LNH: Hungry, Hungry Sabertooths #41: "The Empress's Gambit"

Drew Nilium pwerdna at gmail.com
Thu Jun 3 21:15:31 PDT 2021

Issue #41: "The Empress's Gambit"
A tale of valor among thieves


"Crime Empress! How good to make your acquaintance." The figure in the hideous
plaid armor spread their hands, gesturing at the assemblage of oddities who had
managed to infiltrate the West Coast Brotherhood's base without the Crime
Empress noticing. "May I introduce Phantom Weirdo, the Compuwarlock, the
Psychic Crustacean, the Android Barbarian, the Living Bee, Super Eyeball, and
of course myself, Erik the Plaid - the Midwest Brotherhood of Net.Villains!"

For the first time in years, the Crime Empress had been taken by surprise. She
had no idea how they had managed to get into the base. She had no idea what had
happened to Lucky Chain Letter Lucy.

But she damn well knew what she was going to do about it. She placed her hand
delicately on the armrest of her throne. "You have the best of me; I didn't
know there *was* a Midwest Brotherhood of Net.Villains." Her finger located the
subtly-hidden emergency button, pressed it. She'd held three agents back from
the attack on the East Coasters - Far.net.heit 451, Phoenix Down and Demented
Designer; and now, they were on their way. Sometimes paranoia paid off.

"Well, that was the point, wasn't it?" She noticed the Compuwarlock and the
Psychic Crustacean subtly moving outwards from their leader - planning to flank
her. "Two Brotherhoods full of cunning, intelligent people are hard to subvert.
You have to be subtle, thorough."

"Flattery will get you nowhere." Their goal was to kill her. Or imprison her,
she supposed, if they were the kind of net.villain who played by the quainter
rules in the net.hero game. Either way, they couldn't let her go. Seizing the
base wouldn't seize her powerbase; that was spread all across the world, now, a
web of allies that they must know about. And there was one thing they could
only seize from her person - the CRIME Hat, an ancient object of great spiritual
significance. No, this fight was to the end.

Now the Phantom Weirdo and the Android Barbarian were moving forward, trying to
drive her left, right, back; trying to force her to make a move in a chess game
where she wasn't a queen, just a cornered king. But she wasn't playing chess.
Not in two dimensions, anyway.

The Crime Empress turned and placed herself back on her throne, her back to
Erik the Plaid. She watched the Compuwarlock and the Psychic Crustacean move
in, and reflected on how, in this business, you couldn't judge by names.

"Giving up already?" she heard Erik say.

"Just giving you a chance to throw yourself at my feet." Twenty-two, twenty-
three, twenty-four...

"Kinky! But you're not my type."

"Your funeral, dear, we could've had something beautiful." Twenty-eight, twenty-
nine, thirty! As the armored Midwesterners closed in on her the throne
dropped to the floor, just as it was programmed to do thirty seconds after
pressing the emergency button - something that she'd installed with her own two
hands, without a single member of her team knowing she'd done it. Sometimes
paranoia *really* paid off.

The Crime Empress rolled away from her throne and into the maze of crawlspaces
between the throne room and the room beneath. This wasn't something she'd
installed out of paranoia, it'd already been here - but taking advantage of
opportunities *always* paid off.

Still, she didn't have long - they'd rip up the floors just to get at her. She
was cornered, unprepared, and - for the moment - alone. She had only one choice.

The Crime Empress was going to have to actually use her powers.

She preferred not to, simply because they were so unpredictable, based on the
ever-mutating patterns that appeared at the boundary of the legal and illegal
sides of the internet, the techniques that spammers, scammers, and virus-
spreaders used to get past the immune systems of your average user system. But
that very unpredictability was an invaluable ace up her sleeve; even an enemy
that'd seen the Crime Empress in action couldn't predict what she was going to
pull out in the next battle.

She closed her eyes, turned her gaze inward, looked at the depths of her viral

Ah, of course. There was only one virus people were worried about right now. So
be it.


As soon as the Crime Empress disappeared, Erik the Plaid ordered the Midwest
Brotherhood to spread out, checking all likely routes of escape.

The Compuwarlock was out in the hallway, crouched on the floor, tapping the
boards, trying to find someplace that sounded hollow. Tap, tap, tap... tap, tap,
tap... tap, tap, thunk! A--

He didn't even have time to get to the "--ha".

The Psychic Crustacean picked up a flare of panic - then, the sinking mist of
unconsciousness. His antennae blazed with uncanny energy as he charged down the
hallway to where the Compuwarlock had been-- nothing.

He stretched his psionic powers to the utmost, searching for the Empress,
knowing she couldn't have gone far--

And she hadn't.

The Android Barbarian stood on guard outside the throne room, blade drawn,
digital gaze scanning his surroundings. Not a single foe could stand 'gainst
his mighty thews, and his positronic brain analyzed all possible outcomes based
on a library of accumulated data.

But something not in his library could easily take him by surprise...

"Hasta la vistaaaaaaa..."

In the throne room, Erik the Plaid stood, gazing off into the distance,
muttering something into a radio. "Yeah. Okay. Wait for your moment, don't push
it. Thanks, dear."

The subtlest scrape behind them. "Gotta go," they muttered, and whirled, taking
a step back - as great claws swished thru the space they had been occupying not
half a second ago.

There, standing before them, was an enormous, muscular anthropomorphic
sabertooth, wearing a stretched and torn black sequin dress and a large top hat
with the word "CRIME" written on it. "Going to throw yourself at my feet now,
dear?" said the Crime Empress.

"Not going to say I'm not impressed," said Erik, dancing backwards, to the side,
rolling under the huge table and popping up on the other side, "but I prefer to
be on top."

"As I said," said the Crime Empress, raising her enormous fists, "your funeral."
She SLAMMED! them down on the table. The sturdy wood cracked down the middle,
collapsing with a thunderous rumble, and she leapt over the remains, claws out.

Erik just barely managed to dodge, spinning out of the way, turning it into a
flat-out run towards the nearest doorway.

The Crime Empress chased them down the hall, her long, powerful feline legs
giving her a distinct advantage - up to the moment Erik leapt thru a side door,
and she had to cancel her momentum, giving them precious seconds to disappear.

She let the rage quell and let the cunning hunter rise. She stepped thru the
door - into the training facility, another inheritance from the base's previous
owners. They had no Peril Room technology, but there were plenty of sparring
mats, training dummies, and obstacle course supplies. But the room was
disorganized, pieces of course scattered around, making it into an aimless maze.

That was the problem with being the strongest - you became complacent. Once
these interlopers were dealt with, things would be different. The entire base
would be reorganized to needs of the West Coast Brotherhood. There would be
regular, scheduled training sessions for every member. All of them would become
as disciplined, as focused as the Crime Empress was. And she would find - and
destroy - the traitor in their ranks.

But that was for the future. Now, there was nothing but the hunt. She raised
her head, nostrils flaring, keen ears swiveling, senses lit up with the fine
details of the room, the trails of dust falling across sunbeams, the sharp
shadows of plywood walls, the gurgle of the plumbing somewhere far away...

The scuff of a boot! The Crime Empress leapt, tearing thru plywood like paper,
knocking down the helpless fool on the other side, raking her claws across...

...a dummy?

The next sensation she became conscious of was cool air against her scalp-- the
CRIME Hat was gone!

She spun, claws out, to see who had taken it - and for a record-breaking second
time in a single day, was taken by surprise.

Pulling herself up into the rafters, placing the CRIME Hat on her head, was her
most trusted agent, her right-hand woman, her favorite - Lucky Chain Letter


Drew "au revior, cherie" Nilium

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