| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Villains & Vigilantes | The Revolution | Story So Far | Pride |





    "It is no longer safe, mute uniforms."
    "Times Crossword Puzzle," Larry said suddenly, after a few more moments in which we all puzzled, trying various combinations of the words and wondering where, if anywhere, a comma was supposed to go that might help it make more sense. "Write out safe mute uniforms." There were sixteen letters, whatever that meant. "It's not that any longer."
    "Not sixteen?" Scott asked.
    "No, not safe mute uniforms."
    "An anagram?" I groaned.
    "I would guess, that's how the Times Crossword works. Must have taken him forever."
    "Do you know how many words you could get out of 'safe mute uniforms?' We could do this all day," I sighed.
    "Give me a second," Scott told us. "Museum of Fine Arts," he informed us a minute later.
    "I was really kind of hoping that he wouldn't," I shook my head with a sigh. "Shall we? He'll probably be very disappointed if we don't show up." I couldn't fathom why Felix would be doing this, but then I've never understood the way they all think.
    "Excuse me?" a confused Privateer spoke up. "Why treat him any differently than any other theme villain?"
    "He's kind of a friend," I replied.
    "Because if Phoenix slams him into the ceiling with a hoverbike I'm going to tragically kick Phoenix's ass," Scott added, lunging out of the room.
    "I doubt Phoenix is capable of doing that."
    "Look at it this way," a grave-looking Larry explained to our guest. "If you were to discover that a drug addict friend of yours had started taking drugs again, would you pummel them unconscious? They simply could no longer resist?"
    Privateer seemed willing to accept that. "What do we know of his methods?"
    "We'll explain on the way," I suggested.

[Aside: Scott]

    We caught up to Scott in time to see him fog his way into the building; the rest of us had to go around to the main entrance and move a couple of security guards who didn't seem to understand that we were there on business. Phoenix Talon went up to the roof to get a view from there and to be ready in case the possibly-Sphinx tried to get away that way, and the rest of us headed for the Egyptian wing.
    We came face to face with a man in a lion-mask as he emerged from a smoke-filled room. I put up a shield automatically. After Javelin and Poughkeepsie, I don't think I'll ever trust smoke to be harmless. Some of the gas was cohering oddly near the ceiling, suggesting Scott's presence. The man we faced was carrying an odd-looking weapon later identified for me as a kopesh. Sort of a large sickle.
    "I see you've decided to accept my fair challenge," he said. "So have you, and so be it."
    I took a look at his aura; I had a vague idea of what to expect from Felix, although I'd never scanned him. What I found was nothing.
    "Hm. No aura. Scott, poke him, see if he's there?" His pseudopod went through the hologram. "Shall we split up?"
    There were four ways to go; the MFA is arranged as something of a maze, to make the most of the space and to encourage wandering among the exhibits. Lots of doors and connecting halls, but it's often difficult to figure out quite where you are.

[Aside: Others]

    I took the center-left passage, relying mostly on aura-sight at this point, past a collection of spears and archeologists' guesses at what charioteers in battle might have looked like. Some of them were carrying the same odd weapon. I turned a corner and saw him standing in front of me, laughing.
    "Come on, come on!" he challenged.
    Nothing there. This was getting irritating. I walked through it and felt something crunch under my foot. Gas billowed out. I pushed the air away for an instant, held my breath and ran. Found nothing further.
    "What is that music?" Sparky's voice drifted over the intercom as we were reconvening. He coughed. "Some kind of narcoleptic gas."
    "Want to come down here and tell me what's been stolen?" Scott asked him.
    "Yeah, let me grab the—stolen? Oh, no! J.T.'s gonna kill me."
    "I'll call him."
    "But I told him I could handle this, I figured, what could happen?"
    "Can I play the recording of that back for J.T.?"
    Scott called the head man. "So, I needed to talk to you about that formerly complete collection of artifacts from the Indian Ocean?"
    J. T. sighed. "Sparky, Sparky, Sparky.... I'm on my way."
    Phoenix Talon showed up, covered in mud and smelling like worse, and was directed to the shower employees used. We all shared reports, which boiled down to a lot of holograms and the villain getting away slightly damaged, and a new riddle. Scott called Reilly in case anyone had reported a flying chariot, and I went out to check the area in case it had crashed in the nearby streets, but there were no signs. Talon had to go to the hospital to get his shots updated.
    "If it was Felix, I can't see him not using the staff," Scott remarked. "Especially if he was falling back into it, I just can't see him not using the staff. Besides which, the amount he could have tried to kick our asses with that staff would have been tragic."
    "What did he steal?" I asked.
    "I'm waiting for Sparky and J.T. to give me the list."
    The most important missing item had been labeled the Bracelet of Desert Storms, which was what this Sphinx had used to lightning-bolt Phoenix Talon. A variety of smaller items were gone as well, most of which the Mariners hadn't any idea what they did, and Felix had told them not to touch them. Given what we'd seen so far, experimentation didn't seem like a good idea with this stuff. The kopesh had not been part of the collection.
    "I believe we have a riddle?" Privateer observed.
    "Yes. J.T., do you read Greek?" Scott asked.
    "Of course."
    "Hand me the manifest a second. And a pen." He copied out the symbols Felix had used on the version at K. Robeson.
    "It's in code," J.T. told him.
    "I was kind of assuming it was, but I don't read Greek, so I really couldn't get anywhere with it."
    "I'll see what I can do. He was keeping this on his computer?"
    "Yes. Somebody broke in and erased the files."
    "Well, that's suspicious. Perhaps someone who would come and rob this facility? Why would he break into his own offices?"
    "Well, it might be wishful thinking, but I'm thinking it's not necessarily him."
    "He might be trying to make it look like someone else. Though this seems a little crudely carried off; maybe it's just me," I shrugged.
    "I'm not thinking 'crude,'" Scott commented, looking around at the elaborate setup and the clean getaway.
    "I'd hate to think what he'd do if he planned it," Thunderbolt muttered.
    "Okay, crude isn't the right word.... It probably is wishful thinking."
    "I think what you're reaching for is 'lacking in a certain sense of style?'" Scott offered.
    "Yeah. Which I don't have any of myself, but can recognize in others. So, another riddle, huh?"
    We returned to base and pondered the possible meanings of "You'll find me next among those who fear death by water. Hate them? Some of my best friends!"

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson