Quest Moments

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Xanadu story universe
Quest Moments


Skyler Sands and John Drabney created by Scott K. Jamison.

Skyler Sands stroked his chin and idly noticed that the stubble was indeed growing much faster than was natural. The beard he'd shaven to be less conspicuously a Xanadu "victim" would be back to standard length within two days.

He returned his attention to the man behind the desk. "But why me, Mr. Director?"

The FBI's head man swiveled a bit in his chair. "It isn't you, specifically, Doctor Quest--"

"Sands," Skyler corrected, leaving the title in place.

"Sands. We're actually contacting and trying to recruit a number of Xanadu survivors whose talents may be of use in this situation. You're simply the first mad--er, genius scientist to accept the invitation. Most of the others have vanished, or refuse to meet with our agents."

Skyler smiled. "A certain amount of paranoia is endemic to the profession, Mr. Director. There's always someone out there trying to steal our inventions, or the credit for them, or turn our creations into weapons of mass destruction. Or on the flipside, they might fear being shut down because their research violates local ethical standards or costs too much."

The director shifted uncomfortably. "At the moment, we're not interested in stealing or misusing anything, including people's civil rights. I'll be frank, Mr. Sands. With the election still in doubt, no one knows what the next adminstration will be like. Hell, it's taken almost two weeks from the incident for us to get this far.

"And for all that Clinton hasn't been the ideal president, he doesn't want Xanadu to go down on his record as another disaster. If we can turn it into an opportunity, so much the better." The director leaned forward slightly. "Some of the victims are extremely dangerous, and others could be in danger from others. That's why we need people with special talents to be ready to respond to Xanadu-related emergencies. A 'hero team,' if you will." The director gave an involuntary shudder.

Skyler nodded. "Not a comic book fan, I take it? So, you need me, or someone like me, to design this team's hardware, repair what they already have, and possibly reverse-engineer some of it for reproduction?"

"A fair summary. Of course, we can't match the salary you'd get from the private sector. But you'll have the government's full cooperation, and you'll be doing your country a great service."

"And if I don't keep an eye on what you people are up to, who will? Very well, Mr. Director, I'm on board."

The FBI man rose and extended his hand. "I'm very pleased to hear that, Doctor Sands. Welcome to Project X."

It was a first for Skyler. Every eye in the room turning to him with what appeared to be respect.

Project X's headquarters was a rapidly-converted office/laboratory building in Florida originally slated for the CDC. Likewise, the support staff had been hastily assembled from whoever could be spared from other departments. However, it seemed that each and every one of them had seen "Jonny Quest" as a child.

"Dr. Quest!" "I can't believe--" "For real--" "I became a scientist because of--"

Skyler cleared his throat. "I'm very flattered, all of you. However, I'd like to point out that I am not Dr. Benton C. Quest. My name is Skyler Sands, and I'm only an incredible imitation. That means I'm not perfect, and I'm going to need the help of each and every one of you. I'll be meeting privately with each of you, and getting a briefing on your specialty. We have a big job ahead of us. One that America is counting on. I trust that you will live up to the challenge."

It was also the first time he'd ever gotten a standing ovation.

"I'm Doctor Johanssen," said the attractive brunette, "and I'm the team psychologist. My degree is in abnormal psychology, but I'm not sure that the word 'abnormal' even comes close to describing some of the people here. After all, if someone actually is a fairy princess, you can hardly fault her for believing she's a fairy princess. It looks like my job will mostly be trying to keep the team members relating to the real world."

Skyler sighed inwardly as he noted the doctor was married. "Having been there when this all started, I can well imagine. How's 'Barney'?"

"Still on suicide watch."

"Poor devil." Skyler looked at the clipboard next to the door. "And this is...Charles Drummond?"

Dr. Johanssen shrugged. "He used to be, according to his fingerprints. Now, he's for all intents and purposes one Ash Ketchum, from the Pokymun show, I think."

"Pokemon. I'm familiar with it. Why is he here?"

"Mr. Drummond was twenty-three years old. His parents died eight months ago in a car crash. The police couldn't find his paternal grandparents, and his maternal grandparents refused to take custody. No other close relatives, and we certainly can't let someone who's mentally eleven go out on his own."

Skyler stroked his beard. "A complete mental transformation?"

"He seems to retain almost none of his previous memories. I've run several tests, and Mr. Drummond scores just like a child of the age he appears to be; perhaps a little less than average intelligence." Dr. Johanssen paused. "Though that may simply be a rejection of his education."

"On the show, Ash is a little thickheaded. I'll see him now."

The doctor nodded and unlocked the door.

