Chapter 16

Class? Class if I could have your attention please? Thank you.

I hope that everyone enjoyed his or her summer break. I'd like to welcome you back to classes. My name is Professor Cruel, and this is Strongholds 104. I assume everyone picked up a syllabus from the desk? Good.

Well, I'm not one to dawdle, so let's get started shall we?

One of the first things you need to consider whenever you plan your base of world dominance is… what?

Well, yes, normally schools would be a good decision, but not in this case.

Yes, location is important, but this is more important. How about you?

Yes, good infrastructure is also something you should be aware of, but what else is there? You in the back.

YES! Defense! Class I cannot emphasize enough how important adequate defenses are for whatever stronghold you're planning on setting up. Too many promising villains have succumbed to the easy temptation of having their heads sculpted into a mountain but practically left the front door wide open for any tight wearing clown to just stride right in and destroy the place in one fell swoop.

The keys for proper defense are: Visibility, Accessibility, and Dependability.

What do I mean by that? Let's take them one at a time, shall we?

Visibility. Can you see enemy forces approaching? Having a stronghold located in the deep jungle may seem like a good idea, but remember, if you can't be seen, neither can the squadrons of invading forces.

Accessibility. If it's easy for you to get to it, chances are it's even easier for your foe to get to it.

and finally Dependability, I know that contractors give a big discount for bases with Easy-Destruct systems. Sure it's nice to have that big lever or shiny candy like button on the wall that turns the fortress to ash in seconds, but let me tell you. All it takes is one party where someone can't find the coat-rack and you're out a perfectly good base.

Don't give in to the temptation, people!

Let's look at a few examples, shall we?

Let's say that Manta Ray sets up his underwater stronghold deep in the waters off the Monterey Peninsula. Not bad, huh? Some of the deepest waters off any coast, good visibility for any incoming threat, shark filled oceans to discourage any visitors, and no noisy neighbors to speak of?

Not a bad location, huh?

Ok, so who here has heard of depth charges?

Well, let me tell you that Ray discovered everything he didn't about them.

Ok so what if you're on a budget and you can't afford to go and have a multi-million dollar facility? Well, that's where warehouses come in to play. Remember, part of your hard earned loot goes to Villain Interest Lobby to ensure that hundreds of warehouses are abandoned or built empty for you to move in at a low discount rate.

But one thing to keep in mind, folks, no matter how careful you think you are, never, ever set up shop out of your own home!

Now, let's talk about a few other options that you have available for your strongholds…

Chris, are you sure that this is the place?

Well, this is the address, and according to Yahoo Maps, that's the place.

I dunno, Chris, I guess I just expected, something...

Larger, more menacing, with huge death ray cannons lining the ramparts?

Well, something other than a split-level ranch.

Sure, it looks like a split-level ranch, but remember that's the home of our most dangerous foe. The very reason we're here. That is the literal home of Malevolence.

Are you sure?

Yep, says so on the mailbox. Besides, for all we know, that's just the tip of a massive underground facility.

Chris, you're sounding like me. Stop it.

C'mon JB, this guy is bent on making our lives a living hell. The guy bent on conquering Boise, then the world. Besides once we get him, we get to go home. Isn't there some sort of scanner in here?

Yeah, there is, but I haven't gotten that far into the manual. Besides, I have no idea what the readout means. It's in some kind of weird text or something.

The manual?

No, the scanner thingy. The manual reads like it's been translated about forty times by Bablefish.

Hmm, good thing you're handling it. Well, fire it up and see what you can figure out.

Ok, if I remember, I need to set this to here, and punch in this code, then turn the dial to the third squiggle.

Whoa, what the heck kind of language is that?

I dunno. It looks like something like a cross between Japanese and Arabic with a dash of Cyrillic thrown in just to make things confusing. I think it's booting up, but I'd be buggered to know if it's supposed to look like that.

Ok, there, looks like that's a schematic or something, wait, what does that mean?

Either there's too much interference or someone is making popcorn in a microwave. I need to check the manual again, let me turn on the light.

No! Wait. He'll see us if we turn a light on here! Let's go around the corner and you can check there.

