Bay, take a bus to New Town then'a ferry to Adelaide. Your arm looks painful."
She nodded slowly. "I have a broken rib, a sprained wrist and," she lifted her favored arm. "This gash that runs to the elbow. I've had'em for a little while, now."
He moved closer and leaned over to look at her arm. "You need antibiotics for 'dat. There are plenty in Nassau."
Keri offered him a grin and a nod. "I appreciate your help, sir. How far is New Town?"
"A day or two if you're walking," he replied with a boisterous chuckle. "Feel better and good luck with your injuries, young lady."
She began walking up the coast, with the water on her left. Keri ambled back to her right where the sand was firmer, interlaced with grass and weeds. She ran her fingers back through her knotted hair, a brilliant smile on her muzzle. "I'm in the Bahamas," she giggled to herself. "I can't even make this up."
Bentley hurried down the gangplank and took Penelope into his arms. With a burst of adrenaline, he lifted his lithe mousey wife into his embrace and she threw her arms and legs around him. The bionic leg attachments made split-second calculations due to weight distribution to keep them both aloft. She kissed him all over his face then their lips met firmly.
Donovan broke free of Steven's arms, dropped to the ground and rushed towards his father. Winthrop picked up the little boy and hugged his son. "Hey little guy! You hold the fort down while I was away?"
"I'm glad you're home, daddy. Where's my mom, though?"
Winthrop chuckled. "She's on the next boat. They'll be here shortly. They were looking for a friend and took their time." He pivoted on the dock and pointed out towards the horizon. "See that little dot out there?"
"I miss her, Daddy. I hope she comes home soon; I don't want to miss her anymore." Donovan rested his head on his father's shoulder and sighed softly.
"Aww." Javari approached Winthrop and his son. She glanced back at Sergei then towards the toddler again. "Isn't that just precious?"
Sergei put his arm around Javari and nodded. "Da. He's precious. Perhaps we should explore the wonders of childhood for ourselves, hmm?"
Javari grinned. "You sure you wouldn't rather wait for a while?"
Sergei chuckled. "Nyet, you're brave enough to do your best for three years; you're certainly brave enough to become a mother, Lady. I'm ready when you are."
The wolverine smiled brightly. "You thought I was brave?"
Surge nodded firmly. "Dah, tih bihlah."
"There you go again with that Klingon language of yours," she said then pressed her lips to his. "C'mon, let's let everyone have their moment together. We'll catch up with Conner and the rest later on. I'm sure Keri will turn up. It's Keri Tiikeri, after all. That girl is impressive when it comes to surviving."
"Where shall we go, Lady?"
Javari nuzzled her nose to his. "North. C'mon. It's been three long years for us. I want to stretch and get away right now." She took him by the paw and they began walking down the dock, offering nods to everyone else.
Jing looked about for her father but didn't see him. She began to wonder off the dock then paused, hearing footsteps from behind. She turned about and offered Penelope a soft smile. "Mrs. Wiseturtle. I'm glad to see you again."
The small-framed mouse hugged Jing firmly. "Your father misses you very much. I was afraid for him; I didn't tell him very much about this rescue operation because if you didn't make it back, it would be fresh emotional pain all over again. I'm sorry he's not here – that's my fault."
Jing hugged Penelope then relinquished the polite embrace. "Then he will be surprised when I return to China."
Penelope nodded then smiled. "I can have your papers drawn up to get you back into China but it'll take two or three days, even with expedited service. China thinks you're deceased and until we can prove you're alive, your papers will flag you for detaining unless we fix the clerical work before you try to enter the country. Don't worry, we'll have you home in no time."
Jing smiled in return and bowed her head slightly. "In the mean time, I will spend my time with Murray."
Penelope tilted her head then looked over her shoulder at her husband's chubby childhood friend. She glanced back at Jing with a look of confusion. "Sure thing. Are you sure you don't want to stay with Bentley and myself while we work on your paperwork?"
The Chinese panda offered a mysterious sort of smile then approached Murray and linked her arm with his. "I suppose I never mentioned that I had grown close to him. Out of respect, he never talked of our budding relationship because I do not wear my emotions like a vibrant cloth as others do. For all our differences, you would be surprised at what we have in common."
Bentley looked at Murray then back at Jing then back at Murray again. "You didn't tell me, big guy?"
Murray rubbed the back of his head with an awkward chuckle. "Yeeeah, I guess I didn't really say much. But, like, I thought it was totally obvious. We started talking a few years ago when I was teaching her to dance."
Jing's smile turned into a lopsided grin. "Yes; he called it 'busting… a move' and I was charmed by his purity of heart. Perhaps you both simply failed to notice the signs of our budding relationship. Then again I am a private person, honorable Bentley and Penelope Wiseturtle. We may be beyond 'middle aged' but we have been very happy for the duration of our complicated-yet-simplistic romance."
Bentley brought a hand to the bottom of his beaked mouth, rubbing in thought. "What's so complicated about your relationship?"
Murray took Jing's paw. "Her idea of being lovey-dovey is by hangin' out and just doin' stuff together. We're not all kissy-kissy like most people. She's like my best friend, she's totally awesome, and we're not obsessed with, you know, having a family or whatever. It's totally awesome."
Jing saw Penelope's confusion and added, "We put more value on our time together than on outward displays of affection. He treats me as an equal and I respect him with my heart. Mrs. Wiseturtle, I appreciate the aid in renewing my papers. I look forward to returning home and seeing my father."
Bentley placed his hand on Penelope's lower back. "So, uh, Murray… does Panda King know that you and Jing are an item?"
"Well duh," replied the hippo with a chuckle. "Who do you think put those rad rocket jets on the back of my racing van? Speaking of my van," he turned to Jing, "We totally have to get that out of storage!"
"Indeed we do." She nodded firmly.
Sly and Carmelita turned to one another then back to Murray, Jing, Bentley and Penelope. The raccoon leaned towards his wife and whispered, "I… did not see that one coming."
Carmelita licked her lips and whispered back. "Are you kidding? I thought they were both going to be single until the end of time. To find out that they've been together for quite some time now… that's just… wow." She glanced over her shoulder at the incoming craft still out at sea. "Speaking of relationships… it's going to be strange to see our 'suddenly seventeen' year-old son in a romantic relationship with that girl adopted by Bruce Junior." She paused then looked around the area. "Speaking of him, where's Bruce Senior?"
Sly withdrew an arm from his wife and looked around the area. "You're right… where'd he go? I didn't even see him leave." Sly lifted a paw over his eyes to block out the morning sunlight. "Has anyone else seen Uncle Bruce?"
Penelope blinked. "Bruce O'Coop was here? When?"
Carmelita rubbed the backside of her neck. "Uh, he was with us when we came ashore." She turned to Dimitri, still on his yacht. She walked down the dock, watching as he worked to secure the mooring ropes. "Have you see Bruce? Is he below deck?"
The lizard shrugged. "He beat feet, sister. First one off this loveboat, faster than Murray's van. He was split-city like a cracker and a parrot. He disappeared like a ninja in the dark faster than…"
"Thanks, you can stop now." She walked away, muttering, "No wonder he's still single," with a roll of her eyes. She stopped at the end of the dock then turned to the handsome jackal with the sharp features. "Aren't you allergic to sunlight?"
"Only when starving," he replied in a smooth voice. "I have the fortitude to weather the rays of the sun; I will wait here until Carmen comes in to port. Thank you for your concern."
"Well, alright. I know Conner hasn't exactly trusted you in the past. I hope we can all get beyond that silliness. I've seen the way you treat my daughter. You act like she's exalted. As her mother, I appreciate the respect you show to her. Just… keep it up, okay? I've kicked the tails of several supernatural beings. I wouldn't want you to wind up on my list." Carmelita grinned.
Kalen offered a wan smile. "Indeed, I will respect her forever. You have my word, Mrs. Cooper. And, as I promised your husband, I will make sure she goes to a nice University when we get home. I should probably brush up on a few classes, myself."
"Supernatural people going to college? You guys don't have your own private education, away from us mere mortals?"
The jackal tilted his head. "Knowledge is power. We believe in that very strongly. For example, even Karla went to a community college in Paris while raising Donovan and being a housewife. In fact, I'm sure she'll be returning to her studies when everyone goes home. An education is a respected pursuit, especially in the eyes of others amongst our society."
Carmelita rubbed her head. "I can only imagine why Karla would want to attend college. She probably has her eyes on every college boy on campus."
Kalen shrugged gingerly. "I wouldn't know. She likes to lay low by attending a community college, where I prefer the prestige of a large, respectable university. At any rate, I assured your husband that I would urge Carmen to seek the best education possible."
The vixen leaned in and kissed the side of his face then his other cheek. "Thank you, Kalen. I'm going to go and catch up with Sly. We'll be staying around until everyone gets back; we'll be heading to Paris in the next day or two. You're welcome to come along with us."
"Thank you, Mrs. Cooper. I'll speak with Carmen and see what her intentions are before I commit to any plans." He turned his head back towards the water and folded his paws behind his back in silence.
Forty-eight hours later…
"So this is Key Largo," mused Sergei, rubbing his chin. His other paw tightened around Javari's, running his thumb over her knuckles. "I was thinking about heading up to Miami and picking up my car from storage."
Ahma laughed. "I've thought about that car from time to time. Well, it's just us," she said, waving her free paw through the air, gesturing to the airport, which was laid out before them. "Miami, let's go. We have more money than we'll ever need if we spend it wisely – Miami isn't far, right?" She pointed towards the sign that read, 'Flex Jet' and patted her pocket first before retrieving a wallet with her new Bank of America debit card. "By the way, where were you yesterday?"
Sergei snapped his fingers, withdrew his other paw from hers and rubbed them together. "I was going to wait and make it a public event but then I remembered how you told me you just want to hide away from the rest of the world and have a private, quiet life for a little while. So… out of thee, uh, 'respect' of your wishes, you know, I decided to get you a little something." He fished out a box from his pocket and passed it to her. "I really appreciate that you came and visited me almost every day, Lady. I couldn't have gone on all those years in a cell without being able to see you. I would do anything for you and… I want that offer to stand for a long, very, very long… long time." He thumbed open the box, showing her a beautiful, white gold ring with a large sapphire at the center.
