unning for my life from a horror, I made it to the beach and fear gave me even more speed. I needed all the speed I could manage, because we had beached the skimmer, and I would need time to push it into the water. My breath came in gasps as my feet slapped the sand. Bushes and forest on one side, the ocean on the other. I didn't dare look back; I had to spend every second making headway.

And I heard other, stranger feet thumping be ground behind me.

Leaning forward, my attention thoroughly ahead, watching for obstacles, looking for holes or mounds, I pumped my arms vigorously and concentrated solely on escape. Every muscle in my body objected, but I outvoted their complaints and kept on.

Was the sound behind me slipping back? Was I gaining enough? Where was that damned skimmer?

I rounded a curve and there it was. Could I make it in time?

I had to. Whether he knew it or not, my brother Zack was depending on me.

Luckily, the water had risen a bit. I slammed into the skimmer, put my hands on the bow, and pushed, expecting hot breath on my neck at any second. "Move, dammit!" I gasped, digging my feet in and leaning into it with all my weight.

It slid. Agonizingly slow, but it slid.

In more seconds, the skimmer was in the water and I was wading, pushing it further. Frantic, heart beating a mile a minute, I pulled myself into the boat and fumbled for the switch.

I heard splashing behind me.

"Start, start, start!" I pleaded, begged, insisted. I looked, and the thing had reached the boat.

We hadn't expected the case to be anything like this!

* * *

t began days ago in our office. "You did not!" I insisted to Zack.

Why did we still do this? When we were kids, it was one thing; Zack was my younger brother, and kids arguing was not unusual. But now we were adults, two PIs (Public Interrogators, not the old-fashioned Private Eyes) and have been doing that successfully for over five years.

But we still argued, just the same. I swear, if one of us was about to cross death's door and the other said, "You did!", the near-decedent would manage to gasp, "Did not!"

We made a mistake in office design, because our desks were on opposite walls facing each other, making it easier to swap not only ideas, but arguments. To my left, a wall window stretched from side to side overlooking the city below. I was about to retort when I put my chin in my hand for emphasis, but my fingers felt the stubble on said chin, reminding me I had not shaved. One difference between us was that I was a sloppy worrier, while Zack was neat and carefree.

That delay was interrupted by the deskcom. "Jack and Zack, PIs," it said.

"Professor Mika Zanik," said a holohead floating in the middle of our office. It was an older man, long nose and a bushy head of white hair. "I need an appointment."

Why couldn't it be an attractive blonde? Oh, well; just so he could pay our bill. The lease on our fancy suite was coming up for renewal. "I'm Jack," I said. Being the oldest, I always talk first. "An appointment costs one hundred dollars, which will go toward your fee if we accept your case. We only take cases that interest us," I went on, but that wasn't exactly so, not when finances weren't the best.

The holo nodded. "I know that," he said impatiently. "My brother, Anton Zanik, has disappeared. He is a very intelligent scientist who has much to offer humanity. From what he told me, he was on the verge of something fantastic -- and then he disappeared. I went to his lab. Much equipment had been stolen, much broken, and there was blood on the floor."

"Sounds like a job for the police," I said.

"Of course!" he snapped. "It was the police lab that verified the stains were blood. But that is all they have accomplished. Each time I check with them I am told, 'We are working on it.' I should damn well hope they're working on it!" the professor said. "That's one of the many reasons our taxes are so exorbitant."

"Did they verify the bloodstains were from your brother?"

Zanik snorted down his long nose. "That's another reason I'm dissatisfied; all their lab could say was that they thought it was human! How inadequate." He sniffed. "Is that sufficient to gain me an appointment?"

I nodded. "Tomorrow morning, our office, ten o'clock."

This time it was Zack who snorted. "Why put it off? We've got nothing going on; we could see him right away."

"Appearances, dear brother," I informed him. "We can milk more out of him if he doesn't know we're desperate. Besides," I added, "we need to do a bit of background check. The better informed we are, the more efficient Interrogators we will seem to be."

