Vic Valor and Strobe: The Jungles of Juneo, Chapter 5: A Final Solution?

by Dan Swanson

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Within hours, with the assistance of the three super-heroes, enough bond-breaker beam projectors had been delivered to the walls to drive the encroaching jungle back to its prior limits. Inside the city walls, the constant rumble of plants that had just been converted to high explosives sounded to Jim Chisholm like distant heat lighting on a hot summer day on Earth. The inhabitants were used to a lot worse, and they simply ignored this background noise.

“So, you’re an inventor?” Strobe asked Power Boy as they finally took a well-deserved break. “You look like you should still be in high school.” There must have been a translation problem, as Power Boy looked puzzled. They discussed the concept of a high school, and when he got it, Power Boy was stunned.

“In our society, we don’t have the luxury of allowing teenagers to waste their time in school. Our population is so small, and our battle with the jungle so all-encompassing, that everyone must join the workforce as young as possible. Our schooling is done via mental teaching machines, and most students graduate with the equivalent of your college diplomas at the age of eleven. After I completed my apprenticeship, I’ve been a government weapons contractor for the past three years.”

Jim was horrified to think of a society where children never had time to be kids, but were forced to spend most of their childhood attached to learning machines, with the teachings of a human lifetime crammed into their brains before they even reached their teens.

Before they could discuss this further, they were interrupted by a siren. Power Boy recognized it instantly. “That’s the meteor alert!” He quickly scanned the sky with his super-vision, then spoke to Strobe and Vic Valor. “There! Three large asteroids, aimed right at Ralzen’s Forge! I hope you don’t mind, but I need your help!”

“Lead the way,” Strobe replied wearily. He really needed a good night’s rest, but it seemed he wouldn’t get it anytime soon. The three heroes headed skyward at high speed. As the ocean-liner-sized asteroids came into sight, each hero chose an asteroid to tackle. Power Boy simply smashed through one asteroid at super-speed, then continued to smash the fragments into even smaller fragments. Valor rushed up to another asteroid, braced his back against it, and used his remaining gravity-control modules to boost this rock into a different orbit.

Strobe set up a giant rocket on the flank of the third asteroid, and a plume of glowing white rocket exhaust started pushing it into a new orbit. Suddenly, his energy constructs wavered, then disappeared completely. Strobe instantly dived toward the atmosphere of the planet below, while warning Valor over his Galactic Patrol communicator.

“Vic! Something’s interfering with my power. The last time it happened, it was caused by kryptonite radiation! I need to get somewhere safe, fast!” As Strobe headed for the ground, Valor signaled to Power Boy that the Juneon hero should deal with the last asteroid, while he used his highly advanced built-in sensory equipment to search for kryptonite radiation. He quickly located a large boulder that glowed bright green, which had apparently been knocked loose from the asteroid that Power Boy had destroyed. Grabbing it with both hands, he spun around to gain added momentum and threw it as hard as he could toward Juneo’s sun. A super-speed search of the orbit nearby discovered no further kryptonite radiation.

Meanwhile, Power Boy had guided the last asteroid into a different orbit. It was now on a nearly parallel path with the asteroid Valor had redirected seconds earlier. These asteroids would eventually pass out of Juneo’s solar system into interplanetary space, never to menace the planet below again.

Jim was extremely excited when the other two heroes joined him on the surface. “I think I’ve figured out a way to end the threat of the jungle on Juneo forever!” That got Power Boy’s attention immediately.

“That kryptonite rock jogged something in my memory. When I trained with the Justice Society, I spent a lot of time reading their records, and I came across a case from a couple of years ago that involved white kryptonite. (*) White kryptonite instantly kills any kind of vegetation! If we could find some white K and bring it here, the Juneons could use it to control the jungle.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: The Anarchy Society of the World, Chapter 2: Sowing the Seeds of Doubt.]

“What’s kryptonite?” Power Boy asked them, so Jim told him the whole story of Krypton and Superman.

“Wow! His story is just like mine!” Power Boy exclaimed. “What an amazing coincidence! Except he wasn’t stuck in suspended animation for a hundred-thousand years.”