Javari's face lit up. "You remembered!" She wrapped her arms around him. "I can't believe you remembered!" She relinquished the hug and took the symbolic jewelry piece he offered by sliding her left ring finger into the engagement ring. "I told you one time, three years ago, that I didn't want a diamond; just something simple and beautiful, like a sapphire… just one time."
Sergei offered a sly grin. "And, like a good man, I listened. So, Lady. You and me? Team Gurlukovich?"
Her smile brightened. "Ahma was a boring name anyway." Again, she threw her arms around him. "I know I said I wanted privacy but… I still feel compelled to call Dawn and Conner and tell them."
Surge offered a nod, nuzzling his face against hers. "So, Lady, do you think they've heard from Keri Tiikeri yet?" He didn't receive a response so he drew his head back to look at her. He tilted his head a bit and frowned. "Sorry, I know… I shouldn't have brought that up at a time like this. I'm sure she's fine. Perhaps she wanted to get away and relax, just like us. I'm quite sure of it."
"Sergei, she was injured and disappeared in the sea, baby. I… I fear that DJ, wherever she is, has lost a twin. And that is, well, kind of depressing, you know? I just…" She brought both paws to either side of his face. "Let's not ruin a happy moment with something we can't control. I love you. It took three damn years, but we can both finally be happy." She withdrew a prepaid cellphone and grinned. "The sooner I tell Dawn, the sooner we can go enjoy our seclusion."
"I couldn't agree more, Lady."
Debbie Jean Tiikeri looked up at her husband, Lieutenant Commander Ross Hunter, offering an inquisitive look and bunching her brows upon her forehead. She adjusted the lay of her Coast Guard uniform, gave a quick tug at the bottom of her uniform shirt then reached for the digital display in his paw. She turned it about and read the words. "This is a confidential update meant for your eyes only. This doesn't concern my pay grade."
"I know, DJ. Read it again." He waited for her to do so then smiled and added, "USCG HQ doesn't let us share anything like this with contractors, like yourself. So don't tell anyone."
DJ tilted her head again. "Wait, this wasn't an ICBM that came out of the ocean, was it?"
He offered a grin. "No, of course not. We just received confirmation from Command – so these orders I just showed you… it's outdated. Which… means I get in less trouble if I'm caught showing this to you. But the new intelligence update suggests a lot of interesting things. Some sort of dome launched from the ocean, half surrounded in a pillar of water. A Guard cruiser was attacked by two squid-like creatures, the likes of which have never been seen before and haven't been seen since. At the same time, some white-and-pink furred lady appeared on the bridge briefly, spoke to the Captain directly then disappeared. She was seen outside the bridge, and then disappeared again. Sound familiar?"
Hunter nodded. "They were in range of the Bahamas. The next day, a girl described as a Finnish tigress, was overheard talking about the incident."
"Overheard by whom?" asked DJ, her interested suddenly piqued.
"A Coast Guard Ensign who was at a bar while his ship was in port. He told a Lieutenant J.G., and word traveled up the chain of command. They asked her if she would volunteer to talk about the incident. How many female tigers would know about a woman who can supposedly teleport? She was moved to a nearby base and is being treated as a guest. We're enroute. I petitioned the XO to grant you permission to speak with her based on my hunch."
Debbie Jean held her excitement at bay. "It's been three years since I've seen her and almost as long since I've heard from her. What kind of hunch are we talking about here?"
He folded his arms. "Wasn't she mentioned in a Finnish newspaper article as a hero for rescuing a plane full of hostages in India a while back? She received a knife in the leg and everyone was surprised when she didn't show up in Finland to receive the life-saving medal, just weeks ago?"
"Yeah, that's why I thought she was dead. She wouldn't have missed that ceremony for anything unless she was …I don't know… dead or immobilized."
He offered his wife a nod and a grin. "A few of us have received extremely classified intelligence suggesting that the "ICBM" that flew up out of the ocean was actually something more complicated. Based on video footage taken by the cruiser two days ago, we know it's something more than a missile, that's for sure."
She lifted a paw to interrupt her husband. "Wait, why are you telling me this if it's sensitive material?"
"Because the girl in the Bahamas claims that it was an underwater city that launched into orbit. She claims that she's part of a rescue operation that failed but that she was aided by a trio of people and when she was brought in for questioning, she was given an exam. She has a stab wound in her leg. Just don't get your hopes up."
"When is our arrival time?"
He grinned then took her by the wrist and led her to the nearest porthole. Outside of the window, she could see the Bahamas and shimmering blue water. He placed his paw on her back, using his other to take the digital display from her. "How about now?"
DJ glanced back at him and bit her lip. "I take it I just stay silent when we go to meet this girl?"
"Unless she happens to be who I think she is, yes… c'mon, let's go."
Debbie nodded and fell into step with him, heading out of her workroom.
At the same time, 879 Nautical Miles away (1628Km)…
"It feels strange to be back in Washington D.C. after so many years," said Elvena. "I'm not really 'agent eleven' anymore."
Erik nodded in agreement. "And yet I still call you Eleven from time to time. Kind of like Maxwell Smart always called his wife, '99'. A lot has changed since the last time I've seen America's Capital city."
"And a lot is still the same," she mused, looking from the distant Capitol building over to the Washington Memorial. "I'm glad I left the agency."
"Change is good, yes?"
She grinned. "Sometimes. Sometimes I like things to stay the way they are. I'll never get tired of hearing your cute Czech dialect. It's always been light but it's always been consistent, too. Don't change that. Ever."
This time Erik grinned. "I won't. I always thought American accents were sexy, so I know how you feel. Why did we come here anyhow?"
The couple continued walking together. She slid her paw into his. "Because I left money in a bank, here in Washington DC. It's been accruing interest for several decades. I've had it invested for the sake of growth and maturity… now it's time to cash out and start a fresh new life with a real sky over our heads. We were both way too young to be involved in the things that brought us together. It's been almost thirty years together and we don't even have kids. I'm forty-seven years old but because of Moreau's civilization, the diet and the lifestyle… I don't feel a day over forty. Y'know, I think it's time we started a family before we get too old. And that's going to take money, a house, a job… all that nonsense. So we're here for the nest egg I left behind… it'll be a really big egg by now. Enough to live comfortably. Enough to help us blend in."
Erik brought her paw to his lips and nipped at her knuckles. "I guess we should fly back to Europe next." He furrowed his brows then smiled brightly. "My goodness, I never told you! I never brought it up because I figured we'd never leave that city… I was Donovan Loupe's student but I lived with him as if he were my step-father. When he died, he left me an inheritance. I lived off of it up until several decades ago. Then we went down to that city and we didn't need currency. Well… needless to say, we have money coming in from both sides. Why get jobs? We should get hobbies instead."
Elvena snorted, which turned into a giggle. "Where do you want to go first? Let's travel until I become too pregnant to do anything else."
Erik nodded and waved his free paw forward. "First stop, your bank. Second stop… the world."
At that moment, the Florida Keys…
Conner offered a sad sort of smile, watching as Karla and Winthrop teased and played with their toddler son, Donovan. He glanced at Dawn then back at the happy family thirty feet away. "You want to do that some time?"
"Have kids? Of course. It doesn't have to be right away, though." She looked back at him then frowned, seeing his forlorn expression. "Conner, we did all we could to find Keri. It's time to return the other cane to Africa. It's time to help Steven return the artifacts. It's time to put this whole experience behind yourself. Baby, we got a call from Sergei and Javari. They're getting married; we're invited to the private ceremony, you as the best man and me as the maid of honor. Then they're going to lay low and enjoy themselves for a while. Sergei and Javari. Three years being separated by jail cell bars and you remember how those two couldn't keep their paws off one another when they first met. A whirlwind romance. And now, because of us, they're together and happy. We helped Karla and Winthrop reconcile their marriage. We helped liberate Erik and that weasel lady."
"Elvena," he said. "And you're right. We did a lot of good. We rescued my family; we reunited Penelope and Bentley. We rescued Jing so that she could be reunited with her father. I just… I felt bad that Thomas was killed by accident… and I feel even worse that Keri disappeared. She was a good girl; she didn't deserve to die alone in an ocean. Crusher… several Crushers. We weren't ready for that. The Coast Guard ship only survived because I used the Nehushtan to throw that creature in one direction and the ship in the other. I broke that silly supernatural society policy and I zapped the hell out of the second Crusher. I couldn't let those things kill those people. And now what? I can't even tell anyone about it. And who knows if that means this secret society is now watching me because of what I did. I don't want that sort of attention, I don't need to be pissing off people who could make my life hell."
"The people who matter the most will never forget it," Dawn replied in a soothing tone. "Keri will always be a hero and who knows… maybe she made it."
"Dawn… please don't. I… if she was alive, she'd find a way to contact us."
"And if the opportunity presents itself, she will."
"Alright, alright. You're an optimist, I get it. We should get these artifacts put away so we can get started on looking for your half sister. She might be the only key to finding your biological mother so you can find out about your biological father."
"It's alright. If we find my folks, great… if not, I'll be satisfied just knowing I could keep my half-sister safe. Conner, do you love me?"
He stopped and tilted his head. "Pardon? Of course I love you. I went through hell and high water, quite literally, to keep you in my life. I adore you."
Dawn smiled. "Then why don't you kiss me. We're home. We're safe. This is the part where I make good on my promise to you… for surviving this big ordeal, I'll give you a relationship and, as Karla suggested, I'll make you 'a man'. C'mon. Besides, I told you, years ago, that I'd move to France with you."
The sharp-minded girl smiled. Her words worked and she loved seeing Conner smile… for the first time in a few days, he was smiling. Cooper took her right paw into both of his palms. "I'm sorry I've been moping about for a few days. You're right. My mission was an amazing success. I rescued my family and did the impossible. I helped to sink Clockwerk then, because of you and my great uncle, we launched that bastard into orbit. It's over. It's time to return the artifacts and have fun with you. It's time to get my driver's license, go to college and relax. You're right. Why was I being so emotional? Yeah, it sucks that Gerard and Keri Tiikeri didn't make it home but… I can honor their memory by being proud of our achievements. You know me pretty well, y'know that?"
