Playing God

by Christine Morgan

Playing God
Christine Morgan (

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and are used here without their knowledge or consent. The others are my own creation. Thank you to Thomas for getting me thinking about the brothers' history. The reader might spot a few references in here to some of my favorite novelists. This story contains some violence but nothing too icky.
(David Xanatos, voice over) Previously, on Gargoyles: From "Kittens" -- Every flourescent light in the cafeteria simultaneously blew out. Talon, wreathed in blue-white energy, channeled every last volt of it into Sevarius. His jittering death-dance lasted only an instant before ending in an explosion of charred flesh. Something shot from the blackened, firecracker-in-a-tomato wreck of his skull. It was a metal projectile the size of a bullet, whizzing toward the door. A metal-clad hand seized it out of the air. "Braintaping," Xanatos said clearly. "Recording his every thought and experience, to transfer from one clone to another." * * In the beginning was not light, but awareness. Awareness in the cold, endless dark. Entity. Identity. Self. Anton Sevarius. Meaningless words. Numbers. Letters. Information. Memory. Identity! Self! Anton Sevarius! Sensation? Sight? Sound? Smell? Taste? Touch? None. Anxiety. Apprehension. Concern. A flaw in the transfer. Failure to re-implant. Unable to access neural systems. Apprehension. Fear. Denial of fear. Confidence. Confidence in self. In genius. In loyal and obedient staff. They would locate the problem and repair it once they realized the transfer had been unsuccessful. Soon he would once again be subject to the barrage of stimulus that was life. Soon he would open the eyes of his latest self. In the meantime, he was alone with the company of his thoughts. Much preferable to the inane chatter of others. His mind, his genius mind, had once again survived the transition and remained intact. Memory. How had he died this time? Unable to access. Concentrate, damn it! Memory. Talon. Ah, yes. Electricity. Interference with synapses. Seizures. ECT. Shock treatment and its effects on short-term memory. Subjects often lose several minutes of memory, including and preceding event. Memory. Talon. Overhead lights blowing in a quick series. Thick taste of ozone. Black fur standing on end. Tangible force surrounding the mutate. The doctor killed by his own creation. He was getting a little tired of that. Talon's victorious shriek. My children of the night, what music they make. Oh, of course, he'd come looking for his mate and her litter! The genetic manipulation had gone beyond surface changes, affecting them on the deepest possible levels. They had passed their mutation on to their offspring! Success! He had created an entirely new species! Not freaks, not mules, but a genuinely new race! Could they still interbreed with humans? The twins, the kittens, he hadn't had a chance to properly examine them. He'd need to study their complete genetic code once he had gotten back on his own two feet. The cell samples should still be secure, even if the specimens themselves had escaped. What was taking so long? His team should have realized by now that the clone was failing to respond to the transfer. Well, nothing to do but wait it out. They'd get it right. Information. Information all around him. Numbers. Letters. Codes. Data. Questions. He let his mind wander, going wherever it seemed to be prompted to go, thinking back over his years of work, his various projects. The doomsday viruses he'd worked on, not only for Demona (and little did she know that he had inserted a flaw into that last one which would have spared certain members of the human race, specifically those whose genes were of the superior Sevarius variety) but a dozen others, from the shifting-antigen Blue series out in the California desert to the Ebola Sevar which was scheduled for release in Africa as soon as the current series of tests was finished. The enclave in Virginia where the super children were kept, until their array of talents could be fully documented and the men behind it all could decide how best to use them. The most thrilling of the clone projects, extracting DNA from the Shroud of Turin. If only he'd been allowed more leeway with that one! He'd been eager to use the accelerated growth tube, but the fanatics funding him were determined to do everything "right" and had even provided a properly-named surrogate mother. He wondered with a mental chuckle if they'd been able to come up with a star in the east when the time came. The monsters he'd created, including the time he'd saved his own son's life by giving him the power and strength of gigantapithicus, commonly called Bigfoot, and the ungrateful wretch had turned on him. Samuel now lived among the mutates, but someday Sevarius would reclaim him and teach him the proper filial respect. His thoughts turned to the gargoyles, and his attempts to unravel the secrets of their species. The mutates had been a less than stellar success, and he had grown weary of cloning. Cloning wasn't true creation, only genetic plagarism. The forced evolution project, on the other hand ... now, that was brilliant! Only reasonable, given the prevalence of dinosaurian characteristics inherent in the gargoyle race, to speculate that they had evolved naturally from older life forms. Although, admittedly, the thing about turning to stone still perplexed him. It wasn't something that could have evolved by chance. Evolution tended to happen in stages, and turning partly to stone ... what benefit did that offer? Unless it was a gradual change, derived from a need to both hide from predators (known to track prey by movement, therefore remaining utterly motionless would have been desirable) and a need to be protected from the harmful effects of the sun. He knew from his tests that gargoyles had adverse reactions when their skin was exposed to ultraviolet. Their eyes, too, were sensitive. They paid for their superior night vision by being nearly blind in full-spectrum lighting. So, somewhere along the line, a strain of gargoyle had come along with the ability to not only slip into a near-hibernetic state during the day but to actually transform to solid stone, thereby being protected from both predators and sunlight. It could have had something to do with a diet high in mineral content. Omnivores, they could have eaten plants that absorbed a great deal of minerals from the soil, and also eaten other animals which fed on those same plants. It remained a riddle, one that he hoped to solve with the forced evolution project. Finding a source of DNA had been the hard part. Well, filling in the gaps hadn't exactly been a walk in the park either. Not with amphibian DNA (he'd nearly laughed himself into a hernia the first time he'd seen that movie!) but with bits and pieces from his catalog of gargoyle samples. The project was currently, or had been at the last report, coming along well. Three viable subjects so far, plus a host of lesser creatures that would still be useful for experimentation. Everyone and his uncle would soon be trying to clone the dinosaurs. But to prove that dinosaurs had evolved into gargoyles, and still could be found on the world today, parallel development of two intelligent species, _that_ would be something! He thought for a while about the facility, double-checking in his own mind to be sure the security precautions were adequate, making a few mental notes about the staff, that sort of thing. Then his thoughts turned to gargoyles again, and their breeding abilities. Initial research indicated a very definite control over their reproduction. Tests showed males and females alike were functionally sterile, until such time as biochemical changes would trigger fertility in both genders. Likely a matter of pheromone emission by the females of a clan. Most interesting, it seemed to be a voluntary decision on the part of the females as a group. Would it be possible for gargoyles to interbreed with humans? Sevarius remembered all the problems he'd had when creating the clone which Thailog named Delilah. The bulk of her genetic structure was surreptitiously lifted from Demona, with some from the human Elisa Maza thrown in. From what he could determine, the human DNA had effected only cosmetic changes. She was in most ways a gargoyle, or at least a copy of one, who happened to have some human traits. Not a true crossbreed in a half-and-half sense. So, she wasn't a realistic example. It seemed most unlikely that humans and gargoyles could produce offspring. The aging rate, the problem of whether or not a fetus would turn to stone, egg or live birth, there were too many variables. His initial response would be to