by Dan Swanson
Badhnisia, December, 1985:
The girl from Badhnisia had just learned that her hero Johnny Thunder had disappeared along with the Justice Society of America, and she had resolved to instead go visit this intriguing new team of young heroes around her age known as the Junior JSA.
She turned her magic dial. H-E-R-O.
In a flash, thirteen-year-old Kiku was replaced by a taller, slender black woman in her early twenties with pale blue hair and a shimmering costume of pale blue and pink. Her eyes glowed with blue energy. She lifted high into the sky and sped off a little to the northwest, leaving behind a trail of blue and pink sparks after which she was named — Sparkle.
All my girlfriends always want to pretend they are older than they really are, she thought to herself with a smirk. I’m the only one who doesn’t have to pretend!
In her new heroic form she could travel very fast, and she was already over the Mediterranean. She adjusted her direction so she passed high over the Pillars of Hercules and continued climbing until, almost from orbit, she recognized Long Island. Only a few seconds later she was slowing over New York Harbor. She drifted through the sky over Manhattan and began to realize that finding the Junior JSA was going to be more difficult than she had thought back in Badhnisia. She had learned in school that three great cities were in this vicinity — Gotham City, which was her destination, and New York and Metropolis — but it had never occurred to her how large a megalopolis would need to be for a population of over thirteen million people.
She needn’t have worried. A flying boy, dressed in a tight red and blue outfit, zoomed up to her. “I’m Superboy. Who are you?” he asked.
She hadn’t quite figured out how to answer this question. She was Sparkle right now, but in less than an hour, she’d be Kiku, and she might never be Sparkle again. She didn’t know much about this Superboy except that he might be a friend of Johnny Thunder’s. If he knew Johnny well, he might not find her own story too confusing, but she could tell it later.
“I’m Sparkle. I’m looking for the Junior JSA. I heard they are looking after things while the Justice Society is away somewhere, and I thought I’d offer to help.”
“Well, we can always use another chick in hot pants hanging around, especially an older fox like you!” he said, smiling at her. But she didn’t like that smile at all. “C’mon, I’ll show you our pad!”
She was a little taken aback at being called something like a hot older chick to her face. She would have expected Superboy to be less familiar and crude. In Badhnisia, boys were less forward and had much better manners. Well, her mentors had warned her repeatedly that cultural shock was going to be the hardest thing to adapt to if she ever visited other countries. If she wanted to be a great hero like her own favorite, Johnny Thunder, she had to become more cosmopolitan.
“I saw on the television news that the Junior JSA is protecting the world while the JSA are on a mission, and I wish to offer my help.”
“That’s cool,” he said. “We’re just about to go trash some bad guys, so you can get in on the action right away. I’ll let Bats fill you in when we get to headquarters.” And he sped off to the southwest.
Sparkle kept pace easily. I like this form. I’m beautiful — and I love the trail of sparks I leave. She did several loops just so she could watch her sparkles; they flashed blue and pink and faded gradually, or popped out of existence like a soap bubble if they touched anything. Though they would make it difficult to play hide and seek.
Superboy figured out an answer to that problem. He suddenly dived into the harbor, and as she followed, she realized that it would be much harder to track her in water than in air. As she followed, she adjusted her vision for infrared and saw that the Boy of Steel was surrounded by a bubble of air. Sparkle apparently didn’t require air, at least not right away, and before she could get short of breath, Superboy flew into a very large pipe in the bottom of the bay, easily big enough to accommodate three people side-by-side, then flashed around a turn to the vertical, and they popped out of the water inside a large building.
Before she had completely emerged from the water, an arrow was flying toward her, releasing a metal net.
“I can’t believe that was so easy!” snorted the supposed Superboy. “If all heroes are as dumb as you, our conquest is assured!”
Kiku had not been a super-heroine for very long, but growing up on the streets of Badhnisia had taught her to trust her instincts. And constant magical transformations into older forms seemed to have magically enhanced her emotional maturity and wisdom. She never expected betrayal; she felt that most people were good and trustworthy. But as soon as they dived into the dirty, polluted waters of the harbor, she had started to be suspicious.
Superboy’s bad manners might have been a cultural difference, but would a group of famous heroes plunge through such filthy water every time they wanted to enter their headquarters? Would they bring an unknown super-being into the midst so readily? Please!
So she easily dodged the net arrow that was flying toward her. A quick glance around showed her she was in a large building, probably a warehouse, and she was facing four opponents. Four that I can see, she quickly reminded herself. She recognized Superboy, Batwing, Arrowette, and Flare of the Junior JSA, but already she knew better to believe that they were who they appeared to be.
Superboy was charging at her. If he is really like Superman, I have little chance. But she was thinking as Kiku; Sparkle had other ideas. She waited until the Boy of Steel was close, and then moved aside, Superboy’s momentum causing him to fly right past her. She found that being attacked by Superboy was an eerie experience, and she didn’t want to repeat it.
