It was a strange group of people that walked along the reflecting pool at the National Mall, the Washington Monument behind them. None of them were natives to Washington, D.C., and they weren’t even friends for the most part.
“I can’t believe this,” said a pretty woman with short blond hair who walked in the lead. Her name was Connie Webb, the LAW member called the Red Knight. “‘Go take the tour until you’re called,’ they said. What was that all about?”
“Leave,” said Van Dale, the man known as the Puppeteer by friends and foes alike. “Vacation. A weekend pass. A period of rest and recuperation.” Connie glared at her comrade, who shrugged easily under her baleful gaze.
“Purse snatcher,” John “Specs” Anders communicated to the others telepathically as he walked at the back of the group. “Twelve o’clock.”
“I see him,” said the feminine android called Syntac, who possessed the capability of receiving telepathic communications.
The group walked forward. The thief was more worried about pursuit, so he didn’t notice as Syntac’s strong hand reached out to grab his flailing wrist and sent him flying onto the ground. His loot popped out of his hands, and Connie caught it easily.
“I wouldn’t do that again,” said the exotic woman known as Destiny Fox, using her control over water to create a wave from the reflecting pool to burst onto the thief and hold the criminal in place. The thief was completely bewildered by this turn of events.
“Good mind-reading, Specs,” Connie said as the group moved on toward the Lincoln Memorial.
“Mind-reading, nothing,” said Anders. “He stood out like a sore thumb.”
“How did you get into the hero business, Specs?” Dale asked. “You seem like too much of a fuddy-duddy to risk your neck.”
John Anders looked at his companions. While he wasn’t sure how old Destiny Fox was, since she had ceased aging, and Syntac was an android for whom age wasn’t a consideration, he was in his mid-thirties and thus older than Connie Webb and Van Dale by at least a decade. He thought about how he had started with the Tyro Team.
“You know how it goes,” Specs began. “I just kinda fell into the business.” The others stared at him with frank disbelief. “I guess it can’t hurt to talk about some of it,” he continued. “One of my partners is retired. The other has been committed to Worlane Psychiatric for the rest of his life.”
“Who committed him?” asked Tammy.
“I did,” said Specs. “Excuse me… we did — my other partner and I.”
“You might want to start at the top, bud,” said Van Dale, the unsurprised one for once.
“Well, my partners were Dave Scott, whom we called Swift because of his athletic abilities, and Warren Blaine, who was known as Creep because he fancied himself a detective and was always conducting surveillance. I, of course, was called Specs for obvious reasons.” John Anders grinned as he adjusted his glasses.
“We found out about each other in school,” continued Specs. “We were all attending East Village University and quickly realized we each had some telepathic ability that only worked with each other. We decided to give ourselves a team name, but we were all beginners at this crime-fighting gig and couldn’t think of anything original. Swift suggested Tyro Team because we were all inexperienced tyros, as his Scottish grandfather would have called us. We started dressing up in matching sweaters of different colors with our custom T insignia on them, along with hoods we designed.
“As the Tyro Team, we kept the crime rate down at the EVU campus and in the East Village as best we could. We really had no idea what we were doing, but we muddled by, and even started reading detective novels and comic-books and listening to old Green Hornet radio shows for tips. Our constant partnership bolstered our abilities, which increased the longer we were around each other, allowing them to become more powerful than they would normally. At first we were only able to communicate with each other using our thoughts, but after a while we began to be able to read other people’s minds as well and communicate with them telepathically.
“Finally, though, Creep couldn’t take the constant chatter from the the telepathy, and he snapped and went around the bend. We caught up with him as he was throwing some young drug addict out of an apartment building window. Luckily, there was a fire escape he overlooked, so the kid lived. My other partner Swift and I combined our power and were forced to mentally blast Creep to stop him, but it turned him into a vegetable.
“We committed Creep to the psychiatric hospital and left him there. Swift retired and gave up his abilities as much as he could, joining the Marines to get away from the East Village. I puttered around for a while, stopping the odd criminal while changing my majors too many times to count, but I was kind of lost without a purpose. I was married for a few years to my college sweetheart, a girl named Myrna, but that didn’t last long. I was discouraged and depressed all the time, and she grew tired of always having to cheer me up. I spent a few years just developing my telepathy and using it to make money, but I hated myself for it. Then Sarge Steel showed up on my doorstep with a job I could handle.”
John Anders paused and added, “So here we are. What about the rest of you? What kind of stories do you guys have?”
The group looked at Van Dale, the Puppeteer, who smiled slightly. “So I have to expurgate my guts out now, huh?” he said. “Serves me right for being the loudmouth of the team.”
A large, stocky man with close-cropped brown hair looked at himself in the bathroom mirror of the flea bag hotel where he was staying. He picked up a box and wand on the sink next to his to his hand. He ran the wand over his body, and it crackled at him menacingly.
