Thor Slaymaster sat in the back seat of his helicopter and listened to the engine whine. “Where are we in terms of altitude, Richie?” he asked.
“Getting close to the red zone, Mr. Slaymaster.”
“Then you better set her down.” Thor Slaymaster didn’t believe in taking unnecessary risks with expensive equipment. The trick was knowing when a risk was necessary or not.
The helicopter settled uneasily on the surface of a pack of deep snow. “Last run of the day, Richie,” Thor said. “Drop me off here, and then you can take the helicopter back to town and use it to pick up women.”
“I wouldn’t do that, Mr. Slaymaster.” Richie smiled. It didn’t take much more for Richie than his leather bomber jacket with the “TEAM SLAYMASTER” patch to pick up the kind of women that he liked.
“Suit yourself.” Thor Slaymaster put on his wraparound sunglasses and got out of the helicopter. He unclamped his skis from the skids of the helicopter and then waved for Richie to take off. Then he snapped his boots into the skis and got ready to ski down the mountain.
Thor Slaymaster wasn’t the biggest fan of winter, or skiing, or great big mugs of the kind of steaming hot chocolate they serve in ski chalets. But it felt good to get out of the city once in awhile, and Alpine skiing was probably the least dangerous thing that Thor Slaymaster did in an average week. The reasons were simple enough. Zombies, for all their aggressive fearlessness, shunned cold weather. Killbots weren’t designed to work at high altitudes. And the aliens who frequented Earth did so for the abundant oxygen of its lower atmosphere–something not found in its high mountains. Standing alone at the top of a double-black-diamond ski run meant that Thor Slaymaster could be alone, for at least a moment, and not bothered with all of the various dangers and hazards of his livelihood. Having his own helicopter and not having to shell out for lift tickets helped, too.
Thor Slaymaster was halfway down the mountain when the slope started moving. The movement was imperceptible at first, and then became more jarring. It was as though the mountain itself was rising, although that was impossible. Thor looked in front of him and saw that the mountain was coming up to meet him–but only so far. Far beneath the snow, a set of powerful hydraulic jacks were lifting up the mountainside, up until the point where they didn’t. At that point, there was a sizable drop-off. You might call it a cliff. And Thor Slaymaster didn’t see it until he was right on top of it.
Some hours later, Thor Slaymaster opened his eyes and found himself in a secret underground lair. “I always wanted one of these,” he said.
“I’m sorry?” a voice asked.
“A secret underground lair. I could never afford it. It’s not really a question of real estate. It’s finding a contractor, and then you have to keep pumping out water all the time.”
“Oh. I thought you meant the examination table. It’s exquisite, isn’t it?”
“As long as you are not the one strapped to it.” Thor Slaymaster was laying flat on the table, and he was bound to it by a set of interlocking nylon straps.
“Just so,” the voice said. “Do you know who I am?”
Thor Slaymaster watched as a shadowy figure stepped into the light. “You are Bing Crosby,” he said. “Or that is what you want me to think.”
“Can’t get anything past you, Slaymaster,” the alien shapeshifter said. “It seemed appropriate, given your culture’s infantile appreciation of this vile weather.”
“You did not bring me here because you wanted to share a White Christmas with me,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“I suppose not,” Crosby said. “Anyway, we won’t be here that long. I have what I came here for, and now I will leave. The table will release you one hour after I am gone, and then you can return to your vacation.”
“In my experience,” Thor Slaymaster said, “shapeshifters usually cannot resist telling humans how clever they are. You must not have done something very clever.”
“Oh, it’s clever,” Crosby said. “But you will find out about it soon enough, and I really must be going. It’s chilly up here, and you really can’t get these underground lairs heated very efficiently.”
“No evil laugh at least? No dire warning?”
“Don’t stand up very quickly when you’re released. You’ve lost more blood than you think. Ta-ta.”
“If you need that much genetic material,” Thor Slaymaster said, “you must be doing cloning. If you don’t mind me saying so, a world with more Thor Slaymasters in it seems sort of counterproductive, from your race’s point of view.”
“I suppose it would, wouldn’t it, with your limited imagination,” Crosby said. “Fortunately, I don’t share those limitations.”
“There’s nothing else you could do with a gallon of my blood but make more of me. If that was all you wanted, you could have asked. I’m not afraid of the competition. It just doesn’t seem like a wise use of your resources, that’s all.”
“I wouldn’t expect wisdom from your kind.”
“Of course not. But I expect more… I don’t know, cunning from your kind. That’s all. Don’t let me keep you.”
The shapeshifter paused. It had, after all, done something very clever indeed, and even though Thor Slaymaster was a formidable opponent, what could he do about it in his present condition? Not much, the shapeshifter decided.
“A thousand Thor Slaymasters could do a lot of damage,” Crosby said.
“Slaymasters are individualistic by nature,” Thor said. “No one could get a thousand Slaymasters to agree on anything. You’d have a thousand rogues on your hands. Assuming you have hands.”
“If a thousand Thor Slaymasters could do a lot of damage,” Crosby continued, “a thousand Thor Slaymaster zombies could do even more.”
Thor Slaymaster laughed. It was a horrible sound to begin with, and then it got worse as it echoed through the lair.
“Laugh while you can, monkey-boy,” the shapeshifter said. “I am out of here.”
“You misunderstand,” Thor Slaymaster said. “A thousand zombies is nothing. Even a thousand zombie Slaymasters would be easy to stop.”
“You are welcome to try, then.”
“Zombies cannot think. Zombies cannot reason. Zombies cannot plan. Zombies cannot improvise. But that is not the most important thing.”
The most important thing, as it happened, is that zombies cannot cooperate. But the shapeshifter never did find that out, not directly. When Thor Slaymaster laughed, that set off a high-energy micro-transmitter, embedded in the muscles of his back. The transmitter set off a distress beacon, which alerted the diverse members of Team Slaymaster, who were already investigating Thor’s disappearance. A helicopter-mounted missile fell atop the underground lair, shattering its roof, a large piece of which fell on the underground garage that housed the shapeshifter’s aero-car.
“You fool!” the shapeshifter spluttered. “You idiot.”
“Me?” Thor Slaymaster asked. “You’re the one who messed with Team Slaymaster.”
Charlie rappelled from the helicopter into the lair, wielding a flechette gun. She aimed at the Bing Crosby figure and fired. The shapeshifter dissolved in a cloud of purple blood and bits of Christmas sweater.
“Thank you, Charlie,” Thor Slaymaster said. “You’ll find a gallon of my blood in the trunk of his aero-car. In case you want a snack later.”
“You’re all tied up,” Charlie said. “Weak. Vulnerable.”
“I suppose so. If you could see your way clear to unstrapping me, that would be helpful.”
“I like you this way,” Charlie said. A bright-green tentacle inched its way out of her low-slung ski pants. “It’s different.”
“The table is supposed to let me loose in one hour,” Thor said.
“Then let’s not waste any time.”