The metallic clank echoed throughout the large room, followed by angry mumblings. Fingers tapped on a hard surface, then a mechanical whirl followed by a soft pop and another clank, louder than the first.
Things were silent for a moment before Tech uncovered his eyes which he had instinctively protected with his arms when the gadget on the table had popped. Looking at the device, he noticed the fragile equipment had broken in half when he dropped it to protect himself. With a sigh, he picked up his gadget and a nearby wrench, muttering to himself as he began to fix whatever he was working on.
It was true that he could have used his magnetism powers to work on his current project. It probably would have been much faster. And he could create things in a hurry if he really needed to. But things had been a little quiet in Acmetropolis for a while and there was no pressing need to do anything. But he was still working and testing things as always, just in case something did happen and his inventions could possibly help.
But that didn't mean he needed to do it fast. Sure, the coyote prided himself with the small amount of time it could take for him to create his brilliant inventions. That didn't mean, though, that he always had to make things in a hurry. There were times when he enjoyed just tinkering with things to see what he could do.
It was a bit different from his days at the Institute, where everything he made had to work. A little, but not too much. After all, it was hard to save a city with things that didn't work.
Pausing for a moment, Tech looked at the object in his hand and wondered what exactly it was supposed to do. Frowning a little, he shrugged before getting back to work. He'd find some use for it later.
Suddenly, a strong gust of wind zipped by, causing his long ears to move slightly and follow it to the side before correcting themselves. But the coyote didn't look up. He knew what had happened, and if he looked up he'd never get the little gizmo working.
He felt a presence behind him, looking over his shoulder before the familiar voice said hurriedly, "Hey-Tech-whatcha-doing?-Whatcha-making?-What's-it-do?-Can-I-see?-Are-you-finished?-Can-I-"
"Rev," the coyote said with an edge of annoyance in his voice. "I'm working on something."
"Oh-I-know," the other replied, zipping to stand in front of him across the table, "but-it-looks-so-cool.-But-you're-making-it-so-slow.-Why-don't-you-just-use-your-powers-to-speed-it-up?-I-mean-"
"It's not always about how fast I can make these things," the scientist replied. "Sometimes I just like to mess around with things and see what I end up creating. Besides, working with my hands can sometimes be more meaningful to the creation. Even if I put all this time into it by working with my hands, I might still get more out of it than if I use my powers to make it quickly, y'know?"
He didn't need to look up to know that the roadrunner had a puzzled look on his face. The silence said it all. And if he looked up, there would be no chance of escape.
"Never mind," Tech said, putting the wrench down and picking up a drill. "Did you need something?"
"I am a bit busy here, Rev," the coyote replied. "Couldn't you ask one of the others?"
"Wait a minute…" Tech said, finally looking up at the other with curious eyes. "You mean to tell me that you're asking me last?"
The roadrunner grinned slightly, glad to finally have the other's full attention. "Well-I-just-didn't-wanna-bother-you-if-you-were-really-busy," he responded. "Besides-I-only-asked-Ace,-Lexi-and-Slam-and-of-course-they're-all-busy-doing-something-else.-But-I-haven't-asked-Duck-yet-so-that-technically-doesn't-make-you-last."
Tech wasn't sure how to feel about the other's logic. But in any case, he had made eye contact with the other, and now that he had, the roadrunner would never leave him alone. He sighed softly, placing the drill down. 'No point in working now,' he decided.
Judging by the other's action, Rev knew that the other was conceding. Unwillingly, but still. "So-what-do-you-wanna-do?-Do-you-wanna-go-see-a-movie-or-hey-maybe-we-can-go-to-the-park-and-have-a-race-but-of-course-I'd-win-that-so-that-might-not-be-as-fun-for-you-or-we-can-get-some-sushi-fresh-from-Japan.-I-think-this-time-of-year-is-good-for-fish.-Or-how-about-some-chocolate-from-Switzerland-that-could-be-fun!-Or-"
The coyote watched as the other seemed to bounce around while he talked faster than his normal speed. "Have you been drinking coffee again?" he asked.
"Oh-well-maybe-kinda," the quickster replied, grinning slightly as he picked up the gadget Tech had been working on before. "Only-about-a-cup-or-two-or-three-or-maybe-six-but-I-don't-think-it's-that-much-and-I-was-only-drinking-some-because-I-had-nothing-better-to-do-and-I-didn't-put-a-lot-of-sugar-just-maybe-four-or-five-spoonfuls-for-each-cup.-Is-that-enough?-I-wasn't-sure…"
The scientist shook his head slightly, taking the device away from the other. Rev was hyper enough to begin with. Caffeine and sugar didn't do much to help. Luckily, with the other's fast metabolism those would pass quickly, but until then…Tech sighed slightly.
"How about we just go see a movie?" he suggested. He was hoping the dark theater and the need to be silent during the show would be enough to calm the hyperactive roadrunner down.
"Yeah!-That's-a-great-idea!" Rev replied cheerfully. "There's-a-great-new-movie-that-I-hear-is-supposed-to-be-good-with-lots-of-action-and-mystery-and-suspense.-Hey-we-should-hurry-and-get-going-if-we-wanna-make-the-matinee!"
Blinking, Tech looked at his watch. "I didn't realize what time it is," he said mostly to himself.
The coyote figured he had been working for about five hours, which shouldn't have surprised him but did anyway. "Do you really think we can still make it?" he asked the other.
Rev gave a triumphant laugh. "Come-on-Tech!-Who-do-you-think-you're-asking?" With that, he grabbed the unsuspecting coyote's arm and sped away.
A large crowd could be seen heading out of the movie theater, each sharing their opinion of the showings they had chosen with whoever had accompanied them. The last two of the group to exit the theater and back out onto the street were Tech and Rev.
"That-was-so-cool!" Rev said excitedly. "Like-the-part-with-the-cars-and-the-bad-guy-with-the-heroine-and-everything-went-BOOM!"
"Like we don't get enough explosions as it is?" Tech asked, massaging his shoulder as he walked.
"I guess…" the coyote replied, stretching his arm.
"It's fine. My arm was only almost ripped out of its socket, so I'll live," he said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "And at any rate, we got here on time." He mentally added, 'Plus he's seemed to have calmed a bit.'
Rev grinned. "Yup-just-like-I-told-you.-So-what-should-we-do-now?-Oh-hey-I'm-kinda-hungry-guess-it's-dinner-time.-Yeah-actually-I'm-starving-we-should-get-something-to-eat."
Suddenly, the sound of a cycle jet roared through the streets, passing by the theater that the two stood in front of, followed by the wail of police sirens. For the brief moment that the cyclist passed them, the two Loonatics could see a man, clad in black leather, carrying four or five bags of money.
"Bank robbery," Tech muttered as the cyclist drove by, the police cars right behind him.
Just as Rev was about to ask if they should help, the sound of a laser firing could be heard as a large colorful beam shot out from the cyclist. The beam hit one of the police cars and sent it flying into the air on a collision course for the theater.
Tech's eyes and hand began to glow a soft green, and just before the car hit the building, he held up his hand and surrounded the car with the same glow, causing it to hover just an inch away from the theater sign. "Rev," he said.
But the roadrunner already knew exactly what the other was going to say. "Right!-I'm-on-it!" he replied before speeding down the road in pursuit of the cyclist.
By that point, the cyclist had managed to lose the police cars and clear traffic on the road. But in the man's haste, he didn't notice the red blur catch up to him until he found the bags of money were gone. He swerved his jet bike to a stop, looking at the roadrunner who had taken the money.
"Now-now," Rev said, placing the money aside. "Didn't-anyone-tell-ya-it's-not-nice-to-take-things-that-don't-belong-to-you?"
The man smirked slightly, brushing back ebony strands from his round, tanned face as he slipped off the jet cycle. The two stood a good distance away from each other, but the hero could still see that the villain seemed to be trying to hide something in his violet eyes.
"Not bad," the robber said as he slid a hand into the inside of his leather jacket. "Let's see how you handle this." Before Rev knew it, the man had pulled out a metallic orb and threw it to the ground. Dark thick smoke exploded from inside it and covered the two entirely.
The roadrunner coughed slightly, covering his beak with his arm. 'Smokescreen,' he thought. Considering the fastest ways to get rid of the cloud and catch the robbery, he finally decided, 'Well, I'm not Slam, but I'll give it a try.'
He began running around in a small circle, gathering the smoke into a small tornado. He watched it carefully, even at his speed, waiting for the smoke to fade and disappear. But to his surprise, the cloud just seemed to get darker and thicker. Something wasn't right.
The quickster came to a sudden stop. But as he did so, the thick blackness seemed to collapse onto him before he could realize and move away. The 'smoke' stuck to him, trapping him in the swirled mass that he had created.
The smoke had cleared, but it left behind a sticky substance that immobilized the hero and covered all but his head in thick blackness.
And Rev saw the robber standing just three feet away from him, the smirk still on his tanned face.
"Too bad," the villain said mockingly. "I didn't really think that would be so easy…" With a scoff, he turned his back to the roadrunner and began heading for the money. He stopped, however, when instead of the money his eyes came upon another figure, dressed in black and green.
Tech had already hidden the money since the man had been distracted. Now he had to finish the job. Looking over to his fellow Loonatic, he called, "You okay Rev?"
"Oh-yeah-I'm-fine," the red bird replied. "Just-a-little-stuck-but-don't-worry-about-me!"
The genius frowned slightly as he quickly studied his friend's predicament before turning his attention back to the robber. "That smokescreen," he said. "You mixed it with something, didn't you?"
The man laughed. "You are a clever one, aren't you? Yes, a special chemical I created that I mixed with the smoke along with water particles that reacts to heat and dust."
"So the dust and heat that Rev created from the friction when he was running combined with the smoke and somehow created that material that trapped him," the coyote finished softly. Something didn't seem right about the whole thing.
"You certainly are a genius," the man said, his smirk suddenly turning into a scowl. The villain raised his arm and aimed it at the scientist.
Tech gasped as he dodged, just barely missing being shot by the laser that disintegrated the ground he had been standing on just seconds ago. But the man didn't give up. He continued to fire at any place the other landed.
The genius clicked his tongue as he continued to avoid being hit by the laser, his mind racing for a way to end this. In this kind of situation, his powers couldn't be much help. He'd normally have some device to assist him, but having been taken out of his lab as quickly as he had, he was ill-prepared for this. And molecular regeneration certainly wasn't going to help lest he was disintegrated by the laser. But that was something he'd like to keep as a 'just in case'.
His magnetism seemed to be the only option he had. But how was he going to stop the villain with that? His eyes quickly scanned the area. Throw a car at the villain? The jet cycle? Somehow take the laser that the man obviously had even though Tech couldn't' see even a hint of it all and use it against him? Surely there was some metal in that.
There were problems with each. The man seemed to be an ordinary human, and throwing any large metallic object could kill him. Double went for the laser. Wasn't their job to protect humans, good or bad?
Still, it could damage their reputation as Loonatics if an ordinary bank robber managed to escape them. Yet something about this robber seemed less than ordinary.
Once again jumping out of the way of the laser, the coyote was slightly distracted as moving crimson caught his eye. He glanced over at Rev who was still vainly struggling to get free from his dark encasement. But something was different about it. Though still black in color, the substance looked a slight shade lighter than before.
That was when he finally had an idea. He just hoped it worked.
Jumping out of the laser's way again, the scientist landed in front of where the other was trapped. As he landed on the black substance that kept the other stuck to the road, he noted to his relief that it had hardened like he thought. In the second Tech saw the laser being aimed at him again, he muttered to Rev, "Brace yourself…"
The shot was fired, and as Tech jumped out of the way the laser exploded on impact of the black matter, sending dust and debris flying everywhere.
Protecting himself from the aftershock of the explosion, Tech looked over to see Rev lying on his side, though quickly getting to his feet.
"You okay?" the coyote asked.
"Yeah-I'm-okay," the roadrunner replied, dusting the remaining debris off. "That-didn't-really-hurt-too-much-it-stung-a-little-but-it-wasn't-so-bad.-I-guess-it's-because-that-stuff-was-thick-that-it-took-most-of-the-impact-so-I'm-really-okay."
There was a sudden cling followed by a pop. As the two heroes looked over, their visions were suddenly covered by the familiar dark smoke.
The two coughed, covering their faces to keep from inhaling the smoke. "Y'know," Rev said, "this-is-kind-of-annoying."
"The smoke is pretty heavy, though," Tech said, opening an eye slightly. "With the chemical and water particles increasing the density, it should settle quickly."
In a few minutes, the smoke did dissipate. But much to the heroes' dismay, the villain was gone.
Tech shook his head slightly in disappointment. "We can battle giant robots, super-powerful beings, and save Acmetropolis more times than needs to be counted," he said in frustration, "but we can't even apprehend one bank robber?"
"Oh-hey-c'mon-don't-think-about-it-like-that," Rev replied, looking at the other. "Maybe-we-were-just-having-an-off-day-or-something-and-besides-he-was-kind-of-different-than-most-bank-robbers-don't-you-think?-And-maybe-he-didn't-wanna-try-fighting-the-both-of-us-because-he-couldn't-handle-it."
"I guess," the coyote replied, thinking over the other's words. There had been something different about that robber, but not even he could quite place it.
The genius snapped out of his thoughts. "Huh? Oh…In one of the trash cans in the ally," he replied, pointing to the right one.
The roadrunner stuck his tongue out, making a little face. "Well-that's-kind-of-disgusting-but-whatever-I-guess." And he turned and sped into the alley.
"It was empty!" the scientist called after the other, though he wasn't sure if the other heard him. Shrugging it off, he turned, wanting to inspect the remains of the substance that had managed to trap Rev.
He barely managed a step, however, when a sudden pressure hit his back and electric blue light surrounded him. He gasped, forced to his knees due to the painful sensation he felt left by the powerful shock resonating through his body.
"Hey-Tech!" Rev called as he came out of the alley. But all words were forgotten as his eyes landed on the predicament the other was in. Dropping the bags of money, he sped over to the other.
"Don't!" Tech all but growled as the roadrunner came towards the electric field that surrounded him. Asides from the fact electricity was ripping through his body, he could feel something was wrong, and whatever it was it certainly didn't need to involve both of them.
Rev had stopped about a foot away from the other. Tech's tone had scared him a little because he sounded…different. Really different. But maybe that was just the pain.
So what could he do? If Tech wasn't going to let him help, was all he going to do watch as the other suffered? Where had the attack come from anyway?
Unnoticed by the two Loonatics was the figure, clad in black, staring down at them from a nearby rooftop. Strands of ebony and the collar of his leather jacket danced as a breezed blew overhead, and a small smirk appeared on his round, tanned face as the electric blue light surrounding the coyote below suddenly disappeared. He watched as the roadrunner address the other, helping him to his feet. The coyote wobbled a little as he stood, but responded to his comrade.
The figure watched as the two talked for a moment before heading off, though the roadrunner seemed to protest on the coyote's behalf, who in turn brushed the comments aside. As the two headed away, the man chuckled softly, pushing strands of hair away from his face.
"We'll see how this experiment works out," he muttered, "won't we…Tech E. Coyote?"
The mechanical whirl of the door opening and closing gained the attention of the four already there as their two other members came in, locked in some kind of discussion.
"But-are-you-sure-you're-okay?-I-mean-you-were-under-that-for-a-really-long-time-even-before-I-saw-it-weren't-you-so-maybe-you-should-take-a-rest-and-make-sure-that-everything-is-really-okay-y'know-just-to-be-sure.-Can't-take-too-many-chances," Rev said as he followed behind the coyote.
"Rev," Tech said, sounding slightly annoyed, "for the last time, I'm fine. Really."
This odd exchange, of course, brought in the curiosity of their other teammates.
"Eh…what's up guys?" Ace asked as the two approached the table.
"Where have you two been?" Lexi asked.
"Just the movies," the coyote replied. "There was also a little robbery at the bank, but the suspect got away."
"A bank robber?" Duck asked incredulously. "The two of you couldn't manage to catch a bank robber?"
"Well-it-wasn't-really-our-fault," the roadrunner replied defensively, "but-I-guess-maybe-it-could-have-been.-But-anyway-he-wasn't-just-a-bank-robber-he-had-all-these-weird-gadgets-and-it's-just-a-long-story-but-to-put-it-bluntly-he-managed-to-get-away-by-using-a-smokescreen.-But-he-didn't-get-the-money-Tech-made-sure-of-that-and-I-guess-I-could-have-tracked-him-down-but-then-Tech-got-zapped-with-some-weird-electric-energy-and-"
It was at this point that the scientist grabbed the other's beak to keep it shut. But it wasn't fast enough for the others to catch what Rev said, even with his quick tongue.
"You okay, Tech?" the leader asked, looking at the one he was addressing with concern in his sapphire eyes.
The coyote sighed softly, releasing the quickster's beak. "I'm fine," he replied. "Besides the shock and some dizziness afterwards, nothing really happened."
Ace frowned slightly. He wasn't sure if he believed the scientist, but he decided not to bother him any further about the matter. "Okay, it's your call. Anyway, why don't you guys get some food before Slam eats it all?"
"Oh-yeah!-Finally-I'm-starving!" Rev said, zipping to the other side of the table to stand by the Tasmanian devil.
Grinning slightly, the rabbit then turned to the other Loonatic. "Tech?" he asked softly.
The scientist stood silently, staring blankly at the table. The leader wouldn't have thought much of it had it not been for the strange darkness in Tech's normally gold eyes.
Frowning again, he placed a hand on the other's shoulder. "Yo…Tech?"
He watched the other blink rapidly a few times before looking up at him, golden eyes back to normal. "Huh?" the coyote asked.
"You sure you're okay?"
The scientist nodded, brushing the rabbit's concern off. "Yeah, I'm fine," he replied. "I guess I'm just more tired than I initially thought."
