--Chapter Ten: The Art of the Narrow Escape
Every superhero has a weakness. For Superman, it was Kryptonite. For Pants Man... vodka cooler. Once intoxicated, Toronto’s hero would revert to Peter Pantsless, a helpless, raving party maniac. Fortunately, the effect of this alcoholic beverage would wear off over time, though for a more premature effect, certain shocks to the system could—
“AAAAAAAH! IT BURNS!”
—well, could do that, for one.
Pants Man looked in a direction he thought was up, though he quickly realized that since he was hanging upside down from a chandelier, he was in fact facing a marble floor.
The Commissioner, standing below the chandelier with a pot of coffee, looked sideways at the brown liquid. “But you haven’t even drunk any yet...”
Pants Man realized what had happened. He knew about his weakness ever since the last Police Office Party, on New Year’s Eve. He also knew that he snapped out of it with the smell of morning coffee.
“The vapors are a start...” said Pants Man. “But let’s have with that cup for good measure.”
(Commissioner pours a cup and hands it to Pants Man, who drinks. The theme from Popeye the Sailor Man plays in the background for no reason whatsoever.)
Pants Man: That’s more like it! (lowers himself gracefully to the ground on a series of belts hung from the chandelier) Sorry everyone here had to see that... Did you get the mayor and Krug?
Commissioner: (climbing down the ladder) The mayor’s fine, and we killed all the furry guys we could find, but I’m afraid there’s no sign of Krug. We were wondering if you’d care to show us where and how you left him.
Pants Man: (walks through the office door) Well he was right in... (the room is empty, the chain link broken from the desk leg) ...here...
Pants Man walked cautiously into the room, noting that none of the windows were broken, so Krug could not have left that way.
Then he saw it: underneath the desk was a trap door, open. It led to a tunnel just barely big enough for Krug to crawl through. Pants Man noted a few discarded red hairs where Krug had scraped the sides during his escape.
“This is probably how he got in here to begin with, too,” the superhero observed. As the police came into the room, he said to them, “I’m going to check out this tunnel alone. Best if no one else comes; it’s probably a trap. If there’s a tunnel here, though, then there had to be one back at police headquarters, too. See if you guys can find that. And keep a few guards at the entrance here in case Krug decides to return.”
The Commissioner nodded and signaled all but three of the officers to leave the room.
“LEO!” Aeris yelled into a blank space where the gray cat had been a second earlier.
“Oh, shut up,” said the hero sprite, waving his sword triumphantly. “He was bad data and deserved to die. Speaking of which, you’re next, Pinkie.”
He swung the sword again, but Aeris ducked and rolled to the side. Without a weapon, she was unsure how to fight this hero, but as luck would have it, the hero’s pixel sword had enough momentum in the swing so that it flew a little farther than the sprite may have wanted. Aeris took the opportunity to claw both his face and exposed left arm—thanking in her mind the makers of whatever game this was that they did not design a hero with body armor.
The hero yelled in pain, but he hung onto the sword with his right hand. Aeris looked to her right while he backed up for a few recovery breaths. There were several meters at the top of the screen, one of which indicated the hero’s health status. It was a quarter full. With one well timed hit, she could—
She dodged the sword a second time and now aimed low when she countered his move. One massive clawing of the hero’s midsection, and the sprite disappeared.
He had been in the middle of a third swipe, though, and when the sword came around to Aeris, she had to leap this time to get out of the way...
Krug crawled out of the tunnel and back into his lair, onto the metal balcony next to the mainframe computer. His plan, he knew, had failed. But that was why any competent villain had a Plan B, after all. Dr. Doe had laid it all out in the instruction book, so all the monster could do was to follow the directions and hope for the best.
First, though, he would have to destroy his escape tunnel. The Deus Ex Machine would have come in handy here, but a convenient substitute, a wall lever marked “Tunnel Collapse,” did the job just peachy. It set off a chain reaction of explosions in the tunnel. Certainly, nobody could enter the hole after it had been destroyed. Plus, any pursuers right now inside the tunnel would surely die in the implosion.
