The Defender sat under a tree across from the Empress. “So I said, ‘Sorry I can’t hang around.'”
She laughed at his joke to the mob boss he’d left tied up and upside down. She said, “You are very funny.”
Him? Funny? The poor lady.
The Defender stood. “It is very kind of you to say.” He paced. The Empress stood.
He swallowed hard. “We are love sick puppies, no?”
“I-I’ve never felt like this.”
“Neither have I. Once you put on a mask, you don’t have time for anything, really.”
The Empress touched hers, a bandanna with eye holes cut out; identical to his own. “I always seemed to end up late for my dates. Some emergency would come up and I’d run off to the rescue. I never had more than two dates with anyone.”
“That was their loss.”
She beamed. “You think so?”
“My lady, you far outclass me. I am a just gardener from Moscow. And you, you are a high fashion model, no?”
“That is at an end. I’ll be twenty-eight next month. My contract runs out then. I don’t expect it will be renewed. So forget that you’re a gardener and I’m a fashion model. Here we’re only a woman and a man.”
He stared into her eyes. “My lady, the greatest tragedy I can think of at present is the Pacific Ocean.”
“How is the ocean a tragedy?”
“Because it separated us for so long.”
They stared into each other’s eyes. The Defender began to move closer.
As his lips were about to touch hers, a voice shouted behind them, “Gang way, comin’ through!”
They scrambled out of the way of the plodding giant carrying Small Packages in his overalls pocket.
The Empress scowled after them. “Where are those two off to?”
“I don’t know, but I have a feeling that there’s trouble. Let’s catch up.”
The Defender and the Empress soon caught up with the giant and his miniature identical twin. “Halt!”
Both stopped and laughed. “Halt?” Small Packages asked. “Who do you think you are? Some Old English guard?”
The Defender would understand how a full sized voice could come from a doll sized body when he figured out how the tiny man could be stronger than three of him. “Where are you going?”
“If you must know, we’re following Payday. He’s using Speed Skater as bait to lure Dark Mystic, and we want to make sure she doesn’t end up on ice.”
“Mind if we come along?
“Be our guest.”
“I think I should also like to join,” said a persona non grata from a nearby tree.
They turned. Captain Revolution landed on the ground in his trademark red uniform with China’s yellow star on his chest.
The Empress put her hands on her hips. “What are you doing out here?”
“Oh me?” said Captain Revolution. “I was, as the saying goes, keeping my enemies closer. It was very touching. Almost like a Soap Opera.” He added in a mocking tone, “The Greatest tragedy is the Pacific Ocean.”
“You scum.” Empress began to take a karate stance.
Small Packaged shouted, “Yo!”
Everyone turned to him.
“Now, I understand there are a lot of national rivalries here, but we’re kind of in the middle of something. If you guys want to kill each other, be my guest, but we’re continuing on before Payday gets too far ahead of us.”
The Defender sighed. “Let’s go. We can settle this later.”
Speed Skater put up a hand to ward off the sexist pigs who assumed a lady helpless without functional skates. “Guys, I appreciate the protection, but it is totally not necessary.”
Commander Justice folded his arms. “I will determine what is necessary when Commander Justice is in command. We’re not letting you or Slugger out of our sight.”
And Speed Skater will consider CommanderJustice full of himself when he speaks of himself in third person. “Why isn’t Payday here? I have as many super powers as he does.”
“He has ammo and survival skills you wouldn’t believe. I wouldn’t bet on Mystic being able to survive a confrontation with Payday. Even if he did, Payday’s probably the most expendable member of the team. I’m going to make sure you come home safely, little lady.”
Slugger, the Japanese batting star, fell to the ground. Elephant Woman ran over to him.
Commander Justice collapsed in a heap. Speed Skater stared at his back: A dart.
Elephant Woman charged forward, slowed, and then stopped and fell to the ground, two darts protruding from her neck, the only exposed spot in her Elephant exo-suit. Speed Skater knelt beside Commander Justice. Still breathing.
She began to run.
“Hold on, I just want to talk!” cried a gruff voice behind her.
She turned. “You?”
Payday towered over Elephant Woman. “I had a proposition, but I don’t think they would care for it. It occurs to me that sitting around like sitting ducks while Mystic plucks us off one by one is insane.”
“Okay, so far.”
