©2008 John C. Bunnell
This story was written for a micro-published anthology that was, essentially, a birthday gift for none other than Jay Lake himself. If I remember correctly, it was conceived at one of Jay’s annual open birthday parties and presented at the next, and never officially circulated outside the core group of birthday celebrants, contributing authors, and the Lake family. In some ways this is kind of a shame, because the collection includes work by a wide range of folks including multiple Hugo winners and at least one SFWA President.
This, therefore, is the following tale’s very first public release. I will say this much going in: yes, I knew exactly where and how far I was going at the time, I regret nothing, and the fact that neither Jay nor The Child made any attempts on my life after seeing the story should tell you something about all three of us.
It was a quiet morning at stately Lake Manor, home of billionaire writer Jay Lake and his youthful ward, The Child. Alfred had cleared away the remains of breakfast, The Child was beginning to gather her things before going off to school, and Jay was staring out the open dining room window, contemplating the latest round of revisions to Pendulum, the ninth book in the Mainspring series.
Just then, a black-gloved hand reached through the window and snatched the specimen jar sitting on the sill – the jar containing the segment of Jay’s colon that had been removed some five years earlier.
“Hey!” Jay exclaimed, as both he and The1 raced to the window.
They were too late. The two lithe figures dressed in black had already reached the far edge of stately Lake Manor’s expansive lawn, where they quickly scrambled to the top of the eight-foot brick wall and vanished.
“Ninjas?” said The.
“Indeed, mistress,” Alfred agreed.
The wrinkled her nose. “But why would they want that thing? It’s gross!”
Jay looked deeply concerned. “I have a theory,” he said gravely. “Quick, to the GenreLair!” Followed by The, he ran into his study, deftly twisted his Campbell Award statue sideways to reveal a hidden switch, and flicked the switch. Behind his desk, the wall of bookshelves parted to reveal a pair of slides that curved steeply downward.2 Jay belly-flopped onto the left-hand slide, while The leapt feet-first for the one on the right. Behind them, Alfred sighed, restored the Campbell to its proper position, and headed for the service elevator as the bookcases slid shut.
Moments later, deep beneath stately Lake Manor, two uniquely garbed figures shot out of adjacent chutes and into the fabled GenreLair. Captain Protagonist landed in a foot-high heap of pillows, grunted, and rolled to his feet. His DayGlo™ tie-dyed Hawaiian shirt, open at the collar, shone nearly sun-bright in the Lair’s shadows. So did his knee-length black Spandex bicycle shorts, having been treated with an ultraviolet solution and decorated with a wide neon-purple stripe down the outside of each leg. A white ship captain’s hat was tilted rakishly atop his head, wing-shaped mirrorshades hid his piercing eyes, and his high-topped racing sneakers had been painted in psychedelic spirals that more or less matched his shirt.
His companion’s costume was far different. Foil wore a simple tunic in a conservative black-and-gold tiger stripe, comfortable black slacks, and low black boots with retractable skate wheels in the soles. A golden kerchief was tied over her wavy black hair, and a slender bandolier studded with numerous neatly sealed pockets stretched from one shoulder to the opposite hip.
“Quick, Alfred,” said Captain Protagonist to his butler, who stood awaiting them, “fire up the ExposiComp. Let’s see just who our burglars are.”
Alfred pressed several buttons on a tall, bulky-looking box, then flipped three of the dozen switches running along one of its edges. Banks of lights blinked in exotic patterns as the amazing top-secret mainframe linked itself to the manor’s security systems. Meanwhile, his employer frowned thoughtfully. “Those ninjas look strangely familiar.”
“They ought to,” Foil said, looking up from her notebook computer and turning two of the flat-panel monitors on her desk toward the others. “Here’s a photo of you taken five years ago when you were in the hospital – and here’s one of those ninjas from our security cameras. Now see what happens when I run a pattern comparison.” She touched a button on her keyboard, gridlines superimposed themselves on both images, and parts of the photos abruptly glowed green. Match Found flashed across both screens.
“Astounding!” breathed Captain Protagonist.
“Ninja nurses?” That was Alfred. For indeed, the two cheerful young women in hospital scrubs who flanked Jay Lake in the hospital photo were clearly the same two black-clad women who stood atop stately Lake Manor’s outer wall in the second image, one calmly thrusting the specimen jar containing Jay’s semi-colon into a compact pouch.
“Ninja nurses,” said Foil firmly. “But why now? If they wanted a piece of your gut, why’d they wait so long to take it?”
“An excellent question,” Captain Protagonist said. As he spoke, the ExposiComp went ding! and a rectangular card popped out of a slot on one side of the machine. Snatching the card in one hand, he read: “Ninja infiltration team, affiliation unknown; no match with known adversaries.”
“Not one of your regular rogues’ gallery, then,” Alfred observed.
“Dr. Crisis and the Melodramatist are both in custody,” said the heroic hero.3
“Of course,” said Alfred. “What about the Character Assassin?”
“It’s too soon,” Captain Protagonist told him. “She fell off a two-thousand-foot cliff just last week, and it always takes at least three intervening adventures before a recurring villain reappears. I think it’s a rule.”
“Good work, Foil!” her mentor said. “So where are they taking their ill-gotten prize?”
“It looks like – yes! There’s an abandoned private airstrip southwest of here; they’re heading straight for it.”