She pointed at the ersatz hero, and he was surrounded in a swirling cloud of sparks. Inside that cloud it was difficult to move. The sparks set up a field that resisted motion like being underwater, and there was a further inducement to remain still — each spark, when touched, jolted the captive with an intense shock. Superboy made some tentative movements, then remained motionless.
“Such a field wouldn’t affect a Kryptonian,” said Sparkle. “You might as well drop your disguise now. You’re not real good at the trickery game, are you?”
She quickly adjusted her position so she could see all four phony heroes as their appearances changed. She didn’t recognize their new forms, but the Justice Legionnaires would have quickly recognized Basher, Batter, Gravitor, and the Weapons Witch from the Legion of Doom.
“Say, are you guys all brothers? Nice uniforms, and I really like the hairstyles!” She laughed — these four were all bald. The did look a lot alike, and their gray and black costumes were similar enough to suggest uniforms. A little later, she realized that two of them were actually female, though it wasn’t immediately obvious.
An arrow exploded nearby, jolting her, and she stopped making quips and started moving again. A second arrow whizzed nearby, barely missing her, and she blasted the next two with spark blasts. Two softball-sized spheres of swirling sparks blasted from her hands, growing as they moved, and when the arrows impacted these spheres, they were destroyed. As each spark in the swirling sphere touched an arrow, it exploded, and the arrow was quickly eroded into charred dust.
While she didn’t concentrate on her sparks, they faded away in a few seconds, and suddenly Gravitor was free again. He gestured at her and looked annoyed when nothing happened. Sparkle could feel a change in the ambient gravity around her; if she had been made of matter, she would have been dashed violently to the floor. But she was less affected than a human being by a few-degree change in temperature. He zoomed back into the air, but even flying he wasn’t much of a threat to her, as she was much faster.
Weapons Witch decided to go with something more modern than a bow and arrow. She touched a hidden control on the bow, and it began to change forms, collapsing in upon itself until it became a foot-long baton, which she slid into a sheath on her belt. She drew a multi-beam blaster from her holster.
The two martial artists didn’t pose much of a threat to Sparkle. They couldn’t reach her if she stayed in the air. But they might find some way to throw things at her and distract her, so she blasted each of them with a stun blast — two swirling balls of sparks that would knock them into unconsciousness when they struck. But they were fast — they dodged, and the balls struck the floor, discharging harmlessly.
She didn’t have time to pursue them, as the Weapons Witch was now blasting her with the multi-beam. Sparkle didn’t bother dodging; energy weapons couldn’t harm her. A laser, a lightning bolt, a magnetic blast — she ignored them all and concentrated on Gravitor. He had realized he couldn’t use his gravity powers directly against her, so he was trying other tactics. A section of ceiling fell toward her with unearthly velocity. She flashed away; if she had a chance to see something coming toward her, she was almost always fast enough to get out of the way.
Kiku hadn’t been looking for a fight when she came to Gotham City. She considered using her electrical powers to contact the Justice Society of America but then remembered that they seemed to be unavailable at the moment. If she had known how to contact the Junior JSA, she wouldn’t be fighting these super-villains right now. She considered blasting a hole in the wall and looking for the Junior JSA, but these evil beings might do considerable damage and hurt civilians before she could reach the team of young heroes. So stopping them seemed to be her job.
The flying one was first. He had by now figured out how best to fight against her, and the air inside the warehouse was now filled with flying stuff. He was using his gravity powers to make anything movable fly through the air, and it all seemed to be attracted to her. She was able to disintegrate some of it using her explosive sparks, and she could fly fast enough to dodge for a few seconds. But with all this flying junk attracted to her, it would only be a few seconds before she would be overwhelmed.
Magnetism was a much stronger force than gravity — for instance, a small magnet the size of a golf ball could easily exert enough pull on a steel washer to pick it up, even when an object the size of the Earth was pulling it the other way — and much of this debris could be affected by magnetism. She used his own tactic against him, generating a super-powerful magnetic field centered on his body, and much of the flying junk headed toward him. Gravitor wasn’t as fast as she was and didn’t have the same ability to disintegrate stuff, and he was soon too busy trying to defend himself from flying debris to continue the attack on Sparkle.
She turned to her other foes as junk fell from the air, just in time to greet a barrage of bullets. They ripped into her and tore painful holes through her, and she was thrown spinning through the air. She quickly flew behind a large machine where she might rest for a few seconds and recover. Her energy being quickly re-formed, but she was weaker now, as some of her sparkle energy was used up to regenerate her body.
Sparkle didn’t get the respite she had hoped for as the Witch switched to explosive bullets, and the giant machine was quickly being torn to shreds. It would be bad for her to be exposed to that much shrapnel. Not only would the wounds be extremely painful, she would quickly use up her sparkle energy regenerating her body. When she used up all the sparkle energy, whether her HERO dial hour was up or not, she would change back to Kiku. And then it would be another hour before she could use the dial again.
She used her power to create a disintegrator field around her, so her sparkly body was surrounded by a sparkling field. Anything made of matter that touched that field would be attacked by a swarm of sparks that would explode, and hopefully millions of small explosions would disintegrate whatever it was. If she moved fast, she should be able to get through the shrapnel before it could wound her. The field used up her sparkle energy somewhat faster than regenerating wounds, but it was much less painful. For a couple seconds, it was a good trade-off.