“It’s time we go hunting. We need to draw out Mystic.”
“And you think I’m pretty good bait.”
Payday raised his hands. “Don’t take it as an insult.” He pointed to Slugger. “I could have taken bat-boy, but you got what he doesn’t: Speed, Agility, and cunning. You’ve got skills, and I recognize that.”
Somebody actually thought she was more than a precious flower to be guarded. Even if it was Payday, she’d take it. “But wait, what about the Sword?”
“Miller’s gone to hunt Mystic. Revelator and Pantheon decided to tag along when he came back to get dynamite. But my bet is Mystic will double back and attempt to knock another one of us off.”
“Guess my alternative is waiting for my babysitters to wake up.” Speed Skater paused. “They will wake up?”
“Oh, ol’ Commander and bat-boy will be up in half an hour. Elephant Woman might be out longer. I had to use two darts on her to be safe. She’ll be up within an hour.”
“I guess I’ll be the bait.”
“That’s the spirit. Don’t worry, I haven’t lost a worm yet.”
She sent him a puzzled look.
Payday ignored it. “Get about a quarter of a mile ahead of me and move at a steady pace. Should you encounter Mystic, I’ll be there in two minutes. You have to keep him occupied that long.”
“You know, this place makes me feel weird. I feel like I’m being watched.”
“Me too, all the time. But it’s nothin’ to do with here.” Payday shook his head. “Get goin’, I’ll give you an eight minute head start. Walk briskly, don’t run.”
Jesse Miller burst out of his cabin in the English village brandishing the sword he derived his superhero name from, folly on his mind. “Laban, there’s no use trying to talk me out of this.”
Revelator followed on his crime-fighting partner’s heels. He’d know what Jesse was thinking right now even without his brainwave detecting implant. “Jesse, you’re being a total fool!”
“Nothing foolish about it. He’s in the caves and he needs killed.”
“He could have doubled back. We need to wait here.”
“And do what? Let him pick us off one by one? I don’t think so. I didn’t wait for Al Qaeda to kill in the US. I hunted them down like rats. Dark Mystic is no different.”
Revelator shook his head. Jesse was in stubborn mode. There’d be no dissuading him. “Okay, but I’m coming along.”
“Not this time.” Jesse dropped his sword to the ground to mount it. “I have to do this alone. I got us into this mess and I’m going to have to get us out.”
Revelator placed his hand on his shoulder. “We’re in this together. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott.”
The intensity drained from Jesse for a moment. “I Spy.” He laughed. “You made me watch every episode of that show.”
“It seemed appropriate given that we were Americans overseas dealing with people who’d like to kill us.”
“It wasn’t much of an escape.” Jesse darkened. “The difference is that this is my fault. I’ve got to fix it.”
“No you don’t! This is why you’ve never come to Christ!”
Jesse stiffened. “Really, is this a time to be talking about religion?”
Revelator folded his arms. “When is the time? The only time you want to hear about religion is in church. Even then your mind is on everything else.”
Jesse snorted. “Come on, I go to church. That’s more than I can say for most of our team. I’m in the top 30% of our team in religiousness.”
Revelator threw his hands up. “There you go again. Everything with you is a statistic. You use God. He’s not the Almighty Creator of the Universe, he’s your lucky rabbit’s foot that will help you in battle and make your son turn out right. You think he gives you an edge, but you’re too proud to turn to Him and admit you need Him, that the Great Sword can’t fix everything.”
Jesse looked towards the ground. He’s one to preach with his drinking problem.
Revelator shoved Jesse. “You jerk!”
“What? You have a problem with something I thought?”
“You’re trying to manipulate me. You hope I’ll get so mad and hurt by you saying that, that I’ll go off and cry, and let you get yourself killed. Well, Jesse, I’m not going to give you the satisfaction. You’re a jerk, but you’re my jerk. If we’re going down, we’re going down together. I wouldn’t even be in this business if it weren’t for you.”
Jesse smiled grimly. “You could always get on with someone else.”
Revelator laughed. “Sure, let me polish my sidekick resume. Don’t even suggest going solo. My power doesn’t lend itself to fighting crime on my own. I wouldn’t last a month. Besides, I promised to fight alongside you, and I keep my promises.”
Jesse shook his head. “How did I get a partner like you? It’s more than I deserve.”