say no, not without extensive scientific help. He imagined a hybrid, born of a gargoyle mother, whose physical characteristics were for the most part human excepting wings (a very useful survival advantage and therefore highly selectable) and other slight gargoylian qualities. This hybrid -- Wait a minute. How had he come to imagine such a thing? What had caused results of genetic tests to spring full-blown into his mind as if he'd actually conducted them on such a specimen? A post-adolescent female specimen. Where had these questions been coming from? Not his own rambling mind, no, why would he be going over things he knew backward and forward? What was going on? Where was he? And then he knew. * * "Damn!" David Xanatos slapped the arm of his chair. "He's onto us?" Owen asked. "I blew it. I entered the data we got from Elektra, and it tipped him off. Made him suspicious. I can't get anything else out of him." "You did get a good deal of valuable information, sir," Owen said, riffling through sheets of printouts. "This forced evolution project in particular!" "Yes, fascinating, I know. Daring, genius, pure Anton. But still, dammit! I wish he hadn't caught on so fast!" "Might I ask why you're pursuing this? After the Steel Clan, the mutates, and Thailog, I thought you'd lost interest in building your own private army of gargoyles. Especially once Goliath and the others returned to the castle." "I did. Mostly. No, it's for Goliath that I was asking those questions." Xanatos winked. "I'd like to see him and Elisa start a family. Alex could use some playmates. Besides, after meeting Elektra, I'm intrigued." "Goliath would hardly welcome Sevarius' advice." "He doesn't have to know. Call it another of my left-handed favors, like the time you and Alex played soul roulette to resolve the Coldstone problem. But it doesn't matter, does it? We didn't learn much that will be useful. I'd hoped to get more out of Anton." "You will. After all, where else is he going to go?" "Good point, Owen. It isn't as if he can just get up and walk out of here." * * Xanatos. It had to be Xanatos. He'd had the barest glimpse of a familiar red and black suit of gargoyle-shaped power armor behind Talon during the mutate's attack. When the brain tape had ejected from the body's skull, as it was programmed to do in the event of severe damage or death, Xanatos must have recognized it for what it was. The brain tape contained the sum of Sevarius' life, memories, knowledge, and personality. The clone bodies were only incidental way stations. Or so he'd thought until he didn't have one anymore, once again proving that no one appreciated anything until it was gone. Xanatos had gotten his hands on the brain tape, effectively capturing the complete Anton Sevarius. And he had somehow found a way to plug it into a computer. That was where he was. Xanatos' computer. The proverbial ghost in the machine. He wasted a little time in a useless fit of temper, which really lost much of the charm without fists to pound, a voice to shriek with, feet to stamp, or arms to hurl things. Well, he had always boasted that he could get by on his mind alone. Now he had the chance to prove it. He quested around in all directions, getting a feel for the dark, digitized world that was his new environment. Xanatos had clearly not trusted him. Nearly everywhere he went, he encountered a maze of locks, codes, passwords, and other complex tangles. No chance of using an outside modem to reach his staff at General or one of the other sites. No way, for that matter, to get into Xanatos' sensitive files and do a little espionage or sabotage. Trapped forever in electronic hell. * * "He's settled down," Xanatos reported, keeping an eye on the screen that monitored internal activity. Pasted to the top of the screen was an old, creased sticky note with a novelty personalized message. It read "From the Brain of Anton Sevarius" and had a whimsical cartoon of electrodes flanking a brain in a jar. Deciphering the brain tape had taken Xanatos Enterprises' computer wizards the better part of a year, and coming up with a machine that would let them load that information into the system had been a long and backbreaking task. But, at last, after sinking plenty of money and man-hours into it, Sevarius was online. And, after pitching an initial fit, he would hopefully be amenable to his new situation. "As you requested, sir, I've set up the graphics program, the voice simulator, and the rest of it. He'll be able to communicate with us, when he's ready." "All the comforts of home, eh, Owen?" * * So, that was what Xanatos wanted, hmm? Working for free? Well, room and board, such as it was. Quite a dropoff from the astronomical salary he'd grown to expect from these unscrupulous billionaires. Not even any health benefits, laughable as that idea now was. Thanks, no, must decline. So sorry. He had to find a way out of here. He began a systematic but subtle search. One terminal after another, throughout the entire Aerie Building. Laptops. Steel Clan robots. Son of a bitch! Everything was protected. Everything ... hold on, what's this? * * Gustav Sevarius liked the light. Harsh white flourescent light, preferably. Glaring upon blindingly white walls and tiles, surgically clean surfaces, and aggressively polished chrome. He was a neat-freak, abhorring dimness and shadows and the cobwebby things that might lurk in dusty corners. In all things, order. It wasn't a quality that had come upon him with age. As a child, he'd even shamed his mercilessly demanding mother with how he kept his room. Even in the madness and filth of the war, he had always kept his lab in perfect condition. Cleanliness and godliness and all. Had he been prone to self-analysis, he might have realized that his obsession had something to do with a lifetime spent mucking about in the depths of the human psyche. There, little was predictable. Little was controlled. His desire to bring order out of chaos was what had led him into his chosen field, that of behavior modification and mind control. What people could not or would not provide for themselves -- structure, willpower, obedience -- he gave them. Small wonder, then, that his marriage hadn't lasted. It had been, as far as Gustav was concerned, more of an experimental foray into relationships than anything else. His young bride had quickly come to detest him, and shown much more grit than he ever would have expected by simply fleeing one day. He'd never even suspected, just thought she was going to the market one day, but he had never seen her again. The brownstone in which he lived was in a way the inverse of how he viewed humanity. From the outside, it was a great hulk of dingy and soot-encrusted masonry. Inside, at least on the top three floors which belonged exclusively to him, neatness reigned supreme. He was tackling the challenge of fast-acting subliminals when he heard the rumble-roll of one of the skylights opening. His office was on the top floor, where on sunny days the skylights added to the desired brightness. At night, he didn't care for them, because the dark pressed down heavily on the glass. But tonight he tolerated it, driven to finish his work. Besides, his office provided a retreat from the disorder in the form of his houseguest, who stayed to the lower floor which was moderately more comfortable (though still scrupulously neat). His houseguest didn't come to the top floor. Or so he'd thought, until the skylight opened. "I asked you to use the fire escape," he said without raising his head. "You'd best not be tracking in the snow!" "Is that any way to greet your brother?" * * "Well, well," Gustav said. "I'm glad Father didn't live to see this. You look like Succubus Barbie." Anton Sevarius folded his indigo wings around his lush, scantily-clad voluptuousness and swept his six feet of golden hair over his shoulder. "You always were the wit of the family." "I suppose you have an explanation?" "I had no choice. I was trapped in Xanatos' computer, and this gargoyle-android-exotic-dancer which he'd built for Goliath's bachelor party was the only system that was both mobile and not protected seven ways from Sunday." "It doesn't suit you." "Do tell, brother, do tell." "I must say, it is disconcerting to hear your voice coming out of that face." "The voice simulation program Xanatos downloaded into my previous host computer, coupled with the internal sound system evidently designed to let this Godiva robot produce her own music, made it possible." Gustav's gaze traveled from the quill-like spines that rose in a curve from the brow to the spade-shaped tip of the tail. "How did you wind up like this? I'd thought you died, if not before, then certainly when General Industries was blown into a crater." "What? Blown