"Jungle Fiver, COMBINE!" Blitzy Zulander's voice rang out over the airwaves as she shouted the command into her helmet mike. Instantly, the five vehicles parked in the grass around her rose into the air and fused into a single form: Jungle Fiver. The towering bot launched into the sky, followed closely by VAS, Blitzy's small aircraft. "We're on our way, ZZ!" she called.
"Good," her brother replied over the radio. "When we get to RM Corp City, you start a diversionary attack on the main gate while the BOYZZs and I sneak into the city at Side Gate Three. We'll destroy the krang-ore convoy and then meet you back at home."
"Gotcha, ZZ! I'll be there in five minutes!"
Blitzy and Jungle Fiver sped towards RM Corp City. Meanwhile, on the ground, Ziv Zulander was headed for the city by car, accompanied by a team of BOYZZs.
"You all know the plan," ZZ told the BOYZZs over his radio. "First, Swang will sneak in and knock out the security cameras on the trucks. Then the rest of us will surround the trucks and attack. Hopefully, once we get the convoy's Greenbot escorts taken care of, there won't be any more coming. They should all be busy at the main gate."
"Yeah," said Jammerzz. "While they're busy with Blitzy, we'll knock that convoy dizzy!"
"A wise man once zaid, 'Do not count your chickenzz before they are hatched'," Ninjzz told Jammerzz calmly.
"Yeah, yeah," Jammerzz retorted. "Ninjzz, you're too pezzimiztic for your own good. We're gonna beat the Corp like I zaid we would."
"All right, BOYZZs," ZZ admonished. "Save it for the Greenbots."
The ride continued in silence. Meanwhile, Blitzy had reached the main gate of RM Corp City and opened fire.
"We'll have this gate swarming with Greenbots in no time!" Blitzy shouted joyfully.
"Thissss convoy will provide usssss with enough krang-ore to upgrade asssss many assss two thousssssand 3-Assss," Dr. Hiss told Lady Frenzy in her office. "Withhhhh thhhhat many botssssss under our control, we can--"
He was cut off by his portable communications mike. "Greenbot 38-472 to Dr. Hiss. The main gate is under attack."
Hiss scowled and pressed a button on his communicator. "Hissssss to all Greenbotsssss," he barked. "Procccceed to main gate for defenssssse againssssst attack."
He turned back to Lady Frenzy, whose normally serene face wore a scowl almost as horrible as Hiss's. "It ssssseemsss our friend Zuuulander is bent on ssssstopping thisssss ssssshipment," Hiss commented.
Frenzy's reply was brisk. The core of her voice dripped with anger, though the edges were fringed with something more. "Just see to it that he doesn't make it past the gate."
Meanwhile, ZZ and the BOYZZs had gotten into RM Corp City without much trouble. Apparently, all security forces had been focused on defending the city from Blitzy's phony attack.
ZZ's team slowed to a crawl, then stopped at a corner. Scanners indicated that the krang-ore convoy was approaching on the main road. Twigg's cowling opened and a cat-sized BOYZZ jumped to the top of the car.
"All right, Swang, it's up to you," ZZ told the hyperactive little robot, who promptly bounced away. Swang crossed the street and hopped onto the roof of a truck that was making its way down the street, accompanied by four other trucks and two transports of Greenbots. She quickly walked up behind a security camera and tore out a handful of wires with her tiny claws. Satisfied, she hopped to the next truck and repeated the process, then on to the next truck.
Swang had just disabled the camera on the last truck when she happened to look up. The rooftops on either side of them were filled with Greenbots. Swang chittered in panic.
"All ready, Swang?" came ZZ's voice. He was obviously anxious to strike before the Corp lost interest in Blitzy's attack.
Swang whistled back a sharp negative. If ZZ and the BOYZZs attacked, they'd never be able to beat the Greenbots.
"It's Laser Time, BOYZZs! Let's get 'em!" ZZ shouted enthusiastically. Splitvan and Twigg surged forward and out of the dark alley.
Twigg had no sooner cleared the alley than a high-pitched series of whistles, like the language of dolphins, assaulted ZZ's ears. ZZ squeezed the steering wheel hard as he struggled to interpret Swang's coded shrieks. Usually the translation came effortlessly, but usually ZZ wasn't driving, enduring ear-splitting noise, and trying to talk to Swang at the same
Finally Swang's panicked exclamations began to make sense.
Gobackgobackgobackgobackgoback . . .
Swang must have blown a circuit, ZZ thought. There's no reason for her to say that. Out loud he shouted, "Splitvan, split! Surround the convoy!"
ZZ steered Twigg into position as Ninjzz, the Street BOYZZs, and the Sports BOYZZs did the same with the four vehicles that were Splitvan. Swang continued to warble worriedly.
"Be quiet, Swang!" ZZ snapped, without even bothering to listen to the little BOYZZ. If he had, he would have heard, There're Greenbots on the roof ZZ there're hundreds of them go back go back . . .
"Let's blow this krang-ore!" ZZ shouted. Laser beams sprang forth from Twigg and Splitvan, searing into the Corp trucks. Almost instantly, Greenbots jumped from the transport trucks, poised to fire. Other Greenbots hurried to man the guns mounted on the tops of the trucks.
"Greenbot 723-91 to Doctor Hiss," one of the Greenbots said into its microphone.
"Hisssss here," came the reply.
"The convoy is under attack," the Greenbot informed its superior calmly. It didn't care what happened to the krang-ore, or itself, for that matter. Only the bot's controlling krang-chip demanded that it report the incident at all. Doctor Hiss, on the other hand, was far from calm.
"It musssst be Zuuuulander!" he squawked in rage. "Dessssstroy the attackers! Protect the krang-ore at all cosssssts!"
As if shot from a gun, all the Greenbots in the transports began firing on Twigg and the Splitvan sections.
"It's now or never, BOYZZs!" ZZ shouted, jumping out of Twigg even as he spoke. ZZ rolled as he hit the ground and came up firing, sending flashes of laser fire into the midst of the Greenbots.
Ninjzz, Bats, Ace, All-Ball, and the Street BOYZZs did the same as Twigg transformed and Bogey manned the airplane section of Splitvan. The street was soon ablaze with laser fire as the BOYZZs advanced toward the trucks and the Greenbots defended their precious cargo.
Swang, meanwhile, was trying her best to reach ZZ. She had to warn him about the extra Greenbots. After looking around for a moment, Swang spotted ZZ in the melee and launched herself off the truck, jumping toward ZZ with all of the considerable bounce in her tiny body. She landed short by ten feet, a nearly infinite distance in the heat of battle for anyone
else her size. Swang,however, cleared the distance easily with another leap and landed on ZZ's back.
ZZ, there are about fifty Greenbots hidden on the roof! she whistled.
This time, ZZ listened. He looked up and saw the Greenbots Swang had been talking about. They stood in neat rows along the edges of the rooftops, and they all had weapons trained on the scene below.
"Thanks, Swang," ZZ said. "I'm sorry I didn't listen before. You go back to Splitvan and wait for us. We'll blow this convoy yet!" Swang bounded away obediently.
"Bogey, Twigg, focus on the cargo trucks," ZZ ordered. "We'll handle the Greenbots!"
Twigg focused his considerable firepower on one of the trucks while Bogey fired on another from his Splitvan section. One after another, they exploded, showering the road with debris. There were only two trucks left. ZZ continued firing at the Greenbots. The ones on the roof hadn't started firing yet, but ZZ knew they would at a moment's notice.
"I can't get in cloze enough," Bogey called over the mike from the plane section of Splitvan. "It'z thoze lazer cannonz on top of the truckz."
"I'll take care of that!" ZZ replied. He touched a button on his uniform front and rose into the air until he was hovering above the truck.
"Yea-ha!" ZZ destroyed the laser cannon with a sharp blast from his helmet.
"Thankz, ZZ!" Bogey yelled. He brought the plane down low and opened fire, tearing into the truck with a series of laser beams. The truck exploded in a ball of flame as ZZ descended to the ground.
"All right!" ZZ yelled encouragingly. "One more!" As if ZZ had uttered magic words, the Greenbots stationed on the roof opened fire, turning the tables completely.
"I can't get at the lazt truck!" Bogey shouted. "There's too much fire from thoze Greenbotz!"
"Concentrate on the Greenbots, Twigg!" ZZ ordered. "Cover Bogey so he can blast that truck!"
Twigg complied quickly, sending a volley of blasts onto the roof. As the first row of Greenbots exploded in flames, another row stepped up to replace them. On the ground, ZZ, the Street BOYZZs, Ninjzz, Bats, Ace, and All-Ball were still fighting the Greenbots that had escorted the trucks. ZZ was blasting Greenbots right and left, and could see the BOYZZs doing the same all around him. Suddenly, the Greenbot directly in front of ZZ raised its weapon and pointed it at him. ZZ waited until the bot pressed the firing mechanism. Then he touched his anti-grav activator.
"Surprise!" he yelled at the Greenbot, expecting to soar above the deadly laser beam. Nothing happened. ZZ dropped to the ground just in time, the beam passing harmlessly over his head.
I must not have pressed it hard enough, ZZ thought as the Greenbot took aim again. With no time to get to his feet, he pressed the button again. On the other hand, he thought, the battery could be dead. As the Greenbot fired, ZZ thought bleakly, And so am I.
"Greenbot 386-47 to Dr. Hiss," came over Hiss' personal mike as he sat in Frenzy's office.
"Hissssss here," he replied.
"I have shot terrorist Ziv Zulander," the bot reported.
"Issss he dead?" Hiss asked excitedly.
"No," the Greenbot replied, "he is wounded and unconscious."
"Terminate him." Dr. Hiss was smiling from ear to ear as he gave the order.
"Noooo! Executive override of that order!" Lady Frenzy exclaimed.
"What are you doing?" Hiss asked incredulously. "We can't passss up thisssss opportunity!"
"Exactly," Frenzy said. "This is an excellent opportunity to test your new mind-control device. We can turn Zulander back to the Corp."
"Assss you wissssh," Hiss said unhappily. He turned back to his microphone. "Bring Zuuuulander to my lab." He gave Frenzy a look that could fry concrete. "We're going to have sssssome fun."
"A hole in one!" Bogey yelled as the last of the trucks exploded. Just then, a stray laser blast caught the edge of his Splitvan section, rocking it violently.
"I'm hit!" he exclaimed. "There're too many Greenbots, ZZ!"
It was Ninjzz who answered. "I think ZZ'z batteriez are drained," he explained to his fellow BOYZZ. "He can't hear uz."
"Well, we're getting blazted on the ground here too," Jammerzz shouted. "We're gonna get buzted if we don't move!"
"We've done what we came to do," Ninjzz said. "Let'z pull back."
"What about ZZ?" Toolzz asked.
"Twigg will ztay here to pick him up," Ninjzz replied. "Now let'z get going."
The BOYZZs scrambled back into Splitvan, which joined into one vehicle as they sped away, leaving Twigg behind. Twigg dropped into car form and backed into the alley, where he was both protected from enemy fire and hidden from view. Being the patient BOYZZ that he was, he had no
objections to waiting.
"Ah, welcome, Lady Frenzy," Dr. Hiss greeted his colleague. "We were jusssst getting sssstarted."
Frenzy stepped into Hiss' lab (not her favorite place) and proceeded to the center of the room. There, on a table usually reserved for bots, lay the unconscious form of Ziv Zulander.
"Lady Frenzy, meet Ziv Zuuuulander," Hiss said mockingly.
Frenzy glanced at the blood on the shoulder of ZZ's uniform. "Shouldn't you have someone check that?" she asked.
"It'ssss merely sssssuperfisssssial," Hiss replied. "Unfortunately, the laser blassssst that ssssstruck him was not at full power."