We were Public instead of Private, because Public ties us in with law enforcement, public records, government records, and so on. It was difficult and expensive, but we thought it was worth it. The expense part of it came from our inheritance and the difficult part called for the two of us to really dig out mental teeth into it. Zack and I have (despite our arguing) always been very efficient at working together, so we succeeded. Up to now. We hadn't had a case for over a month .

"Got it!" said a young man who popped up where the holohead had been. He wasn't just a head, but a full-sized man in his young twenties, quivering with excitement. Even his maelstrom of red hair seemed to be vibrating.

"What you've got is the jitters it seems to me," Zack said.

"What is it, Freddy?" I asked.

He beamed an effervescent grin at me. "Zanik!" he burbled. "Police record, his University record, utilities, everything!"

"...And?" I encouraged. "Details, without the vivacity."

Freddy was another expensive part of being Public; we had a special computer program built that had awareness and the urge to be of assistance. Hadn't really meant for that urge to come out the way Freddy did, but we got used to it -- him!

Forcing himself to attention, Freddy reported, "The police labs have made no headway on identifying the bloodstains. There is no further report on the presence of Professor Zanik's brother, not even at the University. However --" and the grin was tugging at Freddy's mouth "-- there was something quite interesting in the power bills." He stopped.

"Come on, come on!" I snapped, irritation building.

"On the day the professor's brother disappeared, the power consumption almost ran off the scale!" Freddy smiled at Zack. "Probably equal to an entire year for Zack's gaming."

"Or," I said, taking up for Zack -- after all, he's my brother -- "as much as running a 3D deskcom holo for a day." I shrugged. "But what could that power spike mean?"

Freddy looked from Zack to me, sobering. "There are many possibilities," he said. "However, only one seems to apply to the situation. The younger Professor Zanik could have been disintegrated. That would explain his disappearance."

"But disintegration devices are not fully developed," I objected.

"Only technically correct," Freddy said. "Many attempts have come quite close to success. What if the younger Professor Zanik was working on just that, and unfortunately completed such a machine?"

I took a deep breath. "...Interesting theory, Freddy," I said. "However, if a disintegrating machine had been completed, why wasn't the machine still there?"

Freddy paused, considering. "Perhaps," Freddy then suggested, "the machine was too successful, and disintegrated itself, and the missing lab equipment?"

"Check Zanik's lab, Freddy. See if its mass is any smaller now than it was the day before he disappeared, after taking into account the missing material."

Freddy brightened. "Very good idea." He blinked, then said. "My theory is shot; there is no significant loss of mass, beyond the equipment. But what does the increase in power mean?"

"Maybe nothing," I said. "One of the lab machines might have shorted out, causing the surge. Or maybe something else. In any case, we need to proceed." I scratched my head, and added, "Freddy, I have several things for you to do: Check and see if Anton Zanik has -- had -- a driver's license, see how long he usually stayed at his lab in a day, find out his home address, and see if there is any regular pattern to his life -- anything other than lab work and sleeping, that is. See if he's bought any tickets either on-world or off-world. Then print out a complete report for us; that will show his brother that we have been working. Okay?"

"You got it, chief!" Freddy said, and disappeared.

+ + +

rofessor Mika Zanik was punctual. When I offered him a seat, he became stiffly erect and said, "I prefer to stand. Let's get on with this."

"As you wish," I said, handing him the print-out of our progress. "I prefer to sit, thank you." Instead of my chair, I perched on the corner of my desk. "In case you don't know, I'm Jack Tonelli." I waved a hand toward my brother. "That's Zack. As you can see, we are already looking into your case. I must admit that it's both frustrating and intriguing. Please examine our report."

The professor was either a speed reader or could care less, for he quickly flipped through the pages and then looked at me. "What now?"

"We'll take your case, Professor Zanik -- as much because of the frustrating part of it as the intriguing. 'Frustrating' means it's a real challenge." I got up and took the seat behind my desk, laced my fingers behind my head and leaned back. "Challenges," I added, "cost money."