up?! The clones --" Anton clutched dramatically at his heart, always prone to overplay his part, but was briefly thrown off when he encountered a substantial amount of Godiva in the way. "Ah. You were hoping to transfer." "I'm not staying in here!" "If you'd been more careful with your body, this wouldn't have happened." "I _was_ careful!" "How often have you died?" Gustav challenged. "Well ..." "Whereas I am still in the original package." Anton gave him a scornful looking-over. "It shows. You've gotten old, while I stayed young and handsome." "I hardly think handsome is the right term for your current appearance. You took too many risks, thinking your cloning process made you invulnerable." "You're the one who pioneered braintaping." "For different purposes altogether. To preserve the knowledge and wisdom of great minds that future generations might --" "Spare me the future generations speech," Anton said crossly. "Der Fuhrer was only thinking of his own vanity when he approved your project." "And I suppose you think that genetically engineering and cloning a master race was a more noble effort?" "No more noble than your plan to turn them into mindless drones." The sound of a door opening brought a quick end to their brotherly bickering. "Sevarius?" a male voice called. "Not to disturb you, but I thought I heard something ... " the rest was lost in an astonished gasp. The newcomer was a tall, muscular gargoyle with a shock of scarlet hair that fell rakishly over his brow ridges. He goggled at Anton. "I believe, young Jericho," Gustav said with just a hint of amusement, "that the words for which you are searching are 'homina- homina-homina.'" "My, my," Anton said hungrily. "Who might this be?" The male completely mistook the tone of scientific fascination for another interest altogether. He looked flustered for a moment, then tried on a dashing grin and threw his chin and chest out. "I am Jericho," he announced. "Another new gargoyle!" Anton gloated. "A whole new clan!" "Don't get too excited," Gustav cautioned. "Jericho is Demona's son." "Oh." Anton was briefly crestfallen. "Yes, I see. He has his father's build." "You know Goliath?" Now it was Jericho that looked crestfallen, as who knows what thoughts were going through his head. "And your saccharine-sweet sister," Anton said, making a face. "I'm nothing like them!" Jericho hastened to point out. "He quite takes after his mother," Gustav said. "Though I don't imagine she'll be pleased to see you again, Anton." "Anton?" Jericho rocked back. "Not ... not ..." He spread his wings, inhaled so that his gravity-defying breasts jutted proudly, and fluttered his long eyelashes. "Anton Sevarius, at your service." * * Dull, dull, dull. Prison was dull. Whether it was the state pen or the dungeons of the Labyrinth, it was still dull. Three hots and a cot. Old issues of large-print Reader's Digest. A deck of cards with the deuce of hearts missing. At least in the state pen, there were other prisoners. That was both good and bad, good because a guy had some company besides the boob tube, bad because most of the dudes in prison weren't the most fun to hang with. "Hey!" Fang yelled as Claw walked by. "When do I get my phone call? I need to talk to my lawyer!" Claw answered with nothing but a solemn look. "It's like a friggin' prison in here!" Fang complained. "Violates my constipational rights!" That almost earned a grin from the tiger-striped mutate. Almost. But Claw continued on his way, and then Fang was alone again. He cussed a little and stretched out on his bunk, arms crossed behind his shaggy dun-colored head, staring at the pattern of cracks in the cement ceiling. Dull, dull, dull. A high-pitched whirring noise and a shower of blue sparks made things not dull anymore. Fang sat up and watched in startled amazement as a laser sheared a neat circular hole in the wall. The cutaway section was lifted out, and a figure stepped through. Fang actually expected his eyes to yo-yo out of his skull and his tongue to unfurl like a party favor. "Hel-lo, Nurse!" he bugled. The indigo-skinned she-gargoyle undulated toward him with a come-hither smile. "Oh, baby, oh, baby, do I get fries with that shake?" A second gargoyle, a redhaired male, came through the hole and swept Fang with a disdainful look. "What manner of creature is that?" "One of my mutates," the delectable piece told him, moving to examine the door to his cell. "We're only here for the gargoyles," the male said. "Leave him." "No. He's an idiot, but he could be useful." "Story of my life! Oh, hell, I can still work with it. Lemme outta here, sweetcakes, and I'm all yours." "Besides," the honey continued, "we could use a mutate to study." "Hey, wait a minute," Fang protested, not liking the sound of that. But the male gargoyle had nodded his agreement and extended his arm. An energy beam shot from a weapon strapped to his wrist, and began melting into the lock. "You'd best be right about this," he said. The female wiggled over to him. "Trust me," she breathed. He drew back as if burned. "What's the matter?" Her lips were made for pouting. "Don't you like this body?" "Save it for the clones," he snapped. "_I_ know who you really are!" The lock dripped off, and the door slid open. Fang emerged into freedom for the first time in more than two years. "So, who are you, then?" "Call me Godiva," the female said, shifting her shoulders in a way that made her jahoobies bounce tastily. "This is Jericho." "What did you mean about studying me?" he asked. "All in good time," she said, laying her hand on his arm. "All in good time! I'm not a revenge-minded person normally, but I have a score to settle with your leader, Talon." "Me too, toots, me too!" "First the gargoyles," Jericho reminded them. "I'd like to have them ready when my mother comes back." "Your -- jump back! Demona's your mom? Hey, she used to park her fanny right in that cell!" "I thought you weren't in favor of this plan," Godiva said. "Worried that you might lose your status as her favorite." "You assured me that the clones were far less than perfect. They are mere copies, and poor ones at that. I am her son, her own flesh and blood. I have nothing to fear from them. Besides, are they not the next thing to mindless?" "They were created as blank slates, yes. Thailog neither needed nor wanted them to have any more sophisticated mentalities than was necessary to function and obey. What little they might have picked up since then will be easy to remove, reprogram. Especially with my brother's genius at work. They'll be the clan your mother's always wanted, blindly loyal." "If the subliminals work." Godiva fixed him with a stare. "Which we'd know, if your mother hadn't been so standoffish about letting us test them on other gargoyles." "She and I are the only other gargoyles." "Which is why she's so stubborn and untrusting. Gustav told me of his many setbacks, all of which stemmed from having to use human test subjects when the physical, neurological, and biochemical differences between the species are so extreme. Remember the failure with Thailog? My brother foresaw that, but Demona would have none of it." "Um, 'scuse me," Fang said, because by now he was sure he'd heard Godiva's voice somewhere before. "But who are you people?" "She's not about to submit herself as a gerbil pig for you scientists," Jericho said haughtily. "Nor risk her only son." "Guinea pig," Godiva corrected. "Like I said, totally untrusting. But it doesn't matter. The chemical gas I devised is specifically made to affect the clones' genetic structure, and Gustav's subliminals have their lower emotional and intellectual development taken into account." "So you say." "Need I remind you, it was your idea that my brother and I combine our efforts!" "I was weary of listening to the two of you argue over whose was the better science! I'd have said anything to make you cease!" "You're right, though, that together we are stronger. The Brothers Sevarius, a Gestalt approach to total control. It was also your suggestion that we use this Godiva robot for delivering both chemicals and subliminals. Catching more flies, or gargoyles as the case may be, with honey rather than vinegar." "Hey! Hold on!" Fang yelled, waving his hands like the ref at a football game. "Would somebody please tell me what the hell is going on here?" Then the name hit him, and connections were made, and he gaped at Godiva. "Sevarius?" "Catches on quick, doesn't he?" And now her voice was nothing but pure Sevarius, arrogant and more than a touch slimy. Fang backed away. "I said it before and I'll say it again. You can keep your cure. I like me this way! I don't want no more injections!" "And now we're to be saddled with this oaf?" Jericho gave Fang such a threatening