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Authors: Edited By Ed Stark,Dell Harris

Mysterious Cairo

BOOK: Mysterious Cairo
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Mysterious Cairo

Torg: The Possibility Wars

created by Greg Gorden and Bill Slavicsek The Near Now ... Later today, early tomorrow, sometime next week, the world began to end.

They came from other realities, raiders joined together to steal the awesome energy of Earth's possibilities. They have brought with them their own realities, creating areas where rules of nature are radically different — turning huge portions of the Earth into
someplace else.

Now a primitive realm of dinosaurs and spiritual magic exists in North America, a fantasy realm of magical creatures and high sorcery invades the British Isles, and a theocratic Cyberpapacy™ springs up in Western Europe. A high-tech espionage realm takes control in Japan, a terror-filled reality of horrific monters dominates Southeast Asia, and a realm of Techno-Horror decends on Los Angeles. Egypt, along with much of Northern Africa, is a realm of 1930s pulp science fiction.

But Earth is not helpless. Standing between these Possibility Raiders™ and total victory are the
Storm Knights™,
men and women who have weathered the raging storms of change with their own realities intact.

Introduction

Ed Stark

Taking a long drag on my Lucky, I glanced over at my counterpart in crime. "Square Jaw" Nichols looked fine. Real fine. I chuckled. I suppose any "partner" who's tried to stab you in the back looks real fine knee-deep in cement.

Square Jaw's eyes widened. At least one of them did. The other was swollen shut, courtesy of "Pool Cue" Mackey's namesake — before Square Jaw plugged him. It was a shame about Mackey ... but them's the breaks.

He was finally coming around. For a lug who put up such a fight, you'd think he'd have woken up before now. Tcht. You never can tell.

I decided I could get to like this — gettin' rid of backstabbin' partners with guns and knives and trips to the Cairo docks instead of lawyers and contracts . I mean, "legal documents." I mean, there is something to be said for the direct approach.

Walking over to Nichols, I put a tight sneer on my face and a curl to my lip. He looked up, unimpressed. Heh. I suppose I'd try the same thing in his position. Big tough guy. Big deal.

Blowing some smoke into his swollen eye, I asked, "Had enough, Square Jaw? Think you can behave now?"

Behind the gag, I could see the gangster's jaw drop. His undamaged eye lit up with hope.

I laughed and continued, "Sure, S.J., I understand. You needed money; you needed it in a hurry." I paced a little bit, enjoying the moment, "I can understand that. I've had credit problems myself."

Nichols was really intent now — none of the "tough guy" remained.

I pretended not to notice. "I mean, whatta you think? You stole twenty, maybe thirty thou from me? I dump you to the crocs, do I get it back?" Flicking my ashes over the dock, I looked over my shoulder at him. Good ol' Square Jaw was shaking in his cement galoshes.

I turned back to him. "Well,
do I?"

Nichols shook his head slowly, his eyes never leaving mine. Sweat ran in rivulets between his thick eyebrows and over his granite nose. His black eye blinked with salty pain as we locked gazes.

Bending over, I put my face inches from his. He smelled of sweat and . yep, he hadn't been able to control himself.

"You know what you are, Square Jaw?" I asked, smiling again. He just stared, hope now an inferno behind his eyes.

"Really ."

— I took a long drag on my Lucky —

"Really
.
..
"

— I smiled and exhaled in his wide-eyed face —

"Really ..."

—I put my cigarette out in his good eye —

"Expensive croc food!
Over the side, boys!" My three men came forward, eager to do my bidding, as Square Jaw thrashed and cursed underneath his gag. At least I hoped it was cursing — it sounded an awful lot like beggin' to me.

I started walking toward the other end of the dock, waiting for the splash.

It never came.

I heard two heavy thumps on the boards, and a couple of muffled cries. Assuming that my usually dextrous employees had dropped their package, I turned around to admonish them for their poor treatment of Mr. Nichols. What I saw, however, froze my words on my lips.

Two figures stood on the dock next to the apparently unconscious forms of my three men and their former burden. Square Jaw was still sitting in the chair we'd tied him to, his legs deep in the pail of dried cement.

But I hardly noticed my former partner. I was more concerned with the two men who stood beside him. The smaller of the two was fairly unremarkable — a boy, maybe seventeen, wearing some sort of leotard. But the other was dressed in a long, dun-colored suit of what looked like chain mail. In one hand, he bore a shining — and
really big
— ball and chain weapon and, in the other, he had a shield. I didn't need to see the emblem on the shield to know I was facing two of Cairo's self-styled "pulp heroes."

My blood froze, but my feet moved. I found myself running down the dock at full speed, leaping over and around boxes and packages left tied to the wooden wharf. I hadn't run like this since college, but I knew I had to get away.

Hope, and a burning pain in my chest, came to me when I saw the rest of my boys — six in all — standing around our cars at the end of the dock. They were all looking at me, stunned expressions on their faces.

Their expressions helped me expect what was coming.

Seemingly from out of nowhere, a gloved hand grabbed my shoulder. A big hand. A strong hand. A
really
strong hand. No words were spoken, but the hand, very clearly, said, "stop." When my legs refused to listen, the hand lifted them off the ground. They decelerated rapidly from there.

I slowly turned my head away from the hand and towards its master. I winced with the pain and wondered why my boys were still standing, stunned, near the cars. Either time had slowed down or I needed a new breed of employee.