Pants Man was about a kilometer into the tunnel, though the lack of distance markers in the crawlspace made that impossible to tell. Krug couldn’t have made this overnight, he thought. This was a very well-planned operation. He crawled quickly, knowing that time was of the essence in catching the monster, using his emergency flashlight to make his way a bit easier.
He thought of his cats. If they had found Krug’s hideout by now, they would be more helpful by telling the police about it than by telling Pants Man. Still, Pants Man could relay any message they gave, so should they deliver the location, it would still help greatly.
About two kilometers in, Pants Man heard the rumble behind him. He looked back, and at first could not see anything. But he knew soon enough that he would have to crawl much faster in order to get out of the tunnel alive; the rumble got a little bit closer with each passing second.
Pants Man rushed as quickly as he could, putting his flashlight away so that his hand was free to grasp at the dirt to pull himself along.
He saw a light ahead: he was almost to the end of the tunnel. If he could make it just a little further...
Krug flipped a second switch on the other side of the mainframe computer, collapsing the tunnel to police headquarters. With his back to the computer, he cupped a hand to his left ear and listened for the sound of the tunnel collapsing.
He did not see Aeris as she popped out of the computer screen and landed on the balcony, though he subconsciously thought a “clunk” was an odd sound for dirt walls caving in.
Aeris did not realize how high she had jumped to avoid the sword until she stood up on all fours, positioned in front of the computer but facing away from it. The cat was once again her normal size and shape.
To her left was Dr. Van Kruglor, hand still cupped face still turned to the far wall, but if he were to turn around, she could only imagine what would happen. He had been nice to Furry Ones before, but his actions lately demonstrated anything but predictable behavior, so there was always a risk of him losing his friendliness toward “kitties.”
A tiny bolt hit Aeris from above, and she looked up. Leo waved at her from an overhead metal rafter. As joyed as she was to see her companion alive, Aeris made as little noise as possible while she pounced and climbed up the computer to reach him.
When both cats were on the rafter together, Aeris whispered, “I thought you were dead there...”
“Nah,” Leo whispered back. “Pants Man said we couldn’t be killed online, remember? I just got booted out of the system. Did you die, too?”
“No, I just jumped.”
Before they could say anything else, though, the whole room shook as the first tunnel completed its collapse. The cats looked instinctively to the source of the jackhammer-like noise, not knowing what was happening but wanting to see, anyway.
A very dirty Pants Man tumbled out and rolled toward the computer, and just in the nick of time, because seconds after he had done this, a great stream of dirt and dust entered the room, clearing moments later to reveal the tunnel closed forever.
Krug turned to look at Pants Man and said, “Ah, Panty Head Man... You had advantage last time with Deus Ex Doohickey. This is no longer the case, yes?”
Pants Man, breathing heavily from his escape, did not answer. Krug nodded and stepped toward him. He waited there in suspenseful silence until the second tunnel was entirely gone.
Van Kruglor: So. Fleshy One is now without powerful weapon. (brandishes a spork from an inner coat pocket) Now that you have penetrated Krug secret laboratory, you must pay. (ominous, stepping toward Pants Man once) And Krug only know one way to make Fleshy One pay... Computer!
Computer: Yes, Master?
Van Kruglor: Give me Dr. Doe’s Completely Random Patented Jetson propelled escape pod!
(A hovering car, like the ones in The Jetsons, floats down from the ceiling and rests next to the railing, near the corner where the catwalk across the room meets the computer balcony.)
Van Kruglor: Good. And now... Computer!
Computer: (annoyed) What now?
Van Kruglor: Activate five-minute laboratory self destruct sequence!
Computer and Pants Man in unison: What the fuck?!
Van Kruglor: (jumps in the car) It all according to Dr. Doe book, you see. If Hero find lair, villain must flee or else face certain stereotypical demise. And so... I flee!
(And with that, he takes off, flying to the door on the other side of the catwalk, opening it, and closing it with a loud bang. Without warning, a steel partition slams itself down in front of the door, sealing the others in.)
Pants Man: (to the Computer) You’re not seriously going to follow that command, are you?
