by Dan Swanson
As he told his story, Tharka the Superwoman used her telekinesis to probe his head. “Fergus, scar tissue from your accident is restricting blood flow to some parts of your brain, resulting in permanent oxygen starvation, which has impaired your thinking. The oxygen trickle supplied by your helmet is supersaturating your blood, and as long as you have that extra oxygen in your system, those parts of your brain are getting a normal supply, and your brain is working correctly.” She paused, and he could see sympathy for his condition in her sad eyes. “It would be a difficult operation, but I think a good surgeon here on Zor, with my guidance, could clear that up for you permanently. Meanwhile, you should try to keep that helmet on as much as possible.”
She reflected for a second, unsure about telling him something. “I found something else, too. There’s some kind of tiny electronic device embedded in your jaw just under your ear.” She stopped as an unpleasant thought struck her, and she concentrated for a few seconds. “I’ve got one, too. Computeer must have put them in when we were unconscious. I wonder what it does.”
“I think I know, now,” the big man spoke up. “I couldn’t figure it out before, but when we first landed, the Doc gave an order, and Cap didn’t want to do what she said. And then all of a sudden, he did what she wanted, anyway. That’s not like him.”
“She’s going to be surprised when she tries mind-control on me!” Tharka laughed, then became more serious. “You know I have to stop Doctor Computeer and Captain Challenge. I hope I’m not going to have to fight you, too.”
“I might not have any choice. You may be able to resist her orders, but if she can control Cap, she can control me, too,” he said sadly. “The doctors are under Computeer’s control, so they can’t take this thing out. In fact, if she even finds out we’re talking, she’ll turn it on.” Then he brightened. “I’ve an idea. Smite me!”
“What?” she was stunned.
“Smite: to strike or hit hard, with the hand, a stick, or other weapon,” he said, quoting the definition.
“I know the meaning of the word!” she snapped. “Nobody’s ever asked me to smite them before, though.”
“Do I need to be more formal?” he asked with a grin. “Thou must surely smite me!”
She laughed. “Why did you choose such an archaic word?”
“I lost the word hit — just couldn’t think of it. So I used a — another word that means the same thing. Crap — I just lost that word, too!” He wasn’t smiling any longer. “I don’t want to go back to being unable to think. What if she makes me take the helmet off?” There was definite fear in his voice.
“Look,” she said sympathetically. “Take the restraints off me, and let me use them on you. Then, as soon as I’ve defeated Computeer, I’ll see that you get the surgery you need.”
“You might not be able to beat both Computeer and Captain Challenge. You need me on your side. And to be sure I’m on your side, you need to destroy this thing in my head. Therefore, needs must thou smite me!” he demanded.
She wasn’t sure when she’d realized that she trusted him. “If we had time, I’d find another way, but we don’t,” she sighed. “Release me, and I will indeed ‘smite thou.'”
He pressed a button, releasing her, and she stood. He took his helmet off and stood before her, breathing deeply and waiting. Without warning, at super-speed, she slammed a powerhouse punch at the side of his head, precisely aimed, and he tumbled into the wall.
“I’m sorry, Fergus!” she cried as she rushed to help him up. “Whatever it was, it’s smashed. Are you OK?”
“Man, can you hit!” he whispered admiringly through the pain. “My head’ll be ringing for a week!” He stood up slowly, his hands on the sides of his head. “Don’t call me Fergus!” he ordered weakly. Though, he thought to himself at the same time, it really doesn’t sound so bad when you say it!
He waited in silence for several seconds, then put his helmet on. “Well and fairly smote!” he said again with a smile, taking several more deep breaths. He shuddered in horror. “I could actually feel my mind slipping away. But it’s back now. Let’s take care of Computeer and Captain Challenge fast, so your doctors can help me.”
“Just to be certain, Fergus,” she said, winking at him, “why don’t you smite me as well? No use taking chances. Besides, it only seems fair. Remember, I’m invulnerable.” She wasn’t as certain as she sounded. Her invulnerability was a mental power that depended partly on her willpower and self-confidence. And he was awfully strong. “Besides, you already walloped me once, and I survived.”
It took a little convincing, but smite her he did, destroying her implant as well. He was astonished at how quickly she recovered this time.
“This time I was ready,” she smiled. “Didn’t feel a thing.” The slight wobble she had as she took her first few steps belied her words.
As they flew from the hospital to the Hall of Nations, Tharka was enraged to see her own personal spaceship parked in the courtyard. Doctor Computeer had found some way to get to the small asteroid where Tharka normally left the ship, then override all her safety codes to steal it. Although she hated what she had to do, Tharka burst through the super-tough glass of the control room viewport and smashed the control panel, then continued on her mission. Nobody is going to fly my ship again for a while, especially my arch-nemesis, she snarled to herself in satisfaction.