"Due, no doubt, to the fact that your Greenbots can't stand up to a real attack," Frenzy replied dryly.
"And what do you call a real attack?" Hiss asked.
"A real attack is the kind Zulander can dish out," Frenzy told him.
"If I wasn't assss intelligent assss I am," Dr. Hiss retorted, "I'd sssssay you have feelingsssss for thissss pitiful weakling!"
"I admire him," Frenzy said angrily, "as I would anyone who had managed to elude us for as long as he did." She chose to ignore the accuracy of Hiss' statement.
There was a moment of complete silence in the room as the full impact of Frenzy's statement sank in. Ziv Zulander had been the RM Corp's biggest enemy, and they had captured him. It was an awe-filled silence, an almost unbreakable silence. Lady Frenzy broke it.
"Let's get on with it," she said.
"You did what?!" Blitzy was furious.
"We had no choice," Ninjzz said. "Bezidez, we didn't juzt abandon him."
"It's a good thing you didn't," Blitzy shouted, "because if you had, I would be very, very ANGRY!"
"Calm down, Blitzy," Toolzz told the frothing ten-year-old. "Twigg ztayed to pick ZZ up."
Blitzy looked dangerously close to exploding when Cook walked in from the hallway, carrying a covered dish.
"Zuppertime!" the exuberant BOYZZ announced. Blitzy sat down to eat, thus ending the conversation.
"That'ssss the lasssst connection," Doctor Hiss said as he fastened an electrode to ZZ's right temple.
Lady Frenzy looked at ZZ, who was still unconscious amidst a mass of wires. We shouldn't have to do this, she thought sadly. Why did you have to betray us, Ziv?
"Let's test your machine, shall we?" she said out loud.
Dr. Hiss slipped a disk into a nearby machine and activated it.
"Thissss will take about an hour," he said. "Perhapssss you should ssssstudy the program parametersssss." He handed Frenzy a folder. It was labeled "Mental Re-programming Subject File: Ziv Zulander."
"I'll be in my office," Frenzy said.
"I zearched the area," Twigg told Ninjzz. "He juzt dizappeared."
"I heard that," came a voice from the hallway.
"Blitzy!" Ninjzz said in surprise. "I thought you were in bed."
"I got hungry," Blitzy said. She had obviously been getting a midnight snack, for she had a milk moustache and there were crumbs stuck to the front of her pajamas.
"Now, what happened to ZZ?" she asked.
"I don't know," Twigg replied honestly. "I waited in the alley for twenty minutez, and ZZ never zhowed up. I zearched the area, but I didn't find anything." "Except this," he amended quickly, holding up a scrap of yellow cloth.
"Recognize this?" Twigg asked.
Blitzy hesitated, then took the scrap from Twigg's outstretched hand. She spread it out against the wall, noting the ragged edges. Ninjzz and Twigg watched her nervously. Suddenly Blitzy gasped and pointed to the edge of the cloth, where there was part of a white design, badly torn: two interlocked letter 'Z's.
"It's ZZ's uniform!" Blitzy shrieked. "Where'd you find this?"
"At the battle zite," Twigg told her. "It was stuck to some wreckage."
"ZZ must have fallen, and the cloth tore when he got up," Ninjzz deduced for Blitzy's benefit.
"Was picked up, you mean," Blitzy said angrily. "If ZZ fell down, that means he's hurt!"
"Not necessarily, Blitzy," Ninjzz reassured her. "He probably got down in order to avoid being hurt."
"I hope you're right," Blitzy said. Her tone conveyed a clear message: You'd better be right! "I'll keep an eye on Mirrorzz just in case." Blitzy sat down in ZZ's chair and turned on the computer screen. Her anxious eyes were greeted by a tired-looking Lady Frenzy, who was reading some papers at her desk. Blitzy settled down in the hard chair to wait.
Lady Frenzy looked up as the elegant double doors of her office opened and Doctor Hiss walked in.
"What is it, Hiss?" she asked irritably. She was very tired, and the technical jargon she was reading had given her a headache.
"I'd like you to meet - " Hiss was abruptly interrupted by someone in the corridor.
"Frenzy? Oh, I'm so glad to see you!" Frenzy stood up in surprise at the familiar voice. She was even more shocked a moment later when Ziv Zulander walked into the room, wearing the simple garb of a Corp scientist.
"Zulander?!" she exclaimed in puzzlement.
"Since when have we been on a last-name basis?" the RM Corp's arch-enemy said with a laugh. As Frenzy stood speechlessly, he crossed the room and embraced her passionately.
"Nice work, Hiss," she told her colleague, who was watching the scene with a smirk on his grotesque face.
Very nice work, she thought, melting into Ziv's arms.
"Are you quite finissssshed?" Hiss said irritably after about fifteen seconds. It was not a question. They reluctantly parted and sat down on the sofa.
"We need to disssscussss how we will deal with the issssssue of Doctor Zuuuuulander'sss ssssissster," Hiss explained. Frenzy eyed Ziv cautiously. This would be the biggest test of Hiss' device: whether or not Ziv would willingly betray his little sister.
"Wait!" Ziv said suddenly. "Don't say anything yet. There's an audio-visual receiver in Frenzy's computer."
Frenzy and Hiss looked at each other. "The security leak!" they chorused.
"How do we deactivate it?" Frenzy asked.
"We can't," Ziv explained. "There's a security program to prevent it from being downloaded. The only way to get rid of the leak is to get rid of the computer."
"I'll have a worker-bot come to remove it," Dr. Hiss said as he walked toward the computer. He opened a panel in the back of the computer and made a few adjustments.
"I've dissssconnected the power," he said. "We can sssspeak freely."
"How did you know about the security leak?" Frenzy asked Ziv.
"What do you mean? I . . . my sister put it there," Ziv answered confusedly.
Frenzy and Hiss exchanged glances. The slip had been tiny, but it was still a slip. Perhaps the mental re-programming hadn't worked as well as they had hoped.
After all, Frenzy thought, getting Ziv to fall for me shouldn't take too much brainwashing.
The house was all quiet as Blitzy rolled over.
"Ow!" She awoke with a jolt. I rolled out of bed, she thought groggily. But where is my bed?
Blitzy stood up and saw the computer. Oh yeah, she remembered. I was watching Mirrorzz. Then she looked up at the computer screen, which was dark.
Somebody must have turned it off when I fell asleep, Blitzy thought. She flicked the power switch a couple of times, but the screen remained black.
"Gen-e-SIX!" Blitzy's shout brought everyone running. Everyone, that is, except Genesix.
"Where's Genesix?" she asked the room in general.
"Probably in the BAL room," DeNerd replied.
"Go get him." DeNerd hurried down the hall and returned a few moments later with his fellow Science BOYZZ in tow.
"What'zz the problem?" Genesix asked.
"There's something wrong with Mirrorzz," Blitzy told him. "Something's really messed up."
"What zeemzz to be wrong with it?" Genesix inquired.
"It just doesn't work! It's not even like the time it broke down! There's no static, there's just nothing!"
Genesix switched the computer on and off a few times while checking for loose power cords with another hand.
"I already tried that," Blitzy said, exasperated.
"Maybe the zyztem izn't loaded properly," Genesix said. He typed a few commands into the keyboard and waited a moment. Nothing. Blitzy waited impatiently as the BOYZZ muttered to himself and tried every computer trick he knew.
"It'zz completely dead," he said after a few minutes. Blitzy cringed at the last word. "Zomething muzt have interrupted the tranzmizzion at the zourze."
Blitzy digested this information for a full five seconds before saying, "You mean we've completely lost Mirrorzz?"
"It appearzz that way," Genesix replied. "There'zz no way I can fix it from here."
"How could this have happened?" Blitzy asked.
"Zomeone dizconnected the power zourze to Lady Frenzy'zz computer."
"You mean it's just unplugged?"
"Bazically," Genesix agreed.
Blitzy's face began to turn very, very red. Most of the BOYZZs backed away.
"You're telling me," she intoned angrily, "that there's absolutely nothing wrong with Mirrorzz except that it's not plugged in?"
Genesix nodded nervously.
"And there's nothing we can do about it?"
"Zorry," he told her. "I can't fix it."
Blitzy was livid. "Do you realize that we've just lost our best and only chance of finding ZZ?!" With that, she stormed off to her room, where she wouldn't have to face the BOYZZs.
Where are you, ZZ? was her anguished thought.
"Good evening, Lady Frenzy, Doctor Hiss," Sir Louis Leon Paradim greeted his top executives cordially. The chairman of the RM Corp stood gazing out his office window, hands clasped behind his back in a dignified manner. "And it's wonderful to have you back, Doctor Zulander."
"It's wonderful to be back, LLP," Ziv said, and shook Paradim's hand. Paradim watched him carefully as they all took seats at the conference table. He was looking for anything, any sign that Zulander was not really under the influence of Hiss' programming. He found nothing.
Oblivious to the scrutiny, Ziv said, "It's great to see you all again. I didn't think I'd ever get out of that terrible house."
The real Corp executives exchanged meaningful looks. Ziv was talking about his own secret hideout, the hideout that the Corp had never been able to find.
"I know it must have been horrible for you," Lady Frenzy said, "being kidnapped by your own sister and her bots. How did you manage to keep your sanity?"
"Believe it," Hiss said dryly. "Blitzzzy Zulander doessssn't know the meaning of the word loyalty." "No offensssse," he amended quickly. He wasn't used to having polite conversations with Zulander.
"None taken," Ziv replied amiably. "After all, it's true. Blitzy didn't get the guidance that I got at her age."
"It's really a shame," LLP said. "She's a bright girl. I saw a great future for her with the Corp. Before she ran away, that is."
"Oh, well, enough about Blitzy," Ziv said. "What's been going on here while I was gone?"
LLP was suspicious for a moment. Zulander had come up with many ingenious tricks in the past. Could this be an attempt to get the Corp's plans? LLP looked at the honest (too honest, he had often thought in the past) green eyes and decided to take a chance.
"We've almost completed the new krang-ore refinery," he told Ziv. "It should be ready to begin operation in two weeks."
"Good," Dr. Hiss said. "I have ssssseveral upgradessss to perform. Will you be asssssissssting me, Dr. Zulander?"
"Sure," Ziv replied. "I've got nothing better to do this week."
"As a matter of fact," LLP said, "you do. I want you and Frenzy to come up with a plan of action concerning your sister. We need a way to stop her next attack before it starts."
"Understood. I guess I'll have to take a rain check on that upgrade, Hiss." Ziv and Frenzy left the room.
"Excellent, Hiss," LLP said as soon as the door closed behind them. "You've outdone yourself." Which isn't too difficult, he thought.
"Thank you, LLP," Hiss replied with satisfaction.
"Is the mental re-programming permanent?" LLP asked.
"I can't sssay for sssure," Hiss replied, "but it'ssss sssafe to sssay that nobody who isssn't exssssperienced in the use of my device could reversssssse the programming without caussssssing major damage."
"In other words," LLP said with satisfaction, "even if Zulander's sister and bots managed to rescue him, he'd still think of them as terrorists."
"Correct," Hiss told him. "And if they tried to undo the programming, they'd probably kill him."
The two laughed, content in the assurance that no matter what happened, they wouldn't have any more problems with Ziv Zulander.
"Are you absolutely sure that it can't be fixed?"
"You've azked him that a zillion timezz, Blitzy," Toolzz said. "Can't you lay off?"
"Actually," Genesix corrected, "you've azked me nineteen timezz, and the anzwer iz ztill yezz. There'zz nothing I can do that will fix Mirrorzz."
Blitzy Zulander, now dressed and waiting for breakfast, kicked nervously at the legs of her bar stool, considering. She was considering the fact that her big brother was missing and that she had no way of knowing where he was or even if he was still alive.
No, she told herself firmly, pushing the thought away as if it were a plate of lima beans. You can't let yourself think that. ZZ's fine. Really.
