Perfectly Matched Knuckles

Bye, Bye Perfect Tommy

A roar vibrated through the room.

"P... please... m' Lord, we've tried!" wined the henchman who groveled at Lord Uilc Duine's feet. "We've tried everything! The Banzai Institute is just impregnable!"

The large, balding man doubled up his fists. "Damn, worthless idiots! All of you!" he roared, slamming his underling aside. Seething, he growled "Just the secrets we know they have would open the world to our conquering. Imagine what we could do with all that we don't know they have! The glorious existence we could produce for our clan!" He threw up his hands. "Banzai gets geniuses... And I get idiots!" he glared at the henchman.

"But... but we tried everything." the man cried.

"Not everything obviously!" Uilc Duine raged on, swinging his fists at the man. "Think, you simpleton! If they can get in, so can we!"

"Excuse me, my Lord." spoke up the long legged, red headed beauty who stood in the corner. "But you have just solved the puzzle for us."

The Lord's head snapped about to glare at the woman. "What?"

"If they can get in, perhaps we need one of them to get us in." she explained as if teaching a lesson to a small child.

"Yesssss." Uilc Duine hissed, his eyes sparkling with glee. "Yes, of course. I need one of his boys, one of his inner circle that can get into the deepest, most secretive part of that damn institute." His eyes squinted as he glanced back at his henchman. "Why haven't you thought of that?" he snapped.

"We've tried to get to the Hong Kong Cavaliers to turn on the head man." he protested. "But there just ain't no turning them! We've tried everything: threats, bribes... everything!"

The Lord turned back to the woman, waiting for her response.

The woman smiled. "They failed because they dealt with the man, offered what they never wanted, and tried to take what they cared not for."

"We threatened their lives!" the henchman snapped.

"Something they would gladly give to save their brethren at the institute." the woman answered. "You failed because you attempted to deal with the man. Given the choice, these men will always choose with the side of good."

"And what do you suggest?" Lord Uilc Duine wondered, properly intrigued.

She smiled sweetly. "Hope or fear, offer nothing." Her eyes sparkled with a deadly glint. "Take!"

The tires squealed, leaving long black streaks on the street. Dust bellowed behind the car as it sped away. Within seconds it was out of sight of the pit crew.

The men stood in silence for several long moments before a voice from behind them brought them around.

"Hey! Where the hell is my car?" demanded the test driver as he walked up from the mechanic's van.

The pit crew exchanged glances varying from shock to confusion to anger to fear, before one, shamefully, pointed to where the dust was still settling to the ground.

"Yea!" Perfect Tommy let out at the top of his lungs, but still wasn't loud enough to be heard over the roar of the engine.

The wind whistled in his ears, sounding like hundreds of screaming angels of speed. It ripped through his hair and brought tears to his eyes. It flattened his against the back of his seat to the point where the never-think-twice Cavalier feared, that is he loosened his grip on the steering wheel, that he'd never reach it again.

The world was going by at forever a second.

Just the way he liked it.

It was perfect!

Of course it was! It was his car! Or rather his new fuel injection system. One of those little somethings that came to him while strumming away on his electric guitar (well, actually, he was stealing some time on Buckaroo's guitar, but he wasn't going to let that one out).

Damn, he was good!

He was Perfect!

Something in the road... a rock? It went by too fast to be defined.

The steering wheel jerked free of Perfect Tommy's grip. The car began to turn and then spin. Tommy grabbed for the wheel, but was slammed against the door. (Half a thought came to him about the need to pay more attention when Rawhide lectures him about the need to think before acting, and, if he wasn't going to think, at least ware a helmet and harness.) He snatched the wheel, moving his foot from gas to brake. He was spinning so fast that even that short distance was almost too much of a struggle. But, once there, it took all his self control not to slam his foot down.

The car began to slow. Then it hit the edge of the road. A tire blew. The car flipped up into the air and slammed down on the roll bars that protected the top of the car. It rolled over and over until, finally, it came to a stop nearly 1/4 mile off the road.

It seemed to take forever for Perfect Tommy to realize that he had stopped rolling. The roar of the engine, a sound that he had once relished, thundered in his ears until he thought his head would explode. With a shaky hand, he reached out and hit the kill switch, shutting the engine off.

The only sound left was the wobbling of a spinning tire. And soon, that too quieted. The silence that followed was nearly deafening.

Everything was very still. Tommy took a deep breath just to make sure that he still could. The pressure of the seat belt tightened around his chest. It was then that he realized that he was up side down.

"Oh, damn." he groaned.

Rawhide glanced at his watch. "He's late." he mumbled.

Reno chuckled from where he was leaning against the front of the tour bus (aka World Watch One). "He stole possibly the fastest car on earth, and he's still late."

New Jersey glanced about from his seat on the steps leading up to the back porch of the club. "Is it really stealing?" he wondered, suddenly concerned about what was to happen to their wild friend. "I mean, it is his car... his experiment... right?"

Reno shrugged. "His car, his experiment..."

"But the Banzai Institute is responsible for it." Rawhide interrupted. "That is why we had a professional driver for the test run. We'd just hate to see some one ran over while one of our experiments is going 500 mph down the road."

Always the worrier, Jersey frowned. "I hope he's alright."

"He'll be fine." Buckaroo Banzai assured everyone as he stepped down from the bus. "And he'll be here in his own time. There is plenty that the Hong Kong Cavaliers can do without a rhythm guitar. Now, shall we step inside and see if we can't get this joint rockin'?"

There was a mumbled imitation of enthusiasm and his band grudgingly climbed the steps to the stage door. Rawhide held the door open for the band waiting for Buckaroo. When it was just the two men, Rawhide asked "You sure about this, boss? He hasn't been very steady of late."

Buckaroo sighed. "He's bored. Gotta get him something to do before he gets himself killed."

"Been there, done that." Rawhide returned, referring to his not all together pleasant tryst with death he had thanks to an alien spider. "It might be a good lesson for the boy."

"I prefer that we learn our lessons without dropping dead." He patted his big friend on the shoulder. "Don't worry. He'll show up when he's good and ready." Buckaroo added with confidence, though his brilliant blue eyes betrayed his uncertainty, a very rare sight for the young geniuses.

"Found him!" some one called from inside.

Buckaroo smiled slightly, sighing with relief. "See?" he said, before stepping inside.

Sure enough, there was Perfect Tommy sitting on the back corner of the stage, blowing cool air on a rather badly scraped elbow. Besides a few scrapes and bruises, he looked his usual stylish, perfect self; from his newly dyed jet black hair to his polished loafers to the black leather jacket laid across his lap (no time for a hospital, but, apparently he had time to change his clothes).

Jersey stood beside him, preparing a bandage for the wounded elbow.

"What happened?" Buckaroo wanted to know, stepping up to take a closer look.

Tommy shrugged. "I flipped the car." he admitted. "Don't worry, it's just a blow out. Fix it, add some weight to keep it grounded, and we can try again."

"WE being the choice word here." Rawhide pointed out. He took Tommy's hand and inspected his scraped knuckles. "Can he still play?"

Perfect Tommy yanked his hand away. "'Course I can! I'm not dead!"

New Jersey took his arm and turned it so he could place the bandage on the worse of the scrapes. "Yes, he's fine. Just don't expect him to do any jigs."

Perfect Tommy started at him as if he was insane. "Jigs?"

"Where's the car?" Buckaroo asked, bringing the discussion back to the original subject.

"Sam towed it back for me. Dropped me off here on the way." Tommy answered. He glanced at the crowd that was getting restless waiting for the music to start. "So, we going to rock this joint, or what?"

"At the moment, the `or what' sounds tempting." Rawhide answered, reaching down, grabbed Tommy by the collar, and hauled him to his feet.

Buckaroo grabbed Tommy's arm before going to their places. "We will talk about this after the gig."

The Jessie James Club was filled to capacity, even as it wined down into the last hour of business. The Hong Kong Cavaliers, who had been keeping the club jumpin' for hours now, turned out to be the biggest attraction the club had ever hosted. And they didn't need the constant attention most stars needed, so that the bartenders, waitresses, bouncers, and, especially, the boss-lady could run the place. Folks, in general, were having such a good time that no one considered causing any trouble. All of which, pleased Jessica James , owner and manager of the Jessie James Club, to no ends.

"Alright, boys." she called to her bartenders. "1:15. Bottle up the hard stuff, put up the glasses." She moved away from the big island bar and made her way through the crowd. As she walked, she slipped a C.B. from her belt and called to her bouncers who were spread through out the club "Start to weed out the D.D.s and get them to the cabs." referring to moving those too drunk to drive out to the cabs lined up out front. She had an arrangement with the cab companies that, for a small fee, they gave safe, discounted rides home for her patrons. Jessie's theory was that she was always paid back by the business that survived to return. Reaching the switch board, she unlocked the panel, threw a few switches, then closed it up again.

The ceiling lights turned from red and yellow to blue and yellow.

In response, the waitresses began to bust the empty tables, starting the closing procedures.

With her crew in order, Jessie turned her attention to the stage to make sure the band had taken note of the light change. They had been told at the beginning of the day to watch for it, that that was the signal to start to slow down the music. Her guests won't want to slow down their drinking, much less leave, if the music was still jumpin'.

Though she hadn't actually met the men (her P.R. man handled all the band stuff), she knew each from their profiles. She liked to be sure of what sort of element she was allowing in her club.

There, on the sax, was Reno Nevada, Banzai's own personal P.R. man. His Latin black hair was striking against his sparkling, bright red shirt. He had an easy going smile that hinted that he could be a friend to just about anyone. But there was a hardness to his eyes, almost hidden, that warned that he could also be a deadly enemy to just about anyone who did him or his friends harm. His gentle artwork and his fast .45 automatic Colt mirrored the contrast of his own personality: gentle and vicious.

Sitting at the piano was Dr Sidney Zwibel, aka New Jersey. Tall, dark, handsome (in a geeky sort of way), and shy. The boy was as smart as hell, but always seemed to be passing his genius off on someone else for the glory. Except for the big-ass, ten-gallon hat he sported. Apparently he had seen way too many silent westerns before joining up with the Cavaliers.

Watching over the stage from his spot beside the piano, was the big cowboy and right hand man to Buckaroo Banzai, only known as Rawhide. He was quiet and watchful, taking in every detail of every inch of every person who came any where near the stage without being obvious about it. Tall, big, rugged, a student of life in general, he could easily fall into the big brother roll for any man on the stage, and a few that weren't. And somehow he pulled off the cowboy look where others failed.

And there, playing on rhythm guitar, was the stylin' Perfect Tommy. Now, his profile had given Jessie a moment to pause. He was scandalous, an ex-con (though most wouldn't have known that without her connections, and she wondered if his band mates knew), arrogant... an all around wild, out-of-control young man. Everything about him was in question, from his education to his hair color. 'Course, maybe that was what was so intriguing about him: a girl could fall for him and hate him all in the same glance.

And, of course, at center stage was Dr Buckaroo Banzai, strumming away on his guitar, whispering away a soft song (apparently he got the message). A slim man with an obvious, yet hidden, strength, shiny black hair, a slight Asian pinch to his striking blue eyes: he could only be described as beautiful. Well, genius also popped to mind. Orphaned from Jap-Tex parents, both brilliant scientists in their own right, he was never satisfied unless he was testing the excepted laws of known science and finding new ones to play with. Pushing sciences of all types, life in general, and luck ultimately to and beyond their limits was his way of life. And his Hong Kong Cavaliers followed him with a loyalty that could only come from the knowledge that, if anyone can do it, it was Buckaroo Banzai!

Seeing her approach, Rawhide abandoned his post to meet her at the corner of the stage. "Miss James." he greeted with a tip of his stetson.

The boss-lady nodded once. "Time to settle the boys down. In 30, shut it down."

Rawhide threw her a salute. "Will do." he answered, but then glanced over her head. "Might wanna take a look, ma'am." he suggested in that old west drawl of his.

Before Jessie could turn, her C.B. began to blare:

"Knuckles, we have a problem!"

"Two more on your right flank, Gage!"

"Get those mirrors covered!"

"Primary aggressor has a bottle."

"Crap. And everything was going so well." Jessie grumbled.

"Need a hand?" Rawhide offered.

"No. Stick to the script. Folks will take their cue from the band." Jessie turned and headed for the fight. "On my way, Gage. Move it out the side door, away from the bottles and mirrors!"

The fight was a simple foursome which, with the help of their boss-lady and her snapping baton, the bouncers had subdued and piled into separate cabs, headed home.

By the time Jessie had made it back into her club it was nearly empty for the exception of a few stragglers, and even they were slowly heading for the exits. Even the band was beginning to pack up. Jessie paused to note that Banzai and Perfect Tommy were no where to be seen. The boss-lady clapped her hands. "Alrighty, folks, lets close up." Her crew threw her a "duh" expression which she smiled at. They knew what they were doing. She just said it to remind them that she was still the boss... or remind herself anyway.

With a shake of her head, she reached over the bar, grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. "I'm checkin' the perimeter. Connie, get everyone counted out and sent home." She received another "duh" for her efforts.

"Hold your hat, Knuckles." Gage, the tall, sleek head bouncer, called after her.

Jessie paused to protest, but Gage shook his head, warning her against it. "Your own rules: no one outside after hours without a buddy." He grinned. "And you don't make buddies fast enough to turn one away."Jessie huffed under her breath, but waited for him none-the-less.

"Do you have any idea how lucky you were?" Buckaroo snapped.

Perfect Tommy chuckled. "Not all that lucky. I did flip the car." he pointed out.

"This isn't funny!" Buckaroo shoved a finger at his friend. "You could have been killed! You could have killed someone else!" He threw his hands in the air. "How stupid can you be? You didn't even ware a helmet!"

"My car, my experiment..." Tommy started, but Buckaroo cut him off by shoving the finger at his chest.

"My reputation!" he roared stepping forward, slamming his friend against the front of the Jessie James Club. Several people still gathered about, waiting for rides, paused to watch."My reputation!" Buckaroo growled, leaning close as if to keep the conversation between them, though his voice managed to carry to everyone in the vicinity. "My institute! My rules!"

Perfect Tommy shoved him away. "You can take your rules and shove them where the sun don't shine!" he growled back. "I am so sick of your rules. Can't do this, can't do that. Straight as an arrow." He waved a hand in the air. "Well, not all of us are as boring as you!"

Someone cleared their throat. "Excuse me, gentlemen, is there a problem?"

Both turned to glare at Jessie James and Gage, though Tommy's expression softened when he saw the girl.

Jessica James was a small woman, almost petit. Her long black hair was tied back with a leather thong. Her light tan skin clashed with her emerald green eyes. Making her look even darker than she was, she wore the black t-shirt and black jeans of the bouncers of her club, and a red leather jacket. A 30" long black oak baton hung from her hip in easy reach.

"No." Buckaroo finally spoke up. "No problem. Just a little interior dispute."

Jessie nodded slightly, looking the men over. Her eyes lingered a little longer on Tommy before returning to the doctor. "A little advise: interior disputes should be handled interior... not on my door step."

Buckaroo frowned. "You're right, of course. My apologies." he offered.

Again she nodded. She and her bouncer moved off, continuing their patrol.

Buckaroo snapped around on Tommy once again. "It is my way, or the highway." he growled out the warning. With that, he spun about and stomped back into the club.

Perfect Tommy watched him go. "Highway keeps looking better and better." he said to a couple who stared at him as they walked pass.**********Rawhide watched as Buckaroo crossed the club, coming back to the stage. "Start hauling the gear to the bus, boys." he said, before jumping down off the stage and meeting Buckaroo half way. "Not a lot of fun?" he wanted to know.

With a sigh, Buckaroo scratched his head. "You could say that." he mumbled.

"It is going to work, right?"

"Well," Buckaroo Banzai looked up at him, "that is the question, isn't it?"

Perfect Tommy sat on the bumper of the bus and leaned his head back against the cool metal. It amazed him how he barely noticed the bumps after rolling the car, but a little chat with Buckaroo... oh, ouch. He arched his back, hearing it crack.

"That sounds like it hurt."

Tommy glanced up into the darkness.

A tall, slim woman stepped out of the shadows. Despite the overcoat, her figure was most noticeable. Her smooth porcelain skin, shimmering green eyes, and long, fire-red hair added to her beauty to the point where Tommy could think of nothing to top it. So taken, Perfect Tommy almost missed the 6 rather large brutes that flanked her.

Almost...

He slowly rose to his feet. "Miss." he greeted. "Can I help you?" He watched as the men spread out around them.

The woman smiled, her red-red lips plush and moist. "What a coincidence. I was sent to ask you the same." she purred.

"Really?" Tommy also smiled, though his eyes were showed wary. "What makes you think I need help?"

She continued to smile, an expression of welcome, even beckoning, as she slowly circled him, closing in with each step. "Is it not obvious? A brilliant man like yourself under the heavy heal of the boorish, glory hog Dr Banzai." She shook her head, resting one hand on her stomach as if the very idea made her sick. "How can anyone support free thinking, then imprison the great thinkers of the world with rules and his own personal form of morality?"

"There's a bit more to it than that." Tommy admitted, resisting the urge to jump to his friend's defense.

The woman sighed, offering in a softer tone "I'm sorry. I realize that he is your friend." She rested a long fingered hand on his arm. "But friendship doesn't always last well between two creators. One must always be greater than the other. No matter the cost. It is the law of human existence." she explained gently.

Tommy shook his head slightly. "And that would be Buckaroo. He has enough degrees to wall paper the entire institute."

"No!" the woman cried, shocked that he could think so little of himself. She stood in front of him, gripping his arms in her gentle hands. "No. Education does not make a man great. Action does. And that is exactly why Banzai continues to stomp on every action you attempt. He knows your ability to act gives you the potential of being a true great, over shadowing even himself."

"Great?" Tommy chuckled.

"Truly great!" she corrected. She set a hand on his chest, leaning up against him, batting her eyes. "The greatest." Her other hand ran down his arm until her fingers intertwined with his own. "And I can give you the opportunity to be so."

The stage door rattled.

"M' Lady?" one of the men stepped toward them urgently.

The woman pulled away. "Meet me in three days at sun down at the duck pond in Sequoia Park, Eureka, California." And, with that, she and her escort turned and disappeared back into the darkness.

Jessica pushed Gage back around the corner where they watched the small group hurry away.

"What do you think that was all about?" Gage whispered.

Jessie stepped away, her eyes locked on the retreating woman. "Lady Oran de Nathair." she hissed.

"What?"

"That was all about evil." Jessie growled. She glanced back at her man. Then spun about and hurried back to her club. "Gage, I'm leaving town. Look after the joint."

With a wave of his hand, Gage mumbled "Don't I always?" He didn't know if she heard. Didn't matter. She knew he knew his job and that was all there was to it. That was the problem working for a bounty hunter.

A small hand set on his bare chest and gently shook him. Buckaroo's eyes snapped open, his hand reaching up to grab the intruder. His grip softened when he realized who it was. Smiling, he reached up and caressed her cheek. "Peggy." he breathed. Every morning he woke to her shining face was the best morning of his life.

But she wasn't smiling.

Buckaroo sat up. "What's wrong?"

"You better come down stairs." was all she would say.

Most everyone was in the cafeteria. They looked up as Peggy and Buckaroo walked in. "What's going on?" Buckaroo wanted to know. He was steadily going from curios to concern to freaked out. Particularly when he saw so many of the Institute's residences up and about at 6am. It was nearly impossible to get most of them up before noon without a nuclear blast. Many were still in their night clothes.

Rawhide glanced around at the others, settling on Mrs. Johnson, the young receptionist and contact person for the Institute, to speak for them.

