by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
In spite of Cathy Beamish’s reluctance to spend two days cooped up in a small spaceship with WildCat, she was going to have to thank him when she got back. Two days as a pauper on an unknown planet could have been quite an ordeal, but the student I.D. card she was carrying was also a credit card with a credit limit more suitable to a planet than a college student.
When WildCat had originally joined the Legion of Justice, he’d been something of a distraction, an unknown alien forced onto the team by an Amgov decree. The Empire of Elaigar, a five-planet coalition, was considering signing a treaty of alliance with one of Earth’s powers and had sent several representatives to act as ambassadors and fact-finders. Amgov had reasoned that one way to impress a representative of a society of warriors was to allow that representative to work with the Legion of Justice, especially since the other side didn’t have a similar organization.
Challenger Who Screams and Leaps, otherwise known as Chall and WildCat, was a member of the Puman species and one of the forty or so sons of the current Empress of Elaigar. While none of her sons could inherit the matriarchal throne, each empress tended to place her sons in positions of power in the military and industry, while her daughters were social and political leaders. In preparation for their leadership roles, the offspring of the Empress all attended the best schools in known space, and Chall had been enrolled — along with an entourage of about a hundred attendants, including security, tutors, trainers, servants, and even some friends — at Pehanron College on Sentinel Gate when his mother sent him on his new assignment. His entourage remained enrolled at Pehanron on the presumption that he would return when his current assignment was completed.
The other Legionnaires had resented him originally, but his active participation had soon won them over. And his stint in the Legion had grown in importance to him to the extent that he had been considering asking for permission to remain with the Legion indefinitely. And when the Legion escaped to Knight Base, his importance to the Legion had soared.
The Legionnaires weren’t carrying much with them when they fled Earth — in particular, almost no money — and one of the first things General Urbane did after they vanished was to confiscate their personal funds and cancel all their personal accounts, even though Amgov money was worthless outside of the Utopian States of America. The Legion would have been broke without the personal support of a Prince of Elaigar. The Empress of Elaigar was staggeringly wealthy, and Chall had a virtually unlimited drawing account.
When Cathy was assigned to study history, WildCat suggested Pehanron College, and he had quickly arranged via subspace communicator for her to be added to his entourage and enrolled as a student there, and given the ability to charge to his account. There was no reason for Cathy to conceal her identity, and in fact the Legion hoped to become famous throughout the reaches of known space.
Cathy, alias Kid Terrific, had been assigned by Legion of Justice leader Canary to study Earth history. Since the Legion already knew that Earth history had continually been rewritten over the last two-hundred years, the best place to start would be in some off-planet university. Pehanron College fit the bill nicely. The boom tube had dropped her off in an office that Cat’s security team had set up, and she picked up her I.D. there, then headed for the library. She had expected to be here on Sentinel Gate for no more than eight or nine hours, so she had worn street clothes over her costume and packed a lunch. During her lunch break, she had called Knight Base via subspace communicator and learned the bad news about the boom tube. Well, Cat’s entourage had set up in luxurious accommodations, and she could stay with them as long as required.
After several more hours of research, she was getting restless. She had never actually studied before. Why should she bother, when she could instantly become an expert on any subject? Still, she’d learned enough for Canary’s purposes. And she was pretty angry about much of what she learned. Almost everything she thought she knew of history was sheer propaganda.
A couple of alien races, the Comptrollers and the Dominants, had studied Earth for centuries before deciding not to invade, and much of the historical information they had gathered had drifted into the public domain. Starting right after World War II, the history she had been taught began to differ from what the aliens had recorded. She was stunned when she found out that the Legion of Justice had not actually been established until around 2050, almost one hundred years after the date named in the official Utopian history book.
She decided to do some shopping before she headed home for the night. A few quick search queries on CommWeb would help her find some content stores, this advanced civilization’s evolution of bookstores. She had only been able to bring a limited number of memory modules with her when they had left Earth, and she was now realizing that much of the social content she’d been provided by Amgov was propaganda, and the technological information was obsolete compared to what was available here. She would buy as many reference works as she could find and take them back with her, then work with Gernsback to convert them into new memory modules.
