by Dan Swanson
Sunbeam and Atomic Rocket
Carol (Sunbeam) Clews looked around her in awe. “Carol Clews, what the heck are you doing here?” she silently asked herself. “How could this group ever need my help? These are the most powerful heroes in the world, and they’re right out of my league! What do I know about fighting super villains? What if they need me and I fail?”
Carol had only gained her powers a little over a year ago. Fighting a planet-sized space battleship somewhere near the orbit of Mars was so far outside of her experience that she was almost unable to comprehend the idea! Certainly, the pre-Sunbeam Carol Clews wouldn’t have been of much help.
The world had changed while Carol and her boss, Dan Dare, had been suspended in an extended slumber on the small island of Maloana in the South Pacific, victims of a ‘helpful’ magical spell gone wrong.
Dan was a renowned Private Investigator, and Carol was his assistant, and she had helped him on many cases, but back in the 40s and 50s, the ‘feminine’ thing to do was scream and faint, get captured and get rescued. And Carol had been used to that role. But it just wasn’t popular any more — now days, a woman could be strong and confident and independent, and admired for it! Carol was taking tentative steps to re-invent herself as one of these strong confident women of the future, but even with super powers, she sometimes fell back into the old familiar damsel in distress role.
Carol’s self-confidence was failing her! She needed to be alone to sort things out. Most of the heroes were gathered near the area where the gyrosub had landed. The Rock of Eternity ‘island’ wasn’t big enough to get lost on, but if she went way off in that direction, she could almost hide behind that outcropping of rock. She wandered that way, slipping unheeded through the crowd of heroes, all of whom seemed to know each other, and none of whom seemed to be feeling the kind of worries she was struggling with.
Tomas Thomson (Atomic Rocket) had become bored with the Bolts and the Bullets comparing their lives’ stories. Earlier he’d thought he’d seen somebody he recognized, so he wandered off in search of the good-looking blond in yellow. She was wearing a domino mask so he couldn’t be absolutely certain, but she looked very familiar. He found her sitting by herself by herself at a small table. Both the table and the chair seemed to be made out of solid yellow light. He wasn’t surprised she was by herself — her body language screamed ‘Leave me alone!’ But when he saw her up closely, he was sure he knew her.
“Excuse me, Miss Clews? My name is Tomas Thomson, and we met back in 1953 at a convention for private detectives in Chicago…”
Without even looking at him, she answered in a monotone. Her tone matched her body language — this was one unhappy lady! “Oh, great, that’s all I need! One of you hot shot heroes reminding me just exactly how old I am!” Tomas deliberately stepped into her line of sight and she did a double-take. “What kind of line are you giving me? You can’t be more than 25 — you weren’t even born in 1953! If this is supposed to be a come-on, forget it!”
Tomas was a little taken aback. “I’m quite a bit older than I look. And you look pretty good yourself, given a pre-World War II birthday! In fact, you yourself don’t look a day over 25. Anyway, I’m a partner in the DMT Investigation Agency in Chicago. Dan Dare was one of my heroes.”
Now it was Carol’s turn to be startled. This guy knew a lot more about her than she did about him. And he seemed to be a nice guy. She concentrated, and another chair appeared. “OK, Mr. Investigator, have a seat. I’d offer you a drink, but my powers don’t exactly extend to creating something ‘real’. Besides, if we’re about to fly off into space and meet our dooms fighting the Deathstar, and we can’t even use the Force, we probably all should be depressingly sober!”
Tomas had only recently been able to leave his wheelchair after 18 years, and he felt too grand to let Carol depress him. He decided to be blunt. “You don’t have to be here, you know. Captain Marvel only wanted volunteers. Why don’t you go home now — you can feel sorry for yourself there just as easily as here, and you’ll be a lot safer! And, the rest of us won’t have to worry about protecting you.”
“Why, how DARE you…” she began, but he cut her off.
“6 billion people might need someone to feel sorry for them in a couple of days, if we fail. How dare YOU feel sorry for yourself? You’re absolutely, stunningly beautiful, you have super powers, and you have a chance to save the world. How many of those six billion wouldn’t change places with you in a heartbeat?”
