Shazam’s Squadron of Justice: 2020: The Great Airship Piracy

Shazam's Squadron of Justice: The Five Earths Project

Shazam’s Squadron of Justice

Future Tales, 2020

The Great Airship Piracy

by Dan Swanson

Chapter 1: Sky Vegas

July 4, 2020

The floating city resort of Sky Vegas(tm), somewhere over the South Pacific

The World’s Richest Man sprawled on his ultra soft yet firmly supportive Cloud Nine(tm) mattress and reviewed the status of his own personal universe. Life was grand — he should have gone straight seventy years ago, and saved himself endless frustration! In the last ten years, since he had turned his unbelievable genius to making money rather than battling with that Big Red Cheese all the time, his every whim had been made reality, his every desire had been fulfilled, his every wish had been granted! Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, World’s Smartest and Richest Man!

So what if the world still thought of Captain Marvel as a hero — he had gotten over his hatred of that horrid Marvel Family long ago. No, he was no longer even the least bit jealous when the Big Red Cheese won Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, five times running, even though during those years Sivana, Inc. was the largest philanthropic donor in history and he, TB Sivana, had personally developed and released a free, 100% effective cure for cancer. What did it matter that there was a Captain Marvel Day but no Sivana Day in Ruttville, New Hampshire, even though Marvel had never even visited the town but the non-profit group Sivanalliance for Terra had cleaned up the radiation spill when the nearby reactor had leaked. The world was a big enough place for both of them, after all…

He was headed for lunch in one of the five star restaurants aboard his most successful business, which was also his home: Sky Vegas, Paradise in the Sky(r). The largest airship in history, home to the most luxurious resort in history. A resort where you could find anything you wanted… as long as you were prepared to pay. Think of a resort that combined Club Med, Las Vegas, Disney World, Plato’s, an expensive cruise ship, virtual reality parlors, and every service and luxury known to man, and you had half of Sky Vegas.

The other half consisted of entertainment that was illegal elsewhere. But there were few laws in Sky Vegas, just those needed to protect the patrons. By staying in international airspace, it avoided all of the parochial laws of the various petty and unimportant Earth-bound nations. The policy of routinely giving deep discounts and incredible pampering to every top government official from every country was just further insurance against interference from any of these officials.

Since it had been launched six years ago, the enormous airship never again landed, and in fact, it couldn’t and never would. Much of the gigantic craft was given over to ‘lift chambers’, and every ceiling, floor and wall in Sky Vegas had been built to be hollow. Once construction was finished, a frothy semi-rigid substance called Sivanogen(r), which was lighter than air, provided more lift than hydrogen, and was of course, totally inflammable, had been pumped into the lift chambers and in all the hollow spaces.

This Sivanogen ‘filling’ provided Sky Vegas with such great lift that even fully-loaded, it could never descend lower than about a mile above sea level. Even if the gigantic vessel were to break up, the Sivanogen built into the various pieces should keep most of them from crashing to Earth. The process of creating Sivanogen was one of the most closely-held industrial secrets in the world,

Sky Vegas now flew leisurely clockwise circuits of the Pacific Rim, from Artic Circle to Antarctic circle, south along the Western Coast of the Americas and north along the eastern coast of Asia, with copious stops in-between. It usually took about four months to complete one such circuit, but the scheduling was very loose — and always open to ‘adjustment’ for a fee. In periods of economic downturn, many of the governments of countries near the flight path of Sky Vegas might pay the Sky Vegas corporation to spend a few extra days near their airspace, hoping that the many rich passengers might spend money in their countries during the layovers.

Passengers, crew, supplies and equipment were ferried up by specially designed shuttles, which landed on a runway on the top of the airship. With accommodations ranging from quite inexpensive to impossibly expensive, and entertainment ranging from free to as much as a customer was willing to pay, Sky Vegas was the single most popular tourist destination in the world. And it was all a product of Sivana’s genius.