Dawn leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. Conner lifted his paws and cupped either side of her face, deepening the kiss. It lasted several moments before a sound caused his ears to perk. Conner opened his eyes and cut his gaze to the left, seeing Karla standing over the couple. He rolled his eyes and closed them again, trying to ignore her.
"That it's, Conner! Curl her toes with a manly kiss. Rawr! Boy I could watch this all day!" She giggled in delight, seeing Conner lift a paw from Dawn's cheek to offer the middle finger. "Oh isn't that a trip! Well, it's 'all good.' I know what a great kisser she is. She'll rock your world, boy. You'll be a man by tonight."
Conner waved his middle finger from left to right then put his paw back on Dawn's cheek, refusing to break the kiss. Karla glanced over her shoulder then groaned. "Winthrop! I asked you not to let Steven near our kid. If that man runs ONE MORE TEST on my son, I'm going to jam that tongue depressor up his nose!" And, in an instant, she was gone again. The humorous moment caused Conner to smirk against Dawn's lips but it was brief; his attention returned to Dawn and how nice it felt to kiss his girlfriend.
Twenty minutes later…
Debbie's heart jumped. She felt almost dizzy, walking into the hallway behind the lobby. Her husband took note and whispered to her but his words were a million miles away. She licked her lips nervously trying to get that resolute, calm demeanor back but it was difficult to control her emotions. "Sh- she's here."
The Commander in front of the small group glanced back at DJ and her husband with narrowed eyes. He addressed the officer in a soft yet firm tone. "I agreed your wife could come but if she's going to…"
DJ shook her head quickly. "No, you don't understand, Sir. That's my twin sister you're holding in there."
He stopped cold in the hallway and turned about. "Come again?" He eyed her carefully. "What is it that you think you know?"
"I just… I feel it in my gut. My sister, who I thought was dead, is in this very building." She swallowed then, reverently, added, "Sir."
The Commander cut his gaze from Debbie to Ross Hunter then back to the USCG Contractor. "I've not seen the informant in person yet. If you're right… and that's a very big 'if', then I'll expect you to help me by conducting the debriefing. And to determine if her story is legitimate. Else, I expect you to stay in the office and stay completely silent, is that understood?"
"Aye sir," said both DJ and her husband in unison. The Commander turned about and began walking again. They followed in silence. He opened a door with a see-through tinted glass. DJ peered over the man's shoulder then craned her head to see around him. She blinked; her jaw dropped and she hurried to the glass, knowing it was a mirror on the other side. Less than three feet from her was Keri Tiikeri, standing in front of the mirror in an empty interrogation room, inspecting the stitching job on her arm. She wore an off-white tank top, form-fitting khaki shorts and flip-flops. Keri froze and lifted her eyes a bit, staring into the mirror at eye level with her twin. She quirked a brow and blinked twice, unable to see through the mirror but, somehow, able to sense something.
The Commander looked at the woman on the other side of the tinted glass then looked back at DJ. "Can… she see you through the mirror?"
DJ's husband murmured aloud. "It's as if she's looking right through it, Commander."
The senior officer nodded and gave DJ a gentle push on her shoulder. "Go on."
Debbie pivoted on her heel, ran out the office, and down the hall. Meanwhile, the Commander watched curiously as the woman inside the interrogation room backed away from the mirror and started to look around as if she felt a presence flanking her position. The door at the west end of the interrogation room burst open. Both girls froze, staring at one another for the longest single second of their lives then they rushed to one another.
"My grandfather had a twin brother," said the Commander. "He never mentioned anything about being able to sense his brother… I've never heard of something like this before."
Ross folded his arms, watching his wife through the glass with a satisfied grin. "They've been apart for years. DJ thought she was dead. Maybe because they came within proximity to one another after being apart for so long…? I don't know. Women have stronger intuition than men, too. Lot of factors at play here, sir."
The Commander smirked. "Always the scientist at heart, son. As long as I've known you." He turned back to the window. "I'm glad I agreed to let your wife come here today, Lieutenant Commander. She'll help, I'm sure."
They listened to the conversation over the speaker. DJ said, "You look like HELL!"
"I went through hell, looking for YOU! I got some money together and went hunting for you; I thought you were DEAD!"
"Wait, you struck out, alone, to look for ME?"
"Not at first, DJ. I was abducted. I got away, I stowed aboard a submarine full of terrorists. I …I got myself into trouble."
"You always do," said Debbie with a slight grin. "I don't even know how to ask you where to begin…"
"Well, Jesus, so much has happened. Remember when we thought Conner was brain-dead? He went into a coma, remember?"
DJ nodded, "I remember; impaled by his own cane."
Keri picked up without missing a beat. "But after three years in a coma, he came back and found Dawn. He hunted down Karla Chintzy but she'd married and had kids. After somehow convincing her that his job was important, he came out to sea somehow, God only knows how he got out to us and found us."
DJ pulled back from her sister, picking up the conversation. "Wait, why did you go out to sea in the first place?"
"To look for YOU, of course!" Keri exclaimed.
"Well how does Conner Cooper fit into this?"
"Conner found me when he was putting a team back together. And they started training and I was looking everywhere for you. I was attacked and I freaked out. I used our old call for help and instead of you showing up… Conner showed up. Anyway, at one point, I just couldn't take it anymore. It's a long story. I went behind the team's back and started trying to pull contacts to find you. I got in over my head and I was attacked one night during a storm. I was attacked by people who were angry that I stopped the attack on that plane; apparently the terrorists were related to the old pirating contacts and… it's just a big mess. Anyhow, moving on... I overheard things they'd said about how they thought that one of their contacts might be able to lead me to someone important, which I thought was you. Before I knew what I got myself into… I snuck off the sub, wondered around the city, found Conner's family in stasis then wound up in a prison in a city below the sea. At one point, I broke out… but then I was captured again and put into a cell with the Russian boy that Javari started seeing three years ago."
Again, the conversation returned to DJ without so much as a pause. "You were in a cell with Sergei? For how long? And Conner's family was alive in a city under the sea…?"
"Sergei was kept awake so they could control Javari. You know what a math genius she is," said Keri. "They used Javari's abilities for god-knows-what purposes to god-knows-what ends. They treated Sergei horribly. Everyone else was in suspended animation… cryogenic freeze."
"They were FROZEN?"
Keri nodded. "Apparently Alphonse Moreau, the guy responsible for EVERYTHING, including the climatic changes as of late, was down there running that city. He somehow perfected the ability to store and thaw frozen people and he was cloning people too. Conner, Dawn and Karla came to rescue everyone. Karla's husband showed up to help; the four of them rescued Sergei and myself… and all of us tore the city apart. Eighteen in all. One defected at the last minute and helped us but accidentally killed a guy named Thomas."
Keri nodded emphatically. "You remembered! Yeah, the cop that was following Conner while we helped him find his mother, three years ago. Exactly. He turned out to be working for Moreau but he defected and was put into prison and left to rot. Carmelita's clone accidentally killed him when she defected to help us get out of the city. She died, too. She drown when that place went to hell."
"Carmelita? As in… Carmelita Cooper? You said she had a clone?"
"DJ, listen, Moreau cloned himself. Conner and his father had to fight both. Carmelita Cooper had a clone that Moreau employed to police the city with an iron paw. Seventeen of us got out of there alive."
"Jesus Christ, Keri, I thought you died. When I saw your name in the Finnish paper, I was so proud of you and when you didn't show up recently for the award ceremony… I thought you were dead."
"Captured but not dead. I still have the stab in my leg from the plane incident in India. Not to mention having my arm injured, having my ribs cracked while I was in the sea… sprains, pains and …it's all inflamed." She grinned at her own rhyme scheme.
Debbie half-glared at her sister then… after a moment, she pulled Keri back into her arms. "I can't believe I actually missed your retarded sense of humor."
Keri beamed. "My sparkling repartee! You bitch, you didn't come looking for me! God, let me get a look at you." She put her paws on DJ's shoulders and stepped back. Her eyes zeroed in on her sister's left paw then widened. "WHAT! Are you SERIOUS? You got married? I should have been there to see it! Who did you marry?"
Debbie Jean giggled softly and took her sisters paws into her palms, bringing them together at hip level. "Who… do you think I married?"
"ROSS? You guys got back together?"
"Why do you think I disappeared? I had to leave my old life behind to give my new life an honest chance. But I did look for you. You were hard to find!"
Keri snorted, half laughing in spite of herself. "Again… you bitch! I wish I knew! Aw, man, I missed so much!"
DJ looked Keri over and said, "Well… now this ends the argument… you're my younger sister. You acted like a child and ran off in every direction possible. You ran off with… whoever you ran off with. I thought you went back to Finland."
"I did. I met this guy named Steven who explained everything. He helped us figure out how to… it's complicated. But then we were attacked by Moreau's people or… something. And I put out that distress call that only you would know… but somehow Conner and Dawn picked it up and figured out how to decrypt it. And… I helped Conner and Dawn rescue his family so that the whole lot of us could get out of there. Javari's safe, Sergei… Karla, Dawn, Conner… everyone you knew and more. Well," Keri trailed off.
But DJ picked up without so much as a pause. "…Everyone except Gerard."
"What was down there that had Moreau stay in a freakin' city under the water?"
"Conner's folks seemed to think the real Atlantis was down there but… I didn't see it. I just know that there were a lot of weird things going on. And people had artifacts that could do insane things. You should have seen Conner. He managed to fight a giant metal robot owl thing and somehow he beat it with electricity."
Keri nodded emphatically. "Girl, I'm telling you, he had some sort of electric weapon or belt with a generator or… god knows what. He was doing stuff as weird as that Karla chick."
DJ frowned. "I'm sure there's a logical explanation for what we saw Karla do."
Keri shook her head. "No, Karla's the real deal. She's legit. Trust me. I think Conner might be that way, too."