Carol felt her anger cool. Didn’t this guy’s words fit in exactly with her earlier thoughts? If she really wanted to be a super heroine, and change herself so she might feel comfortable in the company of these heroes, she couldn’t just sit around feeling sorry for herself.
Still, nobody talked to her like that and got away with it! She shortened the legs on his chair by a couple of inches, just enough to startle him but not enough to hurt him. And it worked!
“Hey!” Tomas yelled when his chair seemed to disappear from under him. But Carol hadn’t counted on his enhanced reflexes. He tripped the hover mode in his costume almost before he started falling and remained sitting on air. He was about to be extremely angry — the ‘pulling the chair away just as he sat down’ trick had crippled many people in the past and Tomas, more than most people, knew just what that could mean. But Carol was laughing and pointing at the slightly shorter chair, and his anger passed, and he laughed too.
They talked for a while, and then Tomas saw a group of heroes gathering outside the gyrosub. “Hey, I’d really like to see what’s inside that thing! I’m a tinkerer and inventor myself! Want to come along?” He stood and offered his arm.
Carol was actually starting to relax. Maybe she would be able to fit in here after all. She stood and took the proffered arm. “Sure! I promise nobody but you will know I’m bored to tears!”
Friends of Pinky (FOP)
Carol took inventory of the group currently clustered outside the Phoenix. Spy Smasher, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky — not the originals, but brand new heroes using the costumes and motifs of their predecessors. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana Jr. — who had ever thought he’d be able to walk around free with this many heroes around? Atomic Rocket, back after a forced hiatus of 18 years — and Sunbeam herself, a rookie heroine who wasn’t sure she belonged. Every one of them with good reason to be nervous — but she thought, if the others were nervous, she sure couldn’t see it! How did they stay so cool? (She didn’t know it, but they were as nervous as she was — and a few of them were a little in awe of her cool demeanor!)
Spy Smasher introduced himself and then gave a brief description of the original gyrosub — its capabilities and history. “Have any of you ever heard of someone named Robur? Most people think he’s a fictional character from some Jules Verne novels, but in fact he was real. He built some incredible flying machines, as early as the mid-1880s! He never shared his secrets with anyone, and after he died, it seemed that all his amazing inventions would be lost forever.”
“In fact, he maintained a secret base he called the Great Eyrie somewhere in the Piedmont region, but no one knew exactly how to find it. Shortly before my grandfather died, he bought some land in the mountains, and the Great Eyrie was located on his new property. He was planning to get rich by exploiting the plans, diagrams, notebooks and inventions he found in the Great Eyrie, but he died before he could cash in.”
“After his death, my father and uncle explored the new property and they also stumbled on the Eyrie. Working from Robur’s plans, they began a long process of constructing two gyrosubs. But both my dad and uncle were aeronautical geniuses in their own right, and over the years they were able to make significant improvements over Robur’s models. One result was the famous Gyrosub, a vessel so advanced that Spy Smasher was able to use it to repeatedly confound even Captain Marvel!”
“Nobody knows where Robur got such incredibly advanced technology — so advanced that some of it hasn’t yet been duplicated by modern science! Robur was undoubtedly a genius, but how did he invent stuff that was more than 100 years ahead of its time? Nobody is that smart!”
Sivana spoke up proudly, and there was also anger in his tone. “My Pop is that smart — in fact, even smarter! I’m surprised your dad never figured it out — but Robur stole all his technology and inventions from my Pop.” Sivana Jr. made the natural but mistaken assumption that this Spy Smasher was the son of the original. “Back when Pop was young and first trying to gain recognition from the established scientific community, Robur lead the ‘orthodox’ movement that ridiculed every theory, idea and discovery Pop ever made. Then, once Pop’s aeronautical work had been discredited, forcing Pop to move on to other areas of science, Robur stole Pop’s plans and ideas and pretended they were his own.”
Mr. Scarlet looked startled, then thoughtful. He did some quick calculations in his head, and they didn’t seem to add up. “Just when was your father born, anyway? If Robur was building aircraft from Sivana’s plans in the mid-1880s, then your father must have been born no later than about 1860. He would have to have been around 80 when he first clashed with Captain Marvel. And well over 100 now. He sure doesn’t look that old.”
“Heh heh heh! You’re asking about family secrets that I can’t reveal, but…” Thad chuckled “… as you can see, there’s a lot about my Pop that you don’t know!” There was quite a lot about his father that even Thad didn’t know, but he did know the story about Robur.
