by Libbylawrence, with Doc Quantum
Days later, Arda Starr, Drake Gordon, and Rokky Jones smiled as the press from numerous worlds followed them around on a joint goodwill/publicity holo session. Word had spread quickly through J.J. Kord’s expert channels, and the universe was buzzing about the new team of teen heroes who would supposedly champion the idea of a Commonwealth of Federated Planets.
Drake smiled woodenly as he whispered to the others, “I’m getting bored. I can’t see how posing in these admittedly cool costumes is going to help us.” He referred to the red and yellow costume he wore. The jagged yellow lightning bolts displayed on his deep crimson chest made a striking image.
“The costumes are like our new code names — Magno, Silver Lass, and Live Wire,” said Rokky. “They’re colorful and memorable and will help us become known to the very people we want to defend. They can’t trust us if they don’t know who we are.” He wore a costume of blue and black, but he was far more comfortable with the entire situation, since he was accustomed to dealing with the press and the public from his time as a moopsball champion.
Arda nodded as she touched the pink Venus-symbol earrings she wore. Even as a heroine with a name like Silver Lass, she still had to wear the emblems as a matter of law, so others would know a telepath was in their presence. She shrugged as she realized that she also liked her new green and silver costume. “I’ve never been to a zoo before. This is an impressive place. Animals from every world are here.”
Drake grinned and said, “Yeah, and some of them are working for the press! Look at that guy in the back.” He nodded toward an odd-looking man with shaggy blond hair that reached his lower back. He was lithe, yet muscular, and he moved with an animalistic grace.
Arda gasped and said, “He’s positively feral! And he’s not with the press. His thoughts are full of malice toward us.”
“Easy, Arda,” said Drake. “We’ll handle him if he acts up.”
“Don’t challenge him openly,” cautioned Rokky. “Just keep your eyes on him. If he tries anything, then we’ll act.”
“He’s right,” said Arda. “I mean, I sense hostility from several watchers. They may not like us, but that doesn’t make them dangerous. As for the stranger, he may very well work here. He seems to have a rapport with animals. That much is evident from his demeanor. He likes them, even if he doesn’t like us.” She looked over to where the man was smiling at a caged gorilladon.
Abruptly, he lifted an odd whistle to his mouth and blew into it. A piercing sound rang out, and suddenly the animals responded by agitated movement.
“They’re breaking free!” yelled Drake. “No, they’re already free! The cages weren’t locked!”
“I’ll fix that,” said Rokky, directing magnetic force to close several cages and trap their inhabitants. A deft flexing of his power allowed him to bend the locks and bars enough to create jammed doors. “That’s temporary at best. The only thing that would have kept them inside until this precise moment is control of some kind by that trainer.”
Arda nodded and said, “I’m trying to project calming thoughts to the crowd and the animals, but it’s a losing battle! Some of the animals are ignoring me.”
She’s gorgeous, Drake thought. How could anyone or anything ignore her? Aloud he said, “Well, I’m going to get the whistle. That will stop some of the rampaging animals.” He hurled a lightning bolt at the blond trainer, but the man nimbly dodged and bared his teeth in a snarl before dashing off behind a row of cages.
“I’ve got his name!” said Arda. “Ennis Jockson. He was hired to let the animals loose and get them to hurt us or the crowd.”
“Concentrate on stopping the animals,” said Rokky. “We’ll worry about Jockson later.” He lifted himself skyward through focused use of magnetic power, thinking, I can move myself through air by working with the minute metal pieces in my special costume.
Magno frowned as he saw the enormity of the situation. Dozens of animals were loose. Jockson had clearly planned this situation well. He pointed, sweeping a frightened woman out of the reach of a roaring lion. Got to lower her safely, or my help will have done more harm than good, he thought.
Meanwhile, Silver Lass was cornered as a huge purple bear loomed over her petite form. “His mind must be enraged by the trainer’s tricks, or does Jockson have some more direct link to the creatures?” She almost felt the man’s consciousness as she touched the bear’s mind. There was a primitive link between Ennis Jockson and the beasts.
Arda realized she couldn’t control the mad animal, so she ducked and rolled between the bear’s spread legs and rolled again to avoid a venomous blast from a Venusian Viper. Silver Lass danced nimbly aside and then brought a waste paper basket down to trap the serpent. “That will work for now,” she said as she moved warily around and watched the still-angry bear move closer.