"I don't even know what to believe. I'm just glad you're okay. What happened to the city?"
"Conner's family, with Dawn's help, figured out how to make the under water city take off like a rocket. I think it was designed to go into orbit so Alphonse Moreau could use it like some sort of orbital base or something… some real sci-fi crap… but we managed to figure out how to make it shoot into the sky and keep going… and going… so… we escaped in a luxury lifeboat designed for the guy who owned the city. Then it fired into the sky. If they were successful that thing kept going. I hope the damn place crashes into the sun. They didn't live by the Geneva Convention standard, that's for sure."
"You're lucky they didn't hurt you, freeze you or kill you. I can't believe you went looking for me alone, like that."
"Not exactly, I TOLD you I was jumped by those dudes who had something to do with the plane hijacking. They led me back to Alphonse Moreau and the city. Everyone was in on it. I hate to make it sound like a conspiracy but… damn girl. I'm sure someone saw that thing rise up out of the ocean from a satellite."
DJ nodded slowly. "Something like that. That's why we're here. They need to get information from you. They need to know what happened because your story lines up with what they saw from ship and from satellite. God, I can't believe we're together again." She drew her sister fully back into her embrace. Keri snuggled into DJ's arms, careful about her injuries, so as not to agitate them further.
"Why didn't you come when I was under attack in Finland?"
"I didn't get your distress message, I'm sorry. I'm glad Conner did, though. I'm sorry I didn't tell you I got back together with my," DJ paused to take a breath but her sister picked up the conversation in a natural way, as if they were two people speaking from one mind.
"…Husband, yeah… I'm not going to lie, I feel a bit betrayed by you. I'm out in the Atlantic Ocean trying to track you down; I'm put into a cell… I'm fighting for my life without your help… and you're off joining the Coast Guard, getting married and having fun without me. That's some shit, girl."
DJ frowned. "Keri, I'm sorry. I'll figure out how to make it up to you… some how. Just… don't go running off again. Please."
"You left me first, after Conner was put in a coma!"
"I know, I know… I'm sorry. I just… I needed Ross in my life. I love him."
"I was supposed to be your maid of honor. Remember? When we were kids? Our promises meant nothing?"
"I thought you'd be upset with me for going back to him."
Keri grinned. "Damn," she took a moment and thought about it. "You're right. I would have torn your head off."
"So… yeah. I married him."
Keri laughed and ran her paws back through her headfur, backing away from her sister. "Look at you, in your uniform with your rings…. You're freakin' beautiful, girl. As much as I would have tried to stop you from marrying him… I wish I'd been at the wedding."
"We didn't have a big ceremony. We went to the Justice of the Peace. Maybe we can still do an actual wedding or something."
"Psht," Keri snorted. "No, you're just going to come to mine and ogle about how pretty I look in a white dress."
DJ tilted her head. "Are you dating someone? Are you going to get married?"
A grin tugged at Keri's maw. "Not yet. But when I find him… and trust me, he'll be hotter and stronger than your military boy toy… you're going to be MY maid of honor."
DJ nodded then drew her sister back into her arms. "You got it, sis. And by the way… he and I will be leaving the military when his tour ends. And we're going to go into business for ourselves soon."
"You two gunna try for another baby?"
Debbie held her paws aloft. "Slow down. I'm not fifteen anymore, we're going to do things right. We got the marriage part down. Now we're going to put some money aside for ourselves."
"You remember when you, me and Javari were…" Keri suddenly went silent, having DJ's paw around her muzzle.
"Keri," she nodded towards the mirror. "That's not there for you to admire yourself." She paused to watch her sister's reaction. Keri lifted a paw and waved at the mirror.
"HI ROSS!" Keri called in a muffled shout through clenched teeth.
DJ sighed with a groan. "Only you."
"Eat me," said Keri through the corners of her mouth.
"OH you little…"
On the other side of the window, the Commander turned to Ross Hunter, brows furrowed. "Lieutenant Commander, do your wife and her sister always fight like this?"
He offered a nod. "Yes, sir. 'Fraid so. We have a long history together, going back to our teenage years. She's the reason I joined the Guard, sir. I wanted to provide for my family. She miscarried and I was still in the military. So I made the best of it. We grew apart for a while but a few years ago, we got back together and realized the errors of our past. With a little maturity, we managed to get it together."
Carmen Cooper interlaced her fingertips with Kalen's paw. He offered her a smile and, in return, she offered one back. "So, will Conner be in trouble for using his abilities and that biblical staff to save the Coast Guard?"
Kalen tilted his head. "I'm unsure, as I did not witness exactly what happened. I suspect that Karla will surely say whatever needs to be said in order to defend his actions if such is called into question, though. But Karla was most assuredly NOT the only supernatural in the vicinity. They're quite an organized collection. I had to have their blessing in order to become your mate, for example. They're a very serious collection of people."
"After meeting Karla, I can't imagine that they're all without a sense of humor." A wry grin tugged at the corner of her muzzle. "That woman is just plain silly at times."
"Indeed, she is." Kalen sighed. "She's actually more flamboyant than the original Karla. At least that is what Steven says. The original Karla met her death one hundred sixty-two years prior to my birth in 1837. It seems the handful of elders in our court all have a deep respect for the original Karla and I have to wonder how deep that 'respect' goes."
"How do you mean, love?"
Kalen shook his head. "I fear she may have slept with almost all of them except Steven."
Carmen snorted. "She slept with Steven recently… the clone, I mean. From what I understand, he got her drunk and took advantage of the situation."
"It's true," came a voice from behind the two. They turned about, coming almost face to face with the regally dressed skunk. The man cleared his throat and said, "It wasn't my most defining moment and I would appreciate not being judged by my actions. But I won't deny that there is sexual attraction. Karla is intelligent and beautiful. I'm completely charmed by her son, Donovan. Winthrop Weasel doesn't deserve her affections."
Kalen's ears lay back. "Are you …jealous, doctor?" A smile returned to his lips. "We have learned from Conner and Karla that you very well may be thee oldest man alive… and you're plagued by petty, childish jealousy?"
Steven frowned. "I suppose and yes, it's sad. I'm ashamed. But that's not why I followed you both."
"Then by all means," Kalen said with an amused tone. "What brings you to the park, here in Lyon, France? What is so important that two lovers can't enjoy the glow of the moon and one another's company in peace?"
Steven sighed and cut his gaze to Carmen. "I wish to speak to you, Miss Cooper. Might I have a moment with you in private?"
Carmen folded her arms. "Whatever you say to me will be passed on to Kalen because I trust him implicitly. So whatever you have to say, you might as well say it in front of him."
Steven glanced at the jackal then back at the hybrid vix-coon. "Very well. I wanted to know about Alester Crowley's work in Russia… you acted as his accomplice about three years ago and I want to know if I can receive his notes and journals so I can have access to his work."
Carmen unfolded her arms and stuffed her paws into her pockets. "Steven, he stole some of that work from you. Why would you care to analyze his work?"
"Indeed," said Steven. "He stole the technology inadvertently, which allowed him to create an endless power supply but the drill he powered with it… the one that uses sound to burrow into the earth… the one that Moreau killed for and stole in order to dig up Atlantis… That was his work and I wish to learn more about it. Where can I find his work?"
The hybrid woman frowned. "I can take you to Russia where the man made his lab but why would you want it? Are you going to return to Atlantis?"
"Not necessarily; I'm merely fascinated by the invention and the technology used to power it." Steven ran a paw back through his headfur. "I wanted to know if you two would accompany me to Russia?"
Carmen looked him up and down then grinned. "Kalen says you're an academic master… let's make a trade. I want to attend a good University. You're a teacher. We… could talk."
"Why not attend a community college like Karla?"
Carmen snorted. "No." She shook her head. "No thank you. You're one of the most brilliant minds on this Earth and you're suggesting I go to a crappy community college?"
A hint of a smile touched upon Steven's face. "I stand corrected. But a school is only as good as their teacher. Community Colleges don't pay as well as the prestigious universities, which means that the community teacher is doing their job because of their love to teach, not because the paycheck is good. Ah, but perhaps I'm being too optimistic about this world. Will you help me?"
Carmen nodded slowly. "Because you helped Conner to rescue us, I owe you a favor. However, we'll have to do this immediately because when I go back to work, they'll keep tabs on my whereabouts. Right now, I'm still 'Missing – Presumed Dead.' Dammit," she placed a paw on Kalen's forearm. "Come with me, Mister Kincade, we obviously have work to do before I can relax and take you to the beach somewhere tropical."
"We still have to sit down and decide on a school."
Carmen glanced sidelong at her mate. "I've been trying to make a decision since before my parents went missing. I even made a faux choice at one point, right before Christmas, so I could get work to change my evening schedule because they were overworking me. C'mon, boys. I want to get this done and over with."
"I suppose I am nervous, Murray." Jing lowered her eyes. She placed a paw on his forearm and he kissed her cheek for support. She flashed him a shy smile. "What if he's disappointed that I was captured all those years ago?"
Murray shook his head. "N'aw, Panda King is totally cool, Jing. If anything, he'll just be glad that you're back and that you're alive. I overheard Penelope say that he visited your grave in Paris. Like, the whole gang has gravestones there. Do you think your dad would be upset about you being alive?"
She shook her head slowly. "Are you sure you don't want to come in with me? I'm sure you would be very welcome in his home."
Murray lifted a hand and waved it. "Nah. This is a special moment, Jing. Dad and daughter stuff. Take your time. I'm gunna go check out the aftermarket car parts at that place down the way."
Jing tilted her head. "Most everything owned by that shop is stolen, Murray."
He nodded four times. "My kind'a people, right? How about I come back in two hours, that will give you 'n yer dad time to do Chinese family stuff. What do you guys do, anyhow? Tea and talk, right?"
She placed her palm against his cheek and smiled. "Ni zhen piao liang."
"I love when you speak like that. I bet your dad does it too."
Jing offered a playful faux scorn then said, "Yes… all I ever heard him say was, 'Jing! Bie zhe yang! Bu xing. Dao san shi wu sui zai zhao dui xiang ba!' It was annoying.