Ace motioned towards the table. "You wanna get somethin' to eat?"
"No…I'm not really hungry. I think I'm just going to go lie down or something."
"Okay…" He watched as the other headed off before turning back to the table.
Rev watched as Tech left, the mechanical door closing behind him. Then he glanced at the rabbit who met his curiosity with just a small shrug.
Of course they knew something was wrong. They just needed to find out what.
It had only been two days after the bank robbery and the incident with Tech. It didn't need to be any longer for the rest of the Loonatics to notice even the subtle changes in the scientist's behavior.
In that short amount of time, the coyote managed to withdraw into himself, even when he wasn't working on something. He just seemed to walk in and out of rooms, roaming as he drifted in his own world.
He didn't really say much during those couple of days. He mostly just worked on devices or stared off into nothingness, lost in deep thought. The only time he ever said anything was if someone spoke to him first.
There was also an odd restlessness that accompanied him with whatever he did. He would be working on something for a moment, get up and walk from room to room, stare at the wall or floor, and leave before doing it all again. It seemed that he couldn't stay put for more than a few minutes. Odd considering he usually was able to sit and work on projects for hours on end.
The Loonatics also noted that Tech still had yet to eat something. When confronted about it, the coyote would claim to hunger, but then would stare out into space before shaking his head and walking away.
Not to mention – although Ace wasn't sure if the others knew about it – the odd darkness that covered the golden depths of the scientist's eyes. He had seen the strange phenomenon on several occasions following the first, when Tech and Rev had returned from the robbery. He was hesitant to ask about it, though, wondering if it could possibly be his imagination. Doubtful, but he still wondered.
It was late afternoon by the time Ace found Tech again, what with his constant wanderings and the large space of their lodgings. The leader had found Duck watching the weather again and Tech standing in the back of the room with his arms folded across his torso. At first glance, it appeared as though the scientist was watching the weather woman on television as well, but Ace could see the distant, shadow-covering look in the other's eyes.
Slowly approaching, the leader said softly, "Hey Tech?"
The one he was addressing was silent at first, continuing to stare at the television screen. Then he blinked rapidly, his eyes returning to their normal hue as he looked up at the rabbit. "Huh?" he asked.
"You feelin' okay Tech? You seem kinda out of it."
"I guess, I just…" The coyote sighed, rubbing his forehead. "I'm a little tired. I've been having trouble sleeping."
"Oh yeah? Maybe you haven't been eating enough?" Ace suggested, determined to lead the other back into that particular discussion. He was going to figure out what was wrong. "Y'know, being hungry enough can keep ya awake."
"Maybe," Tech replied. "I really should…" He stopped speaking then as a small groan made its way up. He closed his eyes tightly.
Noticing this, the leader frowned. "Tech…?"
Duck suddenly sighed loudly, sitting up from his position on the couch and turning to look at the two in the back. "Do you mind?" he asked, obviously annoyed. "I can't hear the TV with all your incessant chattering."
Tech suddenly looked up at the mallard, seeming to glare at the other. He growled deeply, causing Duck to jump in surprise and even Ace took a step back and away from the coyote. And the leader could see the strange darkness clouding the other's eyes again.
The scientist took a small step towards the duck, his tall ears folding back against his head as he looked ready to pounce. Reaching out, Ace grabbed the other's shoulder and pulled him back. "Tech…!"
Shutting his eyes, the coyote shook his head slightly, his ears returning to their normal position. When he had opened his eyes again, they were also back to their normal golden hue. "Sorry…what?" he said, looking up at the rabbit.
Ace's brow furrowed slightly, surprised by the other's behavior. This was getting too weird.
"Uh, hello?" Duck said, jumping over the couch and walking towards the two. "What was that all about?"
Tech looked at the other curiously. "What was what about?" he asked.
"You're not serious, are you? You totally just – Hey!" the duck said as Ace gently pushed him out of the way.
"I think Duck's been watching a little too much television," the leader said, quickly cutting off whatever the show-off was going to say. "Anyway, why don't you check to see if there's anything you can eat?"
Looking a little more than puzzled, the coyote scratched the top of his head. "Actually, I think I'm going to see if I can get some work done."
Ace nodded slightly. "Yeah, okay, you go ahead and do that."
"But…!" Duck started as Tech began walking away, but was silenced quickly as the leader held up his hand. He frowned, watching the door close after the scientist. When it did, the rabbit sighed softly.
"Mind telling me what that was about?" Duck lisped, turning his own cerulean eyes to the other.
"I just don't wanna worry Tech about something that he might not even be responsible for," Ace replied. "Especially since he probably doesn't even remember."
"Are you kidding me? He just growled at me. I expect that kinda thing from Slam, and on a bad day at least."
"Exactly," the leader replied, looking at the shorter Loonatic. "That's not the kind of thing you expect from Tech. Whining, maybe, but not growling. Especially not like that."
"So what makes you think he doesn't remember it? He could be fakin' it."
Ace said nothing for a moment, the image of the coyote's eyes swirled in darkness returning to his thoughts. "I'm not sure," he finally replied. "Just a feelin'."
Duck scoffed. "A feeling? Yeah, that's great. That 'feeling' of yours could probably get us all in serious trouble."
"Well, until we know for sure what's going on with Tech, I don't wanna do anything we could regret."
The mallard folded his arms across his front. "So what do we do about this?"
"We'll all keep a close eye on Tech. We'll watch him and see what happens. Sooner or later we're bound to figure out what's wrong."
Duck scoffed again. "Yeah? I just hope it's sooner rather than later…"
He sighed softly as he walked slowly down the busy street, his old and worn jet blades slung over his shoulder. His eyes were kept downcast, avoiding the cheerful and talkative people around him who seemed to contradict how he was feeling.
Another paycheck was being withheld from him that week because he had yet again missed the 30-minute deadline for delivery. He was doing the best that he could, especially with the blades he was forced to borrow (and he was convinced that they were broken). But apparently his best wasn't good enough.
It was a vicious cycle he was trapped in. With the broken blades, he couldn't make the deliveries on time which resulted in the lack of payment. But without the money, he'd never be able to buy new jet blades.
In a nutshell, his life sucked.
The sound of a shop bell reached his ears and he glanced up just in time to see a familiar coyote in a black coat walking out of the shop, carrying a brown paper bag in his arms and a blue duffle bag hanging from his shoulder.
The roadrunner perked up a little when he saw the coyote, and he sped up a little to catch up as the other began walking away. "Hey…!" he said.
The coyote jumped slightly, turning to the other and sighing when he saw who it was. "Please don't do that," he muttered.
Grinning sheepishly, the roadrunner replied, "Sorry. So what's up?"
"Nothing really. I just needed to pick up some things for a project I'm working on." The coyote looked up at the other. "What about you?"
"Oh…well, y'know…I just got off of work…"
"Ah. You still working in fast food?"
"Not like I have much choice. Not everyone is a genius like you."
The would-be scientist grinned, chuckling softly. "Yeah, I know," he replied. But his smile faded when he noticed the roadrunner's suddenly gloomy disposition. Clearing his throat, he said, "Why don't we do something? Maybe walk around?"
The quickster looked up at the other. "But I thought you had to work on a project?"
"Well, I'm almost done with it, and it's not due for a few weeks. I got some time to spare."
"Oh…" He looked down at the ground, wondering if the other was willing to listen to the problem that was on his mind.
Watching the other for a moment, the scientist frowned deeper. Motioning for the other to follow, he said, "Come on. I've got just the place."
Blinking, the roadrunner followed as his friend led him to the Acmetropolis park. He watched as the other headed to the nearest bench, sitting down on it and placing the brown paper bag to his side and the blue duffle on his lap. Hesitating for a moment, the roadrunner then went to sit beside his friend on the bench.
The two sat in silence for a while, and he glanced up at the sky, sunlight fading over the horizon, through the thick branches of the trees. He had to admit that the area was relaxing, and he knew that the would-be scientist came to the park often to think.
"So, um…" he heard the other say suddenly, "I…saw you…by the Institute today."
He winced a little as the memory returned to him. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. I was working on an experiment when I happened to look out the window and saw you making a delivery. I figure that was about ten seconds before my experiment exploded."
"Oh, I heard that explosion. That was yours?"
The coyote shrugged slightly. "Yeah, but I'd get worried if there wasn't some kind of explosion everyday." He looked at the roadrunner. "But before it exploded, was I right to guess that you didn't make the delivery on time?"
He frowned a little, ruffling the blue and purple feathers on his head, looking away and not answering.
But the scientist didn't need his friend to respond in order to know. "I see…You know, even with your speed, there are going to be limits."
"Yeah, I know…But I know that I can do this if they just give me a fair chance."
"The whole world isn't going to be fair."
"But that doesn't mean they should make me deliver across town in ten minutes. I can't help it if I don't make it on time."
"And if you don't make it on time, they take it out of your pay…" the coyote said softly as though he had heard the story before, beginning to unzip the bag on his lap.
"Right." He sighed softly. "And these stupid jet blades that I had to use aren't helping much either. But if I don't make the deliveries, I don't get paid."
"That's a really tough predicament." At that point, the scientist was rummaging through his bag.
He frowned slightly as he watched the other before looking up at the darkening sky. If the other wasn't going to listen, then there was no point to continue.
"Maybe you should get new blades," the coyote said suddenly, still rummaging through his bag.
"Hmm…" he replied, pretending to think. "That's a good idea…Except, if you recall, I really don't have the money to because I don't get paid since I don't make the deliveries on time."
"You're not listening to me," the scientist said, looking up at him and grinning slightly. "I never said you had to buy new ones."
And he watched as his friend pulled a pair of new jet blades from the blue duffle bag. He gasped. "Where did you get those?"
"Let me first clear your mind and assure you that I didn't steal these. I made these when I had some free time today. I'm confident that you'll find these better and faster than your old blades."
"Wait…those are for me?"
The coyote placed the blades on the other's lap. "Well, I'm not going to use them," he replied, zipping up his bag. "Besides, I thought they could help, and it really looked like you could use them. No offense."
But the quickster was too excited to care. "These are so awesome! I can't believe you made these!"
The coyote pouted a little. "It shouldn't be that surprising," he muttered.
Putting the blades on, he got to his feet. "I gotta try these out."
"Just be careful. I haven't had a chance to test them."
"As long as they don't explode, I think I'll be good."
"Hah…and hah." Getting to his feet, the coyote said, "Well, I better get going anyway."
"All right. Thanks for the blades."
"Yeah, well I hope they help," the scientist replied, picking up his paper bag. "Good luck," he added as he headed off.
Rev blinked, stopping in his tracks as he thought of the memory that had just played in his head and wondered where it had come from.
He allowed a small smile to appear on his face when he thought of those faster blades that Tech had made for him when he was still delivering fast food. They helped for a while, at least until his boss found out about the quicker jets. Then he seemed to get even less time to deliver the food.
Not that Tech ever found out. He didn't have the heart to tell the other that the jet blades he had made caused him slightly more trouble. Besides, that was history. But the roadrunner still questioned what had caused him to recall that event.
He began to wonder if it had anything to do with Tech's strange behavior as of late. Probably. The scientist never talked about what was going on. In fact, he hardly said anything at all. It saddened Rev a little that his friend wasn't speaking to him about the matter. What made it worse was the idea that something could be really wrong and they couldn't do anything about it.
Ace had told them to "keep an eye" on Tech. He said that something was really strange about the other, but Rev really wanted to know what that was.
It obviously bothered the normally calm leader, as they all had noticed by the look in his sapphire eyes whenever Tech was mentioned. So if Ace was this concerned about it, then it was definitely a troubling matter. Hopefully, they could fix whatever was wrong.
But at any rate, the had all been told to keep a close watch over Tech, just in case. So that was where he was heading. Rev finally managed to locate the other in the lab after he finally decided to stay in one place for more than five minutes. Wasn't Rev supposed to be the hyper one?
Finally reaching the lab, the roadrunner was about to head in when a strange sound reached his ears. Frowning, he stood and listened carefully by the door. On the other side was a painful groan followed by a small clatter.
Frowning deeper, he waited for the mechanical door to open. When it did, he was greeted with the sight of Tech standing bent heavily over a table, his breathing harsh and ragged while his body trembled and he appeared as though he would collapse at any moment.
Gasping, Rev sped over to the other's side. "Hey-Tech," he said, "are-you-okay?-What's-wrong?-Why-are-you-?"
He was cut off by the startling appearance in the coyote's eyes as the other seemed to glare at him. Instead of the familiar gold hue, Rev found himself staring into wild black.
Before he could react, the quickster was tackled by the coyote and pinned to the ground. He gasped, his body tense and his heart pounding as he looked up at the other who stared back at him with those feral onyx eyes. Despite everything he had been through as a Loonatic, this was the most frightening situation he had ever found himself in. He knew something was really, seriously wrong with his friend.
Tech suddenly snarled, exposing sharp canine teeth. Emerald eyes widening, Rev found himself kicking the other hard, sending him flying into the nearest wall. As he got to his feet, he watched as the scientist slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor. Groaning, the other shook his head, placing his hand to his forehead. The roadrunner hesitated for a moment before speeding over and kneeling beside him.
"Hey-Tech-are-you-okay?" he asked softly.
"I feel like I got hit in the head with an anvil…" the genius replied, glancing up at the other. To Rev's relief, the other's eyes were back to normal. "What happened?"
The quickster hesitated, wondering what to tell his friend. The truth, no doubt, would frighten Tech almost as much as it had frightened him. "I-don't-know," he finally replied, "I-just-found-you-like-this.-Are-you-feeling-all-right?-Do-you-remember-what-happened?"
"Not…really…The last thing I remember is working on…something. I'm not sure what it is now."
Rev blinked, staring at the other in disbelief. How could he not know what he had been working on? Tech always put his heart and soul into his work, concentrating on it to make it as perfect as he possibly could. The scientist always placed all his attention on his latest gadget until he was finished before proudly showing it off. Wasn't it only a few days ago when Tech was trying to explain to him about putting special time and care into his work? To not know what he was working on…Something was very wrong with the other.
The coyote shook his head as he slowly got to his feet. "No," he replied, "I think I'll keep working a little more…"
Rev frowned, but answered, "Well-okay-if-you're-sure.-I'll-just-leave-you-to-that-then.-Okay?-Later." Before the other could answer, he ran out of the room, the mechanical door closing behind him.
Sighing, he closed his eyes, beginning to locate where Ace was to tell him about what had happened. But then he stopped, opening his emerald eyes again.
What would Ace say if he found out that Tech had attacked him? What would the others say? More importantly, what would they do? If they knew that Tech had attacked him, regardless of the reason, they might lose faith in the scientist as a Loonatic. What if they stopped trusting him?
Rev though deeply about the situation. He knew that Ace should know something was very wrong with Tech. But he couldn't help but feel that it wasn't his friend's fault. He was afraid, though, that the leader might not agree with him. If he didn't, there was no telling what might happen.
He finally came to a conclusion. He'd figure out a way to help Tech. Even if he'd have to do it on his own.
"You're needed in downtown Acmetropolis, Loonatics," the familiar voice echoed as the hologram of Zadavia appeared before them.
The heroes were gathered around the table as usual, awaiting their instructions from their boss. But the hologram looked on silently for a long moment.
Finally, she said, "There appears to be someone missing…"
The five shifted uncomfortably, exchanging glances before Ace replied, "Uh…yeah…y'see, Tech hasn't been…feeling well these past few days."
"Oh dear," the woman said, though it was hard to determine how she really felt by the matter.
"Yeah. So, um…maybe he should sit this one out," the leader suggested.
"Well, you may wish to consult Tech about that," she answered, "considering that he and Rev recently faced the problem."
Before the five could ask for clarification, the hologram of the woman was replaced by one of a man clad in black leather, firing a laser at whatever building happened to be there. A smirk was present on his tan face and his violet eyes, in Ace's vision, seemed to dance at the destruction he was causing.
"Oh-hey-wait-a-minute-I-know-that-guy!" Rev said suddenly. "That's-the-bank-robber-Tech-and-I-saw-a-week-ago!"
"That's the bank robber?" Lexi asked, watching the hologram.
"Bank robber to psycho…That's a quick upgrade, don't ya think?" Duck muttered.
Suddenly the man laughed as another building collapsed at the wrath of his laser. "Come on out, Loonatics!" he called, destroying yet another building.
"It seems that he is simply trying to lure you out," the voice of Zadavia said as the image of the woman once again replaced the one of the man. "The reason is unknown, but in any case, he must be stopped."
"Right," Ace replied, nodding. "We'll take care of it."
The woman nodded in return. "Just be careful, Loonatics." And the hologram disappeared.
"If he's so eager to meet us, why doesn't he just come here?" the duck asked suddenly. "Not like we're hard to find, unless he just doesn't see the giant tower in the middle of the city."
"Maybe he's just shy," the leader said sarcastically before turning to Rev. "You wanna go get Tech?"
The roadrunner nodded and sped to the door. As soon as it opened, however, he was tackled to the ground.
"Rev!" Ace said, startling the other three. But just as he was about to shoot at the force, his eyes widened and he froze.
Tech snarled as the roadrunner struggled beneath him.
"Whoa!" Lexi said. "Tech, what are you doing?"
The coyote only responded with a low growl as he finally glared up at the other four with wild black eyes. But with the distraction, the quickster threw the other off him as he did a backwards summersault. The coyote hit the ground, sliding back a bit on the smooth surface.
Getting to his feet quickly, Rev turned and watched his friend get up as well, glaring at him. But just as the other looked about ready to jump at him, Slam grabbed the coyote, immobilizing him with his large arms. Tech snarled as he struggled against the powerhouse, snapping his teeth at the air.
"Talk about a mood swing," the show-off commented dryly. "Last I saw him, he looked about ready to fall asleep."
