Katherine continued to lash out and hurl abuse at her rapidly-running-out-of-patience rescuers as they bundled her downstairs. Cass sent Devi a mental message pleading her to ‘try and convince this arsehole to come with us to HQ’.
Devi cleared her throat. ‘Katherine. I know this has been a rough night for you, but we’re only trying to help. Do you think you could –‘
‘Do one, bitch!’
Façade’s limited well of patience was finally exhausted. She grabbed Katherine around the throat and before Vixen could protest, threw their charge into the back of the van. Façade and Devi hopped up front and Vixen and Cass climbed in the back with Katherine.
Who turned into a crocodile.
Devi screamed as the rabid reptile flung itself at Vixen who was shocked but managed to dodge it. It slammed into the back of the doors, rocking the van from side to side.
‘Put your foot down!’ Vixen yelled at Facade as the dazed croc rounded on them again. Façade obliged and they took off, tyres screeching.
‘Cass, mind swap with her!’
Cassandra placed her fingertips to her temples and tried to concentrate which wasn’t particularly easy at that moment. It was no use. The van was now nearly tipping over from the bad tempered crocodile bashing into either side, missing Cass and Vixen by inches.
As it turned to attack Cass, Vixen saw an opportunity and threw herself on top of its jaws, grappling them shut.
‘Oh my God, we’re all going to get EATEN!’ Devi sobbed. Façade glimpsed the mayhem in the rear view mirror and speeded up. She jumped a red light and a car emerged prematurely from the junction, driving directly in front of them. With a bang and sickening crunch of metal, they collided.
Vixen lost her grip on the croc, went flying between the front seats and sailed through the windscreen in a hail of broken glass, rolled off the bonnet and landed face down on the tarmac.
There was a split second of horrified silence before Devi resumed screaming.
Façade leapt out of the van, gave a vulgar hand gesture to the stunned-looking driver of the other car, grabbed Vixen under her arms and dragged her back into the van.
A quick once over and it was clear that their leader wasn’t too badly hurt, apart from the gash on her forehead which was spurting jets of blood all over the cab. At least the crash seemed to have temporarily stunned the croc. It sat there, motionless, giving Devi time to work her magic.
‘Is Vixen going to be okay?’ She wailed as she held her hands over the croc, draining its energy and subduing it completely.
‘Fine. We’ll patch her up at HQ.’ Façade said, revving the engine.
‘You’re not driving, you complete and utter lunatic!’ Cassandra screamed. ‘You nearly killed us all!’
‘I don’t want to die!’ Devi wailed.
‘Ugghhh.’ Vixen moaned, slipping in and out of consciousness.
BOB came over the radio.
‘Would you prefer if I drove?’
‘YES!’ Cass and Devi shouted. Vixen was too busy vomiting over herself to reply. Façade shrugged and relinquished control of the wheel. ‘I was sick of driving you jerks anyway.’
‘Um, guys.’ Cassandra’s voice sounded high pitched from the back of the van. ‘We have a problem.’
‘What?’ Façade and Devi turned around in time to see Katherine the crocodile swell, double and then triple in size, turning blue and rounded, getting bigger and bigger until she had turned into…
‘A bloody whale!’ Cass moaned.
‘BOB, do something!’ Devi cried.
‘Bambi has supersized on us.’ Façade said.
BOB’s voice crackled over the radio.
‘I suggest that Devi use a teleportation spell to send Katherine Knotts straight here.’
‘Just so you know; she’s going to need something roomier than a holding cell.’ Façade cut in.
‘I will have a tank prepared.’
Devi clambered into the back of the van, trying to ignore the whale’s gaze, which was difficult as its eye was now the size of a football and swivelling menacingly in her direction.
She took a steadying breath and began the incantation.
The creak of buckling metal grew louder.
‘Hurry! She’s bursting out of the van!’ Cass yelled. Devi’s chants filled the van as did a brilliant white light.
‘Wait! No!’ Devi cried before a bright flash blinded them all.
Our heroes blinked. They looked out of the window.
‘We’re back at HQ.’ Cass wondered. ‘How did that happen?’
‘Where’s Bambi?’ Façade asked. The back of the van was empty except for Cass and Devi.
Façade raised an eyebrow as Devi dropped to her knees and began crawling around. ‘Just before I could complete the teleportation, she turned herself into –‘
The back doors were flung open. Joules scanned the van.
‘Where’s the girl?’ She asked.
Devi yelped and gathered something in her hand. She stood, holding her hand out.
‘Is that an ant?’ Joules wrinkled her nose. ‘If that’s all she is I don’t know what took you so long. I thought BOB said you were bringing mail? What was that about?’