She blasted up and away and made a loop over and above the Weapons Witch, and before the villain could turn, Sparkle dived and smashed her from behind. She redirected her power into her explosive punches, and the Witch tumbled through the air, rolled on the ground, and stopped moving.
From opposite directions, Basher hit her low, and Batter hit her high. She twisted and fell, and the two pounced and began pounding her. The couldn’t do immediate damage to her, but each impact drained a little more of her sparkle, and soon they would be pounding on Kiku, who wouldn’t last but a second or two.
The Weapons Witch struggled to her feet and aimed a weapon at Sparkle. She didn’t warn her teammates away from the hero; she was an expert shot and would miss them. What Sparkle saw, though, saved her life. Artificial skin had torn away from the Witch’s face, revealing machinery underneath. The Weather Witch was an android.
Sparkle immediately blasted her with a high-intensity spark ball, and her head simply disintegrated. As she fell to the floor, Sparkle released most of her remaining sparkle energy into her body, and as Basher and Batter continued to pound on her, their own bodies were worn away. Their hands and feet were soon totally gone, and their mobility and attack capabilities severely impaired, and Sparkle was able to drag herself free.
Just as she spotted Gravitor and prepared to end the battle, the four androids disappeared. Close to exhaustion, Kiku decided that meeting the Junior JSA could wait for some other day, if ever — this experience had definitely soured her enthusiasm for the idea. She used her remaining energy to flash back to Badhnisia, and as she landed, she hoped her HERO dial might someday again change her into Sparkle.
Las Vegas, February, 1987:
Ape-Face turned away with a sneer and snarled when WildCat and Golden Boy moved to intercept him.
“Should’ve known she was lying,” he said with disgust. “I hope she’s still alive when I come back for her after I’m done with you two! I’ve got somethin’ special in mind for her now.”
“Tough guys, always with the promises!” came a sarcastic female voice from behind him. Startled, he turned around just in time to intercept a two-footed kick to the jaw. “One punch wasn’t nearly enough,” Kid Terrific taunted him as he staggered.
Golden Boy looked at the biodisplay implanted on the inside of his left wrist. “Nine seconds! Pay up!” WildCat reached into one of the pouches on his belt with a sigh.
Terrific attacked again with a couple of jab kicks to the crime boss’ already abused midsection. He staggered backward and tripped on the slightly raised threshold to the bathroom, then fell backward to the floor. The noise of his collapse started Jemi Olsen and awakened Stanley Beamish.
Kid Terrific followed the crime boss into the spacious bathroom, and as he struggled to all fours, she kicked his head like a football punter. He rolled onto his back and struggled into a sitting position. She had prepared to flatten him backward with a foot on his chest, when a weak voice stopped her.
“Stop! He’s beaten… you don’t need… to kill… him!” It was the severely wounded bellboy making a plea to save the life of the man who had ordered him mutilated and killed. The plea got through Kid Terrific’s anger and her fighting trance, and she did stop.
“I don’t know who you guys are,” Jemi spoke up. “But you saved Stan’s life. The police should be able to take care of this guy now.” She pointed to the barely conscious Ape-Face. “We need to get Stan to a hospital!”
“We can do better than that,” came a voice she recognized.
“Alex?” Jemi Olsen looked around and saw the Kent family’s boarder, Alex Lane. He had just stepped into the suite from somewhere else, passing through a rectangle of solid black that now filled in one of the connecting doors. He was also dressed in a suit of golden armor, and except for his human head, the Justice Legionnaires thought he looked a lot like a member of Sandy’s Auron species. “Are you a super-hero? I like the suit!”
“I’m not exactly a super-hero, no. But let’s talk about it later, OK?” He turned to the Legionnaires. “Kid Terrific, WildCat, Golden Boy, I’m Alexander Lu–” He stopped as he remembered that Jemi didn’t know his real name and coughed. “–uh, Alex Lane, the Monitor. I hate to rush you, but we probably don’t want to be here when the police arrive in…” He looked at his watch, waited a second, and continued. “…three minutes from now. Please come back to my headquarters with me. I can help you with your mission, Jemi can go home, and we can put Stanley Beamish, there, into the Monitor’s healing machine.”
Kid Terrific, alias Cathy Beamish, gasped when she heard the name. How many people in the world could be named Beamish? Had they just rescued one of her ancestors?
“I wonder what all these thugs are going to tell the police?” Jemi speculated. “This place is sure busted up good. And blood all over, too!”
“Maybe that they’rrre having a gangsterrr orrrgy? Who carrres?” WildCat snickered. “Let’s go!”
With Golden Boy gently carrying the again-unconscious Stanley Beamish, the good guys stepped through Alex’s portal directly from a luxury suite on the fifty-fifth floor of a hotel and casino in Las Vegas into the detached bunkhouse on the Kent farm in Smallville that Alexander Lane had refurbished into the high-tech headquarters of the Monitor.