"That's really weird…" Ace said softly as he watched the coyote thrash about. "I know he's been acting really weird lately, but I've never seen him act like this before…"
As the others agreed in some way or another, Rev looked away and fidgeted nervously.
That behavior did not go unnoticed by the leader. Whether it was lying or having something to hide, he knew that there were certain visible actions. And he didn't need his optical enhancement to see the roadrunner was exhibiting those signs.
"Rev…" the rabbit said slowly, "did you know anything about this?"
The quickster knew he had been caught, yet still couldn't bring himself to say anything about it. "No-not-really…" he replied, his voice cracking slightly as he spoke.
And the leader didn't Lexi's special hearing to know that the other was definitely lying. "Rev, has this happened before?"
Feeling the burning gaze of the normally cool blue eyes, the roadrunner turned slightly so that he was facing away from the other.
But Ace was getting impatient. He walked over until he was standing beside the other Loonatic. "Rev," he said in a forceful tone, "what is going on?"
Rev finally turned back to the rabbit. "I-really-don't-know," he answered honestly, "that's-what-I've-been-trying-to-figure-out-this-past-week-while-Tech-was-acting-really-weird-and-it's-not-really-his-fault-so-I-didn't-want-to-say-anything-that-might-get-him-into-trouble-and-"
"Okay, okay, wait a minute," the rabbit said. "Did you know about this?" He emphasized the last word as he motioned to the devil behind him that still held the struggling coyote back.
Glancing from Slam to Ace, Rev slowly nodded.
Ace groaned, rubbing his temples. "Okay…so you knew…but you didn't bother to tell anyone?"
He gasped, shutting his beak with his hands as the leader looked at him with startled eyes. After the meteor hit and they had gained their powers and Rev gained his fast-paced speech, Tech had always warned him about running off at the mouth. Now he understood why.
"Other times…" the leader said. He wasn't asking for confirmation in that statement. "How many 'other times'?"
The roadrunner looked down at the ground. "I-don't-know-like-I-was-supposed-to-keep-track?"
"This isn't a joke, Rev!" Ace snapped, causing the other four to jump slightly. "Do you have any idea how much trouble this causes?"
"Toldja so…" the show-off quipped softly.
"Can it, Duck!" the rabbit said, glaring at the mallard before turning back to the roadrunner. "Rev, why didn't you tell anyone? I told you to keep an eye on Tech so you could tell me if something like this happened!"
"I-I…I-didn't-wanna-get-him-in-trouble…" the quickster replied softly.
"You didn't want to get him in trouble…" Ace rubbed his temples again. "Okay, fine…But did you ever think about what could have happened if you couldn't fight him off? If he had actually hurt you?"
Rev winced a little, actually never having thought of that. He'd always figured that he would be able to protect himself or that the coyote would snap back to normal. It had never occurred to him that his friend would – or could – ever harm him, even with the strange behavior that the other was demonstrating.
"If he had actually managed to hurt you," Ace said, "not only would he have gotten in trouble, I would have had to explain to him why. How do you think he would have felt knowing he was responsible for something like that?"
Ace suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning slightly, he looked over at Lexi. She frowned, shaking her head before motioning back to the roadrunner. As he looked back at the bird, whose eyes were downcast and a small pained look was etched into his features, the rabbit sighed softly. Despite his sense of humor, he always knew that he had a strong serious side. Usually that seriousness allowed him to keep a cool attitude with whatever challenges they had to face. But this was one of those rare times that he had lost his head.
"Listen Rev," he spoke softly, trying to regain his composure, "I know you're worried about him. We all are. I mean, it's obvious that there's somethin' really wrong with him. But if we're gonna help him, then we gotta do it right, okay?"
Looking up at the leader, Rev nodded slightly.
"Ahem…" Duck said suddenly, "I don't mean to break up the moment, but I think something's happening to Tech."
The two turned slightly in time to see the coyote's body suddenly falling limp. They all held their breaths for what seemed to be like hours, waiting for the other's next move. Then, the scientist groaned softly, and Ace nodded to Slam. The devil carefully set the other onto the ground, and the leader knelt beside him.
"You okay, Tech?" he asked softly.
"I feel like I just fell off a cliff," the scientist muttered, rubbing his head. "What happened?"
The rabbit glanced at the others quickly before answering, "I don't know…I guess you were sleepwalking or…something…"
Tech looked up at him. "Sleepwalking?"
"Yeah, I guess. Last we checked, you were sleeping. Then you just kinda came in and woke up."
Frowning, the scientist shook his head. "But chances of sleepwalking at this age are…"
"Well, I'm not sure how else to explain it," Ace said quickly, not allowing the other to finish. "Anyway, we just spoke with Zadavia earlier and we got a little situation."
Tech continued to rub his head, still feeling a little tired and confused. "Oh?"
"Yeah, there's a guy blowin' stuff up downtown that's callin' us out. And Rev says he's the same bank robber that the two of ya saw a week ago."
The coyote perked up a little and looked at the other. "Oh yeah?"
The leader nodded. "You feelin' okay to come?"
Slowly Tech got to his feet. "Yeah, definitely."
Getting up as well, the rabbit frowned. "Ya sure?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," the genius replied, waving aside the other's concern.
"Okay then. Let's head out, Loonatics!"
Rev sped off first, followed by Slam and Tech. Duck eyed the rabbit cautiously before running off after them.
About to follow, Ace stopped when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned to face Lexi.
"Why didn't you tell him?" the bunny asked, looking at him with critical emerald eyes.
"Well, I really don't think any of this is his fault," the rabbit replied. "He doesn't seem aware of any of it. But if he isn't, he definitely will be if we say something." He folded his arms across his chest, tapping his fingers on his arms. "Until we can figure out what's going on, I want to keep Tech in the dark about it and find out if he really doesn't remember anything. The less involved he is in everything, the better it will be for him in the end."
"So what do we do if he does something like that while we're out there?"
Ace frowned as he took a moment to think. "We'll just have to watch him. Probably keep Slam nearby to hold him down if anything should happen." Then he grinned slightly, making a motion with his head. "Now c'mon, we better get going."
The acrobat sighed softly as she ran out after him. "I really hope you know what you're doing, Ace," she said.
Glancing back at her quickly, the leader frowned. 'So do I,' he thought.
The Loonatics landed in the broken street, looking around at the destroyed buildings and all the smoke that rose into the air. But there was no sign of anyone there.
"Looks like someone got tired of waiting…" Duck said, turning over a broken piece of concrete with his foot.
Ace turned to the roadrunner. "Can you pick up anything Rev?" he asked.
The quickster's eyes began to glow crimson as a holographic map appeared from the large red triangle on his chest. "Well-let's-see-I'm-not-picking-up-anyone-which-is-good-I-guess-when-you-think-about-it.-Oh-wait-I-think-there-is-someone-here…" A red dot abruptly appeared on the holographic map before it disappeared and Rev's eyes returned back to normal. Turning slightly, he then pointed to the remains of a nearby building. "Right-there!"
Ace frowned slightly. Under a pile of rubble meant victim, not villain. "Okay, Slam, Rev, and Tech, whoever's under there, you dig 'em out. Lexi and Duck, let's look around and see what we can find."
Tech watched the other three go, his brow furrowed before he followed the remaining two towards the rubble. He was confused as to why the leader had told him to help dig out the person under the pile of rocks. The building appeared to be made of stone, and though there were some trace elements of metal in them, there wasn't enough to allow his powers to pick the rocks and move them.
He could use the energy of his magnetism to blow away the rocks in a similar fashion of a laser. But without knowing how deeply buried the person was, he was afraid of hurting whoever was trapped underneath.
Watching as Slam assumed his tornado form and crushed rocks that way while Rev began moving one rock at a time with his speed, the scientist decided that the only way to help was to actually dig. He frowned but went to the rock pile, beginning to move the smaller rocks with his hands. He'd let Slam deal with the really big ones.
Tech then began to wonder if the person buried underneath was conscious. Or worse. Was the person even breathing?
"Hey!" he called into the rocks as he continued to dig. "Are you all right there? Can you hear me?"
There was no answer. The scientist frowned, wishing for that one moment that he had Lexi's hearing to know if this person was still alive or not.
He felt a pair of eyes on him and motioned for Rev to keep going with his work. If there was a hope that the person was alive, someone had to talk to keep the person with them. And with Slam's unintelligible speech and Rev's hyperactive mouth, it would most likely be him. At least he could help out in some way other than just lamely digging away like a dog.
"If you can hear me," Tech continued to call into the rocks, "we're going to get you out in a minute. Just hold on."
There was still no answer. The coyote then increased the rate of his digging, which in turn signaled to Rev and Slam to speed up their efforts as well.
Soon all the smaller rocks were moved away, leaving only a giant boulder that covered a hug hole in the floor where the building once stood. As he and Rev backed away, Tech nodded to Slam, who replied with a few grunts. His crimson eyes began to glow violet as he grabbed the rock and threw it aside. No sooner had he done that, though, then two blood-red beams shot out of the hole, hitting the devil and roadrunner square in the chests and sending them flying back through the air.
Tech gasped. "Slam! Rev!" he called, about to head to where his teammates had landed to make sure they were all right. He froze, however, as blue electricity surrounded him. Falling to his knees, he wrapped his arms around his body as the electric burn soared through him and threatened to rip him apart.
"I suppose I should be lucky that you're all the superheroes types," the coyote managed to hear a voice say over the low buzz of the force that encompassed him as well as the rapid beating of his own heart. "Good thing I decided to set up that little plan, though I didn't think that you would be one of the ones to 'dig' me out…"
Despite the pain he was in, the scientist looked up at the figure that stood before him. "You…" he growled.
The 'bank robber' smirked slightly, brushing back ebony strands from his round, tan face. "Me," he replied smugly. "How are you feeling?"
Tech didn't answer, instead gripping his head in his hands and shutting his eyes. Something was wrong. Really wrong. He could feel something happening, something bad. It wasn't like this the last time it happened. Something was pulsing inside him, beating through his blood along with his heart.
Suddenly his eyes snapped open, revealing a coal color in place of his normal gold hue. A vibration struck something in the recesses of his mind as his mouth opened, letting loose a mix between a painful scream and an eerie howl.
Ace ran as quick as he could back to where they had left the other three, Lexi and Duck following after him. They had managed to walk quite a distance looking around for anything when they heard what sounded like a dog howling. It wouldn't have meant much except Lexi said that, underneath the dog tone was Tech's pain-filled voice.
Arriving at the scene, the leader froze when his eyes came across Rev and Slam lying unconscious by a broken wall. As Lexi and Duck ran to aide the others, he stood and looked around. If Tech wasn't nearby or unconscious as the other two were, he would have to assume the worst.
There was a deep sinking feeling in his chest as he headed to the others. Rev and Slam were fine it appeared, but the fact that Tech wasn't to be found left him no comfort.
"I wonder what happened to them," the acrobat said as she and the mallard got to their feet.
"I don't know," Ace replied, looking down at the unconscious, "but I have a really bad feeling about this…especially since Tech isn't around."
"You think that's connected somehow?" Duck asked.
Before Ace could give some witty reply, a car slammed into them, knocking them through the already broken wall and pinning them to the ground. Gasping, the three began to struggle as Ace felt another twist in his stomach that accompanied the sight of the familiar emerald glow surrounding the car.
The vehicle suddenly pushed into them heavily, crushing them into the ground. Duck's eyes began to glow orange as he teleported from under the car to right next to it. Placing a hand to his chest, he sighed heavily.
"I like breathing, thanks," he muttered to no one in particular. But as fire-glowing orbs appeared in his hands, a metal pipe swung at him, hitting him square in the face and sending him flying several feet away. The only think that stopped him from flying father was another pile of rocks. He hit them, lying there unconscious.
Meanwhile, the car continued to crush the two as it was pushed further into the ground. Clenching his teeth, Ace's eyes glowed before firing a laser and destroying the car. Smoke covered them as pieces exploded everywhere around them. Panting for air, the rabbit got to his feet. Suddenly he heard a pained cry belonging to his female counterpart.
When the smoke cleared, the leader's eyes widened when he saw Lexi's still form slumped against a wall.
Another figure came just into his side vision. Scowling, Ace turned, his eyes beginning to glow as he and Tech stood a few feet away and stared each other down, both poised for attack.
But the leader didn't want to attack the other if he could help it.
"Tech," he pleaded, "you gotta stop. Don't do this…"
The coyote only responded with a low snarl as he bared his teeth. Ace clenched his fists. He felt that reasoning wouldn't work with the other, but certainly fighting couldn't be the only way to snap Tech out of it.
Before either Loonatic could do anything, however, a crimson beam struck the coyote in the back and sent him crashing into the ground.
"It seems that little session wasn't as I'd hoped either," a stunned Ace heard a voice say. Looking up, the leader frowned as he recognized the man as the one in the hologram that Zadavia had sent them to find. It took a moment more for him to absorb the man's words.
"Eh…what do you mean 'little session'?" the rabbit asked curiously.
The villain walked over to stand by Tech's body, his fists resting on his hips. "Well, the last time I tested my device out, Tech would forget when he changed. This time, it appears as though his rational mind seems to be lost, and yet the memory of his powers remains."
A few seconds passed before the rabbit realized what he meant. "You're the one responsible for what's been happenin' to Tech!"
Scoffing, the man shook his head. "It took you that long to figure it out? Think about it; First I appear and rob the bank that just happens to be by the very movie theater your friend was at. Soon after that, he begins to act strange. Then I call you all out here and he acts stranger than before. And you had to wonder?"
Ace glared at the man. "But why? What are you planning on doing?"
Smirking, the man pulled something out of his leather jacket. "I'd tell you…" he said, "but…I really don't want to." Suddenly he threw down a metallic orb which exploded as soon as it touched the ground. Smoke filled the area, obscuring the rabbit's vision and causing him to cough.
In a matter of minutes, the dark cloud had cleared. But as Ace looked on, he found that the man – and Tech – had vanished.
The first thing to greet Tech as he slowly realized the conscious world was the painful throbbing that coursed his mind. Groaning loudly, he shook his head in an attempt to clear it, but he stopped quickly when he discovered that movement only made the pain worse.
The second thing he realized was that he couldn't move. Startled by that fact, his golden eyes snapped open and he looked down at his wrists. He frowned when he noticed the metal cuffs that restrained him.
His eyes and hands began to glow a soft emerald as he began concentrating on the cuffs. But instead of the same emerald light, the cuffs began to glow electric blue. Suddenly, the light around his hands disappeared which seemed to only increase the shine of his restraints. He watched, surprised, until the electric blue finally faded.
"I'd advise you to not try that again," a familiar voice said as footsteps could be heard. "Then again, the energy from your powers is absorbed and stored away for a special surprise for later, so if you feel you must try and escape, then by all means go ahead."
The coyote looked up slowly, glaring as the man clad in black leather came into view. He would have given up anything to wipe the smirk off of that tan face.
"I suppose you're wondering how and why you're here," the man said, walking over to a large machine that resembled a laser.
'Well, now I am,' the genius thought. But he didn't reply.
"Well, you're here because I need some…assistance with some work I'm doing. And I brought you here via my matter transporter."
Tech raised a curious eyebrow. "Matter transporter…?" he asked hoarsely, mildly impressed.
The man nodded, his smirk widening. "Indeed…" Typing some commands into the machine, he then turned to the coyote. "I figured you'd find it fascinating. But of course you would…after all, two people who attended the Acmetropolis Institute are bound to find some common interests."
The coyote blinked in surprise. "You went to the Institute?" he asked.
"Of course I did. We had some classes together I believe…"
Tech frowned, his brow knotting as he thought. "I…don't really remember seeing you…"
"Would it help if I told you my name is Charles Punnet?"
Thinking for another moment, he then shook his head. "Not really."
"Of course not," the man replied, his tone hard and bitter. Turning his back on the coyote, the man stood silently, as though pondering over a matter. Finally he said, "Not many people know who I am." He turned to the coyote. "And do you know why?"
"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me."
Slowly, Charles walked over until he stood just a foot away, and Tech could see the hate and anger in the glare he was given. Then, in a soft but clear voice, the man said, "Because of you."
"Me?" the scientist asked, suddenly feeling rather uncomfortable as he was still trapped against the wall. "What did I do?"
The man turned slightly, still glaring at Tech for another second before walking back to the machine. "You were all the talk at the Institute. I'm sure you know that."
The hero frowned deeply. Of course he remembered all the talk about him at the Institute. Every whisper, every scathing rumor, every mocking remark, every stinging comment. He would never let himself forget any of it.
"Everyone at the Institute knew who you were," he heard the man say, drawing him out of his reverie. "Everyone talked about your inventions, and by everyone I mean the students, professors, faculty, even the janitors. It made me sick…"
"Yeah um…hi?" Tech said. "People mostly made fun of me…And the talk of my inventions? Most likely about how it blew up."
"Oh, I know that," the man replied, turning his head to look at the other. "But the reason they were making fun of you was because of the great potential your inventions had."
"Potential?" the coyote repeated, puzzled.
"Of course. Everyone could see the brilliance in your creations. It was only so obvious. But the fact that most of them exploded and therefore could never be used was the reason people had to mock you."
Tech just stared at the other. That was either a very well-disguised backhanded compliment or a full-blown insult. Either way, he didn't agree with the reasoning at all.
"You were often the center of all the attention at the Institute…which meant many others, such as myself, were left stuck in the shadow of your limelight."
Wouldn't it be better to be ignored than to be the subject of such derision? But Tech decided not to say so.
"Everyone was so…enthralled by you," the other scientist continued sourly, "that no one could fully realize the brilliance of my inventions."
And Tech couldn't help but roll his eyes.
"It wouldn't have been as detrimental had it been anyone else…But because it was you, that made it unforgivable."
"Why? Why did I make that so unforgivable?"
"Because…you're not human."