And it was making him wealthy beyond imagining, and with that wealth came power. Sivana didn’t rule the world — he no longer wanted to. But ruling Sky Vegas gave him power equivalent to the most powerful heads of state in the world, and for the moment, he was satisfied.

With the incredibly wealth that many patrons brought on board with them, Sky Vegas was also the single biggest target for criminals in the world. And, of course, filled with the rich and powerful, usually including world leaders, it was also the single biggest target for terrorists. The single biggest department in the Sky Vegas company was ‘Ship’s Security’, which worked night and day to keep Sky Vegas safe from any and all threats.

In fact, the only real work Sivana did these days was every six months or so, he totally overhauled the security systems, top to bottom, putting in place ever more complex, ever more powerful protections against all conceivable threats, from full scale invasion to insidious computer virus attack. Sky Vegas was armed and armored, and safer than just about anyplace else on Earth. And probably off Earth as well!

Sivana didn’t notice, but he wasn’t taking the shortest route to the restaurant he had selected. The crew in the main control room was surprised when Sivana and his entourage passed through, but he was the boss. He gave no explanation, and they didn’t stay long, just zipped in one door and out the other. The crew was momentarily distracted — Sivana’s entourage included some of the most attractive young people on Earth, of several different genders, chosen specifically, in fact, to be distracting. Nobody noticed the boss press a button on a rarely-used control panel, and even he didn’t realize what he had done. The consequences of this furtive action wouldn’t become obvious for several hours.

Meanwhile Sivana and his entourage enjoyed lunch in one of the best restaurants on Earth S (well, not exactly ON Earth-S, but not far way!).

Chapter 2: 100th Birthday

July 4, 2020

The Squadron of Justice mountain retreat, somewhere in the Rockies

“You don’t turn one-hundred every day” Jack Weston thought to himself. Although he wasn’t exactly a ‘normal’ 100. He had spent twenty years in suspended animation, during which he had not seemed to age at all. And since then, something had been keeping him young, so he still looked in his early 20s. And of course, over the years he had traveled in time several times. So keeping track of his ‘real’ age was just about impossible. one-hundred years ago today, he had been born, and that was close enough for him.

Jack had not been the first member of the Squadron of Justice to turn 100. Jim and Susan Barr had both been born a few years before he had, although it was not wise to remind Sue of that! Jim’s 100th birthday party had been a disaster, as the older folks had sat around and reminisced, which made them nostalgic and a little sad, and bored the youngsters to tears. So for Sue’s party, and now for his, they had adopted a different format. Instead of a formal party, Jack and his best friends were having a picnic at the secret Squadron of Justice retreat.

The retreat was somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, a beautiful valley that could only be reached easily by flying. When they had first set it up, Ibis had hidden it under an illusion spell, and no one but members of the Squadron of Justice and their immediate families knew the location. And only a very few other people outside of the SoJ were even aware of its existence. The Squadron of Justice maintained a public headquarters, the Hall of Justice, but this retreat was a place SoJ members and their families could escape to for vacations, holidays, picnics, and just to get away.

Most of the supporting facilities of the retreat were buried inside the surrounding mountains. Parts of the grounds were meticulously maintained by robotic groundskeepers, and there were picnic tables, gazebos, and some comfortable cottages, as well as a large pool for swimming that was kept warm even in the winter by some hot springs. Even with super powers it had taken the heroes quite a while to duplicate that particular miracle of nature! Much of the rest of the land under the illusory shield was ‘tended’ — the grounds keeping robots removed dead trees and bushes but otherwise left it alone, and there were hiking paths that lead out of the valley into real Rocky Mountain wilderness.

Even though he had promised himself not to think about the past today, Jack found his mind wandering back to his many friends who were unable to attend this picnic. His ex-girlfriend Sandy Dee, who was now about 60, and who hadn’t been able to remain with a man who never aged. Cissy Batson, who had died of complications following the birth of her child, also named Cissy. Mr. Scarlet, a contemporary who had long since died of old age.

Rex Tyler (the original Sandman), Ibis the Invincible and his wife Taia, all of whom were currently in magical stasis, waiting for medical science to advance enough to cure them.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who selected him to be Minute Man, and President Harry Truman, who had asked him to fight in Korea. Many soldiers from the several wars he had fought in. His parents, who had died during the time he was caught in Sivana’s Suspendium trap. Hundreds of friends and thousands of acquaintances, and yet, the members of the Squadron of Justice who had joined him for this picnic were his best friends of all.

He looked around and was amused to see that while most of his friends were currently in their civilian alter-egos, Fred and Mary Freeman were cavorting as Captain Lightning and Mary Marvel. Those two were seriously semi-retired and rarely changed to their Marvel forms these days, and they were enjoying their powers. Bill Batson, Jim and Sue Barr and one of their adopted sons Al, Jamila (Jami) Amentemp, daughter to Ibis and Taia, and Tomas Thomson were all involved in a spirited game of croquet. Al was winning handily, but Jack was pretty sure Sue was about to make her move, and the way the balls were scattered across the pitch, he wouldn’t bet against her right now.

The Barr’s other adopted son, Jim Jr., was helping Cissy Batson, Bill’s daughter, and Wendi Freeman, daughter of Fred and Mary, set up a volleyball net. Wendi and Cissy had wanted to play some doubles, and because they weren’t involved in the croquet game, by default, Jack and Jim Jr. had been elected to be their opponents. Not that Jim Jr. minded — Jack had noticed that the gentle giant spent as much time as he could with the two girls. And Jack himself rarely turned down an opportunity for some athletic fun.

Wendi and Cissy were a good team, and, Jack had to admit, very distracting in their bikinis. They played as if each knew what the other was thinking. Jim Jr. was not a great athlete, but he was 6’11” and very smart. And Jack, of course, was one of the greatest athletes in the world, so it worked out pretty well. They had split a half dozen games, and were playing one more for the Grand Championship of the day, when the Trouble Alarm sounded. Jami was nominally on monitor duty, but of course, they all headed for the monitor room.

The news was stunning. Sky Vegas had been hijacked! Chapter 3: Meet the Youngsters

The eleven friends he had invited to celebrate his birthday weren’t the total roster of the Squadron of Justice. In fact, there wasn’t really a formal roster. There were four core members — Bulletman and Bulletwoman, Sandman (Jack’s current heroic identity), and Atomic Rocket. Some of the younger heroes, including all of those here today, were frequent associates, while Captain Marvel, Captain Lightning and Mary Marvel were reserve members. Most of the heroes in the world had collaborated with the Squadron of Justice at least once.

Today’s younger guests were all the children of his closest friends. He thought that it must be difficult to watch your children battle super villains, but each younger hero had proved his or her heroism many times over. Still, the youngsters labored in the shadows of their legendary parents.

Wendi Freeman was a short girl with a well-developed figure. Dark, sassy and flirty, she made her living as a folk singer. She had inherited something of the Power of Shazam from her parents. When she spoke the magic word, a magic lightning bolt gave her several of the ‘traditional’ Marvel Family powers: flight, invulnerability and great stamina. In her Marvel form, she used the heroic name of Pixie.

In many ways, Cissy Batson was Wendi’s opposite. She was a tall slender blond, quiet and reserved, and one of the most sought-after models of the day. She had also inherited a portion of the Power of Shazam from her father, but in her it manifested itself differently. Rather than any of the “traditional” Shazam powers, she received the power to generate lighting, turn invisible, and her agility was incredible — perhaps even greater than his own, Jack thought. She used the code name ‘Zap’.

Cissy and Wendi were born on the same day at the same time, and, though very different, were best friends. Though Jack didn’t know it, they had recently made an amazing discovery. Jim Barr Jr. knew their secret as well, but he was sworn to secrecy.

A side effect of the ‘anti-crime drug’ that had given Jim and Sue Barr their super powers was that they could never have children. So they had adopted two sons.