"Bob? Come out here, there's a suspicious car parked across the street." Avey said as she carefully peeked out the window.

"Where?" Bob called back from the den.

"Out front. It's a silver car with tinted windows. It pulled up across the street a few minutes ago and just parked there. Would you come out here and take a look?" Avey pleaded nervously to her husband.

"Maybe they're just lost or checking something." Bob said as he walked out to the living room. He leaned over to look out the window. "What silver car?"

Avey looked out the window again. The car had driven off. "Well it was just there. Should we call the police or something?"

"And report someone checking their map?"

"No, well, I don't know. They could have been checking us out and trying to break in or something."

"Avey, let's pretend you're a burgler."

"Okay," Avey said with a bit of trepidation.

"You're scoping out houses to break into and for whatever reason you decide that this one is a likely candidate."


"Then you meet Margie."

A light suddenly went on over Avey's head as she remembered that the family pet was a bit larger than most. "But Margie is a sweetheart."

"Margie is a 15 foot mechanical robot with the mind of a Labrador Retriever. Do you honestly believe that she would let anyone waltz in here and bother you?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Darn tootin'." A dull flash of light caught Bob's attention. "Tell you what, let me go grab my coat and take a little walk around the neighborhood, just to check things out"

"Ok, but be careful out there."

"Don't worry, I have no intention of letting anything happen to you."

Early fall is when the fog becomes thickest in Atlantica. The fog hung over the land like a shroud. Had this been a clearer day, a fair panic would have swept through most of the sleepy Boise suburb, possibly due to the Doomian Warbot plodding toward the town, but more likely because of the unexpected yellow glowy thing in the sky and the deep blue clouds. Krullux was grateful in some respects for the camouflage, but he would have preferred having made a bit more of an impression.

The lumbering Giant Resumatrix plodded its way toward the street Bob lived. The residents having long grown accustomed to Margie's heavy footfalls paid little attention to the heavy klangs that made their way down the street. The giant war machine nearly filled the avenue and dwarfed the lone figure that stood in it's path, his hands buried into his jacket pockets.

"See, Krullux, I warned you about taking steroids." Bob said to the hulking alien menace.

"Ah Bob, at least I think that's you.", the huge face of Krullux that filled the display scrunched down a bit so that Krullux could see below the fog line. The low clouds forced the former overlord to sacrifice a bit of dignity for a clearer view. Bob barely surpressed the slight smile from seeing Krullux's eyes peeping from just above his "waistline".

"Ah, there you are. Bob, look, about that artifact. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for it back."

"Are you, now. I guess that makes you a Doomian Giver?" Bob smiled a bit at his own joke.

Krullux didn't smile, or if he did, it wasn't visible. "Frankly, Mr. Malevolent, I don't care what that makes me. I demand that you surrenderthe artifact to me directly."

"...or...?" Bob inquired.

"Or I destroy you, your home and your puny city looking for it", Krullux said somewhat matter of fact. A huge impressive looking claws lowered themselves from the fog and clanked together in a threatening manner.

"Hmm.", said Bob in a casual tone, the way that someone might respond if asked for their choice in beverage. "You make an interesting proposal, but I'm afraid I'll have to decline. It seems I need a bit more time to work with the device to determine more about it."

"Mr. Malevolent, that answer is unacceptable." The Resumatrix turned to head down the road toward Bob's house.

"Well, then there's another answer you might not enjoy as much." Bob said in a somewhat resigned tone.

"Do not underestimate me, Mr. Malevolent. This Unit has been equipped with energy deflecting shields. Whatever blasts you may be able to generate will prove ineffective."

"Well, good thing that's not my answer then."

"Oh really? and what would your answer be?"

Bob whistled, loudly.

In a flash of polished chrome fangs and titanium paws, Margie was on Krullux, Her jaws tore into the robot's arm with ease. Massive bursts of electricity arced through the air as the titans clashed. The cybernetic dog's weight slammed hard into the war machine and the two toppled to the ground. A look of total surprise gripped Krullux's face as he tried to shake Margie. The left arm was totally useless. Krullux swung the right arm toward Margie, but the mechanical hound was simply too fast. It dodged the blow and clamped onto the robot's shoulder. The swing lifted Margie off the ground and she disappeared into the fog. Only to land heavily on the war machine's body. The Doomian bot crunched hard as the weight hit and a new wave of pyrotechnics and shrieking metal swept echoed into the street.