Time hung in the air, seeming to freeze everything in that room. Every feeling in Tech's body, even surprise, was completely drained by that simple statement. His eyes were wide as he stared at the man, and his mouth opened as though to speak, but no words could even enter his mind. The silence echoed around them, but that one statement pounded loudly in his chest and rattled his heart.
Finally after what felt like an eternity, the coyote was able to manage a small, "What…?"
"You heard what I said," Charles replied in a sharp tone. He turned to look at the other. "The Institute, Acmetropolis, this entire planet belongs to humans. We are the superior species of this place and therefore everything is rightfully ours to do as we please. We decide and control everything."
Slowly, the man walked back to the wall where Tech was bound to. "Humans are the only ones who deserve everything this world has to offer. So imagine my disgust when you…a mere beast…was there with us, learning everything that human hands could create and human minds had developed.
"The biggest disappointment and shock, however, was when the meteor hit. When you and those…freaks…received awesome powers that rightfully belong to humans!"
Tech couldn't keep quiet any longer. "You're crazy!" he retorted. "It's not like we asked for these powers! And we use them to protect people like you!"
"Don't you think we'd be more than capable of protecting ourselves had we the gifts you Loonatics received instead?" the other scientist spat.
Tech frowned. More than capable, he had to agree, especially considering the power-endowed villains that they often had to fight to protect Acmetropolis. But he figured that saying so wouldn't help the villain's temper.
"But no. Those powers went to you freaks, and then you were all entrusted to protect the city. That never sat well with me, you could imagine, knowing that our lives were in the care of filthy animals…"
"You're welcome…" the coyote replied sarcastically.
Charles ignored him. "So I created this lab. And unlike you, Tech E. Coyote, I didn't have the powers of magnetism to assist me. Everything you see here was created by my hands. Not bad for a year, huh?"
Despite himself, Tech had to admit he was impressed. But he had to ask the question that was pressed in his mind. "And what exactly is this lab for?"
And the sudden smirk that appeared on the other scientist's tanned face left a twisted feeling in his stomach. "Just for research and experimenting," the man replied casually. But the smirk still unnerved Tech to a degree that even he couldn't fathom.
"What kind?" he asked. Regardless of the deep feeling of dread concerning the answer, he felt that he had to know.
"Well, just trying to figure out how to purge the planet of you Loonatics, of course."
The coyote rolled his eyes again. Of course that was always the obvious answer. But something didn't add up. "If you wanted to get rid of us so badly, why haven't you done so already? I mean, that electro-laser behind you looks like it could do some kind of damage."
The man's smirk only deepened, correlating with the sickening feeling rising in the hero. "First, I'm glad you noticed my laser. I somehow knew you would. Second…You see, I could have. But I wanted to be thorough and precise in my methods of ridding you all, which meant taking into account your powers and abilities. Plus, I'm a man who enjoys a challenge. And the research and experimentation was indeed satiating to my craving."
Turning, Charles walked back to the machine, picking up a folder that the coyote hadn't noticed before and walked back to the wall, opening it and leafing through its contents. "I found it very interesting during my research when I discovered that all your powers are streamed in your genetics. I suppose that could be good news for me, considering the experimenting I wanted to try."
"What's that?" Tech asked, trying to put on a brave front despite how nervous he truly felt.
Closing the folder, the man looked at the genius, seeming to contemplate his next words. "How familiar are you with genetics?"
"Vaguely," the hero replied. Of course, his 'vaguely' could most likely be equivalent to another person's complete study of the subject.
"Are you familiar with the passing on of genes from one generation to another?"
"And dormant and recessive genes?"
"How about the theory of evolution?"
"Yes…Where is this going?"
"Right to the heart of my experiments!" the villain exclaimed as he threw the folder aside. Papers flew everywhere as the other scientist walked back to his machine.
The coyote frowned as he watched the other. 'And everyone at the Institute thought I was mad…' he thought ruefully. But he found that he really wanted to discover what this man was up to.
He listened attentively as Charles began speaking again. "For the longest of times, animals have relied on instincts and genetics to live. The only exceptions were humans, who were able to transcend into a higher level of thinking, reasoning, creating and feeling."
The villain then turned to the coyote. "But somewhere along the line, certain animals managed to advance to the level of humans while keeping some of their primitive characteristics. Over time, though, these traits recessed through evolution and eventually…well, here you are."
He laughed at the confused expression on Tech's face. But instead of explaining, he continued. "So I decided to research and find a way to solve this problem."
Walking back to the scientist, the man stared long and hard at him for a moment before asking, "You're a coyote, aren't you?"
Tech blinked. That was possibly the strangest question anyone had ever asked him. "Last I checked."
"Do you know what coyotes had to do to survive?"
It took only a few seconds for the realization to sink in. "They…"
"Hunt," the man replied, smirking slightly. "Hunting for food, killing for survival. "It's in their genes. In your genes."
It had never occurred to Tech before. He had been so accustomed to his way of life that he had never imagined what it had been like for others before him. "But…then why…?"
"Why have you never felt the need to hunt?" Charles finished, a smug look on his face. He obviously enjoyed the other's discomfort. "Well, my theory is that the need to hunt eventually became a recessive quality as time passed on, especially since your family somehow evolved to an almost-human level. But of course, all good theories need to be tested. So I developed my genetic alteration machine."
Tech watched as the other scientist pulled out a black fingerless glove from his leather jacket. Slipping it on his left hand, the villain continued, "Based on my observation after the initial use of my device, it seems that the need to hunt did indeed become repressed, possibly due to the overexposure to us humans. However, the need to hunt was still indeed in your genes. What my experiment accomplished was to draw that out for brief periods of time."
The coyote's mouth suddenly went dry as the meaning of the man's words painfully sunk in. "What…?"
"It was odd, really. Every time you consciously perceived that you were hungry, the effects of my machine triggered and activated your instinctive need to hunt. But for some reason you were never aware of it happening. I suppose it was totally an unconscious occurrence."
"I…I don't…remember…ever doing that…" Tech replied softly.
"Well of course you don't remember. It was unconscious after all. But think about this: You're working on something when you think about how hungry you are. Then you black out, and when you wake you find yourself someplace different with someone hovering over you. Sound familiar?"
The coyote frowned deeply. The description sounded very accurate to the several instances he found himself in. And though he felt a little suspicious as to how the villain could possibly know all this, there was a bigger matter that pressed his mind. "If…what you say is true…then…all the others…"
"Knew that something was going on with you? Yeah…Pretty much."
"Why didn't they ever mention it to you?" Charles smirked at the affirming look he received. "Well, the leader of your group – Ace was it? – said that he didn't want to make you aware of it so he wouldn't have to blame you for it. But I think that they were afraid, even if they couldn't admit it. After all, most of that group of yours are adequate hunting prey for a coyote."
He felt as though his blood froze.
"What I found most interesting, though, was that even though your mind returned to its most primal state when confronted by all the others, the only time you actually attempted to hunt was just with the roadrunner…"
He swore his heart stopped at that moment. "I-I…w-what…?"
"Hunted the roadrunner," the other scientist replied. "Rev was his name I believe. Couldn't explain why, honestly, but you did try to hunt him down quite a few times. Caused more retrogression than any other time this week." The man rubbed his round chin thoughtfully. "Maybe you would only hunt him down due to a genetic mutation that was passed down in your family resulting in a strange fetish for roadrunners. I should look into that."
Tech couldn't listen any longer. "N…N-no…! I-I don't believe you…! I…I-I wouldn't…!"
"You wouldn't what?" the man cut off, his violet eyes wide with mockery. "You would never attack your friend? Is that what you wanted to say? What you want to believe?"
The coyote shut his eyes, not wanting to hear any more. In truth, he wanted to believe that. But something…something inside him couldn't – didn't – deny it.
"First of all, Tech, many coyotes are solitary creatures that aren't tied to a close group. Secondly, despite everything you may believe, the desire to hunt is in your genes. No matter how you evolve and change, you are what you are. It's still buried deep within, creating the central core of your entire existence. The ones before you, the ones to come after you…all are connected through the genetics that are passed on through each generation."
"No! No!" the coyote retorted, shaking his head furiously. "You're wrong! That's not who I am!"
With a soft 'tsk' of his tongue, Charles shook his head in mock sympathy as the smirk grew on his face. "Tech, I thought you were smarter than that. You can't escape what you truly are, no matter how you wish it."
Suddenly the coyote glared hard at the man, his eyes glowing emerald as he snarled, exposing sharp canine teeth. His tall ears folded against his head and the only things that kept him from attack the man were the glowing blue bonds that stationed him to the wall.
Reaching into his leather jacket, Charles pulled out a large remote, pressing one of its many buttons. Electricity shot out of the machine behind him, consuming the coyote's body and causing him to yelp in pain, wriggling in his restraints vainly to avoid the current.
After a few more seconds, the man hit the button again and the electricity died. Tech groaned softly, shaking his head before looking up at the other scientist again. This time his eyes were their normal gold hue.
"Very intriguing," the man murmured. "The effects of my genetic alteration device seem to have taken a slightly different path."
"W…what?" the coyote asked, suddenly feeling disoriented.
"The first time I used my machine, its effects triggered when you perceived hunger, bringing out your instincts of hunting to survive. You also didn't appear to recall anything about your present life. This time, however, your powers play a rather important role when you are angered, as the effects of my invention draw out your genes to fight for survival if threatened." The man played with the remote in his hand. "The occurrences don't seem permanent, though. It appears that a quick shock to the head reverts you to your normal state quicker than if you were to trigger the change yourself. Though it could also be used figuratively, the literal shock, I find works just as well."
Shaking his head slightly, Tech blinked rapidly, trying to dispel the colored spots that clouded his vision before looking up at the electro-laser. If only the volts had been stronger…
The man seemed to be aware of what the other was thinking as he said, "Impressive machine, isn't it? Of course, I could increase the voltage, but that would reduce you to ash, and I can't have that now can I? What with that regeneration ability of yours."
Holding up the remote, the man continued. "This is connected to everything in my lab. I use it to control and test my many inventions, even when I'm not in the same room."
"Why are you telling me this?" Tech asked, his voice rough from dehydration. "I mean, I understand the laser, but why let me know about the remote?"
The man smirked again. "I'm just allowing you to appreciate a true genius. Besides, as my second favorite creation, I believe I am entitled to my bragging rights."
Shaking his head slightly, the coyote then stopped when he replayed the sentence in his mind. "Second favorite?"
"Of course. The remote that controls my entire lab is exceptional, but it pales in comparison to this," Charles replied as he held up his left hand that was still partially covered by the fingerless glove.
Watching as the other scientist clenched that hand into a fist, Tech's eyes widened when the man's arm from the elbow down seemed to disappear underneath a midnight cylinder casing. The design itself resembled that of a robotic arm laser, though the form was sleek and no wider than the man's arm had been.
"Do you know what this is?" Charles asked tauntingly.
The feeling of what the answer was left a twisted knot in his chest.
"If you guessed my genetic alteration device, then of course you'd be right. Inside the cannon-like apparatus is a button I can feel with my hand. To fire, I simply push the button. It fires once, but to get the full effect of the electric energy in your genes, I need to hold down the button for…about two minutes."
Tech wasn't sure if he winced or not. "Why so long?" he somehow managed to ask.
"Well, messing with genes is a tricky business. Any shorter or longer than two minutes could drastically alter you in a way even I couldn't predict." Holding up his remote, Charles pressed a button and Tech watched in slight surprise as the remote became a miniature laser. Pressing a button on the genetic device, the man then lifted a lid off, revealing the complex wiring of the gizmo. Aiming the small laser into it, he turned it on and began fixing it.
"The problem with this, as much as I hate to admit," the man said suddenly as he continued to fiddle with his device, "is that I have yet to gain the desired result of my research. The experiment, you see, is two-fold; first, to restore your mind to its primal state by drawing out your recessive genes. Second, to rid you of your powers through the same process of altering your DNA. Of course, the effect must be permanent on you before I could possibly think of attempting it on the other Loonatics. But once I have perfected my device and reverted you all back to primitive beasts, I'm sure you and the Tasmanian devil will enjoy a nice feast."
That particular image was enough to make the coyote sick. But at that moment, a thought came to him. "Wait…why…?"
"Why did I choose you to test my experiment instead of one of the others?" Charles finished without looking up from working. "Is that what you wanted to ask?"
He hated how it seemed that the other scientist was in his head. But what he really hated was how he could even think of something like that in the first place.
"If you really want to know," the man said, glancing up at the coyote, "I needed to make sure the device works regardless of intelligence."
Confusion once again filled the coyote. "What?"
"You see, evolution proceeds as time and nature provide different obstacles that creatures must overcome in order to survive. That idea was developed on the principle of strength playing an important role for species to continue living. As the saying goes, 'Only the strong survive,' right? But I'm not a firm believer of that notion. After all, human beings aren't necessarily the strongest on this planet. To me, it's all about intelligence. If you think about it, certain strengths won't do you any good if you have no idea how to use them to your advantage. But sometimes evolution needs to step in to change certain things, and then the creatures learn how to adapt by figuring how to put certain skills to use. That's generally how the world works.
"What I needed to make sure, however, is if the process is reversible. I needed to see if an animal can revert back to a prior stage in evolution regardless of its intelligence, or find out if intelligence might disrupt my experiment. I wasn't entirely sure, since intelligence is only 50 percent hereditary, so it was worth testing. Now, the intelligence of your friends are all pretty much average, so if I had tested my experiment on one of them, then it would most likely work on the others.
"The problem, Tech, lied with you. As much as I…loathe…to admit, you are much smarter than even most humans. Even if my genetic alterations worked on one or all of your friends, it might not have worked on you should my assumptions be correct. And they appear to be, judging by the lack of permanent and total effect my device has on you. So, by testing it out on you first, and using you to perfect it, I can ensure that it will be ready by the time I use it on your friends. Besides," the man added with a smirk, "you know very well how painful it is messing with genetics. Wouldn't you rather take the pain than let your so-called friends suffer through this? Or…are you beginning to realize that you may not be as close to them as you thought, seeing as how you prefer them to be in pain instead of you?"
Glaring at the other scientist for a moment, Tech then looked away and shut his eyes, unsure of how to answer. Every thought, question, idea…no matter what he was thinking, the other scientist not only seemed to know of it before hand but retorted with a mocking answer.
He had always been aware of when things were out of his control. It was something he had come to accept. But never had he felt so vulnerable knowing that even his inner mind wasn't safe from this man. Frustration grew, coinciding with his helplessness of his situation. He hated it all, especially the man.
Suddenly something was pounding inside him. The beating of his own heart increased rapidly and his body began to trembled as he felt some…thing…trying to take over. He half snarled, feeling as though his mind was about to be split in two. He began struggling once again in his restraints as, at that moment, he struggled to contain his right mind.
"You really shouldn't fight it," Charles said calmly, turning off his mini laser and putting it away. As he slowly slid the laser off his arm and began rotating his wrist, he continued, "It's part of what you are, and you need to accept that."
'No…!' Tech thought, still struggling physically and mentally. 'That's not…who I am!' But in a matter of mere seconds, he was growling and snarling, his eyes glowing emerald and his bonds glowing electric blue.
Sliding the device back onto his arm, the man looked at the inside covering that was still open from his prior work. The black cover suddenly became a screen, rapidly displaying lists of data. "Hmm…" he said thoughtfully as he read through the information. "Fear and anger seems to have doubled the effects…Doesn't look permanent though…"
The man then looked back up at the coyote, smirking slightly as he noted the continuous blue glow of the constraints. "That'll come in very handy later," he muttered to himself, closing the top of his arm laser. "I could stop him from wasting his energy…but I'm sure the energy I'm harvesting from him will be used. Still…I'd never be able to finish my experiment if he's dead…"
Seeming to think about the situation a little more, Charles then smirked, aiming the genetic device at the coyote. "Considering how much pain is involved with altering genetics, he may wish that I did kill him…"
Rev's eyes were glowing bright crimson as he flew, leading the others to find Tech. After he had woken, Ace told him about the bank robber and how he had been responsible for the coyote's odd behavior. In a way, the roadrunner was relieved to know that everything that had happened wasn't the other's fault. But when the leader told him that Tech was gone, he grew worried. Why would the bank robber take the coyote anyway?
In his mind was a map that he was using to try and locate Tech. What really concerned him was how much distance they had gotten away from Acmetropolis. Even with how fast they were all flying, it had still taken them quite a while to reach their current location, and they still had a little distance to go in order to reach their destination. Even considering how long it took for most of them to regain their senses, if the bank robber had taken normal means of transportation they would have seen him – and Tech – by now. Since they hadn't, it made Rev wonder what exactly the 'bank robber' really was and wanted.
"Hey Rev!" he suddenly heard Ace call from behind.
"Oh-yeah-sorry-what-was-that?" he replied.
"I was just asking how much farther we gotta go."
There was a moment of awkward silence until, "Rev?"
The rabbit frowned slightly as he continued to follow the quickster. Then he said, "I'm sure he's okay…"
Rev inhaled deeply, letting it out in a small sigh. "Well-I-hope-so-because-" Suddenly, he froze in midair, causing the other four to abruptly stop behind him.
"Whoa!" Danger said, momentarily losing control of his jet due to the quick stop. "A warning would be nice!"
"What's wrong?" Lexi asked.
"That's-really-weird," the roadrunner said, looking down at the ground with his still-glowing crimson eyes. "According-to-my-sensors-Tech-is-supposed-to-be-right-here."
Puzzled, the other four Loonatics looked down at the large empty desert below them. "Ya sure?" Ace asked.
Lexi's ears glowed a bit. "I'm not hearing anything…" she said.
"Well, it's worth checkin' out…" the leader said, motioning for the rest to follow as he headed down.
As they began the descent, Danger went ahead impatiently. "There better be something here," he muttered. "Otherwise we'd have come all this way for nothing…" Suddenly, the mallard came to a stop as a loud thump was heard.