Inside, Skyler found a boy who indeed looked exactly like Ash Ketchum, right down to the messy hair, sitting on the edge of a cot, playing with what appeared to be a Gameboy. In the far corner of the room, not one, but two Pikachus were animatedly chattering at each other. One appeared to be frowning, if Skyler was reading its expression correctly. There was an open laptop computer lying near them.

"Charles? Charles? Ash?" The last name seemed to get at least a twitch, but the boy was clearly absorbed in the game. Time to resort to extreme measures.

"Look! It's Articuno!" said Skyler, pointing at the ceiling.

Instantly, the boy was on his feet, a Pokeball in his hand. "What? Where?" He looked around. "Heyyy..."

"Sorry, Ash. You were pretty far gone. I'm Dr. Sands, the head researcher for Project X." Skyler held out his hand.

Ash laid down the Gameboy, which turned out to have the Pokemon Silver cartridge in it, and shook the older man's hand. "Er, hello, Dr. Sands. Can I get out of this place soon? There's no windows, and they lock the door all the time."

"Do you know why you're here?"

"'Cause I don't really exist. Some Charlie guy really exists, but I'm not him no more. And Pokemon are only in cartoons and games, 'cept the ones that came with me and the other trainers...and how come there's more than one of me, anyway?"

Skyler shrugged. "We don't know yet. It's part of my job to find out."

"There's no Pallet Town, and I'm never gonna see my mom again. It's not fair!"

Skyler felt strangely paternal towards the boy. He had memories of comforting his own son, Jonny--but Jonny wasn't real. He pulled Ash into a hug. "No, it's not fair. But you're a strong young man. You can make it, with a little help."

Ash pulled back and wiped an arm across his eyes. "Yeah. I'm gonna be a Pokemon master! Even if there aren't that many Pokemon around."

"I see you have two Pikachu."

"Nah, only one of them's mine," corrected Ash. "That one's a girl Pikachu."

Skyler cocked his head. "They look identical to me."

Ash smirked. "You can tell, 'cause girl Pikachus have longer and thicker eyelashes."

Walking over to look closer, Skyler was able to determine that Ash was correct. The Pikachu noticed his presence, and the female immediately ran up to him and climbed to his shoulder. "Pika!"

The male also ran up, but the raised hackles on the female seemed to discourage it a bit.

Female Pikachu started tugging on Skyler's beard. "Chu! Chu!"

"Hey, cut that out!"

It responded by pointing a paw at the laptop. "Chuu!!"

Skyler picked it up, and saw that it was displaying a text document, interspersing intelligible words with strings of nonsense syllables. He looked at the Pikachu again.

"You're a human, aren't you?"

It nodded vigorously, and pointed at the end table. "Kapi!"

The computer was laid on the table, and the Pikachu hopped down onto it. She began tapping keys.

[My name is Kimberly.]

"Kimberly, eh? I take it you were wearing a costume and suddenly found yourself transformed?"

[Darn straight. Man, I coulda been Supergirl. But no, Carl, that's my boyfriend, he thought me being Pikachu would be cute. I never even liked the show!]

Yes, Kimberly was definitely frowning.

"And where is Carl now? Shouldn't he be here?"

[Jerk got really drunk on those little bottles the airlines serve on the way down. So he was passed out cold when it all went down. Pity, right now I'd dearly love to have him be a Jigglypuff.]

"I can fully understand. So you wound up at Project X. We'll have to see if we can get you a voicebox, or at least a more portable keyboard."

Kimberly jumped up and down. [I want a cure, dammit!]

"If it's possible, you'll certainly be towards the front of the line. How are you getting along with Ash and Pikachu?"

[The kid's an idiot, he won't read my messages at all! Just keeps treating me like a pet. And Pikachu, ooh!]

Skyler frowned. "What's the problem?"

[It won't take no for an answer! Keeps trying to put its paws on me, and saying how nice I smell...You gotta get me out of this body before I start actually thinking Pikachu looks good!]

"Erm." Skyler was rather taken aback. "I'll see what I can do."

He turned to Ash. "Ash, Kimberly is upset at Pikachu."

"Aww, they're just playing." The boy had gotten back into his game.

"It's rather more serious than that. You know how Brock is towards girls sometimes, coming on too strong and making them real nervous?"

"Uhh, yeah, I guess so."

Skyler pointed at Kimberly. "Well, that's how Pikachu's been acting towards Kimberly, so it'd be a good idea if you kept him on a shorter leash, okay?"

Ash put down the game. "Is this true, Pikachu?"

The electrical rodent had the good grace to at least look ashamed....

Skyler woke up, as he had the three previous mornings, in the lab. At least this time someone had covered him with a blanket. "I really need to start pacing myself."

Yawning, he walked to his rooms for a quick shower and a change of clothes.

