Yesterday, in the first installment of The Incredible Alchemy Elixir . . .
. . . a sinister letter revealed Uncle Bertram’s intent!
. . . nanny Maria donned the armor of a Fan Hoeng assasin!
. . . the Doom Team collected the first ingredient for a Taoist immortality elixir: raindrops on roses!
. . . Nicolae brooded about being the antichrist!
. . . Tom swiftied!
. . . Jane sulked!
And now, the exciting conclusion of . . . the Incredible Alchemy Elixir!
Age: 8 months
Code Name: None
Mouser is a kitten. He became an official Doom Team auxiliary when he killed a mouse and left it in Uncle Bertram’s bed. His declaration of “Mew” often confounds the enemies of righteousness and strikes terror into evil’s heart.
He is mewing even now!
“I’m sorry, Mouser,” says Nicolae.
“Mew,” whines Mouser. Mouser struggles desperately.
“Come on, Mouser,” says Michael. “It’s just one whisker! You can spare one whisker!”
“Is it really ethical to pluck Mouser just so the rest of us can live?” Jane asks.
“We can think about ethics later,” Tom delays. “Right now, there’s a bigger threat!”
“It’s all right,” Nicolae says.
There is a black dog standing at the entrance to the room. It pants. It looks at Mouser. Mouser goes very still. Nicolae plucks a whisker.
“He won’t give me any trouble,” says Nicolae bleakly.
Jane blinks. The dog is gone when she opens her eyes.
“Now for the bright copper kettles,” Michael says.
Code Name: Mikey
Michael is a special child. He can eat anything. He is not hungry very often but the more he eats he more he can eat—and the more he needs to eat. Tom’s equations suggest that Michael’s consumption will become asymptotically infinite by 2032, forcing him to devour the stars, the planets, and finally even the endless hungry void, leaving behind only the blank slate on which the universe was writ.
Michael is the newest member of the Doom Team.
The house supply of bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens sits in a pile in the middle of the kitchen.
Maria slouches against the wall. Her gun is by her side.
“I thought you would come here,” Maria says.
Jane and Tom and Michael stand frozen.
“I made sure you’d have to come here,” Maria says, “in fact.”
Nicolae steps forward. Maria’s gun rises. The gun begins to whine.
“How long does it take?” Nicolae asks. “I mean, for your death ray to initialize?”
“Seventy-five seconds,” Maria says. “It is a principal weakness of Fan Hoeng technology.”
Nicolae walks to the pile. He selects a pair of warm woolen mittens from the pile. He uses them to polish the edge of a bright copper kettle. The copper smears away, revealing the dark black beneath.
“Fake kettles,” Nicolae says. “Very cunning.”
Maria’s gun whines.
Nicolae scans the room. There’s a black dog standing by the pot cupboard. It pants. Nicolae walks over to the pot cupboard. He opens it. He is not hurrying.
The black dog is gone.
“I’ll put an end to all this nonchalance!” Maria shouts. Her gun fires. It shoots a ray of pure death. The blast hits Nicolae in the center of his chest. Circular ripples of fading death pass through the room.
There’s a silence.
Nicolae does not look harmed. He takes out one of the concealed bright copper kettles. He puts it under his arm.
“Indifference,” Nicolae says.
Nicolae’s pupils have shrunk to points.
Nicolae walks back to the others.
Maria opens and closes her mouth with a prim little click.
“He really is the antichrist, isn’t he?” Maria asks flatly.
Jane glares at Maria. Michael’s nostrils flare.
“No,” says Tom.
Tom steps forward. “No. He’s not. He doesn’t have to be. Not even if he’s immune to death rays. He’s a person.”
Tom juts his chin defiantly.
“Yeah!” says Jane.
Maria tilts her head to one side. “But—I am not wrong? That is his destiny?” she presses.
Nicolae answers. He bites out the word. “Yes.”
“Well, then,” says Maria. “I’ll just have to set my death ray to holy.”
Maria clicks a lever. Her gun begins a new kind of ominous whine.
“Could it be?” says Nicolae. His eyes brighten with something like joy. “An early end to the long dark aeons of my life?”
Jane grabs Nicolae’s arm. “Run!”
“Remember the Doom Team code!” says Tom. “You don’t have to die just because some people think your existence is evil!”
Jane tugs harder on Nicolae’s arm. “RUN!”