Murray blinked and rubbed the side of his face. "Uh, what does that mean?" His palm came up overtop of her paw.
Jing leaned over the armrest of her chair and kissed Murray's forehead. She then eased her paw from the side of his face, opened the van door and gracefully disembarked to the cobblestone street. "Murray, it means, 'Don't behave like this, Jing! No, you may NOT date until you are thirty-five!' After that embarrassing bit with that idiot General, it became much worse. Anyway… Wo ai ni, Bao bao; see you in two hours." She shut the door behind herself and walked up the sidewalk, towards a large fountain in front of her father's home.
Murray had to think about what she said at the end because he'd heard her say it several times. He smiled and, quietly, said, "Aww… I love you, too, honey." He watched her until she made it to the front door and let herself inside. Once the door shut, he pulled away.
Jing took a deep breath and put her bag down on the floor in the foyer. She began walking to each room until she found him in the back yard, knees crossed in deep meditation. Jing leaned over and whispered into his ear, "Ba ba, Gao xing yi dianr." Jing placed her paws on her father's shoulders.
His eyes opened and in a soft voice, he asked, "Xiao xiong? Zhe shi ni de ba ba!" Panda's eyes went wide and he looked around then turned about, surprised to see her as if looking at a ghost.
She continued the conversation in Chinese. "Daddy, you've not called me 'Teddy Bear' since I was so very small. And why do you look at me that way? I'm here; and for goodness sake, Daddy, I know who you are."
"Are… you my daughter's spirit?"
Jing placed her paws on her hips. "Daddy! It's ME. I'm right here." She reached out and took him by the wrists. He came to his feet and looked her over, obviously in shock.
"You… I thought you died. They found your license in Florida and it had blood on it. Your blood. It was my understanding that you died in battle."
She lifted her paws. "Stop, daddy. Wait, let me explain. I helped the Coopers by going out to sea in order to avenge Conner Cooper's death. Only… he wasn't dead. He was in a coma and the hospital said he was most likely brain dead forever. So we went out there and sought revenge. Alphonse Moreau managed to stun us and put our bodies into cryogenic stasis. We were frozen for three years but we did not die. I'm not a ghost."
Panda threw his arms around her and hugged her close. After a few moments of silence, he whispered into her ear. "Xiao xiong."
She smiled at the nickname in silence. It felt good to be hugged again, especially when she knew it made him happy. "Conner Cooper woke up and came to where we were located. He did what the rest of us could not do… he liberated us with only the help of Dawn and Karla."
"Yes, I was nearby when he woke, although I didn't know it at the time. Penelope was overjoyed. Conner became dead-set on liberating his family and friends because he believed deeply in his heart that everyone was still alive. And at the time, I refused to believe it… but I am glad he was right. How is Murray?"
She smiled against his face. "Very good. He'll be glad you asked about him. He dropped me off so that we could have time together. It's his way of showing respect to you because he felt we needed time together. Come inside the house; I'll make you some tea."
Steven turned over the sliver of Orichalcum and frowned thoughtfully. He glanced back over at a group of monitors, one of which was the display for an electron microscope. Another monitor displayed a periodic table of elements, with several icons illuminated. There were two additional blank blocks on the side with question marks inside, indicating that two elements were still unknown within his specimen.
A sigh escaped the skunk's lips. "Even if I have to synthesize these alien elements… I will discover the secrets of your technology again. I've lived this long… I won't give up until I have mastered a way to develop Orichalcum in mass quantities. If only I had One-Eye Cooper's ability to smell gold and differentiate various types of metals by elemental value… I bet with her abilities, I'd have figured out the mysteries of Orichalcum ages ago." He glanced over at another monitor, showing the interior of Karla's home. The toddler, Donovan, was playing with an erector set, looking frustrated because one of the metal pieces apparently bent. Steven smiled slightly at the toddler's emotional display.
The little boy waved his paw and sent the erectors across the floor. The skunk started to chuckle then tilted his head. He pressed a few keys on the keyboard and reached for a computer mouse. He initiated a picture-in-picture view with the smaller section showing live feed. In the larger picture, he reversed the frames then watched it again in slow motion. His brows scrunched up over his head. "Oh my God…"
Again, the video played out. Donovan waved his paw and the erectors went flying… but his paw never touched the toys directly… "The toddler has Karla's powers?" He stood up and reached for a phone. After a moment he said, "Honorable Justicar, it is Niall. Aye, your honor. I'm watching over Karla's son from a camera I secretly installed in her home. Yes, sir." He paused for nearly a moment more then said, "Her toddler is showing signs of telekinesis. …Yes sir… in my opinion, I would call a court session. We should also discuss Conner Cooper, the return of the artifacts and anything else that may be relevant to the here-and-now. …Yes sir. Very good. I will see you then." He placed the telephone back on the cradle and glanced back at the display, watched the replay one more time then set the full image back to live broadcast. "I wonder if she even knows."
Sly reached for the front door, opened it, and then lifted Carmelita into his arms with a grin. She quickly slipped her left arm around his neck and stifled a giggle as her legs were lifted high. She grinned at him. "Well, well… you've not carried me over the threshold since I was pregnant with Carmen."
"We were newly weds; it was appropriate." Sly turned to the side and carried her through the doorway then turned around, using his wife's feet to kick the door shut. "To the bedroom?"
She broke into laughter, which echoed off the living room walls briefly. "The BED room? OH my lord, Sly… so what's the occasion? Your answer will dictate where we go from here."
Cooper chuckled and said, "Because I love you."
The vixen leaned up in his embrace and kissed his lips then whispered, "Good answer." She used her free paw to cup the side of his face as they kissed in the foyer. It lasted for several moments.
Sly carried her over to the thermostat on the wall and stopped adjacent to the device. Carmelita turned towards the small computer display and thumbed the temperature controls then said, "At least Carmen was prudent enough to keep it only high enough to keep the pipes from freezing. I'm surprised we still have power after not paying the bill for three years."
With a grin, Sly turned her away from the wall and took her up the stairs. "Carmelita, I set up the bills so that they auto-draft from our account. It looks like we've been paying our bills every month on time for decades."
A grin. She nuzzled his cheek with her nose then said, "Can you imagine how much paperwork is going to be involved in proving to creditors and the government that we're still alive? Gerard was right… it's going to be a pain. I'm still kinda' off balance about what happened to him, though."
Sly nosed her in return. "Don't think about it. We can't fix it… we can only move forward and live life to the fullest and raise our family to the best of our ability. Besides, we're not old… we're middle-aged."
"Middle-aged huh? You planning to live until we're in the triple digits, huh?"
A broad grin found his muzzle and he nodded. "Why not? We both stay in shape. The kids raise themselves now. No more stress." He continued to carry her up the stairs until they reached the hallway that led to their bedroom. "You went to a medical exam in Lyon this morning but you haven't said a word about it and it's been eight hours. Something on your mind?"
She reached over and opened the bedroom for him then eased back in his arms again. Her husband carried her into their bedroom and laid her down at the center of the bed. Her hair fanned out around her head and she smiled up at him. "I was thinking about the right way to tell you, sweetheart."
"I'm all-ears," he said, leaning down to gently nibble on the vixen's right ear. She shuddered beneath him and murred in reply.
Her paws lifted, cupping either side of his face. She brought the gray-furred man into view so that she could look into his big brown eyes. "Sly, I thought we lost our son, you know… Do you remember what we did the day before we left for that underwater city?"
"You went to a doctor's appointment."
She smiled. "Good memory. I found out that I was pregnant, so it somehow helped to lessen the incredible sting I felt from perceiving Conner as… 'lost'. I mean, when the doctor told me he was brain-dead, I felt a part of my heart die deep inside… and when I found out I was pregnant… I felt like there might be hope." She took a deep breath then said, "I went to the clinic today… I had to make sure that the cryogenic stasis didn't harm the fetus…. I'm still pregnant. The fetus is still in the first trimester but it's healthy, has a strong heartbeat and is doing very well." She bit her lower lip, waiting to see how her husband would reply.
Sly lit up. He laughed then kissed her firmly then enveloped her in his arms until they were side by side, facing one another on the bed. "That's amazing! We're going to have a baby again?"
She giggled against his lips and nodded. "Yes, daddy, you're going to have another Cooper running around the house… only this time, you'll have help from Carmen and Conner."
He kissed her all over her face, starting on her cheeks, then her nose, forehead and, finally, he came to her muzzle and locked lips with her. The kiss was sensational; her tail fluffed up and her toes curled. She could feel the passion, love and adoration in his touch. She drew Sly close, putting her paws firmly on his back then gasped in delight when he rolled to the side, pinning her on her back. Carmelita lifted her eyes, gazing up at him. The fondness shined in those twin mocha pools; she adored him wholly and completely.
Sly looked down upon his wife. "I love you. I'm so lucky to have you in my life. I'm lucky to have such a wonderful wife and I'm lucky that you're the mother of my children. And yes, mamacita, I look forward to having another Cooper running around the house." His lips met hers. Sly felt her paws move up his back and cup the backside of his head. He felt her fingernails brush gently against the backside of his ears and her tongue ease past his lips.
After being robbed of the right to bond with his son during the boy's early teenage years, he would have the chance again. Gender didn't even matter; Sly reveled in the chance to be a daddy again. It was fun. Plus he was giving his children the chances and experiences he missed out on. But right now, the only thing on his mind was the touch of his wife. He loved it. He felt consumed by it. He brought his paws up and placed his palms on either side of her face as they kissed.
He felt her heart pounding against his chest. He felt the warmth of her breath against the side of his face. He felt the rise and fall of her torso, her deep passionate breaths. His paws slid down from either side of her face. Hers left the back of his head, coming to the top of his paws; she guided his hands to her jacket as if motioning for him to remove it. Her paws then slipped back around him, reaching for the hem of his shirt at the small of his back.
His lips trailed down to her neckline. His wife's sultry words were a whispered in his ear. "Love me." Sly shuddered in delight at the request. Finally, life was returning to normal. Finally, all the madness was over. Finally, he could focus on being a husband again. And that… made him happy.
