"So what was with the sword?" I wanted to know as I swept the floors.
Wuju shrugged. "I'm not really sure," he answered toying with a plastic swizzle stick. "Somehow, I think it responded to my unconscious. I've always kind of wanted to be a swashbuckler, and that sword had me buckling swashes with the best of 'em."
Something occurred to me. "Hey, was that the same sword you were looking at back in Art's shop?"
Wuju nodded and smiled. "Yeah. You can see why he was reluctant to let me use it until it got to be a life-or-death situation."
I shook my head.
"Can you imagine the carnage I would have caused if I'd been packing that thing while masquerading as my double?" asked Wuju. "Even though that sword went on to save my hide more than enough times to make up for any trouble it might have gotten me into, it had a nasty habit of jumping into my hand whenever things got tense. And things were about to get real tense."
"That had to do with Destiny Lad."
"Who the hell was Destiny Lad?" I demanded.
Wuju smiled enigmatically. "I dropped a couple of hints already."
I racked my brains and then scowled at him.
"Maybe I should go on," he suggested.
The place we were in looked like a traditional dungeon for the most part. There were a few odd differences though. Instead of guttering torches sticking out of the walls, flickering fluorescent tubes ran the length of the ceiling. The iron doors had small barred windows, but they also had electronic locks.
"How are we going to find her now?" asked Jack.
I'd been puzzling over that very question for the past few minutes as we wandered the halls. Art had said that true love would find the way, or something to that effect. More and more, however, I was coming to believe that all true love ever led to was trouble. Still, I had gotten this far.
"I dunno," I replied answering Jack's question. "How many cells do you figure there are?"
Destiny Lad had somehow worked the gag out of his mouth. "Thousands," he boasted. "You'll never find her, terrorist!"
For a second, I thought I felt the vorpal sword twitch as it hung from my belt.
Jack picked up Destiny Lad's mask off the floor and popped it back in the protesting sidekick's mouth.
I tried to concentrate on Janet. I thought of Janet sitting close to me watching videos in the dark. I thought of Janet at work griping over our balky electric mixer. I thought of Janet in Art's shop trying on the white cloak. I thought of holding her when she was sad; laughing with her when she was happy.
I thought of how soft and warm her hand felt in mine. I thought of that little corner-wise smile she'd give me when we were both stuck dealing with obnoxious customers. I thought of the private jokes we shared; of how I could picture her face, hear her voice no matter where I went.
Still nothing. Yessirree, love was certainly proving itself undependable, if nothing else. All that thinking of her and not knowing how to find her only managed to depress the hell out of me.
"Even if you do manage to figure out which cell we're keeping her in, you'll never get past the guards," taunted Destiny Lad who had apparently gotten the hang of spitting out the gag. "The Janet Project is much too important to The Bird not to rate top security."
Jack was starting to gag him again. I put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "Wait a second," I said to Destiny Lad. "You know where they're keeping the Janets don't you?"
Destiny Lad promptly shut up.
"Where?" I pressed.
"Look," I said through clenched teeth. "I've had a bad day and I've got a magic sword and I can change your life right now."
"Yeah," put in Jack. "You don't wanna have to change your name to Destiny Lass."
The vorpal sword snickered and tugged at my belt, but Destiny Lad remained silent.
"Jack," I suggested, "you wanna take a couple of quiet minutes and tell your fellow sidekick what happened to Sam Doggleson and Commander Griff?"
Jack yanked on what remained of Destiny Lad's cape so he could whisper the grisly story in his ear. As he did, the young magician turned pale.
"You fiend!" he gasped at me.
"It's nothing the one you've been working for wouldn't have done," said Jack in my defense.
"I don't work for Woo-Julanski," protested Destiny Lad. "I am a member of the Jubjub Imperial Legion, not some despicable SOB."
"Be that as it may," I threatened, "don't think it won't happen to you if you don't cooperate. Jack's packing a Walkman and a cassette of The Greatest Disco Hits of the Seventies."
"And I'm not afraid to use it!" added Jack playing along.
Consequently, Destiny Lad told us the exact location of the so-called Janet project and how many guards were on duty.
It was easy getting to the high-security wing of the dungeon. Once we were there, however, we had another problem.
"You'll never get in," sneered Destiny Lad. "And if you do, you'll never get back out!"
We were around the corner from a hallway where the rough stone blocks and failing fluorescents gave way to smooth concrete and bright lights. A quartet of black-uniformed guards stood on duty.
"You blow it for us," I whispered to Destiny Lad, "and I swear Jack and I will both finger you as our rebel contact. Got it?"