‘A whale. Long story.’ Cass clambered out to join Nymph who came running over.
‘Oh my God, what happened to the van? And to her?’
‘Nothing a plaster and some asprin won’t fix.’ Façade dragged the bloody, unconscious Vixen from the cab.
‘When she changed from a whale into an ant, the shift in weight must have allowed me to transport all of us, including the van.’ Devi was surprised and rather pleased.
BOB’s voice came from the tannoy. ‘I take it Katherine Knotts will no longer be requiring the fifty ton water tank in the basement?’
‘Er, no.’ Cass answered. There was a sigh and the sound of a plug being pulled and gurgling water.
‘Take Vixen to the infirmary,’ Cass instructed one of HQ’s lab technicians. ‘And let’s get this one to the holding cells.’ She looked through narrowed eyes at the tiny insect scuttling over Devi’s palm.
Once she was deposited in her cell and the power nullification field activated, Katherine was not a happy bunny – literally or metaphorically.
‘You pack of fucking morons!’ She screamed, rattling the bars of her cell. ‘Why couldn’t you mind your own business? Who do you think you are?’
‘Who do you think you are, you jumped up, piss-head trash?’ Cass exploded. Things were set to get nasty. BOB intervened and for once, didn’t aggravate the situation.
‘We must unite against the real enemy.’ He persuaded. ‘There is the small matter of the scientists waiting for you, Bambi.’
‘What did you just call me?’
‘Sorry. I meant... Miss Knott.’
‘Oh God, I’m in soooo much trouble!’ Katherine groaned, head in her hands. ‘You freaks have no idea. If they discipline me over this, I could fail the entire year. My Dad is going to be so pissed.’
‘Believe me, Bambi, that’s the least of your problems.’ Cass said. ‘The stuff you knocked over while breaking and entering was nanite technology. It’s what’s causing you to morph into different animals. The scientists sent us to get you back so they can extract the nanintes from you –‘
‘Did they say if they’re going to press charges?’
‘ – but we know that what they weren’t saying is that removing the nanites will probably kill you.’
‘So, you have a choice. We can take you back to the scientists to have the nanites removed; bearing in mind they don’t particularly rank you as their first priority. Or you can stay with us while we figure out how to remove them.’
‘Or...’ BOB said over the tannoy. ‘You can wait for twenty four hours and do nothing, by which time your body will have completely metabolised the nanites. You will permanently have the power to change into animals but with more control.’
Katherine was uncharacteristically quiet. It was a pleasant break for our heroes’ ears.
‘I can’t think! This is way too heavy!’ Katherine wailed. ‘Do you guys have anything around here to, you know?’ She waggled her eyebrows. ‘Help a girl chill out?’
‘Yep.’ Devi beamed. ‘We have just the thing.’
Two hours later, the whole crew were lounging on the couches and armchairs of HQ living quarters, blissful and smiling contentedly.
‘That was just what we needed.’ Cass sighed. Devi nodded happily.
‘I haven’t seen The Little Mermaid in years.’ Nymph said, taking the disc out of the DVD player.
‘What shall we watch next?’ Katherine asked, dressed in an old pair of Nymph’s pyjamas, munching from a huge bowl of popcorn.
‘Frozen?’ Cass suggested. There was a general cheer.
The heroes worked their way through Disney’s back catalogue, amid much singing, of varying quality. Nymph sent out for pizza. Joules fell asleep during Mulan but woke in time for the ballroom sequence in Beauty and the Beast, having fortunately missed out on the debate between Nymph and Katherine as to whether Belle was, in fact, suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
Joules looked at her watch. ‘Guys. I think Katherine can try out her powers now.’
They all looked at her expectantly. Katherine got gingerly to her feet, brushing popcorn from her front. She furrowed her brow – and turned into a cheetah. Everyone cheered and clapped. She turned back into Katherine once more – swishing a cheetah tail.
‘What do you think?’ She purred. ‘I might wear it on Saturday night around town.’
Cue more cheers all round. As Katherine skipped off to the bathroom and the team celebrated this sort-of victory, BOB patched through.
‘I have the scientists on the telephone. They want to know the current status of our mission. My programming is inconsistent when it comes to the interpretation of voice intonations but I have concluded that they are not happy.’
That lowered the mood. While BOB put the call through, a plan was hurriedly thrown together.
‘Okay, so – we’ll tell them Katherine died while we teleporting her back to base.’ Cass hissed. ‘We’ll invite ourselves over to discuss what happened, Katherine can disguise herself as Devi’s freaky rat –‘
‘Don’t talk about Thelma that way!’