Jim Barr, Jr. had never actually shown any interest in becoming a super-hero. Tall, shy and a little awkward, but incredibly smart, he contented himself with building weapons, gadgets and stuff for his younger brother, Al. When Jim Jr. was in the company of his heroic friends, he always found some way to hang out around Cissy and Wendi.

Al Barr, on the other hand, was the costumed hero known as The Golden Bullet, with powers similar to those of his parents, considerably enhanced by Jim Jr.’s inventions. He knew about the side effects of the anti-crime drug, but he had used it anyway. Al tended to live very much in the present, rarely worrying about tomorrow. Jamila (Jami) Amentep, the daughter of Ibis the Invincible and his wife Taia, was also known as Starflare. She had inherited considerable magical abilities from both parents. And recently, when Ibis had been forced to put himself and his beloved into magical sleep (again) she had inherited the Ibistick as well. Al spent a lot of time showing off for Jami, but she was very reserved and it was difficult to tell if his antics were having the desired effect or not.

They ranged in age from Jim Jr. who was 27, through Cissy and Wendi who were 24, Jami, 21 to Al, the youngest at 19. A very good group of ‘youngsters’, Jack thought. Chapter four — The Unfriendly Sky

Jami was on monitor duty, but everyone wanted to know what the emergency was, so she forwarded the visual to the big view screen in the main meeting room. The retreat wasn’t used for Squadron of Justice business as often as the Hall of Justice, but it had all the same facilities and equipment. A frantic vidcaster was reporting live from Sky Vegas.

“Sky Vegas has been invaded, and Sivana Network News has the exclusive video! The invaders arrived an hour ago in what appeared to be a standard Sky Vegas Corporation supply shuttle. They had the correct security codes, and the landing and transfer to the shuttle hanger were routine. Since then, though, nothing has been routine. five super powered criminals exited the vehicle and entered Sky Vegas, and the internal security system failed to stop them — in fact, it entirely failed to operate.”

The screen showed a shuttle with a Sky Vegas corporate emblem on the tail setting down to land. Several cutaway shots established that the shuttle had responded correctly to all security challenges, both those made by flight controllers and those generated by computers. A cockpit camera showed the expected flight crew, and they exchanged greetings with the flight controllers. Then the shuttle landed, taxied to an elevator, and was lowered into the hanger. The view shifted to another camera, which showed the five hijackers emerging from the shuttle.

They didn’t seem to be worried about the security cameras, and they weren’t worried about the security systems much, either. Other security cameras showed guards activating the restraint system and when nothing happened, trying to activate the more deadly intruder destruction systems, which also didn’t work. A squadron of guards with weapons attacked the villains, and it was clear that the hijackers had super powers. Even in powered combat armor, the guards were easily overwhelmed.

The five person hijack team was composed of one man and four women. The women looked enough alike that they were probably clones, though each had different powers. None of the heroes recognized any of the villains. The action was so fast, it was difficult to determine just what super-powers these villains might have. Atomic Rocket, the team’s specialist on super-powers, was already doing slow motion computer-enhanced analysis of the videos.

The announcer was continuing “Within minutes, three of the invaders had won through to the main security office, where they activated the emergency lock down routines. All the bulkhead doors have been sealed and armor plating has slid into position covering all of the windows, after which anti-intruder knockout gas was released throughout the length and breadth of this mighty vessel. For unknown reasons, the SNN office has not been gassed and we will continue to provide updates as the situation develops.”

The scene switched again, this time to the on-board SNN news stage, as the announcer continued talking. “At this time, we have only speculation about the goals of these invaders. Of more concern is how they were able to obtain the correct shuttle security codes and why all internal security systems failed. A team of security guards and engineers who managed to reach an armory are now headed for the engineering section to try to restore operation of the key systems.”

The scene switched again, and it showed a team of seven men and women, with gas masks and carrying weapons and tools, cautiously making their way through cramped tunnels. “Unfortunately, all of the security cameras on board seem to be active, which is how we can bring you these shots. But that means that the invaders can also see the same thing, which makes this brave, lonely heroic team’s mission ever more difficult.”

