Libby Lawrence rushed across the convention center floor; she was late. She knew this was not her fault, but that did not make up for her own lack of judgment in trusting someone as notoriously carefree as Johnny Chambers to get her there on time. She fumed as her new hosiery snagged on a table edge. She lifted her skirt to access the damage, and an appreciative whistle echoed from where Johnny stood with a red-faced Tubby Watts.
“Best legs since Garbo,” said Johnny.
“I’d be all aglow with delight at your lavish praise, but I’m mad at you for making me late to begin with!” said the blonde, tossing back one long lock of hair.
“Aw, don’t be sore at Johnny, Miss Lawrence,” said Tubby. “He was helping me load our camera equipment.”
Libby smiled. “Don’t worry about it, Tubby. He’d have done something to irritate me on his own sooner or later. He thinks it’s part of his charm.”
“Hey! Listen, we’re late for the speaker,” said Johnny. “The Press Convention is getting underway. We don’t want to be the only reporters tossed out for whispering!”
Libby smoothed down her black silk blouse and white skirt. She knew better than to argue with Johnny. They had only known each other for just over two months, but his mouth knew less restraint than his fleet feet.
It was February, 1942, and she already had planning underway for the first full meeting of the new All-Star Squadron. The Star Sapphire case had delayed her planning considerably, but at the same time it had enabled her to pass out invitations to all the various mystery-men and women involved. (*) This national convention of broadcasters and reporters was a necessary delay as well. As the all-American girl, her anti-Axis writings were more vital than ever, and this forum with every top journalist around present was too great an opportunity to reach out to the remaining isolationists.
[(*) Editor’s note: See All-Star Squadron: Times Past, 1942: Gender Gasp.]
She blinked as a face she knew from somewhere appeared. Landon? Lansford? Terrill! She knew Terrill was a print man for one of the New York City papers.
The current speaker was the author, reporter, and editor George Taylor, and his staff stars Lois Lane and Clark Kent watched from up front.
“Mr. Taylor is quite the speaker, huh, Lois?” whispered the bookish Kent.
“Shhh! I’d like to hear for myself, Kent!” said the annoyed woman.
The matter of hearing soon became far less pressing than merely remaining on their feet, as the entire room was bathed in red light, and the floor began to crack.
Clark Kent, secretly Superman, bent down as if rocked by the quake. He applied a great deal of superhuman pressure to the floor, and the opening gap — directly below him — sealed beneath his power.
Lois muttered, “Can’t you even stand up anymore? It was bound to happen, since you’re without a spine!”
Libby pointed skyward as the rending red light beam could be traced to its source. Through the shattered glass of the skylight, she saw a huge blimp. The floating death trap had arrived silently and blasted away the roof and wall with equally silent ease. “Johnny, look at that thing!” she said.
He and Tubby filmed frantically. The reporters yelled back and forth, but immediately began taking notes as professionals would.
Libby tried to slip away in the confusion, but the sheer masses of people around kept her pinned in. She noticed Johnny hand off the camera to Tubby and mutter a familiar mantra. He reappeared from the side, dressed as the heroic Johnny Quick.
He was met by a golden-costumed man who soared over the room like a shooting star. The Ray! thought Libby as she noticed him and remembered studying his file days before in preparation for the meeting; she had also seen him during the Star Sapphire case, although at that time he was being used as a pawn by the enemy.
“Stop! Do not approach!” echoed a voice through the room’s audio systems that rang out across the center. “Ladies and gentlemen of the press, you have been selected as the audience for a demonstration of the nature of power. More specifically, a display of what those who have it can do to those who lack protection. We will bring this convention center down around your corpses in less than fifteen minutes. We are the Brotherhood of the Electron, and the world shall know and fear our name after this day’s work. The same death-craft that ruins this structure can and will do the same unless the next victims pay us insurance.”
Superman appeared from the back just as Libby managed to undress and make an urgent call to Tom Revere at the Philadelphia Liberty Bell. Her vibrating belt buckle filled her with adrenal power as she raced through and, in some cases, over the crowd. Superman said, “I’m sorry to differ with your plans, but just think of me as my brotherhood’s keeper!” He placed his own body between the crumbling structure and the red ray. As he did so, Libby gasped. The Man of Steel ceased to exist at that moment. As if turned to ashes, he was no longer in view.