Naturally, Skyler was still in the shower when the videophone rang. He called out, "Telephone, audio only, patch to bathroom." Voice command on the communications system had been surprisingly easy to manage. "Sands here."

"Good morning, Doctor. Miss Quan here. We have a visitor in Reception. An important visitor."

Skyler frowned. 'Important' was the codeword for 'government.' Xanadu survivors got the codeword 'interesting.' At least it wasn't 'urgent.'

"I'll be there in five, Miss Quan. Sands out."

Project X's reception area had assumed the standard characteristics of waiting rooms everywhere, if one ignored the subject matter of the magazines scattered about. The visitor appeared to be doing just that.

He was a black man, approaching fifty, with short, neatly-trimmed hair and a tailored grey suit. The visitor sat rigidly upright, a black briefcase placed precisely parallel to his feet. Very high-quality shoes, Skyler noticed.

"Good morning. I'm Skyler Sands, head of research here at Project X."

"The man stood and extended his hand with a thin smile. "Pleased to meet you, I'm sure. I am John Drabney. I've been appointed as the new acting project manager."

"I see. I'm glad to see you; administration isn't the best use of my time." As they shook hands, Skyler noticed a look of disapproval crossing Mr. Drabney's face as he faced Miss Quan's desk. Skyler took a quick look, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Miss Quan did look quite fetching in red.

Skyler glanced at the clock. "Why don't we go to the cafeteria first? Most of the staff will be eating breakfast now."

As they walked, Mr. Drabney took out a minirecorder. "Memo to staff. Effective immediately, there will be strict enforcement of the dress code--"

Skyler had hit the 'stop' button on the recorder. "I wouldn't recommend that, Mr. Drabney. It's better to let people wear what's comfortable for them."

"But, but, didn't you see what that young woman was wearing? It was inappro--"

"It was perfectly appropriated for a Classic Trek yeoman. If you overlook that she's wearing a Next Gen communicator pin with the uniform."

Mr. Drabney looked confused. "'Classic Trek'? 'Next Gen'? What are you babbling about?"

"Star Trek, the television series. The original series from the Sixties is called 'Classic', the second series was 'The Next Generation.'"

"Oh. I never watched that show."

Skyler had a sinking feeling. "Who's your favorite science fiction author?"

"I have better things to do with my time than read children's books. And what does this have to do with proper office attire anyway?"

"Mr. Drabney, you really don't have a clue what happened at Xanadu, do you? Let me put this in the simplest possible terms. For reasons we don't yet understand, a convention center full of people in costumes was changed to *be* their costumes. Women dressed as ballerinas *became* ballerinas. Men dressed as gorillas *became* gorillas. Children in Klingon costumes *became* Klingons. Some of them got off luckier than others, but no one escaped unscathed. Many of them have absolutely no choice what clothing to wear, or even to wear clothing at all. That's why the rules are different here at Project X."

The manager looked askance. "Rules are for everyone, Dr. Sands. Offices don't run properly if you don't follow the rules."

"New rules for new offices, Mr. Drabney. But you'll see for yourself. Ah, here we are, the cafeteria."

They proceeded down the line of foodstuffs, similar to breakfast selections everywhere. Skyler saw the lunch lady bringing in more oatmeal.

He waved, saying, "Good morning, Mrs. Goldblum."

She smiled, exposing three rows of serrated teeth.

Mr. Drabney stepped back against the wall. "Wh-what is that thing?"

"This *person* is Mrs. Goldblum. She was a caterer at one of the Xanadu parties, who wore a shark mask to get into the spirit of the convention. We're very lucky to have such a good cook on our staff."

Mrs. Goldblum smiled again. "I don't look so hot, but I swim real goot now, and I don't need to sleep."

The manager didn't look very reassured, and kept to the far wall until the hall opened up into the cafeteria proper. The view didn't seem to calm his nerves.

Skyler could understand why. It looked like the backlot at some particularly bizarre movie studio. There were at least eight different species represented, and no three people were dressed identically.

Well, one table had similar outfits. Skyler escorted Mr. Drabney towards it.

"Thank goodness you at least have the Army here to keep order over these freaks."

Several of the uniformed men at the table shot angry glances at Mr. Drabney, particularly one in a leather aviator's jacket.

Skyler cleared his throat. "Mr. Drabney, I'd like you to meet Colonel Hogan, and the men of Baker Squad. They're the day shift security force."

"That reminds me. I didn't see any security on my way in here."

"If you saw the night staff, they wouldn't be doing their job."

Colonel Hogan smiled. "So now Sergeant Schultz is on duty?"

Skyler blinked, then remembered the reference. "Colonel Klink will be in the office all day. By the by, Mr. Drabney, you might be interested to know that Baker Squad came to us complete with an authentic World War Two vintage Jeep."