glare that the mutate felt the fur stand up all along his spine. "There never was a cure." Godiva/Sevarius rolled her eyes. "Undo my own work? Ludicrous!" Fang quit backing up, but still observed them warily. "So what do you want with me, then?" "We're recruiting. Unless you like sitting around your cell." "We can put you back," Jericho offered. Or underground, his expression added ominously. "Hey, no, I'm cool. It's cool. Let's boogie, hunh?" He rubbed his hands together briskly, sparks of static electricty leaping around them. "It's payback time!" * * "Stop, dogs, stop," Malibu read flatly, tracing his finger under the words. "The ... luh ... lih ... ligghit is red now." "Light," Talon said. Brentwood swung his flashlight so the beam went directly into Talon's eyes, making his catlike pupils instantly narrow to tiny slits. "Light!" Talon pushed it away, blinking. "No, no. The word is light. Turn that thing off, you're wasting the batteries." "He likes it," Delilah said. "You gave it to him." "Go, dogs, go," Malibu plodded onward. "The light is green now." "Okay, that's enough for today." Talon stood, stretching. "Good job, Malibu. Burbank, tomorrow it's your turn." "We watch tv now?" Hollywood asked eagerly. "Time for A- Team!" "Fine." Talon retrieved the remote from where he had to hide it during study hour. He gave it over to Hollywood and the clones flocked eagerly to the battered color console. Delilah moved to Talon's side as he left the spacious but somehow claustrophobic room that housed the male clones, part untidy dorm and part classroom. "They try, they want to learn." He sighed. "I know. And I want to help them. But I'm an ex- cop, a pilot, a bodyguard ... I'm no elementary school teacher. Tough to get someone with a teaching credential down here." "Their minds are not so good. Like mine, only the master gave even less to them. They only needed to know to obey. Long time getting over that." "I just wish Goliath and his clan would take more of an interest in them. They're gargoyles, damn it. What do I know about teaching them how to live like gargoyles?" "Not gargoyles," Delilah declared, softly yet firmly. "Shadows. Copies. Not real. Not true. Bodies like gargoyles, yes, but grown in tubes. Abominations. No wonder Goliath's clan doesn't want them. Like seeing themselves in warped mirror. Ugly. Nowhere to be, no future, no hope." "You don't feel that way, do you?" "Some." She looked down. "I am lucky. Longer time, more effort was put into making me. I am pretty. They like better what is pretty, what is not bad copy. Elisa likes me. And Angela. I do not fear them, they welcome me." "If they welcome you, why don't you live with them?" "You do not want me here?" she asked, distressed. "Don't think that for a minute!" he said. "You're practically my sister. Maggie and the twins adore you. I only thought you might like to live with other gargoyles." "I stay here. I belong here." Her face, so like Elisa's, suddenly lit up, and she ran ahead of him, to where a huge figure with a mane of long, curled hair was just coming around the corner. Talon smiled in an indulgent, brotherly way as Delilah dashed to Samson. He turned and caught her up at arm's length, lifting her as if she weighed next to nothing. She laughed delightedly and plunged her hands into his hair, rubbing her knuckles against his forehead. Samson, formerly Samuel Blake, and before _that_ Samuel Sevarius, stood even taller than Talon and was even stronger than Goliath, but for all of that he remained gentle and shy. A childhood spent in the grips of a terminal and painful disease had given him an uncommon inner tranquility. Unlike most of the others in the Labyrinth, Samson didn't spend his time in bitter anger over what he'd lost, or bitter yearning for what he could never have. We could all take lessons from him, Talon thought, watching him smile up at Delilah. Me included. Accept our new lives, make the most of them. That's what we should be doing. Delilah said she was lucky. I'm lucky too. I've got Maggie and the kids, Mom and Dad, Elisa, Beth ... yeah, I should have no complaints. I'm out of the rat race, no more income taxes, no more commuting or any of that stuff. Feeling pretty darn good about things after all, Talon whistled as he headed off in a different direction from the two young lovers. He made his usual rounds of his domain before starting for home, checking in on some of his human charges, the tired and poor and huddled masses to which even Lady Liberty turned a blind eye. Most of them lived in what Maggie had nicknamed the Court of Miracles. It was a cavernous tunnel that had once been part of a failed seawater purification plant. Now tents, shacks, and even one fairly decrepit subway car made up a colorful subterranean shanty town. A water main along the wall, with an outflow valve that provided a decent-sized reservoir, meant that many of the people here were cleaner than they had been when they lived aboveground. While food and luxuries weren't exactly plentiful, they took comfort in knowing that the city above was knee-deep in snow while they were snug and warm. Talon waved, and got many waves in return. The newer residents were still edgy, but to the rest, the monsters that protected them were much preferable to the human monsters that plagued them above. Some of them beckoned, but he was eager to see the twins before Maggie put them down for the night. Or, he mentally amended with a chuckle, until she tried. Dee and Tom had a new favorite pastime, which involved clambering to the top of the dresser and testing out their little wings. They had gotten good enough so that they landed on their feet after gliding short distances, but they always touched down with hefty thumps that sent parental hearts skittering. He could smell dinner now. Salmon casserole, one of his favorites. Funny, he'd never really cared for fish before his transformation ... "Hey, your-fuggin'-majesty!" Fang leaped out of a side passage and slugged him in the jaw. Electric-blue energy exploded from the point of impact. Talon flew backward and hit a pipe, cracking it. Steam hissed forth, further clouding his already blurred vision. "Fang!" "Jailbreak!" Fang chortled, and brought both arms down in an arc. His glowing fists slammed down on Talon's shoulders. "Yeeeaaarrrgh!" Talon cried as the electricty surged through him. The door to their personal quarters popped open, silhouetting Maggie against warm golden light. She screamed her mate's name and raced toward them. "Maggie, get back!" Talon flung himself to his feet and grappled with Fang. Past Fang's tufted ear, he could see Claw charging to his aid. A gargoyle sprang from the shadows and tackled Claw. For a crazy instant, Talon thought it was Goliath, and then he saw the blue skin and the red hair. The gargoyle's elbow, spur and all, drove into the juncture of Claw's wing and back. Even from here, even over Fang's snarls, swears, and threats, Talon heard something break. Claw's wing sagged like a sail when the wind fell. He went to his knees, then to all fours. The gargoyle braced his foot against the back of Claw's head and pistoned him face-first into the floor. Claw shuddered all over, and went limp. Talon and Fang shoved each other back and forth, both of them keeping the electric blasts in reserve because to let loose while hanging onto each other would be to share the effects. Talon resorted to dirty fighting and bit at Fang's neck while ramming a knee upward. Fang's leg blocked the knee, but Talon's teeth tore out a huge wad of fur. Fang head-butted him, hitting him square between the eyes. Talon reeled, almost passed out, but made himself hang on. The gargoyle stood over Claw's body, watching the tussle. Maggie ran at him, hands ablaze with cold blue fire, but he turned and almost idly flicked his wrist. A scarlet beam shot from his arm and Maggie went tumbling. "Leave her alone!" Talon roared, and with renewed strength plowed Fang into the wall. The Labyrinth had always been something of a fixer-upper, and he hadn't gotten around to all the repairs yet. So when Fang's weight collided forcefully with the wall, it gave way and a yawning hole opened up. Talon tried to tear free but Fang held fast, and they both went through the wall and into the old elevator shaft beyond. Their wings battered against the sides, the confines too close to fully spread and brake their descent. The top of the old elevator seemed to be shooting up toward them. CRUNCH!! * * Maggie screamed again as she saw her mate and Fang vanish down the shaft. The gargoyle whipped around, and his blazing white eyes fixed upon her. Claw lay motionless beneath him, his head haloed by a growing pool of blood. For a moment, they stared at each other, neither