‘- and once we’re there she can change into something bigger and attack those bastards. We just need to keep Katherine quiet while we talk to the –‘
Cass’s mobile rang. She hushed everyone with a dramatic finger to the lips gesture making Facade roll her eyes. She answered, putting them on speakerphone.
‘Hello? Cassandra speaking.’
‘Where is Miss Knott?’
BOB wasn’t wrong. They definitely didn’t sound happy.
‘She’s dead. Yeah. She died while we were trans-‘
‘Let it go, let it gooooo.’ Katherine bounded into the living quarters, twirling, and arms in the air like a ballerina. Cass dropped her mobile in horror while Nymph whipped a vine out from her fingertips to gag Katherine’s mouth.
‘Who was that?’ The scientist snapped.
‘Nobody. That is, I mean, that was one of our team members. She loves a good sing song.’ Cass babbled. ‘We try to relax here at HQ, you know? Balance the stress of fighting crime with-’
‘We need her body back. To give to her parents.’ The scientists said, a little too quickly.
‘Of course. We can help you arrange that. And we’re awfully sorry. Terrible mess.’ Cass paused and took a steadying breath, attempting to read the mind of the scientist down the phone. It wasn’t difficult. The scientist didn’t believe a word.
Nymph pulled the mobile towards herself. ‘We’ll clean her up and come straight over to the university.’
‘How long will you be?’ They asked. Cass heard them think we’ll have to notify Hydra. A chill ran down her spine.
‘Give us twenty minutes.’ Nymph said.
Cass had time to psychically register one last thought before the scientist hung up. Plenty of time to set up a strike force.
‘We’re in a world of crap.’ She said as Nymph passed her the phone. ‘They’re sending a strike force to whack us.’
Facade swore. Devi gasped while Joules tutted angrily. Nymph visibly drooped and in doing so, released the vine gagging Katherine.
‘What are you idiots doing?’ She yelled, Angry Katherine back in full force. ‘Why did you tell them I was dead? That was stupid!’
‘We were trying to protect you from them, you idiot!’ Cass yelled back, nose to nose with Katherine. She laughed.
‘I don’t need protecting from them. What can they do to me?’
BOB tried to intervene. ‘Perhaps we can reach a diplomatic solution to your differences of opinion?’
‘Shove it up your circuit board, BOB.’ Cass snarled. To Katherine she yelled, ‘you moron. You’ve endangered your own life and ours by letting them know you’re alive. And now they’re going to kill us all, unless we come up with a plan.’
‘Listen.’ Devi held her hands up nervously. ‘There’s a lot of distrust in the room. We can’t help each other unless we trust each other.’ She approached Katherine. ‘I don’t think we formally introduced ourselves.’
When no one said or did anything other than glare at Katherine, Devi continued. ‘This is Facade...Joules...Cass you know.’ She moved around the room quickly before Cass could speak. ‘And this is Nymph.’ She smiled shyly at her crush who winked back at her.
‘And you’re speaking to Devi.’ Joules drawled. ‘Nymph’s girlfriend.
Devi blushed scarlet to the roots of her hair. Katherine sighed in a put upon manner.
‘You people have serious social skill deficiencies.’ She looked Cass up and down in particular. ‘But if we’re all going to be friends.’ She said the word using her fingers as inverted commas. ‘Then we might as well work this crap out together. I say we go to the university and ambush those pigs before they get their little strike team assembled.’
For once, they were all in agreement. In a matter of moments Joules teleported them down the telephone lines where they assembled inside one of the lecture rooms inside the university.
Cass mentally swept the area. ‘They’re in the room across the corridor,’ she whispered.
Nymph drew herself up to her full height. ‘Listen everyone. We’re in a serious situation. Our leader is in a medically induced coma. We’re up against Hydra and I don’t need to tell you they’re the most dangerous force we’ve encountered yet, one against which we’re hopelessly ill-prepared. But I know that the people stood before me are heroes. Flawed ones, yes. We don’t always get things right. But one thing you can say for the Liver Birds is-‘
‘-we never give up. No matter how many times we’re kicked down, beaten up and humiliated. We get up and keep going.’
‘I don’t know if that speech was meant to qualify as rousing, but you just made us sound like a bunch of complete morons.’ Joules sniffed.
‘Let’s go.’ Cass hissed, opening the door and leading the way down the corridor.
It was time to throw the first punch. Cass sent out a mental mind blast across the room with the scientists inside. They heard someone tut. ‘Ouch! My head hurts. I think I need an asprin.’