“We don’t get what we deserve. It’s called grace.”
“Okay. You can come, but no sermons.”
Revelator laughed. “Fine.”
Jesse mounted his sword. “Magnetize! Laban, hold on.”
“Sword!” said a female above them.
Jesse and Revelator turned. Descending from a tree was the finely sculpted Pantheon.
“You need help,” she said. “And I’m happy to offer my services.”
Revelator touched his chin. “I don’t know.” She’d genetically engineered herself with the legendary powers of the twelve mythical Olympians, but if they kept this up long enough, Jesse would get a good sized team together.
Jesse grunted. “Fine, let’s get going before anyone else decides to risk their lives.”
Pain coursed through the Sword, his body throbbing from head to toe. Riding on his blade 15,000 feet up, his hand instinctively cradled the bronze age helmet contrasting nicely against his black Tonksium-Kevlar jumpsuit.
He’d slammed into what felt like a booby-trapped glass ceiling of some sort. Perhaps he shouldn’t have forced his blade to fly higher when his bronze age weapon-come-surfboard annoyingly stopped a hundred feet short of the “ceiling.”..
Without permission, his blade descended rapidly. The two ration bars he had for breakfast threatened to come back up. The blade slowed its rate of descent and landed two hundred feet or so from Revelator. The pain vanished as quickly as it had come.
The Sword pressed down on the blade, thereby demagnetizing his boots. He stepped off, and the blade returned to normal size. The Sword sheathed his blade. He walked over to Revelator.
“How’d you make out, Jesse?” Revelator asked the Sword.
“No signs of intelligent life other than Lord History’s eighteenth century English village. There’s a vast network of caves and hot springs, as well as quite a bit of plant life. However, I was able to confirm your theory about the artificial environment.” The Sword relayed his experience 15,000 feet up.
Revelator clucked his tongue. “Whoever made this sure has advanced technology, but I can’t understand them not including a sun. Their whole purpose has to be to make us believe this is real, but the sun is an obvious clue that this isn’t real.”
“You didn’t even spot it at first.”
Revelator brushed sulfuric dust off his black and blue Lycra-Tonksium costume, with a lightning bolt jutting from left shoulder to right ankle. He sniffed. “Just because Small Packages saw it first doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have occurred to me. Eventually.”
“Guys, over here!” shouted a kneeling Data Bank.
The Sword and Revelator walked over to the white-face painted scientist. She stood and straightened her black coat. “I’ve completed my analysis of the soil. Gentlemen, it looks to be highly alkaline.”
The Sword sighed. Human computers could be so frustrating. “Which means?”
Revelator said, “Not a whole lot will grow here. Of the seeds I brought, I think only the cabbage would actually grow.”
“You brought seed packets? Did it ever occur to you that, if you only brought three days worth of food, bringing seeds wouldn’t make much difference? Further, why did you bring seeds? Were you planning on getting stranded?”
Revelator shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect. And you never know.”
The Sword turned and peered down at a creature that looked like a head of cabbage with red hair, tiny hands, and denim-covered nine inch legs that ended in doll-sized work boots. Cabbage-Man lived in overalls, but all plains-clothed heroes wore Tonksium-Kevlar undergarments at the Sword’s insistence. “We’ve found new life.”
“You dolt!” said Cabbage-Man. “This is Small Packages. Skyscraper and I found this cabbage and thought you science geeks could analyze it.”
Revelator plucked the cabbage from the eighteen inch tall hero. “Thanks.” He took the item over to a small folding table set up near their crash-landed plane. “Jesse, can I borrow your blade?”
“Sure.” The Sword unsheathed the blade.
Revelator took the blade and sliced open the plant. “Hey, Data Bank, take a look.”
She peered at the vegetable. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“This looks consistent with cabbage.”
“Not completely. Look at the core.”
“That is different.”
The Sword sighed. This was fascinating, two scientists analyzing vegetables. “Okay guys, let me know what you find once you can give an explanation in plain English. I’ve got to make sure Ice Cube doesn’t melt.”
The Sword placed his blade on the ground and turned it from cabbage slicer into flying surfboard. The Sword climbed aboard and the blade magnetized.
