Booster Gold: Ozoned, Chapter 1: Return of the Shark-Men

by Libbylawrence

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Since his debut a few months ago, the corporate crusader known as Booster Gold to his adoring public had spent many a romantic evening with some of the world’s most glamorous women, including actress Michelle Piper and singer Sheena Weston. But it was as ordinary, casually dressed Michael Carter that the hero now stood outside a modest home as a startled woman opened the door. She had large curlers in her brunette hair and wore a frayed robe with fuzzy pink slippers. Her glasses had slipped down her nose a bit, and she seemed more than a little dazed.

“Oh, Michael! I’m a fright!” sputtered Tracey Kord as she tried to flatten an errant hair. “I guess I started cooking and lost track of the time.”

Michael smiled the smile that had launched a dozen commercial endorsements and entered the house, where the pretty young woman lived with her husband Ted. “Now, Trace, to these peepers you always look like a billion credits.” He held out a bouquet of flowers as he followed his buddy’s wife inside their suburban home. “For you, milady,” he said with a slight bow.

Tracey smiled broadly and accepted them with a curtsey of her own. “My thanks, kind sir! I can never get poor Ted to bring home flowers. His idea of romance is to make a robotic dishwasher or something,” she said with a laugh.

“Yeah, you can take the boy out of the lab, but you can’t take the lab out of the boy,” said Michael.

“I really appreciate your coming here tonight,” said Tracey. “With Ted stuck out of the city on business, I really could use some support for this dinner. Ted hopes to win Dr. Harvey over to sign with Kord Research. We figured a nice family meal might help, but then that case left him stuck in Surfside City.”

“No prob,” said Michael. “Your meatloaf is worth the travel time. I can’t imagine life without it. Imagine such a treat being a lost delicacy in my time.”

He referred to the far future era of the thirtieth century from which the former star athlete had traveled. After personal circumstances had taken away his opportunities to shine in that era, leaving him laboring as a mere security guard at the Museum of Space Adventures, he had used future technology to equip himself with the means to become a mighty hero of the twentieth century and traveled back in time to do so. Using that technology in the form of a gold and blue power-suit, he had saved the life of the President of the United States in front of a television audience and thus had become a famous and justly celebrated hero. (*) As Booster Gold, he had founded his own company — Booster Gold International — and his wealth, fame, and celebrity status had soared.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Superpowers.]

One of the more rewarding aspects of that newfound career was a firm friendship with Ted Kord, the agile and brilliant Blue Beetle. The two like-minded heroes had in a short time become almost like brothers, and it was thanks to the Blue Beetle that Booster had become a member of the world’s greatest action-hero team, the Sentinels of Justice. Booster had formed a good bond with Ted’s wife Tracey as well.

“You go change, and I’ll greet the egghead when he shows up,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’ll turn on the old Boosterrific charm, and he’ll be swapping quantum theories with me like we were old lab partners.” Tracey nodded and rushed upstairs.

Booster reached for a remote and clicked on the television set. He changed channels rapidly before stopping at an entertainment news show. “Hmmm. I think I was supposed to return her call. Oh, well. She had nice legs, but she wasn’t exactly a fun date,” he mused as he muted the sound, leaving a blonde hostess in silence.

A knock at the door ended his TV viewing, and he crossed the room and swung open the door to reveal a balding man in a wrinkled suit. He asked, “Is this the Kord home?”

Booster smiled and ushered him inside. “It sure is. I’m Booster Gold, star of screen and champion of justice, but then you know that. You must be Dr. Harvey.”

Dr. Harvey stared at the blond man and said, “I fear I do not know you. I never watch popular culture entertainment. It’s all bubble gum for the mind.”

Booster frowned and looked as though someone had hit him in the stomach. “Well, sure, but that’s what makes it fun. Have a seat, Doc. Our lovely hostess will be down soon. Her husband Ted did some work for my company, and that’s how we met. He’s out of the city now, but trust me — the poor fellow wanted to meet you badly. He’s a great guy. You’d love working for him.”

“Indeed?” said Dr. Harvey. “I do hope to share some of my theories with him.”

Booster led the scientist to a large chair and said, “Sure, he’d love to hear them. He takes to test tubes like some guys go for supermodels. What is your specialty? I dabble a bit with technology as well.”

Dr. Harvey’s eyes widened with sudden pleasure. “Indeed?” he began. “Mr. Gold, have you ever considered the fact that our very future is riding upon a more carefully regulated use of certain aerosol products? The atmosphere is being eroded by the daily use of…”

Booster listened for several minutes and then noticed the eager scholar was no longer waiting to see if his audience was paying attention or not. He placed an expression of studied interest on his face with his best acting skills while he began to think of more pleasant topics.

The action-hero then frowned and jumped to his feet as three strange figures kicked down the door and confronted the odd couple. The three figures all wore dark cloaks and low-brimmed hats, which shaded what seemed to be monstrous faces.

