All-Star Squadron: 1942: Gender Gasp, Chapter 5: Dance-Hall Queen

by Libbylawrence

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Danette Reilly, alias the second Firebrand, was concerned. Her recovering brother Rod and her close friend Sir Justin the Shining Knight had both vanished, along with every other known adult male hero. She and her ally Sandra Knight, also known as Phantom Lady, had been transported through time and space by the magical symbol of the Seven, as used by the mysterious Rose Psychic.

Dann noticed that her clothes had altered dramatically, just as Rose had mentioned they would, to somehow match the time. She had her fiery red hair elaborately coiffed in a feathered headdress, while her brief red boostier and fishnet hoses and heels were revealed beneath a long feathered train in the rear. I’m some kind of saloon girl, she mused as she gazed around an ornate, smoke-filled dance hall that looked as if it had come straight out of a John Wayne or Gene Autry film.

Her companion, Sandra Knight, wore a severely styled bun and a long, hoop-skirted green gown. “I think we’re in the proverbial Wild West!” said an excited Phantom Lady.

“The jewel shard must be in this place — Mesa City, Arizona!” read Dann from a garish sign.

“C’mon, honey,” called a drunken cowboy as he slapped her bottom and pulled her on his lap. She blazed up from one hand suddenly, and he recoiled in horror. The fiery display brought the room to a sudden hush.

As cowboys closed in on the now-free Dann, Sandra aimed her wrist-mounted black-light ray at the redhead. Dann was instantly shrouded in midnight darkness and hurried out to join a signaling Sandy. “I may have been groped by ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock!” said Dann.

They fled into a dusty street, where a voice hailed them from nearby. “I’m Johnny Thunder. Do you need help?” Instead of the bow-tied, green-suited Thunderbolt master of JSA fame, who had taken to wearing a white sailor’s suit full-time after joining the U.S. Navy, the Johnny Thunder they met was a red-shirted gunslinger with dark hair under a blue cowboy hat. “Ladies, you look a bit out of sorts. Can I help you?” he asked in a surprisingly polished voice.

“I… we need information about a jewel — an opal, in fact, or part of one,” started Phantom Lady as she tugged on the heavy flowing gown she wore.

“I know that such an opal is in town,” said Johnny. “Its owner is passing through. He’s a noted author — Samuel Clemens.”

“Mark Twain!” shouted Dann.

“Yes, ma’am. You must be a fan of Mr. Clemens. I also enjoy his travel books, especially Roughin’ It. He’s to do a lecture at the Mesa City Lyceum, and he’ll be wearing the opal as a tie clasp,” explained Thunder.

This lawman is no ordinary gunslinger! Sandra realized.

“I hope the tour’s stop here in Mesa City will add a bit of culture to the place,” he replied. “My poor, late mother would have dearly loved that.”

“We are visitors from rather far away, and we came just to see that jewel,” explained Dann.

“I see. Are you here to perform at the dance hall?” he asked.

“Yes. That’s it exactly!” said an amused Sandy.

“And Sandy here’s — husband-hunting!” muttered an irritated Firebrand as she adjusted her feathers.

“I myself am happily married, but I’m sure the men in town would love to meet pretty ladies like you two,” he said.

“The Twain train — a bit of a tongue-twister — arrives next Friday. I’ll get you hotel rooms and let you get some rest. I have a good feeling about you two.”

***

The women soon rested in the hotel. “Am I expected to actually dance in that place… in this outfit?” fumed Dann.

“I assume so, since you appeared in it. Wouldn’t want to mess up the whole space-time do-hickey,” joked Sandra.

Thus a reluctant Danette Reilly endured a week of dancing in the saloon under very odd circumstances while Sandra Knight fended off suitors.

***

On the day of the arrival of Mark Twain, they hurried to the station. “This had better be the opal we need,” said Dann.

As the train pulled up to the Mesa City station, a cheering crowd awaited the famed humorist himself. Among the group was an eager Dann and Sandy. A blond schoolteacher named John Tane stood by with a pretty blonde who was his wife, Jeanne Walker Tane.

A roar went up as Sam Clemens — Mark Twain himself — stepped down. His off-gray suit displayed a shining opal on the pale tie.