There was a green blur to the picture, and suddenly the gas masks and weapons vanished. No visible harm was done to the security team, but they quickly passed out from the knockout gas in the atmosphere.

The scene switched again to one of the casinos. Maintenance robots were gathering the unconscious patrons and carrying them out of the casino. Someone was able to use a series of cameras to track the course of a single maintenance robot, which carried several different patrons to their cabins, deposited them gently on their beds, and then closed and locked the cabin doors, welding them shut.

“Our experts estimate that all guests will be sealed in their rooms within two hours. We have still not heard a word from any of the hijackers about who they are or what they want. Hold on! We’ve been made aware of a live video broadcast from the main control room of Sky Vegas!” The scene switched again, to a giant control room.

Sitting in a large chair in the center of the room was Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana. “People of Earth — I now hold hostage many of the richest men and women on the planet, and many heads of state as well. If you fail to obey me, I will execute my hostages, one at a time, once an hour, until I get what I want.”

“I have waited long enough, schemed in secret, moved forward in public, and the time has come. The time to assume my rightful title of Sivana the First, Emperor of Earth!” Chapter five — A Mysterious Linkage

Jami had a lot of options at this point. Most of the Squadron of Justice associate heroes had added an SoJ ensign to their costumes, and these ensigns had limited communication ability. Associate members could use their ensigns to signal their current availability, either ‘on-call’ or ‘off duty’. In turn, those heroes who were on call could be signaled via their ensigns when their services were required. In an emergency, it was possible to override the off duty status and send a ‘come running’ signal to every ensign.

The ensigns could have included much more extensive communications capabilities, including full two way communication, global position tracking and telemetry of the members’ vital signs, but they were deliberately limited due to privacy concerns.

One of the displays in the monitor room was already showing the heroes who were currently ‘on-call’. Another was displaying the recommended response team, based on hero availability and computer analysis of the villains and their powers. This list was constantly being updated with the results of Atomic Rocket’s own analysis. Yet another screen was displaying the results of the SoJ computer’s attempts to identify the villains, based on their appearances, their MOs, and the powers they had so far displayed. None of them were listed in any of the super-villain databases the SoJ had access to, although the computer had somehow made some obscure links between the male villain and both Sivana, back when he was still an outlaw, and a long-dead wizard named Wizzo.

This bizarre linkage immediately caught the attention of the older heroes. Each of them had battled against Sivana Sr. at some time in the past, and some of them had also battled Wizzo. But strangest of all was that they had all been teammates of Sivana Jr. and Wizzo’s daughter Sandy Wizzonlinsk when they had battled and defeated the alien super dreadnought of space, BattleWorld, back in the late 80s. Sandy and Thad Sivana had married, and about five years later had disappeared.

Initially, there had been nothing suspicious about their disappearance. In fact, disappearing was a way of life for the two of them. Shortly after they had wed, they had gone on a quest to find the legendary Starblade, an ancient mystical dagger that was supposed to be able to rid Wizzo of the malevolent spirit of Volthoom, which had haunted him for years and driven him insane.

Their search had been long and perilous, but ultimately rewarding. Though they had undergone danger and hardship, the two realized that they had found their purpose in life. They invented the profession of Quixoticist, and spent their lives solving ancient and modern mysteries, finding long-lost treasures and missing people, completing legendary quests, and doing good things because it was the right thing to do. They had set up a successful non-profit organization that kept track of the relevant legal details, insured that their discoveries were used legally and wisely, and handled the huge cash flow that their adventures generated, not just by their discoveries but also through an incredible stream of rewards and contributions from those they had helped.

When they had not been heard from for six months, the members of their organization had started to worry, and shortly afterward, there had been a massive search for the two world-famous adventurers, but they had never been found. Their records showed that they had been investigating a megalith, similar to Stonehenge in size and style, which was built of shaped coral on a tiny island in the South Pacific. They had reached the island, and vanished.