Mrs. Johnson glared at Buckaroo. "He's leaving!" she announced.

"Leaving?" Buckaroo glanced around to see who was missing. "Who?"

"Perfect Tommy!" the irate girl snapped. "Who do you think?"

Reno reached out and put a restraining hand on the girl's shoulder. Everyone knew how Mrs. Johnson felt about her family at the Institute. It was her only family. Her life began and ended with the people within these walls. In that, she had found a common thread with Perfect Tommy, though neither would ever speak of it. This was all either of them had. And she did not like the idea of losing him.

Rawhide rubbed his chin. "He's outside, packing his saddlebags into his car."

Buckaroo sighed, dropping his chin to his chest. After a moment, he looked up at them. "We knew this might happen."

"This is going too far!" Johnson protested, her voice taking on a note of desperation. "We could lose him!"

Buckaroo stepped over to stand in front of her. "We won't lose him." he promised, hoping he sounded more sure than he felt. The he stepped pass her and headed out the glass French doors leading out to the patio. He closed the door behind him, letting them know that he was not to be followed.

Perfect Tommy's red corvette was parked at the edge of the patio. He was trying to rearrange the trunk so as to fit his duffel bag. He barely glanced up when Buckaroo walked over and leaned against the hood of the car.

Banzai offered a smile. "Problem with these things: no trunk space."

"I'm sure with your collective genius you can fix the problem." Tommy mumbled. Giving up on strategy, he turned to pure violence to slam his bag in, punching it until it looked, more or less, like he might be able to shut the trunk... if he slammed it hard enough.

Buckaroo ran his fingers through his hair. "White flag, Tommy. It's just you and me."

Slamming the trunk closed. Tommy glanced around, then stepped over and leaned against the car beside his friend. "White flag." he agreed.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Tom?"

Perfect Tommy glanced skyward, chuckling. Finally, with a shake of his head, he looked at Buckaroo. "I need to do this." he said softly.

Buckaroo licked his lips. "A lot of folks are worried about you, buddy."

Tommy glanced at the cafeteria windows. The occupants quickly turned away, trying to hide the fact that they had been spying. he smiled slightly. "Tell them I'll be fine." he said before climbing into his car.

Buckaroo grabbed the door before it could be closed. "Tom..."

"You know, folks generally don't call me just plain ol' Tom unless they're being dead serious." he grinned one of his amazingly charming grins. "Serious doesn't suit you, Bucky ol' pal."

Banzai smiled despite himself. "Look after yourself, Tom. And if you need anything... anything at all..."

Perfect Tommy waved a hand. "I'll keep in touch."

Buckaroo nodded slightly. "Just remember: it's never too late to change your mind."His friend flashed him one last grin, then closed the door and drove away.

Dr Buckaroo Banzai watched until he could no longer see the car. "He'll be fine. " he repeated, wishing he sounded more sure than he felt.

Perfect Tommy sat on the hood of his car, tossing pebbles into the duck pond. A particularly vicious looking goose with an angry bark made him thankful that there was a fence around the pond. He really wished he knew what he was doing here. Putting aside the fact that he was practically allergic to nature, being a pure blooded city boy (he was already going through concrete withdraw), he was all alone, cut off from friends, from family. And he did it all himself!

"Fancy meeting you here."

Tommy glanced left, expecting to see a tall, redhead beauty. What he saw was a small, dark spit fire. "Miss James? What are you doing here?"

Jessie shrugged. "I'm in town to help out a friend. And yourself? It's a long ways from home."

Perfect Tommy threw another pebbles in the water, upsetting the goose all over again. "Well, home is on the road... for a while, anyway."

Jessie took a pebble from his hand and tossed it at the water. "Interior disputes have a habit of doing that." she remarked. "Do me a favor?"

Tommy looked her over. It came to him in a flash that he might do anything she asked. "Depends."

Her green eyes locked with his. "Just because you're running away, doesn't mean you have to run to something." she said softly. "And if you're gonna jump into bed, make sure it isn't filled with snakes."

Tommy frowned. She knew... but what did she know that he didn't? Before he could ask for details, she turned climbed into a beat-up truck, and drove away.

Puzzled, Tommy turned back to his anti-fan goose. "Just keeps getting better and better." he mumbled.

Perfect Tommy was alone for only a few moments when he was startled again.

"So, you came." the redhead stated as she walked up to stand beside his car.

Perfect Tommy slid to the ground. "I came." he agreed.

She smiled that perfect smile of hers, those green eyes twinkling. "My name is Oran and I am very pleased to see that you have chosen the path of greatness."

"Well, lets just say I've chosen the path of curiosity." Tommy corrected.

"Curiosity, then." she allowed. She wrapped her arm around his and started to lead him to the limousine parked behind his car. "Everything is given life in the womb of curiosity."

"What about my car?" Tommy wondered as the door to the limo was held open for them.

"You'll have no need for it where you are going."

Tommy stopped. "You are?" he repeated. It would have been ever so much more comforting if she had said "we."

Again she smile at him. "If you decide you still want it after we're done, I will personally drive you back to this very spot." she assured.

Tommy's eye brows rose slightly. "You expect to so radically change my life?"

"Radically and ultimately." she promised.

"Well, then..." Without a last glance at his beloved vehicle, Perfect Tommy climbed into the limo.

Jessie James watched the limo make its way up the dirt road and out of sight. She leaned back against her truck. She really had hoped that the Cavalier wouldn't go with the witch. She had thought, hoped even, that he was a good guy. It surprised her how much it bugged her to find out otherwise.

Her Austrian Shepherd stuck his head out the window and wined as if he sensed something had unsettled his mistress.

"Don't worry about me, Oddity." She whispered, reaching up to scratch his ears. "We've got plenty enough to worry about without adding me to the list."

Again the dog wined.

Jessie sighed. "Yea, I know. He's a bad guy. We're just going to have to take him down with the rest." With a last scratch, she climbed into the truck once again.

There was little real conversation on the ride. Every question Perfect Tommy asked was answered with flattery so thick that it was beginning to be more than he could take. And he had thought he could take anything... particularly flattery.

The windows were tinted so dark that no one could see in nor out, so, for the exception of the occasional turn, Perfect Tommy had no way of telling where he was. And Oran wasn't supplying any answers.

And, damn, that was getting annoying!

"So, does Oran have a last name?" he asked, trying to pick up some form of communication.

The woman's beautiful eyes twinkled. "Does Tommy?"

He frowned. "Yes: Tommy. My name is Perfect Tommy."

The woman smirked. "I suppose that does make Tommy your last name. Should I call you Perfect, then?" She snuggled into his side. "It certainly fits."

Again Tommy frowned. "Tommy will do fine."

"And Oran serves me well." She sighed when she saw that he was not satisfied, and she sat upright and began to dig in her purse for something. "Please understand, Tommy, that in our existence of one man's genius being another's glory, sometimes our only protection is the secret of our names." Again she smirked. "I believe you know that simple truth... unless you expect me to believe that Perfect Tommy is your given name."

"Makes sense." he had to admit. He wanted to argue that it was like that with Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. but then he remembered such names as Rawhide, Pecos, and so many others, including himself; people who left their real names, along with their pasts, far behind. Damn, the only person he was sure about was New Jersey, and that was just because that the man was so damn innocent that he couldn't be anything other than what he seemed.

He could feel the limo decelerate. There were bumps as if they were going down a dirt road. He leaned close to the window to try, once more, to see out.

"Relax." Oran whispered into his ears.

A sharp stab at the base of his neck stopped him. He started to reach up to feel what had happened, but Oran smacked his hand away.

"I said relax!" she snapped. Withdrawing the syringe from his neck, she moved over to the seat across from him.

Tommy reached up again, but his hands suddenly felt very heavy. In fact, everything was beginning to feel very heavy, from his eyes to his toes, even his toung. "What... what did you do to me?" he gasped.

Oran watched as he fell over across the seat. She leaned back, crossing one beautiful leg over the other. "What a disappointment you have been. I expected more of a challenge from one of Banzai's acclaimed Hong Kong Cavaliers." she complained. "I don't know whether to be proud of the quick success of the hunt, or ashamed at the previous failures of our employees."

The limo pulled to stop and the door was opened.

Lady Oran de Nathair took the hand offered to her from outside and stepped out of the car.

Lord Uilc Duine glanced inside, clapped his hands with glee, and offered "Well done, my beautiful Lady. Well done, indeed."

The one place in the world Jessie knew better than her club was the redwood forest she was raised in. Funny how folks always end up back home. Everyone did, from bounty hunter and N.Y. night club owner Jessica James to the evil, seductive witch Lady Oran de Nathair.

Jessie crouched down and peered around the tree to look down at the log cabin. It was a small place for the Lord and Lady. They tended to like big, expensive, fancy... but, then again, the witch was smart enough to know how not to attract attention. If she hadn't followed them here, Jessie would have never looked for them here.

"Oddity." she hissed to the dog crouched down beside her. When he looked up at her, she commanded "Oddity, scout!" and pointed at the cabin.

The dog sniffed the air, then ran forward, disappearing into the trees and pulled a small laptop from her pack and opened it up. With a few key strokes a topographic map appeared, including the cabin, bunkhouse on the far side, and even the small garden. A red dot appeared, and then another.

"Good boy, Oddity." she whispered.

For nearly 30 minutes several red dots appeared on the screen, marking the humans in the area. A few large blue dots marked vehicles. And then, after making a full circle around the area, Oddity returned, panting from his long run.

Jessie poured him some water from her canteen. As he lapped it up, she removed from his collar a tiny camera-like devise. With a few more key strokes, the map twisted and turned, taking on a 3-D appearance. She studied it for a long moment, then closed the computer up and returned it to her pack. Glancing at her watch, she mumbled "Alrighty now. 11:26... we'll go in at 5am. Sleepiest hour of the day, so get some sleep now." She glanced down at her dog only to find him softly snoring, his own personal version of a "duh" look. Chuckling, Jessie laid back, resting her head on his soft fur, closed her eyes, and waited.

That damn pounding just won't cease. Not that, if he thought about it, he wanted it to. After all, it was the beating of his own heart he was talking about... or rather thinking about.

Damn, it hurt to think.

Just stop thinking. Just concentrate on the pounding... the heart beat. The thump, thump, thump...

Perfect Tommy's eyes fluttered, then slowly opened.

Damn, his eyes hurt.

Slowly, careful not to smear it across his vision, his hand rose up, across his face, to half drag half drop on his damp forehead. His fingers tingled as if coming awake. For that matter, everything tingled. And it was tense, almost maddening.

"Lie still." he whispered.

Damn, his throat hurt.

Was there anything that didn't hurt?

He started to sit up, but his entire body screamed in protest.

Damn, everything did hurt!

There was a chuckle.

Damn, the ears hurt too.

With a groan, he forced himself up.

There, standing at the foot of the cot he had been laid on, was Oran. She smiled down at him, but nothing was beautiful about the expression. It was filled with cruel pleasure and loathing..

"What did you do to me?" Tommy hissed, rubbing his eyes.

The woman glanced at her companion, a large, bulky man wearing a gold tuxedo and sipping wine.

The bald man chuckled again. "For being one of Banzai's brightest, he sure is thick." he looked at Oran. "My sweet Lady, why has this taken us so long?"

Lady Oran de Nathair shook her head. "It is a wonder, my Lord." she admitted.

The pain was quickly becoming a memory now as blood flow worked the drug out of Perfect Tommy's system. He smiled slightly. "Well, they do say curiosity killed the cat." he offered.

The Lord and Lady looked at him. Then the Lord laughed, his large stomach jiggling. "How right he is."

"For your information, Tomas," Oran spoke directly to him, "you are going to die. You're attempt to infiltrate us was admirably brave, yet incredibly stupid."

"Incredibly stupid." Tommy agreed, swinging his feet off the cot. "The smart thing would have been to have shot you on sight. But, no, Buckaroo wanted to bring you in." He shrugged.

"You don't seem overly concerned with your coming demise, young man." Lord Uilc Duine observed, still chuckling. "Perhaps you believe help is on the way. Perhaps it would be, if this was still working." he held up the Blue Blaze's small go-phone. It had been smashed.

Perfect Tommy licked his lips. "Well, that would be helpful." he admitted. No use denying the obvious.

Again the Lord threw back his head and laughed.

Ignoring him, Tommy turned his attention to the Lady. "If I'm going to die anyway, wanna tell me who the hell you are and why you are so damn interested in the Banzai Institute?"

The woman frowned, suspicion always alert.

But her counterpart was all too eager to answer. "I am the Lord Uilc Duine of the Clan Uilc Dochas, the rightful rulers of the Talmhainn. And this is my dear cousin, the Lady Oran de Nathair. And we want in your precious walls for the same reason all other wants-to-rule-the-world evil entities do."

Tommy's turn to smile. "A little hard to do if I'm dead, isn't it?"

"Not really." the Lady spoke up. "We already have your finger prints and retinal scans. A little DNA... it will be fairly easy to install a replacement at the Institute." She smiled.

That smile was beginning to ware away at his self confidence. He was going to die. And she was going to enjoy it. `Put it off... delay it as long as... Buckaroo will come! He will!' "I must admit, you have a cozy little killing den here." he observed, trying to find ways to drag it on. As long as they were talking they weren't killing. That was good.

"Oh, this is nothing." Lord Uilc Duine waved a hand in the air. "You should see our place in Ukiah."

"My Lord!" Oran snapped. She had decided that that was too much information. "The sun will rise soon. He should be taken care of before then."

The Lord sighed. "Very well, my sweet Lady." He waved to a pair of henchmen. "Take care of it." he ordered. "The Lady and I will be returning home."

"Perhaps, my Lord, we should see this finished." Oran started, but the Lord held up a hand.

"I am tired, my dear." he said. "And we have already declared this man an idiot. There is no reason for us to stay." He turned and started to leave, but pause. Glancing back to his henchmen, he gave one last order: "Don't do it in here. I just had the place recarpeted."

Oddity growled.

Jessie's eyes snapped open. "What..." she started, then remembered. Sitting up she glanced at her watch. 4:52am. The alarm didn't go off. So why did Oddity...

An engine sounded. She crawled around so that she could see down below at the cabin.

The limo was pulling away.

"Crap." Jessie growled. "Come on, Oddity. We've gotta get back to the truck." She jumped to her feet and snatched up her pack and rifle. But another growl from her dog stopped her. Again she glanced down at the cabin.

Perfect Tommy was shoved out of the cabin and out onto the ground. Four men followed him. One dragged him to his feet and pushed him ahead of them and into the 's heart fluttered. They were going to kill him. She was nearly overwhelmed with relief. He wasn't on their side! he wasn't a bad guy!

Of course, now they were going to kill him for it.

"Well, crap all over again." Now she had to choose between catching the witch or saving the wayward Cavalier. "Crap, crap, crap." She pointed to the trees where the men had disappeared. "Oddity, hunt!" she ordered.

The dog leaped away and Jessie took chase.

"Think we can talk about this?" Tommy attempted as he was shoved deeper into the woods. Apparently they wanted any blood spillage as far away from the cabin as possible.

None of his soon-to-be executioners answered.

"Come on, if you can't read, you must at least watch T.V.!" Tommy pushed on. "The bad guys never win! The good guys always get them in the end."

Again he was ignored. Apparently they didn't watch the same channel he did.

"You won't get away with this." he continued. "They will get you!"

A bush shook. A low growl sounded.

The five men stopped.

Suddenly an Austrian Shepherd leaped from the bushes, skidding to halt in front of them. He crouched down and snarled at them.

The four henchmen exchanged glances. Aussies weren't exactly known for violence. he looked more huggable than frightening.

But then a flash of light reflecting off of the brass plated rifle was seen behind the men lifted their guns.

Perfect Tommy slammed to his left, knocking two men to the ground. He kicked one's weapon out of his hands, then turned to find the other.

Oddity leaped forward, latching his teeth on the arm of the third. Jessie quickly followed her dog into the fray, swinging the butt of her '66 Winchester at his victim, knocking him out cold. Then she and the dog turned, looking for the fourth.

He was taking a bead on Tommy, who was finishing off the second man.

"Watch it!" Jessie warned, bringing her rifle up.

Perfect Tommy dropped to the ground, the bullet meant for him striking and killing his opponent instead.

Jessie did not miss.

The gunman dropped to the ground dead.

The action was followed by silence. After a moment, Tommy said "Thanx."

"Any time." Jessie answered as if the discussion was no more important than her offering him a ride. But Oddity saw the matter as being quite a bit more urgent. With a bark, he nudged his mistress.

"I know, Oddity." Jessie tossed her a heavy hand gun. "We've gotta go."

Tommy nodded. "You will get around to telling me how your friend is, won't you, Miss. James?"

"Friends call me Knuckles. And you can tell me later." was Jessie's answer. She pointed back the way they had come. "Oddity, truck."

The dog raced away.

Bullets began to hit the trees around them as those henchmen around the cabin responded to the gunfire.

"Follow Oddity!" Jessie yelled, waving Tommy away. She followed in a step behind.

Struggling through the dark and damp forest, Perfect Tommy could barely keep up with the barks and flashes of white fur. behind him, Knuckles, more sure footed in the woods, paused from time to time to fire back at anyone who got too close.

Then the truck came in sight, parked on an abandoned logging road. Oddity already stood in the back, barking encouragement.

Perfect Tommy grabbed the edge and leaped into the back, the dog yipping at the sudden intrusion.

"Here! Keep them off our backs!" Knuckles ordered, tossing him her rifle and climbing into the cab of her truck. The engine roared to life.

Bullets hit the side of the truck, smashing the front light and window.

"Crap!" "Damn!" Knuckles' and Tommy's curses overlapping.

Perfect Tommy yanked the dog down under cover, and took aim at the first man stepping out of the trees. "Go!" he yelled. "Go, go, go!"

"That's the freakin' plan!" Jessie snapped, putting the vehicle into gear. The truck lurched down the dirt road.

Henchmen filled the road behind them, firing at the escapees. But, soon, they were left behind in the dust.

When no more bullets hit her truck, Jessie let the excitement out in a screamed "Yeow!" She laughed, reaching back to open the cab window. "Now that was a thrill, eh, buddy?"

The only answer was a wine from Oddity.

"Perfect Tommy?" she called, suddenly concerned. When no answer came, she twisted about and looked back.

Perfect Tommy laid, unmoving, in the bed of her truck, his head bleeding.

The Siege

Buckaroo Banzai watched as his Blue Blazes spread out over the cabin and the surrounding area. The rounding up of the bad guys was going surprisingly well, almost easy. Already the patty wagon was filling up. The police were holding to their part, thankfully, staying out of the way, handcuffing, searching, and locking up the bad guys as the BB's brought them down. It was important to keep the cops out of the fight. They still didn't know where Perfect Tommy was, and it took only one nervous rookie to put a hole in the wrong guy.

Buckaroo couldn't help but be apprehensive, though. Where was Perfect Tommy? He should have showed up by now. Unless he was tied up somewhere, or hurt, or... or worse.

As if answering his thoughts, his go-phone beeped. Answering it, he heard "Buckaroo... we found him."

His gut twisted.

"He's alright."

With a sigh of relief, Buckaroo, after getting a location, started for the trail that lead behind the cabin.

New Jersey was down on one knee, cutting the remains of a rope from Prefect Tommy's wrists. Rawhide shoved one of the bad guys into Pinky Carruthers waiting, and not too kind, custody.

"Hey, boss." Pinky mumbled as he continued to shove the man pass Buckaroo and back to the patty wagon.

Buckaroo smiled when he saw his friend, bruised, but alive. "You alright, Perfect Tommy?" he asked.

Perfect Tommy shrugged. "I'm in horrific agony." he grumbled.

