Jane clings to an iron chain. Tom feeds it out, above her, lowering her down into the garden. She descends, inch by inch. Below her, the roses tremble. Each stem is lined with thorns. Each petal is dewed with rain.
Maria stands in a garden arch, looking out at the rain. There is a large and bulky metal cylinder beside her.
“‘Raindrops on roses,’” Jane whispers to herself. “I sure hope we’re right.”
Jane’s whisper is as quiet as the rain. But Maria still looks up. Her eyes burn with an alien scorn.
“Jane,” Maria snides. “How nice to see you.”
The metal shape is a gun. It rises in Maria’s hands. Its barrel is as thick as Jane’s torso, and it begins most ominously to whine.
Code Name: Omen
Nicolae is tainted with demonic blood. It lives inside him and makes him write brooding Gothic poetry. The taint is degenerative and irreversible. One day it will consume him and in his shape and with his name rule as the Beast of prophecy over an empire of evil.
Nicolae is a founding member of the Doom Team.
This story begins several hours beforehand, on a bright Monday morning, in the house at Number Seventeen Doom Lane.
Tom, Nicolae, Michael, and Mouser drink tea in their secret treehouse. It is secret because of its sign, which reads “Tom’s Secret Treehouse—Invisible to Girls!”
Jane climbs up the ladder and joins them.
Tom is dumbstruck.
“Jane!” Tom says. “How did you find us? This treehouse is invisible to girls!”
“I used my hearing and my sense of smell to deduce its location,” Jane claims.
“. . . I guess you can come in, then,” Tom admits.
“It’s a good thing, too,” says Jane. “I have an important letter from Uncle Bertram!”
Tom sees the letter in Jane’s pocket. He reaches for it. She grabs it first and holds it against her chest.
“It’s addressed to me,” Jane says. She shows Tom. It is indeed addressed to Jane. “But it is not just any letter. It is a confession!”
Mouser wriggles his whiskers. “Mew!”
“What could he have to confess?” Michael asks. “Once the Doom Team exposed his drug empire and his prostitution habit, I assumed we’d plumbed the depths of Uncle Bertram’s depravity.”
Jane unfolds the letter. She scans it with her eyes. She has already read the letter so this is simply to help her get the details right. “Bertram says that Maria, the lovable nanny who brought joy and music into our lives, is in fact a ‘Fan Hoeng assassin.’ He activated her . . . today!”
Nicolae reaches out. He picks Mouser up. He strokes the kitten.
“Oh Mouser,” Nicolae confides. “Place not your trust in humankind. They will betray you.”
“It says,” Jane continues, “that Uncle Bertram is in Bermuda spending our trust fund. But he had pangs of guilt. So he had to write us a letter explaining why it is all our fault.”
Nicolae’s eyes darken.
Jane’s mouth twitches. She reaches out a hand to Nicolae’s shoulder. Nicolae permits the familiarity.
“He didn’t specifically mean you,” Jane says. “He never really accepted that you are destined to rule the Earth as the antichrist. He mostly rants about our lack of obedience and our inability to understand adult affairs.”
Nicolae shrugs a little.
“It’s always about being the antichrist with adults,” Nicolae says. “Even when they don’t admit it.”
Jane’s hand falls away. She chews on her lip. Finally, she shrugs.
“Tom,” Jane asks, “What is a Fan Hoeng?”
Tom puts down his tea. He takes out his handheld computing machine. He pushes and clicks buttons. He calls up the file on the Fan Hoeng.
“They are aliens from outer space,” Tom says.
“I always knew the Doom Team would fight aliens someday!” says Michael.
“The Doom Team and Jane, I mean,” Michael says. “And Mouser!”
Jane revises her sulk to a wry half-frown.
“In 1981,” Tom says, “the Fan Hoeng intercepted a Nazi radio transmission asking for help from any sympathetic aliens. They immediately flew to Earth to help defeat the Allies. It was already too late, and both East and West Germany politely declined their aid. The Fan Hoeng did not have enough fuel to return home and no one had spare plutonium to donate to Nazi space aliens. So they parked their mother ship in a lunar orbit and became a shady syndicate of space criminals. They are not human but can use a ‘Sapioreplicator’ to construct human bodies and minds. These artificial minds are haplessly lovable and bubbling with ‘joie de vivre.’”