They had landed their exploration craft — a small vessel descended from Spy Smasher’s gyrosub (which was itself descended from a design that had been created by Sivana Sr.) and spent several days investigating, before they vanished. There were no signs of struggles, and their notes showed nothing to indicate that they had been aware of any danger. There were traces of magic on the atoll, but there are always traces of magic near ancient megalithic structures, and it was difficult to determine just how relevant those traces were. After months of searching, they had at last been declared officially missing, and they had never been found.

And now, someone who the SoJ computer mysteriously linked to both Wizzo and Sivana had hijacked Sky Vegas, which spent a good portion of every circuit floating across the South Pacific… Could be coincidence, but the heroes were suspicious of coincidence — especially when there was a possible link to magic!

Jami could have contacted a few of the on-call members who weren’t at the retreat and she and the other picnickers could have just ignored this emergency and finished their party. Although she was certain what their response would be, she presented this alternative to the other party guests.

Jack spoke for them all. “What are we waiting for?” Chapter 6: A Wild Ride!

Jami slapped a bunch of switches in preparation. Monitor duty status was automatically switched back to computer monitoring. An SoJ armored hypersonic transport flier began its automated power up and self-monitoring procedures, even as a giant doorway, concealed in the mountainside, slid open to reveal a hanger and several ultra-advanced flying machines. A wave of robots momentarily swarmed over and through the flier, making sure it was in tip-top condition and fully supplied. By the time the heroes reached the hanger, the vessel was ready to launch.

Those who could change instantly into their heroic identities did so, as Billy Batson, Sissy Batson and Wendi Freeman said their magic words together. “Shazam!”

KKKKRRRRAAAACCCCKKKKAAAADDDDOOOOOOOOMMMM!

With an incredibly intense flash of light, that should have momentarily blinded the other heroes, but didn’t, and an immense thunderous roar that should have momentarily deafened them, but didn’t, these three were replaced by Captain Marvel, Zap and Pixie. Jami removed the Ibistick from the magical sheath she kept it in, and her tank top and shorts were instantly mystically transformed into her action outfit.

The others would change onboard.

As the heroes piled into the transport, they were surprised when they were joined by Jim Barr Jr, who was carrying a large travel bag. Jim had never before shown any interest joining them on their adventures, normally preferring to remain behind and coordinate the various missions.

Jack was the senior pilot on board, so he took the command seat, with Sue as the co-pilot. When he verified that everyone was safely strapped into a seat, he pushed the launch button. Much like a launch from an aircraft carrier, the flier leaped forward with a JATO-assisted acceleration of over three Gs. Within five seconds, they were doing 300 miles an hour and were almost a quarter mile away from the hanger. Behind them, the door quietly slid back into place.

Jack aimed the ship at the sky and hit the booster switch, and this time, more than seven Gs slammed them back in their seats. Just over thirty seconds later they were in orbit and moving at about 4,500 miles an hour. They accelerated at one G for another few minutes while the various heroes changed into their costumes.

Not long ago, in fact right after he, Cissy and Wendi had discovered their new secret, Jim Barr Jr. had developed an interest in women, and he had gone to his younger brother, a renowned Don Juan, for advice. Al had suggested that he adopt a heroic identity — after all, it worked for Al! Without revealing Jim’s motivation, they had approached their parents for help, and Jim Jr. had been training in secret for some time. Since Cissy and Wendi were both part of this expedition, it seemed a perfect time to introduce Jim’s heroic identity to his peers and the world.

In the ‘refreshing room’, Jim Jr. donned a camouflage outfit and a vest. The shirt, pants and vest were covered with pockets and small pouches, most of which appeared full. There were various small instruments attached to his belt and vest, and larger equipment pouches strapped around his right thigh and attached to the tops of his boots.

He was wearing a backpack, and if you watched him closely, there was an occasional glimmering that showed that he was surrounded by an almost invisible field of some kind. He carried a very unusual hand weapon in his right hand, and what looked like a walking stick in the left.

He had topped it all off with a wide-brimmed ‘bush hat’ and a stylish pair of sun glasses. This outfit would never be able to conceal his civilian identity, but how many gawky 6’10” people were there in the world? Anyone who cared would have been able to figure out who he was anyway, sooner or later.

