Rubbing at a headache, Dr. Peter Venkman winced as Winston Zeddemore's wirecutters sheared steel. The last padlock on New York City's Municipal Water Supply clattered to concrete. "Egon? You want to explain to me again how this is going to solve our little transformation problem?"
Waving his PKE meter over carved iron, Dr. Egon Spengler raised a blond brow. The cup's frequencies tended to blend into the background, as if it were deliberately hiding in magic's shadow. Though he suspected H.E.A.T.'s leader or Seirian would bring out its true power, with or without the creatures they kept company with. "On the contrary, Peter. This won't solve the problem; only ameliorate it."
"By making the spell permanent. No, no, we're fine," the psychologist fended off the helpful man in charge of the Manhattan reservoirs. "Just give us a few more minutes..."
"It's already permanent," Egon stated, once the utility man was out of earshot. "Exposure to water from a ceasg cup will at least transmute a potentially deadly condition into a survivable one. And should allow those affected to reclaim their human form."
"If they can remember they're human," Peter pointed out. Green eyes that could smooth-talk the toughest secretary were creased with concern. "Spengs, the mind's a tricky place to mess with. Just because those three back at the station snapped out of it doesn't mean anyone else will."
"We're kind of out of options," Ray Stantz explained, as Egon and Winston lowered chiseled iron into treated water. The stocky occultist rifled through Spates' Catalog one more time, ran frustrated fingers through short red hair. "Aimerigot didn't put in a counterspell. We ran a computer search on our whole library; everything that counters transformations, or shapechanges, or curses. Anything powerful enough to undo Demona's essence transformation would unravel the aura into - into something that wasn't human at all."
"So we give the whole island a drink?"
"That's the plan," Winston nodded, dark hands easing the hatch closed. "Speaking of. You got any ideas on how to handle the bottled water types?"
"Seirian said she'd look into that." Ray brightened. "Gosh, Peter, do you think she'd come back and visit?"
Egon chuckled. "Given that her great-grand-nephew is one of Staten Island's most famous denizens, Ray, I think it's quite likely."
"Terrific," Peter grumbled. "Anybody but me remember that lady pals around with a fifty-foot wyvern?"
Egon barely blinked. "She is a member of Clan Wyvern, Peter. We should hardly expect anything less."
"Real, live anincantares!" Ray grinned ear to ear. "They actually made it! I bet they hid out in England after the turn of the millennium."
"More likely Wales or Cornwall, given the names." One last readings check, and Egon stored his meter away. The cup's influence was already spreading through the water supply. With luck, it'd reach the whole island in an hour.
"Made it?" Winston dusted off his hands.
"Through the European witch-hunts," Peter filled in. "British Isles were a good place for that, long as you weren't in Scotland. James the VI did a lot more than get a Bible published."
Egon hid a smile as they made their way back out of the building. The psychologist might pretend to be totally ignorant of anything outside parapsychology and the opposite sex, but given a chance, he could wax as erudite as the scientist he actually was.
"Thought they were spell-breakers, not spell-casters," Winston said thoughtfully.
"Power's power," Ray sighed. "And people just don't like things that are - different." Sadness swept out of his gaze, overshadowed by childlike eagerness. "Do you think Seirian would let us take some readings?"
With a groan, Peter sank his head into his hands.
"So you tell them I don't care what color their partner is! We're cops, and we've got a job to do." A rust-hued hand slammed the phone back into its holder. Mahogany bat- wings curled and rustled, settling back over Captain Maria Chavez' shoulders as she paced her office. Her spiked tail lashed, taking out the trashbin.
Standing still, the captain gritted her fangs, running through a silent litany of curses. Three-quarters of her officers had somehow been turned into humans, Fire Rescue was pulling people out of a half-dozen buildings, some lightning-throwing lunatic had attacked Ghostbusters Central, and Godzilla was loose in Manhattan. Again.
She yanked open her office door, tearing it off flimsy brass hinges. Swear that door was stronger yesterday... oh well. "Would somebody find Maza!"
Morgan's rookie looked up from his phone, visibly sweating at her roar. Poor Gallagher. At least he'd stuck to screaming. A few of her more experienced officers had actually tried to attack their gargoyle coworkers. Tried being the operative word. There was a box full of crushed guns in her office. "She said she had to stop for coffee."