Thirty-six hours later…
Conner turned to Dawn and Karla then he glanced back at the holy man. He offered the gentleman a smile and withdrew a staff cloaked in velvet from a hard-shell case with a leather handle. "I told you I'd bring it back."
The elderly man offered a semi-gnarled smile, which barely peaked out beyond his beard. "Indeed you have. I take it that Metatron was most helpful to you, young one?"
"He told me to call him Enoch, Mister Mikail."
The old man grinned. "Then he must have liked you, my dear boy."
Conner lifted his left paw. "Young man. Today is my eighteenth birthday." His muzzle contorted into a proud grin. "I couldn't have done anything without you lending me that staff. I appreciate it. I can't even begin to tell you how important this is. The fact that you stood in the way of Alphonse Moreau as holder of thee very last artifact is a testament to a lot… the fact he couldn't get this staff himself helped saved the world because if he got it a year ago… before I woke up… then there'd be nothing left, and I'd have never come out of that coma."
"Silly boy," said the man with a grin, ignoring Conner's correction of manhood. "God woke you before that blue-butted buffoon could get his hands on this." He pushed back the velvet veil and smiled upon the rod. "That's why I knew you'd keep it safe from falling into Moreau's hands, even if you went straight to his lair with it. Because God had a mighty hand in all of this." With his other paw, he pushed the pillbox hat back a little bit.
"I don't exactly know what to believe. I mean… maybe we're holding technology that predates all of us and we think its Godly. I've seen a lot of that sort of technology in the last few days. I mean… it's possible."
The red-furred Ethiopian wolf, with his black paws, matching neck, tail and muzzle, stretched a bit. There was a slight line of sweat from where his hat had been sitting too far forward on his head before pushing it back a moment ago. He offered a grin again. "Then how come Moreau, a man of superior intellect, technology and drive was bested by a boy with two metal sticks? You were David… he was Goliath. God woke you from your coma in Paris before everything was too late. Yes, I know you were in a three-year coma in the capital of France, Conner Cooper. You see, God typically allows for freewill and steps back to let us live our lives, because life and freewill are his gifts to us. But sometimes… things do spiral out of control. And on these rare occasions… destiny truly is guided by God's mighty hand. If someone doesn't step up to solve mortal problems… or if the one capable of solving said problems is unable… God steps in and shows them the way. He knew that Moses was up against unbeatable odds, so he stepped in then. He knew that the likes of…"
Karla frowned. "Please, enough. You've made your point."
The old man smiled at the beautiful hybrid. "Would you like to step inside, dear?"
Karla shook her head. "You know that I can't."
Dawn quirked her brows and leaned towards Karla. "Why not?"
"Ask Conner's mother. Actually, never mind. Only her doppelganger knew."
"Huh?" The female raccoon scratched the side of her forehead by her ear.
Karla shook her head and smiled mysteriously. "Nothing, dear." She turned back to Mikail Johannes Kioko and said, "Darling, I politely decline your offer. I'm afraid I'm not "spirited" enough to venture beyond the doorway."
To their surprise, the old man withdrew a cellular phone and abruptly snapped a photograph of Karla. "The boys in the cathedral will never believe I saw you in person… in the fur… you look much better without the scales, 'darling.' Conner," he turned back to the raccoon. "I want to thank you, 'young man'. I appreciate you taking the time to return this to the sanctuary. Then again, I knew you were a man of your word." Finally, he turned to Dawn and added, "He's marriage material. Taboo or not, he's worth your paw in wedlock." The old man took the cane and retreated back into the inner sanctum, shutting the door behind himself. The locking bolt slid into place.
Karla sighed. "Okay, now that that is over with. Let's get the hell out of Africa and back to Paris. I want to spend some time with Donovan and I owe my husband for saving my tail. On the plane ride to Europe, yesterday, he was talking about the 'possibility' of wanting more kids. Heck, since I'm able, I might as well."
Dawn grinned then turned back to Conner. "Marriage material, huh? Maybe just one more bachelor party before the big event?"
"Only if I get to be the stripper," said Karla.
"I can think of no one better for the job," Dawn chuckled, her eyes flitting towards the hybrid felox.
Conner blushed and turned away to clear his throat. "Uh, yeah… so… Paris, right… let's hurry back to the airfield so we can catch a plane back to France."
Dawn and Karla grinned at one another, nodded deviously in unison and flanked him. Each girl took him by the arm, hooking her forearm through his. Dawn nuzzled the side of his face and said, "Let's take a private jet then, lover boy."
Karla, with a grin, nuzzled against the other side of his face and said, "A very private jet."
Conner swallowed and offered a slight grin, trying to downplay their joke. "Uh, sure, we can arrange a leer jet for, uh, rental." …Or were they joking at all…?
Written by: Ken Weaver Jr. (Pen Name: Kit Karamak)
Book 3 of 3
KitKaramak AT gmail DOT com
Thanks so much for reading but I thought I'd add some bonus content for your amusement! So, here we go…
Alternative Ending Idea outtake:
(Note: I originally thought about having Conner fight Moreau in an ending where Sly would NOT be around to help. I had a lot of different ideas. I jotted them out in the epilogue LONG before I finished chapter 35, 36 and 37. Initially, I had no plans to write out an actual fight with Moreau because I couldn't think of anything good… I started jotting down ideas during the time I was writing the scene where Conner and Karla made their way down to Lower Atlantis; at the time I had NO plans on having ANYONE ELSE but Conner and Karla see Atlantis. Here's one way I thought of ending the story…)
"I hit my head," muttered Conner. He rubbed his paws together, looking from Karla and Winthrop to his mother, father and sister. "Seriously, there are some pretty vague splotches – I don't really remember how we got out of there." He cleared his throat and looked to Karla. Beyond them, next to Carmen and Kalen, sat Dawn. "But there is a lot of stuff I do remember vividly. Like fighting Moreau."
"You put up a good fight," replied Karla.
Sly's eyes widened. "Whoa! You went toe-to-toe with Alphonse Moreau? All by yourself, without help?"
"He did," said Karla.
"I remember feeling angrier than I've ever felt in my life. The whole place was glowing. We were in the temple at the heart of Atlantis." Conner licked his lips then glanced at Dawn again, offering her a nervous sort of smile.
Karla frowned and shook her head. "Conner, we were in Moreau's dome… There is no such thing as a real Atlantis."
The boy glared at her. "What? You were THERE, Karla! Why would you say such a thing! Remember the box we had to retrieve for Steven?"
The tall skunk walked into the room from the door on the far left end, having overheard some of the conversation. "Karla is quite correct," he told the room. "There is no such thing as Atlantis. You did bring me back the artifacts in a shiny black box and I was able to separate and hide them… but there is no such thing as Atlantis."
Karla nodded. "See? You dreamed it when you were unconscious."
Conner blinked rapidly. "But you're from Atlantis," he told Steven. "You had me grab that box of metal for you from your …house or… workshop or whatever that place was!"
"Have mercy, I'm not that old, Conner. Plato claims it sank into the Atlantic Ocean nine thousand years before Critias, his story character. It's also claimed that Atlantis is spoken of by the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Not that the Egyptians were experts on the subject either but… you're talking thousands of years before the birth of Christ."
"The box was shiny with black coating, covering plates of Orichalicum. Don't you remember?"
Steven paused and tilted his head. "I've not heard of that metal in ages… it was a fictitious metal, my dear boy. Beyond Moreau's dream dome, which we destroyed, there was never a real Atlantis. When Plato said it was beyond the Pillars of Hercules, he meant to say that it was located in the world of the unknown. His proclamation that there was a continent beyond it… that was a 'guess' at best. Vespucci came to America and discovered it ages later. It was then named after him: America. If ever there was a land bridge between Europe and America… there would be signs of it. Besides the Native Americans have a genetic link to Asian people, forty-to-fifty thousand years removed… not European people. There was never a super power island almost ten thousand years ago. There's no Atlantis." He shook his head slowly.
"I've got a picture I sent you," said Conner with a smirk. He opened his phone but it had a cracked screen. "Damn… I'll extract the files to my laptop later… But I'll show you."
Kalen, in an almost apologetic voice, added, "I'm sure you just hit your head as Karla suggested… Needless to say you did all the work and should be proud of yourself."
"Indeed!" Steven waved to everyone then left the room.
"See?" Karla smiled.
Insulted, Conner turned to Karla. "No, we were there… why are you being so stubborn?"
"Because," she replied. "I can!" then added, "We were in Moreau's inner sanctum but there was never a city of Atlantis. You dreamed it… what happened in your dream, Conner?"
He clenched his paws and turned towards Sly, Carmelita and Dawn. "What about you guys? Or maybe Winthrop? You guys remember it, right?"
"Uh…" Sly rubbed his forehead. "We were attacked by Crusher, the boat capsized in the Atlantic… I remember being injured and fighting to stay above water until your mother pulled me out by the scruff of the neck…"
"Adrenaline," said Carmelita with a slight grin.
"Indeed so," replied Kalen. "Conner, they're right. There was never a real Atlantis. You can believe whatever you like, no one will stop you, but you underwent a great deal of emotional stress and head trauma… believe me when I tell you that no one here ever left Moreau's dome, which he named, "New Atlantis." At least not until we escaped it, destroyed it and barely survived to tell the tale."
Conner glowered at them. "I remember it, goddammit." He took Dawn by her paw and stormed off. Once they were alone in a hallway, he said, "Do you remember anything about it?"
"I vaguely remember seeing you with a second Cooper Cane. I'm not sure how you got it, but you said it was made from that material you retrieved in a city under the bedrock. Conner, I don't care what they say. I believe you and I love you."
"So we're going to be an item now?"
She smiled inwardly. "Slow down, lover boy. I told you I'd move to France with you if we ever got out of that mess… let's start there. But let's take it slow, hmm?"