“I wonder what gives you your powers,” Jim said curiously. “Superman gets his from the lower gravity of Earth, and some kind of energy emitted by the yellow sun.”

“My adopted mother, the leading scientist on Juneo, speculated that it was due to the green sun reacting with my alien metabolism,” Power Boy replied.

“But I’m from Earth like you, and I haven’t developed the same powers you have,” Jim objected.

“You haven’t been absorbing green sun energy for a thousand human centuries, either, Jim,” Valor reminded him. “Power Boy, in suspended animation, has been on this planet for a lot longer than you. But let’s get back to kryptonite. You’ve told me about it before, since Superman didn’t name it as such until several months after my time as a hero back in 1949, but I’d assumed it was green. (*) I’ve never heard of white kryptonite.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman Returns to Krypton,” Superman #61 (November-December, 1949).]

“It may not be native to our universe — I think someone brought it here from Earth-One,” Jim explained.”

“OK, I was just going to listen, but what do you mean, ‘our universe’? Are you saying there’s other universes?” Power Boy interrupted, a puzzled look on his face. At that, the other two had to stop and explain the concept of multiple universes.

“All right, I get it… sort of. But how can something that doesn’t even exist in our universe help us?” Power Boy asked.

“If I knew more about how kryptonite was formed, I might be able to duplicate the process of creating white kryptonite,” Valor said. “But it would interfere with our quest for the Lens of Allouche if we went to Krypton’s solar system.” He looked at Jim, leaving the question hanging in the air.

“We’ve got a chance to give the kids of this planet their childhoods back!” Jim said passionately. “I can’t think of any better way to spend my time. What about you?”

“I’ve got plenty of time, being immortal,” Valor answered. It was settled; they were going to head for the Rao system.

***

The small, armed free trade starship Slim Chance was about to exit jump space to make port in the Juneo system after its first trade run. The five-person crew, all of them recently mustered out of the survey service of the Third Emporium, as was their ship, were poised at their stations in the control room, and the tension in the room was almost palpable. There were rumors of space pirates haunting the exit point on this trade route, and if they could add the bounty for the pirates to the profit they had already made, their first trading run would be an outstanding success. Of course, the pirates would have something to say about that.

“Status?” The ship’s captain and owner Kirk Lonewolf, an Answerin, spoke quietly, but his powerful voice easily carried to everyone on the bridge. The physical toughness of the Answerin made them familiar and prized members of all the Imperial services, but their almost foolhardy courage made it rare for one to survive long enough to reach command ranks. He was looking forward to planetfall — his crew really needed rest and relaxation, and he knew they would hit the port for some hard partying, but he hoped the port wouldn’t hit back. He was getting tired of getting his pilot and cargo master out of jail in every port.

“Exit from jump space in three minutes, Captain,” Phoenix Starswarm, his Aslan science officer, replied calmly. “Detectors are at full power, and all ship’s systems are nominal.” Phoenix doubled as ship’s engineer. In a crew this small, every member (except for Squirkey, the ship’s pet and mascot) was trained to handle several important functional areas. Phoenix’s feline eyes and quick reflexes were a perfect match to the task of getting important information from the science computer in emergencies, and her insatiable feline curiosity drove her search for knowledge.

“Weapons ready, shields hot,” reported her mate, weapons master “Cannon” Starswarm, his pointed ears raised like miniature radar dishes. “Any rats sniffing around the jump point will feel our claws!” Eager anticipation filled his raspy voice. The hunting instincts of his distant feline ancestors were close to the surface in him, and his feline characteristics served him well in any kind of combat.

“Ready for evasive action, skipper!” reported the pilot and navigator Derek Shadow. “Plus, alternate courses to port and back into jump space are plotted and ready to be switched in.” Shadow had been with Captain Lonewolf longer than the rest of the crew, and sometimes got away with being less formal. Alone of the crew, he had visited Terra, the homeworld of humanity, though he had been born on one of the colonies in the Spinward Reaches. Shadow saw himself as a dashing swashbuckler, and on many ports, the ladies agreed with his self-assessment.