He flew low to the ground to the cave he’d left Ice Cube frozen in. The plane crash somehow rendered their electronic devices worthless, including those that allowed Ice Cube and Texas Ranger to stay alive. Nothing could be done for Tex, unfortunately, but he’d put Ice Cube in the freezer, so to speak, until they could escape.
The cave grew near. He dismounted the blade, sheathed it, and walked the rest of the way. At the mouth of the cave, mud sucked at his boots. But of course. Ice Cube’s nice cold igloo had been melting slowly.
The Sword placed his hand on the ground. Slowly had been the key word. This was more than normal. He unsheathed his blade. He poked his head in. No igloo.
He took a step into the cave and peered to his right. Amidst the mud steamed a grotesque goo that oozed from Ice Cube’s costume.
The Sword ran to him by instinct, but slowed down. No way Ice Cube could survive this. Another life lost thanks to him trusting Dark Mystic.
The Sword stabbed his blade into the muddy cave floor, intending to remove his helmet and kneel. The blade whirled him up in the air. A stream of flames followed them.
The Sword caught a glimpse of a purple cape and a flamethrower. Dark Mystic.
The Sword pressed the hilt of his blade. A beam of energy hit Dark Mystic. The Sword rode his blade out of the cave at full speed, with Dark Mystic following.
The Sword whirled. “Mystic, now the advantage is mine!”
The coward cut and ran.
“Oh no you don’t! It ends here!” The Sword dropped the blade to the ground and mounted as it expanded. With his boots securely magnetized, he pursued the murderer.
“Blade, continuous fire!”
Dark Mystic flew backwards, propelled airborne by demonic rage as he dodged the blade’s beams and fired flames at the Sword.
“Give it up, Mystic. There’s no way you can get away.”
“We believe we shall.” Dark Mystic flew on until he got over a forest, pressed the trigger on the flamethrower, and fired at the top of the trees between himself and the Sword.
Walls of fire blocked the Sword’s path. Worse, the village was in the middle of this forest. He had to get the fire out, pronto.
He flew to a nearby spring and dipped the blade into the tip of the water. The blade expanded as it drank up a hundred gallons.
The Sword flew back up. “Blade fire.”
His blade released the water in a wide-spray and extinguished the blaze. The Sword surveyed the damage. Ten trees destroyed.
Dark Mystic stood rooted in place before the ice as Jalzabel moved his hand back and forth over the ice. Inside the ice with a stoic posture sat his best pupil, John Gothier.
Dark Mystic lay chained in a mortuary. His body moved slowly down a conveyor belt towards a cremation furnace. He writhed upon the table. Even the surging rage-driven strength of Jalzabel couldn’t break through.
The bulking Red Commodore grinned. “I would push you in, if not for the pleasure of watching you squirm like an animal, sorcerer.”
“That’s the problem with you villains!”
Dark Mystic glanced to the left. Standing in a solid blue lycra jumpsuit was Ice Cube. A freeze ray shot from his chest, freezing the Commodore and his men. Ice Cube fired a freeze beam from his hand at the furnace. “You talk too much, and play too many games.”
Ice Cube turned to Dark Mystic. “Let me get those chains for you.”
“Thank you,” said Dark Mystic. “I promise you, I’ll never forget this.”
And he wouldn’t. It would haunt him in his dreams forever. He stared at his friend’s steaming body, and looked down at the flamethrower in his hand and the flood of water he stood in.
No! I killed my best friend.
Jalzabel cackled. “You are the puppet, I am the master.”
“No, this is still my body! I have to be able to do something.”
He couldn’t stop Jalzabel from taking control, or going through the portal, nor could he turn the flamethrower on himself despite how badly he wanted to.
I have to be able to do something. Something that’ll give me some hope.
He strained against Jalzabel. Agony tore through his body and mind until, at last, he broke through for a moment, before falling back into the darkness. A tear trickled down his cheek.
Jalzabel whispered in the darkness. “A hollow victory, I assure you.
Sitting at a camp fire burning in the town square, the Defender chomped down on the first of three days emergency rations. It was chicken; he thought, anyway.
“So,” said Commander Justice. “Where in blazes are we, Laban?”
Revelator swallowed. “We won’t know until tomorrow. Databank and I need to take soil samples. Personally, I lean towards this all being an elaborate simulation. A planet without a sun violates every natural law I can think of. A planet has to revolve around something, almost always a star. You don’t get planets otherwise.”