"Coffee?!" Maza was a good detective, and like all her good officers, got a certain amount of leeway. But this was pushing it.
"It's a long story, Captain." Detective Elisa Maza stepped into the chaos of the 23rd precinct, Matt and a lovely young purple gargess in medieval clothing behind her. All carried an array of boxes, topped with bags that wafted a delicious scent of Kona blend. "Okay, people. Get a cup. We're going to straighten this mess out."
Chavez blinked, but the sight before her didn't change. Maza and Bluestone. Human. "What happened to you?"
"Whoa," Matt breathed as he poured steaming brew into offered cups. A multicolored horde of wings and tails had gathered around him, uncaring that their fellow detective had somehow turned into a human. Cops didn't turn down free coffee, especially when it smelled this good. "Captain?"
"That's what she says," Gallagher said with a shiver.
Morgan growled low, a hint of glow building in dark eyes. "Would you relax, Gallagher? I keep telling you, something must have messed with your head. We've always been gargoyles." He cast a knowing smile toward the young gargess. "So. You the young lady Bluestone's been after?" Morgan looked over the reddening detective. "I see you caught him."
"Morgan!" A red flush climbed Matt's face.
"Yes. I did." His companion smiled, tail wrapped possessively around Matt's ankle. "I'm Angela."
Morgan shook offered talons. "He gives you any trouble, lady, just come to us."
Angela's smile turned mischievous. "That's all right. I'm sure my father can handle him."
Matt gulped. "I'm dead."
"Detective?" Gallagher pleaded.
"Just wait a minute, Gallagher," Elisa said confidently.
Maria took a deep sip. Nice. Not the most high-toned blend out there, but nice. "This had better be good, Detect-"
Something slammed into the back of her skull, burning like fire down her spine. Hazy memories suddenly blazed bright as sunlight; Maza's resigned face when Bluestone was assigned as her partner, surveying the rubble after that wild night atop the Eyrie Building, watching the sun rise on her first day as a uniformed officer-
Watching the sun rise.
Maria found herself on the floor, shaking. Bare feet were suddenly cold; a breeze from the air conditioning leaked chill through her torn blouse. Coffee etched a hot line down the side of her hand. Her human hand.
Only she knew what it was to have talons. To ride the wind, free as an urban falcon. She felt it lurking in the back of her mind; the strength, the power, the sheer, unbridled fury. "Oh god."
"Yeah." The same dark knowledge flickered in Maza's eyes; knife-keen awareness of what was there, if they just reached out a hand-
The swearing voices of a dozen-odd cops snapped Chavez back to reality. She got to unsteady feet, pushing the whisper of what it was to stand on three strong talons to the back of her mind. Gathered her people in with her gaze, willing them the confidence that was currently gibbering in the back of her mind.
Gargoyle, human, whatever she'd been in between - she was still the captain.
"Maza. Bluestone. Talk. And this had better be good."
Just a little longer, Nick Tatopoulos told himself firmly, leaning against the battered Solstice Tech SUV. Once Demona's fog had evaporated, it was clear most of the wreckage was cruel illusion; a twisted, magic-born reflection of the immortal gargoyle's deepest desires.
Most of it. But at least three of the buildings nearest Solstice Technologies had collapsed, and tight-lipped emergency workers were currently taking them apart looking for survivors.
One of the head firemen was currently facing down an equally strung-out redhead. "Look, lady," he snarled; Durand gleamed on his coat. "I've got four buildings down here, and nobody knows yet how many people were in them. I've got biohazards loose that we don't even know what they are, 'cause Solstice Tech's saying we're gonna try industrial espionage. I've got crews that're keeping it together with guts and grit, 'cause half of them swear the rest of us ought to have fangs. Unless you can get hold of a ten-story crane an' a court order, back off!"
"Not exactly," Dr. Elsie Chapman said wryly. "Randy? Mendel?"
The teenage hacker tossed back dreadlocks, turning his laptop toward the fireman. "Storeroom lists and the floorplans," Randy said, normally exuberant manner subdued by the smoldering wreckage. "If it went through Supplies, it's in here."