"You know what The Bird does to traitors," added Jack softly.
Destiny Lad shivered and shut up again.
"I say we bluff our way through again," I told Jack.
Jack shook his head. "They've probably already been told to be on the lookout for someone posing as Woo-Julanski."
"I am Woo-Julanski," I reminded him.
"You know what I mean."
"I know," I replied, "and that's my point. Imagine how confused the guards will be."
Jack grinned and nodded eagerly.
"Your job will be to stay here and make sure Destiny Lad minds his manners," I said handing him my empty gun. "If he does, shoot his kneecaps off and put the headphones on him. You might want to use that Partridge Family tape."
Destiny Lad blanched but didn't say anything, which was precisely the response I'd hoped for. I shoved the mask in his mouth just in case.
"Listen, Jack," I knelt down to whisper to him, "if anything goes wrong, ditch the Boy Blunder there and head for the exit. Get Agent Cheshire or Big Al to save the Janets." I handed him the inert DOSmouse.
"Good luck, Wuju," he whispered.
"That's Chief of Secret Police Woo-Julanski, maggot," I snapped slipping into character.
Jack started back apace and I winked at him. "I'll whistle when I'm ready for you."
|"'I'm very brave generally,' he went on in a low voice:|
|'only today I happen to have a
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
I quickly adopted the arrogant stride of my double as I approached the guards. They were two men, a woman and a butt-ugly bulldog. All four of them saw me coming and aimed their side arms at me.
"Oh put those down, you idiots!" I bellowed at them without breaking stride. "I'm the real Chief of Secret Police."
The three humans started to comply, but the bulldog was hesitant. "Um, beggin' yer pardon, Sir," he said wagging his stubby tail, "but what's the password?"
"Who the hell told you there was a password?!" I demanded.
"You did, Sir!" said the shorter of the two men.
"Imbeciles! That wasn't me!" I told them truthfully.
"It-it wasn't?" whined the woman. "But it looked like you."
"And it smelled like you," added the bulldog.
"Of course it looked like me! It was my blasted double!" I roared at them. "If he didn't look like me, he wouldn't be my double!"
"But..." began the other man.
"But what? There was a spy down here and you four rocket scientists were taking orders from him! Have you any idea what The Bird will do to you if She finds out about this breach of security?"
All four hurriedly covered their faces.
"You're damn right!" I snapped at them. "Now escort me to the Janet Project so I can make sure that your monumental incompetence hasn't jeopardized our interests!"
"Yessir!" They said it as one and preceded me down the corridor to an isolated cell.
I stopped in front of the cell nearest to my goal. "Answer me just one question," I said to the quartet.
"How in the name of The Bird can you be so stupid and still not have been weeded out by natural selection?!" I thundered causing one of the group to wet his pants. "How do you know I'm not the double?!"
"Uh..." the bulldog began to suggest.
"You don't, do you?" I slapped my forehead in exasperation. "You're a disgrace, the four of you! I want you all to put down those weapons and get out of those uniforms before someone thinks you morons actually work for me!"
The four terrified SOBs swiftly began to comply with my orders. The woman was in tears and the dog was whimpering softly.
"I want those uniforms neatly folded and then I want you to lock your fool selves in that cell," I ordered. "I'll deal with you later."
My heart was pounding as the cell door clanged shut behind the guards. Nothing like a little creative megalomania to get the old adrenaline pumping. I hated to admit it, but part of me had enjoyed that little scene. Scary.
I whistled for Jack and tucked the two smallest uniforms -- the woman's and the bulldog's -- under one arm. As I reached the last cell door, I got the warm toasty feeling inside. I also got the feeling that I had no idea how to open the ultra-high security computer-controlled electronic lock. Fortunately, there was no real need to worry on that score: The vorpal sword leaped into my free hand with a "snikt" and, with a "snicker-snack," neatly excised the lock from the door.
The heavy door swung open and, as one, Janet Blake and Janet Blake turned to look at me. They were sitting across from one another on opposite bunks. One Janet was wearing the blue dress and white moonbeam cloak. The other was wearing oversized maroon-colored pajamas.
I hadn't even the vaguest glimmerings of a notion of what to say.
"I knew you'd come, Wooj," said the white-cloaked Janet with a smile that set my heart pounding even faster than my bout with megalomania had.
The other Janet -- the one I'd spent most of the summer with -- leaped to her feet and ran to me.
And straight past me.
And threw her arms around a startled and perplexed Destiny Lad who was standing in the hallway with Jack.
"Phil!" she sighed.
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