One of the soldiers, who had suspiciously delicate features, said, "Actually, it was authentic when we went to the con in the first place. Now, *we* were women at that point."

"No we wuzn't!" protested another. "Yer mind got scrambled by the Japanazis when they sent us inta the footure with that time machine!"

"It's true, I tell you!" retorted the first soldier.

"Can it, ladies," said Colonel Hogan, picking up his cap. "We're on duty in ten, and I don't want to sit through that argument again. Doc, Mister Drabney, good day to you."

The soldiers departed in good order, though a couple were still muttering at each other.

Mr. Drabney asked, "Let me get this straight. Those soldiers used to be women?"

Skyler nodded.

"And now they're men, all the way?"

"They have normal male anatomy, yes. Their mental state is another matter. For reasons we don't fully comphrehend yet, the Xanadu Effect didn't change everyone equally. Some people's personalities were completely overwritten, others are a mix of original and costume, and quite a few were only mildly affected by mental changes."

Mr. Drabney stared blankly at Skyler.

"I'll have someone work up a Powerpoint (tm) presentation for you later."

The new manager looked relieved. "Yes, thank you."

Skyler looked around. "Ah, there's someone at that table I need to talk to. Follow me." He proceeded towards a table with three people seated at it. One was a red-haired Japanese man with an 'X'-shaped scar on his left cheek. The second looked like a young(er) Sean Connery wearing a tuxedo. And the third was a feral-seeming young woman wearing a tank top.

"Good morning, Himura-san, 007, Madamoiselle Nikita. Have you considered our offer?"

The Japanese man, clad in traditional (if pink) clothing, stood. "Ohayou gozaimasu, Sands-sensei. Your salary offer is generous, that it is." Himura's right eye twitched. "But my previous occupation has soured me on working for the government. So I must decline, that I do." He twitched again.

The Connery look-alike was next. "Good morning, Q. I can see you Yanks are in a sticky situation, so I'll be lending a hand here until MI-6 needs me elsewhere."

"Just as long as I never have to work for the *)%T) French government again," muttered the woman in French. "They're all a bunch of &)R&R(&%& pigs."

Skyler glanced at Mr. Drabney, who showed no signs of understanding French. "I'm sorry to hear that, Himura-san, but I fully understand. Welcome aboard, Commander, Madamoiselle."

"A red-haired Japanese man?" asked Mr. Drabney.

"Dutch ancestry, so it is speculated," explained the man in question, twitching again.

"Let's visit the children's table," suggested Skyler.

This table was a bit shorter than the others, hence the designation.

From eldest to youngest in appearance, the occupants included: A green-haired girl in her mid-teens, wearing a brown-skirted outfit that looked like a parody of a school uniform; Ash Ketchum (accompanied by both Pikachu); a boy wearing a red t-shirt and blue shorts, whose skin was so sallow that it was difficult to tell where his spiked blonde hair began; a blue-haired girl in a knit windbreaker; and a boy no older than five whose blue skin and moving antennae marked him as an Andorian.

"Good morning, children," said Skyler. "This is Mr. Drabney, our new project manager."

There was a general response of "Hi" and waves.

"Young man," said Mr. Drabney, "That's a violation of health regulations. Remove your animals from the table."

Ash looked at Skyler for confirmation, while Kimberly protested, "Pika pika chupi pii!"

"Kimberly would like to point out that she is *not* an animal, but in fact a human being."

"Doctor Sands, you can't seriously expect me to believe that this is a human?" asked Mr. Drabney, poking a finger in Pikachu's side.

"No, Pika--," said Skyler and Ash simultaneously, too late.

"CHUU!" The electric mouse demonstrated the mildest form of its Thundershock attack.

"Oww! What was that?" asked Mr. Drabney, nursing his hand.

"That, sir, is Ash's prize Pikachu, which is indeed an animal, so far as we know. Kimberly, the transformed human, is on your right."

The Pokemon in question waved.

Skyler straightened his tie a bit. "I'm working on a speech synthesizer for her. It will have to be small enough for Kimberly to carry, but have strong enough capacitors to avoid being fried by her bio-electric field."

"All very fascinating, I'm sure," muttered the visitor. Ash finally noticed the dark glower the man was giving Pikachu, and picked up his beloved pet.

"C'mon, Pikachu, we'll be late for class." The pair beat a hasty retreat.


"That's correct. Once I realized that we were going to be housing several children on a full-time basis, I called Ringling Brothers about the cirriculum they use for circus kids. And Project X was lucky enough to secure a very qualified teacher."

Skyler thought it best not to mention that she'd been in the Over-18 hall at Xanadu, and now turned into an eight-foot tall and very naked demon at will. Note to self, work on 'unstable molecules'.

