by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
Rexford Tyler, alias Timepiece, was on monitor duty in Knight Base, new home of the Legion of Justice, when an emergency call came in from Star Lass.
“Scramble the ready team, Rex! We need help here! Stat One!”
Star Lass, Chemique, and Golden Boy had been exploring a large cavern that was connected to Knight Base by a tunnel. They must have encountered something underground, Rex realized. The monitor switched and displayed video from a camera built into the space helmet Star Lass was wearing; she, Golden Boy, and Chemique were engaged in a battle with a gleaming golden humanoid figure.
Rex gave verbal orders to Gernsback — it would take too long to get his voice-activated prosthetics to carry out the needed actions. “Gernsback calculate boom tube, ready room to Theresa’s location, ten seconds from my mark; notify the ready team to go in ten seconds, mark.” The ready team had better be in the ready room.
Timepiece had already started integrating Gernsback into Knight Base’s mainframe computer. Knight Base technology was perhaps a hundred years in advance of the technology generally available in the Utopian States of America back on Earth, the result of Amgov’s centuries-long program of suppressing scientific research and technological advances as being dangerous to the general welfare.
Even though Gernsback estimated that the big computer was still only twenty-percent operational after fifty years without maintenance, now that he was part of that computer, his own capabilities were hundreds of times greater than they had been. As an example, it used to take Gernsback ten to twelve hours to perform the calculations needed to safely activate a boom tube; now he could perform such calculations on the fly — as fast as you could give him the entrance and exit coordinates and the desired entrance time, the calculations were done.
Canary, Hourboy, and Kid Terrific were back on Earth, making contact with relatives and friends of the renegade Legionnaires and offering them asylum on other planets. Hawk Lad, alias Horus of Feithera, was worse than useless underground. That left Teleteen, Greenfire, and WildCat.
Rex responded to Star Lass, “Ready team will be there in just a few seconds, Terry! Hold on!”
In the ready room, there was a very loud boom as the tube of energy appeared.
“Can’t he fix that noise?” Greenfire complained as he always did, then flew forward, using his green power to pull an energy bubble containing his teammates behind him. The tube vanished, and in a rocky chamber far below Knight Base there was an identical boom, and the tube disgorged the three heroes into the middle of a fight.
In their earliest exploration of Knight Base, the Justice Legionnaires had found a corridor on the lowest level that led down and away from the main base. The corridor was about a half a mile long, and it ended in an airlock probably two-hundred feet below the surface. Further exploration had been put off until now. Star Lass, Chemique, and Golden Boy had been assigned the task of exploring whatever was behind that airlock. Star Lass and Chemique wore space-suits, and although Golden Boy with his alien physiology could survive unprotected in a vacuum, Sandy wore a helmet so he could communicate with the others.
Each hero bore a backpack and carried a powerful flashlight. They passed smoothly through the operational airlock and found themselves in a huge airless cavern. Theresa Knight, alias Star Lass, had used an energy beam from a cosmic rod to carve out a smooth road in the rough cavern floor, and this road ended at another airlock in the far wall of the cavern perhaps a half-mile away. Two heavy doors slid apart or together to open or close this side of the lock; at the moment it was closed. Their efforts to open the door failed.
“I could just blast the darned door,” Star Lass suggested doubtfully. All the Legionnaires did their best not to damage the Base during their explorations. “Or maybe we shouldn’t go in right now, but come back with a bigger team?” Star Lass mused. “Whatever’s back there, it must be isolated like this for a reason.”
“Could be a radioactive waste dump,” Chemique pointed out. “The big reactor produces some dangerous stuff, and they didn’t have me around.” Her powers let her speed up nuclear decay, and she could cause materials with a normal half-life of hundreds of years to decay into a safe non-radioactive elements in only minutes.
“Maybe this is where they did weapons research,” Golden Boy added. “Or where they kept dangerous prisoners.” He paused, waiting for Star Lass. Legion protocol was that the oldest team member was generally the leader on a mission. But this wasn’t an official mission, and he was impatient, so when Theresa didn’t respond quickly, he stepped forward. “We have to explore it sooner or later. Might as well be now.”
He pushed his body hard against the door, searching for any crack, however narrow, that he could squeeze through. His body exuded microscopically fine tendrils that snaked into every small opening. To the girls he seemed to be sinking into the wall. Then he pushed back and looked normal again, though he had a finger pressed against the wall.
“Vacuum on both sides, and lots of cracks in the material — like stress fractures — that go right through. There must have been an earthquake or something like that. The two sliding doors are vacuum-welded together.” His body seemed to shrivel, and his voice became weird. “I’m going in; hold on.” Suddenly, it looked as if his entire body was sucked into his arm, and then the arm was sucked into the wall, and then he was gone. His helmet fell to the floor.
“That is so gross!” Star Lass turned her head away in disgust. Chemique just laughed. Two golden threads pushed out of the wall and thickened, turning into Golden Boy’s arm and head. He put on the helmet, then spoke to his teammates.
“Miqui, can you reverse the vacuum-welding process on the doors? Terry, pry ’em apart when she’s done. I’ll help from this side.” And he vanished again, seemingly drawn into the wall.