Nicolae hesitates, then, fractionally, he nods.
The four children dart away, Mouser galloping after.
Code Name: None
Jane is trouble. Bertram’s brother, David, adopted her because he thought that she might destroy the world. It turned out that he was wrong. Because she’s just ordinary trouble, Tom won’t let her join the Doom Team—but she’s so helpful on all of their adventures that the Team unanimously voted her in as a Doom Team Auxiliary!
“Brown paper packages,” says Jane. “Brown paper packages. Brown paper packages. What could that mean?”
“Dad’s opium stash!” Tom declares.
“That’s it!” they all shout. “Opium!”
They race downstairs to David’s abandoned bedroom. They break open his cabinet and take out a brick of opium. It is in a brown paper package, tied up with string. The children boil water in the bright copper kettle; mash up wool, opium, Mouser’s whisker, and the petals of the rose in a large glass bowl; and finally they pour boiling water over the mix.
“It’s a marvelous immortality elixir!” Jane says. “Bottoms up!”
“. . . Ladies first,” says Tom.
They stare at the lumpy mix for a bit.
“Nicolae?” Jane asks.
There is a black dog standing in front of Nicolae. It pants.
“Ask Mikey,” Tom suggests. “He’ll eat anything.”
“Nuh-unh,” says Michael. “I can eat anything. That’s different.”
“All right . . .” says Jane, unhappily.
Jane picks up the elixir. She lifts it to her lips.
The door to the room opens. Maria stands there. The gun is not whining. It is readied and braced against her shoulder.
“I wouldn’t drink that if I were you,” Maria hisses. “Once you’ve been immortal for five hundred years, Heaven would send a terrible wind to destroy you. And even if you survived that, it’d send a terrible fire to kill you five hundred years later! That’s why there aren’t many immortal Taoists around.”
Jane pauses before drinking. “I don’t want Heaven to destroy me,” she admits.
Nicolae looks at her.
Jane blushes. “Sorry,” she says. “That was insensitive. —But I don’t!”
“You won’t have the chance,” says Maria.
Maria pulls the trigger. Jane, desperate, splashes the elixir of immortality on her face.
There is a silence.
“You’re not dead either,” Maria says, dumbly.
“I guess I’m a Taoist immortal,” Jane frets.
“You can’t be a Taoist immortal,” claims Tom. “You’re a girl.”
Maria fires again. She fires shot after shot at Jane’s chest. It splashes off.
“You are a Taoist immortal!” Tom exclaims.
“The gun,” Maria whispers. “It’s overloading. I’ve shot too much death at an immortal! It’s going to explode!”
“Serves you right,” sulks Jane.
“It’s your fault!” curses Maria. “It’s all your fault! The Fan Hoeng will avenge me! They will sear this world, they will ruin it, they will salt the earth and boil the seas, all to get at you, Jane! All to destroy you!”
The gun explodes.
There is dust and there is rubble and the ceiling falls.
Age: 72 years
Code Name: None
David Fitz built the house on Doom Lane as a haven for children destined to destroy the world. He adopted Tom, Nicolae, Michael, and even Jane. They never knew whether he wanted the world to end or just thought that destined avatars of destruction had it pretty tough. All they knew was that he loved them, that he took them in, and that he died, leaving the Doom Team and their trust fund in his brother’s greedy hands.
He is mourned.
Jane is dizzy as they haul her into the light.
“Is everyone okay?” Jane asks. “Michael? Oh my God, is Michael alive?”
“I ate the death and the blast,” Michael says. “I’m okay. And I even saved Mouser. But I’m hungrier now.”
“I’m so glad,” Jane says. She hugs him tightly. “I’m sorry I tried to get you to drink the immortality elixir.”
“It’s okay,” Michael says.
Jane blinks away her tears. She pushes Michael away. She looks around at the rubble on Doom Lane.
“Well,” she says. “They’re going to destroy the Earth to get at me.”
“Yeah,” Michael laughs.
There is a silence.
“I guess that means I can join the Team now,” Jane says. “Huh?”
Tom’s face is stricken. Nicolae’s eyes are dark and wounded.
There is a silence.
“Of course,” Michael says.
Nicolae, quietly, nods.
“Yes,” Tom admits.
A bird sings, far away.
“I’m so sorry,” says Tom, wretchedly.
The rubble shifts and crunches.
“Jane, I’m so sorry!”