"Breakfazt!" Cook announced. The rotund BOYZZ entered from the kitchen, bearing a tray of steaming pancakes. Blitzy's mouth watered as Cook set the tray down on the bar and put three enormous pancakes on a plate. He slathered them with butter and syrup until they were dripping - just the way Blitzy liked them.
Cook's pancakes were fantastic, but they were so big that Blitzy could only eat three at a meal. Cook had made eight pancakes.
Why - Blitzy thought, and suddenly realized Cook's mistake. The extras were supposed to be for ZZ, she thought.
"I changed my mind, Cook," she said softly, hopping down from the bar stool. "I'm not hungry."
The room grew quiet for a moment. Blitzy Zulander simply did not refuse fresh pancakes without being noticed. Oblivious to the attention, Blitzy sat down on the couch and switched on the televiewer.
"You're tuned in to the morning news on Channel 16," a reporter greeted them. "Our top story today is an announcement from the RM Corp. In a shocking development, terrorist Ziv Zulander is once again working for the Corp."
At the mention of ZZ, all the BOYZZs gathered excitedly around the televiewer.
"Turn it up, somebody!" Blitzy, on the edge of her seat, ordered. No one moved to obey. They were all stock-still, and even the Talking Heads were quiet. Finally, Freehand flew over and turned up the televiewer volume.
"We now go to Lonnie Chang, who is live with Sir Louis Leon Paradim," the announcer intoned. The screen flashed to an image of famous reporter Lonnie Chang, who was standing in Paradim's office with a microphone and a flustered look. She had obviously gone to RM Corp City in a hurry for this interview.
"Good morning," she told the camera. "I'm here with Sir Louis Leon Paradim, chairman of the Robotics Megafact Corporation. Sir Louis, please tell us the situation regarding Ziv Zulander."
LLP was perfectly composed. "The situation is rather simple," he told the reporter. "Zulander was captured early last evening by Corp Greenbots. He agreed to work for the Corp. In exchange, we have dropped all charges against him."
"You were willing to grant amnesty to a man who has repeatedly broken the law at the Corp's expense?" Lonnie Chang was visibly mystified.
"Yes," LLP replied warmly. "Zulander was an important asset to the Corp before he turned against us. He's a brilliant scientist and inventor. We simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to have him working for us again."
"How can you know that Zulander won't turn on the Corp again?" Chang asked.
LLP chuckled. "I know it seems odd to speak of trust in today's world, but that's what it amounts to. I believe Zulander will keep his word. Besides, the Corp has more than adequate security forces in the event that a . . . situation . . . should arise."
Lonnie's face wore a baffled expression, but LLP looked content, even confident.
He really thinks ZZ is going to work for the Corp, Blitzy thought.
As the TV interview ended, Blitzy felt better than she had all night. She jumped up from her seat and switched the televiewer off the instant Paradim's office faded from the screen.
"ZZ's okay!" she yelled triumphantly.
"Do you call working for the Corp okay?" came a metallic voice from the shelf.
Blitzy shot T-1 an annoyed look. "He's not working for the Corp!" she said. "He's just pretending to work for the Corp so he can get their plans!"
DeNerd shook his head. "According to my probability ztudy," he quoted from a sheet of paper in his hand, "there iz only a one perzent chanze that ZZ would pretend to work for the Corp, and lezz than one tenth of one perzent chanze that he would do it without telling you firzt."
"He didn't know he was going to do it until he got captured," Blitzy retorted, as if stating the obvious. "He didn't have a chance to tell me."
The BOYZZs gave her doubting looks, all except for Kiddie, who always believed Blitzy.
"We gotta make a plan of attack. We can't rezt till we get ZZ back," Jammerzz told the other BOYZZs.
"But we don't need to attack!" Blitzy and Kiddie said in unison. "ZZ's not a prisoner!"
Ignoring her, Jammerzz went to the center of the room and began giving orders. "The Zportzz BOYZZz, me, Toolzz, and - Ninj, where're you goin' off to? In a battle we'll be countin' on you."
Ninjzz, who was just leaving the room, paused to face Jammerzz. "We cannot rezcue ZZ until we know where he iz," he said matter-of-factly.
"Zo where are you goin'?" Toolzz wanted to know.
"To my room."
"What makez your room a better plaze to figure out where ZZ iz than the living room?" Toolzz demanded.
Ninjzz's reply baffled everyone in the room. "It'zz quieter."
"We'd better get busy," Ziv told Frenzy as they entered her office. "LLP wants a report by the end of the day."
"I don't know much about your thinking-bot technology, so I'm not really sure what we need to do," Frenzy said. This assignment was going to be another big test - Ziv was expected to devise a plan for the defeat of his own sister and bots. Don't worry, Frenzy
told herself. You've got Ziv wrapped around your little finger.
"Well, first we have to get face-to-face with the bots," Ziv said, "and then render them helpless. Why don't you work on a trap to lure them here while I concentrate on the technical problems?"
"Wouldn't it be easier to go to them?" Frenzy asked. "If we go to their hideout, we can capture them all at once, but if we set up a trap, we can't guarantee that all the bots will come." Please tell me where your house is, she was thinking.
"No," Ziv said slowly, "that's . . . a bad idea. The house is . . . inaccessible . . . to our forces."
Frenzy smiled sweetly. "I didn't think of that. All right, darling, a trap it is." I have to find out where that house is, she thought.
"I'm going down to my lab," Ziv said. "I'll meet you for lunch."
"Let's go to the new Italian restaurant in Santa Marta," Frenzy suggested. "If you don't mind the long drive, that is."
"Of course not," Ziv replied. His face had brightened the instant she mentioned Santa Marta.
I wonder why, Frenzy thought, sure she had forgotten something. "Then meet me here," she said. "Eleven-thirty."
Ziv nodded and left the office. He took the elevator down a few levels and headed for a nearby door. The nameplate read "Z. Zulander," but there was a security lock across the door.
Why in the world is that there? he wondered. Reaching into his coat, he took out his intercom and pressed a button.
"Security Control, this is Doctor Zulander. Could you send somebody down here to unlock my office?"
The security officer at the other end hesitated. "Sure, Doctor," he finally replied. "I'll send someone immediately, sir." As soon as Ziv ended the communication, the officer activated another intercom.
"Hisssss here," came the reply.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir, but Zulander is requesting the priority security lock to be removed from his offices."
"Go ahead and follow hissss order," Hiss told the man.
"Yes, sir," the officer replied and headed downstairs. When he reached the laboratory level, Ziv was standing in front of his office, waiting patiently. The security man inserted a small tool into the lock, which flashed briefly with indicator lights. The officer entered a code into the lock's touchpad and the entire mechanism dropped into his hand. Ziv thanked the man and entered the office.
The room was dark and smelled strange, as if it had been closed up for a long time. Ziv found the light switch and flipped it on, revealing shelves, a televiewer/computer, and desk. Equipment in various stages of construction littered the shelves, but the desk was bare. There was a door in the back of the room, and as Ziv opened it, he noticed a hole at the bottom of the door, as if something had burned through it.
A sudden image flashed before Ziv's eyes:
He was sitting at the desk, speaking into a recorder. Nervousness, fear, and determination filled the room. There was a sudden noise, and a small bot jumped into his lap, whistling excitedly.
As suddenly as it had begun, the vision ended, and Ziv stepped into the laboratory beyond the door.
The lab held the standard equipment as well as a few oddities. The oddities were rather obvious; in fact, they stuck out like sore thumbs. A pair of Rollerblades sat on a shelf next to an audiodisc of rap music. Spread out on the lab table was a diagram of what appeared to be some sort of crossbow for shooting saw blades. Ziv examined the diagram, interested. It was labeled neatly: "Star-thrower, Ninjzz."
Another flash of recollection smacked Ziv in the face:
"Not for a ninja master, it won't!" That was him, addressing a tall black and red bot.
"You got that right, Botzz Mazter!" the bot replied before turning several back handsprings and jumping up to the roof of a building. Jagged-edged discs shot from one of his arms, striking several Corp Greenbots.
Ziv shook his head to clear it and the vision fled. Since when have I helped Blitzy's bots attack Corp buildings? he asked himself. Oh well, it's been a long week. You really need to get some sleep, Ziv.
Ziv went back to the office and activated the computer. He wanted to check the plans for the thinking-bots so that he could decide on a method of defeating them. There were no files in the computer.
Maybe Blitzy erased them when she took the bots, he thought. She could have guessed that I would try something like this. Oh well, he thought, I'm sure I can remember enough to come up with a weapon.
Ziv leaned back in the office chair and closed his eyes, searching his memory for the graphs, equations and diagrams vital to the operation of the thinking-bots. Within five minutes he was asleep, dreaming of circuits and disk slots.
Ninjzz sat cross-legged on the floor of his room, preparing. He knew ZZ was in trouble, and that was enough to make the BOYZZ very angry. Ninjzz had a changeable temper that usually helped him, but in matters such as this it was a curse.
Finally calming himself, Ninjzz slipped into a trance and began searching. He wasn't exactly sure what to look for, but knew he would recognize it when he found it.
ZZ, he thought, where are you? The mind that ZZ had created reached out, searching for its master.
There was a slight noise as the door to Ninjzz's room opened and Blitzy walked in with the Street BOYZZs. Ninjzz didn't look up.
"Come on, Ninj, don't keep uz waitin'. You've got plenty of time for meditatin'," Jammerzz complained.
"Shh!" Blitzy told the annoyed rapper. "Let him do what he wants. ZZ's fine, you don't have to rescue him."
"Why can't you zee what'zz happened, Blitzy?" Toolzz asked. "ZZ'zz gotta be in trouble."
"He's just fine!" Blitzy said defiantly. "When he's ready to come back, he'll let us know."
"But we don't know where he iz!" Toolzz nearly yelled.
"I have found him."
All three of them spun to face Ninjzz, their argument forgotten.
"What? Where? How?" Blitzy demanded.
"I have found ZZ," Ninjzz repeated quietly, his voice coming from somewhere far away.
"Where is he? What's he doing?" Blitzy asked excitedly. All her pretending had fallen away, and it was quite obvious that she had never really believed her own conviction that ZZ was all right.
Ninjzz didn't answer right away, because he didn't know the answers. Instead, he blocked out Blitzy's ardent inquiries and took a closer look at what he had found. It wasn't as if he had stumbled upon a sign that said "ZZ"; it was more like an ocean that had familiar fish swimming in it. Ninjzz settled into it like a warm bath and knew he belonged there. There was no mistaking; this had to be coming from ZZ.
Ninjzz relaxed and began examining the thoughts that floated up to him like bubbles. There was a girl, and some bots. No, the BOYZZs, Ninjzz decided. The scene gradually shifted until he was looking at wires, the wires inside himself, and then the wires weren't in him but on him, and he was trapped in them like a spider's web and they were telling him lies and he couldn't get out, he couldn't get out and where was Blitzy??? With some effort, Ninjzz pulled himself out of the wires and asked again, Where are you?
Who are you? Get out! he heard, and was suddenly, violently expelled. Yet right before the vision fled, there was one last, lingering image; the RM Corp Tower.
"No, no, get out, leave me alone..." Ziv awoke with a start. What a nightmare, he thought, and it's not even lunchtime yet! Already the dream was fading from his memory, but he clearly recalled an image of the ninja-bot Blitzy had stolen from him.
You must be losing it, Ziv, he told himself. Working on bot designs never gave you nightmares before. Shaking his head in confusion, Ziv returned to the lab and took down some equipment. Oh well, nightmares are just imaginary, he thought. On the other hand, my magnetic field projector is going to be real. Better than real, he amended. This is going to render Blitzy's bots completely helpless.
"Ninj! Ninjzz! Answer me!" Ninjzz heard the voice as if from far away. Who's that? he wondered.