Blinking, Ace hovered to where the other had stopped. "What's up Duck?" he asked.
And he watched as the show-off seemed to push himself away from a wall, shaking his head. "Dunno…" Danger replied. "I think I hit something…" Hesitating, the duck turned off his jet, expecting to fall to the ground below. To his and everyone's surprise, he didn't. In fact, as the mallard got up, it appeared as though he was standing on air.
Carefully the rabbit landed beside the show-off, finding himself standing on a hard surface. "I see," he said, taking a few steps. "The bank robber guy must be using some invisible shield to hide himself…Not bad."
"Blombah meh ga?" Slam asked. At least it sounded like a question.
"No, we wanna keep a low profile," the leader answered. "Try to get the element of surprise, y'know? Tryin' ta rip the roof off prob'bly won't help. Let's try searchin' for an entrance first…"
"Yeah, like he'd really just leave one open for us…" Danger mumbled as the five of them slowly stepped around. Considering they were still several meters above the ground, being careful seemed like a good idea.
The painful howl quickly faded into suppressed groans as Tech once again acquired his right mind. The electricity around him died and left him panting for air for his exhausted body.
He had lost count of how many times Charles had tested the genetic alteration device, with 'failed' results. Each failure gave him only a few minutes rest as the man attempted to fix his machine before electric blue pain seared through his body. As he looked up, his vision blurred and his head pounded, he was surprised that he was still conscious. Not only did the alteration machine exhaust him, the restraints on his wrists would absorb his energy when he used his powers.
If it wasn't for the bonds that kept him at the wall, he would have collapsed a long time ago.
"I don't understand what's wrong," he heard the other scientist say. "According to my research, this device should work perfectly."
Normally Tech would reply with some snappy remark about the man's capabilities. But he just didn't have the strength to.
Pulling the remote laser from his jacket, the man once again began to fix his invention. "Hmm…maybe it's because I haven't been restarting the effects each time I experiment. That may have something to do with it." He carefully made some adjustments to his device. "Maybe if I set everything back to normal and then attempt again the results will be closer to what I want…"
It was standard for Charles to talk to himself, the coyote had discovered. It looked as though he did so purely to show off his knowledge and abilities. It had taken awhile, but he had learned to ignore the man. But that time, he couldn't help but listen despite his weakened state. The word 'normal' had caught his attention and echoed in his mind.
Even just a few minutes of normalcy would relieve him from the nightmare he found himself trapped in. He would have preferred to return to his true state permanently, but as long as Charles had the device, there was no chance of that happening.
Turning off his laser remote and putting it away, the man then quickly read over the device's data screen. "All right. This will set things back to normal…"
But before he could aim the device at Tech, there was a soft beeping sound. "Hmm…there appears to be some intruders trying to get in."
And to Tech's disappointment, the genetic alteration device vanished, replaced as a fingerless glove on Charles' left hand.
Reaching into his leather jacket, the man pulled out the remote and aimed it at the wall adjacent to where the coyote was trapped. Suddenly the wall became a screen where the other five Loonatics appeared, feeling around the invisible lab. "Looks like your friends are here to get you…" Charles said mockingly.
Tech stared intently at the screen, suddenly feeling very awake. 'No…' he thought, his brow furrowed in anxiety. 'Not now…Not now! If they come…and I'm in this state…!'
"Well, it would be rude not to let them in, wouldn't it?" he heard the other scientist say, much to his horror. "And after all, I'm sure you're hungry, and they'll make an excellent meal for you."
Tech's heart pounded painfully in his chest, feeling rather ill at the thought. But he knew, unfortunately, that that could very well be the case. He found himself hoping beyond everything that the others wouldn't find him.
The screen was switched off and the man put the remote away, smirking at the coyote. "Shall I let them in, Tech?" he asked sardonically.
"N…No…" the scientist replied weakly, his throat dry and caused his voice to crack.
"Oh, but that isn't very nice, is it? After all, they're looking for you. Why not give them what they want? Though…I could try some experiments first…"
"Ex…experiments?" Tech repeated, his eyes slightly wide.
"Oh don't worry. They're nothing like the experiment I attempted on you. I just wanted to test out some things before…letting them come see you. After all, we may need to even the field a bit if you're going to hunt them properly."
Smirking again, Charles turned and headed out before Tech had a chance to protest.
Rev slowly walked on the ground, his hand pressed against the invisible wall of the lab. After Danger had…'discovered'…that what they had been standing on was dome-shaped (Slam just couldn't help but laugh when the show-off slipped and hit the ground), they were able to determine the relative circumference of the dome. For its rather large height (he would have guessed about the height of a twenty-four-story building, if pressed), the width was less than proportionate. Even by walking, it only took Rev less than five minutes to circle around the entire thing.
Ace said that the height of the dome might have been just the invisibility shield itself, and that the lab might have been smaller than that. That made a little sense, but they couldn't figure out why anyone would do that.
At any rate, the roadrunner was walking slowly around the dome. He thought about running (even though he had already circled the building five times), but he didn't want to miss finding the entrance because of his speed.
"I forget…" Rev heard Danger say, "why don't we just 'make' an entrance? I'm sure Slam could do it."
"Because we're trying not to be caught," Lexi retorted.
"Right," Ace replied, "plus we don't know how strong this shield is. Explosions with no results aren't really the best ways to stay low."
Slam mumbled out a string of unintelligible words, and they all decided he was asking a question.
"I'm not really sure what he said…" the mallard said, "but if he was wondering anything about the chance that we've already been spotted, then I won't reiterate."
Before anyone could answer, the wall beneath Rev's hand hissed and moved, causing him to jump slightly. The others came up behind him and all five watched as the wall, though invisible, appeared to slide up and reveal a large room that seemed rather empty if not for the large metal pipes that ran from the ceiling to the floor and certain areas of the walls. As sunlight entered from the opening, it caught in the metallic flooring and cast a bright light that reflected off the walls.
"Eh…I'm gonna guess that he knows we're here…" Ace spoke softly as his sapphire eyes scanned the area. The fact that the room was empty gave a very strong sign of a strap. He also noticed at the exact opposite side of where they stood was an open door that seemed to lead down a long hall. An idea was beginning to form in his head.
"Rev…" Ace whispered. He was hoping that the villain could only see and not hear them. "Do ya think you could make it down there?"
The roadrunner glanced at the leader before turning his head slightly and noticing the door across from them. "Yeah-I'm-pretty-sure-I-could," he replied.
"Okay," the rabbit said, his whisper slightly louder so the other three could also hear him. "I'm pretty sure there's a trap waiting for us here…But I think we can use that to stall long enough for Rev to slip in and find Tech."
"So what?" Danger asked. "We just walk in?"
If there was any way to argue with that, no one did. Turning slightly, Ace hesitated a little before slowly stepping through the door and into the lab. Lexi headed in after him followed by Danger, then Slam, and finally Rev.
They kept a watch out for anything, but the lab was very quiet. Too quite for the leader's taste. And he didn't want to take any chances.
"Okay Rev," he said in a hushed tone, "get going."
Nodding, the quickster sped out through the door and down the hall.
Not five seconds after he had left did both that door and the main entrance shut with a unified clang, causing Danger to jump a few feet into the air. He didn't even have time to land before the lights went out, covering the four in total darkness.
Ace grit his teeth slightly, suddenly feeling a little nervous. His vision was no good to him in the dark, and he knew that Lexi, even with her hearing, couldn't pinpoint exact locations if they were attacked. Danger could create a fire orb, but he had never sent he mallard hold one for more than a few seconds.
He wasn't sure what to do or what was going to happen. That was what bothered him the most.
"Ow!" he suddenly heard Danger say.
"Hey!" Lexi exclaimed.
"Bletha!" came Slam's yell.
Before he had a chance to ask what was wrong, Ace felt a cold solid object snap around his neck, causing a surprised cry of his own. Reaching up, he felt what seemed like a tight metallic collar that restricted air from reaching his lungs.
"Terribly sorry about this Loonatics," a voice echoed around them. "I simply meant to give you all a 'present', but I was sure you wouldn't accept if you saw what it was."
"If that's the case, you may wanna rethink your party favors…" The rabbit winced slightly as the lights then turned on, blinding him for a brief moment. Blinking rapidly to clear his vision, he looked towards his teammates. Around Lexi and Danger's necks were silver metal collars, similar to the one he imagined he was wearing. For Slam, though, the trinket was clasped around his wrist.
The four turned slightly to face the wall behind them as it started to flicker like a screen. Soon the round tanned face appeared, a small smirk crossing his lips. "So, what do you think of my gifts?"
"Talk about tacky…" the bunny retorted, feeling the collar with her hand.
"Oh? Well I'm sorry to hear that you don't like them." It was obvious how sarcastic the man was. "Well, I'd remove them from you, but I seem to have misplaced my keys for unlocking them."
In Ace's eyes, there was no keyhole for the gadgets anyway. "Guess this'll just hafta do…" he said as he looked at the one on Slam's wrist. His eyes began to glow as he concentrated the burning energy to them. But before they were able to fire, white hot electricity shot out from all four of the trinkets, enveloping the bodies of the heroes.
Charles' smirk widened and he brushed strands of ebony from his face as the four collapsed to the ground.
Tech's eyes and hands were brightly glowing as he struggled against the luminous blue restraints that held him to the wall. Every passing second left him weaker than before as the bonds continued to absorb his energy. He knew that he couldn't use his powers to free himself, but at that time he was rather desperate. He needed to get free and find the others.
Suddenly all light around him, blue or green, faded as he shut his eyes, shaking his head furiously. 'No, no, no!' he mentally screamed at himself. 'Don't act this way! Stop it!' His heart was pounding painfully in his chest.
It was difficult, more difficult than he could ever have imagined. And frankly, it frightened him knowing how little control he really had over…everything. He couldn't concentrate at all; every form of rational thought had abandoned him and left him feeling even more helpless. The immense fear suffocated him, threatening to consume him entirely.
But he had to keep fighting it all; the fear, the powerful instincts…himself, if he needed to…to make sure everything turned out the way it needed to be.
And yet he knew…He knew that if he kept fighting it, something would inevitably be lost. And he prayed that it wouldn't be his sanity.
His eyes snapped open and his head shot up at the sound of the familiar voice. At the moment he saw Rev standing at the doorway, a strange mix of relief and fear swept through his body.
Soon the roadrunner zipped over, emerald eyes wide as he stared at the coyote. "My-gosh!-What-the-heck-happened-to-you?" he cried. His friend looked horrible, looking about ready to collapse if he wasn't stuck to the wall. The sharp scent of smoke was everywhere, and the other's golden eyes just seemed so dull and listless. Almost like…like…
Almost like coal.
"Never mind that…" Tech replied hoarsely, the words burning through his dry throat. "Just help me get out of these…"
Looking at the restraints, the quickster frowned. "Aren't-these-metal?-You-could-try-using-"
"If I could use my powers, I would have. No, it doesn't work."
Looking from the bonds to the other, Tech then said, "I have an idea, Rev."
He motioned to behind the other with his head. Turning slightly, Rev's eyes came across what appeared to be a large laser.
"If you can increase the voltage of that electro-laser and incinerate me, I should be able to regenerate outside of these cuffs," Tech said.
The red bird turned back to the other, his eyes wide. "You-want-me-to-do-what?"
"It's the only thing we've got Rev, and we don't have a lot of time."
"Just listen to me, Rev," the coyote said sternly.
The quickster looked at his friend, confusion and concern melding together. Hesitating for only a second or two, he then sped over to the laser's consol. He found a dial with some numbers on it, its current setting on the number four. Carefully he turned the dial and increased the numbering, hoping he had set it to the right amount that would do as Tech wanted without killing him first. His hand then went to a large red button that he assumed meant to fire the laser. Hovering over it for what seemed like hours, Rev finally hit the switch.
He didn't look as the laser unleashed its electric-based attack onto the waiting coyote. But as much as he wanted to, he just couldn't block out the painful cry that rose from his friend signaling the laser's precise aim.
When the cries suddenly stopped, Rev switched the laser off. Inhaling deeply, he turned to look at the pile of ashes that sat on the metallic floor.
He was used to seeing his friend that way. At least he should have been. After experiments that had (literally) blown up in his face, Tech could always use his regenerative powers and he'd be fine. Rev had seen it over and over again.
But this time something didn't feel right. Forget that Tech had just asked him to fire a laser at him. Something had just not felt right about doing it, even with the genius' healing powers. Rev felt…knew…that his friend was keeping something from him.
His heart began to beat rapidly when, after what seemed like so long, the other still hadn't regenerated. Normally Tech would regenerate after just a few seconds. But nothing was happening. Had he turned up the voltage too much after all?
He let out a breath of relief when the black ash began to glow emerald. Slowly it grew and began to take shape.
But as he watched on, he once again got the feeling that something was wrong. Instead of growing to the coyote's standing height, as he was accustomed to, the ashes took on a much smaller form. Tech's body began to appear, but the coyote was on his knees nearly doubled over. One hand covered his eyes while the other was at his abdomen trying to control his ragged breathing.
Heading over, Rev knelt beside the other, fear and concern flooding through him. "Tech-what's-wrong?-Are-you-okay?" he asked frantically.
The genius was silent for a moment, still trying to control his breathing. Finally as he lowered his hand and looked at the other, he replied softly, "Yeah, I'm fine…"
But Rev knew that his friend was lying. The pain that he tried to hide was just too noticeable. And his eyes were still dulled, almost as though the life was begin driven out of them.
He didn't say anything, however, as the coyote slowly pushed himself to his feet, wobbling a little as he stood. He just stayed by the other's side, just in case.
"Where are the others?" the coyote asked in between heavy breaths.
The roadrunner thought for a minute. "Did-I-go-down-some-stairs?-Yeah-I-think-I-did.-So-the-others-are-upstairs-being-a-distraction-so-I-can-come-find-you."
Frowning slightly, the scientist then began to slowly head to the door.
"Hey-hold-on!" Rev said, walking beside the other. It wasn't hard to keep up with the exhausted coyote. "Where-are-you-going?"
"We need to find the others…" As he walked, Tech kept a hand to the wall in order to retain his balance.
The other's weakened state didn't escape the quickster's concern. "Are-you-sure-you're-okay-Tech?-I-mean-maybe-we-should-wait-and-you-could-rest-a-bit…"
"We can't. Finding the others is our first priority right now."
Rev quit talking when Tech's hand slipped from the wall and he lost his balance. Lunging forward, the roadrunner caught the other before he could hit the ground.
The coyote panted heavily, closing his eyes for a moment before pushing away from the other and continuing to walk.
"We need to find the others…" the scientist muttered, still walking slowly, "and I need your help finding where to go…"
But Rev had had enough. He zipped over to stand in front of the other and blocked his path. "Tech-what-is-going-on?-What-is-wrong-with-you?" he asked, worry mixed the intensity of his gaze. "I've-never-seen-you-like-this-before!-I-mean-sure-you've-always-been-kinda-stubborn-but-you-always-knew-when-you've-hit-your-limit-and-I-gotta-telll-ya-you-look-like-like-you're-about-to-hit-rock-bottom."
Tech looked at his fellow Loonatic with tired dull eyes, his breathing still heavy as he quickly thought of the words that he needed. "You're just gonna have to trust me about this, Rev. Punnet is up to something and we need to stop him now. Who knows what he's already done to the others?"
The roadrunner blinked. "Punnet?"
"The 'bank robber'…" Tech answered softly as he slowly managed to get around the other and continued on. "He's been behind everything the entire time. He's the explanation for what's been happening to me the past week."
Though he wanted to know more about this Punnet person, something else the other had said caught his attention."You-know-what's-been-happening-to-you-this-past-week?"
"Well, not really…Kind of…Punnet told me about it earlier…and later on, I began to remember little things about it. Not much, but still."
Rev winced a little. He was hoping the other wouldn't remember any of it at all.
"Anyway, we need to find Punnet and the others before he does something to them."
The roadrunner wasn't sure if it was a good or bad thing that the other had changed the topic so quickly. "How-do-you-know-that-he's-planning-something?"
"Because…he told me so…"
"Just that he wanted to try something out. Which way, Rev?" Tech asked as they reached a fork in the hallway.
The quickster led the other down the path he had come from, and the two continued on in silence. He made sure to remain at his friend's side in case he stumbled again (which he did a few times). He felt really nervous for the other as he continued to push himself. In Rev's eyes, the coyote didn't have a lot of strength left and seemed ready to fall over with just a gentle tap. It seemed like a miracle he could even walk at his point. What had Punnet done to him anyway?
They slowly climbed some stairs and walked down a longer hallway than before. Twisting and turning, weaving and walking until they finally reached a dead end.
"Well-this-is-where-I-came-in-from-so-the-others-should-be-there," Rev said, "but-it-doesn't-look-like-we-can-get-thought-unless-we-can-break-it-down-and-that's-not-likely-to-happen."
He jumped when Tech's eyes and hands began glowing emerald. "Tech!" he said. The other didn't seem strong enough to use his powers.
But the scientist didn't heed the quickster as he raised his hands, palms facing towards the metal door. It began to glow as well, and as he brought his hands down, spreading them further away from each other, the door split down the middle and was pulled away from the doorframe.
Rev had expected a battle scene. Instead he was greeted by a computer consol in front of a giant screen that took the place of a wall. From a port in the consol were electric beams that formed a giant cage over the unconscious bodies of the other four Loonatics.
As Tech slowly stepped into the room, Rev sped over to the cage. "Ace-Lexi-Slam-Duck!" he said, stopping just before he touched he charged bars.
For a moment, all was silent in the rather large pipe-filled room. Then Ace began to stir, groaning softly as he slowly sat up and rubbed his head.