Oh, no! Surely they just teleported him away, she thought. I can’t believe that thing could kill Superman!
Johnny Quick and the Ray zoomed closer as the red beam spread across the room.
Liberty Belle could only lead frightened people to safety while the red beams continued to shatter the once-sturdy convention center around her.
Johnny Quick hurtled forward and propelled himself toward the blimp with his adrenaline surging. Got to reach that thing! It’s already wrecked the building! If the Brotherhood wanted big-time press coverage from this stunt, it’s got it in spades! he mused as he drew closer to the blimp, only to fall through it and plunge downward again. He spun around and around and cushioned his fall. “How’d you like that! It’s not solid!” he grumbled.
“It’s solid enough to bring down the roof! Get us out of here!” cried Libby as she ushered a fleeing group of cameramen to safety.
Johnny scooped her up over his shoulder and used his momentum and wind to blow the rest free of the structure before it could fall inward.
The Ray had been flying even higher, as the light of the sun gave him renewed power. His real name was Langford “Happy” Terrill, and he had never seen something as massive and destructive as this weird blimp. “It’s not where it appears to be!” he said. “My eyes show me that easily enough. Must be some light-based stunt, and that’s why I can see through it.”
He had noticed Quick fall through the illusion that was near the real blimp, unseen by others. Flying closer, the Ray fired a blast of energy. The blimp’s hull withstood the blast and seemed to absorb the energy as the red beam lanced out anew with a brighter glow than before. He wondered if he dared try the stunt in his mind. Shrugging heroically, he positioned himself in the path of the death-ray. Better hope I can ride through it unhurt! he thought. But he never got his chance, for suddenly and silently the blimp vanished. “That was no illusion,” he decided. “That was teleportation.”
Returning to the parking lot, he greeted Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick. “I’m the Ray. What do you make of this Brotherhood of the Electron?” he asked. “Can you folks help me trace them?”
“We’ll sure try!” said Johnny. “But with power-hungry killers like this Brotherhood behind that thing, I’d say they’ll make a return appearance all too soon for my liking!”
Liberty Belle knew he was right. She only hoped her rapidly formed plans could stop them when they next appeared. As for Superman, she had no idea what had happened to him.
That night, Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick, and the Ray gathered at the site of the ruined convention center, along with some hastily summoned guests drawn from Belle’s newly compiled files about other active mystery-men and women.
The lovely Belle had acted with her usual resolve and dispatch. Having two super-fleet errand boys at her beck and call didn’t hurt her efforts, either. Johnny and the Ray had summoned and delivered some of the few far-flung heroes their blonde leader had requested.
The metallic grin of Robotman revealed nothing about the man’s true feelings. Bob Crane’s human brain was inside the inhuman sheath, and his brilliance was essential to Belle’s plan. He worked with a heavy machine that he had directed the super-fast Johnny to assemble at his instructions.
“Belle, this machine should detect the energy pattern of that ray,” said Crane. “Nothing of that magnitude could do so much damage without leaving behind some type of residual energy. We can detect it and hopefully trace it back to its source. That is to say, we can learn what powers that blimp and try to locate it in its hiding place.” He pointed to a red line that flickered on the screen and said, “Ah! Thar she blows! A massive dynamo powered that ship of the air. It can’t possibly escape our trackers with that much energy within it.”
She nodded. “Mr. Lincoln, do you think you and Air Wave, here, can actually track the signal?”
The white-clad Human Bomb nodded. He was shy for such a powerhouse. “I believe, now that Robotman has brought the energy source into a range we can detect on our machine, Air Wave and I can locate it,” he said. “I mean, the ship obviously broadcasts messages. You heard it take over the sound system at the convention. I’m more of a chemist than anything else, but with this kind of help, I’m glad to do my part.”
The green-and-yellow-clad Air Wave grinned sheepishly. “Contrary to my name, I can only pick up and send electromagnetic signals. I hope to soup up my equipment one of these days. Still, I can sure lock onto that kind of broadcast frequency once these experts do the legwork!”
Hours passed as they worked. Johnny Quick paced nervously, full of reckless energy. “I could have searched for it across the country by this time!”
Liberty Belle hushed him and turned to the Ray. “You said you saw the ship off to the side of where our eyes detected it? That means it generated some type of illusion that your light-sensitive eyes could pierce.”
