The wistful smile had returned as Wuju spoke of wondering about his counterpart.
"There but for the grace of God..." I suggested.
Wuju shook his head. "I don't know. Somehow, I just can't imagine the difference between me and him coming down to one single turning point. Especially one as trivial as Tina Clark. I mean, I've had my heart seriously broken by experts, but I never turned into a megalomaniac."
Still, the idea intrigued me. I wondered, not for the first time since Wuju had begun his narrative, what my own Mirrorverse counterpart was like. Was he good or evil, or was he just someone like the rest of us, trying to get by the best way he knew how? Was he happy? Was he successful? Did he like what he saw when he looked in the mirror?
Wuju was still talking -- thinking out loud, really -- about his own double. "I dunno. Maybe it's just a psychological defense mechanism to put distance between me and the other Woo-Julanski, but I can't help thinking that there had to be something more wrong with him than just getting laughed at by some girl. It's like he had a head full of bad chemicals to start out with and the Tina Clark incident was just a catalyst. Or better yet, maybe it was his dealings with The Bird that made him so twisted."
I was about to point out some of the ruder actions he'd committed while impersonating the evil Woo-Julanski, but he beat me to the punch: "If that's the case, then how do I account for abusing senior citizens in street and torturing news reporters?" he wondered.
"I dunno either," he finally admitted. "Gimme another drink, will you?"
I filled his empty glass again.
The territory surrounding The Bird's mountain was essentially a huge military base. Armed guards in ironclad towers scanned the grounds for possible intruders and high barbed-wire fences hummed with the lethal voltage within. A squadron of dragons flying in formation roared overhead on their way to their base around the other side of the mountain.
Silently, the Tweedles fell into step ahead of us and marched toward the main gates. Dozens of security cameras, both hidden and in plain sight, scrutinized us before we got within a hundred yards of the first living sentries. One of the guards at the gate was a walrus in a black SOB uniform, and the other was a man I recognized from one of my classes on the other side of the looking glass.
The guards and the Tweedles exchanged silent salutes, then the gates rolled open to let us into the complex. The SOBs respectfully covered their eyes as Jack and I marched past them.
The base was eerily quiet except for the rhythmic marching of human and not-so human troops and the occasional gust of dragon or griffin wings overhead.
A shot rang out and a uniformed weasel fell at our feet from a rooftop. On an opposite rooftop, another SOB, this one a French Poodle, holstered her sidearm and saluted me.
"Salute back," whispered Jack.
"What was that all about?" I whispered back as I followed his directions. When I uncovered my eyes, the poodle was gone.
"One of your spotters just saved your life. You owe her a bonus," Jack explained in a hushed voice as he stepped over the dead weasel.
"The most common way to move up in the ranks is assassination," said Jack. "And you have the highest public rank there is."
"There's two or three attempts made on your double's life every day except weekends," said Jack. "On weekends, it goes up to five or six on the average."
"Nobody mentioned this to me during the briefing," I said glaring at the little man.
"An oversight," he shrugged. "We were in an awful hurry."
We left the barracks area and came to a second guarded gate. Again, we were saluted and allowed to pass in silence. Inside this second perimeter, the ground shook with the rumble of ponderous feet. Huge blackish creatures that looked like prehistoric ankylosaurs clumped across the grounds in double-file lines. Fierce-looking warriors clad in black leather armor were perched atop these creatures' shells.
"What the hell are those?" I whispered to Jack and not bothering to hide my apprehensiveness about these monsters.
"Bandersnatchi and their riders," replied Jack.
"How are we going to get by them?" The bandersnatchi were fifteen to twenty feet long from snout to heavy-clubbed tail and stood five or six feet tall at the shoulder.
"Just raise your hand and walk by," said Jack. "They'll stop for you."
"What if they can, like, smell the difference between me and the real evil Woo-Julanski?"
Jack gave me an impatient look. "They can't smell the difference any more than I can," he said. "Stop being paranoid."
"A little paranoia's healthy," I grumbled. "Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably up to no good."
Nonetheless, I raised a hand as we walked toward the great beasts. The bandersnatchi stopped and allowed us to pass while their riders saluted. The bandersnatchi themselves, having no way -- or inclination, I judged -- to cover their eyes, merely watched us with luminous beady red eyes. I noticed that, unlike the ankylosaurs I had read about in dinosaur books when I was a kid, these creatures had rows of needle-sharp teeth. Their snouts and shells were caked with soot and their collective breath stank of charred pot-roast.
"There, that wasn't so bad," offered Tweedledum once we were past the monsters.
"Not bad at all," added Tweedledee.
"You did very well," Tweedledum went on.
"Very, very well," furthered Tweedledee.
"Another thumbs up," said Tweedledum.
"Ditto," affirmed Tweedledee.
"Thank you," I told them hoping they'd be quiet if I acknowledged them.
"You're welcome," replied Tweedledum.
"Very welcome," confirmed Tweedledee.