She waited and dived over the top of the can while kicking out with both high-heeled boots. The can tumbled over, and the serpent sprang out to bite the bear.
“He’s too big to die from that bite, but the venom will put him to sleep until we can get zoo staffers to administer a cure,” she said with a smile. “As for my scaly friend, there, he’ll be dormant for hours, now that he has released his venom. Luckily, I know that much from my own reading.”
Live Wire was herding a group of ape-like beasts with carefully aimed bolts of lightning. They raced into an enclosure, and zoo staff slammed the force-field generators into place to hold them. “Nice job, Live Wire!” yelled one of them. Drake gave a wave of recognition and thought, I wanted to call myself Lightning Man, but Kord’s P.R. boys said it was too corny.
Suddenly, Drake felt a blow from behind and collapsed to the ground. He groaned and looked up to see Ennis Jockson standing above him.
“Your Commonwealth of Planets will never succeed,” Jockson growled. “It can’t! The spread of human-based civilization will undermine the natural world. I was more than happy to take money from some of the so-called sophisticated types who wanted to end Kord’s dream for their own selfish reasons.”
Drake shoved himself to his feet and said, “Go get a flea dip, you maniac!” As Ennis Jockson kicked him again, Live Wire saw a costumed girl dart forward. She tackled Jockson and began to pummel him with amazing speed and skill.
The costumed girl flashed a brilliant smile and winked at Drake. “Stay down, handsome. I’ll tame this wild boy,” she said with a giggle. Jockson growled as he clawed at the girl, but his fingers merely grazed the blue minidress she wore without harming her or penetrating its chain-mail-like texture. She spun around and kicked him in the head with one of her thigh-high blue boots.
At that moment, Rokky and Arda rushed forward and helped Drake to his feet.
“Who is she?” asked Arda.
“Judging from her costume, I’d say she’s a new Blue Beetle,” said Rokky, recognizing the red-haired girl’s basic costume design and a scarab emblem on her chest as markings of the ancient Earth heroes.
She heard him and said, “Nope! I’m Scarab.”
Ennis Jockson connected with a stinging punch and said, “You’re dead! That’s what you should have said!”
“Get her free,” instructed Arda. “I’ll handle him.”
Rokky pulled Scarab to freedom as his power locked on to her metallic dress. Drake helped him cushion her landing, and she flashed another brilliant smile his way.
“Thanks, dear,” she said. “I could land in your lap anytime!”
Arda locked her own potent mental powers on Ennis Jockson’s mind. She didn’t try to read his thoughts. She didn’t try to control him. She merely severed the mutant’s own mental link with the animals. He cried out as his wild thoughts battled her own clear mind. He had no chance against her. Jockson shrieked and fell to the ground as Drake darted forward and snatched the whistle from his belt.
“Did it control them, or did he do it himself?” Drake asked.
“He can commune with animals naturally, but the whistle was some kind of signal that helped trigger the commands he had placed in their minds earlier,” explained Arda. “Without his tampering with their minds, the animals should be easier to trap and contain.” Rokky nodded as he nudged some animals to a place of containment by guiding metal rubble in their path.
Minutes later, the zoo staff had contained all the escaped animals, and Ennis Jockson himself had been taken into custody.
Rokky turned to Scarab and said, “Thanks for the help. You know us, since I recognize you now from the crowd before. You were one of the spectators. Who are you?”
The beetle-themed girl in blue said, “Scarab is my costumed name. My real name is Zoe Saugin. I come from Aleph.”
Arda frowned and said, “Alephians have no native powers. You owe your agility and strength to that scarab on your chest, don’t you?”
“Right,” said Zoe. “It was once used by the Earth hero Blue Beetle. My mother is an archaeologist. She and I were on a dig on Earth, and I found the scarab buried beneath rubble and dirt. It latched on my body, and I’ve never been able to remove it. Never wanted to, either! It makes me extra special.”
“So we noticed,” said Magno. “Zoe, would you consider joining us? We can explain more, if you’d like. Your powers could be of great use to us. You also should meet our sponsor. Mr. Kord has a special interest in the Blue Beetle.”