Again, Buckaroo's gut twisted.

"I'm in desperate need of a shower and a change of clothes."

Buckaroo frowned. He glanced at Rawhide.

The big cowboy shrugged. "What can I say?" he mumbled. "He's perfect." he reached down, grabbed Tommy under the arm, and dragged him to his feet.

Jersey rose up beside them. "I still think we should run him by the hospital."

"Ah, don't be such a mother hen, Doc." Tommy chided. "I want my car, I want to go home, I want a shower, I want a real bed, I want sleep that isn't chemically induced... anyone taking notes?"

Buckaroo's smile returned. "Home."

Mrs. Johnson wasn't the type to throw herself at a man. Unless they were coming home from a dangerous mission.

"Hey!" Perfect Tommy yelped as the girl jumped at him, slamming him back against the door, closing it on the rest of the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him for all she was worth. When she was sure he understood how happy she was to see him alive, she stepped back and slammed her tiny fist into his shoulder.

"Ow! What was that for?" Tommy cried, rubbing the offended shoulder.

"You arrogant idiot, running off to play bait for a bunch of power hungry sharks!" she snapped. "Next time stay home! I'll be more than happy to shoot you myself!"

Perfect Tommy smiled. He opened his mouth to respond, but a knock on the door took him out of the center of attention.

Shoving him aside, the girl yanked the door open, grabbed Buckaroo by the shirt front, yanked him in, and slammed the door, once more, on the Cavaliers. "I told you it was a bad idea!" she snapped at him.

Another knock interrupted.

"What?" she snapped at the door.

Rawhide's voice came from the other side "Never mind. We'll go around through the kitchen."

"Touch my sticky buns, and some one is going to die!" Mrs. Johnson yelled back, before turning back to her two victims.

"Look, babe," Perfect Tommy started, wrapping an arm around her waist, "I'm fine. No harm, no foul. Think I could stay away from your radiant beauty?" Not waiting for a response, he leaped pass her and up the stairs.

Mrs. Johnson frowned. "Babe?" She looked up at Buckaroo. "Is he alright?"

Buckaroo Banzai didn't have an answer. After a moment, he reached out and gently squeezed her shoulder. "Do me a favor and stay away from him for awhile."

Confused, but knowing when best to obey, the girl nodded.

Again, Buckaroo squeezed her shoulder, offering a reassuring smile, then he headed for the kitchen in search of Rawhide and New Jersey.

Knuckles stepped back and threw the grease rag at the engine. "Damn, freakin', son-of-a..."

A rustle in the bed interrupted her. She hurried around the back to check on her passenger.

Perfect Tommy's eyes were fluttering.

"Oddity, guard!" she ordered the Aussie, who, in response, jumped out of the truck and took up a patrol around the vehicle. Jessie climbed up and knelt beside her wounded charge. She dampened a clean rag with water from a jug and gently dabbed at his forehead

Groaning, Tommy turned his head away.

"Lie still." she encouraged.

His eyes opened. they seemed foggy as they tried to find something to focus on. "What..." he mouthed, but he couldn't quite gather the strength to put voice to the words.

"Shhh." She ran her fingers through his hair around the deep gash that ran from his left temple to just over his left ear. The blood had matted the hair. "You were shot. The bullet ripped open your head."

"Hos... hospital..." he gasped, mustering what strength he could to communicate.

The girl shook her head. "Can't. They'll be watching for us there."

Not comprehending, he tried again. "Hospital."

"A hospital would be a death sentence for both of us!" Jessie snapped more out of frustration with the situation than at him. "Look, you're a nice guy, but I ain't ready to die for you."

Perfect Tommy's eyes seemed to finally focus. "Miss James?"

"Knuckles. Folks call me Knuckles." she corrected. "You will be alright." she assured. "I just need to get you somewhere safe."

"Banzai."

She nodded. "Yea, that's what I figured, but you aren't the only one with a hole in ya."

His eyes filled with concern. He managed to lift his hand, grabbed her sleeve. "You?"

Knuckles grabbed his hand and gently pried it off. "Truck. Engine is full of holes." She leaned back with a sigh. Wiping at her chin with the back of her hand, she continued "I can patch the radiator enough to get us into Elko, but it'll be dark before I'm done. We'll camp out here, and hit the town come morning. I know a fix-it man down there who'll give us a hand."

"Elko?"

"A little mining town in Nevada." Knuckles explained.

Perfect Tommy gazed at Knuckles for a long moment, before repeating "Contact Buckaroo."

Jessie James's green eyes squinted at him. "I would if I could. I've even tried the internet." She shook her head. "The Clan's blocking us somehow. If I knew technology more..." Again she shook her head.

"Tracer."

Knuckles head tilted to one side. "Tracer?"

"There's a tracer." Tommy mumbled. He closed his eyes lightly, wishing the brain fog would lift just a little faster.

"A tracer? You mean like a tag?" Knuckles voice betrayed her sudden excitement. "Where?"

"Shoe... I... I was supposed to activate it once I got inside."

"Inside?" Her mind began to race. "Of course! Crap, of course!" She smacked herself in the head. "You were a plant! Bait! You didn't break from Buckaroo Banzai! It was all a con."

"The tracer." Tommy insisted, wondering why she was making such a big deal over the obvious.

"Yea... which shoe?"

"Left."

Jessie pulled the tennis shoe off and inspected it. "I don't see it."

"Let me see."

She slid an arm under Tommy and helped him to sit up.

Tommy grimaced as pain threatened to crush the world around him once more.

Quickly, Jessie set the shoe aside and wrapped her arms around the wounded man. "Easy." she whispered. She stuffed a blanket behind his back and head and leaned him against the back of the cab. "Move easy." she encouraged.

Shivering, Tommy blinked away the tears. "Where's the shoe?" he asked through clenched teeth.

"Damn the shoe." the girl snapped. "Give it a moment."

Taking a deep breath, he reached out a squeezed her arm. "It's getting better." he assured. And, true, his voice was sounding stronger, steadier.

Frowning, Jessie watched him for a breath. Then, with a sigh, she handed him the shoe.

This time Perfect Tommy frowned. "This isn't it." he mumbled.

Jessie glanced down at his feet. "That's the left one."

"I don't ware tennis shoes." he pointed out. "This isn't my shoe." He looked away suddenly. "Oh no."

"Oh no what?"

"Oran and her bf... her cousin?"

"What about them?" Knuckles' voice suddenly became emotionless.

"They said they were going to replace me. Send someone back to Buckaroo pretending to be me." His eyes closed again. "Well, damn."

Jessie ran her fingers through her hair. "That's why Banzai isn't looking for you. He's already found you. But why does the Clan want..."

"Why?" Tommy shrugged. "Same reason all the other wants-to-rule-the-world evil entities want in. We have more brain power in there than the entire world's think tanks put together." Perfect Tommy closed his eyes again. "What is he going to do?" he wondered aloud. "Spy on them or break open the bank?"

"Break it wide open." Knuckles answered without a doubt. "The lord isn't patient enough to sit and wait for tid-bits of info." She leaned back again to think.

But Perfect Tommy glanced at her sharply. "I didn't call him Lord." his head was aching bad enough without having to think. But there were questions... "What were you doing there, anyway? Why were you following me? And how do you know about these people?"

Knuckles stared at him for a long moment. Then she rose up and jumped over the side. "I better finish patching up things before we lose the light." she called over her shoulder, returning to her work.

From the bed of the truck, she heard from Perfect Tommy a last "Well, damn."

Pinky Carruthers didn't like this. He didn't like it when things were out of place. He didn't like it when things moved contrary to prediction or habit. he didn't like not being able to tell exactly when, where, and why everyone under his watchful eye was.

And Perfect Tommy was majorly screwing with all that!

Forget the fact that the boy was, by nature, lazy. But he was messing with things he didn't know anything about, that were not his to mess with, that he didn't even like. The Institute security was Pinky's! And Perfect Tommy had no business sticking his nose into his security.

And that was exactly what Pinky Caruthers said when he complained to Rawhide. "Something's wrong with the boy." he insisted, not quite able to keep his concern from softening his anger.

Rawhide rubbed his rough chin. "Keep an eye on him, Pinky." he mumbled. "But keep your distance. We don't know what they did to him. He might be just trying to work things out."

"You gonna talk to the boss?"

Rawhide nodded. "Let us know if he tires to leave." leaving it at that, he returned to the house.

Buckaroo was waiting for him just inside the door. "What do you think?" he asked when he heard the complaint.

"Psychology opinion? Or friend and team mate opinion?" Rawhide was already sorting through is vast knowledge of the human mind for an answer.

"I'll take whatever can explain it."

"Well, he hasn't told us anything about what happened to him. And he refused to get checked out. We have no idea of the damage done, physically nor mentally. He could just have the jitters, or maybe a whack on the head had muddled his thinking a bit." He frowned pushing his hat back on his head.

"Or?" Buckaroo encouraged, though he was pretty sure what the or was.

"It could be Xan's doing."

Buckaroo felt a mixture of cold horror and hot rage run through the center of his being. Through clenched teeth, he growled "A chip."

Rawhide sighed. "We sent him to find out who's been so rudely knockin' on our door. It just might have been a sect of the World Crime League." His eyes locked with Buckaroo's. "He needs to be checked out, boss, whether he likes it or not."

Buckaroo ran his fingers through his hair. After a long silent moment, he mumbled "It's late. As soon as he's up in the morning, bring him down to the infirmary. Kicking and fussing if need be."

Rawhide nodded once, but, before walking away, he reached out and gently squeezed his friend's arm.

Buckaroo shook his head. "I can't lose another one to Xan. I won't!" he promised.

The truck bed creaked.

Perfect Tommy's eyes snapped open. "Miss James?" he whispered. The world was too dark for him to see anything and, even if didn't hurt so much, he was too cold to move. So, whoever was coming...

"It's just me." the girl whispered back. "And it's Knuckles."

He felt her lay down beside him and pull the blanket over them both. She wrapped an arm over his chest and snuggled close.

Tommy chuckled. "If I didn't hurt so much, I might find this interesting."

"And then you'd find yourself dead." Jessie James mumbled against his arm. "I only have two blankets and we're in the mountains on a November night. If we don't share body heat we could just lose it all. And you're too weak to survive that."

"I appreciate the concern." He couldn't help but grin.

They were silent for a long time. Tommy was just drifting off to sleep €when Knuckles' voice called him back. "I wasn't following you. I was following the Clan."

"The Clan? Oran and chubby?" Tommy mumbled, forcing sleep aside. He felt her head nod against his arm.

"Clan Uilc Dochas. I've been after them for a long time, now." She signed and nestled closer, reaching over to tuck the blanket in around them.

"Long time?"

"Ever since that witch murdered my father."

Tommy glanced through the dark at the girl. Hundreds of questions were answered with just one sentence.

Taking a deep breath, Jessie continued. "My adopted father was a Navy JAG Captain. He found evidence of the Clan in an investigation. He was about to expose them when they snatched him." Her voice shook slightly. "They gave him to that witch, their Lady Oran de Nathair. For days, she tortured him for no more reason than amusement, until he just up and died." She stiffened. "I used my father's files to hunt them down. Then they just disappeared. Until you..." She didn't need to finish.

"At your club... you heard her talking to me." Tommy concluded.

"And now I have her scent again. I'm gonna get her this time. And put the Clan in its grave!" Knuckles swore, her voice strong and determined once more.

There was a long moment of silence before Perfect Tommy slid an arm under and around her shoulders. "Mind if I tag along?"

Jessie wonder if he knew she was smiling. "You can barely sit up! How the hell do you figure on dragging you butt out of my truck?"

Tommy chuckled, his chest shaking, bouncing the girl's head.

"Hey! You mind? I'm tryin' to sleep here." Knuckles snapped.

Buckaroo fully expected to see Perfect Tommy standing in the infirmary, angry and ready to fight. He was prepared for that. he had all the explanations ready. He had thought out all the proper use of force if Tom decided to make a fight of it. He was sure he had the situation in hand even before he opened the door.

Then he opened the door.

The infirmary was empty.

"Buckaroo!" New Jersey called to him as he hurried down the hall. His usual unsure expression had turned into full blown nervousness.

"What is it? Where's Tommy?" Banzai demanded, a sick feeling settling in his gut.

Jersey shook his head. "Rawhide and the boys are still looking for him. But Pinky's missing too."

"What?"

"Our gate keeper is missing and the gate was wide open!" the doctor said each word carefully so there could be no misunderstanding..

"The deuce, you say!" Buckaroo Banzai pushed passed and hurried down the hall. "Wake the house! Call in the regulars!"

"Buckaroo, what's going on?" Jersey called after him.

"We're under siege!"

Reno Nevada rested a hand on his .45 automatic. Slowly, cautiously, he pushed open the kitchen door.

Eunice Johnson's head snapped up, her brown curls bouncing around her head. She wore only a night shirt and shorts. Her small hands laid flat on the cutting table.

Reno sighed with relief. "Mrs. Johnson." he breathed, letting his hand drop away from his weapon. "You nearly scared..." He stopped, his eyes narrowing.

The usually hyper girl stood motionless, her eyes big with fear. Behind her the back door was wide open, the icy air blowing on her bare legs. Two large, muddy footprints scarred the usually spotless floor.

Reno's hand started for his gun once more, but an unmistakable metallic click at his ear stopped him.

"That would be a very bad idea, Mex." growled a black clad man who pointed a gun at the Cavalier's head.

Reno slowly raised his hands over his head.

Another man stepped around the door and took his gun. Then he waved to the girl. "Get over here! Into the other room! Move it!"

Mrs. Johnson quickly stepped around the table and grabbed Reno's arm. "I'm sorry." she whispered.

"No problem." Reno breathed, a low, deep growl to his voice.

"Other room! Now!" The man reached out to shove the girl, but, with lightening moves, Reno grabbed his wrist. Two gun barrels leveled with his head.

"No! Don't!" Mrs. Johnson cried. She stepped between their captors and Reno, pushing him back into the cafeteria. "We're going. You don't need to kill anyone." she assured.

The armed men followed them. One pointed to the outside wall, under the windows. "There! Sit!" he said.

The two captives did as they were told, sitting with their backs to the wall. Reno put a protective arm around the girl's shoulders and, together, they watched as more and more black clad men invaded their sanctuary.

Within moments, they spread through out the house and the sounds of skirmishes and right out battles sounded.

Eunice Johnson buried her face in Reno's chest as the Cavalier sat, muscles tense, eyes hard, a cold rage burning deep in his gut.

He fired twice.

Two men dropped.

Billy Travers, the young computer hacker extraordinaire, edged into the Bunkhouse. Seeing no one left standing, he quickly closed and locked the door behind him and hurried over to the communication station the two invaders had been picking at. The screen showed a list of go-phone numbers and locations across the U.S. "Damn." he cursed. They were trying to hunt down all the BBs for what ever evil reason.

There was a loud crash against the door.

Billy glanced up. "Damn." he repeated. Snatching the closest keyboard he began to type away.

Another crash, another... the door splintered... a last crash and the door busted open. Three black clad men rushed in. "Get 'im away from that consol!" one ordered, sending the other two after the hacker.

With a kick, Billy slid a chair across the room to slam into the first of his attackers, sending him sprawling to the ground. Fingers still dancing across the keys, he tried it again, sending a second chair..

But the second invader saw it coming, slamming the furniture aside. With a roar, he ran at the young typing, Billy kicked out at him, letting the charger run himself into his foot.

The invader doubled up, and stumbled back, all color draining from his face.

But the third had come up from behind Billy as he faced the first two. Strong arms wrapped around him and lift him up off of the ground.

"Get the hell off of me!" Billy yelled, slamming his head back. The back of his skull slammed into his attackers front teeth, but it did more damage to his head than the man.

Spitting blood out over his captive's shoulder, the invader growled "Settle down, whelp. Ya gotta be alive, not whole!" To illustrate his point, his grip tightened around the hacker's ribs.

Billy's eyes bleared with unwilling tears as he felt his ribs crack. Knowing his fight was ending, he glanced down at the last key he had to press, one little button that would keep these bastards from hunting down the rest of them. One last...

Billy Travers slammed back, bracing one foot against the consol, and slamming the other down on the key board, hoping, praying that, in the process of destroying it, he managed to hit that one last key.

Big Norse and a pair of young interns were shoved into the cafeteria, all three still in their night clothes. The woman kept herself between the invaders and the two youngsters, glaring at any of them who came too close. A bruise on her cheek and the bruises and cuts her armed escort sported noted that she had given them good cause to keep their gunfire sounded from the front of the house.

Big Norse and the interns were shoved to floor as a good 2/3 of the invaders rushed pass, heading for the fight. The ten remaining invaders started toward the doors, but stopped, glancing back at their charges. Their disappointment at being stuck with babysitting duty evident in their eyes and mumbled curses.

Big Norse glanced at Reno, her eyes flaring with rage. She was willing, able, and ready for a fight.

Reno smiled. "'bout damn time." he mouthed the words. Slowly, as to not attract attention, he slid across the floor toward the nearest of the invaders.

The bad guys were anxiously peering through the door way, in the direction of the gunfire. Too distracted by the action they were forgetting to keep a proper eye on their prisoners.

Big Norse got her feet under her, ready to spring whenever Reno made his move.

Reno suddenly reached out, grabbing the invader's ankle, and...

He heard a loud thud. It wasn't until he opened his eyes to find himself staring up at the ceiling, pain pulsating through his head, that Reno realized that the thud was something slamming into the back of his skull.

Perfect Tommy leaned into his spinning view. He grinned down at him. "That was really stupid." he pointed out as if they were still best of friends. He shook his head, still grinning. Then he looked up at someone. "These are dangerous men, you idiots! Tie 'em up!"

Rawhide felt the wall shake as bullets hit it. "Damn." he mumbled as he reloaded his Colt revolver. "Damn, damn, damn, damn."

"Damn, that word is getting a lot of use today." Pecos observed from where she knelt on one knee in front of him. She leaned out around the corner and fired at the invaders in the sitting room.

"I'm going to kill that boy." Rawhide swore.

"I can't believe P.T. would do this to us." Pecos answered, tucking back behind cover as the wall shook again with hits.

With an angry growl, Rawhide stepped out and emptied his weapon, demolishing furniture and invaders alike. But, for as many that fell, just as many replaced them. He spun back around the corner. "Damn."

Both Pecos and Rawhide jumped as something hit their side of the wall.

"Chris, hell!" Pecos cursed yanking the boy down beside her.

Chris Knight actually grinned. "You know, I don't think the boss is going to be too happy with your redecorating methods." A glare from Rawhide quickly wiped the grin from the boy's face. "Maybe this will help." He held up a silver ball for his elders' inspection.

"We are not exactly playing ball here, kid." Pecos pointed out.

Chris sighed, another genius lost in the shadow of his youth. "Cover me... then cover your eyes." he jumped out into full view of the enemy.

"Chris!" Pecos cried.

"Shi..." Rawhide started.

They both leaned out and, once more emptied their weapons, pinning the invaders behind cover.

Chris pressed an unseen button and threw the ball, then dived back, slamming into Pecos. "Don't look!"

Rawhide turned away just before the sitting room was filled with blinding lasers that stretched out to every part of the room. Every little space, shadowy corner, and nook was brightened until the paint on the wall began to fade.

"Five... four... three... two... one... clear!" Chris rose to his feet as the light vanished. He started around the corner to check on his handy work, but Rawhide grabbed the boy and pushed him back behind cover, "Stay here!" he ordered. Then, with a nod to Pecos, the two snapped around the corner, their guns held at the ready.

This time it was Pecos who breathed "Damn, damn, damn."