(Again, that was written out as a possible ending back before I had all the other characters show up in lower Atlantis. In fact, I wrote that ending around the time I wrote CHAPTER 31, when Karla and Conner were climbing down that central utility tube, thinking that they'd be the ONLY two characters to actually SEE Atlantis. But… you know me… later on, I changed my mind, went on a tangent, had a lot of fun creating Atlantis… I made this Alternative Ending because I never planned on showing Conner and Moreau's fight… I didn't know how I wanted to write it… so I planned on skipping it and having it insinuated… but then I felt creative and I wanted to extend the story passed 31 chapters… so… I just kept going… Over a year later, I made a lot more things happen and this alternative ending became obsolete. That's because you guys were telling me you didn't want the story to end yet… so I dragged it out for 6 more chapters… and I'm glad I did. I enjoyed it. Thank you all for reading this story and, hopefully, the whole trilogy! Lament of Carmelita, Spy Cooper and Dawn of Progeny!
I love you guys! Feel free to contact me any time about anything! Thanks again for reading!
I really appreciate everyone who took time out of his or her day to read my material. I started Lament of Carmelita in 2005 on a bet. Not many people remember a guy in the Sly Cooper Fan Fiction fandom named "Octavarius Kaiser Scott" but, all those years ago he was a very blunt and critical writer who sometimes lambasted other Sly Cooper fiction writers if they made something he considered trite or cliché. It all started with him.
So, I decided to read a little of his work and wrote him a private message through the FanFiction Net client. Then the conversation moved to email. And, boy oh boy, did he get nasty. After several dozen nasty emails, full of threats and insults, (which amused me, so I continued the banter simply to placate myself, because I needed a good laugh that day) he said something to the effect of, "I bet you can't even write a good story ANY how! So you probably SUCK AS A WRITER and you're not worth my time!" So, in about fifteen minutes time, I wrote chapter one for Lament of Carmelita out of the blue. This is without having played the Sly Cooper games. I just looked up Sly and Carmelita's background on Wikipedia briefly then typed up about two thousand words worth of rather dark material (knowing that's the kind of stuff he liked), and because his profile said he hated when people reprised Clockwerk in the typical cliché role, I knew I had to make Clockwerk the enemy in that short story.
Keep in mind, that short story had NO DIRECTION and I had NO DESIRE to write a story because I was working on my StarFox Reflections series. I was just wrapping up Reflections of the Future, and was enjoying the feedback from it.
Well, OKS was good enough of a man to actually read two thousand words in email. And he was good enough to write back. And he was KIND enough to say, "OH… my… GOD. This …this was amazing. I'm sorry; I take back what I said earlier. You're unequivocally an exceptional writer of amazing talent. It was SO dark… twisted… gory… amazing! YOU HAVE to write MORE. Finish it! I have to know what happens next, PLEASE! Make this a full length story!"
I was quite pleased with my little victory, so I re-read the piece, fixed a few grammatical errors, a spelling error and posted it, right then and there, as the beginning of a story, with no plot, no direction and very limited understanding of the characters, the storyline or the premise.
The next day I went out and found the games at the local Game Stop on the PS2 USED GAME wall. I purchased them. I'd already had several furry fan readers posting on my Star Fox stories, "Hey, can you do some Sly Cooper stuff? I bet you'd do Sly Cooper some justice! C'mon write something!" Without those people getting behind my other stories, I wouldn't have kept going after the first chapter of Lament of Carmelita. I wouldn't have looked through the Sly Cooper fan fiction section. I wouldn't have started glancing through some of the stories found there. I wouldn't have heard people complaining about OKS lambasting writers and making them feel bad. I wouldn't have felt compelled to write to him… and without those people, ultimately, Lament of Carmelita would have never been written and I would have never discovered an amazing, fun, intelligently acted video game franchise. I'd never know what I was missing out on. SO THANK YOU!
I know a great deal of my readers are furries. So, MANY THANKS go out to the Furry Fandom. I appreciate the feedback I receive on my stories. You help me to become a better writer. And when I finish my first original manuscript and when I shop it for publication and IF and / or WHEN I get my work on the shelves of bookstores… I won't forget my roots. Ever. For I, too, am a furry. And those that don't like furries… that's cool. I don't care who you like or dislike. I'm just glad you have taken the time to read my work. And if you've read this far… well, I appreciate that too.
In fact, I have a little bonus for you if you've read this far… I'll sneak you a little tidbit of storyline. A little …after thought.
Y'know how, like, in some movies… after the credits finish rolling, you'll get rewarded with a little tidbit of storyline tacked on to the very end of the film reel?
Well… that's what I'm going to give you right now…
(Canonical DoP Ending!)
Karla Chintzy-Weaselappeared in a large conference room. The expensive, circular mahogany table at the center of the room was surrounded by chairs. Two thirds of those chairs had people. Her eyes moved from left to right, offering an up-nod to a Czech wolfdog. "Erik," she murmured. Her eyes passed down a few chairs to a golden-furred jackal of impeccable taste and fashion. "Kalen," she smiled. Karla noticed Steven four chairs down and nodded in a psudo-respectful way. "Asshole with a small penis." She spoke in a pleasant tone and offered a faux smile. Her eyes continued across those assembled in the room, stopping on a beautiful woman of neither fur nor perceivable scales. "Idona." She recognized the woman but hadn't spoken to her on a personal level before. Karla froze. Three seats down from the mermaid was Carmelita Fox. Nearly incredulous, Karla approached her. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you drowned."
"You thought wrong," Carmelita murmured softly. She glanced to Idona then back up at Karla. "I'm nothing like my counterpart and I don't exactly have the fondest memories of you, since you and your husband broke my neck. Have a seat." She paused then nodded across the circular table. "Somewhere over there, preferably." She offered a polite smile.
Karla settled down in a chair between Idona and Carmelita, teleported the empty chairs to her left and right into the center of the room and used her telekinesis to draw Idona and Carmelita closer to her. She put her arms around both of their shoulders and smiled to the head of the court. "I'm ready when you are. Sorry I was a little late; I had to feed the baby. Oh, sorry, I forgot… I'm the only one here capable of having kids so you guys wouldn't know what that's like."
Carmelita snorted and, under her breath, murmured, "Not the only one anymore."
Karla smiled and laughed in a jovial way then, under her own breath, added, "Ahhh, yes, but you'll never get laid, work-a-holic." Her voice rose back to a level loud enough for the rest of the group to hear her, and then said, "So please… let's begin, honorable Justicar!"
A man stood up in robes similar to a magistrate. He glanced around the room and cleared his throat. Everyone's eyes settled upon the regal looking lion. In a calm, relaxed voice, he addressed the council body. "Esteemed ladies and gentlemen, it's good to see that we're slowly swelling our ranks again after the loss of Nathanael, Sire and Donovan. It's also good to see Niall return to our table after several years of avoiding us."
Again, Karla said something under her breath, which went ignored by the others. The Justicar continued speaking. "Troubling times are, with any luck, now behind us. The stolen artifacts have been returned to their rightful places and many of them have been hidden far better than before. Even I do not know the location of all the artifacts. They've been divided amongst several groups, who split up to deliver multiple artifacts in multiple directions so that no one will know the location of more than a handful at any one time. It's safer that way. The clans have not been at war for two full decades now. Peace has been mutual between all of us and those we represent. So… to get things moving along, I'd like to bring to table the second order of business, since we only meet once a season.
"We've been watching these recent events with a sharp eye. Karla performed most admirably this year. She's provided us with several surprises over the last three years since members of the Cooper clan awaked her. And now… a member of the only clan to avoid the clan wars for centuries… Conner Cooper… has begun displaying abilities that would bring his clan to our table. So, as the first order of business… I would like to vote on approaching him as a member of our society." The Justicar folded his hands and grew silent.
The room turned into a fury of soft whispering, people talking amongst themselves in an excited fashion. It was obvious that people didn't know what to think of the Justicar's proposal.
Karla, obviously already bored with the proceedings, winked at a male across from her. He furrowed his brows in return. She smiled. "You're cute."
He snorted. "I have a girlfriend."
"Perfect! I have a math test tonight, at the community college I'm attending!"
Again, he quirked his brows. "What?"
Karla's smiled broadened. "Oh, sorry, I thought we were listing things to cheat on." She licked her lips at him, just to make him feel uncomfortable. Her eyes cut back to the Justicar. "Hey, you make a decision yet?"
The regal man narrowed his gaze, not daring to make direct eye contact with her. He nodded to Idona. "You were there; you saw what happened… what is your assessment of the Cooper child's actions?"
Idona closed her eyes and her tail, beneath the chair, slashed at the air as slight from above sent a blinding image of purples, blues and greens from above. The hybrid feline-fox squinted and turned her head away from the mermaid. With ease, Idona shrugged Karla's arm away, cleared her throat and lifted her voice to address the council chambers. "Members of the court, it is in fact true that the American Coast Guard witnessed Conner Cooper's use of the Nehushtan to part the sea. He successfully separated the cloned squid, CRUSHER, from the ship and saved the lives of crew thereby allowing them to return to port and report what they've seen. However, Karla was successful in masking any clear indication of what happened. Conner and Karla created an enormous spray of water. From what the crew could tell, it could have been a natural phenomenon or a splash created by the other squid-like-creature. Surely a crewmember may have been in the right place on the deck to see the ocean open up with the creatures thrown one way and the ship pushed the other. But military doctors will explain it away as an experienced conjured by stress. I have determined that Conner Cooper's 'last resort' strike against 'Crusher' was not a breach of the rules of our kind. I have also determined that Karla did everything in her power to ensure his actions would be covered up appropriately."
The Justicar nodded. "You witnessed the event but did nothing to quell these two creatures to keep them from attacking in the first place?"
Karla cleared her throat, knowing she was out of line. "They had antennas on their heads, placed there by Alphonse Moreau. These creatures weren't even in control of themselves. They were programmed to attack anything that didn't transmit a radio wave of some sort. Only Moreau's allies have the proper frequency setting in order to pass through that area safely. Conner, with my help, electrocuted the creatures to short out the antenna and whatever components were in use to cause the aggressiveness. It's handled and they won't be attacking anyone else, as they're not typically an aggressive species to begin with." She turned to the mermaid adjacent to her, smiled, and added, "Thanks for the glowing review of my field work, you sexy thing, you."