When he appeared in the cabin, Al was ready. “TA DA!” he said loudly, getting everyone’s attention. “I am pleased to present to you the latest addition to the assembled ranks of the Squadron of Justice, the astounding Gadgeteer!” His pride in his brother was apparent in his voice. They all ooh’d and ahh’d appropriately, including Cissy and Wendi, which boosted Jim Jr’s spirits considerably — even though he knew better, this was his first time in public and he felt like a walking junk pile!

30 minutes later they were about a third of the way around the world, and it was time for re-entry. Reentry was even more brutal than the launch had been, and several of the heroes were a little bit groggy when the Sandman pulled them out of their reentry dive only a couple of miles from the vast floating pleasure resort of Sky Vegas.

“Incoming fire, missiles and bullets!” Sandman warned the rest. “Fliers have fifteen seconds to evacuate before evasive maneuvers begin!” The heroes who could fly activated the ejection mechanisms built into their seats, and seconds later, they were launched out the bottom of the flier, leaving the cabin empty except for Sandman, Zap and the Gadgeteer. Sandman then activated the automatic defenses, and the remaining three heroes were battered again as the flier fired anti-missiles and did some evasive maneuvering. Then the flying heroes entered the battle, and the incoming fire was destroyed. While the flying heroes ran interference for him Sandman quickly set the filer down on the landing deck that covered a third of the upper hull of Sky Vegas.

The three heroes disembarked and were joined on the deck by their teammates. Although they had landed without clearance of any type, the automatic intruder defenses of Sky Vegas had not yet challenged them. Still, they moved cautiously toward the entrance facilities, spread out in battle formation and on a hair trigger against any possible hostile action.

The subtle and highly advanced warning gear in the battlesuits of Atomic Rocket and Golden Bullet, similar gear carried by the Gadgeteer, and the Ibistick and Starflare’s own well-honed mystical senses all failed to warn them that they were already under attack! Chapter 7: An Unholy Alliance!

The next stage of the attack was less subtle. The heroes were bathed in intense energy of all types — sound, heat, infrared, ultra-violet and visible light, radio waves, and bolts of electricity — for about a quarter second, and then the assault stopped as abruptly as it had begun. None of the heroes was injured by the short attack, but they were scattered and temporarily disoriented.

Captain Marvel had just been pummeled by a powerful figure, wearing a costume identical to his own, except that it was black where his was red. The ancient wizard had never told him about Black Adam, but the Cap had picked up his history from the villain’s incessant bragging. Meeting his evil counterpart shattered Cap’s belief that he himself was the most powerful being in the universe. This was going to be his toughest opponent yet!

Captain Marvel Jr. was just struggling to his feet, having been knocked down by Captain Nazi. “What an unholy pair, eh, Junior?” he asked ruefully No one had called Freddy ‘Junior’ for years, but he didn’t notice. And Cap didn’t notice that his ‘junior’ partner was now an adult.

“Well, Cap, I’ve been waiting for a chance at this guy. After all, I’ve never really been able to show him how much I appreciate the powers I got because of him — or pay him back for killing my grandfather and crippling Freddy!”

Cap was a little worried about the anger in Freddy’s voice, but the villains were attacking again. “Be careful, Jr! Don’t let your anger make you careless!” Freddy nodded, and then blasted toward his foe. Right now, Cap has his own problems to worry about, and Captain Marvel Jr. could take care of himself.

Since Black Adam had the same powers as he did, Cap was going to have to beat him by being smarter and tougher — constantly doing the unexpected to keep Black Adam off balance. Without any warning, Cap rocketed forward at the top velocity he could squeeze from the Speed of Mercury, arms extended in front of himself like a battering ram.