The voice spoke again. "There's something wrong with him. Go get Watson." There was a soft hissing noise and the sound of a door opening.
"I wonder what's wrong with him?" the voice asked.
"Too much thinkin' 'bout 'ninja wizdom' if ya azk me," another voice answered. This second voice was squeaky and metallic.
Then the door opened again and there was the sound of someone running into the room, accompanied by the hissing whirr-swoosh that had left the room a few moments before. There was a moment of tense silence, and then a third voice; a flat, slightly nasal monotone.
"The BOYZZ iz zeriouzly zhort-zircuited," it said. "Hazz he been around any electrical zurgezz?"
"All he's been doing is sitting here," the first voice said. "He was looking for ZZ."
The name cut through Ninjzz's awareness like a knife. ZZ, he thought. Blitzy, Jammerzz, Toolzz, Watson. He opened his eyes and saw Watson kneeling in front of him.
"He'zz coming around," Watson said to the room in general. Ninjzz looked around slowly. He was sitting on the floor of his room again, and Blitzy was still there. Now, though, it was Ninjzz and not ZZ that she was immediately concerned with.
But ZZ needs her, he thought, remembering the terrified question that could only be from ZZ.
"Are you okay? What happened?" she asked.
Ninjzz slowly got to his feet, pushing Watson aside.
"BOYZZ, when you've been feelin' zick, it'zz a bad idea to get up zo quick," Jammerzz said. Ninjzz ignored him and went to Blitzy.
"ZZ'zz in RM Corp Zity," he told her, and started for the door. Blitzy, however, had seen the look in the BOYZZ's glowing blue eyes and knew there was more.
"What's wrong?" she insisted.
Ninjzz turned to face the frightened girl. He sighed, an action that was completely out of character for him and served to worry Blitzy even more.
"Everything," he admitted. "The Ztreet BOYZZz were right. We have to zave ZZ. Zoon."
"Then what are we waitin' for?" Toolzz asked. "I'll get Zplitvan ready."
"Wait juzt a minute!" Watson said. "Ninjzz izn't going anywhere until I check him out."
"Maybe he's right," Blitzy said. "You really gave us a scare."
"I'm fine," Ninjzz said, although this was only half true. "ZZ iz the one who needzz help."
"Abzolutely not!" This outburst came from Watson and was completely unexpected. The doctor rarely raised his voice, so when he did, people tended to notice. "Ninj, you're coming to my clinic. ZZ can wait half an hour." Blitzy opened her mouth to protest and then shut it again. She knew no amount of arguing could change Watson's mind; and besides, wasn't she the one who'd insisted all along that they didn't even need a rescue mission?
"I guess he's right, Ninjzz," she said. "We'll wait for you." As Ninjzz and Watson left the room, Blitzy wondered, What did he mean by "everything?"
Ziv pushed his welding goggles up onto his forehead and bent to examine his work. On the worktable in front of him was a conglomeration of tiny circuits connected to a dime-sized magnet. Ziv attached a miniature battery to the device and stuffed it into a metal box the size of a personal pager. In fact, it had been a pager, or at least, the casing for one. Ziv sealed the box and put it in his pocket.
Glancing at his watch, Ziv realized that it was time for him to meet Frenzy. You spent over four hours working on that device, he thought. It had better work. He left the office and headed for an elevator.
When he reached Frenzy's elegant Grecian-style office on the one hundred sixty-third floor, the Corp's executive vice-president was applying lipstick in anticipation of her "husband's" arrival. She was mildly surprised that Ziv had arrived in her office on time. Her association with Doctor Hiss had led her to believe that all scientists were chronically late.
"Ready to go?" Ziv asked.
"Sure," Frenzy replied, hastily putting away her makeup. "The limo is waiting outside."
The two of them left the office and went downstairs, where Frenzy's pink limousine was waiting just outside. The driver-bot opened the doors for them and then resumed it's seat, starting the car and pulling away from the Tower. After a drive of about forty-five minutes, they reached the small town of Santa Marta. The limo stopped in front of a restaurant on the
corner, where Ziv and Frenzy got out.
"I think I'll try the fettucini alfredo," Frenzy said once they were seated in the restaurant and studying the menu. "What about you?"
Ziv didn't reply. He was staring out the window with a strange look on his face, as if he were trying to put together a difficult jigsaw puzzle. "Did they move the post office?" he finally asked.
Post office? Frenzy thought. "I don't know," she replied. "I've never seen the Santa Marta post office."
"Oh." Ziv seemed unusually quiet. "I guess I'll have lasagna."
Why would Ziv know anything about the Santa Marta post office? Frenzy wondered as she signaled for the waitress. Suddenly she remembered. The Zulanders were from Santa Marta. Oh, no! she thought. How could you have been so stupid? Well, there's still time to save the situation. Just say you forgot something and . . . "Ziv, I just remembered," she said. "I have an important - "
"ZZ, is that you?" Frenzy spun to see who had interrupted her. It was the waitress, a girl with short blond hair. The girl had not yet seen Frenzy, who was panicking.
"It is you, isn't it?" the girl continued.
"Y . . . yes," Ziv answered confusedly. "Do I know you?"
"Quit joking around, ZZ," the girl said. "It's me, Millie."
"I don't . . . know anyone named . . . Millie." But he did, and there she was standing in the middle of the room, making vague explanations to her father and a Greenbot as he lay hiding under the bed. And then . . . or was it earlier?
"I always knew science was your first love," she had told him.
Millie laughed. "I think that's my line, ZZ."
Ziv blinked away the daydream. He hadn't realized he was speaking aloud.
Frenzy was getting more frantic by the second. Was there no way to get Ziv out of this town, away from these people? Suddenly a bright light came on and Frenzy found herself staring into a video camera.
"What . . . No!" all three of them were saying.
"He'll remember - "
"He'll get caught - "
"Why is everybody so interested in me?!"
"This is Lonnie Chang live at the Little Italy restaurant in Santa Marta," the newswoman intoned, ignoring the protests of the three at the table, "with Ziv and Frenzy Zulander."
Millie now wore a look of disgust blended evenly with fright and horror. "Frenzy . . . Zulander?!"
"That's right, dear," Frenzy told the astonished girl.
"But you're . . . Lady Frenzy! From the Corp!"
"You small-town girls are so observant," Frenzy said dryly.
"You'd better leave," Millie said threateningly. "The people of Santa Marta chased the Corp out before, and we'll do it again. We aren't afraid of you!"
"And why should you be?" Frenzy was beginning to get nervous. This conversation was headed in a dangerous direction.
"Don't act stupid," Millie said angrily. "ZZ told us all about the Corp's plan to take over the world."
"I what?" Ziv burst out.
"Are you getting this? I want this on the news!" Lonnie Chang told her cameraman excitedly.
"Why can't we eat lunch without being harassed?" Ziv demanded.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you're news. Inquiring minds want to know!" Ms. Chang said. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure," Ziv said, ignoring Lady Frenzy's rapidly shaking head. "Just as long as you let us eat in peace."
"Agreed," the eager reporter said. "Can you tell us why you decided to work for the Corp?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Ziv replied. "The RM Corp is the biggest and best company on earth."
Millie went to the kitchen to call her father, concerned. First married to Lady Frenzy, and now working for the Corp. Something was seriously wrong with ZZ.
"Blitzy! There'zz a call for you!" Genesix ran into the clinic with this news.
Blitzy brightened immediately. "Is it ZZ?" she asked.
Genesix's face fell. He knew how Blitzy felt about the caller on the line. "It'zz Alizha," he finally told her.
"Why in the world is she calling?" Blitzy complained. "If she watched the news this morning, she should know that ZZ isn't here."
"I zeriouzly doubt that Alizha watchezz the newzz," Watson said from across the room.
"I think you're right, Watson," Blitzy said with a laugh as she tried to imagine ZZ's airheady fashion-model girlfriend watching the news.
Blitzy picked up the phone as soon as she arrived in the living room. "Hello?"
"Hi, Blitzy," Alisha said in her typical fashion-model voice. Blitzy tried not to gag at the bubblegum intonation.
"What do you want, Alisha?" Blitzy was not kindly disposed toward Alisha, especially at times like this. What with the present situation, she felt like tearing the model's vocal cords out. Fortunately for Alisha, that wasn't possible over the phone.
Oblivious to her good luck, Alisha said, "I want to talk to ZZ."
Airhead,Blitzy silently accused, but out loud said simply, "He's not here."
"That's what I thought," Alisha replied crisply. "Are you watching the televiewer report?"
"Did I watch, you mean," Blitzy retorted. "It was on at six o'clock this morning, Alisha, study your tenses. And yes, we're working out a plan. And no, your help would not be appreci - "
"I don't mean that televiewer report," Alisha said with something very close to anger. "I mean the one that's on right now."
"Now?" Blitzy dropped the phone and jumped down to the televiewer, switching it on even as she landed on the couch.
"I don't know where you heard that," ZZ's voice was saying, "but it's not true. I've always been loyal to the Corp." The picture had come into focus now, and it showed ZZ and Lady Frenzy sitting in a restaurant.
"My sister is the real terrorist," ZZ continued. Blitzy's jaw dropped at that. ZZ's calling me a terrorist?she thought. Ninj was right. There's something seriously wrong.
Lonnie Chang apparently thought so too, for she said, "But your sister is only ten years old, Doctor Zulander. How can she be a terrorist?"
"Easily," ZZ replied. "She stole my thinking-bot designs. Those bots have helped her insane war against the Corp."
"I have videos on file," Ms. Chang said, "which clearly show you leading bots into combat against the Corp. There have been countless witnesses - "
"I think it's time we got back to the office," Frenzy said pointedly.
"But our food hasn't even come yet!" ZZ protested.
Lady Frenzy got up. "We're leaving. Now."
ZZ reluctantly got up and followed Frenzy out. "I'm really sorry about all this, Ms. Chang," he apologized over his shoulder as Frenzy nearly dragged him out of the restaurant. "It's been a very confusing day."
The camera followed ZZ and Frenzy out the door, where a man in a sheriff's uniform stood in front of their limo.
"Sheriff Ramsey!" Blitzy exclaimed. "They must be in Santa Marta!"
"Hold it right there, Zulander!" the man barked. ZZ and Frenzy stopped in their tracks and stared at him.
"Y . . . yes, Sheriff?" ZZ said.
"I've got to talk to you, son. Now, I know that your relationship with my daughter is none of my business - "
"Excuse me?" Frenzy snapped, hands on hips.
" - but when one of our own betrays us, I can't take it lying down," the sheriff finished.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, sir." ZZ seemed truly mystified.
"You drove the Corp out of Santa Marta!" the sheriff exploded in anger. "They promised never to come back! We trusted you and now you're bringing the enemy here!"
"I'm sorry, but my husband and I have an important meeting to get to," Frenzy said, pushing past the sheriff. As Blitzy watched the televiewer screen in growing horror, Frenzy nearly shoved ZZ into the limo ("Zhe actually opened the door herzelf," Genesix remarked), got in, and shut the door in the faces of both the sheriff and the cameraman. As the limo pulled away, Blitzy turned the televiewer off and sank deeper into the couch.
This is all wrong, she thought. ZZ is working for the Corp! He's married to Lady Frenzy! He thinks I'm a terrorist!
"Juzt a zecond, Alizha," Genesix said after a moment. "Blitzy, Alizha wantzz to talk to you again."
Blitzy dragged herself up the steps and took the phone from Genesix. "Hello," she said bleakly. "I'm... sorry I was mean with you, Alisha."
Genesix paused in his work. Blitzy Zulander did not apologize to anyone, especially Alisha. Alisha was taken aback as well.
"Oh, um, that's okay, Blitzy. I'm sorry too. I was just so upset when I saw ZZ on the televiewer with Lady Frenzy. Do you know what's going on?"