"I'm glad you're doing some things responsibly," said Mr. Drabney. "But isn't that skirt a bit short for a school uniform?"

"It's not for school," said the green-haired girl, standing up and striking a pose. "It's my senshi uniform. I am the lovely warrior for love and justice, Sailor Terra!"

"Sailor Who?"

"Sailor Terra, she's not in the series, I made her up for a self-insert story, mostly based on me, but I only got up to chapter three before the convention, so I'm stuck with a lousy first-season attack."

The blue-haired girl abruptly scooted away from the table. "Sunrise at last!"

The blond boy's eyes widened. "Cool! I love this part."

The girl's body was touched by the first rays of the sun coming in a window, and her body was instantly coated in shimmering light as she lifted off the floor. The light made it impossible to make out details as she slowly rotated in mid-air, but it was obvious that her body was getting larger and taller, as well as considerably more curvy.

When the light faded, the girl was now a young woman with somewhat longer lilac-colored hair, wearing an outfit Britney Spears would have rejected as too cute, but otherwise suitable for a teen singing idol.

The blond boy wolf-whistled. "Hey, Yvette, no fair growing up so you don't have to go to school!"

She ruffled his hair. "Tough noogies, Bart. After all, I really am a grown-u--er, adult." Yvette sashayed off.

"What just happened here, Dr. Sands?" asked Mr. Drabney.

"Yvette was dressed as Creamy Mami, a singer from a Japanese cartoon. But the outfit she chose was from the sequel video, in which Mami only appeared during the day, and her alternate form of Yuu, a little girl appeared at night.

She realized that turning into a nine-year-old every night was not conducive to living alone. Most of the children here are wards of the state, either effective orphans, or whose relatives won't take responsibility for them"

"Like me," said Bart. "Homer and Mom won't even answer my phone calls anymore."

The little blue boy piped up. "Not me, my mommy and daddy are Andorians too."

"That's nice, Joe," offered Skyler. "But I see by the clock that it really is almost classtime. Don't forget to bus your trays, kids."

As they left the cafeteria, Skyler noticed Mr. Drabney still favoring his hand. "Perhaps we should make the nurse's office our next stop. Unless you smoke."

"Stopped ten years ago."

"Then we'll just look in through the window at the smoking lounge on the way."

Said window had probably been put in so that managers of Mr. Drabney's ilk could instantly check if goofing off was taking place. They certainly wouldn't have approved of a pool table being installed.

But this was Project X, so the smoking lounge had a billiards game going. Playing were a well-dressed camel-headed man, a weathered looking man in working cowboy gear (including Stetson hat); a black bear with white face and belly wearing a fisherman's hat, and a giant cigarette pack with female human arms and legs. All of them were smoking; exactly how the cigarette pack was doing this was a bit of a mystery.

"Joe Camel, the Marlboro Man, the Hamms Bear and a dancing cigarette pack?" identified Mr. Drabney. Skyler wasn't surprised he could do so.

"Quite a few people came to Xanadu as commercial characters. Many have gotten job offers from the companies whose trademarks they turned into, but these weren't able to get those deals, for one reason or another."

Mr. Drabney frowned in tought. "But the Hamms Bear was a beer commercial, wasn't it?"

"Rashid was a chain smoker before he got transformed." Skyler started moving down the hall.

He paused in front of a large empty room with a podium at the other end.

"This is our non-denominational chapel. We don't have an official chaplain yet, but a couple of the local pastors have been helping out on an as-needed basis. "I've contacted the Vatican about getting an exorcism specialist, but they haven't gotten back to me yet."

"Isn't exorcism a bunch of hokum?" asked Mr. Drabney.

"Quite probably, but it's worth a try. Ah, here's the nurse's office."

The decor of the office was similar to normal first-aid stations, but the nurse herself was a touch unusual. A dark-skinned woman with large, almost luminescent eyes, she had pointed ears and stood less than four feet tall. A colorful, exotic-looking dress indicated a mature figure no child possessed.

"Good morning, Doctor Sands. How can I help you today?" Her voice was surprisingly full-throated for her size.

Skyler indicated the man standing next to him. "Good morning, Miss McMillan. Mr. Drabney, here, is our new manager. He had a little run-in with Pikachu."

"That'll be electrical burns then. May I see where it hurts, Mr. Drabney?"

The visitor held out his hand, and Miss McMillan took it in hers. There was a slight glow, and the burnt area turned back to its normal color.

"The pain's gone! But you didn't put anything on it."

The "nurse" nodded. "Don't need to. I've got elfin healing powers, courtesy of being turned into Leetah. Which is a good thing, since I'm a math major, not pre-med."

"We've got an actual medical staff on site," explained Skyler, "for major problems. But their primary efforts are diected towards finding a cure for those Xanadu survivors that need one."