“That’s it!” whispered Sandy.

“Now what? Just say, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Twain, but we’re time-travelers, and we need your jewel to save our future world’?” said Dann.

“It worked for his Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Maybe we inspired it,” laughed Sandy.

Twain was in rare form as he amused the crowd with his leisurely Southern drawl and sharp quips. Tane led the honored guest to the Mesa City Lyceum Hall, where he was to speak. Dann and Sandy followed.

Midway through the humorist’s hour set, masked figures burst in and waved the crowd to silence with lethal-looking guns.

“We’re a-takin’ Twain. If you want ‘im ta joke agin, then git his wife back in Connecticut ta pay up,” sneered the hooded leader. John Tane raced forward, only to fall back as bullets whizzed by his head.

Sandy used her newfound invisibility powers to turn herself invisible and ripped off the hoop skirt. She charged to Twain’s side and tackled his nearest kidnapper. The startled thug fell down hard, totally unaware of what was hitting him. Three rapid blows and he did not stir.

Dann fired up her hands, sheared off her feathered train and, in what now looked like a swimsuit with fishnets and heels, flew over the crowd. She tossed fireballs at the gunmen and forced them away from Twain, who wasted no time ducking away when he found his arms freed.

John Tane’s wife Jeanne, the former outlaw known as Madame .44, leaped up and led the humorist to safety while her husband, secretly Johnny Thunder, shoved the podium into a thug. Firebrand flew lower and slammed her high-heeled feet into a thug, who pitched over the stage to a stunned pile on the floor. John Tane, out of his disguise but still valiant, fired an accurate shot that wounded a gunman, who dropped his gun with a scream.

Sandy, still unseen, leaped over one thug to crash into two others. Her fists struck both, for they had no idea to even try to dodge an unseen attack. Her left foot kicked one hard, and her skilled judo spun the other into a hard landing against a wall.

Firebrand caught a glimpse of a fleeing and hooded leader. She blocked his aisle with a flaming barrier that never moved past her intended spot. He turned, and John Tane hit him hard enough to chip a tooth or two. “There’s nothing worse than opportunist thugs like these,” he said.

Twain returned arm in arm with the lovely Jeanne Tane and drawled, “Must have been Bret Harte readers!”

They all laughed, and to Dann’s pleasure, Twain offered the jewel to his rescuers, not that he had seen Sandy’s actual efforts. Tane thanked them, too.

As they grasped the opal, they faded away and would lose all memory of what had occurred. To the much-mortified dance-hall queen Danette Reilly, this was a blessing.

***

Back in 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt watched as the colorfully costumed women of the All-Star Squadron prepared in their own ways for the coming of the Star Sapphire from the Seventh Dimension. His wife Eleanor Roosevelt busied herself with her column while nervously glancing up from time to time.

Liberty Belle scanned her hurriedly assembled roster of possible Squadron allies. “The Gay Ghost, the Spectre, Little Boy Blue and his Blue Boys, Robin, Speedy, the Red Tornado, Dian Belmont as the Sandman, Sandy, the Star-Spangled Kid, and even this Ghost Patrol I’ve heard about are unaccounted for or are keeping peace in the streets alongside civilian police officers. If needed we can summon them, except for the two or three who travel other worlds freely, as Rose would say,” she mused.

Wonder Woman sat quietly and checked her equipment. The mental radio had failed to make contact with any other mystery-men or women, and she knew much would depend upon her own mighty efforts. Doris Knight sat silently next to Sandra Knight and Danette Reilly. Inza Cramer and Shiera Sanders waited nervously as well. The mysterious Rose Psychic smoothed the gleaming opal she had assembled from the shards her friends had located throughout time and space. Martha Roberts remained at doll-size in the alcove behind FDR’s desk, glancing protectively at the parcel Inza had entrusted her with guarding; she was to be a secret weapon.

A glimmer of energy attracted their attention as a powerfully built and attractive woman appeared in their midst. “I am the Star Sapphire, Matriarchal Ruler of the Seventh Dimension! I am returned to the one called President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his answer. I see the addition of your nation’s superior-gender champions. Wise but futile,” laughed the pretty but deadly alien.