“I’d love to!” said Zoe. “I came here because I thought I could impress you and join up. I made a costume that mimics the old look of the Blue Beetle but has its own sexy appeal. I design clothes as a hobby. I had no idea a creep would give me such a great chance to show off my powers.”
Silver Lass sniffed dismissively and thought, Her powers? She practically admits to stealing that scarab. Still, her mind is an open book. She does want to be a heroine, if only to get attention.
Before Drake or Rokky could say anything else, and before the bubbly Zoe could resume chattering, Arda interrupted, “I know who hired the killers back at the shuttle and who paid Ennis Jockson to attack us. We have to alert Mr. Kord immediately!”
“Hold it, Arda,” said Rokky. “I thought you failed when you tried to scan Jockson’s mind. I mean, you picked up his surface thoughts like his name and his animosity for us, but nothing more. You said the earlier hitmen had some psi-screens that cloaked the name of their employer from detection.”
“All that’s true,” said Silver Lass. “I couldn’t read Jockson’s mind — but I made contact with the minds of the zoo animals he was controlling, and through that link he shared with them, I picked up an image of his mystery boss.”
Drake whistled softly. “You’re incredible! Nobody would have thought of that. I mean, nobody!”
Arda smiled and said, “Mr. Kord’s partner, Roderick Doyle, is behind it all! He doesn’t want Kord to channel any more money into charitable enterprises. Doyle wants all money to go to their company, so he can continue to siphon off more than his fair share.”
“Sounds like Cuspin,” said Rokky. “Are all businessmen crooks?”
Drake smiled and said, “Nope, just the rich ones. Uh, except for Mr. Kord, of course.”
“We’d better get to his office fast,” said Rokky. “Who knows what else Doyle might try.”
“Sure, but I’m going to call Luna first,” said Arda. “Why waste any time at all? We can alert her by com-link before reaching the place.” She acted swiftly and informed J.J. Kord and his adopted daughter Luna of the truth. Then the four youths hurried toward the Kord Corporation building.
Meanwhile, as an angry J.J. Kord confronted Roderick Doyle, the oily crooked businessman stepped backward and then pulled out a small device. Kord gasped as a stasis field left him immobile.
Doyle laughed and said, “That will hold you, you old goat! I was your aide when we built this company together, and I couldn’t let you waste precious funds on a childish dream of universal peace. I had to kill you before your silly fantasy could rob me of profits.”
“You always were a selfish and petty creep,” said Luna Kord as she stepped into the room.
Doyle aimed his stasis projector at the lively girl, but before he could fire it, the weapon was kicked out of his grasp by a second Luna, who had entered from the rear. The third Luna raced in and slugged him with a punch that knocked him cold. She rubbed her hand and grinned at her other selves. “That felt waaay too good,” she said.
“I think you were a little rough,” said the second Luna.
“Sissy!” replied the third Luna.
The first Luna calmly switched off the stasis ray and said, “Are you hurt, J.J.?”
Kord cleared his throat and said, “Just my pride. To think Doyle was robbing me blind. The idiot! I would have given him a raise had he asked for it. Senseless.”
At that moment, Rokky Jones, Drake Gordon, Arda Starr, and Zoe Saugin entered, and a breathless Zoe squealed excitedly. “J.J. Kord! This is totally nebulae!” she cried.
Kord stared at the sprightly redhead and then said, “Thank you! I recognize that scarab, young lady. You and I have much to talk about.”
“Zoe is called Scarab,” explained Rokky. “She helped us bring down a thug named Ennis Jockson. He worked for Doyle as well, I’m afraid.”
“Well, you’ve managed to recruit two new Legionnaires,” said Kord. “This is an impressive start.”
“Two?” asked Drake, confused. “I hadn’t really mentioned it yet, but I was hoping we could recruit the boy who helped me back at Zoltar’s place — Ezekiel Adam.”
“Sure, but I think Mr. Kord means he’s just lost an executive assistant,” said Arda.
The three Lunas smiled and spoke in unison. “Us?” they said. “We hoped we could join up. Triad would be our code name!”
J.J. Kord nodded and said, “Yes, I meant you, Luna. You showed just how skillful you can be. Just promise me that you’ll be careful. I don’t want to lose you… any of you.”
He glanced around the room and smiled as he saw the eager young people and through them envisioned the start of a true Commonwealth of Federated Planets. Old man, you done good, he thought.