Buckaroo Banzai ran through the lower halls of the Institute. He didn't know whether to be relieved or concerned when the gunfire ended.

His heart raced, though he tried to remain calm. But, the more he saw, the more fear threatened. Every room, every lab he passed was empty. Most with chairs and tables turned, noting that the room had not been emptied willingly.

He purposefully kept from thinking of his wife. He had left her sleeping in their bed upstairs. The invaders were everywhere between him and Peggy. To reach her he would have to fight through dozens of the enemy. And, considering his guns were up in his bedroom somewhere, his chances were slim. Best for both of them would be to take care of the invaders first. Peggy was smart enough to look after herself.

Buckaroo just prayed that he could help the others before it was too late for any of them.

Rawhide and Pecos stared at the scene before them.

None of the invaders who had been in the sitting room when Chris' ball light up were in any position to continue the fight. Most of them were unconscious, a few rolled on the floor in obvious pain, their hands clutching at their eyes. One sat on the floor and blinked at his surroundings with unseeing eyes, crying softly "Blind, blind, blind..."

"Damn." Pecos whispered, a mixture of awe and horror reflected in her eyes. "Remind me never to piss off the kid."

Rawhide simply nodded, equally effected by the sight.

"Umm... guys?" a shaky voice came from behind.

"Damn it, Chris!" Rawhide started, turning back to reprimand the boy. "I told you to stat p..." he stopped.

An arm pinned high up his back, Chris Knight was being held hostage by two more invaders. A sharp, jagged dagger was held so tight against his throat that a trickle of blood ran down his pale skin.

With a sigh, Rawhide set his gun down and raised his hands over his head.

Peggy Banzai tip-toed down the back stairs. It was a thin spiral thing hidden in the back of the house. As an after thought for a fire escape, it was built in the dark spare space, running from the roof down to the lowest of the basement labs.

Behind her were three of the Institutes youngest and newest interns. When Peggy had first awaken by the sound of gunfire, her first concern was for those not yet able to defend themselves. She thanked god that most of the residence were away visiting family for the holidays. Of course that was probably why whoever had decided to attacked did so now. The Institute was at less than half capacity.

She paused at ground level and peered through the sliding door at the storage room beyond. With a sigh, she continued down.

"Where are we going?" one of the youngsters asked.

Peggy snapped about, holding a finger to her lips, shushing him.

But it was too late. The damage was done.

The door slammed open and big hands reached in and grabbed the speaker. The interns screamed, kicking and hitting until they had freed their companion.

"Go! Go!" Peggy screamed, pushing the children passed her and down the stairs. "Basement! Now!"

The big, black clad invader squeezed through the door as Peggy put herself between him and the retreating interns. "Leave us alone!" she yelled at him. She doubled up her tiny fists and held them out before her, suddenly wishing she had taken her husband's self defense tutorage more seriously.

The man grinned. After slipping his gun under his belt, he drew a wicked looking jagged knife.

Peggy's eyes grew as they locked on the weapon. Then she said something that rarely ever passed her pretty lips: "Oh, shit."

Suddenly another body jumped in, slamming the invader against the wall.

New Jersey slammed his fist into the big man's kidneys repeatedly, hoping that a fast attack would make up for the difference in their weight and obvious viciousness.

With a roar, the invader lifted his arm and threw the slim doctor back into the storage room where he crashed into a stack of paint cans and fell to the floor. Growling, the invader followed his victim, intending to crush the little man under his heavy foot.

"Sidney!" Peggy cried, running after. As she passed it, she grabbed a broom that had been leaning against the wall, rose it over her head, and slammed it across the man's back, snapping the wooden pole.

The only sign the invader was even aware of her was a grunt. Then he continued on.

Stunned, New Jersey rubbed the back of his head where it had hit a fallen can upon landing on the floor. He didn't even notice the invader's approach until one large foot landed in the middle of his chest, pushing him back down to the floor.

The invader laughed as he began to grind the Cavalier into the floor.

His chest slowly being crushed, Sidney desperately struggled to reach his pistol, but, seeing the danger, the man reached down, took the weapon, and tossed it over his shoulder.

With a scream, Peggy leaped at the man, trying to dislodge him from Jersey. But the invader shoved her back, sending her sprawling into the stairwell.

New Jersey heard a crack. He didn't need to be a doctor to know what the pain lacing through his chest was. His ribs were cracking. In another breath they'd be snapping... if he could breath.

Reaching out blindly, his fingers wrapped around the wire handle of a paint can. With all the strength he had left, he swung it.

The heavy can caught the intruder in the back of the knee, buckling the leg. He fell back, slamming into the rack, but managed to keep his feet. With a roar of inhuman rage, he stepped toward the downed Cavalier once more, this time holding his knife high.

But three shots rang out and three bullets slammed into his chest, each one knocking him a step back.

Stunned, he dropped the knife and rubbed at the holes in his chest. He looked over at Peggy where she stood, feet apart, Jersey's gun held out before her. "Bitch." he snarled, before falling to the floor dead.

Peggy Banzai stared at the body for a long moment, then, when her own chest began to burn, began to breath again. She rushed over to New Jersey who was struggling to his feet. Slipping under his arm, she lead him back to the stairs. "We've got to get out of here."

They headed down the stairs, but just before the reached the last floor, cries beyond the door stopped them. Jersey pulled away from Peggy, taking the gun from her. He took the last couple steps alone and peered through the door to see the three young interns Peggy had been helping being rounded up by several invaders. Jersey eased back, closing and bolting the door.

"What are you doing?" Peggy hissed. "We have to help them!"

Jersey struggled up the steps to her, turned her away, and pushed her back up. "All we can do is start a gun fight, one that we would lose, and probably kill the kids in the process."Peggy glanced back at him, her eyes filling with tears, but she swallowed them back, bowed her head, and kept going. "Where?" she whispered.

Jersey stopped. He hadn't thought about that.

Peggy suddenly gasped. "The jet car! We gotta get the jet car out of here!"

Jersey sighed. Like he didn't have enough to worry about. But she was right. "The garage."

Peggy grabbed him. "Upstairs. I know how to get back down."

An invader grabbed Chris' arm and yanked him away from Rawhide and Pecos.

"Hey!" Pecos began to protest, but a gun muzzle was jabbed in her ribs, encouraging her to continue on to the cafeteria.

"Where are you taking him?" Rawhide demanded, watching them drag his young friend away.

"Relax. We have no intention of disrupting the daily working of the household." answered Perfect Tommy from where he sat on a dinning table, playing with a crystal apple that had been the center piece. He watched as the two were shoved across the room to join the rest of the Hong Kong Cavaliers..

Reno, with a bloody head, Mrs. Johnson, Billy Travers with a black eye, Big Norse, and an unconscious Pinky were all sitting on the floor against the wall. Each had both hands and feet tied, even Pinky.

"You have a funny way of showing it... Tom." Rawhide growled, his eyes locking on Perfect Tommy, the source of the burning rage building up deep in his gut. "What the hell is going on, boy?"

Tommy smiled, tossing the crystal up in the air and catching it. Then he nodded to the invaders. "Sit them down and tie them up. And don't worry yourselves about being gentle." He grinned at Rawhide. "He wouldn't."

"Damn straight!" Rawhide snarled, but, allowed himself to be tied and shoved down beside Reno. Pecos was shoved down nearly on top of them.

"Why are you doing this?" Mrs. Johnson cried. "P.T. we're your friends! Your family!"

Perfect Tommy only grinned. He turned as a pair of invaders hurried in.

"House is clear, sir, but a man was found dead in the storage room at the back of the house." reported one.

Tommy shook his head. "Dr Banzai is still on the loose." he glanced at his prisoners. "And Mrs. Peggy Banzai and Dr Zwibel . They are here. Find them!" He paused. "but concentrate on Banzai. He is the real danger. His wife is a witless tag-a-long, and Zwibel is nothing but a week geek. More than not, they'll wander in on their own." He smiled at the shocked looks he received from his once-upon-a-time friends. "And get me one of their go-phones. I think I know how to get dear ol' Bucky in all nice and tamed like."

Buckaroo Banzai slapped a hand over his go-phone when it beeped, silencing it. Leaning out slightly, he peered around the corner to see if it had attracted any unwanted attention. But no one was in the hall.

With a sigh of relief, he leaned against the wall. Putting the communicator to his ear, he whispered "Banzai here."

"Buckaroo? You alright? Where are you?" came an urgent voice.

"Perfect Tommy?" Hope sparked in Buckaroo's chest. Could he have been wrong about his friend? Could Tommy be just as innocent in this as the rest of them?

"Yea... where are you? You okay?"

"I'm fine. Where are you?"

"That's good." The voice was suddenly rather odd, amused like. "Rawhide and the gang were worried."

Once again, Buckaroo's heart turned cold. "Where are they, Tom?"

"Who?"

"Where are they?" he growled, anger making an unusual appearance. It hurt bad enough to know that one of his closest friends had betrayed him. But now he was making it game, a joke!

"Safe and sound, I assure you." There was a pause. "Well, a bruise here and there. But well enough... for now."

"What do you want?"

"At the moment... You." The voice lost all amusement. "In the cafeteria if you please."

"And if I don't?" he wondered, though he was already heading for the indicated room.

"Well, lets just say Rawhide here isn't going to be too happy about it." The voice pulled away from the communicator to call to someone. "Him first. Then curls there. And on down the line until either Bucky shows up or we run out of Cavaliers. oh, and here we are..." Perfect Tommy snapped the Go-phone shut and smiled as Buckaroo stepped into the room.

The leader of the Cavaliers was followed by at least a dozen of the invaders who grouped around him as he stopped at the head of the table. Glancing at the prisoners, he found it difficult to remain in control of his temper. His eyes narrowed. "Why are you doing this, Tom?" he spoke each word slowly, carefully.

Perfect Tommy grinned. He rolled the crystal apple down the table where Buckaroo caught it. "Allow me to make the introductions..."

On cue two people walked in from the kitchen.

"Our Lord Uilc Duine of the Uilc Dochas Clan." he waved a hand at the man wearing a deep red tuxedo. "And our beautiful Lady Oran de Nathair." he indicated the heart stopping red head who wore a long silver gown.

Buckaroo barely glanced at them. "What do you mean `our'?"

Perfect Tommy only grinned.

The Lady Oran de Nathair walked about the room, eyeing each of the prisoners with the scrutiny of a well trained eye. She knew how to judge a man or woman by the look in their eyes. And she knew with a glance that these were strong, noble people. A smile blessed her perfect lips. Oh, how she was going to enjoy killing them.

Purposefully turning her back to them, she faced Perfect Tommy. "My beautiful creation." she coed. She walked over to him and ran her long fingers down his chest. "You have pleased me. Is the staff intact?"

Perfect Tommy nodded. "The nerds are in their labs, hard at work for us. And we have all but two of this bunch accounted for."

The woman's fingers wrapped tightly around his collar, the only sign she was displeased. "Two?"

Tommy's grin faltered, but did not fail. "Mrs. Banzai and Dr Zwibel. Neither a threat." he assured.

"Of course they are a threat!" her tone had an ever so slight edge to it. "Do not fail me, my perfection, for what I create I can destroy."

Perfect Tommy's smile vanished. He slid off the table and hurried passed his Lady. Practically slamming up against Buckaroo, he pushed him against the wall. "Where are they?" he roared.

Buckaroo smiled slightly. "Who?"

Peggy ducked into her room, glancing about quickly for intruders. The room had been tossed, yet empty. She waved New Jersey in and across the room to the balcony.

With an arm around his damaged ribs, Jersey shuffled after her, yet to understand what she had in mind.

Again Peggy went first, to make sure it was clear. "The lattice next to the balcony is strong enough we can climb down." she explained a hushed tone. She looked her companion over. "Can you do it, Sidney?" she asked, her concern evident in her eyes.

Jersey smiled as best as he could, trying to hide the agony he was in. "You lead, I follow."

Peggy didn't buy the act, but knew they had no other choice. She leaned close and kissed him on the cheek. If only she could lend him strength, encouragement...

She took his hand and lead him out onto the balcony.

Chris Knight yanked his arm free from the goons grip, only for it to be caught up in an even more painful grip. His escort, two of the invaders, kept dragging him forward, toward the labs.

"Take it easy, kid, and you'll be fine." one of them assured.

"Go screw yourself." Chris snapped.

"Hey, Cory, that's a pretty wimpy fish." called an invader who sat on the hood of the jet car parked in the garage as they walked passed.

Taking his frustration out on the boy, the invader who had a hold on his arm, shoved him forward.

Stumbling, Chris fell to the ground. Quickly he rolled over to glare up at his abusers. But something caught his eye, behind them, along side the garage.

New Jersey? Peggy?

They were easing through the bushes, toward the front of the garage.

Chris' heart beat faster. They were almost there. They were going to get away! Get help! Save them!

His eyes snapped back to the three invaders rummaging in the garage. If they had to fight their way through them, they would never get out in time.

That realization slapped the boy like a wet towel. He grit his teeth, desperately trying to think of a way to help.

When one of his escorts reached down toward him it was as if the answer was being hand delivered... literally. Snatching the outstretched hand, he sunk his teeth into it.

With a yell of mixed pain and rage, the invader jumped back.

Chris scrambled away, climbed to his feet, and yelled at the garage "Hey, Dorksville, the tiniest fish here can still out-think you out of a wet paper bag!" He wasn't sure if the insult made sense, but it had the desired effect. Two of the garage guards hurried out to help catch the boy. Chris was already running in the other direction.

Peggy paused when she saw Chris run across the yard away from them. She took a step after, but New Jersey yanked her back as two invaders rushed out of the garage and took chase.

The Cavalier stiffened. Damn, he should of thought of that. Of course they had the garage guarded! Chris had probably just saved their butts.

He stepped around Peggy, holding his pistol at the ready. Waiting until Chris and his pursuers were far off, he stepped into the garage.

The remaining invader leaped to one side startled by his sudden appearance. But, before he could draw his weapon, New Jersey had taken aim. The invader froze.

Peggy quickly moved forward to disarm the man.

"What do we do with him?" Jersey whispered.

Peggy's only answer came in the form of picking up a wrench and slamming it across the back of the man's head, dropping him to the floor unconscious.

The doctor looked down at the body, a little stunned at her violence.. "That works."

Peggy hadn't waited for his reaction. She hurried to a work bench and emptied a jar full of nuts and bolts. Digging through them, she found a single key. "get in." she ordered, climbing into the driver's side of the car. When New Jersey had shut the door behind him, she turned and grinned at him. "I've always wanted to see what this baby could do."

Dr Sidney Zwibel bit his lip.

Buckaroo tasted blood from his own split lip.

"Where are they?" Perfect Tommy roared again, slamming the back of his hand across his jaw.

Buckaroo's head snapped back, his aching neck feeling the whiplash. Bruised, battered, and bloody, Buckaroo eyed his former friend. "What did they do to you?" he wondered.

"Where are they?" Tommy lifted his hand for another strike.

"Hey!" Rawhide snapped. "Even an idiot can see he isn't going to give you anything! All you're doin' is rubbin' your knuckles raw!"

In frustrated rage, Perfect Tommy spun about, drawing his gun, and taking aim with every intention of killing the irritating man once and for all.

"Stop!" Buckaroo yelled.

The gun never wavered, but didn't go off either. Rawhide, in defiance, set his jaw and glared, daring him to shoot.

Buckaroo glanced from one man to another and back. He had lost one friend this day, he didn't want to lose another. "I will answer one of your questions if you answer one of mine." he offered.

That drew Rawhide's startled glance, the other HKCs shuffling about nervously.

Perfect Tommy glanced at Lady Oran de Nathair who tilted her head with curiosity. After a breath, she nodded and Tommy said "Ask your question."

Buckaroo took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Buy time, time used to think of a way out of this... this is good. "You aren't Perfect Tommy, are you?"

The traitor grinned. "I am the perfected Perfect Tommy. Built with a mixture of robotics and DNA, I am a cyborg. There is nothing greater than I." His head snapped around to glare at Buckaroo. "Where are they?"

Buckaroo shrugged. "I don't know."

The cyborg's finger began to squeeze the trigger.

"That's an answer! the only answer I have!" Buckaroo cried.

The lady held up her hand, smiling slightly.

"He's right." Lord Uilc Duine giggled. "Pick your questions with care lest you lose this game."

Sweat trickled down Rawhide's brow

Buckaroo counted the point. "My turn: What happened to Perfect Tommy?"

The fake grinned. He looked back at the man over his shoulder. "Dead." he coed with glee. "You should be proud. Even after we laid his guts out beside him, he told us nothing. It took hours for him to bleed out."

The Cavaliers sat, paled with shock, eyes shiny with tears of pain and loss, and then came anger.

The cyborg was enjoying their reaction. "I was really quite surprise at how long a human could survive without guts. He had a strong heart. Kept beating long after I ripped it out of his gut."

"Chest." Buckaroo corrected, his tone dead, emotionless.

"What?"

"The heart is in the chest, not the gut."

The Lord threw back his head and laughed.

The cyborg snarled. "Do you know where they might be?"

"They might be anywhere. It's been a long time since I've seen either, and this is a big place."

The cyborg stiffened, glancing at his Lady, She shrugged, and nodded. It snapped "Ask!"

"What do you want?"

This time the Lady answered, walking across the room to stand close to the prisoner. "We want what we deserve: all of Talmhainn, and those which were born to be service to us." Her green eyes narrowed. "My turn: Where would they be?"

Buckaroo watched her for a moment. This was it. he was out of time. He had to give her something or Rawhide was dead.

"Where would they be?" Lady Oran de Nathair repeated.

The cyborg's finger twitched on the trigger, almost hoping Buckaroo wouldn't answer.

Rawhide sat as tall as he could, his stubborn defiance his only weapon.

What could Buckaroo do? Betray his wife and friend to save Rawhide? or stand there and watch while they put a bullet in his best friend's head?

As if sensing their danger, the answer came from an outside source. A flash of silver, a rumbling engine, and a speed so fast the French doors rattled, the jet car raced passed, speeding away toward the front gate.

Buckaroo smiled slightly. He pointed in the direction the car had vanished. "There."

Lady Oran de Nathair grinned. Then she spun about. "Stop them!" she yelled. "Stop them at once!"

Her henchmen leaped to obey, but it was too late. The jet car and escapees were long gone.

Perfect Tommy leaned against the wall. Jessie's dog sat at his feet, unmoving and ever alert. He marveled at the dog's obedience to his mistress. Unwavering and absolute loyalty. That dog would not move until his mistress released him.

Tommy couldn't guarantee such loyalty in himself. Of course he would give his life for Buckaroo (if he absolutely had to and it would not be a case of volunteering). He rarely stayed when told to do so. he smiled as the thought, even dared to chuckle, which he immediately regretted as it sent ripples of head splitting pain though his skull.

Jessie James smiled slightly as she walked up to him, handing him a deli sandwich. "Something funny?"

"Not any more." Tommy admitted. Then he glanced about. "Where's the truck?"

"Attending its own funeral." She pick up her pack and snapped a leash on Oddity's collar. "Come on." She started down the street of the little town.

Reluctantly, Perfect Tommy pushed away from the wall and followed her. "So, what now?" he wanted to know. "I have to get back to the Institute! And fast!"

"Don't fuss about it. I want that witch even more than you want to help your friends. You can bet on that." she promised.

"Then what are we going to do?" he demanded.

Knuckles glanced up as a helicopter flew over head. It hovered over a park a block away, then lowered itself down in a baseball field behind the park.

"We are going to get us a ride." she answered.