She was fascinated with the CommWeb. It was a worldwide computer network unlike anything on Earth. She was awed at the amount of information that was publicly available for free from various sources on CommWeb. But she quickly realized that nothing is ever truly free.
A spy program lurking on the university network intercepted her query. It used the workstation’s built-in video camera to scan her and then triggered a three-dimensional holographic advertisement — a beautiful young woman who looked very much like Cathy, elegantly dressed and coiffed and wearing expensive jewelry, and a very handsome young man, dining at a very classy restaurant, holding hands and laughing at the floor show. “Are you an adventurous young woman looking for work? Are you at home in an evening gown and blue jeans? Do you like to travel and meet people? Elegant Coed Companions has a job for you. Earn over one hundred klerkons an hour cash, and you can start immediately! Contact Tiffany now!”
“Not interested! Beat it!” A few keystrokes blocked similar popups as long as she used this particular public terminal. There were a couple of interesting hits that allowed her to focus her search, and she quickly located several highly rated content stores a few miles away. She could take public transportation and be there in a minute or so, or she could take a leisurely walk. She opted to walk. She clicked a button, and a small card popped out of a slot on the workstation.
“This card will guide you to the lecture. When you are through with this guide, please throw it into a public waste receptacle or slip it into the recycle slot on any public CommWeb terminal.”
Although she was on a planet that was alien to her and inhabited by members of hundreds of different species with unknown customs, Kid Terrific soon got the feeling that the area surrounding the Pehanron campus must be economically depressed. The streets she walked on were dirty, the buildings were not well-maintained, and the beings on the street looked somewhat sloppy. The stores she was heading for were supposed to be first class, so they must be in a better area, but this felt to her like the kind of neighborhood she would have avoided on Earth.
Even on a distant planet, a mugging was still ugly. There was only one other pedestrian on her side of the street, and suddenly, that being was grabbed by several others and dragged into an alley. She sprinted forward, putting on her mask as she ran, not for concealment but for protection. She flew into the alley, and there were six beings waiting for her — several humans (or near-humans) with weapons and a couple of non-humans whose natural weapons looked quite formidable. And, of course, there was no victim — she had been set up.
Still, she was not caught totally unawares. She pulled two programmable flash-bombs from one of the pouches on her belt, armed them by touch, and tossed them to the pavement in front of the group of muggers. The flash bombs were designed and built by Hourboy, and she’d set them to release several million candles of bright light for about two seconds, blanketing a spectral range about twice that of a human eyes. The goggles in her mask protected her, and when the flare was over, the four humanlike beings were temporarily blinded.
She saw a second set of eyelids nictating, and a being like a human-sized lizard strode toward her. The lizard’s tail flashed around and slammed her, knocking her off her feet. As she went flying, a bat-like creature the size of an adolescent boy with a twelve-foot wingspan launched into the air. From her quick glimpse of its head, it had no eyes, a mouthful of vicious needle-like teeth, and round ears the size of dinner plates, like miniature radar dishes.
As she rolled away from the blow, she pulled another flash bomb from her belt. She set this one to emit very powerful ultrasonic noise and dropped it on the pavement. The ultrasonics were beyond the range of human hearing, but as she had hoped, the bat being was immediately affected. Suddenly blinded, it crashed into one of the walls and fell to the pavement bleating and screaming in a high-pitched voice that she could barely hear. It wrapped one wing around its head, but the other one was damaged somehow. She almost felt sorry for it; at least the flash bomb would run out of power in a few seconds.
She rolled to her feet and leaped toward one of the alley walls, twisting in the air so she impacted with both feet, let her knees bend to absorb her momentum, and then jumped sideways away from the wall before she could fall. She passed between two of the still-blinded humans and dropped them with chops from her hands, and then the lizard was slashing at her with its tail again.
“Sorry, pal — you can’t catch me twice with the same trick,” she said smirking at him as she grabbed the tail with both hands, rolled backward, and tried to yank it off balance.
She was surprised at the strength of the tail; it easily ripped free of her hands, and while she was recovering, the being showed some martial arts skill of its own, using the momentum she had given it to spin around completely and slash her with one outstretched arm. The claws easily ripped through her student overgarments, but the extremely tough material of her costume saved her from deadly wounds. She spun away in turn and hoped that no ribs were broken. This being was much stronger than a normal human.