“That’s why we all loved Maria,” Jane says grimly. “She was a Sapioreplicator construct.”
Tom shuts down his handheld computing machine. Its display becomes a mirror.
“It is strange to have loved something so unreal,” reflects Tom.
“I have never loved the real at all,” says Nicolae.
There is a crunch of an alien footstep on the leaf-strewn lawn. Maria walks past. She is clad in alien battle armor. She is carrying her gun. She looks left and right.
“She can’t see us,” whispers Jane.
“Is it the sign?” Tom asks. “Because it would be good if that worked on some girls.”
Jane casts him a pitying look.
“Mew!” declares Mouser.
“It’s not the sign,” Jane says. “It’s—look at her somatics, Tom! That’s no ordinary stiff neck—she’s struggling not to look up.”
“It’s the human personality imprint!” Tom realizes. His voice is a bit too loud in the crisp morning. Everyone dives flat onto the treehouse floor. There is a long silence. Maria does not seem to have heard.
“It’s the human personality imprint,” Tom says, more quietly. “The Maria we knew—the Maria who sang to us about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens—”
“She’s fighting for control.”
“It’s a Fan Hoeng secret weakness!” Michael says. “Inside that hardened alien killer is a nanny bubbling with hope!”
“‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,’” recites Nicolae. His voice is like a trickle of dark water. “‘Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with string—’”
“It’s not a song,” Michael says. “It’s a message. She smuggled it out of her alien-ruled brain. It’s—it’s—it’s a recipe!”
“The only thing that could possibly save us from a killer alien nanny,” breathes Jane. “A Taoist immortality elixir!”
Code Name: Swift
Tom descends from a primordial reptilian species whose genetic code can attach parasitically to human DNA. He is destined to use his scientific skills to eradicate the ‘human infection’ and warm the Earth until his species may flourish again. Time travelers have confirmed this future and his grandmother often nags him to get on with the eradication already. So far, however, Tom prefers to solve mysteries and help people out.
Tom is a founding member of the Doom Team.
Jane dangles in the garden above a raindrop-covered rose. Her hand reaches for it, but it’s just a little bit too far. Tom continues to lower her down.
Maria’s gun whines as it charges up.
“Almost . . . almost . . .” Jane cries. “Got it!”
Maria’s gun chimes.
“And I have you,” Maria says, softly.
Tom releases the chain. A counterweight attached to the other end of the looped chain falls.
“Thank the stars for action-reaction!” Jane shouts. The descending counterweight lifts her rapidly towards the garden balcony. She hurtles over the railing and into Tom’s arms. The two of them stumble backwards into the house wall.
“Death ray!” cries Jane. “Into the house!”
She attempts to disentangle herself from Tom. Tom attempts to disentangle himself from her. They succeed and make it through the balcony doors into the library just in time to escape the second shot.
“That will not stop her long,” Nicolae says. “She is a space alien, trained in calculating complex trajectories. Once she determines the correct angles she will jump up through the balcony doors and slaughter—”
Nicolae counts mortals.
“Jane and Mikey,” he says.
“Not if we slam the door in her face just as she jumps,” says Jane.
“That’s thinking like a Doom Team Auxiliary!” congratulates Tom.
Jane makes a horrible face at him for reasons Tom is unable to comprehend. A moment later, they hear Maria’s jump jets firing.
Tom and Jane and Michael and Nicolae slam the balcony’s doors. Maria smashes into the clear plastic with enough force to knock the children back. Maria looks startled and flat. Tom and Jane and Michael and Nicolae look winded. But it is the children who recover first. They scamper out of the room and are gone.
“You brats!” shouts Maria. “The Fan Hoeng clan will destroy you all!”
Tune in tomorrow for the harrowing conclusion of . . . THE INCREDIBLE ALCHEMY ELIXIR!