It wasn’t a great first punch.
‘I recognise that voice.’ Facade growled. Before the others could stop her she burst through the door. Inside was their old adversary Hertz, his twin sister Candela as well as the two scientists, whose mouths fell open in shock.
Facade leapt across the room and threw Hertz a sucker punch that sent him to the floor. A swift uppercut knocked one of the scientists off her feet. As she fell to the floor, she lifted her arm up in salute. ‘Hail Hydra!’ She whimpered before she hit the deck, out cold.
Candela screamed in rage. Katherine winced, not just at the noise but in horror at the yellow neon jumpsuit Candela was wearing. Purely to punish her for her crimes against fashion, Katherine morphed into a bear and charged at Candela.
Candela was too shocked to move and was thrown to the floor. Joules threw up her force field and shot a bolt of electricity at the neon-clad villain, knocking her unconscious.
Our heroes remembered the twins well from their first encounter and weren’t in the mood to take prisoners. Devi conjured a tornado in the palms of her hands and blew it across the room to entangle Hertz before he could do any damage. Unfortunately Joules and Bear Katherine got caught up in the maelstrom as well.
BOB’s voice crackled over Devi’s phone. ‘In light of us being a woman down, I have called for backup. Help is on the way.’
At that exact moment there was a horrible noise just outside the room. A hacking retching could be heard over the noise of Devi’s tornado.
‘Oh no!’ wailed Cass. ‘It’s –‘
In through the door burst a bedraggled scruff, hacking and coughing vomit. Yes. It was Vomit Man. No. Our heroes were not happy to see him.
‘Not him!’ Nymph cried.
‘What’s the situation?’ Vomit Man asked Cass, who shrank away, gagging. He cast a bleary eye over the room and took a deep breath before showering Hertz with a blast of projectile vomit. It missed and hit Joules and Katherine instead.
As if he hadn’t proved himself incompetent enough, Vomit Man then also became entangled in the tornado, yelping as it swept him off his feet.
Nymph aimed carefully. This would be tough. She mentally crossed her fingers praying she wouldn’t miss and blasted Hertz with her pheromones. He swirled around the room on the current of turbulent air, looked over, blinked and beamed a dopey grin. Like Devi, he had fallen hook, line and sinker.
Devi bristled. She ran over to Nymph and the tornado instantly dropped, sending the others crashing to the floor. She barely noticed them as she linked Nymph’s arm, glowering at Hertz. Nymph laughed.
‘Don’t worry honey. He means nothing to me.’
If love could be personified by tweeting birds flying around someone’s head, Hertz’s head space would look like an RSPB sanctuary. He stared, dewy-eyed, up at Nymph. She pointed at Katherine.
‘Go and clean the vomit off that bear.’ She demanded of Hertz. ‘With your tongue.’
And off he trotted. The rest was too horrible to describe.
Back at HQ, the team found Vixen had recovered enough to be back on her feet, waiting for them.
‘What happened to the scientists?’ She asked after Cass has described what happened at the university.
‘We brought them back here. They’re in the holding cells.’
‘Who’s guarding them?’
‘No one. We all needed showers, thanks to someone.’ Cass sniffed pointedly. They were doing their best to ignore Vomit Man, who was sniffing around the kitchen, looking for something to eat. ‘I’ve told BOB never, ever to call on him as backup again.’ Cass hissed. ‘I’d rather die in battle.’
Joules and Facade nodded in agreement.
Vixen’s eyes narrowed. ‘You mean the scientists are alone?’
‘Yeah. So? It’s not like they can escape.’ Cass said but Vixen was already running.
They followed her to the holding cells, just in time to see the final death throes of the scientists as they twitched and lay still.
‘Cyanide.’ Vixen spat in disgust, as foam spilled out of the glassy-eyed scientists mouths. ‘They must have bitten on capsules hidden in their teeth.’
‘What now?’ Joules noted the twitching eyelids of the corpses with disgust.
‘Let’s have a little chat with our old friends, Hertz and Candela.’
But our heroes were disappointed.
‘We don’t know. Nobody tells us nothing.’ Hertz shrugged when questioned, feet up on the interrogation table. It turned out that the mercenary twins had been hired as muscle by the scientists. Candela knew nothing, other than what she was getting paid - the fact that her money was now unlikely to be forthcoming putting her in a vile mood.
A mind sweep by Cass established they were both telling the truth. Apart from gleaning that Hertz had planned to spend his fee on Download festival tickets and Candela on a new tattoo, there was nothing to be learned from them.
The trail had gone cold. For now.