"Inconsequential!" Zanik said, slapping the report across his other hand. "I am not without financial means, and want to find my brother -- not only because of our relationship, but mankind's good as well. Before he disappeared he said he was about to develop something that would literally change man! I must know what it was. How much deposit do you require?" he finished, putting the papers on my desk and digging out his assets card.

I considered, then said, "Five thousand would be a sufficient beginning for our contract. I have no idea how much the total may be."

Without a flinch, he passed his card over my deskcom. "Done!" he said. "Please pursue this with due diligence."

The office door had barely closed behind Zanik when Freddy popped up, beaming. "Way to go, boss!" he said. "You nailed him good."

Zack nodded, but not quite with Freddy's exuberance. "He's hooked, alright. But," he added, "what now, big bro?"

"After seven tonight, we go to the Rooster's Tail." That was the name of the only place Anton Zanik went besides his lab and his home. It was a restaurant not far from his lab, and he ate breakfast there, went to his lab, then returned for dinner sometime between seven and nine. No sign that he ate in between, unless he purchased take-out. "Maybe he became familiar with one of the Rooster's regulars, or one of their employees."

It turned out to be one of the regulars.

When Zack and I dropped by the restaurant that night, I collared a waiter. (Yes, this was one of those old- fashioned places that used waiters. I decided that chances were it had a real human cook/chef as well. Further, there were red-checked tablecloths on the many tables.)

"Do you know this man?" I asked the waiter, holding out Zanik's ID.

The waiter smiled fondly. "Professor Zanik? Of course; he eats here all the time."

"Did you talk with him much?"

The waiter shook his head. "He was way beyond my level," he said. "I only waited on him. You should talk to the man behind you."

A voice squeaked, in a friendly way, "You talking about Tony?"

I turned. Because of the squeak, I looked down ... but found myself looking at a leather belt. I raised my eyes, raised them some more. His eyes were at least six inches above mine. A leather jacket covered his broad shoulders, and he was wearing blue jeans. "If you're referring to Professor Anton Zanik, then yes -- that's who I'm talking about."

He gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder that bumped be against Zack. "Yeah, that's him!" he said. "Big brain, but an alright sorta guy. Why? He ain't in trouble, is he?" he added, with a worried frown.

"Not that I know of," I replied. "But he's disappeared. When did you last see him?"

'Squeaky' rubbed his chin in contemplation. "Lessee now...well, it was the day before yesterday. Had dinner here, he did."

Interesting! That would be the day Professor Mika Zanik went by the lab and saw the mess. Could Anton have been at the Rooster's Tail when Mika came by?

"You sure it was the day before yesterday?"

"Positive. Y'see, I was kinda worried 'cause he didn't come by last night."

Conversation revealed that Squeaky's name was Robespear and he had known Anton for several years. "He saw me playing tic-tac-toe with another guy, mostly losing, and he showed me how to play so's it always came out even. Right then I bought him dinner, and we talked a bunch. After that, he'd sometimes ask if I knew some bum who'd like to earn a few bucks at his lab. Told him I'd be glad to do it for him, but you know what he said?"

When I shook my head, he grinned ear-to-ear and squeaked, "Told me you lose friends by hiring 'em!" he said, and cackled. "Told him I'd do it for nothin', but he said he didn't wanta ... what did he say? ... 'capitalize on our friendship'!" He cackled again.

"Did you find him any bums?"

"Two -- no, three including that last one the other day. Why?"

I explained who Zack and I were and why we were here. Gave him a quick run-down of the situation. "Any chance he took a taxi?" I asked, as Freddy's check of public transportation had drawn a blank.

Robespear surprised us with a booming laugh, and another slap on my shoulder. Zack steadied me as the big man sqeaked, "Not Tony! He didn't trust nothing on wheels. That's why his home and his lab is so close to the University." He sobered as a frown of worry creased his broad brow. "Ain't like Tony at all, it ain't!" He sent me a look of concern. "Reckon something coulda happened to him?"