Oddity whimpered as they got closer to the helicopter. Gage, the head bouncer of the Jessie James Club, smiled as he stepped around the nose of his bird. "Ah, now, Oddity, I know you don't like heights, but you can trust me. I won't let you fall."

The dog yipped at him, but seemed happier for the reassurance.

Gage took the leash from his boss-lady and lifted the dog up into the back seat where he harnessed him in. Then he turned and eyed Knuckles companion. "He isn't going to bleed all over my bird, is he?"

Jessie chuckled. She tossed him her rifle. "If he does, you have my permission to dump him." she answered.

Perfect Tommy held up a hand. "Do I get a say in this?"

"Only if you wanna walk." was Gage's growled answer as he slid the rifle under the seat. He looked the young Cavalier up and down, resisting the urge to point out that that would be a long walk for the walking dead. The boy was pale, worn, battered, and swaying as if he would drop at any moment. What the kid needed was bed time and a good hot meal and a snappy drink. "What Knuckles says, goes." he added. Despite his rough words, he grabbed Tommy's elbow in an almost gentle grip to help him up. Then closed and secured the door.

Jessie had already climbed into the front and, when Gage climbed in, she leaned close and said "We have a fight on our hands, friend. and our only ally is in desperate need of a hospital."

Gage smiled. "Like that ever stopped you before." he pointed out.

Knuckles smiled, glancing back at her charge.

Relieved to be sitting again, Perfect Tommy had already fallen into a fitful sleep. Oddity had curled up beside him, resting his head on the Cavalier's knee.

It was true, she would risk nearly any and everything to put a bad guy where he or she belonged... but, rather suddenly, there was some things she wasn't willing to risk.

If only she had a choice.

"My Home"

Peggy Banzai wrapped her arms around herself as she sat on the hood of the jet car. But, no matter how tight her grip, she just couldn't stop shivering. It seemed that, after the attack, the escape, the hunt they had been avoiding since, fear was finally catching up with her.

Maybe it was because she had time to think to think about it, think about her friends, her husband... all left behind in the hands of those evil bastards who had invaded the sanctuary of their home. She had no idea if any of them were alive, or if they were hurt, in need of her help and care.

Maybe it was because she was alone and didn't have to be brave for anyone anymore.

Maybe, being alone, she felt exposed. Buckaroo had always been near-by, close enough to protect, ever since she had been returned to him. he never, even wanted to lose her again.

But, now, she had lost him and no one was there to protect her. And maybe it was that she could do nothing about it... about any of it!

'Course, she could be shivering just because it was a November evening in New York and she was still wearing her bed clothes.

"Peggy?" New Jersey called as he walked back from the pay phone. "You alright?"

She smiled slightly, remembering that she wasn't completely alone. "Worrying about me? How's the ribs?"

Sidney leaned against the car. "Don't even hurt... as long as I don't breath." he assured.

"Well, don't go turning blue on me, now." she encouraged. She glanced at the phone.

"Any luck?"

Jersey sighed. "No one knows the go-phones are down until they try and use them. And few stay by a conventional phone." he rubbed the back of his head. "Jack Burton. Caught him at one of his favorite truck stops, but in Colorado. It'll take him a couple of days to get here. He's making a few stops on the way, rounding up some help."

"Is that all?" Peggy was shocked. There were so many of them. Why could they reach only so few? "What about the garages?""No answer. I'm worried they might have been hit too." He shook his head. "No, we need to stay away from them until we get some help."

"Sidney, whatever they want, they aren't going to want to keep the HKC alive." Peggy pointed out. "If we don't do something fast, they're going to die! We don't have time to wait!"

The doctor's eyes dropped. "And if we try something on our own we'll end up right beside them with no one on the outside to come to our rescue." He looked up at her. "We'll get them back, Peggy." he swore

The woman swallowed, then nodded slightly. "But where do we go now?"

Again Jersey rubbed the back of his head. Sheepishly, he shrugged.

"I might be able to help."

New Jersey jumped away from the car, pulling Peggy behind him with one hand, while the other dropped to his gun.

The young woman smile in greeting, holding her hands away from her body so as not to seem threatening. "It's alright. I'm a friend." she assured. She glanced about nervously. "This isn't a great place to be. You're too easily found."

"And who are you? And why should we trust you?" Peggy demanded, from behind the doctor.

"I'm Sandra Bull. I'm a waitress at the Jessie James' Club."

Jersey didn't relax. "That covers the who."

Sandra glanced about again. "Knuckles, my boss-lady, she's a bounty hunter. She's huntin' the bounty on that gang that took your little adobe."

"How did you know about that?"

"They flew over the place earlier, I think. And we've seen the Clan's henchmen all over the city... probably looking for you two." She waved a hand at Peggy. "Unless P.J.'s are a new fashion statement."

Peggy smiled, thinking she must look pretty silly wandering around the city in bunny slippers and pink, bunny patterned flannel shirt and shorts.

"Look... I found you just driving by and not even looking." Sandra pressed. "No one will find you at the Club. You'll be safe there. Knuckles can help."

Jersey glanced back at Peggy Banzai. With a sigh, she nodded.

Gage held up his hands, quieting the crowd that had gathered at the front doors of the Jessie James' Club. "Listen up, folks! The Jessie James' Club will not be opening tonight." he announced.

There was a collective groan.

Clapping his hands, brought their attention back to him. "Everyone in line will get a free pass to the Thanking-the-Fans Night November 29th." That announcement received cheers and the crowd pressed forward to get their tickets. Gage shook his head, trying to remember when he was that young. He patted another bouncer on the shoulder. "Clear the area, then make sure the crew gets home safe and sound."

"The boss-lady need a hand? You know the boys and I are more than willing to throw in with her." he offered.

Gage shook his head. "Not this time. Just make sure she doesn't have to worry about her crew and you'll be helping to no end."

The bouncer frowned, but excepted the assignment with a simple "Knuckles knows best."

"We do hope that she does." Gage mumbled to himself as he stepped back into the club.

Jessie James was standing at the bar, loading cylinders for her 1863 Starr Revolver. In front of her was a pile of large .44 caliber rimfire cartridges. Laid out on the bar was the revolver, a 1866 Winchester rifle, a pair of pistol crossbows and their quivers full of bolts, and a few other goodies anyone going off to war would want handy.

Perfect Tommy sat beside her, fingering the leather jacket Jessie had given him when they had reached the club. He couldn't get out of his mind what they had seen as they flew over the Institute. There had been armed men everywhere, and not a signal one belonged there. It would have been one thing if he had seen some fighting, some sort of protest, anything other than the Clan and their black clad henchmen. But there was nothing. It had almost been calm, peaceful even. The siege was over and the occupation had begun. Whatever had happened down there, Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers had lost.

"It was a stupid plan." Tommy mumbled.

"It was." Knuckles agreed, not bothering to look at him.

Perfect Tommy glanced at her. "Isn't the proper response supposed to be more supportive?"

"You are confusing me with the warm, cuddly family type of person." she answered. "I am a bounty hunter. I get paid to be heartless."

"Then why did you save me?" Tommy countered.

Knuckles head snapped up to glare at him.

But it was Gage who responded with "Knuckles knows best." He moved behind the bar and poured them a round of hot coffee. "Look, kid, sometimes you just shouldn't question the good things that happen. Just be thankful and get on with it."

Tommy frowned, always feeling he was missing something with these two. Before he could come up with a response though, the stage door opened and a waitress walked in. "Looky what I found."

"Hey, Knuckles, looky what followed me home. Can we keep them?" Sandra called as she held the door open for her two guests.

Perfect Tommy jumped to his feet, his aching head forgotten. "New Jersey! Peggy!" he cried. He hurried across the dance floor toward them.

New Jersey stopped so suddenly that Peggy ran into him. Then, without a word, he stepped out to meet him half way.

Tommy held out a hand to his friend. "Man, am I glad to see..."

Jersey's fist slammed into Tommy's jaw.

Shocked and hurt, Tommy stumbled back.

"Sidney!" Peggy cried, chasing after the doctor.

"Why, damn it?" Jersey roared. "Why did you betray us? Betrayed Buckaroo?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Tommy mumbled, rubbing his jaw.

Peggy stepped between the two men and leaned her back against New Jersey, holding him back. She glared up at Perfect Tommy. "You let them in!" she accused. Her eyes were filled with hurt, anguished that someone so dear to them could do this to them. "How could you? To Buckaroo? He loved you like a brother! He'd do anything for you!"

Tommy shook his head. "It wasn't me." he whispered, feeling ashamed none-the-less.

"Like hell!" the usually timid Sidney snarled.

"He's telling the truth." Jessie spoke up from where she was leaning against the bar, watching the whole episode. "He's been with me for the last two days."

Jersey glanced at her, unimpressed. "Really? I've sure seen a hell of a lot of him of late, for him not to have been there." he challenged.

Jessie stiffened. Though she was not overly concerned with what happened between them as long as it didn't get in her way, she did not like to be doubted. Pushing away from the bar, she started toward them. "What you were seeing was a Dupe, short for duplicate. A cyborg, part android, part biological replica created from Tom's DNA." She stopped beside Perfect Tommy, reached up, grabbed his chin, and turned his head to show them the gash in his head. "Difference: Dupes have steel under the skin."

Peggy gasped. She stepped forward and took Tommy's face in her hands, pulling his head down so she could get a better look at the wound. "What happened?"

Tommy was too busy wincing to answer, so Knuckles said "He was shot while making his escape."

Anger dissolved as Jersey's natural doctoring instinct came into play. He took the younger Cavalier by the chin so that he could inspect the wound himself. After a moment he looked at Peggy. "That's a couple of days old." He turned back to Tommy. "You didn't have that yesterday."

"It wasn't me." Perfect Tommy insisted, pulling his head back. He was pleading with them. "You have to believe me! I would never do anything to hurt any of you!"

Jersey rubbed the back of his head, glancing down at the ground. "That's a pretty hard thing to believe."

Peggy turned to face him. "As hard as believing that our Perfect Tommy would betray us?"

The doctor glanced at her, then at Tommy. After a moment, he sighed. "No where near as hard." He shook his head. "Sorry I hit you."

"Sure." Knuckles huffed, turning back to her bar. "If he didn't have a concussion before..." With a shake of her head she glanced back at Peggy Banzai. "Sandra, take the pink bunnies upstairs and introducer her to my closet. Those things are starting to give me the willies."

Sandra grinned. Like an eager child, she took Peggy's hand and began to drag her to the circler stairs at the center of the island bar. Peggy hesitated, glancing back at New Jersey. Despite knowing that this was the real Perfect Tommy, she couldn't help but wonder if this was just another trap.

Perfect Tommy understood. And he turned away.

New Jersey nodded assurances to Peggy. "I'll be right here."

Again, Perfect Tommy caught the "I'll" rather than the "We'll."

"Me, too." he quickly added. "Right here."

"No." New Jersey corrected. "You will be sitting over there where I can get a good look at your fool head."

Peggy smiled slightly and allowed the girl to practically drag her up the stairs.

It took the doctor nearly fifteen minutes to declare Tommy alive and, though not well, close enough. "He has a slight concussion. We'll just have to keep an eye on him until we can get his head scanned, make sure nothing is cracked... any more than usual."

Perfect Tommy frowned, but before he could respond, Gage tossed him a bullet proof vest.

"Try that on for size." the bouncer ordered, digging another out of a trunk and tossing it to New Jersey. "Knuckles?" he held a small one out to his boss.

But Jessie shook her head. "Give it to Bunnies. It's the only one that'll fit her."

"Knuckles..."

"Gage, when was the last time I got shot?"

Gage frowned. "The last time you said `Gage, when was the last time I got shot." but he didn't push the argument. He had lost. He knew that even before she had shook her head. Instead he waved the two men over to the trunk. "Pick a weapon, boy. Doctor are you armed?"

Jersey nodded. "But I need ammo."

"Not to worry. I'll fix you up." Gage promised.

"Alrighty." Jessie looked up as Sandra and Peggy returned. "Sandra, you're a love. Go home. Be safe."

Sandra smiled and, with a wave, headed for the door.

Knuckles turned her attention to Peggy. The young woman had picked camouflage carpi and turtleneck and white tennis shoes. Knuckles sighed. "You're not a solider are you?"

"No!" both Tommy and Jersey answered as one.

Peggy shot them a glare. "I can fight." she answered, returning her attention to the bounty hunter.

Knuckles chuckled. She handed her bullet proof vest to her. "Men." she offered. "Over protective, thus blind as bats." She leaned close. "Little do they realize that the greatest of predators are all female."

Peggy smiled almost shyly.

"Don't worry." Knuckles continued. "You will be in the safest place there is and still primary to the plan."

"Plan?" Again both men's voices blended. It was almost musical.

Peggy did her best to ignore them. "Where's that?" she wanted to know.

"With the bad guys."

"WHAT?" Perfect Tommy and New Jersey cried together.

Peggy sighed. "You know, they really are quite cute when they do that."

Jessie grinned. It was almost funny how this was becoming more about they people she was inadvertently rescuing rather than the people she was hunting.

It was a nice feeling.

It was also a scary feeling.

Buckaroo Banzai watched his Cavaliers as they napped against the wall. Occasionally one would wake and look his way as if, in the short time they had slept, he had come up with some fantastic plan to save them all. When he had nothing to say, they sighed and leaned back, trying to fall to sleep once more. They were scared, but still trusted that he would get them out of this.

And that hurt more than any of the blows from the cyborg ever did, because, no matter how he racked his brain, Buckaroo couldn't think of how to get them all out was sure there were nearly a hundred of the heavily armed invaders on the grounds and only about fifty of interns and residents. There were three, at last count, armored personnel carriers position strategically so as to keep each group of prisoners under the watch of their big, triple barrel machine gun (one sat right out side the window opposite of them, the guns aimed at the sleeping Cavaliers). They kept all the interns separate as much as possible (many shared labs and/or projects), promising that, if one gets rowdy, another would die. At least they allowed them to return to their rooms for the night. 'Course that just made them easier to managed, each locked away in his own little cell.

"Curious."

Buckaroo glanced at the Lady who sat at the other end of the table, watching him. He smiled slightly, turning back to his people. "I've always found it curious how they take everything in stride."

"That is not curios. That is loyalty. A dog is loyal." Lady Oran de Nathair answered. She leaned back in her seat. "You are curious."

Though not eager to have a conversation with her, he hoped she might offer him an opportunity for escape. "How so?" he asked.

"You are extraordinary brilliant. If not for the poisoning of your blood, you could have been with us." she observed.

Buckaroo frowned. "Poisoning?"

"Your mother was Scottish, a Celtic heir, loyals of the Druids, my own ancestors." The Lady shrugged. "Her poor judgment for a mate cursed you with mongrel blood."

Buckaroo sighed. "I thought you were too smart for petty prejudices."

"I am." was her only answer, before changing the subject. "How did you know that he was not your Perfect Tommy?" she wondered.

The doctor smiled. "You were pretty good, copying his arrogance, his cockiness, vain, callus... everything he showed you. Everything you expected him to be." he paused to see her reaction, but she remained emotionless, so he continued. "What you missed was his kindness, his compassion, his concern for others."

"His loyalty." Rawhide snarled from his spot on the floor.

"Yes, his loyalty." Buckaroo agreed, glancing at his friend, glad to see him awake and throwing in his support. "Our Perfect Tommy would never betray me or anyone else here." He leaned back in his seat. "Perfect Tommy is an enigma, his very own mirror image. You only saw one side."

Lady Oran de Nathair sighed. "I assumed that he was as he appeared even after I knew he was not. I should not have killed him so quickly."

Buckaroo's eyes narrowed. "You should not have killed him at all."

The Lady simply smiled and took a sip of her wine.

The replica of Perfect Tommy stepped in from the hall. He grinned at Buckaroo as he said to his Lady "Mrs. Banzai has returned and is demanding to see her husband."

Buckaroo stiffened, casting a nervous look at Rawhide who also reacted with worried surprise.

"Well, well." Oran purred as she rose to her feet. With great elegance she glided across the room to the door, pausing only long enough to lean close to Buckaroo and whisper "To be reunited with your love one more time, to die in one another's arms... truly romantic."

Buckaroo started to rise, but bounds held him to the chair.

The Lady laughed and continued on her way.

A wet nose filled her hand. It took every shred of self control Peggy had not to jump. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the dog back into the car. Not yet! Wait!

"Mrs. Banzai." called Lady Oran de Nathair as she waited for her on the front steps. "Please, welcome. Your husband is very eager to see you." she invited.

Peggy felt her blood go cold. Why did the most evil always seemed the most polite? Who gave a damn?

Every step filled with grace, her back as straight as possible, her head held high, she showed Lady Oran de Nathair that here, in the Banzai Institute, in her husband's home, it was Peggy Banzai who was lady of the manor! She glided up the steps and stopped mere inches from Oran. Voice as steady as steel, and just as cold, she said "This is my home. It is to me to welcome guests."

The Lady smiled, bowing her head slightly. "So it is." She stepped aside to allow Peggy entrance.

Peggy Banzai stepped through the doorway, then turned to face the woman. She could see that Oran was waiting to be welcomed in. She let her wait... and wait... and wait... ah, hell, what made the Lady think she would ever be welcomed in this house! Peggy glanced around to make sure that they were the center of attention, then spun about and walked in.

Oran's jaw stiffened. She didn't dare glance around. That would only tell her henchmen that that little spit of a girl's snub had got to her. And that was not going to happen! Of course, she was going to have to follow her in.

For no other reason than to assure them that she was in charge, she snapped "Car! Garage! Now!"

"Buckaroo!" Peggy cried, dropping to her knees in front of his chair. She gazed up at him, her eyes filled with agony. "Your face..." she started in a whisper.

Buckaroo smiled reassuringly, but he couldn't hide his fear for her in his eyes. "I'm alright." he assured. "Why did you come back? Should have stayed away. Warned the Blue Blazes."

Peggy reached up and ran gentle fingers down his bruised jaw. "I could never leave you!"

"I see Dr Zwibel could." Lady Oran de Nathair observed as she walked into the cafeteria.

Peggy slowly rose to her feet, watching the woman from the corner of her eye. "This is our home. You are not wanted here. If you want to go on living you will leave!"Her tone drew all eyes. The Cavaliers stared, never before hearing their sweet, gentle lady take such a do-or-die tone. The invaders stared, shock that anyone would dare to speak to their lady so.

Lady Oran stared for a long, deadly moment. Pride didn't allow her to lose control, but the little spit was pushing it. But, instead she laughed. "My dear, my dear, your home has been repossessed and we..." she spread her hands indicating the invaders, "are the repo unit." A cold smile graced her features. "As for leaving this house alive... I have a question for you before we continue that subject."

Peggy returned the smile, just as cold, just as deadly. "You can take your questions and shove them up your..."

"Here it comes." Knuckles hissed.

Gage and New Jersey leaned over her shoulder so that they too could see the laptop. Red and blue dots were already popping up on the map.

"That's the jet car." she explained, typing on the keyboard, labeling the indicated dot.

"They're moving it to the garage." Jersey pointed out. "The residence hall is there, just a step across from the garage."

"Two red dots there. The door?" Gage mumbled.

"Guards. No signal from inside. Brick walls?" Jessie glanced up at Jersey.

But it was Perfect Tommy who answered from where he leaned up against the helicopter. "Re-enforced for extra security. That thing can take a nuclear blast and still look pretty." He chuckled at his own thoughts. "With the sort of things those kids cuddle up to it was a necessary precaution."

Both Gage and Knuckles glanced back at him then looked up at Jersey for an explanation.

The doctor shrugged. "Geniuses have a nasty habit of blowing things up. We've had more than one desk land on the floor above."

Gage grinned. "Sound like your sort of neighborhood, Knuckles. Rough and tough and lots of boom."