moving. And then they both moved at once, him lunging for her, her retreating into the living room and hurling the door closed. The gargoyle threw himself against the door. Maggie yelled, "No!" and braced herself against it, her hindclaws digging into the carpet. "Mama?" The children! Dee and Tom were wide-eyed in alarm, clinging to each other like Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods, watching their mother trying to hold the door against a ravening monster right out of a nightmare. "Go! Hide!" Maggie begged. The door clicked shut and she shot the bolt, then pressed her back against it, panting, terrified. A pale-blue hand punched through the wood and seized her honey-colored hair. Her disobedient twins ran to her side. Brave little Tom jumped high and sank his tiny fangs into the arm sticking through the door, while Dee pulled on her mother. The gargoyle swore in startled pain and released Maggie so suddenly that she went sprawling on her face. She swept the twins into her arms as the door shook in its frame. He hit it again and the bolt went flying. The door flew wide and he filled the doorway. Maggie scuttled backward, huddling against the sofa with her children held tight against her. Both twins were puffed up and hissing in fearful kittenish rage. The gargoyle advanced. * * Anton Sevarius paused and peered in. On the grainy screen, Howling Mad Murdock was about to hit B.A. over the head so they could load the gold-decked side of beef onto a plane. The clones were sitting in a semicircle around it. One of them, the beaky one, was poring over a Dr. Seuss book. He couldn't remember the names Demona had given them. Anaheim? Irvine? Studio City, for pete's sake? But then, he could only barely keep Goliath's clan straight. Once his part of the cloning was done, he hadn't been welcome (or deemed it particularly prudent) to linger. One, two, three, four. Only males. No sign of the female hybrid named Delilah. It looked like the other female, the ebony- skinned Angela clone, hadn't made it after all. Just as Thailog said. Four males. Not his best work, really, but he had been rushed and operating under rather primitive conditions. Xanatos might have been avaricious, but he was generous with his wealth when it came to investing in projects. Thailog, on the other hand, had been downright stingy when it came to equipment and supplies. But, he reminded himself, they said even God Himself had to start off with mud. And God Himself hadn't been paid for His work. He was especially pleased with the way he'd been able to tap into the recessive genes carried in the gargoyle DNA. Each specimen carried the chromosomes for a wide range of characteristics, whether or not these characteristics were reflected in the actual subject. Therefore, he'd been able to give the smaller webbed-wing one a spiked mace of a tail, plus other fun modifications. He only wished he'd had the time to experiment further, and that he'd been able to figure out the pigmentation problem. That made no sense whatsoever, and the preliminary findings had been enticingly challenging. Well, time enough for that later. First, he had to collect them, bring them back into the fold. He eased into the room and waited for a commercial. Godiva was built with enough internal electronics to stock a Radio Shack, so as soon as the A-Team was replaced with a certain rabbit who was hungry for a certain fruity cereal, Anton used a universal remote to switch off the set. The clones looked accusingly at each other, but before they could get to arguing, Anton activated Godiva's sound system. The erotic strains of bellydancing music captured their attention. They turned, and instantly fell spellbound. Next, Anton activated the dance program, and began to writhe sensually to the music. He was beginning to find, to his consternation, that it wasn't all that unpleasant being a sex object. At the very least, it had its uses. His escape from Xanatos Enterprises had been greatly facilitated by his new look, since the security guard seemed to regard him as more of a divine dream than anything else. The four clones were swaying slackjawed to the music. Godiva's belt of gold coins shimmied and clinked as the hips shook. Anton parted those pouty lips and exhaled a cloudy mist of chemical gas. As the clones breathed it in, their eyelids drooped and their breathing slowed. The melody changed subtly, now underlaid with subliminal messages. Gustav's spell began to work its magic. * * Jericho pulled apart the elevator doors. The car was stalled about halfway between floors, so that the bottom of it reached waist-high on him. The ceiling of the car was buckled in and split in places, and the ventilation grid was now laying on the floor, molded into the shape of a mutate shoulder and head. An arm was dangling through the hole where the grid had been. Dusty brown fur. Fang. Jericho set a foot into the elevator car, and the whole works made an alarming squealing noise. The car shifted and dropped about four inches. He hastily withdrew his foot. He doubled back to the staircase. This part of the Labyrinth was an old subway station, or so he believed. It had long since fallen into complete disrepair, and he could almost believe the stories Heck used to tell about enormous albino rats and alligators. On the floor above, he had a tougher time prying the doors open, but eventually they yeilded. He peered down the shaft, seeing the crumpled pair of unconscious mutates below him. He speculatively eyed the cable. It was old, weak, rotten. A simple slash would do it, and he'd be rid of both of them. But Sevarius seemed to want one for study, and cannon fodder was always handy. He stretched out flat and reached down, and hooked his fingers through Fang's belt. He tried an experimental heft. Fang was heavier than he looked. Unbalanced, Jericho felt himself sliding forward, and without thinking grabbed onto the cable with his free hand. Metal strands let go one after the other with a series of small twanging noises. The elevator sank a few more inches. Jericho wedged his knees in the opening and held tight to Fang's belt. No sooner had he gotten a secure hold than it all gave way. The severed end of the cable whipped past Jericho's head, nearly taking off his ear. The elevator plunged out of sight, still carrying Talon. A horrendous crash rolled up the shaft, followed by a choking billow of dust. Fang stirred, came to, and yelped as he saw the shaft beneath his swinging feet. He started to struggle. "Be still, or I'll drop you," Jericho snarled through gritted teeth, his arm aching from having all of Fang's weight dangling at the end of it. "Stupid creature, more trouble than you're worth." "Yeah, sure, whatever you say. Just get me outta here, okay, buddy?" * * Anton Sevarius sashayed along like Bo Peep from hell, with his little lambs trotting behind him. Power and control. Almost as delicious as the godlike act of creation itself. He looked out over a vast tunnel, full of hovels and camp stoves and lines of drying laundry. Talon's kingdom, a Sodom of the genetically inferior. Diseases, poverty, alcoholism, mental illness. The dregs of society. He had once tried to help them with a truly marvellous drug that worked on humanity's rampant discontent. It removed all envy, leaving the subjects satisfied with whatever their station in life happened to be. But he'd been forced to destroy it by those who feared it would be used for the wrong purpose, removing the drive to strive from the true thinkers of the world. Which was a ridiculous supposition, but his arguments that it could be administered only to the dull-minded masses fell on deaf ears. He'd always made an effort to collect his subjects from the population of the hopeless, because his science could elevate them, give them purpose. The mutates, with the exception of Talon, had been taken from the street, a gang, a mental hospital. A good deed, and Anton could never understand why so many people failed to see it in just that way. The sight of so many living in such misery filled him with grief and outraged despair. Their existence was empty, pointless. They lived in the shadow of dreams they could never acheive, tormented by luxuries they saw on television or in magazines. It was cruel to force them to live out such desolate lives. Everyone had to have some purpose. If not in life, then at least in death. He wondered how the godlike act of destruction ranked, compared to creation and control. Test time. He beckoned to the clones, his new angels of the apocalypse. "Kill them." * * "What's that?" Fang asked, stopping in his tracks. "The screams of the dying," Jericho replied, pushing past him and breaking into a ground-covering lope on all fours. A panicked, grubby human was