Krullux had not prepared for such an attack, and it showed. Margie definitely had the upper paw in this battle and she wasn't about to give it up. Krullux lit the main rockets in the Resumatrix's legs and the bot started scraping it's way down the street. Margie tried to brace herself on top of her now moving adversary, but a light pole caught her off guard and knocked her off the accelerating robot. She rolled and was quickly on her feet chasing after the fleeing warlord.

Bob was impressed by the agility of the big robots. The battle had taken just seconds. Bob still stood in the street, watching battle. He pulled out a small radio unit and before Margie got out of range, he simply stated, "Good girl. Come."

Margie stopped chasing Krullux as he disappeared into the fog. She stood her ground for a few seconds growling her defiance, before turning and walking back to Bob. Her eyes still tracking the retreating Krullux. She stood next to her master, obedient and faithful. Bob patted her metal hide and said calming phrases to her.

'This is probably going to affect my grade.' Bob thought.

He appreciated having Margie more now than ever, but his mind raced as to why Krullux would pull a stunt like this. Bob knew very well that Krullux would have destroyed everything to get the artifact back. He thought back to the Grayhound experiment, and cursed himself for not getting more cameras in place. He knew that Krullux followed Puppyboy out of the basement and that someone or thing had blown the heavy doors off the main entrance.

He had assumed that Puppyboy was the culprit, but now he wasn't so sure. Perhaps... Perhaps Krullux saw something he didn't like, something involving the Grayhound and the artifact. Something that made Krullux want to get the artifact back. Something to warrant using a scouting warbot to get it. What did he mean about being able to take whatever energy blast Bob could give. Bob couldn't generate any…

"Margie, go back into the yard." Bob said to the great metal hound. She growled once more toward the now long gone Krullux and headed back to the house. Bob stood thinking for a few seconds. He needed to get that artifact and take another look at it. No, he thought, it was safe where it was, still, Krullux would be back. Bob had to prepare, or at least distract, and figure out what that artifact could do.

That's when he heard the scream.

JB, are you sure this is his backyard?

Yes, it's his backyard.

I thought you said that there was some sort of structure or something here?

I did. Look, according to what I could figure out, the scanner said that there was something big and metallic in his back yard, Heck it looked like it pretty much took up most of the backyard.

Right, it must be the entrance to his secret underground bunker.

Chris, would you stop talking like that? It's frightening me, I don't think I could pull off being the sane one. Besides, we don't know what it was. Probably just something wrong with the scanner. I mean something that big doesn't just get up and leave, right?

Maybe, but we don't know what Bob is capable of. Maybe it's still there but he's made it invisible somehow.

Invisible? Chris, how do you make something the size of a bus invisible?

I don't know. Hmm, hang on a second.

Chris? What are you looking for?

Ah, here's one. Let me climb back up there. Hrrff!

You're throwing a rock at it?

Yeah, I wanted to see if the rock will bounce off of it.

Well, I'd hazard that the answer to that would be "no".

Dang. Give me a hand.

Chris? No, you're not gonna go into the yard are you?

You got a better idea? Look we need to get that thing before Bob starts zapping folks and making an army that can blast the heck out of anything he wants. Face it JB, that thing is dangerous and it's in the hands of the absolute worst person to have it. We're sworn to protect Boise, We can't call Wallace in on this because we don't have any proof yet, and this is out of his jurisdiction anyway.

I guess, but Chris, I can't help but think this isn't 100% legit.

Look, I'm over the wall, I look around a bit and I'm back. We're talking five minutes, tops. You're not going over because you'd stand out like the Forth of July. I'll stay to the shadows. No one will know I'm there.

All right. But I'm still voicing my objection.

So noted ambassador, I'll be back in a minute.