"Y'know…" the leader muttered, still feeling a little groggy, "I couldn't tell ya…"
"I could…" Looking up, Rev blinked when he saw the villain, Punnet, leaning against one of the metal pipes across the room. "The devices your friends are wearing are all highly sensitive to rapid increases in energy levels, such as when your friends attempt to use their special abilities. The devices are also all connected with each other, so if just one of them tries to use their powers, all four of them feel the…shocking results. Depending on the strength of the energy output, the electrical impulses vary. For example, I would have to guess that Ace's laser vision would result in enough electricity to power a good portion of Acmetropolis." The man shrugged. "Just an estimate though."
By this time, as the other three were beginning to wake, Ace was up on his feet, he and Rev facing the villain. "Fascinating…" the rabbit said sarcastically.
Smirking, the man turned his violet eyes to the roadrunner. "If you want to free your friends, try my computer," he said, pointing to the consol.
Rev blinked rapidly. "What?"
"The computer is the foundation of my entire lab and controls everything. If you try it out, maybe you'll be able to free your friends from the cage and the devices."
Ace and Rev exchanged questioning, doubtful looks. "You expect us to believe ya just like that?"
"I don't expect you to believe anything. However, what I speak is the truth. If you try my computer, you should be able to free the others. Still…"
"Why is there always a catch?"
"First you'd have to figure out the access code that I use for all my computer programs. And even if you do discover the code, the only device able to overturn the computer is in my possession. So even if you disable the command of the electric cage and devices, I could always enable them again. Finally," Charles added, his smirk growing as he motioned to behind the roadrunner, "before you try anything, you might want to check on him."
'Him' meant Tech of course, and Rev had nearly forgotten about him during the exchange. Turning quickly, his eyes widened when he saw that the coyote had fallen to his knees, holding his hands to his head and groaning softly. Speeding over, he knelt down beside the other. "Tech-what's-wrong?-Are-you-okay?"
The coyote didn't answer. Instead, his hands began to emit the familiar emerald light.
The four trapped behind the cage could only watch on as the roadrunner tried to talk to the coyote. When Tech's hands began to move slightly, Lexi suddenly looked off to the side. Gasping, she looked back at the two. "Rev, watch out!" she called.
The quickster barely had time to look before a metal pipe crashed into him, sending him back until he hit the wall behind him. He struggled, trying to slip from under the glowing pipe that trapped him there as the coyote got to his feet and faced him, his eyes and hands still blazing brightly.
"Rev!" Ace said, hating the helpless feeling that swelled up inside because he could only watch as the coyote slowly stalked closer to the roadrunner.
Charles laughed as he folded his arms over his torso and watched the scene from his position leaning on a metal pipe. "This is going to be interesting…" he said to himself.
The coyote stopped and stood three feet in front of the struggling hero. Tall ears folded back against the skull as sharp teeth bared and a low snarl vibrated in the back of his throat.
"Tech, snap out of it!" the leader called. "Ya gotta stop now!" The others also began yelling to the coyote, trying to snap him out of his present state or at least distract him so Rev could get free.
But the villain laughed. "Don't listen to them, Tech. You just continue what you're doing…"
The coyote didn't even seem to perceive that he was being spoken to. He just continued to stare at the struggling roadrunner, snarling. Raising his glowing hand, he pulled another metal pipe from its station, aiming it at Rev.
Charles frowned slightly before shrugging a bit. "Not exactly the way I imagined it, but I can always fix it later, I suppose."
Ace clenched his fists. "Don't do it, Tech!"
With a swift hand motion, the pipe sailed through the air. The clang of metal pipes rung out loudly, drowning out any other noises. Silence stood for a moment before pipes clattered to the floor, followed by the heavy thump of a body.
More stunned silence befell all of them, eyes wide as they stared at the startling scene before them.
Still against the wall, though the pipes had fallen from him, Rev blinked, looking behind the other at the unconscious body lying on the ground. Turning back to his friend, who appeared normal save his exhaustion and still-coal eyes, he asked softly, "Are-you-okay?"
"Fine…" the scientist managed to huff out as he placed a hand to his chest to control his breathing.
"He's…not dead…if that's what you're thinking…I couldn't have killed him anyway. My aim slipped." The last part, of course, was an attempt at humor to break the tension.
"Nice performance there, Tech," Ace suddenly said, feeling it was now all right to relax. "You had me goin' for a minute."
"Not me," Danger stated. "I knew it all the time."
"Sure ya did," Lexi replied sarcastically as Slam began to laugh.
As the other four began talking, Rev watched as his friend turned, his back facing him and towards the unconscious body. He watched as the coyote stretched out his glowing hand towards the body before slowly bringing it back in. Soon, from Charles' body came a large remote, surrounded by the emerald illumination. It hovered towards them until it reached Tech's hand. As he looked on, he saw that Tech was studying the remote, which was normal for the scientist. He was always interested in examining any piece of complex technology, whether used for or against them.
What he didn't expect, though, was when Tech suddenly dropped the remote. As soon as it hit the ground, the coyote crushed it under his foot, breaking it into many little pieces. Rev frowned slightly. He had never seen the other simply give up and not try to understand any machine. 'I guess he's really tired…' he thought.
Suddenly the bars of the electric cage disappeared and the metallic devices from the others fell to the ground. Then the lights shut off, leaving the six in complete darkness for about a minute before the entrance door opened and allowed the sunlight from outside to partially fill the room.
"Well, glad that's over…" Danger piped up. "Now, how about we get outta here, like…now?"
"Not yet," Tech replied softly. "There's one more that I have to do first." Turning to Rev, he said, "There's a fingerless glove on Punnet's left hand. Wanna get it for me?"
"Yeah-sure-no-problem." Running over, the roadrunner grabbed the item before zipping back and placing the glove in Tech's hands.
Slipping the glove on, the coyote inhaled deeply before letting out a small sigh. As he clenched his hand, the black material of the glove grew and encased his arm.
"Whoa…" Ace breathed as he and the others stared at the laser-like weapon.
Pressing a button, the scientist then lifted the covering top, looking at the screen that came up. He had seen how to work the machine too many times for his liking.
"So, uh…what is that thing?" Ace asked, watching the other.
"This…is the reason for my strange behavior lately…" the scientist replied as his eyes quickly surveyed the screen. "And by the way, thanks for letting me know about what was going on. Really appreciate it."
The five glanced at each other guiltily. "We just…didn't wanna upset ya about it," Ace said. "I mean, it was outta your control, so we thought it'd be best for you not to worry about it."
"Well, I would have preferred to hear it from you guys than from Punnet."
Silence fell over them. They didn't know how to respond to him.
"I guess it doesn't matter now," Tech said after a long moment. He closed the top cover. "The important thing is that we reverse the effects and get me back to normal as soon as possible." The laser returned to its glove form and Tech removed it, handing it to the one standing closest to him.
Rev blinked slightly, looking from the glove he held to the coyote. He watched as the other looked back at him, silently holding up his hand, clenching and unclenching it. Nodding slightly, the roadrunner slipped the glove on and imitated the other, jumping a bit when the laser cannon-like apparatus engulfed his arm.
"Do you feel a button with your hand?" Tech asked.
"Okay. What I need you to do is fire it at me."
Rev looked up at him. "What?"
"You need to fire that at me. But you need to make sure to hold the button down for two minutes. No more, no less. Otherwise it might not work."
"What's that going to do to you?" Lexi asked.
The scientist was silent for a moment. Turning to the quickster, he said, "Do you remember the day of the bank robbery? What happened to me then?"
"This…is the device that was responsible for that."
Rev's eyes widened slightly as he looked at the laser that held his arm. He recalled how much pain that the other had been during the duration – had that been two minutes? – of the electric field. And in Tech's current condition…knowing that this device was responsible the coyote's strange actions for the past week…Firing the electro-laser was bad enough. He didn't know if he could do something like that again. Not now.
Noticing the bird's hesitancy, Ace cleared his throat. "Hey, uh Tech? Maybe we should do this later. Like, maybe we can head back to the tower. You can get some rest, and then we can fire ya."
But Tech shook his head. "We have to do this right now."
"Um…Tech…? I-don't-know-if-I-can…" Rev said, beginning to remove the device from his arm.
The coyote turned to the other. "Rev, I really need you to do this for me. I'll be fine, really, but we have to do this right away. The sooner I'm back to normal, the better."
Frowning deeply, the roadrunner looked down at the machine. He could feel his friend's pleading gaze burning into him, and he had vowed to help the other no matter what, hadn't he? If this was what the other needed him to do…
"Okay…" he finally replied.
Nodding, Tech instructed the others to step back so that he and Rev had more room. "Remember, you need to hold the button down for exactly two minutes, okay?"
Returning the nod, the quickster held up the weapon, steadying his trembling aim as he looked at the other's coal-colored eyes. He told himself that this would help his friend return to normal. But knowing how exhausted the other already was, and knowing that this would injure him further, Rev couldn't help but shut his eyes as he finally fired the laser.
Instead of the blue electricity that he was used to, Tech was assaulted and surrounded by a soft orange energy. But the pain was still the same, forcing him down to his knees. He held his hands to his head, trying to bite down a deep groan.
The other four could only watch the two for what felt more like two hours rather than two minutes. But soon the electricity died and Rev ripped the laser off his arm, throwing it aside before kneeling beside the coyote.
Following the other's example, Ace walked over and knelt in front of the scientist. "Tech?" he said softly. "You feelin' okay?"
Panting heavily, the coyote nodded slightly. When he looked up, Ace and Rev noted with extreme relief that Tech's eyes, though fatigued, were once again their normal golden hue. "I've felt better," he finally muttered softly.
"Yeah. I kinda figured. Let's get outta here and get you rested up."
Before Tech could reply or even get to his feet, the room darkened as the entrance door slammed shut again. The only light was the surrounding emerald glow from the door. Startled, Ace turned to look at the coyote. But to his surprise – and to some extent, his comfort – Tech looked just as confused as he did, his eyes still normal.
The screen wall by the computer consol suddenly switched on, casting a soft light on the heroes. Then a low laugh echoed around the room. They all looked over at Charles who was on his knees, one arm around his stomach while the other remained at his side, holding what looked like a glass bottle. Though beads of sweat were forming and his brow was scrunched in some pain, the villain continued his mocking laugh.
"I guess we missed the joke," Lexi said.
"It appears you aren't going anywhere," Charles said hoarsely. "I guess you all have Tech to thank for that."
"What's going on?" Tech asked as Rev and Ace got to their feet. He, on the other hand didn't have the strength to get up at the time. "I thought you said that the remote controlled your entire laboratory."
"I did…And it is true. The remote does control my lab. You were correct in your assumption that destroying the remote would shut my lab down. However, I suppose I forgot to mention my special program."
"Special program? What special program?"
The man smirked. "You see, I programmed into the remote a virus that reached my main computer through the sparks and electricity in the air, should the remote ever be destroyed. It overrides the computer's power and initiates the detonation sequence."
The Loonatics stiffened intensely.
"And, once again thanks to you Tech, you will find that escaping will be more than difficult."
"Are you insane?" Ace said. "What about you? You're gonna blow yourself up too?"
"There's no point in living after being beaten by you creatures," Charles replied, looking at the bottle in his hand. "That would never sit well with me." Placing the bottle on the ground, he rolled it towards the coyote.
Blinking, Tech picked up the bottled when it had reached him. Looking at the label, his eyes widened. "Wh-what…?"
The villain chuckled softly, coughing a little. "That's right. I only regret that I won't be able to witness your demise. However, as long as I rid the world of you pests, then I believe I've done my part. Destroying my lab, my work…myself…will all be worth it. So…I'll see you all…in hell…" Charles coughed again, heavier than before just as his body slumped forward to the ground, unmoving.
The Loonatics stared at the still body of the man, unbelieving of what had just taken place before them. Finally, after forever, Duck was able to voice what they were all thinking. "Whoa…!"
There was no time for anything else to be said, though, as the light from the computer suddenly turned red and a clock appeared on the screen. "Warning…" the computerized voice echoed around the room. "Detonation sequence has been activated. Self-destruction in T-minus 5 minutes…"
"Warning…" the computerized voice echoed around the room. "Detonation sequence has been activated. Self-destruction in T-minus 5 minutes…"
The floor beneath them began to quake violently as a piercing alarm sounded in the metallic room. On the computer screen, the numbers on the clock began to descend second by second.
Ace knew that they had to act now.
When the alarm finally died down, the leader said, "Lexi, Slam, see if you can bust down that door."
The two nodded before running to the still-glowing exit.
Turning to the roadrunner, he said, "Rev, try and find another exit somewhere."
"You-got-it!" the quickster replied with a quick salute before speeding off.
"What about me?" Danger asked.
Looking at him, Ace thought for a moment. Then he said, "See if you can teleport outside and try to find a way to get the door open from there."
"Okay…" The mallard's eyes began to glow before he vanished in a stream of smoke.
When the other had gone, the rabbit looked towards the door where Lexi and Slam were. The acrobat stood in one spot, her familiar pink orb between her ears firing at the top of the door while the powerhouse, in his tornado form, was pounding up against it, moving a few feet back before rushing in and pounding it again.
But in his sight, he could see that nothing they were doing was working. This worried him a bit. What force could possibly keep Slam from breaking a door down?
Bringing his wrist up to his mouth, the leader said, "Hey Duck, tell me you've got some good news…"
There was no answer from the show-off. Frowning a little, he spoke again, "Yo Duck! You there?"
For a moment, the only response on the other end was silence. Finally, the duck's voice came through. "Geez, give me a break, will ya? I got stuck and couldn't answer…"
"Stuck? On what?"
"Surprisingly, the walls are really thick. When I quacked, I got stuck between the outside of the lab and the inside of this…thing…"
"Thing…?" Ace didn't like the sound of that. "What thing…?"
"Well…Y'know that glowing effect-thing on the door?"
"Well….it's around the entire lab…And I gotta tell ya, the space between the lab and the glowing thing isn't a whole lot. If I wasn't in such great shape, I wouldn't have fit in it at all…"
The leader frowned, wondering what the glow was. But to the show-off, he replied, "Just keep trying to find a way out…"
As he lowered his arm, he heard a voice a little distance away say, "I don't think we're going to find one…"
Blinking a little, he turned to see Tech standing at the computer consol and staring up at what looked like blueprints. Above them was the timer that continued ticking down. He quickly headed over to the coyote's side, a little surprised that he hadn't seen the other get up in the first place. He had thought Tech was still on the ground. "What do ya mean?" he asked.
"The glowing effect that Duck was talking about," the genius replied, his golden eyes focused on the screen. "It's an energy field that's holding the entire lab together. That's why Lexi and Slam can't break the door down. And even though he was able to somehow squeeze in-between the field, Duck won't be able to do anything either since it's surrounding the entire lab."
"How can it hold the lab together like that?"
The sudden angered look that filled the coyote's feature startled Ace a little. "With magnetism…" he replied softly.
Finally Tech looked at the leader. "Do you remember how Punnet had said that it was because of me that we'd find it hard to get out?"
Assuming Punnet was the name of the late-villain, Ace nodded.
"Well that's because he used my energy to create the field," the coyote stated as he typed a few things into the consol, causing a few more lists and blueprints to come up. "He had absorbed my energy every time I used my powers and stored it away, increasing its effects and the magnitude to serve as a type of shield which he programmed into the detonation sequence. The shield holds the lab together and doesn't deactivate until the last second before the place explodes. Since the field is made of energy, Duck managed to squeeze through it when he teleported, but just by a little. And it's so powerful that not even I can negate it even though it's my energy."
"How do you know all this?" Ace asked, looking from the screen to the coyote.
Shaking his head slightly, Tech typed a few more things before the blueprints disappeared and left just the counter and the warning sign. "Punnet 'conveniently' left them here for me to find."
"Didn't he say that there was some kind of access code or somethin'?"
"Those are for programs such as the detonation sequence. But I think he wanted me to find these things…"
Though he was curious as to why the villain would do that, the leader felt that there were more important matters to address to. "Think you can hack in and shut the program down?"
"I…can try…" Tech replied softly, beginning to type on the consol.
And Ace watched the coyote carefully, a little perplexed by the other's response. Normally the genius would have replied with enthusiasm and confidence in his abilities to figure it out. But the answer he had received seemed hesitant, almost doubtful. It didn't seem at all like Tech's usual behavior.
The coyote continued to type on the consol before a small window appeared, asking for the access code. As he continued to type on the bar line, Ace glanced at the clock. Four minutes and counting.
"Incorrect access code," the computer suddenly displayed. Clicking his tongue in disappointment, Tech attempted again. "Darn it!" he spat as the computer again read, "Incorrect access code."
"What?" Ace asked.
"My hand slipped…" the coyote muttered, resuming typing on the consol.
The rabbit blinked slightly. 'Slipped on what?' he wondered.
"Incorrect access code," the computer said again. Rubbing his forehead, Tech input another attempt. But the computer just displayed the same message.
"Eh…" Ace said softly, "I don't mean ta rush ya Tech, but…"
He jumped slightly when the scientist suddenly slammed his fists down on the consol. "Darn it, I can't do this!" he said in frustration.
"C'mon Tech, sure ya can. I've seen ya figure out lotsa things that seem more complex than a simple access code."
"I can't do it, Chief…" Tech replied softly, shaking his head. "In my current state…I-I just…I can't do it…"
Ace knew something was definitely wrong. The laser was supposed to turn the other back to normal, wasn't it? But this was definitely something that couldn't be fixed just like that. For as long as he had known the scientist, for as long as they had been on the same team, he never knew the other to simply give up when it came to any type of machinery or technology. Tech's natural fascination with things like that always drove him to exploration and gain of further knowledge. Not for power or ego, but simply because of pure enjoyment of learning and creating. That was just who Tech was.
So for the genius to simply accept failure, for him to say that he 'just can't do it', and the fact that the other's body seemed to be trembling slightly, Ace had to wonder what Punnet had done to him aside from trying to control him.