The waiter had steered us to a table in one corner of the big room. As Robespear asked his question, we all took seats. "I'll take the usual," the big man told the waiter. "Dunno if they wanna order or not." He gave us a questioning look.

"Just milk and a slice of pie," I said. True to form, Zack ordered a sizable meal. Never gained an ounce, but always ate a lot.

As the waiter left, Robespear stiffened in his chair. "I'll bet Jimmy killed him!"


"The last bum I sent 'im," Robespear said in his reedy voice. "I thought he was okay, but ... well, he coulda used his grocery slide to move what stuff he stole, then tuck Tony's body on it to get rid of it. Jimmy limped, but he coulda done it." Glumly, he slumped in his chair, shaking his head sadly. "Never woulda thought it of Jimmy," he said, then looked at me. "Do you reckon that's what happened?"

Zack nodded. "Definitely another possibility," he said.

"Explains how the professor is missing," I agreed. I looked at Robespear. "Since we won't use anything with wheels, I don't see any other way Anton could have left. Doubt it he'd just walk away."

"Well, he coulda gone on his boat," the big man offered.

I saw Zack's eyes widen, as I'm sure mine did. "Boat?" we said in unison.

Robespear grinned. "Yup."

"But we have a complete list of everything he owned. There was no boat --"

He repeated his cackle. "Not in Tony's name," he said, with amused satisfaction. "Tony said he didn't want no records to show it up. So it's in my name. He gave me cash and I paid for it." He shook his head. "Took LOTS of cash," he said. "Piled up in bits and pieces over a coupla years, because Tony said he didn't want no records of large cash withdrawal." He shook his head in admiration. "Told you Tony was smart."

I knew there was a deep bay behind the University, within easy walking distance. "After we eat, could you show it to us?"

"Sure thing!"

Food came, we ate, and then we followed Robespear to the marina behind the University and saw --

"It ain't here!" the big man said.

The three of us stood and stared. A dozen or so boats were tied up, but it was obvious from Robespear's remark that none belonged to Anton. "Where'd he dock?" I asked.

"Only place it would fit," he answered. "That big slot on the left."

"So it was a big boat?"

He grinned. "Yeah, and Tony said it should be called a ship, 'steada a boat. Two decks 'steada just one like the others in the marina."

"His brother obviously didn't know about the boat ... ship," I said, correcting myself. I extended a hand to the big man. "Robespear, I really want to thank you. This is a great step forward."

Surprisingly, he wriggled in embarrassment. "Well, heck, anything I can do to help Tony!"

On our way back to the office, I told Zack, "Y'see, following up on leads really pays off. Now we have a lot of important information, by deduction."

Zack grinned. "You've got a ‘Sherlock Holmes' revelation, hmmm?"

I shook my head. "Nothing that complicated, just adding up what we have. First, Anton had to have been planning this a long while, since several years have passed since he bought the ship."

"Maybe he had another reason for buying the ship."

"I don't think so; he had no previous interest in the water. Not only that, but he must have been sure, even way back then, that this great theory of his would work. I mean, he didn't buy just a motorboat, he bought a ship. Like a motorboat wasn't big enough to carry his equipment. He musta known a ship is required to file a trip plan, so he bought it in Robespear's name."

"Yeah, when the Clarke was lost at sea, public pressure called for trips to be filed."

Nodding, I went on. "So Anton has been planning this for a long time, and must have bought a place to move his lab."

"Sounds pretty 'Sherlock Holmes' to me," Zack grinned.

We entered the office. "Freddy," I said. "Check out ship purchases by a guy named Robespear, then find out the last trip-plan for the ship."

"Got it!" the ebullient Freddy said, popping up. "It left the night of Professor Anton's disappearance, so I get the connection. Went to an island off in the Atlantic. I'll print a map."

As he said it, paper rolled out of the printer. I picked it up, looked at it, then handed it to Zack. "Less than a hundred miles," I said. "Get your travel clothes, brother. We're about to take an ocean voyage!" And I reminded myself to shave.