The other two humans had recovered their sight, and they moved to join their companion. The lizard-being stood in front of her, while the humans moved to her sides. She backed up quickly until her back was against the wall. They approached her cautiously.
“You know, guys, and you, too, ‘Zilla, three against one hardly seems fair.” The lizard hissed at her, and the two humans just laughed at the champion of fair play.
She feinted forward at the lizard being, who stopped advancing, and the two humans quickly stepped toward her. She flashed into motion, moving with astounding speed and precision, throwing a side-kick to the head of one on her right, who flew backward. Before he had even landed, she had spun three-hundred and sixty degrees and kicked the other in the jaw. The first man fell backward to the pavement, and his head made a sickening sound when he landed hard. The other smashed back against another wall and slid down into a heap.
“I was about to warn you that you were outnumbered!” she smirked, and then leaped high into the air as the lizard tried to sweep her legs with its tail.
“Wait your turn, scaly!” she admonished and turned her attention to her remaining attacker.
For about a minute they fought. An observer might have seen an intricate dance, but there was nothing dance-like about their intentions. The lizard was much stronger, with deadly claws and the added advantage of a tail, but Kid Terrific was faster and much more skilled. After all, hand-to-hand combat was one of her specialties, a memory module she rarely removed unless she was having it updated.
The greater strength of the lizard being, and its ability to absorb some of Kid Terrific’s best blows with no seeming damage, was starting to wear Cathy down. She needed a weapon to counter that tail. When she got back to Knight Base, she decided she’d ask Hourboy to design her some collapsible bo sticks and a staff. Meanwhile, what did she have in her belt pouches that might help?
The lizard had already proven immune to bright light and ultrasonic attack. She had one more flash bomb, if she could buy two seconds to grab it and arm it. Maybe she could use the being’s tendency to repeat its attacks to her advantage. Meanwhile, she was slowing down as she got tired, and her opponent didn’t seem to be tiring at all. Finally, she recognized an attack, and this time the lizard got through her guard, and again she was knocked down by a sweeping attack with the tail. She rolled and kept rolling, and then she came up and pulled the last flash bomb from her belt.
She armed it and threw it at the lizard, and it hit and stuck — and exploded. It was a very strange explosion, to be sure, since instead of creating heat it absorbed it — in other words, it created instant cold. The lizard man’s scaly skin was suddenly coated in a sheath of ice, and it stopped moving entirely. She pushed it with one hand, and it fell to the ground.
“I’m flattered that you guys have all fallen for me,” she quipped at her beaten foes. “But you just aren’t at all my type — friendly, that is.”
Kid Terrific pulled a handful of plastic quick-ties from her belt, and in a few minutes her attackers were safely bound. One of them was carrying a photograph of her, apparently taken by a camera in the Pehanron College library.
A quick call via her belt communicator, and WildCat’s chief of security and legal counsel showed up in a large van. Cathy decided to do her shopping tomorrow, and they headed back to their temporary home.
Pehanron College was in a bad spot. If it became public that the local criminal element was able to tap into the university’s network, spy on students, and even lead them into ambush by doctoring their guide cards, it would be a major embarrassment to the school and would certainly hurt future enrollments and, more importantly, endowments. Cathy left that to the Elaigarian legal team. She was more interested in interrogating the prisoners.
A Puman interrogator was apparently pretty terrifying, and the human muggers, at least, spilled everything they knew — which wasn’t terribly much. They had been hired via CommWeb only a few minutes before Cathy had left the library. They didn’t have any idea who had hired them, but that was a standard business practice in their line of work.
Pehanron promised the top computer specialists on the planet would track down the spy program, and the Elaigarian security team promised to find out who had hired this gang to kill her. She had a good idea who it was, and it didn’t seem likely that either team would succeed, but at least Pehanron’s students would be safer in the future. And Pehanron College now owed the Legion of Justice big time. That ought to be worth something in the future.
After Golden Boy finally arrived, the two headed back to Knight Base. At least one phase of Canary’s plan was successfully completed.