Durand scowled; though to be fair, the way his face was put together just wasn't friendly. "Do I want to know how you got that?"
A hint of a smirk stretched Randy's lips. "You want the truth?"
"Let me get back to you, kid. What's that?" Durand pointed at the blinking bundle of equipment in Mendel's arms.
"Toxin sniffer." The stocky roboticist shifted his load, blond ponytail sliding over the shoulder of his labcoat as he checked the digital readout. "It's not the best, but it should warn us if we hit a danger zone."
Elsie held up a sheaf of papers. "MSDS sheets for all the stuff Randy found, cross-checked with the safety precautions. And we have our own gear. We've already been in there, Chief."
Durand blew out a long breath. "All right," he sighed. "All right." He beckoned to two of his officers. "You stay with my people. If they say you don't go, you don't go. You hear me?"
"Crystal clear." Elsie nodded. "As for your crane... Nick?"
Closing his eyes, Nick reached for the warmth in his mind. Do you want to help?
A light, curious touch. A flicker of question. Agreement.
Amusement. Humans were fragile. Godzilla knew that.
Nick heard river water splash off scales, a sudden outburst of curses. He opened his eyes to a white-faced Durand, shaking in his overcoat. "What do you need moved?"
"Let me get this straight," Captain Chavez said skeptically. "Another of our city's less-than-moral multi-billionaires has a rogue geneticist make copies of gargoyle DNA from Guatemala..." She shook her head. "Guatemala?"
"We recognized some of the characteristics." Elisa spread empty hands. She couldn't blame the captain for being skeptical. Looking back on the past few years, there were times she hardly believed it herself.
In the back of her mind, she hoped Matt wasn't too uncomfortable with his wings tucked under his trenchcoat. Between Demona's misfired spell, the ceasg cup, and H.E.A.T.'s apparently savage resistance to magic of all kinds, her partner had ended up kind of... stuck. On the plus side, there didn't seem to be nearly as much gargoyle mixed in his DNA. Downside was, what there was didn't seem to want to go away.
Hide, Elisa corrected herself grimly. She'd been human again for less than three hours, and she could already feel her other form... itching at her. Wanting out. Wanting to curl talons, bare fangs, spread wings to the wind. Matt might be rattled by what he was, but he didn't have that tangle of wanting in the back of his mind.
And he had Angela.
Man, I don't even want to think about what Goliath's going to do when he gets back.
Not to mention what the Trio would do. For months they'd been quietly and not-so-quietly competing for Angela's choice. Finding out they'd been beaten to the punch by a guy they'd never really considered as serious competition...
Kevlar, Matt. When they get back here, you're going to wear that vest if I have to sew it onto you.
And that didn't even bring up the whole mess of her and Goliath - what their relationship was. And wasn't.
Just give me a week, Maza prayed. Just let Mom and Dad keep them out in Arizona for the rest of the week.
"Okay," the captain said slowly. "This DNA accidentally gets mixed with artificial cell organelles, which then get used in a spell-" Chavez rubbed aching temples. "By another gargoyle, who's a human by daylight, who just happens to hate humans like most of us hate child porno."
The captain snarled something that burned Elisa's ears. "Do you have evidence?"
Matt tapped the boxes. "Solstice Tech hard drives. H.E.A.T.'s analysis. And the Ghostbusters are going to give us sworn testimony. It ought to be a slam-dunk case." But a note of doubt lingered in his voice.
Chavez stifled another curse. "Right," she said instead. She drew a deep breath. "Get the word out through Dispatch for everyone to get a long drink of water. I'll talk to the state attorney's office." Her glare swept the room, touched with a hint of angry ruby. "No one does this to my people and gets away with it."
"Um." Gallagher swallowed, watching the captain stalk barefoot back to her office. One hand waved near his eyes. "Did anyone else see-?"
"Guess we're going to have to get used to that." Matt pulled his overcoat a little closer around him. "I'm just wondering how we're going to file the charges. I mean, involuntary genetic manipulation. What do we put that down as; assault, aggravated assault, or attempted murder?"
"And is the NAACP going to file a case?" Morgan threw in. The older cop was still glancing at his hands, as if they might turn emerald and four-fingered again without warning. "After all, look at all the new members we could pick up."
"Funny, Morgan. Very funny."