“Well, this craft is not the original gyrosub — I built it while under the mental control of one of the first Spy Smasher’s greatest foes — the Mask! When the Mask destroyed the original, it seemed like a fair trade to replace it with this vessel.” Thad had to admit (privately, of course) that he was impressed with the level of technology incorporated into this vessel. It was definitely more advanced that anything anyone but a Sivana could have produced!
Sandy joined them when the tour was completed, and the seven of them sat in the shade of the two vessels and talked. Pinky eagerly pointed out that these seven were uniquely related to each other — in their own ways, each of them was in fact sort of an avatar of the legendary Phoenix, the bird that was born anew from the ashes of its death.
Atomic Rocket was the most obvious — a once mighty hero resurrecting his career after years confined to his wheelchair. Thad, beginning a new life, bursting forth from the shards of his old life. She, Mr. Scarlet and Spy Smasher were all renewing heroic identities which they had adopted from earlier, now retired heroes. Sunbeam was also beginning a new life, adapting to the future. Even Sandy was emerging from a checkered background as the daughter of a super-villain into a new life as a sorceress.
With the enthusiasm of a teenager, Pinky made the suggestion (which to her was obvious) that they ought to team up. “I think we all ought to work together in this battle! We could call ourselves… Team Phoenix! And if we keep being a team after we win, we could have meetings and a secret headquarters and passwords and secret handshakes!”
Sunbeam laughed; the idea of joining with these others who were all, like her, just finding themselves, really intrigued her. “I like it! What do you guys say?”
Mr. Scarlet joined in. “Umm — I don’t know who is going to be in charge of this Squadron of Heroes task force, but it doesn’t seem to me that having all of our inexperience working closely together in the upcoming battle would be the wisest strategy. But I do like the idea of forming our own team afterwards!”
Spy Smasher sounded thoughtful. “I grew up on a small island, and I’m really new to this super hero stuff, and also to crowds and teams and like that. But I think it’s a great idea. Tell you what, we could use the Great Eyrie as our headquarters!”
Sandy was intrigued. “I grew up without a father, which made me an outcast. I’ve never even been asked to be part of a team before — except the team up with my intended, here,” she pointed at Thad, who smiled. “If you want me, I’m in!”
“Well, where she goes, I go!” Thad said cheerfully. “Umm, if I get my pardon… and, assuming we live. Both big assumptions!” he added glumly. It was disheartening to see him change moods so quickly.
Everyone looked at Atomic Rocket, who had yet to say anything. “I think we ought to get special insignia for our costumes, and we need wrist TVs and decoder rings!” he joked. “And a butler!”
Thad didn’t know if they were kidding or not about the secret handshakes and the decoder rings. But he wanted to be part of the group! “I can get started on the decoder rings right away!” he spoke with enthusiasm. He was already lost in deep thought, and didn’t notice the others smiling at him. “Do we really need wrist TVs? I can build communicators into little insignia that we can pin onto our uniforms like the ones they use in ‘Star Train: The New Guys’…” a wildly popular TV show.
“You watch that show!?” Sandy looked at him incredulously. “The science is idiotic!”
“Yeah, but that chick that plays the half-dressed holographic demi-cyborg science officer is…” he was really enthusiastic, until he saw the look on Sandy’s face, and without even an instant’s pause, he completed his sentence. “almost as hot as you!”
“Aww, Thaddy, you say the sweetest things!”
Sunbeam was watching the rest of the crowd, and she was the first to notice that Americon was moving to a position where he could be seen by all.
“Ladies and Gentlemen… I’m glad to have met you all, and I think it would be great if we had more time to continue getting to know each other, but there’s a potential threat headed towards Earth. Captain Marvel Jr. had sort of half kiddingly referred to this menace as ‘BattleWorld — I see no reason not to continue using that name. But just in case you haven’t got all the details yet, I’ll use a movie reference you are all probably familiar with: think ‘Deathstar’. It’s time to start planning for war!”
He had never raised his voice, but somehow he projected, and his words cut through the idle chatter. Such was his own aura of charisma, and his physical presence so powerful, that everyone shortly stopped talking to listen avidly to what he had to say!