Knuckles chose to ignore him. She'd pay him back later. Instead, she tapped the computer screen. "The witch would still be playing with your buddies. She won't let the kids back to their labs until the command staff is dead. Too much chance they'll try to protest." She grabbed Gage's wrist and turned it so as to see his watch. "6:42... little later than I like, but the bad guys will still be digging for their breakfast. Gage, take the bird up and keep them busy here." she pointed to a spot one the map where several green dots were gathered in an open area.

"The stables?" Jersey mumbled.

"Horses, right?" Knuckles waited for confirmation, then told Gage "Stampede the horses. They'll add to the confusion."

Gage nodded, heading for his helicopter. "Better move, pretty boy, least you lose what's left of your head."

Perfect Tommy frowned, but did as recommended. His poor head had already been whacked twice. he wasn't too interested in a third wallop.

As the propellers began to turn over their heads, Knuckles reached up and dragged Tommy down beside her. "We'll go in here."

"Over the wall?" Perfect Tommy scratched his head. "I hate to be the one to point it out, but we've made some security improvements since the last time someone jumped the wall."

Jessie grinned. "He of little faith..."

The Perfect Tommy replica stepped up behind Peggy Banzai and wrapped his arms around her.

"Hey!" Peggy snapped, kicking and punching him. "Get the hell off of me!"

The cyborg buried its face in her hair. "Mmm... I just love your smell." it purred.

Buckaroo jerked against his bonds, but it was no use. He helplessly watched his wife struggle. The Cavaliers started their own protest, but the guards moved in, warning them against even breathing.

"Aw, come on, my little beauty... have you never even considered this perfect being, this Perfect Tommy?" it breathed in her ear.

Peggy glanced back at the thing. "Even if I thought of Tommy as anything more than a brother, you are nothing like him!" she growled.

"You're right. I'm perfect. He's dead."

Lady Oran de Nathair circled the two. "Where is Dr Sidney Zwibel, Mrs. Banzai?" she asked sweetly.

"Go to hell!" the girl snapped back. She cried out as the cyborg tightened his grip around her.

"Let her go!" Buckaroo yelled.

"Excellent idea." Oran observed. She stopped to look at her creation. "She can take pain."

The cyborg shoved Peggy aside, sending her smashing to the floor at Rawhide's feet. "I rather play with Bucky anyway." It turned and began to approach the immobilized man.

Suddenly the windows shook as a helicopter flew low over head.

"What the hell..." the cyborg cursed.

For the first time, Oran looked startled. She hurried to the windows and watched the helicopter as it flew back and forth, gaining the attention of everyone in the area. "My creation, stop your playing. Kill them and be done with it!" she ordered, before hurrying out of the cafeteria.

Perfect Tommy hit the ground hard. Stumbling forward until the back of his glider dug into the ground, anchoring him to a stop.

"Damn." he hissed, trying to reach the buckles on his shoulders.

Jessie chuckled as she ducked under the wing of the glider and helped him with the buckles. "You handled it like a pro." she complimented. "A blind pro... but a pro none-the-less."

"Speaking of blind..." Tommy mumbled, finally dropping to the ground, free.

"Where's New Jersey?" Knuckles finished the question for him.

As if in answer, the doctor's glider landed smoothly a few yards away. Showing absolutely no sign that this had been his first time in a glider, he slipped out of the harness. He favored his side a little, noting his cracked rib, but, otherwise, he looked fine. He grinned at them. "That was interesting."

"Yea... well..." Tommy grumbled, ruffled that Sidney's landing was noticeably better than his own. he jabbed a finger at his head. "I have a concussion! Right?" He looked to Knuckles for confirmation, but she wasn't paying any was unbuckling a pair of tightly wrapped sacks from under the wing of her glider.

"What are you doing?" Jersey asked.

"Getting a little recon." the girl answered. "Get your weapons, boys."

Both Tommy and Jersey returned to their gliders and pulled free the weapons loaned to them by Knuckles. Perfect Tommy had a sawed off shot gun, a Starr Army revolver, and a reloading pistol crossbow. New Jersey kept his Colt .380 automatic pocket pistol, but also carried a WWII Thompson submachine gun.

"What the hell is that?" Tommy demanded, startled by a small bird that snapped his sharp beak at the HKC when they returned.

"Easy, Sacrates." Knuckles coos to the bird, To Tommy she said "This is a Sparrow Hawk, aka American Kestler, falcon sparverius..."

"I get it. It's a bird."Socrates stretched his blue-gray wings, then screeched one more warning at Perfect Tommy.

Tommy leaned back, away from the bird, the sharp beak, and his nasty looking talons.

But another one screeched at him from atop the glider, sending the Cavalier jumping in the other direction. She shook out her brown wings and wide tail, then blinked curiously at the man.

Knuckles smiled. "Euthy likes you. Guess you have a way with the ladies."

Jersey had to ask: "They are the only ones, right?"

Jessie glanced skyward.

After exchanging nervous glances, the two men looked up.

Circling them from maybe fifteen feet in the air was a great bird. She had a white head and a mostly white under belly, a dark stripe through each eye, and the top of her wings were brown.

"Draco." Knuckles introduced. "She's an Osprey, aka Fish Hawk, pandion haliaetus, 22" length, and a wingspan of over 66". My baby." she said proudly, watching the bird circle.

Perfect Tommy looked at her in disbelief. "Have you ever heard of a cat?"

The girl shrugged. "Draco ate him." she said offhandedly, before turning and jogging off into the trees.

Jersey and Tommy ducked as Socrates and Euthy buzzed their heads as they flew after her.

"Ate... him?" New Jersey cast another weary glance up at the bird who seemed, at least to him, to be licking her chops and eyeing him in a rather uncomfortable way.

The personnel carrier's guns twisted one way then the other as its handlers watched nervously for whatever might be coming their way. Its companions had already moved down the lane, chasing the helicopter along with most of the men. That left one carrier guarding the main house, a good twenty invaders on foot in the house, most of them in the cafeteria, and another fifteen or so guarding the interns at the residences hall. They had gone to great lengths to make their prisoners think that there were more invaders than there really were. Their Lord and Lady knew that, in a toe to toe battle, they would have a hard time winning. Best to convince the enemy that they didn't have a chance.

The three men manning the guns on top of the carrier didn't feel very convincing.

A bird landed on the barrel of the gun and screeched at the invader at the butt of the weapon.

Startled, the man leaned back. "What is this?"

One of his companions chuckled. "A wee little chick frightens ya?" He swatted at the bird.

Socrates leaped into the air, and charged the man, his talons tarring at his face.

The invader rose up sharply, opening his mouth to scream, but an arrow thrust through his throat silencing him forever.

The other two invaders stood in shock, staring down at their dead companion. Before they came to their senses, both fell in like manners.

Knuckles and Perfect Tommy lowered their crossbows. Glancing in either direction, being sure that their attack, thus far, had gone unnoticed, they ran across the yard and ducked down behind the personnel carrier.

Tommy looked at Knuckles for further instruction. The girl grinned at him and mouthed "Now, this is fun!"

Perfect Tommy groaned. He just knew this was going to get him whacked in the head again.

Jessie James put a whistle to her lips and blew a silent song. The high pitched notes were too high for human ears but the pair of hawks heard it at once and responded by leaping into the air and flying off to hunt more invaders.

Then Knuckles waved for Perfect Tommy to follow her.

There were two invaders guarding the front door. Both fell silently to the small arrows of the pistol crossbows.

And then they were inside.

"And what do you think you're doing?" the cyborg laughed, grabbing Peggy by the back of the neck and lifting her into the air.

She had almost freed Rawhide before the thing had noticed. Rawhide shook his hands and pulled, the bonds almost loose enough to escape.

The Perfect Tommy replica snarled down at the Cavalier. "Don't go anywhere. I'll be with you in a minute." Then it carried Peggy to the center of a slight clearing among the tables.

But a low growl sounded from behind a table.

Glancing down, the cyborg saw a crouched dog, his ears laid back and teeth bared. The replica frowned.

"Oddity!" Peggy screamed.

With a snarl, the dog lunged, sinking his teeth into the arm that held Peggy a yell of start and rage, the cyborg dropped Peggy and tried to shake the dog loose.

"Peggy!" Buckaroo called. "Cut us loose!"

Oddity reached up with his front paws to get better leverage, twisting his head and digging his teeth in for ultimate damage.

The invaders quickly moved forward to help their cyborg commander, but it yelled at them "Kill the girl! Kill them all!"

Rawhide's hands broke free. Leaving his feet bond, he pushed away from the wall and grabbed the ankles of an invader as he headed for Peggy.

Peggy cried out as the invader's hands fell only a breath from her. Kicking at him, she hurried pass to where her husband was tied to a chair.

With a yipe, Oddity was smashed down onto a table. Stunned, the dog laid helpless, wining.

The cyborg was about to finish him off when gunfire erupted just outside the door leading to the hall. "Do you people mind?" it roared. "I'm trying to do some killing here!" It spun about to face the door.

"Oddity! Help!" Peggy called, kicking at another invader as she pulled on Buckaroo's bonds.

Shaking himself back, the dog whimpered, then rolled off the table. He raced across the room, tripping one invader who made a grab for him, then leaping onto the back of the man who was trying to pull Peggy away from her husband.

Rawhide held onto his invader's ankles, dragging him back to where he could reach him. Another invader came up behind him and raised his foot to kick at the Cavalier. Reno and Pecos, both still with hands and feet tied, began to kick at him, knocking him away from Rawhide.

"What the hell is your problem?" the Perfect Tommy replica continued to roar. "You're going to die one way or another!" It started back for the prisoners, but the double doors leading from the hall burst open, admitting two more irritations.

Perfect Tommy hesitated upon seeing himself, but Knuckles smacked him with her free hand before drawing her Starr Army revolver.

With gun in one hand, reloading pistol crossbow in the other, Jessie James, like her names sake, came into the room with guns blazing.

Tommy, smacked into action, followed suit.

The invaders charged toward them, but were met with a shower of bullets and arrows. More than half of them fell before they figured out that charging these two might be a bad idea.

When Buckaroo's hands were free, he snapped a fist out, knocking a charging invader out cold. "Free the others!" he told his wife and bent over to untie his feet.

Peggy jumped over the fallen invaders and hurried to free her friends.

As calm as if nothing was going on around her, Knuckles snapped her emptied crossbow on her belt. She continued forward into the room, pulling a new cylinder from her belt to replace the empty one in her revolver.

The cyborg took that moment to lunge at the girl, but Perfect Tommy stepped between them and emptied his weapon into its chest.

The cyborg stopped. It looked down at its chest and rubbed at the holes. Then it grinned up again. "Gee, that hurt my feelings." it coed. "After all, I am you."

"Like hell!" Tommy growled, dropping the empty gun and raising the shot gun.

The cyborg stepped forward, catching Tommy before he could bring the weapon up.

"Stay out of its reach!" Knuckles yelled, but it was too late.

The steel grip wrapped around Perfect Tommy's throat and lifted him up off of the ground. "Aren't you supposed to be dead?" the cyborg wondered. It grabbed the shotgun and twisted it out of the Cavaliers quickly numbing fingers.

Knuckles twisted around the cyborg and shoved her revolver into its back, but an invader grabbed her from behind and dragged her back. "Crap!" she snapped, before kicking back, smashing her heal against his knee.

The man fell back, but didn't lose his hold, and carried her back on top of him.

Knuckles gun skidded across the floor and out of reach. "Crap!' she repeated. She slammed her elbow back, heard the man exhale sharply in her ear, but he still didn't release her.

The invader yelled for help from his comrades, wrapping his legs around her..

Who came was Rawhide. The big cowboy grabbed the invaders arms and pried them apart. "Fight it, girl!" he encouraged.

"No shit? You think?" Knuckles snapped. She rolled free until only a foot was left trapped. "Back!" she warned Rawhide, who leaned away just in time to miss her free foot as it kicked up and slammed down on the invader's head.

He fought no more.

Rawhide spun about as Jessie rolled to her feet. Another invader was charging him. Rawhide extended his fist, letting the man run right into it. He quickly glanced around, taking stock of their condition.

Reno, Pecos, and Big Norse were freed now, and were rolling around on the floor with four of the invaders. Peggy and Mrs. Johnson were dragging the still unconscious Pinky out of harms way And Buckaroo Banzai was boxing it out with three more invaders, one of which was also fighting off Oddity.

Rawhide hurried to help Buckaroo.

Knuckles attacked the cyborg from behind, slamming into it with her shoulder.

It stumbled forward, then spun about, swinging the back of its steel hand at the girl's head.

Knuckles brought her arm up, blocking the blow. She ducked under the arm, then slammed up into the robotic arm holding Tommy with a thick short sword she had pulled out from somewhere.

Already damaged by the dog attacked, the arm jerked open, dropping Perfect Tommy to the ground, gasping for breath.

The girl dropped to the floor beside her fallen friend and kicked up at the thing's chest, hoping to force it away from them.

But the cyborg grabbed her ankle just before she hit. Swinging her around, it sent her skidding across the floor to slam into chairs and tables. It shoved a finger in her direction. "One kill at a time. Be patient, I'll get to you." Then it turned back to Perfect Tommy.

Struggling to force air into his lungs, Tommy dragged himself to his fallen gun that laid just at the edge of his fuzzy vision.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" the cyborg roared, slamming its heavy foot down on the back of Tommy's knee.

Perfect Tommy cried out as his knee snapped. Pain drew darkness down around his already shattered consciousness. He dropped his forehead to the cool floor, fighting to stay aware. Gritting his teeth, he clenched his hands in tight fists.

The big steel hand grabbed him again and dragged him up onto his knees, facing away from him.

Perfect Tommy slammed back with his fists, but there was little strength left to him.

The cyborg laughed at him and shook him violently. Placing its hands on either side of his head. "Say night-nite." it advised, slowly turned his head with the intent of, right out, twisting his head off.

"Go to hell!" Perfect Tommy managed to growl.

"Stop!" Buckaroo yelled.

The cyborg glanced over its shoulder. "Make me." it teased.

"I intend to." was Buckaroo's answer. With all his might, Buckaroo Banzai slammed Knuckles' sword deep into the cyborg's back.

Sparks flew, catching the cyborg's clothes on fire. It stumbled forward, dragging Tommy with it. Damaged, it jerked uncontrollably, but it didn't let its victim go. "Damn it all, I will kill one of you!" it swore.

"Duck!" Knuckles dropped to the ground as the girl swung with the butt of the shot gun. Swinging it like a bat, she hammered the sword deeper.

"Will... kill... " the cyborg stammered.

Buckaroo rose up again, grabbing the sword and twisting it. The fire licked at his hands, but he wasn't going to let this thing win.

The machine jerked, its grip finally loosing its strength, dropping Perfect Tommy to the floor. Even as power drained away, the thing raised a foot, determined to kill its victim one way or another. It froze, dead, the heavy limb hanging over Perfect Tommy's back.

Buckaroo continued to twist his weapon, until Knuckles touched his arm. "It's dead." she told him, then, to demonstrate, pushed the cyborg until it fell.

The room was silent. The Cavaliers had finished off what was left of the bad guys, and now, stood around, a mixture of relief and shock twisting in their guts.

"Perfect Tommy!" Peggy suddenly gasped, rushing over to her felled friend's side. Gently, she rolled him over, wincing as he winced.

"Peggy, back off!" Buckaroo warned. "We don't know if it's really Tommy."

"It is." Knuckles assured, crouching down beside Perfect Tommy. She nodded to the dead cyborg. "Dupes don't bleed."

"And Perfect Tommy does!" Peggy snapped. "Now do something about it!"

Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers leaped to help their wounded.

Knuckles chuckled and patted Tommy's shoulder. "Sure can tell who runs this house."

Tommy's eyes fluttered open. "Damn." he mumbled.

"What?"

"I wanted to take you dancing." he joked, despite the pain that threatened to drag him down into darkness.

The girl laughed, a joyous sound that roped Tommy and kept him anchored in the conscious world. "Another time, but now, I have to run off to see how your buddy is doing."

"Buddy?" Buckaroo asked from where he was bent over Tommy's busted up leg.

"New Jersey went to check up on your kids." Knuckles answered.

"Alone?"

Knuckles tilted her head to one side. "Until we go get him." she answered as if it was a "duh!" She patted Tommy's shoulder again. "Let's get you upright, Tom."

"Upright?" Peggy asked, astonished that she would suggest such of a crippled man.

But Perfect Tommy grabbed Knuckles offered hand and let her pull him up into a sitting position.

"Deep breath." Jessie instructed getting under his arm. "Three... two... one... up!"

Bracing his good leg under him, Tommy rose up, leaning heavily on the girl. His eyes squeezed shut and he bit his lip to keep from crying out.

Buckaroo quickly moved in to help his friend. "Easy. Don't put any weight on it.

Gasping, Tommy glanced at him. "I have a slight concussion. I'm not stupid."

"Concussion?" Buckaroo frowned, eyeing the head gash.

"Later." Knuckles waved away. "Come on, Tom. Man the PC outside. cover our backs, eh?" She started to lead him out.

"I'll do that." Peggy protested. "He can't. He's all broken up."

Tommy waved a hand over his shoulder at her, calling back "I'm perfect!"

Buckaroo glanced at his Cavaliers who, numbly, looked back.

It was Peggy Banzai who had the right words for the situation: "The deuce, you say!"

New Jersey peered around the corner of the building. Sure as foretold, two black clad invaders guarded the front door. No doubt it was likewise at the back and side doors doctor pulled back before he could be seen. Leaning his head against the wall, he groaned. "Sure, Sidney, ol' buddy, ol' pal, sure you can take it all alone." he mumbled. "Sure, no problem."

A scream from around the corner brought New Jersey's attention back to the guards.

Glancing around the corner again, he saw the Osprey, Draco attacking the two men. He was not sure which was screaming, the bird or the men she was shredding.

"Here we go." Jersey ran around the corner to join the attack. Catching the attention of the nearest invader with a "Hey!", he slammed the butt of his Thompson across his jaw, knocking him out cold.

"Out of the way, Draco!" Jersey called, trying to move on to the next invader.

But Draco snapped her beak at him. She had tasted the man's blood, and no one was going to take the kill away from her. With talons and beak, she tore at the man

"Draco! Draco, stop!" he continued to yell, swinging at the bird. No matter what had been done, no one deserved to be shredded to pieces. Not like this!

Draco fluttered her huge wings, knocking Jersey back.

"Damn it, bird!' Jersey snapped, but Draco already had the invader on the ground, her talons ripping at his throat. Swallowing back another protest, the doctor resigned that there was nothing left to be done. She had had her kill.

So he turned to the door and attempted to kick it open.

It didn't budge.

Sighing at his own stupidity, New Jersey limped up to the door and turned the knob, opening it.

Responding to the scream of their comrades, two armed invaders came running down the hall toward him. They hesitated for only a breath when they saw the Cavalier, then brought up their own weapons.

New Jersey fired the Thompson first, the submachine gun kicking in his hands. The two invaders look at almost as if the were dancing as the bullets hit before they dropped to the floor dead.

"Damn." Jersey breathed, startled by the power of the antique weapon.

A door opened to his left. Spinning about, Jersey dropped to one knee, and brought the weapon up.

"Woe!" Billy held up his hands. "It's me!"

Jersey sighed with relief when another invader appeared behind him in the doorway he had just stepped through.

But, before either of the Cavaliers could react, Draco hit the man from behind, slamming him forward. Blinded by talons and feathers, the invader tripped over Jersey, who was still kneeling on the floor.

Another invader stepped into the hall.

"Look out!" Billy yelled.