"We've got a live one!"
Huddled in his coat, Nick leaned against the cool steel of the firetruck, only half-listening to the tense words as workers pulled out another shell-shocked survivor. The chill eased the ache in his head.
A rustic of vanilla beside him; a surreptitious hand testing his forehead for fever. Elsie. "You okay?"
"Tired." Not just him. Godzilla had been up and moving since this whole mess started. Even a two-hundred-foot lizard could wear himself out. Add that to the images that kept flashing into his mind from another pair of eyes- "Tell Randy to get out of that rebar pile. It's not stable."
Warm hand on his shoulder, somehow seeping in strength. "Mendel will retrieve him," Monique stated. He heard her turn away. "Tell the foreman Godzilla is leaving."
"Right." Quick footsteps away.
"Monique," Nick protested. Twisted steel screamed silent against the rising dawn, horror rising out of what could all too easily be a mass grave.
"Enough," the French agent said sternly. "Resisting Demona's spell stole strength from us all. If you cannot persist, he should not." Dark eyes met dazed blue; a pale hand poised over sensitive nerve clusters. "Enough."
The biologist smiled tiredly. "You fight dirty."
A dark brow arched. "As you Americans say, I learned from the best." Her head tilted, expectant.
Sighing, Nick reached out to that other mind. Time to go.
Relief echoed back. Massive talons picked their way clear of the wreckage, stepping so light Nick barely felt the vibration. The human's small cars were no problem, but wailing sirens were painful.
Warmth. A tickle of amusement. Digging was fun. Especially when no one was shooting at him.
Always a good thing, Nick thought wryly. Monique's shoulder was a good thing to lean on while he figured out which way was up. Not easy, when half your mind was currently swimming down the Harlem, heading for a cave under New York Harbor...
Nick blinked at Durand. Soot streaked his coveralls and lack of sleep darkened rings under his eyes, but the fireman looked more relaxed than he'd been since H.E.A.T. showed up. "Yes?"
A grin split the face under the yellow helmet, and the man held out a hand. "Tommy Durand. How'd you teach that lizard to dig?"
Confused, Nick shook it. "I... didn't have to. It's a natural behavior. He's dug me out a few times."
"Something else." Durand whistled. "We've got to talk-"
"Reporters," Monique cut in quietly.
"Oh, no." Nick shook his head in exhausted denial. Brighter lights than the rescue spotlights were shining on the wreckage now; he could hear news helicopters closing in. And with his luck, one of them would be Audrey. "No. I can't."
Headlights snapped on behind him; Mendel poked his head out the SUV's window. "Did someone call a cab?"
"Depends." Nick lifted a brow as he climbed in the crowbar-torn back door. Demona's lightning bolts had effectively welded all the passenger doors shut. "This line run to Staten Island?"
"If you got the fare, we'll get you there," Randy grinned.
Mendel rolled his eyes. "Spare me."
A black and red helicopter touched down on top of the Eyrie Building, the first hours of morning gleaming off its blades. A pair of Xanatos Enterprises' senior VPs braced themselves against the rotor breeze, grim as men awaiting their own execution.
The VP in charge of overall operations drew a deep, diesel-tainted breath. "I still say you should tell him."
The slighter VP (Acquisitions) shook his head, gripping his briefcase as the Xanatos family disembarked; Owen Burnett carrying packages from Tokyo, Fox cooing over her redheaded son. "You're senior."
"By two months!" Operations objected.
"I'm not telling him," Acquisitions said firmly.
"You're not getting out of this."
Acquisitions sighed. "Good news/bad news?"
"Works for me."
"Gentlemen." David Xanatos looked over two of his topmost men, taking in their braced expressions. "I take it something unexpected occurred during our flight back from Japan?"
Acquisitions drew a deep breath. "The good news is, we are now in a position to acquire major portions of Nightstone Industries and possibly the entirety of Solstice Technologies."
"If there's anything left after the government gets through," Operations muttered.
The multi-billionaire blinked. "Really. And the bad news?"
Operations' turn to suck oxygen from the atmosphere. "Frankly, sir... " He handed over the folder of screenshots from the building security cameras. The winged, clawed, fanged screenshots.
"...We've had some personnel problems."