"All right you knobs!" Negaduck's harsh voice woke Megavolt from his dreams.
The tempest still raged outside the factory. Megavolt glanced at the clock on the wall. The hands proclaimed the time to be 8:45, which meant it was a quarter after noon. Still blinking the sleep from his eyes, he dragged himself to his feet and joined the motley group gathered around the card table.
"What's up, boss?" Megavolt yawned. Negaduck flashed his flunkies his patented evil Grimace. The other four watched expectantly, while inside all four trembled with apprehension. The Grimace meant bad things were coming.
"It's high time we got a really big scheme moving, boys. We've been hiding out too long now. We don't want our city's do-gooders to loose their touch, do we?"
The Fearsome Four collectively shook their heads.
"Good. Here's what I've got planned…" He explained to them a complex trade ring that was to be established with a group of seafaring rats from London. The St. Canardians ("that's you knobs," he clarified) would provide gold, silver, and copper trinkets in exchange for foreign merchandise that could be sold on the black market for ten times it's original price.
Negaduck's eyes gleamed with anticipation as he described the vast sums of money that would soon be at their finger tips. His excitement was contagious.
"When do we start, boss?" Quackerjack asked. Negaduck's Grimace was instantly replaced by an aggravated scowl.
"The storm is keeping them out of port. As soon as it moves on, I'll arrange a rendezvous and give you knobs more information. Until then, just… do something constructive."
"So we've got time off?" Bushroot could hardly believe it.
"Yeah sure." Negaduck waved his hand, dismissing the question. "Just stay local. I might decide to make you all useful before long." With that, he strode from the room with his cape billowing behind him.
"Time off!" Quackerjack breathed, his voice barely over a whisper from the shock. "He never gives us time off!!"
The Liquidator frowned. "Survey says… something fishy is up!"
Bushroot nodded but said optimistically, "Well we've got time off! Let's make good use of it!"
The Liquidator and Quackerjack exchanged glances, then looked at Bushroot. "The Old Haunt!" the three said in unison. They bustled towards the door.
"Hey Megs! You comin'?" Quackerjack called back to his companion, who was leaning against the card table wearing a thoughtful expression.
"Nah, you guys go ahead. I've got some… work to do in the lab."
As soon as the crowd dispersed, Megavolt pulled on his gloves and battery. Blue crackles of static electricity danced up and down the prongs of his helmet as he rushed down to his basement lab. Once the door was closed, it did not open again for several days.
During those several days, the moods of the supervillains worsened with the weather. Negaduck stopped in only once to vent his anger concerning a message he had received explaining why his London contacts were sailing on and would return in a month. Without Megavolt to be the object of amusement, Bushroot, Quackerjack, and the Liquidator were reduced to bickering among themselves and skulking around their lair wearing narrowed eyes and dejected frowns.
Finally, a decision was reached. It was the kind of decision that people reach after being stuck indoors together for three days with nothing better to do than argue and skulk. The decision was made without any of them speaking a word. They didn't need to speak. The solution to their problems was frightfully obvious!
Megavolt had to come out.
Together the terrible threesome trooped down to Megavolt's basement lab.
For the last several days, the sound of clanking metal, flashing lights, and a strange smell of burning rubber had poured without stop from beneath the door. But now an eerie quiet invaded the hallway around the room. A sudden nervousness overtook the group. No one was willing to be the first to knock until, with some amount of cajoling, Bushroot stepped forward. He raised his hand, paused, then knocked determinedly. There was no answer. Encouraged by the fact that nothing had jumped out at him unexpectedly, Bushroot tried again.
"Megavolt! We know you're in there!" he called in the bravest-sounding voice he could muster. "Come out now or… or…"
"…Or face the consequences!" Quackerjack finished.
A muffled reply slithered from behind the thick metal door. "Coming!"
So they waited. Bushroot was getting ready to deliver a good, sound kick to the door when, without warning, it swung open. Megavolt stood there, looking worn out but grinning. He tilted his head slightly, giving his already lopsided smile an almost sinister look.