+ + +

e rented a skimmer, one of those boats where, when you reach sufficient speed, the hull rises out of the water and you attain rocket speed on skis; a speed so great it required seat-belts. When we expressed interest, the clerk paused, then said, "One thing I'm required to tell you."

The worrier in me perked up. "What's that?"

"...Well, it has lifejackets that are supplemented by a rescue jet pack." He stopped.

"And?" I prompted.

"Well, the jet pack hasn't been serviced. No guarantees on it." Then he forced a smile and added, "But the lifejackets are perfect!"

"Does that give us a discount?" I asked.

He hesitated, then said, "The lifejackets work!"

"Still," I said. "The safety of the jet pack is in question."

Finally he shrugged and said, "Five percent discount," and we sealed the deal.

Of course, we could have just reported the island to Professor Mika Zanik, but we weren't positive Anton was there. This way, we'd be sure.

A chopper would have made the trip much more quickly, but they were noisy and I wanted a quieter approach in case Anton was a prisoner and we had a captor to deal with.

When I spotted the island with my scope, I saw no boat so circled around to the other side.

There it was! A dock stuck out from the beach, and a big ship was tied to it.

"We'll go to the other side," I told Zack. "Then we can slip across the island and reconnoiter."

Which we did.

On one side, the beach ended at a tall cliff, so we took the other way until we could see the ship; then we slipped into the cover of the thick bush that grew into a jungle. When we made our way back to the beach, the ship and a three-storey building were revealed. Even as we watched, the front door opened and Anton Zanik stepped out. He paused a moment, looking about, and then went to the ship.


Didn't look like a prisoner to me, so we decided to approach him. Just as we reached the foot of the dock, Anton Zanik came out of the ship. He saw us, smiled and waved. "Hello there!" he said. "Nice to have company." He walked up and extended a hand.

"Jack Tonelli," I said, shaking his hand. "This is my brother Zack. We're Pis, and your brother hired us to locate you."

Anton shook his head deprecatingly. "That's my brother for you," he said. "Always was a worry-wart." He turned toward the house. "Come on; let's get out of the heat and have something cold to drink."

Sounded like a good idea, so we followed.

Inside, Anton invited us to sit at a coffee table. "I'll be right back with your drinks," he said.

Zack leaned back, head on entwined fingers. "Looks like we've solved this one," he said.

"I guess so," I answered...but something was bothering me. Like I said, I"m a worrier. Why wasn't Anton surprised by our appearance? Did he have some kind of detection device that warned him? I didn't know why, but I was worried -- yet not enough to mention anything to Zack.

"Here we are," Anton announced, returning with a tray holding three iced drinks. "Tea. Unsweetened, but I have sugar if you want any."

Taking a glass, Zack said, "Unsweetened is just my style." He took a deep swallow. "Hey, this is an interesting blend. What is it?"

Smiling, Anton said, "Something I've blended myself," he said. Looking at me, he held out another frosted glass. "Give it a try."

I took it, but said, "Why didn't you tell your brother where you were going? He was worried."

Anton chuckled. "As I said, he's a worry-wart. Besides, it was a last-minute decision."

"There's always the phone," I said, putting the glass to my lips, letting it appear I was taking a sip, then put it back down. "After all, he is your brother."

"All he wants is to find out what I'm doing," Anton said. Then he nodded at the glass. "Drink your tea."

As he said it, Zack collapsed off his chair.

I threw the glass at Anton. "Drink it yourself!" I said, jumping to my feet.

"Jimmy!" Anton screamed. "Get him!"

Another door slammed open and...something...came out. It was the size of a man, humped over, covered with fur, and where his nose should have been was something like the nose of a dog.

My mind spun wildly. I didn't have time to try to get Zack. I raced like hell for the door, yanked it open and ran for my life.

Racing for the beach, I glanced back. The monster was chasing me. I had no weapon, no defense, no hope except to run. My slim advantage was that the monster limped.


