THE MISSING TIGER
From the outside, the Clan of the Scorpion's secret base looked like one of a number of meerkat burrows in the Red Desert. But while some of the neighboring meerkats had welcomed wildlife documentary makers into their homes, the Clan had to be more careful about who they let in.
You see, film crews do not expect to find a central chamber filled with fighting staffs, swords, throwing stars, nunchucks, and a whole range of other gadgets at the heart of a meerkat burrow.
So the Clan kept nosy filmmakers at arm's length for fear of their true identity being revealed.… Actually, further than that, as a meerkat's arm is hardly very long at all.
Jet Flashfeet had just entered the central chamber. He had his trusty nunchucks in a specially designed holster, and was carrying a book under his arm called, 101 More Martial Arts Moves by Kara T. Kick. "Hey, who wants to try out this new move I just read about?"
"Not me. I'm busy with this," replied Donnie Dragonjab, tapping away on a touchscreen phone he had recently acquired from a careless documentary maker.
Bruce Willowhammer looked up from the middle of the chamber, where he was doing one-armed push-ups. "What is that, Donnie?" he asked.
"It's a Bluetooth, WAP-enabled mobile device," replied Donnie.
Bruce stopped mid push-up and stared at him blankly.
"It's a phone," explained Donnie.
"We've already got phones," said Bruce. With his free arm he pulled out the mini cell phone that Donnie had made for each Clan member so that they could keep in contact during missions.
"You'll be able to throw away that old thing once I've figured out how to reduce this down to a more usable size," said Donnie. "This can surf the Internet and give us up-to-date news from around the world with a simple click of a button. It's going to completely revolutionize the way we work."
Jet rolled his eyes impatiently. "Sounds great. Now, Bruce, will you try this new move with me?"
"All right, but can I have a snack first? I'm starving."
"You're always starving. Can't you wait? The helicopter leap will only take a minute," replied Jet.
"The what?" said Bruce.
"The helicopter leap. We link paws and spin around, then I count to three and we jump together and—Ninja-boom!—we fly up into the air like a helicopter."
"Why would we want to do that?"
"Because it's cool and it might come in handy."
"That's good enough for me. Let's do it," said Bruce.
"I have to see this." Donnie swiveled around to watch.
Jet and Bruce moved to the middle of the room. They stood on their hind legs, looked from side to side, then bowed to each other in the usual manner. They held paws, leaned back, and began to move slowly around in a circle.
"Shall I put some music on?" said Donnie, sniggering at the sight of stocky, muscular Bruce apparently dancing with nimble, lean Jet.
Jet ignored him. "Faster now," he said. "And try not to step on my feet."
"Sorry," Bruce mumbled.
They sped up, moving faster and faster until Jet yelled, "Jump!"
For a moment it looked like it was going to work. The two meerkats lifted off the ground, spinning in midair, but suddenly they whirled out of control, whizzing across the floor and knocking over a pile of weapons and tools in the process.
"Whooahhh!" cried Bruce.
"If that's what a helicopter is like, I think I'll stick to planes," said Donnie, laughing, as Bruce and Jet came to a halt in a confused heap by the entrance to the chamber.
Just then, Chuck Cobracrusher, the fourth member and leader of the Clan, appeared.
"The helicopter leap requires much practice," he said, stepping over Jet and Bruce. "Few achieve it on their first try."
"It was his fault. He's too heavy," said Jet, springing to his feet. He pulled out a comb and straightened the fur on top of his head.
"No, Jet, that is not the problem. You are too hasty. Given time you will master this move," said Chuck. "Another new gadget, Donnie?"
"It's a blue-toothed whack-a-table phone," said Bruce, butting in.
"A Bluetooth, WAP-enabled phone," corrected Donnie. "It's amazing. I'm surfing the Net right now."
"Technology is no substitute for the traditional ninja ways, but it can be useful," Chuck admitted. He brushed his fur back from his face, revealing the cross-shaped scar below his eye. He had never told the others how he had come by the scar; all they knew was that it had been inflicted by their deadly enemy, the Ringmaster, many years ago. "Perhaps you can look up something for me, Donnie," said Chuck. "A tiger has gone missing from the Hong Kong Zoo."
Donnie typed a few words into a search engine and found a news article.
"Here it is. It says that Ming, a rare speckled-white tigress, went missing last night from the zoo and that the police have no leads as to who may have taken her. How did you know about this, Chuck?"
"My brother, Throw, lives at the zoo and he has been keeping an eye on Ming for me. He called just now to give me the news."
"Your brother lives in a zoo?" said Bruce.
"Throw was never one for life in the wild. He prefers the conveniences of zoo life," replied Chuck. "He would have called earlier, but he had to wait until the zoo closed to use the pay phone. Ming's disappearance is of great significance."
"A missing cat?" Jet shrugged. "Surely they'll just stick a sign on a tree like everyone else?"
Chuck shook his head. "Ming is no ordinary tiger. She once belonged to my old samurai master, Luhk Hu Stalking. She was trained by Master Stalking and is the only living tiger capable of…" he paused, then said dramatically, "… the Roar of Victory."
"Is that what you'd use to win a rowboat race?" smirked Donnie.
"Roar, not oar," replied Chuck. "Whoever hears it is instantly put into a trance and must do the bidding of the next voice he or she hears. Master Stalking was wise and only ever used it in extreme cases and always for good. Since he died, Ming has lived safely in the zoo, her power kept a secret. But it seems that someone has discovered her past. And I can think of at least one person who would want to get his hands on her."
"The Ringmaster," said Jet.
Chuck nodded. "Our deadly enemy certainly has a fascination for things with great power."
"If he is behind this then we have no time to lose," said Jet.
"This time your haste is well placed," said Chuck. "I shudder to think of the damage he could do with such power. We must travel to Hong Kong at once. I will inform Grandmaster One-Eye of our departure."
The four meerkats bowed to one another, then leaped into action. Another death-defying mission was about to begin.
Text copyright © 2011 by Gareth P. Jones
Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Luke Finlayson
Cover illustration copyright © 2011 by Domingos de Aquino