Out in the hall, Mr. Drabney stopped Skyler. "'Elfin healing powers'? Did you run background checks on *any* of these people?"

"Those are in progress. But quite frankly, most of the Xanadu survivors know as much about what's happened to them as the scientists studying the effects. It's not as though this is a secret agency, after all. Plus, Project X had to be put together from scratch in a matter of weeks. We've allowed any Xanadu survivor who can fill a job slot here to do so. After all, they're not sick, in the usual sense of the word--ah, here's someone who can speak better to that subject. Dr. Amelia Johanssen, the is our acting manager, Mr. Drabney."

The psychologist stuck out her hand. "Pleased to meet you.

I've got a lot of supply requests just waiting for a signature. We're going to need much more soundproofing for C Wing."

"'C Wing?' Should I ask?"

"It's where we keep the subjects whose behavioral problems prevent them from mixing with the general population. Some of them are rather loud, especially when they're, er, exercising."

Mr. Drabney frowned at Skyler. "I thought you said these people weren't sick."

Dr. Johanssen cleared her throat. "They aren't, in the way you're thinking. From our perspective, many of the Xanadu survivors are delusional, and quite a few are obsessive-compulsive. But from their perspective, they're normal, and the rest of the world has inexplicably changed on them."

"But you are trying to cure them, aren't you?"

"'Cure' is a word that we don't bandy about lightly here, Mr. Drabney. There's been some promising results with the Neuralizer, but--"

"It's a device that induces partial amnesia," explained Skyler at Mr. Drabney's blank look. "The new memories seem to cover the entire life, but they actually only date from the moment of transformation. By removing all memories from that point forward, the original personality is restored."

"However," Dr. Johanssen warned, "the results of waking up in a transformed body with weeks of missing time can be worse for the victim than the original transformation was. Moreover, what little data we have suggests a long-term return of the oveerlay personality. So we're reserving Neuralizer therapy for only the most necessary cases."

"And instead?"

"My staff has been trying to help the survivors cope with the world as it is. Alot of them have lost their families, their homes, everything they know. It's tough work."

Skyler nodded. "But well worth it. We won't keep you any longer, Doctor."

They moved on down the hall.

After a bit, they came to a door labeled "Library."

"It's a bit understocked at the moment, but several of the residents are having their collections shipped down."

Inside, the room was rather dark, since instead of electrical lights, the room was lit by a few candles. Surrounded by the half-empty shelves, a vision of loveliness stood reading. She had golden hair flowing to the floor in gentle curves, sapphire eyes, a shimmering white gown over impressive curves, and translucent, iridescent wings. Skyler's breath caught in his throat, and he had to bite his lip to remind himself that this was a glamour.

"So beautiful..." said Mr. Drabney. Then he shook himself. "That's a fire hazard. Don't the lights work in here?" He flipped the light switch.

The woman looked up as the overheads began to flicker. "Orc dung!"

She began to sneeze, each time she sneezed shrinking a bit until she was less than a foot tall, and her hair sticking out like a poorly made haystack.

"Mr. Drabney, may I present Elisandra Melisande Blueleaf the Eighth, Princess of the Willowand Fairys. She's allergic to flourescent lights."

"I hade you," she sniffled.

"Princess, this is the new castellan, so please be polite. Mr. Drabney, the princess is one of our two experts on magic."

"Magic? Humbug, you mean!"

The small woman buzzed angrily. "I can durn you indo a doad, you know."

"I'd be careful, if I were you," advised a new voice. An ancient-looking man with a long beard, dressing in purple robes decorated with golden stars and moons, as well as a pointed hat, appeared from the depths of the library. "The princess is very touchy."

"Am nod."

"And you would be?"

"Larry Gilcrist, of Fish and Wildlife. And now, wizard."

Mr. Drabney looked puzzled. "Fish and Wildlife? You're government?"

"Darn straight/ Eighteen years service. Suddenly, I'm retirement age."

"Actually, given the proportion of the American population that works for the government in one way or another, it's not surprising a few of the Xanadu survivors were among them. There was a DEA agent who came as Kimball Kinnison, but he chose to stay on his old job."

"Kimball Kinnison?"

"Basically an incorruptible super cop. Those Colombian drug lords won't know what hit them." Skyler deliberately didn't mention the telepathy.

"The princess and I are the only two at the project so far who 'learned' our magic. The others with magical abilities all were gifted rather than educated," explained Larry. "So we've been researching to see if we can undo what's been done."

"Sadly," said Elisandra, "Whadeber did dis is more powerful dan eider of us, so my 'remobe curse' spell doesn'd work.

  • sniff* And I neber learned de 'dransform do human' spell."