Robespear said the last bum he sent to Anton limped. And Anton had shouted for Jimmy!

Mika had told us his brother said he was trying to change humanity. Yeah, he was -- into monsters! Since this was the first time equipment was missing from the lab, I'd say the first two bums died in the experiment, but the energy surge to change Jimmy was a success.

A successful freak!

... So here I was in the skimmer, with the horribly mutated Jimmy on the bow.

And the engine roared to life.

Jimmy the monster had clambered onto the bow of the boat. I gunned it in reverse, and he slid off.

I wondered if weremonsters could swim.

In minutes, I was well away from the island ... and didn't know what to do! I couldn't leave Zack there, couldn't take the time to go back to the marina and get help, and I still had no weapons. To complicate things, the wind had picked up and waves were higher; clouds were filling the sky. I was afraid to try to get the skimmer up to skimming speed in this weather.

But I had to do something! I was certain Anton had planned to use Zack and me for further experimenting, turning us into freaks just like Jimmy -- but I had escaped, meaning only Zack would be available.

Wait; maybe that was the line of thought I should be following. Why was Anton doing this? What would he gain by creating monsters? It must be just a step in his plan, a step toward -- what? This recent one must have been by using genes from a stray dog to blend with Jimmy, making him a freak -- but why? Surely he was aiming for more than monsters.

That was it! Must be! He needed the genes of a willing man to blend with Jimmy -- or somebody ... Zack? ... to create an improved man. Monsters couldn't be his ultimate goal, but an improved human. So if I went and volunteered, he'd be glad to accept it.

I hoped.

Okay, okay; there was no way I was certain, but I didn't know what else to do. But I did come up with a backup plan -- the jet packs.

If they worked.

But I had to have something, in case I had to run again. After my last frantic race, I wasn't sure I was up to another one. So I turned the skimmer and made my way back to Anton's dock. When I finally reached it, I strapped on the jet pack and moored the boat to one of the dock's pilings, got out, and headed for the big house. And knocked.

Instead of the response I had hoped for, there was nothing. No answer. No way I could present my plan. So I knocked again ... and the door opened and Anton, as before, screamed: "Get him!"

I turned to get back to the skimmer -- but there was a thing between me and the dock. This one had tattered remains of clothing on it. Glancing back at the door behind me, I saw another one coming out.

Oh God! Zack had already been turned into a monster!

Okay, so much for my great plan. I veered toward the beach, and now two werethings were chasing me. I didn't even hesitate, but pushed the rocket button. I was lifted up into the air, hanging by the straps around my arms and shoulders, moving fast the direction I had been running. Then it stopped and I was plunging down. Frantically I hit the button again. With the rocket fighting gravity, my descent was soft. Even as I hit the beach, I pushed the button again, and soared away from the monsters.

But then the jet pack failed. Before I had reached the place I had originally beached the skimmer, it just gave up. I was ahead of the monsters -- well ahead of the limping one -- but I wasn't safe by any means. The skimmer was behind me, the jet pack had given out, and my bodily strength wasn't much better. All I could do was head for the woods, and hope I could lose them there.

So I went into the trees, trying not to leave a trail. At last I found a large tree that I could climb and hide in the thick and leafy branches above. I got situated among the higher branches only seconds before I heard somebody -- something -- coming my way.

I held my breath as one of them passed the trunk of my tree and kept going. I took a quiet breath, but I knew I wasn't out of danger yet. In only minutes, it was back. I say 'it'; as there was no sign of a limp, this one had to be Zack -- or it had been Zack. There was no brotherly love in his search. I guessed his nose was more sensitive in this form, and he probably scented me. He stopped at the base of the tree, and a haltering voice said, "I know ... you're there."

It wasn't Zack's voice, but the mouth was only half human. I didn't know if this was a good sign or not. Jimmy hadn't talked, but then he might not have had anything to say.

Desperately, I said, "It's me, Zack. This is Jack, your brother."

"Come down ... or I come ... up."

"I won't make it easy," I said. ... Why not? I had made it easy for Anton by just walking up to his door.

He began climbing the tree. I did the only thing I could think of; when he was well up the trunk, into the branches, I jumped out of the tree. Even though I knew to hit on my shoulder and roll, it was still quite a blow -- but I didn't let that stop me. Immediately I was on my feet and running. The only trouble was that Zack had the same training that I had; he was on the ground a second after me. Worse, I tripped on the exposed root of a tree and fell flat on my face.

Without a word, Zack flung me over his shoulder and started plunging through the woods back to Anton's house.

"Zack!" I said. "This is me, your brother Jack. Snap out of it, Zack."

No response.

God, there had to be some way I could reach him! He had just been changed; surely some of him remained. "Zack!" I pleaded, as I bounced on his shoulder.

Then something zapped into my mind. We hadn't argued this entire case, because we were in consensus as to how to proceed. We hadn't argued ...

"It's your fault, Zack. You did it! You did it, Zack!"

Did he slow down just a tad?

"You did it!" I repeated, insistently. "You did it!"

"Did ... not ... " The words were weak, but he really did slow down.

"You did it! You did it!"

"Did not!" This time he said it firmly, and came to a complete stop.

Just to be certain, I said, "Did so!"

"Did not!" he repeated, with his old emphasis.

"Zack!" I said. "It's Jack!"

"Of course it is," he said, puzzlement in his voice. "Why am I carrying you?"

When he put me down, I said, "Professor Anton did it, Zack."

"You said I did it."

"That was just to get to you, Zack, bring you back to normal," I said, feeling a great relief.

Zack looked down at himself. "I'm naked!" he said in mild amazement. "And covered with hair."

"Anton built a machine that mixed your genes with those of a dog, Zack. You are -- absolutely! -- not all there." I paused. Then a sudden thought concerned me and I asked, "Do you know what a machine is?"

Resentment in voice, Zack snapped, "Of course I do! What's wrong with you, bro?"

"Settle down. It's what's wrong with you that bothers me,"I said. "I don't know how much the change might have affected your brain. We've got to get you back to normal."

We spent half an hour planning, then headed for Anton's house. Unfortunately, Zack didn't remember anything about the place, so we had to check it out. There was a back door and, in the rear yard, a storage shed. Anton seemed to have taken few precautions, since he was the only inhabitant on the island. In the shed we found heavy wrenches we could use for clubs, and slipped into the back door.

Taken by surprise, Anton and Jimmy were no problem. We tied them both up, while Anton sputtered. Then he said, "How did you get control of him?"

All I said was, "We have a ... connection. He's my brother."

We found the lab, and told Anton to change Zack to his original self.

"Why should I do that?" he sneered. "Why should he want me to? As he is now, he'll live forever."

I lifted my eyebrows. "So that's what you're up to!" I looked at Zack. "Wanna live forever?"

Zack looked down at himself. "Like this? No way!"

"You heard him," I said to Anton. "Reverse the effect."

Anton shook his head. "It's the only edge I have on you. Do it yourself," he added, with another sneer.

A thought brightened my outlook. "I just might!"I said, and went to the lab's deskcom and called our office.

"Freddy!" I said. "Can you use this connection to come to me?"

"Faster'n a speeding bullet!" a grinning Freddy said, as he popped up in front of me. He looked around. "Nice lab," he said, whistling appreciatively. Then he looked at Zack. "What's that?"

"That is why I need you, Freddy. This mad scientist turned Zack into a monster." I indicated the machine. "Can you zap yourself in there and figure out how to reverse it?"

Like the Cheshire cat, Freddy's grin hung in the air by itself for a second.

+ + +

day later, it was all over. Zack was back to normal, as well as Jimmy, and the machine was destroyed and Anton arrested for kidnapping. Grudgingly, Mika paid his bill -- grudgingly, because he really wanted that machine. As I pointed out to him, that wasn't what the contract called for.

So we went back in the office... waiting for another argument to erupt.


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