Chemique held her hands in front of her and concentrated. Wisps of her power floated over the door, finding the cracks where the two halves came together, and broke the nuclear bonds that formed due to long exposure to vacuum. “Done!”
Star Lass concentrated; a glittery wedge appeared and forced its way between the two doors. A crack appeared and widened a little bit. And then a thin golden disk slid partway through the crack from the other side and began expanding into a cylinder. Working together, the Legionnaires forced apart sliding doors that hadn’t been opened for fifty years. They repeated the process with the other airlock door, then entered a small, empty room. Most of the far wall was glass, and it was covered with frost.
Golden Boy opened the regular door set in one end of that glass wall, and they looked into a room that had not been visited for a half-century. At least, that’s what they thought.
Their lights showed a small room with armored walls almost filled with scientific instruments, computers, and equipment surrounding a table. On that table lay a golden metallic-skinned humanoid, clearly female, on her back with her arms and legs restrained. She was connected to the machines around her with cables and wires and tubes, and half her skull had been removed, showing a silvery brain underneath.
“By Aurion, she’s beautiful,” Golden Boy breathed. She did look very like a beautiful female of Sandy’s race. “Somebody was torturing her!” He shrieked and leaped forward to rescue this beautiful woman. As he entered the next room, something sensed him and turned on the power. Overhead lights came on, and indicator lights on various equipment came on. Before he could reach her, though, Star Lass caught him in a glittering bubble. His fists immediately morphed into giant golden mallets, and he started hammering on the inside wall of the bubble.
“Sandy, she’s been lying like that in a vacuum for years. This could be dangerous!” Star Lass spoke firmly. “Another few seconds of waiting won’t hurt her. Besides, I think she’s a robot.”
“She’s not gold like you, Sandy.” Chemique’s power allowed her to sense chemical composition. “Theresa’s right; she is a robot composed of some ultra-exotic alloys.”
“She was totally without power a second ago,” Theresa said. “As soon as the lights came on, there was a big surge of power through some of those cables.” She was worried. “I sure hope she’s friendly!”
At that, the robot quickly sat up on the table and pointed at Star Lass. A powerful bolt of energy blasted from her finger and splattered on Theresa’s force-field, knocking her backward.
“You lose!” The golden woman gestured, and the various cables, tubes, and wires disintegrated. “Now they send children against me? Do humans have no shame?” She stood and was magnificent. Over seven feet tall, superbly proportioned — though Star Lass wondered why a robot needed breasts — she was apparently wearing an exotic outfit of gold trimmed with burnt amber, and she moved with a grace no human could achieve. “Fall to your knees before me, children, and I may let you live to join my army of conquest!”
Golden Boy was still stunned. Though this was clearly not a woman of his species, her resemblance to one of the Great Goddesses in the Auron religion’s pantheon was uncanny. “Oh, most Great One! Are you in truth Aranel Anaurime, Goddess of the Sun?”
“Not just children, but idiots! I am Mekanique, and I am far superior to any mere Sun Goddess! Enough talk. Now kneel or be destroyed by the greatest creation of Rotwang!”
“Blasphemer! There is none greater than Anaurime!” With that battle cry, Golden Boy attacked.
His legs morphed into tightly coiled springs that then released, driving him forward with incredible speed. In the air he changed form, becoming a massive cannonball and hardening his skin. Mekanique swept her arm through the air and casually batted him away. He hit the glass wall, and it shattered, then hit the armored wall so hard it cracked. As the ball fell to the floor, it slowly changed back to Sandy’s natural form. He was stunned but not hurt, and he started to straggle to his feet.
Meanwhile, Star Lass and Mekanique were engaged in a unique duel. It appeared to be similar to a sword fight with shields, though they used energy constructs instead of material tools. Each wielded an energy shield with her left hands and fired powerful blasts of energy with her right. Star Lass was laboring; Mekanique was not.
“You are powerful, young heroine. Still, you cannot match the speed of Mekanique! The brilliant scientist Rotwang planned too well for every contingency.”
She gestured at the floor beneath Star Lass, and nothing happened. Then her energy-shield faded, and Theresa blasted her with everything she had. The gleaming android was thrown backward, and she smashed into some of the machinery, where she was surrounded by sparks, flame, and smoke. Her force-field glowed back into existence, and she levitated from the wreckage.
“Ah, the artificial one!” she said, glancing at the android Chemique. “Very good indeed, changing the circuits in my weapons from superconductor to insulator. You should have used your power on my brain, but it’s too late now. Your power is now blocked and will not affect me again.”
She aimed another blast, and the ceiling collapsed around Star Lass. A wave of her hand and the rubble solidified. She turned back to Chemique.
“We are much alike, artificial beings of great power. You should join with me, and we will rule the feeble natural beings!”
“No! I’m not like you!” The tomb of stone around Star Lass collapsed in a pile of dust as Chemique relaxed the molecular bonds in the pile, and a massive power blast smashed into Mekanique’s shield as Star Lass was freed.