Captain Protagonist straightened into an even more striking heroic pose. “To the Genremobile™!”
The duo raced across the GenreLair, vaulting into the open front seats of the classic convertible. Seat belts clicked, and the Hawaiian-shirted hero flicked the ignition toggle. “Adverbial engines to power!”
Foil turned a knob on her side of the dashboard. “Interjectors to speed!” Guided by the Captain’s firm hand on the wheel, the Genremobile shot forward into the secret tunnel leading from the GenreLair to a side road just beyond the western boundary of stately Lake Manor, quickly exiting past a sign reading Literopolis, 7 miles.6 However, when the vehicle reached the main road, the heroes turned away from the bustling metroplex, instead following the GPS trace Foil had identified.
A few short minutes later, they arrived at the airfield, just in time to observe two lissome black-clad forms crossing the tarmac toward a small but powerful-looking jet. “It’s them!” said Captain Protagonist, sending his supercharged vehicle careening toward his foes.
The ninja nurses exchanged lightning-quick glances. The taller of the two kept moving toward the aircraft, while the other turned and leapt, landing with startling grace on the Genremobile’s hood. “You will not prevail!” she told the heroes in a low, throaty voice.
“Don’t count on it!” the Captain retorted, as several things happened more or less simultaneously:
The ninja flicked one hand forward, tossing a tiny pellet into the front seat of the Genremobile . . .
. . . at the tap of a button next to Foil’s armrest, the car’s front hood popped off like the lid of a jack-in-the-box, sending both hood and ninja flying . . .
. . . Foil herself released her seat belt, backflipped expertly onto the rear hood and from there to the tarmac – and as she leaped, threw a pair of small disc-shaped missiles toward the tumbling ninja . . .
. . . glittering blue smoke billowed up where the pellet struck . . .
. . . with a loud SPROING!!, the entire driver’s seat ejected, shooting itself and Captain Protagonist a good fifty feet straight up; as it rose, a long pole unfolded itself from behind the flying seat and sprouted a helicopter rotor . . .
. . . the ninja threw a desperate kick at the Genremobile’s front hood, altering its flight path just enough to block one of Foil’s discs – and to slice neatly through the ejector-seat’s rotor-pole . . .
. . . the other disc caught the ninja in her right shoulder, transforming on impact into a silvery webwork of energy-netting that neatly enfolded its target . . .
. . . the rotorless ejector seat dropped like the proverbial rock – but landed with a SHOOOF! rather than a KAA-CLATTER! as a huge air-cushion exploded from its underside mere seconds before it hit the pavement . . .
. . . just in time for Captain Protagonist and Foil to watch the midnight-blue jet zoom down the runway and into the sky, as the netted ninja landed on the tarmac.
The Twistarang’s™ energy netting had cushioned the impact slightly, but the ninja was muttering decidedly pained noises as the heroic duo approached. “As I promised,” she said, trying not to groan, “you have lost! My sister has escaped with the prize!”
Foil arched an eyebrow. “Real sister, or sister in arms?”
The ninja glared balefully up at her, but there was at least a trace of respect in her eyes as she spoke. “Whichever you like. She is Threat; I am Menace. And very soon we shall have what we came for. You will never catch Threat in time to prevent what will be. Jay Lake’s very soul will be ours!” Within her restraints, she clenched a gloved fist in a peculiar claw-like fashion . . .
. . . and vanished.
# # #
Can Threat’s threat possibly be genuine? What is the source of the ninja sisters’ mysterious power? What hold can they hope to exercise over Jay? Where are they taking the stolen semi-colon? How can Captain Protagonist hope to defeat them without exposing the secret of his dual identity? Will Alfred be able to fix the Genremobile? For the answers to these and other chilling narrative questions, see the next exciting episode of “Jay Lake and the Ninja Nurses from Nanda Parbat”!!!7
1. “The” was, in fact, The Child’s first name. When she first became Jay’s youthful ward, she had been known as Adorable Child, but quickly persuaded her guardian that that was just too embarrassing for words. After lengthy discussions in which Lovable, Gifted, Obedient, Precocious, and Ungrateful were considered and discarded, the pair agreed on “The Child”. Jay, however, found he couldn’t discard the original name entirely, and so he filed papers changing his ward’s legal name from “Adorable Child” to “The Adorable Child” without mentioning to her what he’d done.
2. Jay had wanted fireman’s poles, but both The Child and the Author balked. The Child pointed out that if the shaft were made wide enough to accommodate the GenreSwitch™ Automatic Costume Change Unit, it would be too wide for her to safely grab a fireman’s pole with her relatively short arms. The Author agreed, adding that he was trying his best to resist opportunities for cheap phallic puns.
3. The Author objected to this description on the obvious grounds, but was overruled by Captain Protagonist’s merchandising office.
4. Foil objected to this description, again as “just too embarrassing for words”, but withdrew the protest when the Author pointed out that the alternatives were “reflective right-hand girl” or “wizardess of wordplay”.
5. McGuffin Tracking Beacon.
6. Stately Lake Manor had originally been twice as far from the city, but the advent of global warming had prompted its billionaire owner to move the entire property lock, stock, and GenreLair to a new, closer-in location in order to reduce Captain Protagonist’s carbon footprint.
7. The Author regrets delivering only Part One of the foregoing adventure (having started typing too late to finish before the deadline). On the other hand, he notes that this way, the cliffhanger is substantially more effective….