"Shut up," advised Jack again.
We were stopped at a third gate, and this time I had to vouch for the two Tweedles before we were allowed to proceed.
"We're in VIP territory now," explained Jack. "Highest security clearance only. We've got it made!"
"I sure hope so." We were right at the base of the mountain where the last guarded checkpoint awaited. The way into the mountain was through what had been described to me during the briefing as a heavily armored security door. Actually, it looked more like a nuke-proof bank vault door and it was big enough to drive a tank through.
This time, even I was stopped by the guards as we tried to enter.
"Make a note to have that man neutered," I told Tweedledum as one of the guards tried to too closely examine the passes the DOSmouse had forged for us. The guard nervously gave back our IDs and saluted.
Then we were inside the mountain. Jack had the Tweedles commandeer a small electric cart for us and we rode into the heart of the Aerie to what was supposed to have been the successful conclusion of our mission.
We left the cart and took a high-security elevator down into the depths beneath the mountain to the Central Defense Computer Systems Room. During the briefing, I had expressed some concern about our ability to infiltrate someplace as heavily manned and protected as a Central Defense Computer Systems Room was likely to be. The DOSmouse had assured me in that squeaky high-pitched voice of his that our mission did not need to take us anywhere near the room itself. Supposedly, there was a computer terminal in the hallway near the elevator that he could work through.
"Here it is," said Jack pointing to a terminal built into the wall. It had a monitor and a keyboard that slid out of a slot beneath it.
I fished the inert DOSmouse out of my belt pouch and studied the keyboard. On the side there were ports labeled MODEM, JOYSTICK, PRINTER, and MOUSE. I plugged the DOSmouse into the last one and set him down on top of the keyboard.
His eyes opened and the green light that served as his nose flashed on and off a few times. "Bbbbbbbbrrrrrrr," he said, and then went: "Click-click-click-click brrrr."
"DOSmouse?" I ventured.
"Brrrrrr click click click click beep brrrrrr-click!"
"Is he okay?" I asked Jack.
"He's just booting up," he replied.
"Click-click-click-beep." Then there was silence.
"Is he done?"
"Bbbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrr click brrr click-click-click-click brrrr."
"Never mind," I said, painfully conscious of the noise the DOSmouse was making. The Tweedles and Jack were stationed on either side of the terminal watching the hallway in both directions.
"Brrrrrrrrrr click-click click brr click beep!" said the DOSmouse. "DOSmouse Systems 1.1 on line for systems check. Brrrr-click! Twinkle, twinkle little RAM / How you wonder what I am / In your database I pry / I'm your little network spy! Click! All systems OK. Accessing Central Defense Computer Systems!"
I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe things were going to work out all right after all. Soon the DOSmouse would have the anti-teleport grid shut down and Agent Cheshire would be able to pop in and rescue the two Janets. Then we could get them both back to Art's shop where the whole mess could be straightened out. Janet -- the one from Earth -- would be mad at me for getting her into this mess, but she'd been mad at me before. The thing for me to do would be to apologize like hell and then things would settle down. Things were really going to work out for a change....
"That's funny,"commented the DOSmouse.
....and if you believe that, I own some swampland in New Mexico that you might be interested in. Send cash, in small bills.
"What's funny?" I asked getting that familiar cold twisty feeling in my stomach.
"The anti-teleport grid's already been shut down,"answered the DOSmouse.
Suddenly, Jack was tugging on my sleeve. I turned around and for one futile moment I thought -- hoped -- that some joker had gone and left a full-length mirror blocking the hallway while I wasn't looking. I found myself staring up the hall at another Martin Woo-Julanski who was accompanied by his own pair of Tweedles. Of course, I had more sense than to actually believe I was looking in a mirror. After all, I was in the Mirrorverse where I had no reflection.
One other thing also spoiled the mirror illusion: The other Wuju was pointing a gun and I wasn't.
I looked behind me and found the hallway in the opposite direction blocked by two more characters. The more imposing one wore a red cape with matching boots, belt and gloves. He had a silver spandex jumpsuit with a great silver-on-red bird-silhouette emblazoned across the chest. His head was entirely covered by a polished chrome helmet that looked for all the world as if it had begun its existence as a coffee can. An unearthly light shined from the eye slits and I noticed that the helmeted stranger was effortlessly hovering a full foot off the floor.
Can-Head's companion looked to be about my size and age, maybe a little bigger. He too was wearing a red cape and similar -- though less intimidating -- outfit, but instead of a helmet, he wore a simple red Lone Ranger-type mask.
I looked at my companions. Tweedledee and Tweedledum were silently glaring at their counterparts, their teeth bared. Jack had ducked between me and the Tweedles but seemed willing to stand his ground. A bead of sweat had rolled down his cheek and smeared his disguise. Not that it mattered anymore. We were dead meat on a stick.
The other Woo-Julanski was shaking his head. "Of all the people in either of our worlds," he chided me, "don't you think I'd be the one most likely to second-guess your every move?"