Computer: Y’know... Why the hell not? Maybe I’ll meet smarter beings in the digital afterlife. (a timer starts ticking on the monitor, from 5:00 counting down)
(Aeris and Leo jump from the rafter and land on their feet in front of Pants Man.)
Pants Man: (looking down at them) You—oh man... I’m sorry, I didn’t think Krug would do that.
Leo: Neither did we, but at least we can escape through the computer.
Computer: Fat chance, Fluffy. I’m dying here, and I’m taking you with me!
Pants Man: (rolling up his sleeves) Looks like it’s time for some hacking... (he touches the computer and gets a large electric shock) OW!
Computer: Wouldn’t try that again if I were you.
Aeris: What about me?
Computer: What about you, Pinkie?
Aeris: (smug) Don’t talk to me like that. I just owned you at your own game, noob.
Computer: (brief pause) What did you call me?
Computer: (Imagine a computer voice speaking with its teeth clenched. Yeah, that’s what this sounded like.) Oh no you didn’t...
Aeris: (who has real teeth to clench and is making use of them thusly) If you heard it, I said it!
Computer: (brings up a battle screen with the Hero and an Aeris sprite) Okay, bitch. Rematch time. If you win, you and your friends go free.
(Aeris looks at the timer. It is at 3:28, still ticking.)
Aeris: And the clock?
Computer: All part of the game. I’m waiting...
(Aeris jumps on the keypad and gets a minor shock.)
Pants Man: Hey, Aeris! You don’t have to do this. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier, but we can all get out on my cell phone. It connects to the Internet—
Computer: Ha! Try it, and I’ll send your precious cell a power surge it’ll never have time to forget before it explodes! Besides... (the Hero sprite approaches Aeris’s character on the screen) this is personal.
Aeris set to battling the computer one on one. Leo and Pants Man debated what they should do for the next three minutes, and after about twenty seconds, they reached the following conclusion: Pants Man would setup a connection with his cell phone so that, if and when the time came when they would be allowed to escape, they could do so in a minimum amount of time.
Leo, meanwhile, made use of himself by searching the room for anything obvious, such as a plug to pull or a secret exit. He found none of these, but he did come across a discarded book beside the vats on the floor below. Krug had apparently dropped this book from one of his pockets when he jumped in the escape vehicle. The cover read, Recipe for Diabolical Monstrosities, by Dr. Daniel Doe. Leo picked this up with his mouth and hopped back up the staircase to the computer.
When he saw Aeris and the machine in battle, though, he stopped in his tracks, opened his eyes as wide as they would go, and dropped the book to gasp in surprise.
The computer was shocking Aeris multiple times, but she, in turn, was relentlessly pounding on the computer’s keys. It didn’t even matter what the characters were doing on the screen, since the fighting game was an obvious button masher. Anyway, the real world battle of cat vs. machine was much more fun to watch.
Computer: THAT ALL YA GOT, BITCH? (shocks Aeris five times)
Aeris: (pressing random keys with furious speed) I HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED TO FIGHT! I’M JUST ROUGH-HOUSING! (pounds several keys at once)
Computer: (still shocking) HA! ROUGH? DADDY LIKES IT ROUGH!
Aeris: (still pounding, her hairs sticking up from all the shocks) WHY WON’T YOU SHUT UP AND DIE ALREADY!
Computer: (by now, covered in a visible electric field, about to overload) WHY DON’T YOU SHUT UP AND TAKE IT LIKE A BITCH ALREADY!
Aeris: (jumping, a new syllable with every pounce) I—DON’T—TAKE—IT—I—DISH—IT—OUT!
Computer: YEAH RIGHT! YOU TALK TOUGH, BUT YOU’RE JUST A PUSSY!
Aeris: GUESS I JUST GOTTA HIT HARDER THEN!
(Aeris leaps and comes down hard.)
Aeris: (jump) HARDER!
Aeris: (jump) HARD- (jump) ER!
Computer: FUCK YES!