The court murmured amongst itself for several moments. After what seemed like ten minutes, Karla cleared her throat again and turned back to the Justicar. "So, have you made a decision? If you want my input, since I've spent the most time with him… I say we start by monitoring Conner and in a few months, perhaps even a few years, he should be vetted as a candidate for joining us in the society. But there is certainly no reason to rush into a decision now."
The Justicar rubbed his chin for a moment. "Carmelita Fox, as your first assignment, you will keep watch on the son of your doppelganger. How you choose to do this is entirely up to you but I want a report of his abilities, how his advancement is progressing and you will report to us in sixty days to help us choose a proper course of action regarding this matter. Karla Chintzy-Weasel, you may continue your acquaintanceship of young Mister Cooper, but it will be Miss Fox's non-bias report that will be heard when we reconvene. Court adjourned."
Karla stood up with a languished stretch. Steven approached her from off to the left and she dropped her arms in a frumpy way. "What do you want, old man? Stop bothering me."
A sigh passed the skunk's lips. "Karla, stop. I spent a good amount of time with Donovan in Florida and…"
"I know you were running tests on him like a goddamn lab rat."
He tilted his head. "Such racism against rats is unbecoming of you. Your son has powers."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm sure he'll develop something by the time he hits puberty. It's genetics after all. But most of us didn't inherit our abilities from our parents. Most natural born supernaturals can't produce offspring. So you just need to leave me alone; he may not even develop anything. If he does, I'll report it to the court when he's of age. As of now, I don't want you stalking my family."
"You're not listening. I didn't say he MAY develop powers. I said he HAS them. Now. Right now. That's why we called this court and if you weren't so late to the meeting, you would have known that we were discussing you and your son as the first order of business. Never, to date, has a supernatural been reported at this age. People have always developed their abilities around the age of adolescence because they manifest with the onset of puberty."
She narrowed her eyes at the man. Meanwhile, people were leaving the room all around the two. She put her paws on her hips. "Why didn't you tell me before now? I only just found out about this meeting and I made it, didn't I? Now what the hell were you talking about before I showed up?"
"I told the Justicar that I saw your son telekinetically push erectors away with a swipe of his paw."
Karla opened her mouth then froze. A scowl crept across her face. The dark expression was one that made even Steven nervous. "Winthrop just bought those erectors for him yesterday. That means you're spying on us you piece of crap! I'm going to tear your balls off you creepy old lecher."
Steven took her by the wrist and led her away from other people that were still filing out of the room. She reluctantly went with him. "What? What's so goddamn important that you didn't want others to overhea what you've got to say next? I'm sure it'll be an excuse for your actions, but I really don't want excuses; I want answers then I want you to leave us alone."
Steven turned her about and came face to face with her. "I've not slept with anyone in a very, very long time. You're the first. You want to know why? It's because there is something I've neglected to tell you."
"Yeah, that you've been spying on my family, you asshat. And that you're a pedophile since I look young. Pervert."
Steven crossed his eyes in frustration, took a deep breath then said, "When I designed you to become the perfect mate, I also added intensified pheromone output in your feline scent glands – you are half feline, after all. So when you rub up against someone, you attack their senses with pheromones and it can overpower their senses if there isn't proper ventilation. That night you stayed with me during the hurricane because my room didn't have windows… the night we had sex… Yes I got you drunk and that was awful of me… but it's because I was drawn to your sweetly scented… musk. For a lack of a better term. It had an effect on my mind and I did what I did because of you. I'm sorry I didn't tell you before now… but you enthralled me. Again, I'm sorry. And I'm sorry I was studying your son."
"Are you really the same guy who wore a weapon's suit and shot everyone in the sewers?"
Steven blinked. "Excuse me?"
"That was a paradox that I inadvertently witnessed the change for… nevermind. Just… what the hell happened to make you so apologetic and nice?"
"I've had problems in the past," he murmured, "With my temper and with cellular degradation on the genetic level but that was ages ago. I had a relapse about three decades ago but, again, that was repaired. What are you talking about?"
This time Karla sighed. "Look, I guess I have no beef with you, Steven. Niall. Asshole. Whatever, okay? I'm not trying to fight with you anymore. I'm sorry I got all up in your face. But I'm serious when I say… I want my privacy. I know you 'made' me. That makes you feel like you're somehow Donovan's grandfather; on a side-related note, that still makes you a pervert because you should see me as a daughter not as a piece of ass – moving on. If Donovan is ever sick or suffers from 'cellular degradation' or his DNA falls apart, believe me… you're the first person I'll call. But I want to be left alone. I went on my final adventure as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to help people anymore. I'll continue to see the Guru a few more times; in fact, I have consultation with him this afternoon. But I don't want to be apart of this crap anymore. One day soon, Winthrop will be too old and I'll get needy and find someone to make a nice Step Father for Donovan. Winthrop will take care of me until he's too old and since I'm mortal now… Hell, maybe I can keep myself in check since I'm going to grow old with him, right?"
"I understand. But you'll age slowly. Your first summation may be accurate – he may out-age you, leaving you to desire another mate closer to your age."
"Wait, I won't age normally? How slowly?"
Steven smiled slightly. "You're almost four years old. You won't start aging normally until you hit your actual age."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Steven put an arm around her shoulder and led her outside, the last two to leave the building. "You're supposed to be about fifteen years old as of when you were made. Your genetic original copy stopped aging when she had her first period, which was at the age of fifteen. When she was slain and buried, she still had the body of a fifteen-year-old girl. The DNA sample I was given to clone you was that of an ageless fifteen-year-old girl. So… once you've been alive for fifteen years, you'll start to age normally."
"So in eleven more years, I'll look like a sixteen year old. In twelve more years, I'll look like a seventeen year old. In thirteen years, I'll look barely legal."
"You look legal now."
Karla nodded, shrugging off his arm. "I changed how I dress and I changed my hair and I've tried doing things to make myself look more mature. The first thing Conner said when we met up after he woke from his coma was that I looked like I'm finally legal. It was a compliment to me. Then again, raising a baby might have aged me, too… heh. Well, you've taken away my childhood but I guess this is a good way to make up for it – looking like a teenager for twenty years… What do you think about Conner being part of the supernatural society… do you think it'll work?" She cut her eyes back to Steven and folded her arms.
He nodded in reply. "They'll watch him until he's older, more mature and more developed. Of course they'll have 'Enforcer Fox' watching over him as her first assignment and you will stay friends with him to ensure he knows the rules… 'Not to use any powers in public' or anything like that… but eventually the Cooper Clan may make their return to The Society and be apart of our courts again."
"They were before? The Justicar made it sound like Conner would be the first one."
"Many, many generations ago, before this current Justicar was even born, there were members that could walk among people without being seen, as if wrapped in a blanket of obfuscation. There were members who could do more than hyper-focus to perceive time as slower… they actually manipulated time so that their actions were perceived by the rest of the world as moving too fast to be seen. There were members who could sniff out gold and many other wonderful things. Idona has worked with two Coopers in the past back when the Coopers had members of their clan seated on our council. They helped fight in the clan wars when our council was at war with two other factions. Their involvement was a secret because one could never be sure if a faction had spies in their midst… but the clan wars are a thing of the past."
"But what about members like Sire? I know he's dead now but… he wasn't trustworthy. How could we say that this is one great unified society at peace if people like Sire still live among us, working for their own needs?"
Steven placed a paw on her back, gesturing her into the parking lot. "Karla, Sire was one man. He managed to convince Nathaniel Carrington to work with him as a partner, he managed to trick you and force you with his abilities. But the fact remains that there were once entire clans full of people like Sire. And if there still are… we don't know about them. And when we learn of them, we'll dispatch them with people like Conner and yourself. We have to keep this newfound peace at any cost."
Karla's eyes dropped to the ground. "And, eventually, you guys are going to want Donovan to be apart of this council, which means he'll need to learn how to fight."
"Which is why I'm watching over him. I want him to be safe when he becomes old enough to attract the Justicar's attention."
She fidgeted. "So we might still have more 'adventures' ahead of us, huh?"
Steven pushed his paws into his pockets and nodded. "You just never know. Only time will tell. Conner displayed incredible maturity while developing these powers. I can only wonder…"
"Wonder what?" Karla adjusted her wedding band then looked back up at Steven. She tilted her head and her canary-blond locks pooled over her carnation-vanilla shoulder fur, spilling down her back. "You can only wonder what, Steven?"
"I can only wonder how long it will be before Conner needs to make use of his powers again. Call it a hunch but now that our entire culture," he waved a paw at the building that the supernaturals met in just a little while ago, "now that everyone of us know about the artifacts and everything else… I can only wonder when the next man like Sire will surface to try and obtain more power for himself."
Her eyes lowered. "Then… I suppose it's only a matter of time."
"I hope Conner will be ready if this sort of thing happens again. If Moreau, a genetically self-modified mortal, can get as far as he did without any help… then a clandestine group of supernaturals could cause far more trouble."
"Then it'll be up to us to stop it. In the mean time," she trailed off, shrugged and smiled. "I'll keep Conner on his toes so he can continue to develop his abilities." She walked to her car and waved.
Steven nodded in reply then watched her drive off the lot. Once she was beyond visual range, he withdrew a cellphone from his pocket and activated the encryption software. It beeped twice then he dialed a number. He waited then his left ear perked up against the phone receiver. He licked his lips then spoke in an exotic language of unknown origin. "Everything is in place. What are your orders?" He listened for the reply then lifted his head, looking into the sky. He caught a glimpse of something twinkling like a star in the eastern skyline, opposite of the afternoon sun. A smile spread across the skunk's face. "I see you. Raising Atlantis from the ocean without their notice will be difficult. The modern iteration of this planet's inhabitants has advanced a long way since your last visit. But if we take our time, I promise that you will get your city returned to you with all the technology you left my people ten thousand years ago. It will take a little time but… I assure you, now that I've found the location of the city again… I will return it to you. You have my word – nothing will stop us; it is destiny. Time flows like a river and history eventually repeats itself. With the rediscovery of True Atlantis, your people will be the overseer of this planet once again. It's only a matter of time."