Chris dropped the few feet to the yard and looked about. Bob was clever. This looked just like a normal run of the mill suburban home in a quiet neighborhood. Chris slowly inched his way along the fence, keeping to the dark shadows.

JB kept low, watching his brother. The Furlong kept a running debate in his head they were pretty evenly split as well, which JB found unnerving as well. Still, he was a bit happy that both Roger and Becky Sue agreed with him. JB had to focus to watch his brother. His dark gray outfit did blend in to the weathered wood and made it very difficult to see him. Chris was in no hurry, carefully examining everything.

There was a skittering noise in the tree above JB. He glanced up to see a squirrel looking down at him. Roger leapt at the chance.

'Hey Fella.' he sent out.

'Not nut', the squirrel greeted him.

'Well, that's up for debate.'

The squirrel, not being one of nature's faster wits, simply looked at him.

'Can you tell me something?'

'Nut? Nut?'

'Yes, I'll tell you where there's a nut, but you have to tell me something.'

The squirrel simply stared back, its tiny mind taxed to its limit.

'Can you tell me what lives here.'

'Not Nuts.'

'Yes, I know, but what kind of not nuts'

The squirrel sought to find some other description for the 'not nuts'.

Roger thought about various things, people, objects, stuff that a squirrel would know. He thought about Bob. The squirrel didn't react. Not that it's unusual; Squirrels don't exactly have the longest memory when it comes to people.

He thought about things that generally did get a squirrels attention. He thought about a car, at first he thought about The Detectives Mercury, but then decided on thinking about JB's Maxima.

'Ahh! Roll-squish!'

That got the squirrels attention, all right.

'Does that live here?' Roger thought to the squirrel.

'Shiny. not roll-squish, Woof!'

'What?' Roger was confused. This squirrel was making less sense than normal. 'Shiny woof?'

'Shiny Woof! Shiny Woof!'

'Big Woof?' Roger thought.

'Big!! Big!! Big!!'

'Big Shiny woof?'

The squirrel started chattering very excitedly. JB and the associated minds were completely confused. What the heck is a big shiny woof?

Suddenly pandemonium broke out somewhere in the distance. JB tried to see what was happening but couldn't see anything. It sounded like a bus slammed into a jet that took off. JB turned back to find Chris. Damn, lost him. Chris had disappeared somewhere into the yard and couldn't be seen. Pretty impressive considering how small the yard was.

JB hissed out a call to Chris trying to get his attention. Chris' head popped up from beside the shed where he was hiding. JB raised himself up a bit to get a better view of Chris and tell him that he was going to go investigate the disturbance. But before he could, there was a woman screaming as she looked out into the yard. She was looking straight at Chris.

The ground vibrated in a rather disturbing manner. At first JB thought it was an earthquake, but after a moments thought, realized, no, that was not an earthquake. That was a dog's growl. A very large dog's growl.

Chris had heard it too, and his eyes focused above the house. There was another growl and suddenly the sky filled with metal. JB wanted to scream. The big shiny woof!

Chris had no time to think, he raised his hands and a blinding burst of pure energy sprang from his arms. It tore up from him and blasted the metallic beast square in the chest.

The creature yelped and disappeared back into the fog. JB fought to clear the after burn of the flash from his eyes. He heard Chris scramble over the fence then felt himself being pulled along toward the car. Without a word the two climbed into the vehicle and raced away, neither willing to give that thing another chance at them.

"MARGIE!!!" Bob yelled out. He saw his dog leap over the house and the tremendous blast of energy caught her. She flew backwards propelled by the force of the torrent. She fell, hard into an open field behind his neighbors. He looked toward his house, Avalon was running out of it.

"Are you ok?" He called to his wife.

"Yes, I think."

A sliver car screeched around the corner and raced north. Bob couldn't get the license number.

"That.. That was the car I saw!" Avey said as she pointed down the road. "Where's Margie?"

Margie! Bob raced through his neighbor's yard, leaping the fence with energy he never knew he had.

Margie lay still crackling with energy.

"Margie! Margie! are you ok? Oh no, hang on, girl."