I hated to admit it, but he had me there.
"After I kidnapped Janet, I knew you'd come after her. After all, that's what I would have done if someone had taken something that belonged to me. I got in touch with the JIL's own resident wizard, Dr. Destiny -- that's him hovering behind you with his sidekick, Destiny Lad -- and had him fix me up with a fail-safe teleport charm..." He touched a small metallic object attached to his belt. "...which brought me back the Aerie after your Agent Cheshire's laughable attempt to kidnap me," he explained as if I was actually interested in knowing.
"Seeing Agent Cheshire alerted me to the fact that you were involved with terrorists," my double went on. "After that, it was a cinch that you'd wind up here."
"What are you going to do with us, you twisted fiend?" demanded Jack.
My double laughed a laugh of genuine amusement. "Ever the sidekick, eh Jack?" He shook his head again. "But in answer to your question, probably just kill you."
I started to speak, but the Chief of Secret Police cut me off.
"In answer to your next question," he said to me, "both Janets are safe. The Bird needs them alive to open the way for our armies to invade your world. In fact, that's why I have to kill you; The Bird might get it into Her head to use you and me in the same way. I prefer to serve The Bird in my current capacity." He paused. "Not that being locked in a dungeon cell with two Janet Blakes would be an entirely bad thing." He leered. "It's got possibilities."
I wanted him dead. Right there. On the spot.
|"'We must have a bit of a fight, but I don't care about going on long,' said Tweedledum.|
|'What's the time now?'"
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
I had no idea at the time, but all four Tweedles were thinking similar thoughts about their own respective counterparts.
"So!" growled Tweedledum finally breaking the seething silence between them, "We meet again!"
"Our evil quadruplets!" added Tweedledee.
"But this time the advantage is ours!" countered the Tweedle opposite Tweedledum.
"Resistance is futile!" finished the last of the Tweedles.
"By the way, these are Tweedledumdum and Tweedledeedee," offered my double.
Despite the peril of our situation, the sheer silliness of it all struck me once again. "Tweedledeedee?"
"Tweedledeedee," affirmed my counterpart.
"We sound like Scarlett O'Hara," I managed. I didn't want to be killed, but even more so, I didn't want to be killed by anyone named either Tweedledeedee or Tweedledumdum.
The other Wuju smiled. "Frankly, I don't give a damn," he obliged. "Well, have to kill you now. Got a van full of teenaged girls waiting who won't live without me." He leered again.
"You'll never take us alive!" cried Tweedledee leaping at Tweedledumdum.
"We'll resist you with our dying breaths!" added Tweedledum jumping Tweedledeedee.
"You idiot! Look out!" warned the other Wuju as a pair of Tweedles slammed into him. His gun went off, the bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and pinged against Dr. Destiny's helmet sending his hover into a slow spin.
"Electrical systems accessed!"announced the DOSmouse as he turned off all the lights in the hall.
The resulting brouhaha was rivaled only by some of the better Keystone Kops movies.
"You fool! You've doomed us all!" shouted a Tweedle.
"Take that, you fiend!" cried another Tweedle.
"Who will save you now?" added a third Tweedle.
"So, you want to play, huh?" the last Tweedle went on.
"Doc! Get a light on in here!" ordered the other Wuju over the sounds of the scuffle.
I grabbed the DOSmouse and hugged the floor as something or someone flew over me in the dark.
"This is a job for Destiny Lad!" shouted Dr. Destiny's companion uncomfortably near my ear. I lashed out and my fist hit someone in the head. That someone bumped into Dr. Destiny just as he was generating a lightning spell. The bolt flew wild and blew open the elevator doors just up the hall from us.
"The elevator shaft," Jack whispered to me.
It sounded like a plan to me. The remnants of the elevator door were still smoldering around the edges and made an easy target in the dark. I scrambled around and over the dueling Tweedles. The inside of the elevator shaft was lit by dim emergency lights which enabled me to find a service ladder running up and down the inside of the shaft.
Jack was right behind me, and dragging someone after him.
"Up or down?" I asked him grabbing hold of the ladder.
"Down!" he shouted loud enough for my double to hear even over the battle, and then he hissed, "Over there, catch it!" He pointed to an elevator coming up toward us in a neighboring shaft. I jumped on top of it and Jack did likewise with his unconscious cargo.
"Whew!" said Jack as we rode the elevator upwards and away from the enemy. "That was close!"
"What'd you bring him for?" I asked recognizing the unconscious body as that of Destiny Lad.
"We might need a hostage," said Jack. "Besides, you were the one who knocked him out."
"What about the Tweedles?" I asked.
"Running into their evil quadruplets was bad luck," said Jack. "There's no breaking up that fight now. We're on our own." He borrowed the handcuffs from one of my belt pouches and cuffed Destiny Lad. There was something that was somehow familiar about him that I couldn't quite put a finger on.
"Now what do we do?" I wanted to know.
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