As Doctor Psycho lurched forward, the disguised Liberty Belle cursed her luck. She remembered that Hazard had some kind of psionic power to influence luck for good or ill. She glanced at the smirking redhead and thought, That scarlet witch must have been working the odds against me since she first saw me fight her old partner. How could I know a former ally of Cheetah’s with extra senses to make things even worse would show up?
Belle lost no time acting. She slammed her full weight against Psycho and sent him tumbling down across the room, then launched her best high kick at the startled Simon Ecks, who fell into Hazard. Firing her sonic blasts at the rows of computer equipment surrounding the room, she brought metal raining down on the scrambling pair of Ecks and Hazard. Doctor Psycho moaned painfully. He was clearly no physical fighter. “I guess my luck just changed!” said a smiling Belle.
“Afraid not,” replied a voice from above. As Belle looked up, she saw a glowing, ghostlike figure in a red and yellow costume. He was masked but was clearly a younger, more powerful copy of the frail Simon Ecks. He closed superhumanly strong arms around Belle’s head, and as she passed out, he murmured, “You can’t have Ecks without Doctor Double X!”
Keith Evert, the Earl of Strethmere, roamed the streets of Metropolis in silence. The fact that he did so as an invisible spirit made the empty streets seem even more deserted. As lonely as the avenues of the gleaming super-city were at the middle of the night, the Grim Ghost’s heart was even more vacant.
“Ah, Deborah! Without you, I am purposeless. I don’t know why I feel the need to walk these streets this night, but I do. I wander aimlessly in search of something. Could it be it is time for you to somehow be reunited with me once more? Can you live once again? I met you in your twentieth year on your second life. Could you exist out there even now, merely waiting for destiny to bring us together once more, or must this Grim Ghost face an even grimmer future?”
Liberty Belle awoke to find herself dressed in her traditional costume, while her hands were bound by metal chains that led up to sphere-shaped metal nodes. She soon realized that the odd machine somehow diffused her sonic blasts, keeping her trapped and helpless. She tossed a long blonde lock of hair out of one eye and examined her surroundings, and she soon realized that she was not alone.
Simon Ecks looked up at her from below. “You must not challenge Double X. He is vicious. Since Psycho’s ectoplasmic extractor gave my energy aura a full life separate from me, he is more violent than ever before. That’s why I am here, you see. Colonel Future had Hazard free me from prison just so Doctor Psycho could use his old machine on me. Just as it allowed him to make manifest his psychic creations, like the costume you’re now wearing, it enabled my psychic energy double, Double X, to live without any influence from me. Now, I fear for your life.”
“So, you and your psychic friend network are not partners in peril?” asked Belle as she tried not to think about the idea that her outfit might be an illusion that might vanish at a madman’s whim.
“No,” Ecks replied. “I am only here because I have nowhere else to go, and Double X tolerates me.”
“Enough! Let the woman be,” snapped Doctor Psycho. “Fear not, your little outift is solid enough, as are all my psychic manifestations. Thanks to Colonel Future’s high-tech wizardry, my ectoplasmic extractor can do more than ever before. I don’t even need my useless medium Marva these days, though I keep a spare, you might say.” He cackled at his private joke.
Liberty Belle noticed that Hazard was nowhere in sight, nor was the weirdly glowing Doctor Double X. She also wondered if Colonel Future was on the premises or if he still worked through holograms and distant bases. He was the man behind the whole scheme. But what was his purpose in making use of Psycho to give freedom to Double X? Perhaps he merely wanted a super-strong soldier to use against Metropolis.
She struggled again, but her metal bonds held her tightly. She knew she would get a chance sooner or later, but waiting for a break was hard — very hard.
Hazard smiled as the Los Angeles sun shone down on her. Her colorful companion Doctor Double X hovered nearby. “Nothing like instant transportation to cut the travel time down!” she drawled in her heavy Mississippi accent.
“That is all very well and good, but my mind does not marvel at such petty science. I was a miracle of the technological world forty years ago. (*) Let us be about Colonel Future’s business. I see his aim was accurate. The woman’s office is dead ahead.”
They climbed the steps to a messy office, and Doctor Double X nearly ripped the door off its hinges as he exulted in the exercise of his super-strength. In the office, a pretty blonde woman with long, straight hair and a serious expression on her makeup-free face jumped up from behind the desk. She wore a costly white business suit, and her gun was out instantly. While a flashy woman in fishnets might fit in in L.A., there was no doubt the costumed glowing man was superhuman trouble.
“Hold it, glow-worm!” she yelled as he approached her menacingly. She fired, but bullets did no harm to the spectral figure. Before she could react, Hazard tossed a card down as a physical manifestation of her luck-altering powers. The gun suddenly backfired, causing her to shrink back in pain as her hand was burned. Doctor Double X knocked her cold with a casual blow and carried her off into the night with Hazard on his trail.
The door of the office broke from the force with which Hazard kicked it shut, and the carefully painted lettering on the office door fell to the floor. The broken glass was still readable if anyone had cared to do so. The sign spelled out: “Jonni Thunder, Private Detective.”
Colonel Future shook his head in dismay. That Cheetah had been such a fetching little thing, and now she had turned out to be Liberty Belle. She would have to be disposed of, regardless of how attractive she was or what great legs she had. He could toy with the real Cheetah in return for her services, but this super-heroine was too dangerous. Some friend would fly in to find her if she was missing for too long. No, he decided, Belle must die.