Larry produced a crystal ball. "And my speciality is illusion and divination spells. By the way, Doctor, I have bad news. The Senator will be leading a filibuster against our funding next year."

"I'm not surprised."

Skyler straightened. "But as I told him before, we are not forcing our vampire to bite him."

"Why would anyone want to be bitten by a vampire, real or not?" asked Mr. Drabney.

"It's an ersatz immortality." Larry wiggled his fingers, and an image of Christopher Lee as Dracula appeared in mid-air. "Surprisingly enough, some people, including the Senator, are willing to accept the drawbacks in exchange for a longer existence upon the Earth. But our house vampire is semi-reformed, and he doesn't want to make any new vampires."

"Sadly, the Senator isn't taking 'no' for an answer, and it looks like he's going to carry out his threat about using his influence against Project X."

Mr. Drabney asked, "Which senator is this, anyway?"

Skyler named a name.

"You must be joking! He's one of the most respected men in Washington!"

"And one of the oldest," replied Skyler. "It's very unlikely he'd live through another term in office, and he's determined to stay in power indefinitely."

Elisandra had located a handkerchief nearly as large as she was, and blew her nose. "From what I'm told, being a vampire's against his religion, too."

"On the lighter side," Larry said, "the next issue of the Weekly World News will feature an interview with Elvis Presley, or rather a fellow who came to Xanadu dressed as him."

Skyler sighed. "No surprise there either. We'll leave you to your research now." He flipped off the lights as he went.

As they came to the center of the building, Skyler turned left. "Now, let's visit the operations center."

Through the double doors was a large room reminiscent of pictures Skyler had seen of NASA control rooms. Banks of computer monitors, and a huge world map projected on one wall. All around the room, young women in a variety of figure-flattering uniforms were typing, answering phones and delivering paperwork. Yvette was in the third row, working her way through a particularly thick stack of forms.

Skyler clapped his hands. "Could I have everyone's attention, please?"

The room suddenly quieted for just a moment, as the inhabitants turned towards the raised platform at the back of the room where Skyler and Mr. Drabney were standing. Then there was a wave of greetings.

"Good morning, Dr. Sands!"


"I brought brownies today!"


It did Skyler good to see so many smiling faces turned in his direction. But now was not the time to dwell on that. "Good morning to all of you as well. I'd like to introduce Mr. John Drabney, our new acting manager. From now on, he'll be handling all administrative duties, so it's in your best interests to give him some respect, okay?"

For the first time, a faint hint of humor touched Mr. Drabney's voice. "Thank you for that stirring endorsement. Everyone, back to work! We're not paying you to stand there!"

As the "bridge bunnies" returned to their tasks, Skyler said, "Nene? Why don't you come up here for a moment?"

A red-headed young woman in what looked like a police uniform came up to the back. "Yes, Doctor?"

"How are we doing on the shadow program?"

"I've just added all the major car rental companies to the systems we've infiltrated. The minor ones should be finished by the end of business today."

Mr. Drabney's eyebrows drew closer together. "What's this about infiltrating systems?"

"It's quite simple, really," said Nene, calling up a display on her PDA. "We have a list on all known attendees of the Xanadu event, about fifteen thousand names all together. Fortunately, some smart guy in the rescue squads got a printout of it shortly after the event, or we might not have it at all. Anyhow, what I've done is go into all the computer systems we can reach, and put on a shadow tag on these names-slash-numbers. If anyone makes a major change to one of the tagged data bits, it triggers a copy of that change to be sent here. That way we can keep an eye on anyone trying to make themselves or someone else disappear."

"Isn't that illegal?"

Skyler nodded. "I'll show you the executive order authorizing us to do this later."

"But if you can do this, why not just protect those data bits from being changed in the first place?"

Nene snorted. "Any script kiddie worth her salt would spot that kind of protection and consider it a challenge. This way, we have a chance of actually getting useful information from any attacks."

"And there may have already been successful attacks," added Skyler. "There are a dozen names on the list that don't match any records *anywhere*. Either they've been erased by a world-class hacker, or these people lied to the convention registration staff.

The staff didn't have the world's most stringent fact-checkers."

Nene punched up another report. "We know there's at least one leet hacker out there; he put a high-school principal on the FBI's Most Wanted List. The Feds should have known better, really. Whoever it was misspelled 'molestation' and 'assault' on the warrant. Another failure of the American educational system."

Seeing a nasty glare from Mr. Drabney, Skyler pointed at the map. "Up there is the way we keep track of the last known location of important Xanadu survivors."

Tiny lights twinkled on the map; some green, most amber, and some red (though more than green.) The highest concentration of them was in Florida, with smaller clusters in California and New York. A few twinkled in other countries as well.

"What do the colors stand for?"