He gently placed a hand on the coyote's shoulder. "Tech…" he said softly, "look, I know you can do this. We're all just doin' the best we can here, and that's all I'm askin' of you. I know you can figure somethin' out. Findin' the access code…or dismantlin' the computer to stop the virus. If anyone's capable of doin' it, I know it'll be you."
Tech kept his golden eyes focused on his fists that still rested on the consol. "E-even if I thought I could…" he replied, "it would take some time."
'Even if' was still a very defeatist attitude, and it made Ace a little more worried. "How much time?"
Glancing up at the timer, the coyote said, "More than three and a half minutes…"
The leader frowned deeply. "Too bad that's all we got," he muttered. "Isn't there anythin' else?"
Beginning to shake his head, the genius stopped and blinked a little as he once again looked at his fists. Then he glanced behind him at the discarded laser still on the ground. "Hold on…" he said, heading to the item.
Puzzled, Ace followed him, watching as the other knelt down beside the weapon.
Pushing a button, Tech opened the top cover, his golden eyes quickly looking through the complicated wiring. "I think I have an idea…"
And the rabbit watched the other remove the communicator on his wrist, revealing a smaller device. Removing that as well, Tech then slipped the communicator back on.
"What's that?" Ace asked.
"It's a portable shield I built a while ago…" the scientist replied, opening the top hatch of the small gadget.
"A shield huh?" the leader said, slightly hopeful.
"Yeah, but on its own it wouldn't be enough. This particular prototype is just enough to shield one person, and only in the direction it's aimed at. I could protect myself in front, but I'd still get hit from behind."
"But," the coyote added as he slipped the arm laser on, "if I merge it with this, I should be able to increase the power and circumference of the shield to be able to withstand the explosion."
Ace looked at the counter, then back at the other. "You think you'll be able to do that in three minutes?"
"I should be able to…"
"'Should' doesn't sound very convincing."
"Well, it's all we've got." But as Tech reached into the laser to begin the adjustments, he pulled his hand back quickly as the device shot electric sparks out in protest.
The leader's eyes widened slightly. "You okay?" he asked.
Shaking his hand to cool down the stinging burn, the other hero nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine," he replied. Holding his hand in front of him, he frowned deeply as it trembled a little. "If I was at my best, this would be no problem. But in my present condition, I'm not so sure…"
"There's gotta be somethin' you can do."
Tech sighed softly. "I don't know Chief. With the way I am now, I'm not sure I can do this fast…enough…" the coyote trailed off as he thought. Suddenly he brought his communicator up to his mouth. "Rev," he said, "I need you to get back here now!"
A second passed before the roadrunner appeared before the two. "Whatcha-need-Tech?" he asked.
The scientist grabbed the other's wrist and pulled him down so Rev was kneeling in front of him. "Listen Rev," he said, "I need your help to fix this laser into a shield that'll protect us from the explosion. If I tell you exactly what to do, do you think you'll be able to know what I'm talking about?"
"I'll leave that to you guys then," Ace said. "You got less than three minutes."
"Don't-worry-that-should-be-plenty-of-time!" Rev said confidently as he already began working on the laser.
"Concentrate Rev," Tech said. "First we gotta cut the power of this thing before we start messing with it…"
Deciding to let them work on that, Ace headed to where Lexi and Slam were resting after their numerous attempts on the glowing green door. "Anything?" he asked.
"Not at all," the bunny replied. "Not even a dent!"
"Etha ble strong," Slam grunted in agreement.
Frowning, the rabbit then spoke into his communicator. "How 'bout you, Duck?"
"I got nothin' over here…" the mallard answered. "Whatever this is, I don't think it'll let up any time soon."
Glancing back at the counter, Ace thought for a moment before saying into his communicator, "Okay Duck, I got a special mission for ya."
"Oh joy," came the sarcastic response.
"Just listen up. Tech and Rev are working on something that'll help us out, but we're running short on time."
"Since there's no point in trying to break out, you're done here, Duck. No matter what, in about five seconds I want you away from here, got it?"
He ignored the surprised looks Lexi and Slam gave him. In his mind, he knew he was making the right decision.
There was a momentary delay before the show-off spoke again. "What?"
"You heard me Duck. I want you to get away from here before the place explodes. I mean, with the walls as thick as they are, you can't teleport us out of here. Heck, you could barely teleport yourself…"
"My point is, you might as well use that 'quack' of yours to get yourself to safety. In the slight chance that we don't make it out, at least someone will be left."
"Get going Duck. That's an order."
There was silence for a good moment. Then, with much obvious hesitation, Duck retorted softly, "Well, you don't hafta tell me twice." And then more silence followed.
Ace could feel Lexi's steady gaze on him. "There's no point for all of us to be caught in the fire," he said softly. "If there's a chance to save at least one of us, then we might as well take it."
"I got it Ace," she replied just as softly. "You don't need to explain."
"Yo Chief!" Tech suddenly called from where he and Rev were still at. "We got it!"
Looking over, Ace quickly headed to where they were at, Lexi and Slam following right behind him. "Less than a minute left," he muttered, a joking smile on his face. "Cuttin' it kinda close, doncha think?"
"Sorry-that-was-my-fault-I-crossed-some-wrong-wires-and-it-took-a-little-longer-than-expected," Rev said quickly.
"At any rate, we got it done," Tech said. "Now we were able to change some things, but the size of the shield itself isn't that big, so you're all going to need to get down and stay as close as possible."
With Rev still kneeling in front of the coyote, the other three quickly knelt down elsewhere around him, forming a small circle.
Inhaling deeply, Tech then held the laser above his head and hit the button.
"T-minus 30 seconds until detonation," the computer voice chimed in.
The coyote's eyes were wide as he pulled his arm back, startled that the laser hadn't done anything. "I don't understand, it should have worked!" he said, opening the top cover and looking inside.
"Oh-hey-Tech-didn't-we-have-to-cut-the-laser's-power?" Rev piped up. "I-don't-think-we-turned-it-back-on-did-we?"
"T-minus 20 seconds until detonation…"
Thinking for a moment as he continued to search the inside of the laser, the scientist then nodded. "I think you're right, Rev…" he replied. "We forgot to reconnect the firing cables to the central power core…" He clicked his tongue and shook his head in disapproval.
"So just connect the cables to the power core already," Lexi said, trying to conceal the sudden apprehension that followed each passing second.
"But that would require reworking an entire section that also has to connect directly to the core!" the coyote said. "Even with Rev's speed, we'd never be able to do that in time!"
"T-minus 10 seconds until detonation…10…9…8…"
Slam began garbling distressed gibberish.
"I'm doing the best I can, Slam!" Tech replied, his mind racing as he tried to think.
"C'mon Tech, ya gotta make this work!" Ace exclaimed.
The coyote's ears were flat against his head as he thought. Suddenly, they perked up. "Got it!" he said as he quickly pulled out a clump of cable wires from inside the laser.
"Here goes nothing…" he said softly.
The discharge from the explosion threw Danger farther away from the site than he already was. Gasping, he protected his face with his arms from the dust and rocks that flew at him. He felt the ground hard underneath him in a matter of seconds.
He thought he had gotten far away enough to not be affected by the blast. But with an explosion large enough to destroy the entirety of Acmetropolis, he couldn't have been more wrong. Good thing they were in an empty desert.
Groaning as he lay on his back, the mallard cracked open an eye. Dust blanketed over him and the entire area. If the others were caught in something like that…
Shaking his head, he slowly got to his feet. He couldn't think like that. Ace said that Tech and Rev had been working on something that could help. So of course they'd be all right. Right?
But Ace had also told him to go in case they couldn't make it. So there was always that chance…
Danger shook his head again. 'Better not get ahead of myself…' he thought.
Slowly he began walking through the cloud the covered the entire space, looking around for any clues concerning his teammates. In a worse-case scenario…well, Acmetropolis deserved to bury their heroes.
He was getting ahead of himself again.
As he continued to walk further into the dust cloud, Danger couldn't help but feel a little guilty that he hadn't been with all the others in the explosion. If he had stayed…if he had just tried harder to help…there had to have been something more he could have done.
But Ace had told him to go. Ordered him even. And he could always tell himself that he was just following orders.
Not that it would make him feel any better.
He kept telling himself that there had to have been something he could have done for the other. Something…anything…Even staying would have been better than running away like he had. Sure, he would have been…a little scared, but he really wouldn't have abandoned his team.
He didn't care what other people thought. He'd be the first to admit that he was (a little) selfish and (a bit) conceited. But no one should ever accuse him of being heartless.
The others knew that, didn't they? They knew that, despite the way he acted, he really just wanted to help. He thought they knew, but now he really wasn't too sure. It was difficult to tell by the things he did and said.
But they had to have known something. Why else would they have kept him on the team? Granted, it could have been to keep him from becoming one of the many super-powered villains. But if they truly felt that he was an incompetent hero, why would they worry about him as a villain? So they must have known what he truly thought and felt.
It was only because of the others that Danger acted the way he did. The brave and confident front he put on was because he knew that, with the team, everything would work out. Of course there were times when it seemed hopeless (and he was never afraid to say so), but as a team they could always handle it.
And even though he had always dreamed of being a hero and a leader, it would be difficult to do without the help of the team.
After all, one couldn't be a leader without other people to lead, other people…to help and support him as leader.
"I'm sure they're fine…" he mumbled to himself as he continued walking. He had to keep telling himself that, otherwise it wouldn't be true. And he didn't want to think of about what would happen if it wasn't.
Not getting ahead of himself was harder than he thought.
He was glad when he noticed that the dust was beginning to settle. It was hard for him to look for the others if he couldn't even see his own beak.
When the cloud was finally gone, Danger realized too late that he had just walked to the edge of a giant crater. He gasped as his foot slipped, causing him to slide down the curved walls of the giant hole. But as he headed towards the bottom, he could see the blue-sparking yellow dome that rested in the center of the crater.
Heading towards the dome, the mallard slowed a bit until he finally came to a stop. Dusting himself off, he got to his feet and slowly walked towards the dome where he could just make out the others inside. They were crouched down on their knees, holding their heads with their hands as though to protect themselves from the explosion. The only exception was Tech who knelt in the center, his arm raised above his head. The weapon on his arm provided the source for the shield around them.
The first thing he felt was the relief that coursed through his system at the sight that the others were safe. Placing a hand to his anxious heart, he sighed softly. Then, crossing his arms across his torso, he cleared his throat and lisped smartly, "Just so ya know, I wasn't worried one bit…"
The show-off's familiar voice drew the others out of their protective positions as they slowly opened their eyes and raised their heads. As they looked around and down at themselves, they realized that they weren't dreaming after all. They had survived the explosion.
"All-right!" Rev exclaimed happily as he watched the shield begin to fade. "Wow-Tech-you-did-it!-Whew-that's-a-relief-I-mean-I-know-you-knew-what-you-were-doing-but-man-you-even-had-me-going-for-a-while-there!-I-almost-thought-that-" He didn't finish his thoughts as he glanced at the coyote, whose hand and eyes were once again glowing emerald. In his free hand the scientist held cables that seemed to connect to the laser.
The roadrunner didn't have a chance to ask his friend anything though as the shield faded completely. As the other three got to their feet, the light from the coyote disappeared as well as he collapsed to the ground.
"Whoa!" Rev cried. "Tech…? Hey-Tech!" He began shaking the other gently in an attempt to wake him.
Kneeling down beside the quickster, Ace placed his hand on the scientist's back. A deep frown appeared on his face. It didn't even seem like the coyote was breathing…
Behind him the rabbit suddenly heard Lexi gasp, and he sighed heavily. "I don't suppose that's a happy gasp?" he asked. Part of him wasn't joking.
"Tech's heart…" she said softly. "I-I can't…it's starting to…it's starting to fade…"
It was then that Ace sprang to his feet. "Slam!" he said. "Grab Tech and let's go! We gotta get back to the tower and do somethin' before we lose him!"
Given the time of day, it wouldn't have surprised him if everyone was still asleep, which is the way it was supposed to be. In fact, he should have been surprised if someone wasn't asleep. Keyword was should. He shouldhave been, but he knew he wouldn't be.
Ace was used to being up at that hour. As the sun began to dispel the ways of darkness in Acmetropolis, the rabbit would always wake up to train himself. It was just a way for him to practice his martial arts without worry of being interrupted by the others, and it gave him time to think without distraction.
Normally though, when he was finished with his training, he would get more rest before reawakening and joining the others for the day. Today he was deviating from his normal schedule.
But after the fiasco the other day, he wanted to make sure everything would get back to normal as soon as possible.
They were all flying as fast as they could. But with every passing second, they knew that the other was only getting worse.
Lexi was the only one who could really hear what was happening within the unconscious coyote. Tech was barely breathing, and his heart was slowing to the point where detecting it was difficult even with her amplified hearing.
But as they rushed back to the tower, Ace had to wonder: even when they got there, what could they do to help?
The leader suddenly became aware of movement off to his side, and he looked over as Rev flew close behind Slam who carried the scientist on his shoulder. He watched as the roadrunner seemed to hesitate before reaching over and slipping the laser-cannon from Tech's arm.
Of course, if Rev's arms weren't free, it meant he couldn't fly.
"Rev!" he called as the other began a rapid descent to the ground. Motioning for the others to continue back to the tower, he followed the quickster down and managed to grab his arm and stop him from falling any further.
"I-had-an-idea," the roadrunner said as Ace attempted to follow the others, "but-I-need-to-do-something-really-quick-and-I-prefer-running-on-the-ground-anyway-so-"
"What are you planning on doing?" Ace asked.
The leader frowned slightly but nodded, lowering to the ground. "Okay…but you're sure this'll work?"
As Rev's feet touched the ground, he replied softly, "I-really-hope-so…Anyway-I'll-meet-you-guys-back-at-the-tower…" With that, the quickster took off.
When they had returned to the tower, Rev had been already in the med lab with the laser cannon which, after Slam had placed Tech down on one of the beds, he used on the unconscious coyote. The blinding white energy that had shot from the weapon had startled them, but afterwards Lexi had said that Tech's heart was beginning to pick up again.
Still, they had to use a respirator for the coyote's shallow breathing. And they placed a heart monitor to check his heart rate, and an IV into his arm to get some kind of nourishment into his body.
What concerned Ace a little was that Rev insisted he do everything by himself. It had already been nightfall when they had all returned to the tower, and the quickster insisted that they all rest while he made sure Tech was all right. After much prodding and convincing, all of them had gone off to bed while Rev remained in the med lab.
But Ace knew that Rev hadn't gotten any sleep that night.
As soon as he walked in, he knew he was right. Rev stood by Tech's bed, his arms folded over his torso. Hearing the hiss of the mechanical door, the roadrunner turned his head slightly to look at the leader. "Oh-hey-Ace!" he said, turning to face the other fully. "I'm-kind-of-surprised-you're-up-but-I'm-glad-you're-here.-I've-got-good-and-bad-news.-Which-do-you-wanna-hear-first?"
Walking over, the rabbit replied, "Well, let's try the bad news first. That way if it's really bad, the good news will cheer me up…"
"So I see."
As the rabbit noted the single machine hooked to the coyote, as well as the chair that was set at the bedside, he decided to take advantage of the opening the other had given him. "So, if the lack of food only helped his weakened condition, that means there were other factors at work, right?"
Hesitating slightly, Rev then nodded.
Returning the nod, Ace continued, "Well, as much as this may surprise ya, I'm no medical expert. But…I'd still like to try and understand what happened. Think you could explain?"
The roadrunner thought for a moment. "Well-I-guess-I'd-first-have-to-explain-the-body's-need-for-a-certain-amount-of-energy-in-order-to-perform-necessary-functions.-For-example-I-need-to-maintain-a-certain-level-of-energy-in-order-to-run-at-my-maximum-speed.-If-I'm-low-on-energy-it'll-be-hard-for-me-to-do-that."
"Okay…" the leader said slowly.
Ace nodded slightly. "Makes sense so far."
The leader frowned slightly. When he had told Tech to make the device work, he had no idea that the coyote would attempt something like that.
As he sat down in the empty chair beside the bed, Ace said softly, "Punnet musta taken a lot of his energy then…"
Rev looked at the other. "What?"
The rabbit folded his arms over his chest. "Tech told me…that Punnet had absorbed his energy ev'ry time he used his powers. That's how he made the shield that held the lab together."
Frowning deeply, the roadrunner looked back at the coyote. Was that why Tech couldn't escape from the metal restraints that time?
"I'm not sure exactly what happened between Tech and Punnet before we got there, but since you said he was already exhausted when you found him, Punnet must have done something to make him use his powers over and over. Still, we won't find out what really happened until Tech wakes up."
Ace nodded slightly, placing his hand to his chin as he thought for a moment, his sapphire eyes intently staring at the coyote.
"What's-on-your-mind-Ace?" the quickster asked.
The rabbit was silent for a moment. Finally he answered, "Back at the lab, Tech was acting a bit strange…"
"I had asked him to try and figure out the access code so he could shut the computer off. But when he tried…he acted like he couldn't. Like he was just gonna give up."
Rev frowned deeply. That didn't sound like the other at all.
"He just seemed really shaken up about something. It was just really weird."
"Hmm…maybe…" Soon Ace got to his feet. "Anyway, it's time for you to get to bed."
Blinking, Rev looked at the other. "What?"
"How much sleep didja get last night, Rev?"
"Um…" Avoiding the leader's gaze, the quickster looked up at the ceiling.
"That's what I thought. Listen, I know you were really worried about him, and I know ya just wanna help him. But you already said he's gonna recover, so there's nothing to worry about."
The roadrunner was silent, appearing to think about it for a minute. Finally he nodded slightly. "Yeah-I-guess-you're-right," he replied softly.
Returning the nod, Ace glanced at the coyote before looking at the other again. "So you go on and get some rest. I'll stay here and watch over things for a while."