"Not really," Blitzy replied. "At least, I don't, but I think Ninjzz knows more than he's telling me."
"Well, I know one thing for sure," Alisha said. "They must have done something horrible to ZZ if he's pretending to be married to Frenzy."
Blitzy knew it didn't take much pretending, but didn't say anything. She knew Alisha's position on the subject.
"Well, you don't need to worry, Alisha," she told the model. "We'll rescue ZZ. Bye!" Blitzy hung up the phone and left the living room before Genesix had a chance to say anything. She ran into ZZ's room and threw herself down on the bed, hugging the teddy bear ZZ had gotten for his birthday.
"Despair is a noun," the bear squeaked, "meaning loss of hope! It is also a verb meaning to lose hope! He was filled with despair! She despairs of finding the lost shoe!"
"ZZ isn't a shoe!" Blitzy yelled between sobs. She threw the bear against the wall and ran out of the room, crying all the way to the BAL.
"Could you please help me with this, dear?" Frenzy asked, holding out a delicate gold necklace.
"Sure," Ziv answered. He took the necklace from Frenzy and fastened it around her neck. Frenzy was wearing a strapless black dress and had her hair fixed in a long braid. Ziv had put on a tuxedo in preparation for LLP's party.
"I'm ready if you are," Frenzy told him.
"Then let's go. We don't want to be late." The two of them went to the elevator and headed downstairs, pausing only for the moment it took Ziv to put an innocuous beeper in his pocket.
Outside the building, a limo was waiting for them. It was only a short drive through the city to the RM Corp Tower, where the party was being held. They got out and entered the huge building, which was being heavily guarded by Security-bots. The Corp obviously anticipated an attack during the party.
In the ballroom, they were greeted by LLP. "Good evening," he welcomed them. "I'm surprised to see you here so early."
"We were ready, so we decided to come over," Frenzy said. "I could use a party right about now."
"You can say that again," Ziv agreed. "Lunch was insane."
"I saw the news," LLP said grimly, and shot Frenzy a questioning look. She shook her head.
At least, I don't think he recognized anyone, she thought.
"How's the plan coming?" LLP asked them.
"I've arranged for some ore to be transferred," Frenzy said. "Blitzy should jump at the chance to destroy our krang-ore supply."
"And when she does," Ziv added, "I can incapacitate her bots with my device." The three of them smiled.
"Blitzy! Are you in here?" Genesix called.
Blitzy looked up from the computer monitor, where she had been halfheartedly playing with the Jungle Fiver simulation program. "Yeah, Genesix. What's up?"
"Watzon finally dezided Ninjzz iz okay," Genesix answered. "The BOYZZz are meeting to dizcuzz a plan."
Blitzy obediently followed Genesix down the hall, where all the BOYZZs (except Freehand and the Talking Heads, of course) had assembled in front of the wall map. Taking a deep breath, she picked up ZZ's laser pointer and highlighted a building on the map.
"Here's our target, BOYZZs," she said, sounding very much like ZZ. "The Corp Condo Complex. I want Ninj, the Street BOYZZs, and the Sports BOYZZs in Splitvan. I'll take VAS and stay in contact with Genesix. Twigg, you'll come along for backup. Swang, you're with me. You may have to scout the area."
Swang whistled in approval.
"We'll get into the city through a side gate and proceed to the condos. When we get there, I want Twigg to stay outside while the rest of us go up to Frenzy's apartment and get ZZ. Understood?"
The BOYZZs nodded.
"Good," Blitzy said. "Let's go!" They abandoned the living room and ran for the garage off the BAL. As Blitzy climbed into VAS, Watson handed her a small object.
"Take my zleeper devize," the doctor said. "You never know when it'll come in handy."
"Thanks, Watson," Blitzy told him, putting the device in her pocket. The doctor stepped back as VAS rose into the air. The plane/bot screamed out the tunnel with Splitvan and Twigg close behind.
"Fill me in, Ninj," Blitzy said over the mike. "What's up with ZZ?"
"He iz very confuzed," Ninjzz answered. "I don't think he knowzz uz."
"Why?" Blitzy asked.
"I'm not zure," the BOYZZ admitted, "but I think it haz zomething to do with wirezz."
"Wires?" Blitzy echoed.
"Perhapzz zome kind of mind-control devize," Genesix speculated. Blitzy had forgotten that he was listening in from the house.
"Well, whatever it is, the first step is to get ZZ away from the Corp," Blitzy said. "Genesix, I want you to stay in constant contact with us. And tell Watson to get the clinic ready. If they really have used a mind-control device on ZZ, I have a feeling we'll be needing Watson's help once we get home."
"Affirmative," Genesix replied. "Good luck, Blitzy."
"Thanks," she replied, "but as Ninj would say, luck has very little to do with it."
"Well zaid," Ninjzz remarked. "Now let'zz do it!"
"Yeah!" Blitzy yelled. "Watch out, RM Corp City, 'cause here we come!"
"Yeah!" the BOYZZs chorused. They continued towards RM Corp City in a barely controlled state of excitement, matched by more than a little tension. Blitzy, in fact, was so nervous that she could hardly hold on to the joystick.
What if ZZ really doesn't know us? she thought. What if he doesn't want to come home?
Blitzy pushed the thoughts out of her mind when the skyline of RM Corp City appeared before her, faintly illuminated by the lights of the city.
"Here it is, BOYZZs," she said as she brought VAS down low. "We'll get in at Gate Five." Blitzy opened the cowling of VAS and nodded to Swang. "Go check out their security," she told the BOYZZ.
Swang obediently jumped out of VAS and bounced to the gate. A few moments later she returned, hopping back into the seat as Blitzy closed the cowling again.
Five Greenbots, Swang whistled. Nothing else.
"Ninj, how'd you like to ambush some Greenbots?" Blitzy asked.
"I'd love to," Ninjzz replied. Three seconds after stepping out of Splitvan, he was at the gate, slashing Greenbots with all three of his swords and firing a steady stream of ninja-stars.
"Mizzion accomplizhed," he said after a moment. "I've taken out the guardzz."
"Good work, Ninjzz," Blitzy said. "Now let's go." VAS, Twigg, and Splitvan rushed through the gate and toward the interior of the city, pausing only long enough to pick up Ninjzz. Five minutes later, they arrived at the Corp Condo Complex.
"Street BOYZZs, Ninj, take out the ground forces," Blitzy ordered. "I'll take care of the towers." Blitzy brought VAS up quickly and destroyed the security towers with two quick shots. By the time she landed again, Ninjzz, Jammerzz, and Toolzz had destroyed the Greenbots and Security-bots outside the building.
"Good going, BOYZZs," Blitzy told them. "Now for the hard part. Twigg, find a hiding place and stay there. We'll call if we need you. Everybody else, with me." Blitzy and Swang got out of VAS, which promptly took off again to hide in stealth mode above the city. The rest of the BOYZZs left Splitvan to join them.
"Swang, go check out the lobby," Blitzy ordered. Swang bounced away and returned with the news: There are three Security-bots in the lobby.
Blitzy led the BOYZZs around the side of the building. They burst through the revolving door, taking all three bots by surprise, and had deactivated the bots in an instant. The Street BOYZZs carefully propped the bots up again as if they were in perfect condition.
"We're in," Blitzy reported to Genesix. She turned to the Sports BOYZZs. "You BOYZZs stay here and keep a lookout."
"Zure thing," Bats replied. The Sports BOYZZs positioned themselves around the room while Blitzy, Ninjzz, Swang, and the Street BOYZZs piled into the elevator.
"How does ZZ usually disarm the security system?" Blitzy asked, peering at the security interface by the elevator door.
"I don't know, that's not my biz," Jammerzz said. "Get on the mike and ask the whiz."
"Good idea," Blitzy said. "Genesix, come in."
"What'zz up?" the Science BOYZZ answered.
"How do I disable the security system in the elevator?" she asked.
"Have Toolzz pinpoint-lazer the aczezz port," Genesix instructed.
Toolzz quickly complied. "Okay, Genezix, I did that," he said. "Now what?"
"That'zz it," Genesix replied. "You can go up now."
"That wasn't so bad," Blitzy commented, pressing the button for the twenty-eighth floor. The elevator slowly rose. When the doors opened, Blitzy and the BOYZZs jumped out, ready to face Frenzy's Personal Police Bots or whatever else might await them. There was no one there.
"Swang, scan for life forms," Blitzy ordered. The BOYZZ hopped through the apartment and back again.
There's nobody here, Swang whistled. The apartment is empty.
"Look around," Blitzy said. "Try to figure out where they went." She and the BOYZZs spread out, searching the apartment for clues.
"Lady Frenzy'zz jewelry box iz open," Toolzz yelled from the bedroom. "They muzt have gone zomewhere fancy."
"That only cuts it down to about ten zillion possibilities," Blitzy said sarcastically.
"Perhapzz not," Ninjzz said. He was standing in front of the televiewer, watching the evening news.
"...an exclusive party for high-level Corp employees," Lonnie Chang was saying. "The party is being held in honor of Ziv Zulander, who, according to RM Corp, was rescued yesterday after being held hostage by his sister."
"Where would the Corp throw a party?" Toolzz asked.
"In the Tower," Blitzy said triumphantly. "I'll have ZZ here in five minutes." She picked up the phone and began dialing.
Ziv sipped his champagne and nodded at various partygoers as they passed him. He didn't recognize anyone at the party except Frenzy, Hiss, and Paradim, and was almost relieved when a waiter-bot approached him.
"Telephone call for you, sir," the bot informed him. Ziv excused himself and followed the bot to a telephone station outside the ballroom.
"Hello?" he answered when he picked up the phone.
"Doctor Zulander, this is Security Control," someone greeted him. "Could you please come to your apartment right away?"
"Why?" Ziv asked. "What's wrong?"
"Uh, I'd rather not discuss that over the phone. Security, you know."
"Oh. Well, I'll be there as soon as possible," Ziv said.
"Thank you, sir," replied the caller. "Sorry to interrupt your party."
"That's all right. Goodbye." Ziv hung up the phone and went back to the ballroom.
"I'm going home for a while," he told Frenzy.
"Why?" she asked. "Do you feel ill?"
"Oh, no, I'm fine. Security Control wanted to meet with me. It's probably nothing."
"Don't be too long, Ziv," Frenzy said.
"I won't," Ziv promised as he left.
"He'll be here any minute," Blitzy said. "Take your positions. Blitzy to Sports BOYZZs."
"You BOYZZs get down so you can't be seen. ZZ will be here soon."
"How do you know?" All-Ball asked.
"Easy," Blitzy said. "I called him."
Ziv got out of the limo and walked into the apartment lobby. The lobby was empty except for three Security-bots, who didn't even bother to ask him for ID.
Probably because Security Control told them to expect me, he thought. He got into the elevator and went upstairs to his and Frenzy's apartment. When the elevator doors opened, he was surprised to see that the apartment was empty.
Where are the security officers? he wondered. Suddenly the lights came on and a girl stepped out from the next room.
"ZZ! Are you okay?" the girl exclaimed, running towards him.
"Blitzy!" Ziv exclaimed. "I should have known you would try something!"
"I knew you would know!" she said happily. "Now let's get out of here!"
"I don't think that'zz what he meanzz, Blitzy," Ninjzz warned. He stepped out from his hiding place and grabbed Blitzy's hand, preventing her from rushing headlong into ZZ's arms.
"Your bot is absolutely right," Ziv said, reaching into his pocket. At the word "bot", Blitzy and the BOYZZs, who had all come out of hiding, stopped short.
"Bot?!" Blitzy asked, shocked to hear the word come out of her brother's mouth. "These aren't bots! They're BOYZZs!"