New Jersey rose up to his feet, taking aim, and firing.

But that invader was followed by four more. Word was getting out that there was fighting and the bad guys were coming to secure their position.

Bullets hit the wall next to Billy's head, sending the young computer whiz leaping back into the room.

"We're coming!" someone yelled from a room beyond the invaders.

A few of the invaders turned, but interns came busting out of their rooms on either side, one swinging a broom, another a bat, and pummeled them to the ground.

Unable to get a clean shot once the interns began swarming out of their rooms, new jersey charged down the hall, swinging the Thompson at the enemy close enough to hit.

"Crap." Knuckles snapped, when she heard the unique sound of the Thompson. She and Buckaroo dropped to the one knee on the ground. "He wasn't supposed to go in alone." she growled. "Don't any of your boys know how to follow orders?"

Buckaroo smiled. "No. not a signal one. Each and every a true rebellion."

"Humph." Knuckles mumbled. "Funny, I didn't pick the doc as a rebel."

Rawhide, Reno, Pecos, and Big Norse moved up behind them. "Where do you want us, boss?" Pecos asked.

Buckaroo glanced at Knuckles, who shrugged, saying "Your people, your rules."

"It would be a first today." Buckaroo observed.

To no ones surprise, Knuckles wasn't around to hear. She was already half way to their destination.

Billy Travers rolled on his back, kicking up, sending his attacker up over his head to slam into the one next to New Jersey.

Startled by his comrade's sudden appearance, the invader who was trying to wrestle the Thompson away from Jersey, hesitated.

It was the opportunity Jersey had been waiting for. He kicked, slamming the point of his boot in the shin. As the invader stumbled back, Jersey twisted the gun free.

The invader doubled up his fists, but a screech from down the hall announced the return of the osprey.

Everyone, Blue Blazer and invader alike, dropped to the floor as Draco flew around the corner and over head, a chunk of some poor soul's scalp clutched like a prize in her talons.

The front door opened just in time for the bird to fly out and away.

Knuckles watched her go, then looked inside to survey the scene.

Only a handful of the invaders were left in any condition to fight. Once someone started to fight back, there had been no holding back the interns, There had been only a few more of them than their captors, and they were young and inexperienced. But they had had enough! These people had invaded their sanctuary, and, quite simply, pissed them off! Pay back time!

Knuckles had to stop and laugh as the fight once again picked up after Draco's departure. "Hey, Doc." she called over the roar of battle. "Need a hand?"

Bruised, but otherwise in fair condition, New Jersey waved a hand at her. "No." he paused to kick an invader off of a young intern and into the arms of a trio of rather upset looking girls, one using a Cabbage Patch doll to whack him on the head. "I think we just about have it." Jersey stumbled out of the way as Billy grabbed an escaping invader and threw him back into the fray.

Knuckles waved and stepped out just as Buckaroo and the others caught up to her. "They don't need us." she informed them.

"Maybe they'd like to contradict you." Reno pointed down the road where the two personnel carriers were returning from the stables. Behind them came what was left of the invaders, some thirty odd men. Apparently someone had gotten word to them as to where the fight really was.

"Crap." Knuckles growled. She stuck her head inside. "Wrap it up, Doc, and get your people armed for bear!"

"Reno, round up the troops." Buckaroo ordered. "The rest of you, lets go say our hellos." Then he headed for the trees on either side of the road.

Knuckles started to follow as New Jersey and the interns, finishing up inside, followed their employer toward another fight. But something else caught her attention. She wasn't sure what it was, but she took a step back the way they had come, back toward the main house where she had left Perfect Tommy, the two little girls, and the unconscious Pinky Carruthers.

She was a hunter of men, of people who escaped lawful capture or were just plain ol' bad asses. Humans were the ultimate predator, and she was one of the few that made humans her prey.

And every instinct told her her prey was back... not forward.

Which brought on a whole new concern: "Tom." she whispered and bolted back.

Perfect Tommy glanced down at Pinky who was beginning to moan and show signs of conscious. "Maybe you girls should get him to the infirmary." he suggested.

"I should get both of you to the infirmary!" Peggy snapped. She had repeated such several times as that bounty hunter dragged them all out here to baby sit that damn truck. If that woman hadn't kept saving their lives, Peggy might actually grow to dislike her. 'Course, if that woman could give up doing things as if she alone in the world, Peggy might actually like her too.

Mrs. Johnson crouched beside the fallen gatekeeper. "It's alright, Pinky." she whispered. She looked up at Peggy. "I think he's hurt pretty bad."

Peggy looked up at Tommy, who sat on the top of the PC behind the big machine gun, his broken leg stretched out before him. He was putting on a brave front, but sweat rolled down his forehead, his blue eyes glazed a little, his jaw stiff against the pain.

Despite it all, he grinned. "Not like I'm going anywhere." he pointed out.

"That's what worried me. You're a sitting duck with a broken wing."

"And a real big gun." Perfect Tommy patted the barrel of the machine gun.

"Peggy chewed her lip, still not convinced that she should leave him. But, it would take both of the young woman to carry a grown man to the infirmary. With a sigh, Peggy shoved a finger in Tommy's direction. "You stay right there, P.T. I'll be right back!"

"Don't worry. I don't plan on running off any time soon." he assured

Peggy did not smile. A woman under each arm, Pink Carruthers was carried back into the main building.

Once alone, Perfect Tommy released the breath he had been holding in a groan, dropping his forehead down on the cool steel of the gun. He resisted the urge to rub at the pain. Best of his knowledge told him that that was not a good idea when it came to broken objects.

"My, my... Mr. Perfect Tommy, you have come so far in such little time."

Perfect Tommy felt his blood run cold. Slowly he looked over at the speaker.

Lady Oran de Nathair smiled her beautiful smile. "Particularly for a dead man." Her green eyes twinkled, warning of extreme danger. "Now, why don't you come on down here and join me?"

"Thanks, but I like it here." Tommy answered. He tried to move the gun around to target her, but it had been locked into place, and he couldn't reach the lock with his leg immobile.

"Oh, but I do insist." Oran reached out with small box and touched it to the steel of the transport.

There was a spark, a sizzling sound. Suddenly Perfect Tommy's steel seat became electrically charged.

With a startled cry, he rolled away, only to find the rest of the metal vehicle in like condition.

He had no choice. Perfect Tommy rolled off the back of the PC, landing hard on the ground a good eight feet down. The air exploded from his lungs. All new pain added itself to the old. For a moment, everything went black. Tommy knew his eyes were open, they were the only thing still cool and not hurting. It was his head protesting, screaming that enough was enough. Forcing his mind to pay attention, Perfect Tommy blinked, until his vision returned.

"Oh, did that hurt?" Oran coed as she leaned over him.

"Not much." Perfect Tommy lied.

Crouching down, she pulled his revolver from his belt. With a disappointed sigh, she shook her head. "I expected something more... creative from you. Such a crude weapon." Again she sighed. Then turned her body just enough to stretch her arm out. The gun fired twice.

Jessica James cried out as a bullet hit her in the side, spinning her around and dropping her to the ground. As she dropped, the second bullet cut through her braid, only a breath from the soft tissue of at the back of her neck.

Buckaroo Banzai waved Rawhide and fifteen interns forward through the trees and bushes to the left of the lane. On the right, Reno lead his team, keeping even with Rawhide. In the trees behind Buckaroo were another ten interns. A handful of interns had been too badly injured to join this fight, so they remained in the residence hall, shooting off guns, making it appear as if the fight was still there.

They easily out numbered the enemy now, but the invaders had those damn machine guns on those damn armored personnel carriers. If they could take out the men manning them... but they had to let them get close enough first... and that put them in a hell of a lot of danger.

A wine drew Buckaroo's attention down to where Jessie James' dog crouched down beside him. He twitched as if he was fighting the urge to leap out and began the assault, but he had been too well trained to move without an order. Unfortunately his mistress did not appear to be available to give such an order. So he had sought someone who could. Maybe recognizing the man as a leader of his pack or maybe he was just the closest, but Oddity had chosen Buckaroo in the absence of Jessie.

Buckaroo knelt down to scratch the dog's head. "Now where's that girl of yours?" he wondered.

Oddity looked up at him with his bright blue eyes. Almost as if answering his question, he looked back toward the main house hidden behind trees, and wined.

Buckaroo followed his gaze, but the dog tensed up again and turned back to the approaching trouble.

The PCs were passing between the two hidden groups of BBs, coming within striking range.

But before they could move, a helicopter appeared, coming up from behind the invaders, herding a stampede of horses in front of it.

The invaders on foot dived to the sides of the lane, trying to get out of the way of the stampede, and right into the waiting, and not entirely too gently, hands of Rawhide and Reno. A few saw their comrades being snatched and stopped only to be plowed down by the horses. And once the horses had run through, following the lane as it turned just before hitting the trees where Buckaroo and his group were still hidden, the helicopter spun about in place, and passed over the enemy, firing the nose guns at whoever was left standing in the lane.

The personnel carriers' machine guns returned fire, filling the sky with bullets.

Despite its own armor, the bullets managed to hit some of the helicopter's soft spots. The air craft sputtered, the propellers sparked, smoke bellowed from the engine, and it began to sway. The helicopter and its pilot were in distress. But it still made another pass.

The PCs also had a soft spot: their tires. And the pilot took full advantage of his last pass to come in low, firing at one's tires while heading straight for the other. Tires shredded, the vehicle on the left skidded to a halt. Seeing the air craft skidding across the ground, coming right at them, the one on the right jerked to a stop, its occupants jumping free and running for cover.

The helicopter slowed just enough that the crash was little more than a fender-bender, but it took both vehicles out of the game. Despite that, the other PC kept its guns trained on the helicopter, filing it with holes. The pilot fell out the far side and hunkered down behind his fallen craft.

Oddity barked excitedly at the sight of the pilot and started out, but Buckaroo grabbed his collar. This had turned into a gun fight. The dog wouldn't have a his Blue Blazes on the other hand...

"Stay!" Buckaroo ordered and hoped the animal understood. Then motioned his group forward.

Rawhide was already moving, running and dodging his way to the helicopter. He dove down beside the pilot as bullets ate up the ground behind him. "Howdy. Nice day, eh?" he greeted the pilot.

Gage glanced at him and smiled. "Never been so happy to see an ivory-key-picker in all my hopefully-live-long-days." he admitted.

Rawhide returned the smile, instantly liking the man.

"I suggest we blow this pop stand before it blows us." Gage suggested, pointing up at the smoking engine.

"Aw." Rawhide nodded. "Good idea. You armed?"

Gage swung up his own Thompson sub machine gun and lovingly stroked the barrel. "Never leave home without her."

Again Rawhide smiled.

Despite the helicopter being grounded, it still remained the focus point for the enemy machine gun. Particularly after Rawhide had joined the pilot. Such attention, became the invaders downfall, as it allowed the Reno and his team to come up behind the PC unseen. Reno Nevada, with Pecos at his side, climbed up the back of the personnel carrier.

Holding on with one hand, they laid their guns along the top, and shot the feet out from under the gunmen. Once the machine gun was no longer manned, the Blue Blazes swarmed forward, taking what was left of the invaders.

Oddity raced around the action, barking encouragement here, snarling a warning there. But, when the fighting had finally slowed to the occasional protest, the dog began to run in tight circles, pausing every couple turned, facing back toward the main house, and barked.

Rawhide jogged around the helicopter after instructing a pair of interns on putting out the fires, and lead Gage over to Buckaroo. "hey , boss, like ya to meet our savior."Gage smiled, holding a hand out to Buckaroo banzai. "Sorry 'bout the mess."

Buckaroo smiled. "Sorry for the need for the mess. Gage Storm, isn't it? A bouncer at the Club?"

Gage nodded. He was about to say something when Oddity jumped up against him, slamming him into Rawhide. "Heeeeey, boy. Had fun?"

The dog leaped away and spun about again, barking.

Gage lost all humor. "What's wrong Oddity?"

Rawhide and Buckaroo exchanged glances. Had they missed something.

The dog spun about again.

Gage turned to glare at the two men. "Where's Knuckles?" he demanded.

As if in answer, two shots could be heard in the distance.

Oddity couldn't wait any longer. He took off running back toward the main house.

Gage glared at the two men a moment longer, before taking chase.

Lady Oran de Nathair sighed. "Jessica James. I should have known you were about. Aren't you always when things go awry?" She shook her head.

Knuckles laid on the ground, unmoving.

Again the Lady sighed. Assuming that her long time adversary was finally dead, she turned back to the man withering at her feet.

Perfect Tommy was trying to pull his hand out from under her foot while his free hand fumbled at his belt.

"Now, what shall I do with you?" She turned her gaze skyward, tapping the barrel of the gun on her chin. "Decisions, decisions." The she smiled. "Well, at least this one isn't so difficult." She looked down at her victim again, only to find a pistol crossbow aimed up at her.

Perfect Tommy fired the small arrow up at the woman, but, startled, she leaped back. The arrow sliced up her cheek, then continued into the air to land elsewhere.

Hands shaking, Oran reached up and touched her cheek. Eyes, large and fierce, glared down at the blood on her fingers. "YOU SCARRED ME!" she snarled. Her shoulders hunched as her pure and absolute rage brought forth her most animalistic instincts. She was going to tare this man's heart out!

"Hey, bitch!" came a low growl from behind her.

Oran's head turned just enough so that she could see the bloody Jessica James standing behind her.

The bounty hunter stood, feet slightly apart, fists hanging loosely at her side, every muscle in her body tensed like a cat ready to pounce. The girl's voice even resembled a lion's low growl as she challenged "Why don't you pick on someone your own gender?"

Turning to face her, Oran chuckled, a rather unamused sound. "And you claim such a position?"

Knuckles smiled and indicated her own, unmarked cheek. "At least I still have the face." she returned.

Rage overtook good sense. With a scream, Oran lunged at the girl, the gun held out before her. She wanted to get close, to hold the girl to her, feel her body jerk as the bullets surged through her flesh, hear the air hiss out as it escaped the holes in her chest, watch as the light of life slipped from her eyes.

But Knuckles was ready for her. Stepping back, she kicked up, the toe of her boot slamming into the soft inside of the Lady's wrist.

Oran's fingers went numb as her hand jerked up, throwing the gun up and away.

Knuckles spun away, her fists coming up to the ready. She bounced on the balls of her feet and waited.

Flexing her fingers, encouraging the feeling back, Oran de Nathair circled the younger woman. "You've lost your opportunity for a quick death, mongrel child." she hissed.

"Wasn't on my to-do list anyhow." was Knuckles' answer.

Suddenly Oran lashed out with the back of her left fist while stepping forward with her right foot.

Knuckles blocked the fist and bounced to one side, swinging her own fist low, hitting Oran in the ribs.

With a "humph," Oran danced aside, spun about with a kick which slammed against Knuckles upraised arm. But, when her back was turned, she drew a long silver pin from her sleeve. While her foot slammed up against the arm, she bent over and jabbed the pin up and into the arm.

Knuckles hissed, but didn't yank away. If she had, she would of left a chunk of flesh on the pin. And she wasn't tall enough to out reach it. She was the Lady was trapped as well. She couldn't bring her leg down until her torso was out of the way. She either had to leave her weapon behind or free it, freeing her victim.

She liked her weapon!

With a jerk, she yanked it free. Her foot dropped to the ground just long enough to spin herself around the other direction, snapping a kick at Knuckles' unprotected wounded side.

The bounty hunter was still recovering from being stabbed when the kick to her wound sent searing pain through her body. Gasping for breath, she stumbled away, keeping her feet only by sheer will power.

Sensing a kill, Oran let out a cry of pure blood lust, and followed up with another twisted just in time for the kick to fly pass at shoulder level. Her fist struck out, catching Oran in the hip, spinning the woman about. grabbing the back of her head when her back was exposed, Knuckles shoved the head down and swung out a leg, sweeping her pivot foot out from under her.

The Lady dropped to the ground in a painful splits. With a growl, she rolled away, just barely avoiding Knuckles' fist as she brought it down from above. Rolling back on her left side, Oran snapped a kick up, catching Knuckles, once more, in her wounded would have cried out if there was any breath left in her lungs to put sound to.

Falling back, she knocked into something.

Rawhide wrapped his strong arms protectively around the girl and backed away.

Buckaroo Banzai and Gage moved forward on either side, their weapons leveled with the Lady Oran de Nathair.

"Just hold it right there, lady." Buckaroo ordered.

The Lady glared at them from where she crouched on the ground.

"You have nowhere to go." Buckaroo continued. "Your army is captured. Your cyborg is destroyed. You are all alone. And we are in command now. Give up!"

Lady Oran de Nathair suddenly smiled her most dazzling smile, her rage vanishing. With the same grace as she had always shown in everything she did, she rose up. She took a moment to brush the dust from her elegant skirt, then offered her arm to Buckaroo. "Well, then, Dr Banzai, would you be so kind as to escort a Lady to her cell?"

Perfectly

Matched

Knuckles

New Jersey so rarely got to play doctor of emergency medicine. Sure, there was the occasional gunshot or stab wound, flash burns, slight electrocution, dislocated jaws... the little house hold stuff. But, nothing like the rush of a big city emergency where even a hack like himself could feel in demand.

Sorta like now.

"Oh, damn." Perfect Tommy hissed. his eyes squeezed shut and he pressed his head back into the pillow.

"Just lie still." Jersey mumbled. "Janice, give him a stab of morphine."

Tommy held up a finger. "Decaffeinated, please."

The doctor leaned away from the leg and glared at his patient. "You need a pain killer."

"Fine. Something mild." Tommy answered, through gritted teeth.

"P.T..." Janice, the nurse, started.

But Buckaroo interrupted with "Give him some codeine. The mildest dose." He moved to the head of the bed and looked down at his friend. "It won't be a problem." he promised.

Perfect Tommy didn't need to open his eyes to know who was there. He nodded slightly. "How's Knuckles?" he wanted to know.

"Mrs. James?" Buckaroo glanced over to where the sleeping girl was being wheeled out to await the ambulances. "She'll be fine. Bullet went straight through, missed everything important." He smiled. "She's more upset about her hair than the hole in her gut."

Perfect Tommy chuckled, something he instantly regretted.

"Hold still!" Jersey snapped.

"Hey, doc." someone called from across the infirmary. "The ambulances are here." The more seriously injured were going to be shipped to the hospital. Their infirmary could handle nearly anything, just not the volume.

"Go, Sidney." Buckaroo told his fellow doctor. "He's not going anywhere."

Jersey snapped off his rubber gloves and stomped off, grumbling something about having to do this, having to do that, and having unappreciated patients on top of it all.

"He's having the time of his life, isn't he." Perfect Tommy mumbled.

"Oh, yea." Buckaroo chuckled. "Perhaps, though, next time... lets get him a hobby rather than shooting up the joint."

Perfect Tommy's eyes opened and he gazed up at Buckaroo. They had a pain induced sparkle to them, but it took his friend only a glance to know it wasn't all physical pain. He licked his lips and offered "I'm sorry, Buckaroo."

Dr Banzai frowned. "Sorry for saving our butts? Gee, thanks."

Tommy shook his head. "They wouldn't have been here if I hadn't screwed up."

Buckaroo sighed. He leaned close. "Now, you listen very closely to me, Perfect Tommy! You are not at fault for what happened here! They knew what we were up to long before you went in. They set us all up."

Tommy stared up at him, unconvinced. "It was my plan."

"And we couldn't tell a fake from the one and only authentic Perfect Tommy." Buckaroo countered. "Now who's to blame for letting that thing into the house?"

Tommy's eyes narrowed. "How could you confuse Mr. Robotic with me? Sure, it was handsome..."