(After a few seconds, the computer overloads its circuits and partly explodes, knocking Aeris off. She lands on the ground below while the machine smokes, voiceless now. Her hairs are still all on end. Leo, right in front of her, opens his mouth wider as if to say something.)
Aeris: (breathing very hard, her on-end hairs still sending miniature lightning bolts between each other) Not. One. Word.
(Leo snaps his mouth shut, into an anime feline smile that resembles a “3” lying on its back.)
Leo: (speaking very softly and quickly, against his better judgment) So was it better for you or him?
Aeris: GAAAAAAH! (raises her front claws and opens her mouth ferociously, about to strike)
Pants Man: GUYS! Stop it! We only have twenty seconds left!
The cats looked up toward the computer. Sure enough, even though no voice remained in the damaged system, the clock was still counting down.
Leo picked up the book he had dropped, and then he and the others rushed into Pants Man’s cell phone and got out of the area as quickly as possible.
(Closeup of Krug’s right eye, camera slowly panning out away from him.)
Van Kruglor: It very unfortunate that Krug lose his book... and that Fleshy Ones kill all of Krug furry friends. (the camera pan is such that now Krug’s whole face is visible) Dr. Van Kruglor will have his revenge, though! If Pants Person survives, Krug will find way to thwart him! (the rest of the interior of the escape vehicle is now visible) No matter how many Fleshy Ones Krug must kill, Krug will one day be King of All! And all people will praise Krug and bow before him! (the camera now shows that the entire craft is floating in water) And they will all want to be eaten and Krug will eat them and be happy! It will happen! MUHOOHAHAHA!!! (full scene now visible: Krug is in the middle of a lake in some part of the Canadian wilderness. A moose is quietly drinking next to the apparently crash-landed vehicle. Krug then speaks, in a calm but confused voice, to the moose.) Of course, first Krug must find out where Krug is. You, Big Furry One: do you know nearest way to get to a new secret hideout? Because Krug could sure use one right now. (the moose grunts and walks away; Krug lowers his head in despair) Nuts.
(Days later, Leo and Aeris are playing on the Gamecube. Camera angle is on the floor, looking at the cats’ faces, so the television is not in view.)
Leo: (after several seconds of deadpan silence, excepting the sounds of the game) Still don’t want to talk about it?
Aeris: (after a pause, in nonchalant voice) It was great, and I’d do it again, except, of course, the computer’s dead, so you’re the only alternative. And we both know you’re neutered.
Leo: (as the game plays a discouraging “Game Over” sound) Ouch.
(At this same time, in the kitchen, Pants Man is on the phone with the Commissioner.)
Commissioner: That book you picked up seems to have all the info we need to solve this case; Dr. Daniel Doe has been on our Wanted list for years, though we never knew him capable of such a large monstrosity as Krug. If what he writes is true, and he really did plan his own death, then frankly, that’s one person I don’t miss all that much. Krug, however, as we both know, is still loose. His future plots are as likely to be against you, personally, as they are against the city, so I’d encourage you to watch your back, and I’d especially recommend moving to a new apartment. I’ll find you one on the other side of town, make it the same rent and similar size, okay?
Pants Man: Sounds good.
Commissioner: Thank you for all your work in stopping this monster. Even though I’m still kinda sore about you keeping Krug at your home in the first place, you really pulled through. Look, I have to go now. Police work to attend to, and thankfully, it’s the usual stuff this time. Take care, and keep on making our city a safer place.
Pants Man: I’m touched, dude. Usually you’re all crotchety and irritable... There has to be something else that’s making you happy right now.
Commissioner: Well, if you must know, we got rid of the pink iMacs today.
Pants Man: And?
Commissioner: And the new ones run Linux.
Pants Man: (laughs) A nerd like you would be happy about that.
Commissioner: I am. Never you mind that, though. I’m sure you have work to do, too.
Pants Man: Of course. Lots of stuff.
Commissioner: Then I’m off for now. Goodbye, and keep that squirt gun smokin’.
Pants Man: Bye. (hangs up the phone and walks into the living room with the cats) So... (sits down cross-legged between them and grabs a controller) Room for one more?