The Ray nodded. “Exactly. What a story this is! I’m Happy Terrill, a reporter on the Star, and this could be my big break!” Belle smiled and fought back her amusement at the eager newshound’s ambition.
“We’ve got it!” announced Human Bomb. “Now Air Wave and the Ray can track it down!”
Johnny turned to the others. “Then let’s go! Finally, some action!”
“Mind if I join you?” asked a dashing figure in yellow and red. He brandished a sword, and as he jumped out of the shadows, he introduced himself as the Sword.
“Sure! I don’t believe I know you!” said an apologetic Belle.
“I happened to be in the neighborhood and wanted to help,” he explained.
Must be a reporter, too, mused Belle as they set off.
“Hold it, there! I’m going with you!” declared a determined, dark-haired woman.
“For cryin’ out loud! Who else is hiding back there? The Andrews Sisters?” said Johnny Quick.
“I’m Lois Lane — reporter for the Daily Star. I’m coming along, or I’ll print the headline: Happy Terrill is the Ray!” she bluffed.
The Ray sputtered, “Look, Miss Lane, you can’t endanger my life, my career, my effectiveness as a crime-fighter like that!”
Libby frowned. “I know you’re usually trying to dig up dirt on Superman. I take it this time you want to save him or avenge him?” Lois nodded, almost vulnerably. “We’ll take her,” said Belle. “She is experienced enough to know how to keep her head down. We can’t lose any more time.”
They hurried off in a aircraft borrowed from the Press Corps itself after some calls from the well-connected Liberty Belle.
“I had to agree to pose for a calendar shot as Libby Lawrence for the boys overseas, but it’s worth it,” she whispered to Johnny.
“You know, I just happen to know a good camera jockey,” said Quick.
“Me, too — Tubby!” she quipped.
Up front, Lois Lane sat near the Ray. “I guess I’d better come out and say I’m sorry. I was bluffing,” she explained. “I would never reveal your secret, not with a war on and every good man needed to do his part. I was just worried… still am about Superman.”
The Ray grinned. “No need to worry about that guy! I can tell you one thing for sure. He didn’t die or anything. That ray just sent him somewhere. Trust me, I know all about light-based science!”
The Human Bomb sat uneasily next to the Sword, who gazed admiringly at Liberty Belle. “Quite a looker! Is she seeing anybody?” he asked.
The Bomb said, “I just met the lady tonight.”
Robotman sat lost in thought. He still hoped he could one day return to human form, and he had just recently revealed his secret to his lover, Joan Carter. Romance was a sore subject with him for the duration.
The odd assembly of heroes made its way across the nation until they came to a sheltered grove deep within the southern Appalachian Mountains.
“We must be right on top of the blimp,” announced Robotman. “I’d say that fancy light trick is just hiding it.” The wooded area parted to reveal an open clearing with nothing out of the ordinary in sight.
Liberty Belle glanced over at Lois Lane. She hoped that her impulse to allow the lovesick woman to join them was not going to lead to disaster.
Lois was not as eager for the next scoop as she was worried about the Man of Steel who vanished in that fiery red nimbus. Surely he’s just fine. What could really harm Superman? she told herself.
The Sword was a bit nervous. He was a reporter named Chic Carter, and this was his first encounter with other mystery-men and women. Sure, he had been lucky so far, but could the kind of menace that could hurt Superman be far out of his league? He was merely an agile man with a sword.
Air Wave had his own doubts. True, he was the man of the hour, since he had helped to pinpoint the hidden blimp by its broadcast equipment, but what good was he now? He was a two-fisted attorney, but as Larry Jordan or the costumed Air Wave, he did more fighting with hoods than world-beaters with death-rays.
Johnny Quick was more eager to get into action. He had all the regard for life and concern for others that his allies had, but he also brought to the situation a real rush brought on by action, movement, and the use of his powers.
The Ray frowned. “They have the blimp directly below us. I can sense light distortion, if not the actual craft itself this time.”
Before he could react, the plane shuddered, and Quick fought to bring it down in one piece, even as the Ray leaped out to try to steady the plane with his own raw muscle. The coming dawn aided his efforts greatly as the sun rose higher. Got to slow the descent! he mused.
Robotman tried to help from within, but he could do little at first. Then he jetted forth with his newly designed rocket-lifters. He was carried off unsteadily, but they worked, and he tried to help as best he could.