Ziv smiled. "What you call them won't matter when there are millions of them working for the Corp."
"ZZ, I think you oughta know we'll never work for that bozo show!" Jammerzz said.
As the other BOYZZs echoed in agreement, Blitzy noticed that ZZ had a small object in his hand. She also noticed that Ninjzz's grip on her wrist was getting tighter and tighter.
"Ninj, let go. You're hurting me," she complained. A moment passed in which Blitzy noticed that all the BOYZZs were slowly slumping to the floor.
"I can't," Ninjzz said in surprise. "I can't move my arm."
"Me neither," Toolzz said. "I feel really weak."
Jammerzz was lying on the floor now, and Toolzz and Ninjzz had dropped to their knees. Swang was lying on her back like an overturned turtle, kicking feebly at the air and making soft bleeping noises. Blitzy was forced to sit on the floor as Ninjzz sank lower and lower, his hand still clamped around her wrist like a vise.
"Sports BOYZZs, come in!" Blitzy said frantically into her mike.
"What'zz wrong?" All-Ball answered.
"We're in trouble up here. Big trouble," Blitzy said, looking at ZZ.
How could he do this? she thought. How could he hurt the BOYZZs?
"We're on our way," All-Ball said. A moment later the Sports BOYZZs came running out of the elevator, poised to fight.
"Where're thoze Greenbotzz?" Ace yelled. "Let me at 'em!"
"Forget Greenbots!" Blitzy yelled. "Just get that beeper!" The BOYZZs turned toward ZZ, who dodged them and ran behind the sofa. The BOYZZs chased him around the room, lunging for the beeper.
For a moment Blitzy actually maintained the hope that the Sports BOYZZs would succeed. She maintained it for exactly forty-five seconds, after which ZZ began to run faster.
No, he's not going faster, Blitzy realized. The Sports BOYZZs are slowing down. One by one, the Sports BOYZZs dropped to the floor; first Ace, then Bogey, and finally Bats and All-Ball.
"Zzzzzzorry, B-b-b-blitzy," Bogey said jerkily, his voice circuits failing. "I g-g-guezzzzzzz we b-b-blew it."
"Blitzy, come in. Thiz iz Twigg," Blitzy heard over the mike. "What'zz wrong?"
"I'm not sure," Blitzy replied. "ZZ's here, but he's got some kind of device that's killing the BOYZZs."
"It zoundzz like you could uze zome help," Twigg said.
"No!" Blitzy ordered. "Don't come in. You'll be helpless."
"I can't juzt leave you in there!" Twigg protested.
"Then think of a way I can get ZZ to turn this thing off!" Blitzy said.
Ignoring the pain in her arm, Blitzy looked up at ZZ. He was standing calmly in the center of the room, holding the "beeper." I have to get through to him, she thought desperately.
"Please, ZZ, turn that thing off," she begged. "It's hurting the BOYZZs."
"You left me no choice, Blitzy," he replied. "I'm not going to let you and your bots continue terrorizing people."
"I'm not a terrorist!" Blitzy screamed. "I'm just trying to stop the Corp, like you."
"I would never do anything against the Corp," ZZ said angrily. "I'm completely loyal to Paradim."
"That's not true! They just told you that to turn you against us, but it's not true! You know that! Can't you remember?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," ZZ said.
"We've got to make him remember!" Blitzy said. "Does anyone have any ideas?"
The recording, Swang squeaked.
"Huh?" Blitzy had no idea what Swang was talking about. "What recording?"
In the black box, the BOYZZ said. Her words were becoming more garbled by the second.
"Blitzy to Genesix!" Blitzy called. "What's a black box?"
"Zwang haz a black boxzz," Genesix replied, "if that'zz what you mean."
"Yeah! Swang told me there was a recording in the black box!"
"Well," Genesix said, "Zwang'zz black boxzz iz an indeztructible compartment for high-zecurity itemzz. There could be a recording inzide."
Yes, Swang said. ZZ's recording.
"How do I get to it?" Blitzy asked.
"You have to uze a zcrewdriver," Genesix said.
"No problem. Toolzz is right next to Swang," Blitzy replied. "Ninj, can you scoot over that way?"
"I'll try." Ninjzz managed to move about two feet closer to Toolzz and Swang. Blitzy stretched as far as she could and managed to shove the paralyzed Swang toward Toolzz's arm.
"Can you take out those screws?" she asked.
"No... zweat," Toolzz replied haltingly. After a few moments of painfully slow work, he reached Swang's blackbox and opened it. Inside lay a handheld audio recorder.
"There is a recording!" Blitzy exclaimed triumphantly. "Give it to me, quick." Blitzy took the recorder from Toolzz and turned it on as loudly as it would go.
"This message is recorded for the generations to come," said ZZ's voice, filling the room, "if I fail to stop the biggest threat the world has ever faced. My name is Ziv Zulander. I am the creator of the 3-A. I invented them to serve humanity, but they're about to be turned into war machines - against freedom."
ZZ seemed completely oblivious to the tape. Please work, Blitzy thought.
"Soon," the recording continued, "an upgrading chip known as a krang-chip will be placed in all the existing 3-As worldwide, in every home, transforming them into fierce warriors that will obey only the RM Corporation. I, with my friends, the Brain Operated Young Zygoatopic Zoid, or BOYZZ-bots," (Blitzy checked ZZ's face for recognition; found none,) "am determined to stop the Corp and its chairman's evil plan."
Blitzy looked at ZZ and felt a twinge of bizarre pride. She had never known about the recording, a secret shared only by ZZ and Swang. She had never dreamed her brother could be so passionate about his cause. ZZ himself still looked doubtful, as if he would accuse Blitzy of faking the tape at any moment. Still, he listened as his own message continued to fill Lady Frenzy's apartment.
"...wonderful chip, yeah, right! Uhh, where was I? Oh, yeah. I originally created the BOYZZs in my home workshop to be my playpals. They're funny, young, imaginative, and intelligent, into sports and games. But now, I have no choice but to turn them into rebel commandos to help me in my mission to stop Paradim. I've decided today to destroy the RM Corp
factories that make the krang-chips."
As the recording played on, Blitzy thought she could see a shimmer of recognition beginning to appear on ZZ's face. The truth was breaking through. Still, the device continued to pour forth its deadly magnetic field.
"...I only hope I can do this before Paradim learns of my plan and sends his Security-bots to stop me... or worse," ZZ's voice continued. There was a pause in the recording, and then the voice returned, loudly and accompanied by the sounds of running and laser fire. "...and I'm gonna place this recorder in the indestructible blackbox of Swang! Hopefully, no
one will ever need to know about all this..."
The tape ended there. Had it been enough?
Please, let it work, Blitzy thought desperately. Ninjzz was slowly but surely crushing her wrist in his spasmodic, short-circuited grip. Blitzy watched ZZ expectantly and prayed for a miracle.
"Blitzy?" ZZ said confusedly as realization dawned in a rush of conflicting realities. "What's going on?"
He sounds like a little kid, Blitzy thought. He has no idea what he's been doing. "Turn off that device," she instructed.
ZZ looked at the deadly contraption as if he had never seen it before. In a moment, he had located the switch and turned it off. Blitzy let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
"What's going on?" ZZ repeated. "Where am I?"
Blitzy pulled herself free from Ninjzz's gradually opening hand and ran to ZZ, hugging him tightly.
"Oh, ZZ, what did they do to you?" she said, tears rolling down her face. "What did they do to you?"
Lady Frenzy left the people she was talking to and sought out LLP and Doctor Hiss. The party was going well, but she wished Ziv were there.
"Is Ziv back yet?" she asked her colleagues.
"Where did he go?" LLP asked.
"Security Control wanted to see him at home. He said it wouldn't take long."
"Why would Sssssecurity Control want to sssee Zuuuulander?" Hiss asked suspiciously.
"They didn't say," Frenzy replied.
"Check it out," LLP ordered.
Hiss pulled out his mike. "Hissss to Sssssecurity Control," he said.
"Yes, Doctor Hiss?" a security officer answered.
"Why did you call Zuuuulander to his apartment?" Hiss demanded.
"We didn't call Doctor Zulander for any reason, sir," the officer said in surprise. "Is there a problem?"
"Yesss," Hiss said. "Ssssend all available Greenbotsss and helibotssss to the Corp Condo Complex. I'll be there sssshortly."
"Yes, sir. Security Control out."
Hiss put away his communications mike. "Zuuuuulander's ssssissster mussst be trying to ressscue him," he told Frenzy and Paradim. "Ssshe'sss in for a sssurprise."
I love surprises, he thought.
"We'd better get out of here," Blitzy said. "We need to get you home."
ZZ didn't say anything. They really messed him up, Blitzy thought.
The BOYZZs, who had nearly recovered, were back on their feet, taking experimental steps. Toolzz had put Swang back together, placing the recorder that had saved them back into the hiding place ZZ had chosen long ago.
"I believe we are all ready," Ninjzz said. "Oh, I'm zorry about your arm, Blitzy."
"That's fine," Blitzy said, dismissing the injury with a wave. "It doesn't hurt anymore." The last statement was a lie. Blitzy's wrist was painfully swollen where Ninjzz had nearly crushed it.
That'll remind me never to shake hands with a BOYZZ, she thought.
"Toolzz, Jammerzz, go check out the lobby," Blitzy ordered. The Street BOYZZs took the elevator down and were back in less than a minute.
"No good to get out the easy way," Jammerzz reported. "There's Greenbots there gonna blow us away!"
"Then we'll just have to do it the hard way!" Blitzy said. "VAS, come to the window. Jammerzz, there's a small matter of glass I'd like you to take care of..."
"Just say the word and consider it done," the rapper replied, poised to bash through the window. "Jammerzz does this better than anyone!"
"I beg to differ," Ninjzz said, stepping in front of Jammerzz. There was a blur of swords and then Ninjzz stepped back from the window, nodding at Blitzy. She stepped forward and pushed on the window, which fell out in one piece, smashing on the ground below.
"Very nice, Ninj," she complimented. Soon VAS came into sight, hovering outside the window. "Right on time!" Blitzy said. She took ZZ's hand and hopped up into the aircraft, settling into the pilot's seat with a satisfied smile. "Everybody grab a hook!"
One by one, the BOYZZs climbed out the window and caught hold of the handles on the underside of VAS's wings. When they were all on board, Blitzy brought the aircraft up and around in a tight spiral, heading down toward Splitvan.
"Why do we alwayzz have to do it thiz way?" Toolzz complained nervously. The acrophobic BOYZZ was hanging on to the hook for dear life, using all four arms.
"Because it's the best way!" Blitzy said. "Right, ZZ?" she asked her brother, thinking of ZZ's love for such things as mini hang gliders and bungee-cut descents.
ZZ didn't reply. He was sitting motionlessly in the passenger seat, staring at nothing.
"I know something bad happened, ZZ," she said, "but it might help to talk about it."
No reply. So much for my knowledge of psychology, Blitzy thought. I'll have to watch more "Troy Carter, M.D."
"Uh, Blitzy, I think you better zave that ztuff for later," Bats said. "We've got helibotzz at ten o'clock!"
Blitzy looked up and saw them - a virtual fleet of Corp helibots approaching fast.
"Hold on, BOYZZs!" she yelled. "We're goin' down!"
Blitzy sent VAS into a kamikaze dive ("I hate heights!" Toolzz screamed) and pulled up at the last possible second, hovering near Splitvan.
"Everybody off!" she ordered. "Get out of the city! Twigg, help me with the helibots!"
As the BOYZZs raced to Splitvan, VAS and Twigg took to the air, blasting helibots right and left.
"Yahoo!" Blitzy yelled as VAS's lasers tore through a row of helibots. "That's for messin' with my brother!"
Meanwhile, the brother in question was fighting another battle - with himself.