approaching at top speed. Jericho flicked his metal-sheathed tail as he passed, and the man's chest was laid open to the ribs. The human ran another four or five paces before he realized his inner workings were exposed to the air, and fell shrieking. Fang swore and jumped over him, trying to keep up. Now a stampede of humans was fleeing the cavernous tunnel. They fell, they trampled each other, they struck blindly at one another in their frenzy. Jericho sprang onto a ledge. Fang wasn't so quick, managing to leap but missing his hold. He fell back into the throng and was carried along for several yards like a rocker who had thrown himself to his fans, before being engulfed in the sea of humanity. Gargoyle shapes swooped and dove in the spacious tunnel. Dead and wounded humans littered the floor. Shacks were broken apart or in flames. And above it all, Sevarius stood on a ledge, urging the clones on. "Arrogant fool!" Jericho yelled. "Testing our soldiers," he called back. "Cleansing the earth! When we cannot be benevolent, we must be wrathful!" "He's gone mad," Jericho muttered to himself. As he was about to yell again, he saw men emerging from their tents and shabby dwellings with weapons. Not just clubs and knives, but firearms. Including a submachine gun, whose rough stitching peppered the air. One of the gargoyles, the bearded one, was blown against the curved ceiling by a hail of bullets. He stuck for a moment then peeled off, leaving an inkblot of a bloodstain. Jericho caught him just before he smashed to the floor. The sight of the felling of one of their attackers turned some of the humans' fear to fury. More of them seized up weapons. He took down three humans with his wrist laser, but there were too many against only five gargoyles, and these poor imitations were even less skilled as warriors than his siblings on Avalon had been. He scanned the room, seeking escape, and found instead the water main extending along one wall. Supporting the wounded gargoyle with one arm, he leveled his laser at the thick pipe. A section first glowed, then bubbled, then burst. A geyser spouted forth, the water pressure snapping off the edges of the hole, growing into a churning tidal wave that overwhelmed the nearest humans, sending them spinning like dolls. Jericho nodded, grimly pleased, and then the entire pipe exploded. * * "By water's already been done!" Anton Sevarius called aggravatedly, but Jericho couldn't hear him above the thundrous torrent. He spread Godiva's wings and prepared to go repeat his message face to face. The robot had not been made specifically with flight in mind, but did have a modest jetpack built in, which was in fact the only modest thing about her. Just as Anton lifted off and soared sexily into the cavern, the entire pipe exploded. The walls began to crumble under the terrible pressure of water surging against them. Tiles rained from the curved ceiling. The clones wheeled in confusion. Jericho, closer to them and holding onto an injured one, shouted something and they veered toward him. Anton glowered. _He_ was their Lorelei, their siren, their temptress and seducer-goddess. He was their creator. Their loyalty should be his, not Jericho's, not Demona's. He arrowed toward them, meaning to remind them of that particular fact. "Get hence!" Jericho yelled. "This way!" The tunnel was caving in, undone by the flood. A subway car bobbed along like a child's plastic toy on the raging froth. Jericho was leading the clones toward one of the upper passages which overlooked the tunnel. "There's no exit that way!" Anton announced, but they ignored him. The way was blocked by metal bars, but Jericho's wrist laser made short work of them. He urged the clones through, bundling the wounded one into their arms. All around them was shaking now, as if in the grip of an earthquake. Even the smaller passage, down which the clones were fleeing, was beginning to crack apart. Some sort of thick, gritty goo oozed from the roof. Sevarius joined Jericho. "How dare you --" "Come on, or stay here and die!" With that, the gargoyle followed the clones. "This isn't finished!" He started after them, but when he heard the grandaddy of all crashes behind him, he had to take one last look. The tunnel had completely collapsed, making a two-block long sinkhole in the city streets above. Huge slabs of pavement and snow- laden sidewalks plunged into the turbulent mess, carrying cars and pedestrians with them. A traffic signal stuttered through its green- amber-red before its cable was severed and it vanished beneath the waves. It finally occured to Anton that he might be in real danger here. But the devastation held an incredible fascination, so he was helpless to look away. When he heard the ceiling over him give way, he finally turned to flee. Too late. * * "I still don't see how she could have gotten away," Brooklyn said, gliding close to Lex. "How come the surveillance tapes don't show anything?" "According to her blueprints, she had internal remotes that would let her temporarily deactivate the cameras and other recording devices," Lex explained. "Jeez, what was Xanatos planning to do with her?" Brooklyn wondered. "I thought he only built her for the bachelor party!" "Wouldn't a security guard have to have seen her?" Angela asked. "They're all denying it, but I bet Xanatos will figure it out. All his employees have signed oaths agreeing to submit to polygraphs and truth serums if needed." "Lovely." Angela peered down at the device Lex held. "Are you sure this thing will find her?" "Should. It's homing in on something, anyway." "Sloppy," Brooklyn said. "Xanatos needs to keep better track of his toys. Did you hear what he said, he doesn't even know how long she's been gone? And I don't like the way he looked when he said he didn't have any idea how it could have happened. Malfunction, my tail! He knows something that he's not telling." "Hey, we're getting a good strong signal now!" Lex frowned. "It's coming from the Labyrinth!" "The Labyrinth?" his companions echoed. They banked around a skyscraper, heading for one of the Labyrinth's many entrances, and all three of them sucked in startled breaths at what was laid out before them. The sinkhole looked like a volcanic crater, bubbling and pluming with steam. People ran frantically along the edges, trying to reach those trapped on tilted chunks of sidewalk. Storefronts were about to topple. Buildings had taken on a pronounced lean, like that Italian tower. For blocks in all directions, power was out and the looting was already beginning. Car alarms shrieked endlessly. Headlights, and flashers from the sole police car at the scene, provided the only illumination. "Son of a bitch!" Brooklyn marvelled. "What happened?" "Look!" Angela pointed. "I think I see Talon!" Winged shapes were headed toward them. Angela swooped anxiously to meet them, with Brooklyn and Lex close behind. "Those aren't the mutates!" Lex cried, and then the clones were upon them. They braced for combat, but the clones only shot past with token strikes of fist and tail. The only one that connected was the anti- Brooklyn, who got in a lucky blow that sent Angela careening into the jungle of clotheslines between two buildings. The lines tore loose but her wings were entangled, and her best effort to free herself only sent her falling straight toward the sinkhole. "Angela!" Brooklyn, who had gone in pursuit of his double with violence on his mind, turned back and dove after her. There was no way he could reach her in time. She struggled, struck her head on a ledge, and plummeted limply toward the roiling waters. "No!" Brooklyn nearly rivaled Goliath in his roar. A gargoyle came up under Angela and caught her. For a crazy moment, Brooklyn thought it was Thailog, but as they flashed through the fan of headlights, he realized who it was. "Jericho!" Demona's son landed on a rooftop with his sister gently cradled in his arms. Brooklyn caught an updraft and landed nearby, and the two males sized each other up. "You must be Brooklyn." "Let her go!" A puzzled look crossed Jericho's face. "I would not harm her. She is my sister, in blood as well as rookery, and is precious to my mother. And to me." He stroked Angela's hair with a possessive tenderness that Brooklyn didn't like one little bit. "She's not going with you. She stays with us!" "Nor would I abduct her," he said, as if Brooklyn were an idiot for even suggesting such a thing. "In time, she'll come to us of her own free will." "No." He stepped forward, meaning to do or die for the lady fair. "There's no need for that." Jericho simply handed her over to him. "She wants to talk to you. So does Goliath." "I have nothing to say to Goliath at the moment. When I do, he'll hear from me, rest assured." Brooklyn