While the three combatants were concentrating on each other, Golden Boy had returned to the fray. He ran up to Mekanique and, shaping his hands into massive hammers, began smashing away at her shield. Theresa used the momentary distraction to call Rexford Tyler for help.
Chemique pointed her finger at one of the sparking machines. “Sandy, break!” She swept her arm around, drawing an imaginary line between the machine and Mekanique’s shield. Or maybe it was not so imaginary, as a bolt of lightning flashed from the damaged machinery along the path of superconducting air molecules Chemique had just created. “Go!” she yelled as the bolt hit; it had disrupted the path as it blasted so no more current would flow to possibly injure the boy of gold. He hit Mekanique again, and she staggered. Then there was a tremendous boom, and three more Legionnaires — Teleteen, Greenfire, and WildCat — joined the battle.
“My captivity and torture had left me weakened, otherwise I would easily dispose of you children,” Mekanique said disdainfully. “Rest assured, I will not be so lenient on our next encounter! You will find me a powerful, dangerous, and relentless enemy!”
The real Mekanique sat in her control room contemplating her plans. “The moment before I kill him, I’ll have to thank Savage for the many lessons I learned while in his service. Most ironically, always have an emergency escape plan — always have a safe house.” She was in one of her safe houses, a shielded structure in a remote part of Limbo. She had taken all memories of the construction of this particular safe house with her when she left her own body. Vandal Savage and Futura — her original brain in an android body, who was a perfect servant — had destroyed several others, and they were satisfied that they had found them all.
The safe house was not as well equipped as her Limbo fortress, but it had the basic essentials. For example, she had been able to construct an enlarger ray and return her current body to its normal size. And with the equipment now available to her, she continued to improve its capabilities. By the time she got her own body back, this one would be very nearly its equal, a perfect gift to her beloved Hank Heywood when he finally decided to join her.
The Mekanique drone she had planted in Knight Base shimmered into existence. She directed it to lie on the workbench, then switched it off and started to disassemble it. She thought for a while about putting her own mind into this body, but she wanted her own body back, not some cheap imitation. It had served its purpose, alerting the Legion to the identity of a new enemy and planting the vital information that would ensure they acted correctly to suit her purposes.
“OK, here’s the summary of the things we learned from Mekanique that need to be addressed right away.” The Legion of Justice meeting — held immediately after Canary, Hourboy, and Kid Terrific returned from Earth — had been going on for almost three hours, and everyone was getting twitchy. Canary wanted to wrap things up.
“We have no idea how the Wanderers captured this Mekanique robot, but we agree that she had been lying in that room for fifty years, plus or minus ten. Kajz, the chief scientist of the Wanderers, was trying to download her memories when the Wanderers disappeared. Our fight with Mekanique yesterday trashed a lot of Kajz’s equipment, so there are holes in what we learned from the brain dump.”
She waited a second, but there were no comments from the group.
“The memories that we have recovered show that Mekanique is from an alternate timeline where she was created by a mad scientist type called Rotwang, and she served as a slave to Rotwang and Joh Fredersen, a dictator who ruled the Earth. She and Fredersen were somehow bounced from their own universe, and now they want to remake our universe so it’s just like the one they got kicked out of. They plan to destroy our forebears — the Justice Society of America — with a super-powered army back in the late twentieth or early twenty-first century and take over the world. Joh Fredersen seems to be a alternate timeline duplicate of General Urbane. Finally, this Rotwang who created her seemed to be the brains behind Mekanique — she mentioned him as having plans during the fight — and he seemed to be working for Fredersen, so we need to keep an eye out for him, too. Did I miss anything?”
“Fredersen and Urbane are using aliases. Their real name seems to be Vandal Savage,” Kid Terrific spoke up. “He seems to be immortal and an extremely dangerous person in both universes!”
“OK, so what do we do?” said Canary, alias Gina Lance. “None of us likes Amgov, but what these three want is much worse!”
“Uh, Gina, like, just what can we do?” Chemique asked. “How are we going to stop three villains who can travel in time from doing something over two-hundred years ago? We don’t have time travel except Randall, and he can’t go that far back.”
“If we’re going to stop Mekanique and Fredersen, we are going to have to learn!” Greenfire interrupted. “Or not do anything, and wait for our world to be erased. I personally vote against the wait for oblivion plan.” Miqui flushed at Drake Burroughs’ biting sarcasm.
“Damn it, Drake, why are you such a freepin jerk?” Canary’s voice lashed at him like a whip, and anger flashed in her eyes. “We’re in a tight spot, and we need to work together. In harmony!”
“Uh, Gina, have you considered the possibility that this is a trap or a hoax?” wondered Teleteen, alias Tommy Tamare.
Good for you, Tommy! she thought approvingly. I’ve been hoping someone would see that.
Aloud, she answered, “Given that a parallel universe duplicate of Urbane is involved, what do you think? So we’ll be cautious. But I don’t see how it can be dangerous for our science team to figure out time travel. So that’s job one from now until we’ve got it.”
Or our universe dissolves around us, she added silently to herself. I wonder if we’ll know it when it happens.