“Dr. Harvey, you will accompany us now,” demanded the tallest of the trio in a strange, muffled accent. His eyes gleamed darkly beneath the hat, while the lower half of his face revealed a hideous wide mouth full of long teeth.

Booster noticed the other two figures moving silently to each side as he stepped between them and the befuddled scientist. “Hold it! Just who do you think you are?” he said. “Nobody breaks into this house without answering to me.”

The figure on his left suddenly lashed out with a precise kick to Booster’s head even as the figure on his right connected with a jab of his own.

Booster Gold fell forward and tried to recover his balance by grabbing the long cloak of the figure in front, but only succeeded in knocking off his hat. Beneath the hat was the face of a monstrous, green-skinned humanoid shark. “What the hell are you?” the hero shouted as the other two threw off their cloaks, now that their disguises were no longer useful. The figures all had scaly green skin, fins on their heads and backs, and the faces of sharks with rows of long, sharp teeth.

The three shark-men attacked anew with skilled precision and stunning force. Booster fell hard and tried to rise again. He pushed himself up to see the now-showered and freshly dressed Tracey Kord skip down the steps in a pink dress and high heels.

“Now, gentleman, sorry to keep you waiting. Did I miss anything?” she said in a perky tone that ended in a small shriek as she saw the smashed door, the battered Booster, and the three shark-men.

“Tracey! Get the Doc upstairs! I’ll hold them off!” he shouted. He swung at one shark-man but missed by inches as the silent figure brought a strong fist down across his skull.

He sank to the carpet and knew no more for an indeterminate amount of time. He then regained painful awareness and sat up to see Tracey bending over him with a look of tearful concern. “I’m OK. Did they hurt you? Did they get the Doc?” he asked.

She helped him stand up and said, “I’m fine, but they did take poor Dr. Harvey. I guess it’s up to you to rescue him.”

Booster nodded. “Sure. I’ll do my best, but how can we trace them? Have you ever seen anything like those monsters?”

Tracey smiled as she gestured toward a table beneath a painting of a nineteenth century ballroom. “You can use Ted’s receiver to trace the signal of the bug I planted in Dr. Harvey’s pocket. I hugged him just after they knocked you out. They thought I was just scared — which I was — but I was also slipping the device in his pocket. Ted has the things all around the house. He’s always worried that some enemy of his will learn his secret and carry me off or something. They’re positively murder to dust around, but I guess they just may be worthwhile.”

“See?” said Booster. “Ted married you for more than a wicked meatloaf and a killer smile. I’ll take the receiver and try to pick up a signal. Skeets can help me. I’ll grab my gear and get on the trail.”

He stopped as he reached for the door and saw Tracey’s worried expression. “Don’t worry, kid. Harvey will put them to sleep before I get there. Those dull scientific speeches of his will be better than a tranquilizer.” He hurried out, leaving the young woman behind with only her thoughts and prayers.

Soon, Booster Gold soared over the city as a small robotic companion hovered in his wake. “Booster, Master Ted has integrated his bug technology within my circuits. I can zero in on the signal with ease, as they say,” said the little robot called Skeets.

Booster grinned as they crossed the city. “Skeets, if you were a leggy blonde with a great bod, I’d marry you.” He joked, but that was merely to keep his own spirits up. He truly cared about others and did not want to imagine the hapless Dr. Harvey being injured by his ruthless abductors.

“Skeets, can you I.D. the shark-men who took the Doc?”

Skeets beeped and hummed before he replied. “Booster, I shall attempt to match such descriptions with known criminals.” But before he could process the data and search his file links, Skeets stopped in mid-flight. “Booster, I believe we have reached our goal, but I fear we are as lost as before we started,” he said.

They were hovering over the ocean. Their trek had taken them to the shore, and as the wind and sea air swept over them, Booster gazed down at the waters below. “They tossed the tracer into the ocean. They’re smart. I guess I’m going to need to rethink this whole process. Can you get me Harvey’s office address? Maybe his private lab will lead me to the reason those beasts took him. He was droning on about deadly sunlight or ozone depletion when they broke inside. I know in my era that problem was a thing of the past, but that only means that I know less about it than folks of this time do.”

“The ozone layer is being damaged by various industrial pollutants, and the resulting effect is a hole in the protective filter above,” explained Skeets. “The ultraviolet rays are coming through with an alarming potency, which poses a health problem. Perhaps Harvey’s work will contribute to the restoration of the ozone layers. That means he is vital to the survival of life on this planet.”

“Then I’ll find him or die trying,” vowed Booster.

The corporate crusader made his way to a small building near the outskirts of the city. Skeets had been able to determine that Dr. Harvey’s personal research had mainly been confined to his home, although he had published papers on the ozone layer in partnership with a woman named Regina Sharpe. “I hope Dr. Sharpe is OK. It stands to reason that if they wanted Harvey, they’d also try to abduct his partner,” mused Booster.

He landed outside the building and approached swiftly. “I don’t see any sign of trouble, but that doesn’t mean we’re in time. They could have taken her from some other locale.”