You've got to fight back, spun through ZZ's head. Don't let her kidnap you again! No, silly, she's not trying to kidnap you; she's rescuing you; she can help you. You don't need any help from terrorists! She's not a terrorist, she's your little sister and she can help you; she has to help. NO! I am in charge; you will listen to me! No, I won't; you're not really me and I don't have to do anything you say! I AM IN CHARGE. Blitz, do something! I can't hold out much longer... I better do it fast, before we get out of the city.
Dr. Hiss's program fully in control, Ziv grabbed Blitzy's wrist - the one that the ninja-bot had nearly crushed - and twisted it as hard as he could.
There was an audible cracking sound; Blitzy screamed in pain. "ZZ! What are you doing? Let me go!"
Get control of the aircraft, Ziv thought. Like a robot, he let go of Blitzy's obviously broken wrist and went for her shoulders, pushing her up against the inside of the cockpit.
"ZZ?" Blitzy shrieked. "What's wrong with you? Stop that!"
"What'zz wrong?" Twigg asked over the mike, his usually flat voice concerned.
"Help!" Blitzy answered. "Somebody help me!"
Oblivious to her pain, ZZ continued bashing Blitzy against the wall. Stars exploded in front of her eyes, and she could only see one thing - ZZ's eyes, which looked like those of a maniac. Their green fury was so terrifying that Blitzy could hardly bear to look at them.
I wish his eyes were closed, Blitzy thought between blows. I wish I could close them.
Blitzy's next thought hit her like a lightning bolt; I can.
Ever so slowly, as if the air had turned into molasses, Blitzy reached over and up, up, searching for the pocket on her shoulder. She found it, opened it, closed her hand around the smooth disk-shaped object inside. In her last desperate moment, when the next blow would surely have knocked her unconscious, she jerked herself upward and threw Watson's sleeper device at
ZZ as hard as she could. It struck him in the middle of his chest and he fell back against the opposite wall, eyes sliding shut.
Still reeling from the attack, Blitzy scooted back to her seat and took hold of the joystick with her left hand. Her right arm was cradled in her lap, virtually useless. If the circumstances had been normal, she would have been mentally thanking Kiddie for making her play video games left-handed (as a handicap to even the match between her and the naturally (artificially?) ambidextrous BOYZZ). However, circumstances were not at all normal, and Blitzy could only cry, her mind blank, while she piloted VAS almost automatically, manipulating the joystick and firing on helibots out of habit.
"Blitzy! Blitzy, anzwer me! Are you all right?" Twigg's voice penetrated Blitzy's numbness. It was obvious that he had been calling for quite a while.
"I'm... here, Twigg." Blitzy's reply was soft and shaky.
"What happened?" the BOYZZ demanded.
"I don't know," Blitzy said tearfully. She glanced at ZZ, who was fast asleep.
He looks like my brother, she thought. He used to be my brother, but he's not anymore. The ZZ I knew would never act like this. Why is he doing these things? Why?
"I don't know," she repeated.
The girl called Blitzy Zulander felt completely empty as the airplane called VAS flew past the smoking remains of things called helibots, over the walls of the metropolis called RM Corp City, and toward a field called the Meadow, beneath which lay a place called home.
"Yessss, LLP," Doctor Hiss said, head bowed meekly. He was quite accustomed to being in LLP's hot seat, but it usually wasn't quite this hot.
"We had the chance to terminate them both. We had the chance to gain thinking-bot technology. What do we have now?" Paradim said angrily.
"There'ssss ssstill a sssstrong posssssibility that Zuuuulander will be sssseriousssly damaged when they try to undo my program. We may sssstill have come out ahead." Hiss looked up hopefully. Had he managed to change LLP's mind?
Hiss quickly ducked his head again when he saw Paradim's expression.
"I wanted them terminated," the Corp's chairman said. "You failed, Hiss. See that it doesn't happen again."
"Yessss, LLP," Hiss said nervously, and slunk out of the huge office like a dog that had been sprayed by a garden hose.
How does Zulander do it? he thought. How does he always manage to get away? How?
Lady Frenzy switched on her televiewer and leaned back on the sofa, exhausted.
"Our top story on the late news tonight is an update on the Zulander situation," Lonnie Chang said. "We have unconfirmed reports that Ziv Zulander escaped tonight in a firefight over RM Corp City. Witnesses report two aircrafts left the city at approximately ten-thirty after
destroying several Corp helibots."
Frenzy turned the TV off. I guess it just wasn't meant to be, she thought. She glanced at the temporary safety plastic over her broken window, imagining the blackened shells of Greenbots and helibots beyond. It wasn't meant to be at all. What a shame.
"Watzon! Watzon, we need you in the garage!" The doctor followed Twigg down the hall to the room where Splitvan, the "big piece" of Twigg, and various other vehicles were kept.
All the BOYZZs from the mission were gathered there, having just returned in Splitvan. They were clustered around VAS, which was parked in its usual spot.
"What'zz wrong? Where're ZZ and Blitzy?" Watson asked.
"In VAS," Ace said.
Watson climbed onto the wing of VAS and peered inside. Blitzy sat at the controls, crying and cradling one arm in the other. ZZ was asleep in the passenger seat.
"Open up, Blitzy!" the doctor yelled, pounding on the cowling. Blitzy pressed a button and the cowling opened.
"What'zz wrong?" Watson asked Blitzy.
"It was ZZ," she whimpered. "He was hurting me. He just came after me like he was crazy. I threw your sleeper device at him."
"Ninjzz," Watson ordered, "take her to my clinic. Twigg, come help me with ZZ." Ninjzz helped Blitzy out of VAS and carried her down the hall as Twigg did the same with ZZ. It was an odd procession that made its way to Watson's clinic that night: a ninja and a Transformer carrying a young man and a little girl, accompanied by a no-nonsense doctor and followed by
seven frantic robots. By the time they reached the clinic, ZZ was awake and struggling.
"Let me go!" he cried, trying to twist free from Twigg's powerful arms. "Let go of me, you stupid bot!"
"See?" Blitzy said. "He doesn't even know us."
"I can zee juzt fine," Watson replied. "The boy haz a zeriouz problem. But then, you don't look too hot yourzelf, young lady."
Ninjzz set Blitzy on a table as Twigg held on to the writhing ZZ. "I'd really appreciate it if zomeone juzt happenzz to have picked up the zleeper devize," Twigg said.
"You're in luck, Twigg," All-Ball replied, holding up the small device he had found on the floor of VAS.
"Zap him for me, won't you?" Twigg requested. All-Ball quickly complied and Twigg laid the once-again sleeping ZZ on the unoccupied table.
"Get over here, Ninj," Watson called as he laid out various pieces of equipment. "You zay the problem iz with hiz mind?"
"We think zome zort of brainwazhing device waz uzed on him," Genesix piped up as he hurried into the room. Nearly everyone else was already gathered in the clinic.
"Wonderful," Watson said sarcastically. "Brainwazhing juzt happenzz to be my zpecialty. I don't even know how to diagnoze the extent of the damage."
"Maybe you could uze my old mind-reading helmet," Genesix suggested.
"Exzellent idea, Genezix," the doctor said. "Go get it."
Genesix left the room again. Watson went to Blitzy, who had stopped crying and was swinging her legs impatiently over the edge of the examining table.
"My arm hurts," she announced loudly.
"It ought to," Watson commented, examining the arm in question. "You have a broken wrizt, young lady. How'd you manage that?"
"I'm afraid I waz rezponzible," Ninjzz said.
Before Watson could investigate that any further, Blitzy said, "No, it wasn't your fault, Ninj. ZZ did it."
"How?" Watson asked. "Did he fall on you or zomething?"
"Not exactly," Blitzy replied. "He sort of grabbed my arm in both hands and twisted it."
It was hard to tell which was lower - the floor or Watson's jaw - after Blitzy made that statement.
"He did what?!" the doctor screeched.
"Hey, iz there zome zort of delayed echo in thiz houze?" Toolzz commented.
Ignoring the Street BOYZZ's statement, Watson kept right on raving. "He twizted it? You mean he broke it on purpoze? ZZ wouldn't do that!"
"Exactly right, doc, he wouldn't dream of it," Jammerzz said. "Zomething's wrong with his mind and that is he's out of it."
"Jammerzz iz ezzentially right," Ninjzz said. "The perzonality we know az ZZ haz been zhoved azide to make room for a new perzonality."
"A dezidedly negative one, I might add," Watson commented as he took some equipment out of a drawer. By the time the doctor had assembled everything necessary to treat Blitzy's wrist, Genesix had returned with his mind-reading helmet.
"It waz a little duzty," Genesix said, "but I'm zure it'll ztill work properly."
"Good," Watson replied. "You and Ninj ztart on that while I take care of Blitzy here."
As the doctor set Blitzy's wrist and put a cast on it, Genesix made various connections between the helmet and Watson's computer. He put the helmet on ZZ's head, turned on a speaker, and waited. Just as Blitzy was jumping down from the table, her wrist encased in a cast, the speaker crackled to life.
Blitzy slipped in surprise and fell off the table, barely saving her injured arm from hitting the floor. In an instant she was up again, racing to ZZ's side.
"I'm here, ZZ," she said excitedly.
"Let me out of here!" the computer screamed in ZZ's voice. His voice was not at all suited to the raw, hateful tone. "Blitzy! I won't let you do this! Let me go!"
"It's okay, ZZ," Blitzy said, leaning close to her brother but being careful not to touch him ("Physical contact will break the effect of the zleeper device," Watson was fond of saying). "You're home now."
"Get away from me," ZZ snarled.
"Wh - why?" Blitzy had not expected this at all.
"You betrayed me," came the reply. "You stole my bots, you ran away, you wage war on the Corp and try to blame it all on me. You make me sick."
"I give up," Blitzy said in anger, shock, and frustration. "ZZ doesn't remember anything. We might as well send him back to the Corp where he wants to be," she added bitterly, on the verge of tears.
"No, Blitz, please," came the faraway whisper, almost inaudible compared to the previous thoughts verbalized through the computer. "Don't give up on me."
"But I don't know what to do, ZZ," Blitzy answered, knowing it was her brother by the familiar nickname he used for her. "Nobody knows what to do."
"Just help me. Please, you have to help me; you can't leave me here all alone. Please, help me, Blitz... You shut up! I'm in charge here!"
Blitzy stepped back at the harsh order, then shot Ninjzz a questioning look.
"Yez," the BOYZZ said. "I believe I underztand now." He motioned for Blitzy, Watson, and Genesix to move out of ZZ's earshot while shooing the other BOYZZs out of the clinic.
"Okay, Ninj, don't keep it a big secret," Blitzy prompted. "What do you know?"
"I believe I have figured out how ZZ waz 'brainwazhed,' az you put it," Ninjzz replied.
"We're on the edgezz of our zeatzz, Ninjzz," Watson complained. "Zpit it out already!"
"It'zz really rather zimple," Ninjzz said. "ZZ waz azzaulted with falze information about hiz life."
"You mean, like about working for the Corp and stuff?" Blitzy asked.
Ninjzz nodded. "ZZ'zz perzonality retreated into a zmall area to protect itzelf, and eventually zealed itzelf off. That left room for a new perzonality which formed out of the falze information. The 'real' ZZ couldn't interfere becauze he waz already zealed off."
"You mean ZZ's just been watching himself do these things and there's nothing he can do to stop it?" Blitzy asked.
"That'zz right. When we played Zwang'zz recording back in Frenzy'zz apartment, it dizpelled the liezz juzt enough for ZZ to temporarily take control."
"Zo to cure him," Genesix deduced, "all we have to do iz uze the recording again and find a way to make it ztick."
"It won't be that zimple," Ninjzz said.
"Why did I know he waz gonna zay that?" Watson asked the ceiling.