The Defender’s skin crawled. This was no simulation. He looked into the forest. A dark shadow shifted. Evil was here.
The Defender got up from the fire and walked through the woods. He’d never been to a place like this. Evil covered the land like a thick blanket. It was almost suffocating.
The eerie forest reminded him of one of those horror movies he’d watched. Not that he advertised it in church. His church would definitely have not approved. He covered his face and murmured in Russian, “You are a fool, Sagunov.”
He hadn’t prayed enough, and this was where it had got him. He stopped following Christ and had instead followed the Sword. But how could he have known the Sword was listening to a demoniac?
A hand clamped on the Defender’s shoulder. He whirled and tossed the attacker ten feet away. The Defender drew his knife.
“Hold, lad.” The man stood up, six feet, five inches tall, full beard, wearing a baggy lace-up white shirt and a red tartan kilt.
The Defender gasped and put his knife away. “Highland Guardian!”
Guardian dusted off his kilt. “Aye, I wanted to talk to ya. I’ll be more careful next time I come up on ya.”
The Defender said, “My apologies.”
“Lad, tis nothin’. Tis’ natural to feel ill-at-ease in these woods. There’s somethin’ evil afoot.”
“You feel it, too?”
“Aye. As thick as me old lady’s beef stew, it is.”
“I guess this is what happens when you don’t pray enough before making a decision. If I’d prayed and been alert, I would have seen that I shouldn’t have come.”
Guardian arched his bushy red eyebrows. “And the lot of us would be dead. Ya saved our lives, lad. Wherever we are, I don’ta think this is what that blasted Mystic planned for us.”
“I just thought-”
“That if you’re doin’ right, ya never gonna end up in a spot? We’re needed here. We perceive what’s wrong. The rest of ’em don’t even know the danger here.”
“But what about Russia?”
“The Good Lord took care of Russia for hundreds of years before ya, and he’ll take care of it without ya. We need to keep our heads about us and our spirits in prayer. Places like this bring out the worst in men.”
The Defender nodded. Leaves rustled in a nearby tree. The two men turned.
The Sword exited the plane, along with Revelator. He faced the somber crowd of heroes and bit his lip. “This is my fault, and I’m sorry. I got us into this mess, and I’ll get us out of it, I promise.” Exactly how, I haven’t the foggiest.
Revelator said, “Those of you who rely on technology need to adjust.”
Small Packages walked over to Speed Skater. “You’ll need protection without your 200 Mile an hour skates. Skyscraper and I will keep you safe, little lady.”
Speed Skater picked up Small Packages and threw him in the air. Skyscraper caught him. Speed Skater kicked dirt up at him. “I can take of myself, little dork.”
“I’m afraid I’m not so lucky,” said Ice Cube, the cold hand of justice.
The Sword slapped his forehead. Of course Ice Cube would be in trouble. An accident changed the chemical properties of his body so that at normal temperatures, his solids would melt and his fluids boil off. An implant pumped chemicals through his body so that, even in Death Valley, his body temperature would remain at a comfortable-for him-ten below zero. But most didn’t notice unless they shook hands with him without his ice blue gloves on.
Revelator grabbed a first aid kit and removed a scientific thermometer. He placed it under Ice Cube’s tongue. Twenty seconds later, he grabbed it back and sighed. “He’s practically feverish, he’s up to minus five.”
“I can keep you alive,” said the Sword. “My blade can fire a freeze-beam that will keep you on ice until we find a way out.”
Revelator looked up. “Jesse, we’ll need a cool place. The temperature around here will melt him in hours.”
Small Packages got up and ran over to Skyscraper and jumped up into his pocket. He pulled out a small pair of binoculars. “Come on, bro. Give me a better view.”
Skyscraper grew to sixty feet tall and turned in a slow circle. Skyscraper shrunk back down to normal size. Small Packages said, “All right, there’s a cave, a mile east by north east of here. It’s right past some hot springs, you can’t miss it.”
The Sword said, “I’ll take Ice Cube on out there.”
Revelator said, “We also need to find a place to camp.”
Small Packages said, “My friend, I have a place for that too. Through the forests-”
Databank interrupted. “And over the river to Grandmother’s house we go.”
Small Packages turned to the Gothic 5’6″ human computer. “You mind now, lady, I’m trying to have a serious conversation.”
