by Libbylawrence, with Doc Quantum
Rokky “Magno” Jones, moopsball champ of Ophiuchus, looked warily across a plush waiting room to where Alex Cuspin, his restless manager, was pacing back and forth. He was as anxious as Cuspin to learn what J.J. Kord wanted with him and why he had sent a cheerful Coranian to find him, but he hid his anxiety beneath a stolid manner. It was really no different from the game face he used to help him deal with the stress of competitive sports.
“This could be big, kid,” said Cuspin. “A man like Kord could finance enough of a marketing campaign to make you even bigger than you are now. Why, Magno could become the most famous moopsball champion of all time!”
Rokky shrugged and said, “Cuspin, you know I leave that kind of thing to you. You manage, I play, and the important thing is my folks and brother back on Ophiuchus get the credits I earn.”
“No, they don’t. They only get a fraction of what you earn, since Cuspin, here, has been robbing you blind since he first became your manager!” The shocking words came from a pretty, platinum-blonde girl with silvery skin who walked defiantly into the room with her hands on her hips.
“Arda!” gasped Rokky as the Venusian beauty approached him.
“It’s the truth, Rokky,” said Arda Starr. “I’m sorry to tell you, but his thoughts were transparent to me. I didn’t even pry. Greed motivates him, and stealing from you is almost all he thinks about.”
Cuspin reached out for the girl, only to have her deftly block his grasp and shove his arm aside. “You lousy mind-witch!” he sputtered. “Don’t listen to her, kid!”
“Cuspin, I trusted you!” said Rokky. “You said you understood how much I wanted to take care of my family, what with Ophiuchus’ economic depression and all.”
A pretty, spirited girl with brown hair and bangs entered silently and sat on a desk. “Don’t worry, Rokky. J.J. can find out the truth, and his credit boys can trace everything that creep has stolen.”
Alex Cuspin whirled around to face Luna Kord of Corania. “Another one? I’m surrounded by bratty girls.”
Luna laughed loudly and replicated into two separate selves. “You want surrounded? You got it, pal.”
Cuspin looked around the room and saw Arda’s icy certainty, the two identical Lunas’ rather brazen mockery, and Rokky’s gaze of hurt and troubled realization. Drake entered with Luna’s third self and immediately sensed the tension.
Rokky sighed and said, “Cuspin, I’m going to have Mr. Kord check your accounts. Until then, you’re suspended. You no longer represent me.”
Cuspin saw that he was defeated and left without any further protest.
Drake patted his friend’s back and said, “Rokky, I’m sorry. It sounds like that guy was ripping you off.”
Rokky nodded. “I’ve been naïve. On Ophiuchus, life is tough, and adulthood is reached at the age of fourteen. I guess I’ve been depending on Cuspin too much, since some worlds don’t recognize legal adulthood until a later age.”
Drake placed a hand on his newfound friend’s arm as Arda looked at him with sympathy. She was still too reserved to actually make contact with the boy, but her feelings were evident beneath her chilly demeanor.
The door to the inner office opened with a bang as J.J. Kord appeared before them. “Good work, Luna. You rounded them up faster than I expected. Remind me to give you a raise or three. Youngsters, please come inside.”
As the kids entered the private office, Luna toyed with a compu-file. She knew that entire volumes had been created about her guardian and his fabulous wealth. He had certainly taken the universe by storm by inventing the stargate. It had been the biggest breakthrough in interplanetary travel since the legendary Maxim Armen invented the faster-than-light space drive in 2179. (*) The portals allowed space cruisers to travel across vast distances in mere moments by taking shortcuts through subspace. That kind of travel had, in turn, brought the worlds of the cosmos closer together. With togetherness could come communication and cooperation — or misunderstanding, prejudice, and war. J.J. Kord weighed his creation’s efforts carefully and labored now for far more than wealth. He wanted to make a lasting contribution to the universe and bring about his dream of a Commonwealth of Federated Planets, but until now he had failed at every turn. Still, as he always said, “Failure is an early warning sign for success!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Homecoming,” Space Adventures #10 (Spring, 1954).]
Luna Kord, named Luna-Anne Grant before her adoption, smiled as she recalled her own first meeting with J.J. Kord. She had not been her cheerful, insolent self then. She had instead been a frightened and emotionally shattered young girl who had lost everything she had once held dear, including her very sense of self. Luna had experienced this loss at an early age. Her father had died, and her mother had deserted her, so she had been taken in and raised by a loving grandmother. She smiled as she recalled the smell of cinnamon. Her grandma had used the exotic Earth spice in her cooking, and Luna always associated that scent with the kindly old woman.