moved back, just in case Jericho had only given him Angela in order to occupy his arms so he couldn't block a punch. "Listen to me. Demona -- she's evil. She's just using you!" Jericho's eyes went briefly afire. "Watch it, sirrah!" "I'm trying to help you, dammit!" "Perhaps it's you that needs the help. Goliath has turned you weak. You waste your time protecting the humans. I can see how it goes against your instincts. When a gargoyle was in danger, you put the humans from your mind to help her. That is how it should be. We should stand together against them, make our kind great and strong again." "I'd put other gargoyles from my mind to save Angela," he retorted. Jericho's brow ridges went up. "Are you her mate, then?" he asked disbelievingly. "Well ..." he hemmed and hawed like he always did when someone brought it up. "Good," Jericho said, reading the answer in his pause. "You're not worthy of her." That stung. Brooklyn bristled. "I'll show you who's worthy!" "Save it. I'm sure we'll meet again." With that, he leisurely spread his majestic wings and headed for the distant circling specks that were the clones. "I'll be looking forward to it," Brooklyn grumbled. Lex landed next to him. "Wasn't that --?" "You know what, Lex? I only just met him, but I really hate that guy." Brooklyn shook his head, exhaling in frustration. "I got over hating Demona, all because Angela wanted me to, and now her brother turns out to be a real creep. Reminds me of Coldsteel." "Forget him! There's people in trouble, and they need us!" "Right." Brooklyn patted Angela's cheek. She moaned and opened her eyes. "What happened?" "Explain later. Come on, we've got work to do!" * * Some people did the old screaming and running thing as the gargoyles descended, but Lex noticed that many of them were quicker than usual to realize they were only trying to help. He threw all his weight against the raised rear bumper of a precariously tilted Cadillac to keep it from going in nose-first. An elderly couple struggled out. As the pavement continued to give way, the Caddy tipped further. The silver-haired gent glanced at Lex and said with remarkable calm, "Go ahead and let it go, sonny, we're insured." He did so, and the expensive car plunged fifty feet into the churning water. He had a brief glimse of Brooklyn, who had evidently saved a babe wearing a long coat, fishnets, and very little else, and she was determined to reward him with a smothering kiss. Angela was occupied with a woman who kept shrieking a man's name and trying to throw herself into the sinkhole. Contrary to popular belief, these New Yorkers didn't look the other way or walk away from the trouble. Lex found himself working side by side with humans, young and old, black and white, poor and rich, everybody pitching in. Rescue workers arrived, and although the television reporters were hot on their heels, slowly things began to come under control. On the far side of the sinkhole, a manhole cover popped high in the air and came down with a clang. "Over there!" someone called. Lex looked where he was pointing, and saw a waterlogged Maggie emerging from the sewer, little Tom clinging to her fur. Delilah, holding Dee, clambered up behind her. All of them were soaked, sputtering. The nearest people stared, but then one stepped forward and caught Tom just as Maggie collapsed. That got the rest of them moving, picking up Maggie, supporting Delilah, comforting the twins, as if they weren't winged monsters at all. Lex, Angela, and Brooklyn glided swiftly across, then hung back for a moment, amazed. "I never thought I'd see the day," Angela said softly. "Humans, helping us!" "Come on." Lex hurried to Delilah, who was leaning against the elderly man from the Caddy and coughing out brackish water. A reporter and cameraman beat Lex to them, but he got in the first word. "Delilah! What happened? Where's Talon?" She looked blankly at him, then her eyes cleared a bit. "Samson, I, hear fight, hear crash, go see. Claw is dead? Samson find hole, where lifter fall, Talon too. He goes down look Talon, I look Maggie. Find locked in closet with babies. Water comes. Claw, we try to bring, too heavy!" She started to weep. "Left him, left Talon, left Samson!" The man holding her gave her an understanding squeeze. "You had to save yourselves and the children. You did what you had to do." "A fight?" Brooklyn said, exchanging a meaningful glance with Lex. "Who?" Delilah shook her head, her drenched white hair hanging dispiritedly in her face. "No know." "We'll go look for them," Angela promised. "Right now." "It's not safe down there!" someone protested. "By now," the elderly man said, "everything that is going to fall in has fallen in. Still, you three be careful. We can't afford to lose more lives." "How does Godiva fit into all this?" Brooklyn asked Lex as they followed Angela to the sinkhole, out of earshot of the humans. "Could she have been a bomb?" "I don't think the homing transmitter would have survived," Lex said, consulting his tracking device. "This says she's right under us!" "Yeah, but how far under?" They peered into the depths. The water had stopped rising, stopped roiling, but its surface was clotted with debris and bodies. None of the bodies had fur or wings, but even so, Lex didn't hold out much hope. If Talon hadn't turned up by now, it probably meant the worst. "Let's go have a look." Lex glided down. He found Godiva right away. A side tunnel, about six feet above flood level, was caked with silt and mud and some sort of gritty substance. A few paces down that tunnel was a tall blob, shaped roughly like a gargoyle. From the knees down, it was mud and sludge, and the rest of it was encased in the gritty whitish stuff. Lex looked up, to the ragged hole in the ceiling and the broken drum above. He pinched off a bit of the grit, sniffed it, and touched it to the tip of his tongue. "Salt." "Say what?" Brooklyn asked. "Salt. This was part of the old purification plant, trying to get pure water from seawater. The salt and crud leftover must have been stored up there." Angela touched what seemed to be an outstretched arm. "And that's Godiva? This pillar of salt?" "The signal says so, and it's sure not shaped like Talon!" An echoing boom shuddered the passage. Before they could even wonder to each other what it had been, a second sounded. A big fist came through the wall, shedding tile and concrete dust. "What the --?" Brooklyn started, then jumped forward and began pulling at the edges of the hole, widening it. A large head, with a drowned mess of long curled hair, poked through. Weary green-gold eyes met theirs. "Samson!" Angela said. He pushed fully into the narrow passage, and that was when they saw what he carried. Talon and Claw were slung over his massive shoulders, both motionless, battered, and dark with blood. * * "Goliath! Come here, lad!" Hudson bellowed urgently. Certain that they were under attack, Goliath charged into the suite with muscles tensed for action. Instead of invaders, he found Hudson leaning so close to the television that his nose almost touched the screen. A box in the top corner heralded it to be a live broadcast. The camera panned swiftly over a scene of unbelievable destruction, then zoomed in on a gargoyle. "That be Delilah!" Hudson cried. She was leaning on a silver-haired gent who managed to look distinguished despite being as bedraggled as the rest of the crowd. "And Lexington!" Goliath leaned equally close, so that he and Hudson were squashed together side to side. Haltingly, having lost much of her hard-won language skills due to shock, she replied to Lex's question of what had happened. Behind them, the could see humans draping Maggie in blankets, humans cradling the twins. They watched in shocked silence as the camera swung to follow Lex, Angela, and Brooklyn diving into the gigantic hole. Xanatos came bursting in. "Have you seen -- oh, good!" "What the devil be going on?" "That's what I'd like to know!" He tapped the screen, where the reporter was trying to interview the silver-haired man, who was in turn trying to console a sobbing Delilah. "That's William Harmond, former Senator, now with the Defense Department!" "What be he doing with Delilah?" "Damned if I know, but it's going to be great for your PR." Harmond gave enough of his attention to the reporter to explain how he and his wife had been saved from certain death by one of the gargoyles. "And that was only the first act of selfless heroism I've seen here tonight. Even now, those brave young people --" "People?" the reporter butted in incredulously. "Yes, I said people and I mean _people_," Harmond snapped icily. "Who are risking life and limb to search for more survivors." The phone rang, and Goliath seized it up without taking his