Emil Forsa, better known to the world as the atomic super-criminal called Major Force, knew he was in trouble. His radioactivity was growing at a phenomenal rate. Still, he had a job to do, and he was determined to do it. He still had a reputation to maintain.
He concentrated, calling on the energy within. His body lit up in the center of several energy rings. His clothes were replaced by a bronze and cadmium costume with a metal mask to cover his face.
Emil hoped he had enough time to do the job and vanish for a while. A twitch had happened during charge-up, and it triggered a nervous feeling. He felt like a bomb with a short fuse. He wondered how much time he had left as he walked to the window and took flight in a glowing energy trail. That doesn’t matter, he told himself as he flew over Washington.
Major Force’s energy trail glittered behind him as he flew over the city. Information had pinpointed a source of radiated rock that he could use. It rested in a vault underneath the city. All he had to do was secure what he needed and leave. Minimum security, minimum trouble. It should be a pie job, he thought, but Emil didn’t believe it for a minute. No job is a pie job.
“So you want to know how I got recruited on the team?” asked Van Dale, the Puppeteer.
“Yes, and what made you take the name of your predecessor?” asked Destiny Fox.
“I just kinda fell into it,” Dale said with a broad smile.
“What?” asked Destiny.
“It’s the truth,” said Dale. “I’m not part of any legacy left by my grandfather or anything. The name of the Puppeteer was mostly an afterthought. I’d have called myself Punch if I could, but that name was already taken. The truth is, I don’t really care about my grandfather’s mystery-man career. I was too busy having fun in Hollywood.
“My brother and I were working in L.A. doing gags for the movie companies, when Jimmy created this new foam. It would put out a fire as fast as anything. Plus, it was absorbent beyond belief. Stop the mass of, say, a car at ninety with almost no energy transfer. Jimmy planned to use it for high falls because less time was needed for it, and it was safer than a conventional bag.”
“What happened?” asked Connie Webb, the Red Knight. “How did you go from being a stunt man to a government super-agent?”
“A thing like Jimmy’s foam was sure to attract attention,” said Van Dale. “We had a couple of movies that had high falls in the middle of them. That was perfect for what we needed as a live test. Jimmy decided that he would do the live test with an air bag underneath as a safety net. So here we were shooting the scene, and Jimmy does a perfectly executed swan dive into the foam and bag. And died because some guys had stolen the foam and deflated the air bag.”
“Your brother was killed doing a stunt?” asked Syntac.
“Yep,” said Van Dale. “So I got a bunch of stuff that Jimmy was working on from his shop and hid out for a while. I knew the guys would have to come looking for me, because what was stolen couldn’t be duplicated and broke down under usage. I was the next best thing to Jimmy. So I got the stuff together, including some of the equipment our grandfather had used in the ’40s when he was a mystery-man originally called Captain V and then the Puppeteer, and I practiced with it until I was ready. Then, when I was good enough, I started showing up in places I used to go to before Jimmy’s death. Before long, I got someone following me. I shook him and then started following him. Eventually he led me back to his boss.
“Imagine the scene,” the Puppeteer continued. “I had a makeshift costume and equipment. I was using my grandpa’s V-ray to get around. I followed him across the city to one of the stilt houses they build in the canyons. I wanted this guy to pay. But how could I get a confession from him? It looked kind of tricky. I finally came up with a plan.
“I placed a timed explosive on a couple of the stilts and then went up to the front door. I broke the door in and commenced to lighting the place up. I was faced with overwhelming odds, though, so I was soon captured like I planned. The mastermind came out, and I got him gloating into a hidden tape recorder. I had timed it just right. The explosive went off, and the house went over the side into the canyon. My costume protected me from the worst of it, but everyone else went to the hospital. Then they went to jail.”
Specs began, “That’s–”
“–crazy,” finished Connie. “You could have been killed.”
“Could have, would have, should have,” said Van Dale, shaking off the dull grip of the past. “I wasn’t. That’s all that matters. Of course, the law frowns on dropping other people’s houses into canyons, so I was charged and ordered to pay recompense and do community service. Steel showed up to recruit me, the house is almost paid for, and the time on the team counts as service. I figure I’ll be free and clear to go back to doing whatever I want in three years, give or take.”
“How about the rest of you?” asked Anders. “Connie, how’d you get into this line of business?”
“It runs in the family,” said Connie Webb, brushing short blond hair back from her brow. “My grandfather was military, then my dad, and now me.”
Major Force arrived on target. His legs were tingling as he hovered outside the building in question. Curse you, Danton Koste, he thought again as he had numerous times since he had found out he was dying. Emil Forsa raised his hands. He released a fireball that blew a hole in the wall. He flew through the hole and landed.
A guard arrived as Forsa was looking for the door to the vault. He went for his pistol as Emil threw another fireball as well as any pitcher for a major league team. The guard went down in a spray of blood. Emil tried to catch his breath from the second fireball. He wondered how much more he could take before he gave up the ghost.