My eyes found a face, a face I had expected since I saw the two figures at the end of the dock. It was a big, solid face—not like Square Jaw's granite face, but more like a face that was made of stronger stuff.

Still, it didn't look too soft to me then.

The face was covered with a mask, and the mask had a large, white "C" in the center of the forehead. The "C" was surrounded by a pyramid. After seeing that, detail no longer mattered.

I tried a feeble grin. It was
not
well-received.

I heard, from the direction of my cars, the voice of reason at last.

"It's Colonel Cairo,"
the voice screamed, "
gun 'im!"

Not wishing to be in the line of fire, I kicked out at the Colonel. I could tell my foot met with his shin, 'cause it felt like I'd kicked a brick wall. If I'd hit his knee, I probably would have shattered my toe.

He didn't notice.

Still, I got the desired effect. Muttering something like, "don't go away," the hero tossed me — almost carelessly — at a pile of fish nets. I landed hard, but nothing was broken. I dove for cover as I heard the familiar
rat-at-tat
of my boys' tommy-guns.

Ah, the sound of music.

Bullets bit into the hardwood dock and the boxes and packages nearby. A few dug into the ones I was hiding behind. This made me rethink my position.

Before I could come up with a decision, though, the ricochets and gunfire died down suddenly. I peeked out.

"Over so ..."
Uh, oh.

What I said next does not bear repeating in polite company. Suffice it to say that I was displeased. My men were scattered around my vehicles in various forms of disarray. Tommy Fingers was unconscious and lying half inside, half outside my car . but no one had bothered to open the door. It looked like "Clubs" Murphy was wearing a Chinaman's hat, 'til I noticed the absence of one of my hubcaps. The other guys were in no better shape.

As for Colonel Cairo, he was surveying the damage, his back to me. His ball and chain were on the ground next to Digits Mulrooney —
that must have hurt!
— and his shield was nowhere in sight.

I still had my heater. It was a souped-up special, and I was pretty sure it would go through Cap's armor at this range. I took aim and .

I turned and ran.

Hey; I'm not stupid. Nobody was
paying me
to dust Cairo . and those heroes are tougher than they look. I didn't emigrate from the US of A to get my jaw broke.

I ran quickly and quietly towards the other end of the dock—back the way I'd come. Fortunately, I'd spotted a little dinghy on my way out the first time. Let's see; it was right ... aha!

I looked around. Nobody was in sight, so I started down the rope ladder to the boat. If I was lucky, I could start it up and get out of here before Cairo finished patting his ego ... those guys are like that.

Carefully climbing, I didn't let my hands slip on the wet rope — it wouldn't do for me to take the bath meant for Square Jaw. Getting into the dinghy, I checked the fuel. Good, it was full.

Maybe I can do Square Jaw later,
I thought. Hey, you gotta look on the bright side of these things.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by a quickly descending object that looked a helluva lot like a cin-derblock. Just missing the brim of my fedora, it crashed through the fragile bottom of the dinghy. I struggled to remain aboard and, failing, I leaped for the rope.

A cackling came from above — it was an annoying little sound that even the blood pounding in my ears couldn't cover. "Ho, Johnny-boy; goin' for a moonlight cruise ... through croc-infested waters?"

The kid.

I looked up through the darkness into the masked face of my tormentor. A snot-nosed little kid was staring down at me, belly-full of laughter.

"You coulda killed me you little —"

"Naughty, naughty, Johnny-boy; ya shouldn't oughta talk like that!" The kid scolded, his feral little face smiling down at me.

I scrambled with the rope. If I could get there quick enough, maybe the kid could take his Saturday night dip a little early this week.

Something flashed in the kid's hand and the laughter stopped. A knife. A sharp knife, gleaming in the moonlight.

I stopped climbing and looked down. Something was moving underneath the water, and it wasn't my sinking dinghy.

"Hey, kid," I began, trying to sound reasonable, "I'm sure we can make a deal."

"Yeah, Johnny-boy; a deal," the kid sneered. I could hear the venom in his tone, "like Mobius made with my parents ..." What the?!

He started sawing at the rope.

"Kid, kid! Hey, I don't work for Mobius, kid!" I yelled. He wasn't listening, he just kept sawing at the rope. "C'mon, kid, I wasn't even around then!" The shapes in the water were moving faster. I thought I saw some teeth.

I started to scramble up.
Maybe I could beat the knife I almost lost my grip when the first rope snapped. Damn, that knife was sharp. He was muttering something I couldn't hear. I started screaming at him — I think I was swearing and beggin' at the same time.
Only ten more feet...

The rope snapped.

I started to fall. "Kiiiddddd!"

Whap!

I stopped falling. A hand had grabbed the rope.

I hung on for dear life as the familiar hands of Colonel Cairo hauled me up. My blood was pounding in my ears, so I couldn't hear what they were saying to each other. I didn't care. I was more emotionally involved with this rope than I've ever been with a woman.

The next thing I knew, I was sittin' in the back of a paddy wagon with the rest of my boys. Some of them were conscious, the others were out cold. I felt like cursing them out for missing the Colonel, but I stopped short.
Aw, hell; there'll be other times ...

As we drove down to the station, a foul odor caught my attention. Somebody besides Square Jaw had lost control that night.

I hoped it wasn't me.

BOOK: Mysterious Cairo
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