“Cargo stowed and locked down for action, sir!” replied Slate Tungsten, the cargo master. “Control room shipshape.” He had gone through the control room and verified that there was nothing that could turn into a missile if Shadow had to jerk the ship around on high-acceleration evasive maneuverings. “Squirkey is strapped in, and his cage is locked!” There would be no repeats of an earlier breakout, when ship’s mascot Squirkey, a small, shape-shifting green alien who was about as intelligent as a chimpanzee, got loose and caused mischief for several days before he could be caught. Slate was human, though no one knew which subspecies — as an infant, he had been the only passenger recovered in the lifeboat of an interstellar cargo ship, probably destroyed by pirates. As soon as he was old enough, he had joined the survey service, and he had two goals in life — to find out more about his personal history, and to destroy space pirates.

Satisfied that his ship and crew were ready, Lonewolf began a countdown to Breakout. “Three… two… one… exit!

“Scanning! Nothing nearby. No ships, no exhaust to show traces of any recent passages, and no jump space wakes to indicate imminent jump space exits. Looks like we’re clear, Captain!” Phoenix Starswarm reported, and Shadow would have sworn there was disappointment in her voice. She wasn’t quite as bloodthirsty as her mate, but she had her moments.

“Very well. Cancel yellow alert. Return to normal status. Navigator, take us to port!”

As they began relax, the crew of the Slim Chance was stunned when an alarm bell started ringing.

“Science Officer, I don’t recognize that alarm!” Captain Lonewolf barked. “Are we under attack?”

Phoenix Starswarm was startled by the bell, and then she burst out laughing, and stood up. “That’s the autostove; it’s time for dinner, boys!”

The illusion of the control room of the Slim Chance faded away, revealing a room that could easily pass for a living room in Seacoast City, California — or any other town in the United States, for that matter. The exotic, feline form of Phoenix Starswarm faded to reveal an attractive middle-aged woman, Amarla Vorne, Power Boy’s adoptive mother and the weapons scientist who had originally found his Lemurian rocket. “Jim, it is absolutely amazing to be able to relax and play, after fifty years of constant combat against the jungle. For all of Juneo, thanks so much for introducing us to Earth games. We haven’t had time to develop our own games for hundreds of generations! Traveler is my favorite. I always wished to go to space, and even when you get back from the Rao system with white kryptonite, it will be years before we develop our own Juneon space program, and I’ll be too old. Computer simulations are as close as I’m ever likely to get.”

“Thanks, Amarla!” Derek Shadow had morphed into Jim Chisholm. “But it was Zarl’s idea–” He pointed at the teenage boy in the room, Zarl Vorne, the secret identity of Power Boy. “–to program the Tiak Avenger’s supercomputer with the Traveler rules, and then use the ship’s planetary database as source material. Using data from actual planets, stars, and civilizations lends incredible realism to the game.”

“Not to mention, having the computer be the game master and project virtually real holograms using the power of your glove!” the youngster Larz said. Even wearing glasses and brightly colored red and blue clothing, almost the exact opposite of Power Boy’s colors, Jim couldn’t see how the teen hero’s disguise fooled anyone.

“Amarla, Larz…” Jim nodded to Amarla and Cannon Starswarm, who was now revealed as a strongly built middle-aged man, Larz Vorne. “…I hope you know that Valor, here–” He indicated the former Captain Longwolf. “–and I really appreciate you letting us live with you while the Tiak Avenger is being repaired.”

“Indeed, Mr. And Mrs. Vorne, we definitely appreciate your hospitality,” agreed Vic Valor. Even wearing local clothing, a loose shirt with puffy sleeves, a sleeveless vest, baggy pantaloons, and a turban, he could never be mistaken for a Juneon. “With old systems being ripped out of our ship and replaced with Juneon technology, our shipboard quarters have become temporarily unlivable.”

“Hey, Ma, I’m starved!” Zarl interrupted. “What’s for dinner? Let’s eat!”

The group adjourned to the dining room, and had a pleasant dinner.

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