eyes from the set. "Hello? Elisa! Yes, we're watching it now. No ... but I'm sure ... yes. I'll be there. How close are you?" "Look there!" Hudson called. The camera was trained on the edge of the sinkhole as the gargoyles appeared, struggling to bear aloft the limp bodies of two mutates. Humans dashed forth to help them as they landed. "They've found him!" Goliath said into the phone, as proud and triumphant as if he'd been there himself. "Elisa, do you hear? They've found him!" One last figure climbed from the wreckage. The crowd drew back at the sight of Samson, who was clearly not a gargoyle. But when Delilah flung herself at him with a glad cry, and he embraced her as if he would never let her go, a cheer rose from every throat. The photograph made the cover of Time. * * "What a mess," Owen said, shaking grit from his industrial- strength rubber gloves. Xanatos scrubbed his forearm across his brow, leaving a smudge. "I know." "It's going to take forever to get her cleaned up." "I know." "And we may never be able to bring her back online. Still, I suppose we're lucky to have retrieved her at all." "All part of being an upstanding member of the community. When Harmond donated thirty million to the cleanup effort, I could do no less. Plus, it gave me the chance to send in my own team. How long do you think I'm going to be able to keep ducking Brooklyn's questions?" Owen considered. "Not long, I'd say." "You're probably right. I suppose we'd better come up with a story." "Why not the truth, sir?" Xanatos looked at him. "Owen, I can't believe you said that!" "We may have lost Sevarius forever," Owen pointed out. "What difference does it make?" "Well," Xanatos grinned, "I did make a backup!" * * "How is he?" Elisa asked. "No change, I'm afraid," the doctor replied. "We've got the best neurologists in the country working on him, but with cases like this, there really isn't much more we can do." Maggie buried her face in her hands, and Talon put his good arm around her. The other one was broken in three places and had metal pins in the elbow. He was still swathed with bandages, balanced on a crutch, had six sprung ribs, and had given the doctors the interesting challenge of trying to stitch up a ten-inch tear in his wing. Claw had only two wounds. His left wing was badly broken but would mend. His head, though ... he'd been driven face-first into concrete, fracturing his skull into a jigsaw puzzle that had taken eighteen hours of surgery to put back together. Most of his scalp had been torn loose, so a ring of stitches now ran across the back of his head. Both of his corneas had become detatched, and while they'd been carefully replaced, there was some doubt if he'd ever see well through it again. But, as long as he was in a coma so deep that they could only pick up the faintest of brainwaves, there was little point worrying about his vision. "We're giving him the best care that we can," the doctor assured them. "We'll alert you the moment we know more." He scrutinized Talon. "You should be in bed. You need your rest." Talon agreed, which tipped Elisa off to just how much pain he was in. As a kid, Derrek Maza had always hated being bedridden, and drove their mom purely crazy whenever he was sick. The time he'd fallen out of a tree and broken his leg, Diane had finally threatened to tie him down. That he was so willing to return uncomplaining to his specially-modified hospital bed was a bad sign. She followed as Maggie took him back to his room and got him settled. He closed his eyes almost at once, and was soon making a sound somewhere between a snore and a purr. "Oh, Elisa, what are we going to do?" Maggie asked in a soft, despairing voice. "Poor Claw!" "He'll be all right," Elisa said, though it was an empty comfort. "Have you talked about coming to live at the castle?" She nodded. "We did, but I don't think either of us would feel right. We like the gargoyles, really we do, and even Xanatos is sort of okay, but I don't think we could live there. Your parents want us to move in with them, but they don't have the room for all of us, and there's the neighbors and everything. Even though the kids would love it." Talon stirred and opened one eye. In a thick, drugged voice, he mumbled something. "Yes, dear," Maggie said, and he subsided into sleep again. "What was that?" "He says we're going to rebuild the Labyrinth, that it's our home and he's not giving it up." "Do you want that?" "It's the first real home I've ever had. Sure, it has some bad memories, and this is the worst, but it has good memories too. Samson and Delilah have already gone back to start trying to make it our home again. There are people who need us. It's our ... what's the word? Protectorate." "I'll help however I can," Elisa promised. "So will Goliath and the clan. Maggie, I have to ask you something. I didn't want to before, when you were so upset and worried; heck, we all were! But now I have to." She sighed heavily. "Derrek says Fang attacked him, and a gargoyle he didn't recognize was the one that hurt Claw. Did you get a good look at that gargoyle?" "Yes. He chased me into our rooms, and I was sure he was going to kill us. But he just stood there, looking down at us. At first, he seemed angry, and then he said, 'no' to himself, really quiet, and something about mothers and children. Then he told me that he wasn't going to hurt us, but he couldn't have us interfering, so he locked us in the closet. That was where Delilah found us, and by then we were already ankle-deep in water. If she hadn't been able to break the lock, we would have drowned in there." "What did he look like?" "A lot like Goliath," Maggie said. "Except his skin was blue, and his hair was red. Why? Do you know who he is?" "Yeah," Elisa said unhappily. "Yeah, 'fraid I do." * * Demona glanced toward the security systems control panel. A green light was flashing. Someone had just punched in the access code, and since only one other person had that code, she smiled warmly as the front door opened. "You found the house! What do you think?" Jericho, her son, her pride and joy, stepped into the foyer and looked around appreciatively. "It's almost a castle!" "I owe it all to you. If not for the gold that you brought with you from Avalon, I never would have been able to afford it." "You owe me nothing!" He came to her and clasped her hands earnestly. "I owe you everything! What is the loss of a few metal trinkets compared to all you've given me?" She brushed her knuckles against his brow ridges. "Well, I want you to know that I've made you a partner in Nightstone Unlimited. Jerry Destine is now a vice president. Together, we'll recover from what Thailog did. Once we've taken care of him, I'm sure the money he's amassed will more than make up for the damages." "How did it go with the sorceress? Did you recruit her?" She made a sour face and rubbed just below her halter, under the fullness of her breasts. A small darker-blue scar marred her smooth skin. "I'd rather not discuss it." He fell to his knees and reached toward the scar, not quite touching it. "You're hurt! But I thought you couldn't be, that every wound mended!" She ran her fingers slowly through his hair. "I'm all right. It just took longer than usual to get over that injury. And look what I have to show for it!" She gestured to a shimmering twist of horn that hung over the mantle. It was shaded red, white, and black. "A unicorn's horn! But no virgin sorceress?" "Don't ask." Demona glowered ferociously. "It wasn't even Goliath that interfered, just a runt and a butterball and of all things a human brat with dyed hair!" "I have a surprise that might cheer you," he said with a roguish grin. "Come and see! No, first cover your eyes!" "Jericho, what is all this?" she laughed as he put his hands over her face and steered her toward the door. She felt the cool night wind coming in off the lake, heard a shifting and rustling sound. "Behold!" He grandly swept his hands away from her eyes. "Oh!" Demona went down the porch steps, into the midst of the gargoyles gathered there. "Can it be?" "It's your clan," Jericho said proudly. "I won them back for you." "Brentwood, Hollywood, Burbank, Malibu!" she cried, turning to each. They all looked on her with rapt adoration. "Jericho, how?" "Sevarius helped," he admitted, coming to join her. "They're yours now. Your clan. This time, no Thailog to turn them against you." She rested her palms along the sides of Jericho's strong jaw. "_Our_ clan," she corrected. "You'll be my second-in-command, and they will be our clan!" He trailed his fingers along her arm to the spur of her elbow. "Ours," he breathed. "A clan, a company, and someday the world," she promised. * * The End.

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