"The recording iz a ztart," Ninjzz continued, "but for real rezultzz we'll have to appeal to zomething deeper. Thiz izn't a job for juzt anyone."
As if choreographed, all heads in the room turned to face Blitzy.
"Run that by me again, Ninj," Blitzy said. "In English this time."
"Genesix haz modified the mind-reading helmet to permit direct mind-to-mind contact," Ninjzz told her. "All you have to do iz talk to ZZ."
"Ah, the wonderzz of modern medizine," Watson said. "I'll be lucky if I get even a tiny part to play in thiz amazing procedure."
"Calm down, Watson," Blitzy replied. "You get to make sure Genesix's device doesn't fry my brain."
"Oh, joy." The doctor was not exactly thrilled. "If I zee zmoke coming out of your earzz, Blitzy, I'll be zure to unplug the computer."
"Everything'zz ready on the technical end," Genesix piped up. "Blitzy zhould be able to talk to ZZ directly with her mind while Ninjzz keepzz track of her progrezz."
"Good," Ninjzz said. "Let'zz get ztarted." Blitzy took one of the new-and-improved mind-reading helmets that Genesix had linked to the computer and put it on her head. Ninjzz did the same. ZZ, of course, was already wearing one.
"Remember, you can tell him anything az long az it'zz completely true," Ninjzz told her. "I'll keep an eye on thingzz, but ZZ won't know I'm there."
Blitzy nodded. "I'm ready, Genesix."
The real ZZ's best friend threw a switch. "Good luck, Blitzzzzy..."
Blitzy looked around, surprised. Ninjzz and Genesix's psychological and technical explanations hadn't prepared her for this. She was in a cold, black ocean that extended as far as she could see. It was strange and frightening.
Ninjzz! she called. Where are you? I'm scared.
I'm right here, Ninjzz's voice answered out of the blackness. Blitzy tried to follow the voice, but it came from everywhere at once and Ninjzz himself was nowhere to be seen.
I can't see you, she said. Where are you?
I'm in your mind, Ninjzz said, and in ZZ's. We don't have bodiezz here.
This must be ZZ's mind, Blitzy thought. at least, the messed-up part. What are we supposed to do?
He doesn't know I'm here, Ninj reminded her. It'zz up to you, Blitzy. Juzt talk to him.
Blitzy took a deep breath. ZZ? she called. Are you here? I want to talk to you.
I have nothing to say to you, said a voice that seemed to coagulate out of the inky black. It sent chills through every inch of Blitzy's being to hear that terrible voice.
I need to talk to you about... everything, Blitzy said. I need to talk to you about the Corp.
There's nothing to talk about, "ZZ" replied. I'm loyal to the Corp and Sir Louis. Why can't you accept that?
Because you can't, Blitzy told him. You quit working for the Corp because you found out about Paradim's plan to take over the world. You said you would fight until they were stopped. I know you remember this!
No, I don't believe you, the non-ZZ said, but far away Blitzy could see a tiny pinpoint of light beginning to peek through the blackness.
You came to the boarding school that night to get me, Blitzy continued. I knew you were coming and I told the other girls to hide. I called the Street BOYZZs "bozo-bots." It's true! You have to remember!
No! Stop! As the false ZZ protested, the faraway light grew stronger, gleaming like a diamond.
You aren't married, either, Blitzy pressed on. That's another lie. You have a girlfriend named Alisha. She's a model. Cook and Watson set you up with her. Remember Cook and Watson? Remember Alisha?
Nooooo! It's all a trick! Stop lying to me, Blitzy!
It'zz working, Blitzy, Ninjzz said. Juzt a little more, you're almozt there.
Remember the BOYZZs?! she shouted. They're your family; you created them! Genesix was the first one; remember Genesix? Jammerzz, Toolzz, Ninjzz! Bats, Bogey, Ace, All-Ball! Twigg! Kiddie, Swang! THE TALKING HEADS! Remember T-2, he laughs at everything! There are others, too; DeNerd, Cook, Watson, Freehand, Birden! Remember the BOYZZs? REMEMBER ME?!
The light grew brighter and brighter.
Yez, Blitzy! Ninjzz said excitedly. It'zz working! You've done it!
I think you spoke too soon, Ninj, Blitzy said. The blackness twisted around them, writhing; shrieking.
Noooooo! the horrible voice screamed.
I... won't... let... him... get... back... out! As Blitzy and Ninjzz watched in horror, the very space around them seemed to fold over on itself, intensifying. Fighting back. When its very existence was threatened, the personality called Doctor Ziv Zulander definitely knew how to put up a fight.
The things you're saying are all lies, Blitzy, it said. Who told you those things?
Huh? The abrupt switch from screaming banshee to kind, rational inquisitor took Blitzy off guard.
It's not true, Blitzy. I am working for the Corp. I am married to Lady Frenzy. You still go to the Corp boarding school. Your best friend is Paula, remember, Blitzy? I don't know where you got all those weird ideas about fighting the Corp.
It's true! Blitzy screamed. The blackness was getting thicker, moving in. Blitzy could feel it trying to smother her.
No, it's not true, the voice persisted firmly. You don't know what you're talking about. Listen to me.
Blitzy was swirling down a black whirlpool of uncertainty, drowning. The Corp is good... No, they're trying to take over the world! Of course they aren't taking over the world, that's ridiculous.
"Ninjzz, what'zz going on in there?" a faraway voice demanded. "Her EEG readingzz are going nutzz! You've got to do zomething!"
Blitzy! Ninjzz shouted desperately. Blitzy, lizten to me!
I'm trying, she wanted to say, but couldn't. The horrible blackness was closing in, crushing everything Blitzy knew.
It's just like what happened to ZZ, she thought. I can't let it happen to me, too! But it was happening, and the dark lies were filling her mind, overpowering her.
Lies? Are they really lies? some horrible non-Blitzy asked herself.
Hang on, Blitzy! Ninjzz pleaded. Think about the truth! The Corp iz evil! You're fighting againzt them!
I... know... that, the tiny speck of Blitzy said, but it's so hard... to hold on... and it's so much easier to just... give in...
The blackness grew blacker, and Blitzy was sucked down... down... down...
NOOOOOOOOO!!!!! DON'T YOU DARE HURT MY SISTER!!!
The furious voice was instantly recognizable, but before Blitzy and Ninjzz had a chance to comprehend its significance, a beam of rainbow light sliced through the darkness, knocking them both backward. In the next instant, they were falling... falling... falling...
"Whoa, Blitzy! Watch out!"
Blitzy opened her eyes and found herself back in Watson's clinic, about to fall off the table. Quickly righting herself, she looked around the room. Watson was watching her with concern while Genesix frantically checked equipment. Blitzy and Ninjzz removed their helmets, glad to be back in the solid reality of the clinic.
"What happened?" Ninjzz asked.
"You tell me," Genesix said, obviously stumped. "Blitzy'zz vitalzz got zo out of control that we were about to break the connection, but before I even touched the computer, there waz an enormouz energy zurge and you were thrown out."
"ZZ!" Blitzy exclaimed. "ZZ pushed us out!"
"I don't think zo, Blitzy," Genesix said. "The energy zurge waz far too powerful to be produced by a human brain - even one like ZZ'zz."
"It was him!" Blitzy asserted. "Can't you just check?"
Doubtfully, Watson went to a nearby computer terminal and entered a few codes.
"There waz a jump in ZZ'zz EEG reading at the time Blitzy and Ninjzz were puzhed out!" the doctor said, amazed.
Genesix's neck extended to its full length, like E.T.'s, as he whirled to examine the readout. "No way!" he exclaimed. "That'zz not pozzible!"
"Zee?" Watson told the Science BOYZZ, pointing to a jagged line on the monitor. "There waz a jump in electrical activity."
"But that'zz not even cloze to the amount of energy needed to overload the computer connectionzz!" Genesix protested. "Where did the rezt of the power come from?"
"Perhapzz from zomething no zcientizt ever conzidered," Ninjzz said, looking from Blitzy to ZZ and back again. "It'zz called brotherly love."
"What could be taking so long?" Blitzy demanded as she paced back and forth in the living room, one of ZZ's habits. "Watson said he thought ZZ was okay!"
"Do you call being brainwazhed by Doctor Hizz okay?" T-1 said from the shelf, eliciting an instant round of laughter from T-2.
"Of courze it'zz not okay," the Talking Head choked out between cackles. "It'zz terrible! Poor ZZ will never be the zame!"
"Gozh, T-2, that'zz not very funny," T-5 said softly. "What if ZZ really doezn't get better?"
"Yeah," T-1 added ominously. "What if he haz permanent emotional zcarzz, like Lindzay on Dayzz of Our Databaze?"
"Maybe he won't remember how to fix uz when we need maintenance," T-4 piped up. "We'll fall apart!"
"Genezix can fix uz," T-2 said, still laughing.
"What if Genezix getzz zo deprezzed about ZZ that he goez and committzz zuicide?" T-1 pressed. "Then nobody'll know how to fix uz! We'll end up on a junk heap!"
T-2 laughed maniacally. "That'zz terrible," it said. "That'zz horrible. It'zz not funny at all. But I can't ztop laughing!"
"Pleaze ztop it, everyone," T-3 said. "Can't you zee that Blitzy iz trying to cope with a tragedy? You'll upzet her!
The Talking Heads promptly shut up, though it wasn't necessary. Blitzy, absorbed in her own impatience, hadn't paid attention to a single word from the shelf. The BOYZZs, who had gathered in the living room, ignored the conversation as well. They were spread around the room, waiting in small groups, talking anxiously in low voices. The atmosphere in the room was so tense that, like the cliche, it could have been cut with a knife.
Suddenly Birden began squawking excitedly. Blitzy and the BOYZZs soon saw why; Genesix and Watson were standing in the hallway, accompanied by...
"ZZ!" Blitzy exclaimed, running into her brother's arms with complete abandon. ZZ picked her up and hugged her tightly, careful to avoid her plaster-encased right wrist.
"Are you okay?" she asked as her tears dampened ZZ's shirt. "I was so afraid. It was terrible - "
"I know, Blitz," ZZ said consolingly. "I was scared too."
"How much do you remember about what happened?" Blitzy asked, wiping her tears with her jacket sleeve.
"Enough." ZZ was obviously uncomfortable with the subject. "I'm really sorry for what I did to your arm, Blitz, and for hurting the BOYZZs. I tried to stop, but - "
"That's okay, ZZ," Blitzy said. "After all, you saved me back in the clinic."
"Just returning the favor," ZZ said, smiling. "Thanks for everything, Blitz. You're the greatest."
"No, she's not," DeNerd said. "Greatezt is an adjective meaning 'of the most outstanding significance or importance!' 'Superior in quality or character!' 'Noble!'"
"Exactly," ZZ said.
"Awww!" Cook exclaimed. "Thiz iz zo zweet. Come on, BOYZZs, we've got to welcome ZZ back properly. GROUP HUG!!!"
The BOYZZs stampeded to ZZ and Blitzy ("Hey, watch the arm," she complained) as ZZ laughed merrily.
"You know, there's zomething we forgot to zay after the battle the other day," Jammerzz said after ZZ had been hugged (crushed?) by all the BOYZZs in turn.
"What?" Blitzy asked.
"I bet I know," Toolzz said.
"We know it!" the Sports BOYZZs chorused.
"Don't bother to azk the 'ninja mazter,'" DeNerd said. "We know he knowzz." Ninjzz gave him a Look.
"I know!" Kiddie squealed happily. "Can I zay it? Can I can I can I, please, please, please?"
"I think we'll let ZZ zay it," Twigg said.
Blitzy and the BOYZZs looked expectantly at ZZ, waiting for the magic words. It was clear from the look in ZZ's glittering green eyes that he knew exactly what he was supposed to say and was just looking for the right way to say it. In the end, the traditional way won out.