Buckaroo grinned. "But it was no you." He knew he had won the argument by surrender and not by convincing his friend, but it would have to do for now.

Perfect Tommy yawned, his eyes closing once more. "Damn, I'm tired. Slight concussion, you know."

"Yea, I heard." Buckaroo glanced up as a pair of EMTs came up to the bed. "They're going to take you to the hospital now. Go to sleep. We'll be there when you wake up."

Perfect Tommy didn't respond.

Sighing, he nodded to the EMTs and backed out of the way. As they carried the wounded Cavalier out, they passed Rawhide and Reno who were making their way to the head honcho.

"The cops picked up the last of the bad guys." Rawhide let Buckaroo know.

"Kinda spooky how calm that gal was." Reno observed.

Buckaroo nodded but said nothing.

"Blue Blazes Irregulars have been coming in for the past hour. Apparently Jack Burton got through to them, passed on Jersey's call for help." Rawhide continued, frowning at his friend's reactions. "Now that we have the go-phones up and runnin', we've been able to count for just about everyone."

"Looks like we were the only ones seriously hit." Reno put in. "The local garages and the mop up crew in California took some hits, kept them occupied, but no one was seriously wounded and they wrapped it up."

Again Buckaroo just nodded.

Rawhide and Reno exchanged concerned looks. "You alright, boss?" Reno asked.

One more time, Buckaroo nodded. After a moment, though, he looked at them. "How the hell did we become so vulnerable that this..." he waved about at the wounded being carried out on stretchers, "that this happened?" He shook his head, then walked passed the men and out of the infirmary.

Lady Oran de Nathair sat with a calmness that could only be compared to death. Her gentle smile and pride that twinkled in her eyes never wavered. She had been left alone in the interrogation room. No one seemed to feel overly comfortable in her presence. In fact, some seemed even afraid.

Her smile broadened at the thought. They knew her, knew the power of her bloodline. Even if they didn't know exactly, they knew instinctively. Animals always knew their betters.

The door opened and a tall, oriental man stepped into the room. The door closed behind him. He walked to the end of the table and bowed to the woman. "My Lady, I bring you homage from my Lord." he said, his voice soft and trained.

Lady Oran de Nathair eyed the man. "And who is your Lord?" she wondered.

"He is quite impressed with your deeds of the last few days." he continued.

Oran's beautiful eyes grew hard. She did not like mongrels who did not answer her questions.

The man seemed unaware of her tension. "My Lord believes that, with his aid, your attempt would have been successful." He smiled ever so slightly. "He would like to know if you would like another opportunity?"

The cut along her cheek ached, reminding her of the humiliation she received at the hands of two particular people. "I do not give a damn about the scientists any longer. They have proven uncooperative, thus unworthy of our time."

The man sighed, turning to leave.

"But Jessica James and Perfect Tommy." Lady Oran de Nathair continued, stopping him. "I want them!"

The man turned back. "My Lord, then, suggests a union. He can get Perfect Tommy and Mrs. James."

Oran's chin twitched. "And in return?"

The man shrugged. "Finish what you began: destroy Buckaroo Banzai."

The Lady smiled. "You get mine, I'll get yours?" She paused, the idea of making a deal with a mongrel... yet such partnerships had been made through out history. And when the mongrel was no longer needed, the partnership would be dissolved, along with the partner. Thus she answered "I agree."

Again, he bowed. "Then I will arrange for your... release." He turned for the door, but paused before leaving just long enough to say "My Lord Xan eagerly awaits your meeting." Then he was gone.

Two Days Later:

Perfect Tommy held the glass to the window, shining the sunlight through the thick glass. Intensified through the glass, the beam of light hit the paper on the table at the foot of his bed.

The paper discolored slightly, then began to smoke. And, then, burst into flames.

"Woe! Damn!" Tommy hissed dropping the glass. He reached for the table, but it was out of reach. "Oh, damn, damn." he mumbled as the fire began to spread. He grabbed the pitcher of water from his night stand, and, tarring off the lid, threw the water at the table. Most of it hit and extinguished the flames, but some survived and began to consume the table.

"Damn, damn, damn."

The door opened and Tommy glanced up to see Rawhide, Reno, Pecos, Big Norse, and Billy Travers walk in.

"Hey, guys!" Tommy greeted. He tried to ignore the fire, hoping no one would notice. "Come to rescue me, eh? Let's go! Ready when you are! Anyone seen my clothes?" He looked around at everything except the fire.

Almost sounding bored, Big Norse pointed and announced "Fire."

Rawhide sighed that sigh usually reserved for the "Idiot little brother" stunts. He walked up to the table and patted the flames out. "Why am I not surprised?" he mumbled.

"Gee, how did that happen?" Perfect Tommy tried to sound innocent... and failed.

To answer his question, Pecos picked up a glass from the floor. She handed it to him before shoving him over and laying back on the bed beside him.

Perfect Tommy eyed the glass. "Oh... yea." He frowned. "You know what's really upsetting? Hear any fire alarms? Where's the sprinklers? Now, if you want to yell at someone…"

Suddenly the Cavaliers, for the exception of Rawhide, pounced on the bed, pushing and jabbing and ruffling Perfect Tommy, offering their good wishes and such.

"Hey! I thought I was going to get to sign a cast!" Big Norse complained, eyeing the brace that ran half way up Tommy's thigh down to his ankle.

Tommy shrugged. He waved at the end of the bed where Rawhide had discovered his chart hanging and was now flipping through it. "If I could have reached the damn thing, I'd have all the answers for you."

Rawhide flipped through the pages, everyone's eyes turning expectantly to him. He smiled and looked over the top of the chart at his friend. "Who wants to know all Perfect Tommy's imperfections?"

Hands were thrown into the air, some eagerly threw up both hands.

Perfect Tommy dived for the chart, but his leg protested. "OUCH!" he cried out.

"Hey! Hey! You're going to tare out the stitches!" New Jersey reprimanded as he walked into the room, his long white lab coat giving him an all important look. He snatched the chart from Rawhide, flashing him his most disapproving glare. Then he sniffed the air. "Someone been smoking in here?" he accused.

The room erupted in giggles.

Deciding to ignore them, Jersey pushed his way to the bed. He eyed Pecos who snuggled into Tommy's side. "Does Reno know about this?" he wondered with a smirk, glancing up at the dark young man who stood on the other side of the bed.

Reno shrugged. "I'll beat him up later."

Pecos giggled, reaching over Tommy to swat at the man she loved.

"Anyway..." Perfect Tommy snatched the chart from the doctor. His eyes scanned it, then he frowned. "Surgery?"

"We had to put a pin in your knee to repair the damage." Jersey explained. "No big deal. An hour or two worth of work, another couple of days in the hospital, or, if you prefer, the infirmary back home, and a cast for a few months."

Big Norse clapped her hands with glee. "A cast!"

"I don't remember any surgery." Tommy mumbled.

New Jersey shrugged. "Well, we generally prefer folks to be unconscious when we slice them open. You know, the screaming can be distracting. All sorts of things get left behind." He looked up at Reno, simply because he was handiest, and held his hands apart to indicate a large size. "Once forgot a sponge... "

"What?" Perfect Tommy's hand snatched Jersey's lab coat and dragged him close until he was nearly lying over top of Pecos. "What?" he repeated in a growl.

Gingerly, Pecos reached up and untangled Perfect Tommy's fingers, releasing the doctor. "He was joking, love." she said gently.

New Jersey just grinned, stepping a safe distance away from the bed, pleased that he had finally pulled one over on the infamously mischief Perfect Tommy. Paid him back for thinking he wouldn't have noticed the burnt table.

There was a knock on the door and Peggy Banzai and her husband stepped. "Presents from afar." Peggy sang. "Well, as afar as the receptionist's desk." she shrugged, indicating Buckaroo who was carrying a basket and a long rose box. "Oh, but these are from Mrs. Johnson." Peggy continued setting a plate of the girl's famous sticky buns on Tommy's lap, before leaning over a kissing him on the cheek. Resting her forehead against his for a moment, she flashed him a beautiful, warm smile. "Good to your eyes open."

"Good to have my eyes open." Perfect Tommy answered, throwing Jersey one more meaningful glare.

"Hey, buddy." Buckaroo greeted. He smiled, but there was reservation in the expression. "How ya feeling?" he asked as Rawhide stepped over to join him at the door.

Tommy held up a finger. "I have a slight concussion... and a pin in my knee."

Buckaroo's smile turned into a grin. "Indeed." He shook his head. His young friend was going to be fine. On to other matters. He handed a paper to Rawhide.

"You know," Peggy spoke up again, drawing attention away from their commanders, "there's this nurse down the hall bragging that she's been assigned to give... now, how did she put it?... give the `ever so gorgeous' Perfect Tommy a sponge bath."

Tommy grinned. "Redhead or brunet?"

"Blond."

"Blond?" He frowned, trying to recall all the nurses he'd harassed over the last 2 days.

"Maggie." Jersey supplied, grinning. This was just getting better and better.

A look of horror crossed Tommy's face. "Maggie? Big, mean, spits nails Maggie the Bull?"

Jersey nodded. Again the room burst into fits of giggles.

"Listen up folks!" Rawhide interrupted, his serious tone ending all fun. "Possible trouble."

Buckaroo stepped up to the foot of the bed and locked eyes with Perfect Tommy. "Lady Oran de Nathair has escaped custody."

Tommy sat upright, nearly pushing Pecos off the bed. "What? The witch is loose?" He paled noticeably.

Buckaroo held up a hand to calm him. "We have people on it. She won't get far." he assured.

"Like hell!" Tommy snapped. He might have spent the least amount of actual time with the woman, but he had seen the most of her. And it terrified him that such a creature was out, loose, and probably pissed.

Buckaroo stepped to the side of the bed. He set a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. "We'll get her." he promised. "Don't worry about it."

Perfect Tommy leaned back again. He still wasn't happy, but at least he didn't look, broken knee and all, like he would jump up and run from the room. He might hide under the bed, but... that was Perfect Tommy.

Worried about what a continuation of the conversation would do to what was left of Perfect Tommy's frayed nerves, New Jersey suggested a change of subject. "Who sent presents?" he asked waving to the two Buckaroo had set on the table.

Peggy handed Perfect Tommy the rose box and took the card from the basket to read. "Ah, the fruit basket is from the gang at the Jessie James Club." She winked at the wounded Cavalier. "Apparently a few of the girls want to know when you'll be on your feet again so they can put you back on your back."

Tommy sighed, slipping back into the more comfortable roll of girl magnet. "A curse for those few of us who are so perfect." He tugged on the bow and opened the box.

A snake coiled up, hissing, Then it lightening reflexes, Buckaroo's hand snapped out, catching the poisons viper a hair's breath from Perfect Tommy's face. "Trash can!" Buckaroo ordered, holding the snake as fare away from everyone as was physically possible.

Rawhide grabbed the can and held the lid open while Buckaroo dropped the snake in. He slammed the lid down just in time to hear the head slammed into it as the snake attempted one more strike.

"What the hell?" Billy Travers snapped.

Pecos grabbed the rose box and tossed it to the floor so they could get a good look at it from a safe distance. All that was left in it was a note.

Big Norse crouched down, picked it up, read it aloud: "`My Beautiful Perfect Tommy, We're not done yet! Lady Oran de Nathair.'" She glanced up at the others in the room.

"Oh, damn." Perfect Tommy whispered.

"The deuce, you say." Buckaroo agreed.

Jessie James considered bending over to pick up the fallen bottle. It still spun and, she knew, if she didn't do something, the pressure would build until it blew, spraying the expensive Champaign all over the floor. But the hole in her side protested every little move. It would scream in rage if she attempted to bend over.

"Don't do that!" Gage snapped, hurrying across the bar to scoop up the bottle. When he straightened, he glared at his boss. "I know I can't keep you in bed. The least you can do is sit down."

Jessie sighed. With a hand over her bandaged side, she limped over to a bar stool and climbed up. "I have to work, Gage. I can't not work!" she complained.

"Fine." Gage had an answer for that. He pulled a ledger book from in front of Connie, the head bartender, to in front of Jessie. "Connie, go inventory the glasses, will you, girl?"

Connie smiled, as much from seeing someone boss the boss-lady as from getting out of the tedious paper work. She held the pencil out for Jessie, who, grumbling under her breath, took it. Then she skipped away.

"Who's bossing this show, anyway?" Jessie mumbled.

"I am. You might own the joint, but I manage it when you're out of action." He nodded to the bandage visible under her midriff. "You are out of action." he pointed out.

Knuckles didn't bother to argue. She knew she would lose. The only time Gage didn't give into her, no matter the cost, was when she was hurt. And she was definitely hurt now.

"Package for you, Knuckles." called a waitress who was just coming in for work. She dropped a rose box on the bar, then, after giving her boss a gentle "how ya feeling" hug, hurried off to store her gear in the lockers behind the stage.

Knuckles glanced at the box, then up at Gage.

The bouncer held up his hands. "Don't look at me. My get-well present was the bill for my bird."

The bounty hunter sighed. "Well, might as well who..."

At her feet, Oddity snarled.

She stopped short of opening the box and frowned down at the dog.

"Considering he ate your garden, I don't think his problem is with flowers." Gage observed, his hand reaching back to the pistol tucked in the back of his belt.

"You think?" Knuckles mumbled. She held up the box and shook it.

"Don't! Gage cried, jumping back. When nothing blew, he glared his most menacing. "I hate it when you do that!" he growled.

She shrugged. "No bomb."

"Acute observation."

The girl smiled slightly, but there was no amusement in her eyes. Carefully, she peeled back the end of the box.

With an angry hiss, a long, black-yellow-red striped snake slithered out. Its beady black eyes locked on Knuckles. Already upset by the box and then the shaking of said box, it was all ready to strike.

Oddity leaned back behind his mistress, still snarling. Gage froze in place. Knuckles stared.

"Now," she breathed, "what a little beauty you are... a Coral, right? Micrurus fluvius."

"Poisons?" Gage wondered.

"Oh, yes. A pit viper, effects the nervous and respiratory systems." Knuckles whispered, admiring the creature before her.

"Hey, Knuckles, we're missing a few..." Connie started as she came up from the storage bin. Seeing the snake, she stopped and screamed.

Turning toward the noise, the viper sprung forward.

Knuckles reached out and grabbed the snake just behind the head, grabbing the tail with her free hand. "Bag, please." she asked calmly and Gage quickly produced a canvas lemon bag and held it open for deposit. After dropping the snake in, Knuckles twisted the bag shut. "Connie, give a shout to the zoo, Let them know I have an awesome Coral for their snake exhibit."

Connie hurried back and away, thankful to be somewhere, anywhere, else.

Gage nudged the box with his finger tips. "Is that it?"

Knuckles glanced at him. "What? You want an asp or rattler or two?" She shook her head. Fearless, which irritated Gage more than the attack, Knuckles picked up the box it until a note fell out.

Gage jumped back once again. "Damn it, Knuckles!" Gage yanked the box away from her. "You might not care whether you live or die, but I sure as hell do!"

Reading the note, Knuckles shook her head then handed it to Gage. "If she wanted me dead, she wouldn't have sent an animal. She knows me too well."

Gage stared at the note. "She escaped."

"Of course." she answered with a "duh." But then she suddenly jumped off the stool. "Crap!"

"What?"

"She'll go after Tom too!" Knuckles turned and headed for the exit.

"She already did." Buckaroo announced from where he stood on the stage. Behind him was Rawhide. Apparently they had the same idea about her as she had about Perfect Tommy.

Buckaroo watched her. "She knows you." he was saying. "Do you know her?"

Jessie James settled back down on the stool and nodded. "Too well." she admitted.

"Then help us nail her hide to the wall."

Gage and Rawhide carried the boxes of files out to the humvee, leaving Buckaroo and Knuckles a moment alone.

"May I ask you a question?" Buckaroo said after a moment.

Knuckles chuckled. "You just spent the last two hours picking my brain over the Uilc Dochas Clan. What's one more question?"

"Off subject." Buckaroo warned.

The girl glanced at him, her eyebrows arched. Then she shrugged.

"You are an exceptionally smart girl. Young, bright, determined... Why are you so willing to sacrifice all that for revenge?"

Jessica James stared at those piercing blue eyes for a long, silent moment. She wondered if they really could see everything, through everything, like they appeared to be able to. "I am a bounty hunter."

"You're also a zoologist, a vetenary, a linguists, and a few other this and thats." Buckaroo pointed out. "I'm not sure, but I think you also have a photographic memory. By the way, we can check that out for you."

Knuckles wasn't liking this conversation. "Get to the point, doc."

"The point is, I believe you can be so very much more than you have limited yourself to." Buckaroo Banzai answered. "And I would like to give you the opportunity to be so."

Ah, now she got it. "You inviting me into that house of geniuses?" She chuckled. "And what do you expect me to do with this?" She waved a hand at the club.

Buckaroo shrugged. "No one says something has to end for something to began." He left his stool and smiled. "You love animals, Jessica. Their response to you is proof enough. They'd follow you into hell and trust you'd bring them back" He reached down and scratched Oddity's head. "Wouldn't you like to do something else with them than take them on weekly trips to hell?" He handed her a small devise.

"What's this?"

"A go-phone." he answered.

"I didn't say yes."

"You didn't say no." Buckaroo smiled. "And even if you did, I'd like it if you'd keep in touch. You see any of the Clan, call us in. Don't try to do it alone. And we'll do likewise." He turned and headed for the door, calling over his shoulder "Besides, you seem to be the only one Perfect Tommy actually takes an order from."

Knuckles smiled shaking her head. "Is he alright?" she wanted to know.

Buckaroo grinned. Peggy had been right about the two. "Funny, he asked about you too."

Outside Rawhide shook Gage's hand and watched as he passed Buckaroo and returned to the club.

"What do you think?" Buckaroo asked as he walked toward the humvee.

Rawhide tipped his stetson back on his head. "Rather independent, isn't she?"

"And single minded." Buckaroo climbed into the passenger seat and, glancing to his wife, who patiently waited in the back seat, waited for Rawhide to climb in the driver's side. "We tend to pick them that way, don't we?"

"And suffer for our efforts." Rawhide groaned. Reining in the loose canons they already had kept his day busy. Adding another to the list...

Peggy leaned over his shoulder. "Oh, admit it! You love running all those kids through their hoops!"

Buckaroo looked at his friend. "She's smart, Rawhide. Before her father was killed she was well on her way to attracting our attention. Mrs. Johnson even found a letter sent to us from one of her instructors way back before this Clan stuff happened to her. Zoology, veterinary sciences, environment sciences, topped with a variety of languages, astrology, philosophy, this and that." Buckaroo waved his hand in the air. "And you saw what she can do in the field. I'd hate to see her waste all that potential on revenge."

Rawhide frowned. "Revenge is a pretty hard thing to get weaned from, Boss." he warned.

"What she did, saving Perfect Tommy, then coming in after us..." Buckaroo shook his head. "If that girl's going to be out there, I want her out there for us!"

Rawhide sighed knowing that when his friend made up his mind there was no changing it.

Sensing the win, Buckaroo grinned.

"Besides," Peggy spoke up, leaning back in her seat, "I just hate to break up a set."

Both men looked back at her.

She sighed and shook her head. "Men!" she complained. "Didn't you see it? Perfect Tommy and Knuckles!"

Rawhide huffed. "The boy is fallin' in love every other day."

"This is different." she assured. "Perfect Tommy and Knuckles... they balance each other, like two sides of the same coin: different yet the same. You just watch! They're perfectly matched!"

Rawhide and Buckaroo glanced at each other.

Buckaroo held up a finger. "On second thought..."

Perfectly Matched Knuckles