“I can’t fight Cap, even though he’s one of the bad guys! He’s the only con in prison I never had to fight,” Muscleman spoke softly but urgently as the two surveyed the vast Hall of Nations from a secret sniper emplacement high up in one of the walls of the room. The two snipers were snoring quietly in the corridor outside. “I know I wasn’t really his partner, but he brought me along when the Doc busted him loose.” His quiet voice was sad; Captain Challenge had been the closest thing he’d had to a friend in many years.
The new Prime Minister of Zor, Captain Challenge, was speaking to the heads of state from around Zor as the Empress lounged in her throne. “The Conflux of Nations still exists. And the Council of Superiors will remain in place as advisors to the Empress. As for you, the current heads of state…”
He was offering them a good deal, the same deal he’d made with the Council of Superiors — acknowledge the rule of Dr. Urungas, ensure that her orders were carried out, and they could remain as her privileged lieutenants, continuing to rule their own nations (as long as they pleased her) — and they would get to keep their lives. In a large TV monitor behind him, videos from security cameras in the hall showed what had happened to the missing members of the Council of Superiors who had refused to accept the deal.
“With Tharka neutralized, think carefully before you turn down the generous offer made by your Empress,” Challenge warned the former rulers, blissfully unaware of the observation of the supposedly neutralized Tharka and his former partner. Next to Tharka, Muscleman was struggling not to retch as they watched mind-controlled elite guardsmen kill the very people they had been assigned to protect.
“Sure, I’m really looking forward to a rematch with Challenge. Watch out for her gadgets,” Tharka whispered back to the big man. “I’ll take out the guards in the other sniper nests. Fergus?” At he questioning tone, he turned toward her, and she surprised him with a quick peck on the cheek. Before he could blink in astonishment, she vanished at super-speed, leaving behind a whispered, “Good luck!”
A couple of seconds later, there was a sonic boom in the Hall of Nations. Simultaneously, Captain Challenge vanished, and the landward wall exploded violently outward as Tharka crashed through it, using Challenge as a battering ram.
Meanwhile, Muscleman had burst out of the sniper nest and leaped to the floor, landing near the new throne. As he landed, Computeer touched a switch on the arm of the grandiose chair, and the floor close to the base of the throne started to crackle with electricity. Several members of the various government parties were thrown backward and clear, but a couple fell straight to the floor, where they helplessly jerked, spasmed, and twitched painfully. Moving as fast as he could, Muscleman got them clear of the deadly danger.
“You’ve forgotten — you designed this costume yourself, you computerized crook! It protects me from any weapons you can bring to bear!” he yelled in triumph as he sprang toward her again. She confidently pressed a big green button, but nothing happened. Almost in panic, she jabbed for another button, and a trap door opened beneath him, and she sighed in relief as he started to fall. He barely caught the rim of the hole and quickly pulled himself out.
“Your mind-control device didn’t work, did it?” he sneered at her. “Now, I suggest you give up quietly, so you don’t get hurt.”
“Don’t come any closer!” she warned, with a finger over a big red button. “This button will fill the hall with poisonous gas!” Before he could recover, she put something in her mouth. “But it won’t affect me,” she continued flatly. He remembered the sleeping gas and the pill he had taken on Earth, and he stood very still.
“I’ll bet I can reach you before the gas gets me, and you’ll go with the rest of us,” he warned. “If you think I’m bluffing, remember where you found me. I know Cap told you that everyone in that place was afraid of me!” The Maryland Federal Penitentiary was home to some of the most violent and dangerous criminals in the federal penitentiary system of the United States, and there were very few of them indeed who would dare to rouse Bear’s anger. Of course, he was now Fergus again and no longer Bear, but Computeer didn’t know that.
“It’s a stalemate, then,” Doctor Computeer conceded. “I’ll take my leave, but I warn you — you haven’t seen the last of me!” Another button, and the skylight in the room’s ceiling slid aside, and with a burst of rockets, the throne lifted from the floor. She wanted to let him think she was fleeing in humiliation. In the ship parked outside, she knew that the cockpit hatch had slid open and another hatch in the floor was sliding aside to reveal a socket that exactly matched the base of the throne. She would fly in and land, the controls in the throne would be instantly meshed with the controls of the ship, and with the weapons she’d built into that ship in the past two years, she’d be back in control before he could even start after her.
As soon as her flying throne was out the door in the roof, Muscleman dropped into the hole it had left from and smashed all of the machinery, instrumentation, electronics, and mechanisms he could find. By now the room was clear, and he felt reasonably certain that the hall was now safe, even if her button had some kind of radio transmitter attached to the poison gas trap. He squatted and then leaped into the air with all the power of his mighty legs. As he passed through the trap doors in the ceiling, he snapped open his glider wings and scanned the skies for any trace of his foe.