"Green lights represents survivors who have heroic personas, or whose actions have shown that they're active 'good guys.' Amber lights are those who have powers or talents that might prove dangerous, but who haven't shown an indication one way or another. Red lights are people who wore villainous costumes, or who have shown themselves to be a danger to others or themselves. Apparently harmless people aren't on the map."

"They're so scattered, even different countries?"

"Yes." Skyler began pointing to various parts of the map.

"Quite a few of the survivors have returned home, to try to continue living their lives to the degree they can. Some of those were foreign nationals to begin with. Amazingly, despite the Japanese ambassador's embarrassingly bad way of recruiting them, several survivors took him up on his offer of asylum. Much joy may he have of Zen Team."

"Zen Team?"

"A color-coded hero team, kind of like the Power Rangers."

"Power Rangers?"

"Never mind. Nene, how's the G-search coming along?"

"Last confirmed Godzilla sighting was two days ago. Still headed west."

Mr. Drabney's attention perked up. "There's a Godzilla?"

Skyler and Nene both looked incredulously towards Mr. Drabney. "You know who Godzilla is?"

"A girl I dated dragged me to one of those movies. 'Godzilla vs. Gilgamesh,' I think it was. Fell asleep halfway through." Mr. Drabney looked thoughtful. "But that thing was about three hundred feet tall, wasn't it? That should be no problem to track."

Nene giggled. "The entire JSDF couldn't find Godzilla sometimes. But the good news is that this particular lizard started out only five feet tall, according to the hotel security cameras."

"And the bad news?"

"He's growing." Skyler gripped the railing. "At last report,he was 5'3".If he continues growing at this rate, Godzilla could be a serious menace by the end of next year."

Mr. Drabney looked pained. "I suppose you're going to tell me you have a plan to deal with this?"

"Yes. Among the other functions of Project X is creating an emergency response team. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to recruit any of the iconic American superheroes. If we could get Batman, Captain America or even Luke Skywalker, we'd be set.

Unfortunately, most of the masked hero types are in our 25% 'Unlocated' category."

"What do you mean, 'Unlocated?' You mean you don't know where these people are?"

Skyler pinched the bridge of his nose. It didn't make the tension go away. "No, sir. We have a general idea of where they might head, but being able to disappear is part of the whole 'secret identity' schtick. More worrying is our 10% 'Unknown' category. That's the people we can't find any record of which costume they wore or any witnesses who will admit they know what the costume was. We're pretty sure, though, that there's some overlap with the animals, monsters and Pokemon in custody that we haven't been able to identify.

By the way, we're still housing the larger specimens at the zoo, which is going to be a human rights nightmare, you'll need to find a fix for that."

Mr. Drabney looked thoughtful. "Outside. Now."

Out in the hall, Mr. Drabney asked, "Why are we not locking up every one of these freaks and lunatics? Just put them somewhere where we don't have to worry about what they might do until a cure can be found. I'm sure we can find a way within the rules and regulations."

"We are not locking up 'freaks and lunatics', because until they prove a danger to others or themselves, they are more valuable to us free."

Skyler could barely contain his anger.

"With their cooperation, it's quite possible that we will have a cure for cancer, a cure for AIDS, maybe we will finally, at last, get into space again! But if we make ourselves their enemy, these people could destroy the world. I know which possibility I prefer."

"Wait a minute. You're one of *them*, aren't you? You were at Xanadu too!"

Skyler gave a tight smile. "It certainly took you long enough to figure that out. And no, you can't fire me. The government needs someone who can decipher the technology the Xanadu effect left behind. Plus, since you're a mundane, you're going to need me to run interference for you with the people here who don't like mundanes, tell you who they're supposed to be, and what's going on."

Mr. Drabney's face hardened. "Is there a phone I can use?"

"Your office-to-be is over here."

The door slammed behind Mr. Drabney, but the soundproofing had not been installed yet, so Skyler was easily able to hear one end of the conversation.

"Sylvia? This is John Drabney. Connect me to your boss....Phil, this is John, how are the kids?....Fine, fine. Listen, Phil, I need out of this place....No, you don't understand. They have freaks here, and the place is being run by crazy people! This is *not* the job I was promised!....Yes....Yes, I remember....Phil, that was eight years ago!....You can't do this to me....Phil, I'm sorry, I'm begging--"

Skyler was distracted from his eavesdropping by an intercom beeping. "Dr. Sands?"

"Yes, Miss Quan?"

"Good news, Doctor. Colonel Steve Austin called, and he's willing to sign up on one condition."

"And that condition would be, now?"

"We find some way to mute that weird noise his bionics make when he stresses them."

"Sounds like a deal. Sands out."

Yes, this was much more in his field. A long night ahead in the lab again, and Skyler couldn't be happier.


Comments, questions? SKJAM!