The president spoke up, “Young woman, this nation is engaged in a perilous life-struggle for the safeguarding of the four freedoms all humanity earned as a birthright. We shall not surrender to any tyrant, regardless of gender or nationality!”

She stomped her black, high-heeled boots in scornful annoyance. “I see. Then you will never see your males again,” she vowed. She wore a black body-stocking with fishnetted arms and legs, and a gem hung from her tiara.

Wonder Woman’s lasso dropped on the startled alien. “Surrender them to us now!” she ordered.

“I think… not!” said the struggling alien queen.

“She’s resisting Di’s magic! That’s almost impossible!” said Liberty Belle.

Hawkgirl charged the alien with her mace raised above her auburn locks. “Curse you! We’ll see you pay for the pain you’ve caused!” she said, but merely bounced off a purple-hued force-field.

“I may not have the same level of offensive might against females, but I am more than able to protect myself, as you see!” laughed Sapphire. She sent energy racing down the golden lasso, and Diana released it gingerly. Star Sapphire tossed it aside with bored contempt. “Your girlish toy has no power over my alien form!” She watched in amusement as Wonder Woman’s burning hands glowed mildly.

Liberty Belle’s belt vibrated, and she charged forward while signaling Phantom Lady. Sandra Knight used her invisibility ray to cloud the Roosevelts in an obscuring shadow and rushed them down the hall to safety. Belle launched herself at Star Sapphire, only to remain caught in midair by her foe’s energy power. She kicked out helplessly, only to be dropped hard against the nearby Shiera Sanders. Firebrand tossed a veritable wall of controlled flames between the bruised women and their foe. The Doll Girl waited silently and prayed. Inza Cramer’s raw force slammed into the force-field and felt it vibrate slightly, but it still held strong. Phantom Lady raced back and invisibly punched at the energy field with no effect.

Rose Psychic held up the opal of power. “This will counter your power!” she declared. To their mutual dismay, the Star Sapphire merely laughed with amusement.

“That opal did pose a threat to me… once. However, I dispelled its potent magic before I shattered it into fragments! All you’ve done is collect the empty pieces! How utterly inane!”

Rose cursed silently and aimed the symbol of the Seven at the alien. “This does have power. But I can resist it, too!” promised Sapphire as the energy bathed her own field.

Wonder Woman charged forward and, in a concerted effort with Inza, pounded against the force-field. It weakened under their three-pronged attack, and the Star Sapphire looked irritated. “Begone!” she ordered. Energy lanced outward and pushed the women warriors away from their enemy. Inza moaned as the power knocked her backward.

Liberty Belle scrambled across the room on her hands and knees and whispered to Doll Girl, “We may need it. But hold off for a minute.” Martha nodded.

Phantom Lady tried a new tactic, making the area near the Star Sapphire dark. This effect angered her visibly, and she burst asunder the artificial night with power and light. “How dare you try to diminish my sacred light!” she shouted. The women exchanged glances at this outburst.

Starwoman stepped forward and covered the field with the glowing power of her gravity rod. Yellow stellar power vied with purple alien energy, and the field’s color altered variably. Doris perspired in concentration. “This is for you, Ted, honey! Please come back to me!” The power of the gravity rod held its own with the Sapphire’s energy, but nothing else changed.

“Rose, can you feel your connection with Doctor Occult?” whispered Diana.

“No. For all I know, it has been broken by her power,” she said in dismay.

Inza kicked out at the Star Sapphire’s field and received the brief satisfaction of seeing the field fade for a moment. “I almost broke through! Fighting Doris’ rod is taking her concentration!” she said.

Hawkgirl held an odd crystal knife. “This knife first awoke Carter’s memories of our past lives together, and he used it to astrally battle Hastor once. I hope it may still stir him, somehow!” she said.

Rose Psychic shone the symbol of the Seven on the knife as well. A strange sensation ran through them both. “I feel… something! We may have briefly touched Carter Hall or Doc!” breathed Rose.

“Ah, you seek your mates!” said the Star Sapphire. “Allow me to bring them to you… on my terms!” she laughed. Energy blazed out, and some of the missing All-Stars appeared. Unfortunately, the All-Star men would prove to be anything but allies in their war against the Star Sapphire.

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