Databank shrugged. “Sorry.”
“All right, so you go through the forest to the northwest of here and in the center is an empty field we can camp in.”
The Sword nodded. “Good work, Small Packages. Revelator, head towards the camp location.” Maybe he wouldn’t pull Small Packages and Skyscraper’s comic book if they ever got out of this alive.
The Defender said, “Let’s get Texas Ranger’s body inside the plane, so we can give him a proper burial if we make it out.”
The Sword nodded. “Take care of that, and it’s when we make it out, Defender.”
The Sword placed his blade on the ground. “Blade, expand!”
The blade grew to the size of a surfboard. The Sword took Ice Cube’s hand. “Come on, Ice Cube.”
The two stepped on the board. The Sword said, “Magnetize.”
The blade held the Sword’s metal boots in place. He said to Ice Cube, “Hold on tight. Blade, head east by north east.”
The blade soared in the air.
Ice Cube stared down. “I’ve never flown like this before.”
“I prefer to drive myself.”
“You go to church, don’t you?”
“I try to make it there weekly. It’s great for financial and personal well-being.” Plus it made his wife happy.
“What happens when you die?”
The blade touched down near the mouth of the cave. The Sword pressed down on the blade, and the sword demagnetized and returned to normal size. The Sword arched his eyebrows. “What brings that up?”
“I’ve not spent a lot of time thinking about it. Until a few minutes ago. Now I can’t stop.”
The Sword shrugged. “Nothing to think about. We’re doing the Big Guy’s work. That’s our job. The next life is His, and He’ll take care of us. Think of it as like a pension.”
“We’re not going home, you know. An electronic brought us here and we can’t build electronics.”
The Sword swallowed. “Don’t talk like that. I’ve got to think positive and so do you. Positive thinking will keep you alive, negative thinking won’t. Databank and Revelator will find a way off this stinking planet. A month from now, you’ll be home, with a nice, cool, low body temperature. And you know what, the first thing when I get back, we’ll do a crossover between you and me in the comic books. And you know, I think we can even make an Ice Cube movie.”
Ice Cube half smiled. “Sword, you could almost make me an optimist.”
The Sword sighed. If only he could fully believe it.
Ice Cube walked into the cave. “All right, Sword, do it. Just remember, I do need to to breathe, too.”
“Right. I’ll make an air hole.”
The Sword placed his blade down on the ground before Ice Cube’s black slacks. “Blade, freeze.”
The blade fired a beam of ice. He lifted the zooming spray of ice and formed a thick, claustrophobic, door-less igloo around Ice Cube. “Blade, Light.” He aimed fast and true, and cut a quick air hole in the side.
The Sword pulled the blade back. “See you tomorrow, old friend.” And each day until they got out of here.
The Sword walked out of the cave. “Blade, expand and magnetize!”
He mounted and flew to catch up with the heroes marching towards their chosen camp location.
Several minutes later, the Sword soared over the heads of the marching heroes and flew onward until he reached the clearing. He rubbed his eyes. Before him was an old English village.
The Sword landed in the middle of the square. “What the devil?”
He turned. Lord History stood with Revelator at the village’s edge. Lord History was wearing his ridiculous white polyester/nylon unitard with red underwear worn on the outside, white cape, and a stenciled red “H” on his chest. Oh, yes, and of course 18th century Hessian riding boots. When will I get him to finally change that costume? We’re lucky to sell any of his comics at all.
“I say. Do you like it?” Lord History waved at the village he had created. “I thought this would beat camping out.”
The Sword whistled. “Wow, I thought you could only get four things from the past in a day?”
“Chap, when I first got my powers, I thought small. Now, I’ve begun to realize that my powers allow me to take items in thoughts. The landing gear was one thought, the hook and wire a second, the village a third. There was a time where I thought that to re-create this village, I had to think of each house and each item inside them separately, but that is not so.”
“You’re amazing, Lord History.” The Sword began to count the buildings. “Okay, we have seventeen houses, so heroes can sleep two to a house. We’ll have an extra with thirty-two of us.”
Revelator hissed, “Jesse, twenty-nine.”
The Sword’s face fell. He was used to counting Dark Mystic, the Texas Ranger, and Ice Cube. “Okay, twenty-nine.”