"We're ready now," he said, doing his best to make himself sound mysterious. "One moment."
The frazzled electro-rodent disappeared again into the messy lab. The Liquidator stick his head far enough inside to get a look at a few bizarre objects lying just inside the door.
"Tired of those useless old metal things cluttering up your basement or attic? Donate them to Sparky's home for the mechanically insane!" He backed away just as Megavolt reappeared. He looked excitedly over his shoulder and turned to them. Every part of his body was aglow with blue sparks.
"And now, gentlemen… may I present… COULOMB!!" Megavolt swept himself dramatically out of the doorway to reveal a young boy, about 12 years old. He was Megavolt in every aspect. His face, his eyes, his peculiar way of standing with his knees bent and spread apart. He had long, scruffy brown hair that reached almost down to his shoulders and fell over his red goggles.
The rest of his costume was modeled off of Megavolt's, with blue where the yellow should have been and green where the blue was. He wore neither a helmet nor a battery. Not even a utility belt was strapped around his narrow waist. And yet… he simply was Megavolt.
The other three stared in amazement. Words flew from their minds, leaving them as blank as a sheet of new paper. They all stood in the hallway studying each other until the boy spoke.
"What're you all staring at? Haven't you ever seen a kid before??" His voice, too, was unmistakably that of the supervillain. Quackerjack was the first to regain control of his senses. "Megavolt," he stammered, "Who… what… how…"
Megavolt put his arm around the boy's shoulders. "Scientifically speaking, Coulomb is me," he explained.
"But… but… **how**????"
Coulomb answered. "An electronic cloning device. It analyzes the specific energy patterns of certain genes then duplicates those patterns to create a twin of a prespecified age. The machine also duplicates intelligence, skill, and wisdom while leaving the duplicate able to absorb more information." After repeating the information, he looked up to Megavolt.
"Right?" he asked apprehensively.
"Perfect!" Megavolt laughed.
"Oh, that it is!" a deep voice echoed through the hall. All eyes turned in horror to see Negaduck sauntering towards them. He looked down at Coulomb, an amused half-smirk over his beak. "Well, well, Sparky. So you have done something constructive with your time. You've gone and discovered immortality!"
Megavolt and Coulomb watched the mad duck with the same terror-filled eyes. "What… what do you mean?" Megavolt asked.
Negaduck laughed mockingly. "Don't you see, you imbecile? It's a perfect cure for death! Simply clone yourself back to normal again… it's marvelous! Why, I could dominate the world with an army made entirely of me! What could be better than that? Where's the machine?"
Megavolt blinked, confused by the bombardment of information. "It's… uh… over… in there…" he said, hurriedly responding to the last thing said to him. Negaduck shoved Megavolt and Coulomb to the side and entered the lab.
"Where?" he demanded. Megavolt obediently pointed to a large machine that looked like a re-designed refrigerator.
"All right," Negaduck said. "Clone me."
"Of course now, you knob! Go on! Clone me!"
"I… I… that is… I mean I…"
"You what, spark breath?"
"I can't!" Megavolt blurted out. Negaduck's expression went from evil-incarnate-bent-on-taking-over-the-world to really-mad-evil-incarnate-bent-on-taking-over-the-world.
"Why not?" he snarled.
Megavolt held Coulomb behind him and was slowly inching towards the door.
"Because… um… it's… the machine that is… it's… um… resting."
Negaduck grabbed Megavolt by the collar of his shirt. Coulomb scampered quickly to the other three villains, who were still hovering in the doorway, ready to run if anything should happen. "It's… resting." Every syllable, every letter of his words dripped with contempt. Megavolt nodded meekly.
"It's a big operation," he explained. "The machine might… uh… explode or something if it doesn't have a chance to cool off."
Negaduck shoved Megavolt backwards, sending him sprawling at the feet of his comrades. "Get out of my sight," Negaduck hissed.
They were only too happy to oblige.
Chapter 3: The Plot Thickens