Rev relaxed a little knowing that the trustworthy leader would take care of things. Allowing himself to yawn a bit, he nodded again. "Okay-then-I'll-leave-things-to-you-and-I'll-be-back-later."
"Okay." The rabbit watched as he headed off, the mechanical door closing behind him. When the bird was gone, Ace sighed softly as he sat back down on the chair, folding his arms over his torso. It wasn't long before the thick silence started to get to him. And he knew that the silence wasn't really necessary.
"How long have ya been awake?" he asked softly.
For a few moments the quiet continued to hang in the air. Finally, the coyote lying in bed sighed softly and replied in a raspy voice, "Not long really…" Slowly his eyes opened and he glanced at the rabbit. "How'd you know?"
Ace shrugged slightly. "Lucky guess…When didja plan on letting Rev know you're up?"
Chuckling softly, Tech closed his eyes again. "Probably when I recover enough energy to deal with him."
The leader laughed a bit. "That might be a good idea. But y'know he's just worried about ya. We all were…"
"I…I know. I should be fine in a few days. I just need to rest for a little while longer."
"Sounds like a good plan." Leaning back into the chair, the rabbit allowed his hands to rest on his lap and stared at them for a moment. "Hey, uh…Tech?"
Ace rubbed the back of his neck. "I uh…I'm sorry if I put a lot of pressure on ya…back at the lab…"
Opening his eyes again, the scientist glanced at the other curiously.
"I guess…I was just a little concerned about the whole situation. But…when I said that you had to make it work, I didn't know that…"
"Ace," Tech replied softly, "don't apologize. No matter what, the action I took was the only inevitable answer. We were running out of time, and I would have had to power the device anyway, even if I was at my top condition."
"Yeah, but if you had been in top condition, you wouldn't have almost killed yourself with that maneuver."
The coyote was silent for a moment. Finally he replied, "The important thing now is that everything turned out all right."
Ace nodded slightly. "Yeah, you're right. I can't tell ya how relieved I am now that you're not being controlled by some psycho."
Tech didn't reply.
"Anyway, you should probably rest up some more."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Smiling slightly, Ace watched as the scientist soon drifted back to sleep. He chuckled softly to himself then. For some reason, he had expected something a little more…dramatic. Perhaps something like Tech, after lying in a comatose state for weeks, finally awakening after they had given up all hope, and there would be a joyous celebration upon his recovery.
That was the last time he'd ever let Lexi pick out a book for him to read.
How Tech had awoken shouldn't have been important at all. What truly mattered, as the scientist had pointed out, was that everything was all right now, and soon things would return to normal.
Unfortunately, as the others soon found out, things didn't really seem very normal.
Even after a few days passed and Tech made a full physical recovery, something still seemed to be wrong with the coyote.
Instead of delving into another one of his automated projects, Tech just seemed to wander around the tower, once again lost in his own mind. When questioned about it, the coyote would claim he was tired and that he would explain later.
Laters came and went, but they still didn't understand why he seemed to mope around. He always seemed to try and avoid talking about what was wrong.
The team did their best not to pester him about it since they wanted to make sure he received enough rest, in case Zadavia sent them on another mission. But they couldn't help the coyote if he wouldn't tell them what was wrong.
Still, knowing from Rev how stubborn the other could truly be, trying to force it out of Tech would be pointless. So they opted to wait until he was willing to talk.
Whenever that would be…
The door to the roof creaked as it opened. Sticking his head out, he found Rev standing, back towards him, and looking over the edge, leaning against the protective wall that prevent him from falling off.
It was an ingenious design, really. On the top of their new spherical home was a small dip that wasn't noticeable except from above where they could stand and look out over Acmetropolis if they wished. To the outside, though, the sphere seemed perfect, and the small groove where they stood was unseen.
Walking out, he closed the door before standing beside the roadrunner, supporting his arms beneath him as he leaned against the roof wall and stared out at the city as well.
Though the other didn't acknowledge his presence, he knew that Rev understood why he was there. And he was willing to wait until the other was comfortable speaking about it.
He heard his friend beside him sigh then. "How'd ya know I'd be up here?" the roadrunner asked softly.
"Just a guess," he replied, turning his head slightly to look at the other. "What I didn't know was that you could still talk normally. I haven't heard you speak like that since before the meteor hit."
Rev chuckled slightly. "I can…it just takes a little more effort for me to do. I wouldn't normally do it, but I figured you'd understand me better this way."
Nodding slightly, he looked up at the sky. "Ready to talk about it then?"
"I guess so. But how'd ya figure something was wrong?"
"I've known you for a long time, Rev. I'd be unsatisfied with myself if I couldn't tell when something was troubling you."
The coyote glanced back at the other. "So, have you told any of the others about what's been bothering you?"
Rev shook his head slightly.
"All right. Tell me what's on your mind."
The roadrunner sighed softly. "It's just…I don't know, really. All of this just seems to be happening so fast."
He raised a curious eyebrow. "Strange sentence coming from you…"
The other chuckled softly. "I guess. But I mean…with the meteor and all, everything's so different."
"It's to be expected. Since the meteor knocked the Earth off its normal axis, strange things were bound to happen."
"I know. I mean, just look what happened to us."
Looking down at his hand, he frowned a little. He was still trying to get used to the bright green and black fur. As he clenched his hand into a fist, he looked back at his friend. "You resent what happened to us?"
"No…I don't know. I mean, I don't mind the aftereffects of the meteor. For the first time…I'm really, really fast…"
"Fastest I've ever seen," he replied with a small smile.
Rev grinned. "Yeah. I mean, if I was still at my old job, Cookie would never be able to dock my pay again."
"Thing is…I don't work there anymore. Instead of a delivery boy, I'm…a superhero, I guess."
He decided to not answer for the time being and simply continue to listen to what the other wanted to say.
"I mean, it was interesting when we found out that there were others with powers. But joining together to protect Acmetropolis…I mean…"
"It's a big responsibility," he replied softly.
"Yeah! And…I mean…I like being super fast and all. It's what I've always dreamed of. But…I don't know if it's good enough…to save a city…."
He thought for a minute, then asked, "Out of curiosity, why haven't you talked to the others about this? After all, they might feel the same as you do."
"Well, they've got really cool powers. Besides, I don't know them as well."
The coyote nodded slightly. "Well, would you like to hear what I think?"
Rev suddenly chuckled. "Even if I said no, you'd tell me anyway wouldn't you?"
Smirking a little, he replied, "You bet I would."
This made the roadrunner laugh once again. "Well, go ahead. One way or another I'm gonna hear it."
Nodding, he cleared his throat a little. "I think…that we've been fortunate enough to get these powers rather than losing something, which is something else that could have happened when the meteor hit."
"Well, I know that," Rev replied.
"I know you know. Let me finish." He inhaled deeply, trying to regain his train of thought. "I also think that, even though the powers we received are very interesting, it really doesn't matter what they are."
Rev glanced at him. "What do you mean?"
"Well, instead of being here, a chosen protector of Acmetropolis, you could be using your super speed to get even with your boss for always docking your pay, couldn't you?"
"I guess, but I…"
"Likewise, given your powers, someone else could choose to use that super speed for various crimes intended for personal gain. Right?"
"See, even though individual abilities are important, what truly matters is how you use them. What you choose to do with the special abilities that you have makes all the difference between saving this city or destroying it. The fact that you've chosen to help protect people like your old boss, who always tried to cheat you out of what you deserve, guarantees that the powers you have aren't going to be put to waste. Do you understand?"
Rev nodded slightly.
"Also, I agree that saving an entire city can be overwhelming. But that's why it's not just one or two or even just three of us risking our necks like this. As a team, we're necessary for the safety of Acmetropolis. And I'm always going to be around if you want or need to talk. But you know, so are the others. Like it or not, we're a team now, and we all need to understand each other if we want to work together properly. Distrust doesn't work in alliances like this. Okay?"
The roadrunner nodded again. "Okay…"
"Things will be different now, I won't lie about that. But I'm sure everything will turn out okay."
"How do you know?"
"Well…I could say that I analyzed different aspects as well as calculated the different abilities and capabilities of each member on this team to produce the conclusion that combining together is the only reasonable and logical choice…"
Rev rolled his eyes slightly.
"But truthfully…it's just a hunch."
"A feeling? It's just a feeling?"
He smiled a little. "If you want to call it that. It's interesting really."
"Well, for the longest of times, it's just been the two of us. Now…suddenly, it's not. It's…comforting…knowing that we're not as alone as we think."
Thinking over his words for a minute, the roadrunner then smiled.
The two stood in silence for a while longer until Rev turned to look at the coyote. "Well-I-feel-a-lot-better-now.-Thanks-for-listenin'-Tech.-But-all-that-concentration-trying-to-talk-normally-took-a-lot-of-energy-so-how-about-we-get-something-to-eat-because-I'm-starving!"
He stared at the other for a few seconds before pushing himself away from the wall. "Somewhere in that jumbled mess I heard 'eat', am I right?"
Rev nodded eagerly.
"Okay…" he replied, shaking his head slightly. "It's a little hard to understand what you're saying when you talk that fast."
"Yeah…You know, you should be careful with what you say. You talk so fast, I get worried that you don't think about what you're saying. You could say something that you didn't mean to."
The bird grinned proudly. "Don't-worry-about-me-I've-got-everything-under-control.-Now-c'mon-let's-get-some-food-I'm-hungry!"
He chuckled a little, shaking his head again. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," he replied as he followed Rev back inside the tower.
Shaking his head a little and pulling himself out of his reverie, Tech blinked a little. 'That was strange…' he thought. 'A nice relief, but…strange.'
For the past few days during his recovery, the memory of what he had done under the influence of his instincts was all he could think about. It plagued his mind when he was awake, when he was asleep…no matter what he was or wasn't doing, he couldn't get it out of his head.
The blurring movement of the background…Rev pleading for him to snap out of it…his own snarling and quick snapping of his jaws…then the world around him spinning before darkness fell over him. It was always the same, but it was still enough to nauseate him.
Hearing the buzz of the mechanical door, he sighed softly and closed his eyes. He certainly didn't feel like talking at the moment.
"Tech?" he heard a familiar voice say. "What-are-you-doing-up?-Don't-you-know-it's-two-in-the-morning?-Why-aren't-you-asleep?"
Opening his eyes, he looked up as Rev began walking towards the work table. "What are you doing up?" he asked softly.
"Well-I-woke-up-and-I-got-kinda-hungry-and-I-usually-have-to-eat-ev'ry-few-hours-to-keep-my-metabolism…Hey-hey-hey!" The roadrunner looked at the other sternly."Don't-try-changing-the-subject-Tech.-We're-not-talking-about-me-we're-talking-about-you.-Shouldn't-you-be-resting?"
"I couldn't sleep…" Tech replied, looking down at the table. The truth was that he didn't want to sleep. Not that it really mattered.
Frowning, Rev walked over and stood in front of the other. "Tech-what's-wrong?" he asked softly. He knew that they all agreed to wait for Tech to tell them, but it obviously really bothered the coyote, and he wanted to do something to help. "You-haven't-really-been-yourself-lately-and-y'know-we've-all-been-a-little-concerned.-I-mean-I-know-it's-not-like-when-Punnet-had-control-of-your-mind-but-it's-"
"Stop right there," Tech said suddenly, holding up his hand. Sighing softly, he rubbed his temples and got to his feet. "Don't…say that again…"
The roadrunner blinked curiously as he watched his friend lean against the table and cross his arms over his chest. Hesitating slightly, he then decided to voice what was on his mind. "Hey-Tech?"
Tech glanced at the other. "You really want to know?"
Rev nodded slightly.
Sighing softly, the coyote looked at the floor for a moment as he gathered the right words to say. "I guess…it was because…I wanted to feel like I was of some use to the team."
Whatever answer Rev had been expecting, it certainly wasn't that. "What?"
The scientist continued to avoid his friend's gaze. "Back at the lab…before you guys came…Punnet told me how he had planned everything. The reason he robbed the bank was to get us to follow him so he could test his device on me. Then he started to destroy Acmetropolis just so he could capture me for further testing. Later on when we were trapped in his lab, I discovered some other things. Punnet told me about the remote that controlled his lab because he wanted me to destroy it so the detonation sequence would activate. He told me how his invention worked so that I would use it and stall us long enough so we would still be in the lab when the program took into affect. And he absorbed my energy to create the magnetic shield that kept the lab together, preventing us from escaping."
The roadrunner frowned a little. "Well-some-of-that-makes-sense-but-c'mon-Tech-there's-no-way-Punnet-could-have-planned-for-all-of-it-to-happen."
But Tech shook his head. "No…I know he planned it all. It was like…he was in my head somehow and could predict everything. He set up each piece to his trap, and I fell for it all. Step by step, I walked right into it. And as if that wasn't bad enough, I nearly tried to kill you…"
"Rev…" the coyote said softly, "he wasn't controlling my mind…"
The roadrunner blinked curiously, though remained silent as he watched the other rub his eyes with his fingers.
"Punnet's device wasn't a mind-controlling device like you all think. What it did was change my genetic structure slightly so that recessive genes…genes that I already possessed…would reveal themselves in my behavior. Everything I did…it was all part of what I am…"
Tech sighed heavily, letting his arms drop to his sides and grip the edge of the table. "The reason I haven't told you guys before is…I guess I was a little afraid to. I was afraid that if you and the others knew, you'd feel as though I couldn't be trusted. I wouldn't blame you though. I already don't trust myself.
"But I guess that's why I was so willing to make the shield work. I wanted to redeem myself, prove that I can do something to help you guys out." He shook his head slightly. "Don't know if it worked, though…"
Rev watched as the other continued to stare at the ground. Slowly walking over, he leaned against the table as well, standing beside the coyote. "Tech…" he said softly, "you do help us out. You do it all the time."
Tech looked up at the other, slightly surprised. It had been a long time since he had heard the other talk normally and still have his powers. Whatever he was going to say, he obviously wanted to be understood clearly.
"I mean, so Punnet tricked you," the roadrunner continued. "So what? It could have happened to anyone. You shouldn't let that ruin your life. And you do help us out, a lot. Even without your powers, you're the smartest guy I know, and you build a lot of gadgets that come in handy when we need to save Acmetropolis from whatever happens to be threatening it. Like when that Sypher guy took our powers away, you could still invent things that we used to beat him, which was better than what I could do. Super speed and internal tracking is nice and all, but take those away from me and I'm pretty useless."
Tech frowned a little as he looked at the other. "Come on, that's not true," he said softly. "If it's any consolation, you're brave and resourceful, always quick on your feet. Plus, I know that you're always willing to help me out when I need it. And you shouldn't sell your powers short either. Without your speed, we wouldn't get a lot of the things around here done. And without your internal tracking, who knows how long it would have taken you guys to find me? It's like I told you before; even though individual abilities are important, what truly matters is how you choose to use them…"
His voice trailed off as he spoke those last few words. The way they sounded…He played those words over and over again in his mind until they started fitting into place.
"How we choose…to use them," he said softly, more to himself than to the other. "Because…we're lucky enough to have the freedom to choose what we do and don't do…to choose what we become and what we think…what we choose helps define who we are…"
He placed a hand to his chin, thinking for another moment. "Even though instinct contributes to what we are, we're fortunate enough to be able to choose what to do and how to handle ourselves in any given situation because that's who we've become."
And suddenly it hit him. "Even though Punnet triggered instincts that are part of what I am, the fact that those instincts were forced out proves that they don't dictate who I am. Had he never interfered, none of this would be a problem because these instincts are not important factors that my life depends upon. Who I am is who I choose to be…because that's the way it is…"
He became aware of Rev moving beside him. Looking over, he blinked when he noticed the large grin on the bird's face. "Well-I'm-so-glad-you-figured-that-on-your-own," the roadrunner said. "It-would-have-been-a-lot-of-work-for-me-to-tell-you-all-that-because-you-know-how-hard-it-is-for-me-to-talk-normally.-But-you-figured-it-out-all-by-yourself.-I-guess-they-don't-call-you-a-genius-for-nothing-huh?-Good-job!"
Tech stared at him for a second or two before realization dawned on him. "You tricked me! You tricked me into feeling sorry for you so I would stop feeling sorry for myself!"
Rev laughed proudly. "You-bet-I-did!-And-hey-it-worked-didn't-it?-I-mean-it-got-you-to-realize-that-the-thing-with-Punnet-wasn't-really-your-fault-after-all.-Oh-and-just-so-you-know-I-appreciate-all-the-great-things-you-said-about-me-but-I-really-wouldn't-give-my-powers-up-for-anything!"
The coyote sighed softly. Even if he had the energy, he knew that he'd never be able to catch the quickster in order to strangle him.
"Hey Tech?" He looked up at the roadrunner again. "Y'know…everything you said…I think it's true. I mean, we've been friends for a long time and nothing bad has happened before, right?"
The genius nodded. "Right."
"Yeah. So even with your instincts or whatever…If that's part of what you are, then we'll just have to deal with it. But considering Punnet had to build something to force it out, I don't really think it'll be a big problem."
"I guess not…"
Rev nodded slightly. "But you shouldn't be afraid to tell the others about it either. I mean, they're all just worried about you too, and they wanna make sure you're okay. If you explain everything to them, I'm sure they'll understand. We're a team after all."
The coyote was beginning to see a strange parallel between his earlier recollection and this current moment. Not to mention irony. "All right," he finally replied. "I'll tell them about it."
Smiling slightly, Rev nodded again. "Good…But-I-suggest-you-wait-until-much-much-much-later-considering-what-time-it-is.-Speaking-of-which-you-should-go-to-bed-and-get-some-sleep!-Rest'll-be-good-for-you…"
Though he continued on about the importance of rest, Tech was already so lost in his own thoughts that the other's voice was drowned out completely. It had been so long since he had worked on one of his projects…Why waste time sleeping?
The scientist grinned to himself. He knew just the one to work on…