The Coranian’s education had been cut short abruptly when various psych studies judged her to be a social misfit. “Her separate selves truly possess different personalities. We may classify them as introvert, extravert, and neutral. We must correct this aberration before she will be fit to associate with normal children.” The words had come from a snooty professor who had spoken the words without a hint of sympathy or understanding.
Luna had heard them all as she peered out from behind her grandmother’s skirts. She had smiled excitedly as the old woman separated into three beings and threw the arrogant educator, limb by dismembered limb, out of the apartment.
Her grandma had said, “Luna, my pet, don’t listen to such prejudiced nonsense. You aren’t different because you’re backward. You’re different because you are uniquely liberated. You see, folks fear what they don’t understand. We have always been taught that our power merely separates different parts of one person, and that false belief has led people to believe that the Coranian splitting power has stabilized, and everyone should be the same. But that doesn’t explain why our genetic structure kept changing and is still changing. It doesn’t explain why so many newborns today are born with the power to split into multiple full bodies in our supposedly stable world. You and I are meant to be three separate beings with feelings and personas all their own. Don’t let them stifle your expression of those feelings. Do you promise that you’ll always retain your sense of three separate selves?”
Luna vowed to be herselves despite the societal pressure to conform. She had studied at home, and in time her three selves had truly grown more alike while never fully losing their respective natures. There was a bashful Luna, a flirty, bold Luna, and a more balanced Luna.
All three had been crushed when her grandma died. Luna had then been taken to a state hospital, where she was punished for showing differences in her replicated selves. She could still smell the clinical cleaning fluid that permeated those walls to this day.
Nevertheless, Luna had resisted as her grandmother’s words had urged her to do. She had fought for her individuality. Finally, she had escaped with her pet dog Sandy and made her way to a spaceport, where she had hidden within a luxury cruiser until its pilot had found her and brought her before the owner.
“What the blue suns do you mean by stowing away like this?” bellowed J.J. Kord. “Is this some teen prank?”
Luna had gazed up at him with big brown eyes and told her story, even while her timid side fought back tears and her aggressive self tried not to shout.
J.J. Kord had turned his back on her for a moment as he struggled to regain his own composure. Then he faced her with a fierce look on his reddish face. “Well, you’d better come work for me. I’ll pay you well… all of you, and don’t even try to hide what makes you special.”
As Sandy barked at her feet, Luna started to embrace old J.J., and he slowly returned the hug. “Enough of that,” he said. “Time is credits, so they say. I’ll threaten to remove a few of my factories from Corania if the authorities try anything funny with me!”
Now, years later, Luna was a Kord in name and in fact after the old industrialist had officially adopted her — all three of her. She loved J.J. like a father, and he valued her selves as daughters as well as loyal and resourceful aides.
When Kord’s business partner Roderick Doyle tried to persuade the older man that he was wasting credits on his universal peace plan, Luna had supported him with some practical and blunt advice. “Doyle’s a sour old bloothog — ignore him,” she said one day. “And as for you, J.J., you can’t bring people together if you live apart from them in an anti-grav penthouse. You should mingle with normal people of all types. It takes a sentient to know a sentient.”
Kord had responded with his usual fiery enthusiasm. “By thunder, I’ll do it!” he had cried. “An ancestor of mine was one of Earth’s greatest action-heroes, and I’ve got to emulate him by being more of a man of action as well. I spend too much time at the lab or the office. I’ll start traveling around the universe on public transportation and really see and hear what ordinary people think of my plan for a Commonwealth of Federated Planets. Good thinking, Luna!”
Thus, J.J. Kord had taken a journey to many worlds and had seen many sights that would have been beyond his normal sphere of activity had he stayed within the world of the elite and used only private crafts. During his travels, he had found a lot of dissension to his plan. He suspected that there were many groups who preferred a chaotic universe. Luna recalled how dejected he had sounded on Venus before boarding the shuttle to Earth.
Afterward, he had been excited and animated with far more than just the news of how three amazing youths had saved his life. He had shared a bold new idea with Luna, and he had vowed to ask the three teens to help him bring his visionary idea to life. Luna then set out to research their backgrounds and track them down. She had succeeded all too well.
Arda Starr had been disappointed by how her career with the Space Patrol Department had halted after she was placed in menial roles as a mere lackey for Commander Rex Lansing, member of a family that had served with various Earth and solar system police forces for centuries. The conceited old man had no desire for a bright young thing like her to outshine him or his proven team. Thus, Cadet Starr had been forced to make beverages, file holo docs, and pass her days in boring routine after boring routine. Luna Kord’s arrival at SPD Headquarters on Mars had been a welcome change.
Luna now smiled and wrapped her arms around her knees as she rocked back on a desk. She was certain that J.J. Kord’s scheme would work, and although he didn’t realize it yet, the spirited girl was determined to play an active part in it.