As Booster Gold drew closer to the laboratory, he adjusted his goggles and drew upon infrared to see more clearly in the night. He gasped as he saw figures within the lab struggling with a frightened black woman. He crashed inside, where he confronted three more shark-men. Booster said, “I’m guessing you three aren’t the same shark-men I fought earlier.”

Dr. Sharpe cried out for help as Booster tackled one of the shark-men. “You three have some nerve ganging up on a single defenseless woman,” he said as he slammed into the shark-man and drove him reeling across the room. He connected with three rapid blows and left that shark-man to block the other two before they could carry off the female scientist.

He fired an energy blast from his glove at one shark-man, then ducked a high kick from the other and activated his force-field to deflect their combination attack. “You guys may seem like creature-feature stars, but you are all strictly second-rate villains. I’d say none of you were enough to take me on.”

Skeets swooped low and crashed into the head of the first shark-man, who fell forward. The little flying robot said, “Booster, none of these beings have any detectable heartbeat or respiration.”

“Robots. I should have guessed. They’re all too quiet to be real monsters.” As two shark-men renewed their efforts to stop him, Booster dropped his field and knocked one down again. “If they’re just machines, then I’ll stop holding back,” he said.

Booster Gold caught them both in a sudden lunge and crashed into the wall with shattering force. His own force-field had protected him seconds before impact. “Got that up just in time,” he said with a grin.

He gazed down at the now-still forms of the fake monsters and looked sick. “Good grief — they aren’t robots! They’re some kind of slime.”

Skeets drew closer and said, “You are not far off, Booster. I detected no heartbeat, nor did I detect any sign of typical mechanical life. But that is what they were. These beings were nothing more or less than non-metallic, chemically constructed androids much like those from the thirtieth century. They are the products of a very advanced science.”

Booster looked down at the greenish ooze that streamed out of the broken shells that had so resembled humanoid green sharks. He shook his head. “This is getting entirely too weird.” Turning to the young woman, he said, “Dr. Sharpe, I’m Booster Gold, and I’m here to help you. Your partner has been abducted. Obviously those monsters were here to take you as well. Can you give me any lead that would enable me to find Dr. Harvey or learn exactly how your work is of such value to the person who made those things?”

“Mr. Gold, I owe my freedom to you,” said Dr. Sharpe. “I’ll do anything to help. You say they’ve already got poor Dr. Harvey? They just came inside and tried to grab me. They were so odd and so strangely menacing.”

“Harvey had theories about how to restore the damaged ozone layer,” said Booster. “I could see some environmental group wanting that secret, or even some crook who hoped to steal the secret for his own gain, but neither answer feels right.”

“If they want me, then they’ll be back,” said Dr. Sharpe. “Maybe you could set a trap for them.”

Booster smiled confidently. “That might just work.”

“Booster, based on the form those androids took, I have made some data scans and determined that the appearance of the three androids that took Dr. Harvey is similar to that of so-called shark-men sighted occasionally in the ocean prior to 1941,” explained Skeets. “That’s why I could not quickly match them to any known criminals or monsters of the present. They haven’t been seen since 1941. The data link we share with the Sentinels of Justice — which includes Son of Vulcan’s vast data repository — reveals that an American aquatic-based hero named Navy Jones was responsible for the extinction of the aggressive shark-men at that time.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Navy Jones, Science Comics #6 (July, 1940).]

Booster whistled softly. “Which begs the question — how or why would anyone try to recreate them as androids? Can you match that kind of whacko science with any known bad guys?”

“I am afraid that would yield a very large search result,” said Skeets. “But the Sentinels of Justice data link indicates that the shark-men came from one of a few intelligent underwater species known to exist as remnants of the ancient civilizations of Atlantis and Lemuria. Most of these species are part of the Undersea Kingdom ruled by Queen Coral and her royal consort, Navy Jones, the same man responsible for defeating the shark-men in the 1940s. If we can find the Undersea Kingdom or even ancient sunken Atlantis, we may be able to locate the one who created the pseudo-shark-men.”

Booster slammed his fist into his palm. “Damn. When we located Harvey’s bug in the ocean, we assumed they had dumped it there to throw us off. We were wrong. We didn’t lose Dr. Harvey’s bug — he’s being held beneath the oceans in some lost city or base.”

“I concur,” said Skeets. “And the Sentinels’ link to Son of Vulcan’s files will help us find the general location of sunken Atlantis. Once we are close enough, we should be able to pick up the tracker’s signal once again, whether it is in the Undersea Kingdom or the ruins of Atlantis itself.”

“I can’t believe it,” said Dr. Sharpe. “An underwater civilization, android shark-men… it’s like some nightmare.”

Booster Gold placed an arm around her and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll see that the bad dreams end soon enough.” He turned to Skeets and said, “Can you adapt my costume so I can survive under the sea? The force-field will contain a certain amount of air, but I can’t say how long I’ll need to be down there.”

“Of course,” said Skeets. “We can modify the costume with some of the equipment here in the lab.”

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