Bob reached for the main access panel. His hand sizzled on the metal, he gritted his teeth and yanked it open. The screen was displaying diagnostic information. Fortunately, the panel door was well insulated. A light flashed, something was overloading a relay and preventing a diagnostic from completing. The gears and servomotors were grinding. Something was wrong, they were grinding slower and slower. Margie was loosing power in this mode. Bob had to act fast.

Bob thrust his arm deep inside the mechanics looking for whatever might be blocking the servo. He grabbed blindly, his mind groping for the details of the mechanisms.

Something moved when he pulled. It was loose but vibrated with a hum that matched the motors. That had to be it. It felt like a pipe of some sort. It must have gotten knocked loose during the battle, Bob yanked on it. The servos stared spinning up again. Bob changed his grip and felt something like two bolts on one end. He yanked again and suddenly felt like every nerve in his body was on fire.

Margie came back on-line.

Her head jerked up, not sure where she was or how she got there. A familiar scent filled her nose with another more acrid scent almost overpowering. She looked down and saw him lying there. She stood up quickly and sniffed him. He was alive, but he was not good.

She whined a bit and pressed her nose against him. He still lay there. There was no blood. She knew that was good. Carefully she lifted him in her mouth, like she would lift a puppy. Slowly, carefully she carried him home.

The other she saw him and started crying. The other she ran over and called to him. He moaned and moved a bit. Margie's tail started to wag despite the worry she felt.

Margie put him down, slowly and lay down next to them. Margie didn't know what they were saying. She was very confused, and very, very concerned.

His eyes were open, but he looked tired, and shook his head when the other she talked. They went inside the house. Margie sat looking into the window making sure that they were ok, wanting to do something to help them. She stayed there all night, keeping vigil.

The other she came out once during the night. The other she wrapped her arms around Margie's leg and cried. After a bit the other she looked at Margie and said something Margie did understand.

"Good Girl."


She was attractive, if, possibly a bit underdressed for the cool early autumn weather. Still, none of the men seemed to notice, and if they did, they weren't planning on doing anything about it. She stood about five foot-five with shoulder length blonde hair pulled back in a loose pony tail. She wore a swimsuit and mirrored sunglasses. Her crop tank top was a bright yellow with a small, embroidered sun located at the base of one of the straps. She wore matching bike shorts. Frankly, she looked like she would be much more at home in Southern California rather than Idaho, but it didn't look like she thought that way.

She casually walked into the shop, followed shortly by a brunette wearing a deep navy outfit that almost matched the blonde's, except on her suit was embroidered a wave. The two waved quickly to each other and began browsing the long counter filled with various jewels and settings.

"May I help you ma'am?" a sales clerk smiled as he looked a bit longer at the blonde woman then his wife would have preferred.

The blonde smiled coyly but arched her back a bit. "I certainly hope so, I'm looking for something nice that can really capture daylight, do you have anything that might do that?"

"Well, we have a number of diamonds here, might I ask what your price range is?"

"Oh, however much we can get." she smiled back.

"Excuse me?" the clerk said.

The woman quickly chanted a phrase and with a flick of her hand the store was suddenly filled with intensely bright light. The clerks struggled to close their eyes and grope for some alarm. A second later there was the sound of rushing water, almost like a wave crashing against the shore. Then, as suddenly as the light appeared, it was gone.

The clerks blinked hard to try and clear the spots from their eyes. When they did they found that the women had left, along with every bit of jewelry from the still dripping cases.

The sound of the store's alarm filled the neighborhood.

Hello Vinnie? Ok, I am totally confused. I thought that Bob was the bad guy here. You know, the guy bent on total domination of Boise and terrifying the populace, the guy that wanted the fifteen foot robotic terror, the guy that unleashed the horde of cats toward the ballpark full of orphans? Man, I was really bummed out when I read that I couldn't.. what?.. Vinnie? Call you later.

Has the Grayhound become a cat burglar?

Will Bob blow a circuit or does he have the capacity to forgive?

Couldn't he have picked a better time to do the dramatic crap?

Tune in next time for:

Beach Blanket Boise
Wicc'n Roll

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