He turned away from the monitor. Doctor Psycho’s report was not pleasing. He should have never dealt with madmen. But as he mused, he wondered where his old foe Superman was.
Meanwhile, Jonni Thunder screamed as the ectoplasmic extractor irradiated her body with its odd energy. Ecks yelled, “Nothing is happening. Maybe you have the wrong J. Thunder. There must be more than one of them.”
“No, this proud wench is the right one,” said Psycho. “Her mental readings tell me she is linked to an energy being that Future wants to enslave or liberate from her control. She seems to believe that a statue or some icon is required for the being to manifest itself. True, but just as this machine made by me and modified by Future liberated Doctor Double X from your feeble oversoul, it will now work a like miracle for this woman!”
Boy, that little guy sure hates women! thought Hazard. I bet he’d easily toss me out a window, too.
Sure enough, the glowing female-shaped nimbus of energy called Thunderbolt did appear over a passed-out Jonni. But to Psycho’s dismay, she struggled against the machine.
Belle looked on and hoped that this Thunderbolt could help her. For all she knew, this woman was Johnny Thunder’s daughter. After all, she hadn’t seen him in twenty-five years or more. But what woman in her right mind would marry the poor guy? Still, his T-bolt had more personality than this raging creature.
Doctor Double X turned to Ecks and said, “See, Simon? Again, a being of elemental might is freed from frail human control. It is ever so.” Ecks remained silent and glanced over wistfully at Hazard.
The female Thunderbolt sparked, flared, and ultimately vanished. “What happened?” yelled Double X.
“I don’t know,” replied an angry Doctor Psycho. “She resisted my machine. I can only assume she has some agenda all her own. The woman is out cold, so she could not have influenced the creature. I may have to torture the woman.”
Doctor Psycho stormed off down the hall to a separate room. He had been able to work wonders before by using a psychic medium named Marva Jane Gray to boost or catalyze his abilities. She had died, but he had found a suitable replacement. She might prove to be the focus he needed to master the Thunderbolt.
“Come, you weakling. Come at your master’s call!” he ordered. A demure blonde tearfully followed him out of her prison cell and assumed the indicated place in the ectoplasmic extractor. She knew that pleading with the evil little man was useless.
Deborah Wallace strained as Psycho and his odd device reached out to some psychic realm and again tried to manifest and enslave the Thunderbolt. She could sense the frustration on each end as two wills fought a bizarre battle.
Elsewhere, Keith Everet felt that odd call once more. It had tugged elusively at the edge of his senses ever since his Deborah’s second incarnation had died. Now, he felt it once more. He flew over Metropolis and vowed not to lose this signal until he had resolved the mystery.
He floated through a building at the Acme Computer Center and saw costumed figures, including Liberty Belle. She had been one of those brave All-Star Squadron members whom he had helped on a couple of occasions. He had met Batman in Scotland once and had teamed with Starman and others before, too. (*) Now he would certainly free the fair lass.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1944: The Evil Plot.]
The Grim Ghost manifested in his traditional appearance from the 1700s. His long, brown hair fell to his shoulders where his gray cloak covered his red-and-blue outfit, and a sword hung by one hip. He spoke, and all there gasped. “Free the lass now! An Everet shan’t see beauty imperiled!”
Using his ability to temporarily possess those with even a spark of goodness in them, he took over the gawking Hazard and kicked Doctor Psycho across the room. Next, the Grim Ghost shoved Simon Ecks to one side and gently pulled the blonde girl out of the ectoplasmic extractor. It was his turn to be shocked, for he saw that she was his Deborah Wallace come back or reawakened for a third time. That was why the call had reached him alone.
He mentally shoved Hazard’s mind and body into a stupor, and she dropped to the floor. He spoke lovingly to Deborah, “Fear not, my love! I shall carry thee away from these blackguards, anon.” Deborah smiled in response, instinctively feeling that this man was speaking truth and that they would have much more to speak of together.
Meanwhile, Liberty Belle called out, “Hey, Errol Flynn! Give a girl a hand.”
The Grim Ghost gestured, and Belle’s metal bonds released her. Just at that moment, Psycho raised up and in response, an ectoplasmic ogre appeared to menace all. The Ghost grew equally large and drew his sword. His first thrust caught the lumbering giant in the chest, yet no wound appeared. Psycho cackled madly until Belle used her sonic blasts to destroy every machine in Colonel Future’s lair, including Psycho’s beloved ectoplasmic extractor.
The evil little man moaned and sank down in dismay. Belle had rightly assumed that some mental link bound him to his precious device and that removing it caused him great pain. She spun around to see Doctor Double X, who had moved to where Jonni Thunder lay. He grabbed the young woman while his lesser half Ecks moaned out.
Belle aimed a quick left jab at Ecks, who immediately collapsed. Double X hesitated as if turned by some loyalty to his creator, then flew off at great speed with the captive Ms. Thunder over his shoulder.
Meanwhile, the Grim Ghost’s sparring partner the ogre fell lifeless after a few more skillful thrusts from Everett’s blade. “The beastie ne’er drew true breath. He was a mere phantasm,” said the Ghost.
Belle knew she would have to try to save Jonni, but at least Future’s equipment was ruined, and Psycho, Ecks, and Hazard were caught. Meanwhile, the not-so-Grim Ghost was embracing his lost love, Deborah Wallace.
As for herself, Liberty Belle had but one desire. She would throw out every faux or real leopard print outfit in her closet when she got home. She’d had enough of Cheetah-styled clothing.