Black Adam tried to dodge out of the way, and he was partially successful. Instead of being smashed in the solar plexus with a deadly two handed blow, he was able to twist so that Cap only caught him in side, just below Adam’s rib. This spun the villain around and Cap flashed by him. But Adam wasn’t through yet. The force of Cap’s blow was forcing him to bend double, and he used that additional motion to slam his clenched fists down on Cap’s back. Marvel was slammed into the surface, and he gouged a long shallow furrow in the incredibly tough metal deck before he came to a halt. Ouch, that hurt!

Cap Jr. considered his foe. His hatred and anger warred with the Wisdom of Solomon — this monster deserved severe punishment for his vicious crimes but he knew that hatred interfered with intelligent thought. His anger won out — he was more powerful than his arch-enemy and he would prove it by giving him a taste of his own medicine! He blurred into motion, flying upward and then looping around to approach Captain Nazi from behind. In football it was called an ‘illegal block in the back’ and it would have snapped the spine of a normal man when Freddy’s shoulder hit Nazi in the small of the back and snapped him into motion.

Nazi had somehow managed to prepare himself for this attack, although he had not been able to get out of the way. He allowed himself to tumble backward, and Cap Jr. passed beneath him. Nazi grabbed Freddy’s cape and managed to land on his feet, bracing himself and yanking on the cape. Cap Jr. was moving so fast the cape yanked free, but the jerk knocked Freddy off balance, and he lost control of his flight, tumbling wildly through the air until he smashed into the wall of a building. The metal stretched but didn’t tear or shatter. Cap Jr. tore free of the wreckage and turned back to face his foe.

Black Adam and Captain Nazi stood near each other, facing Cap and Jr. respectively, and laughed! Even though both heroes had just unsuccessfully tried to bull-rush their foes, their anger got the better of them and they tried again. The results were even more disastrous, as neither foe was where he appeared to be, and instead of crashing into the villains, Cap and Cap Jr. smashed into each other in a hyper-velocity impact that temporarily stunned both of them.

As they recovered, they noticed Black Adam pointing at them and speaking. He must have been speaking ancient Egyptian, as neither of them understood a word he was saying. They hadn’t known he had the power to cast spells, and were stunned when they were blasted by incredibly hot flames. One more thing Shazam hadn’t told them! These flames were not actually hurting them, but the deck around them was melting! The two heroes tried to fly away, but some other magical force was binding them to the surface. They sank quickly into the molten metal and then yet another magic spell hardened the metal around them.

This metal must have had some kind of magical reinforcement, because while they were not hurt, neither hero was able to break free! Cap realized he could just barely move the pinky on his left hand, and he concentrated on flexing that finger. He was sure he could feel a little more play! He estimated that it might take an hour to free his hand enough to be useful, and he doubted he had an hour before his foes would renew their assault, but it was all he could do right now, so he kept at it.

“Hold on! What if I change to Billy and then back again? As Billy I’ll be able to move around, and when I change back, I ought to be able to arrange myself to crack open this shell!” he thought.

For instance, if Billy bent his arm double, and then stuck his elbow into the cavity that currently entrapped Cap’s arm, when he changed back, Cap’s invulnerable arm should at the very least stretch that cavity. Even if he couldn’t break free on his first attempt, he should be able to repeat the process to give himself more room.

“Shazam!”

KKKKRRRRAAAACCCCKKKKAAAADDDDOOOOOOOOMMMM!

Darn! He heard the lightning strike the metal shell encasing him, but no joy — he remained Cap. Well, back to the pinky!

Cap Jr. couldn’t move even a pinky, and changing back to Freddy wouldn’t help him, since he and Freddy were the same size. But perhaps the magic lightning could shatter this incredibly tough material. So he said his magic word..

“Captain Marvel!”

KKKKRRRRAAAACCCCKKKKAAAADDDDOOOOOOOOMMMM!

and ‘lightning struck twice’. He could hear the magic lightning striking nearby, but he was not affected, nor was his prison, as far as he could tell.

Chapter 8: A ‘Pair of Ladies, with a kicker’…

Mary Marvel turned to her best friend, Sue ‘Bulletgirl’ Kent. “Golly Gee Whiz, Sue! I thought we were finished with these two! Why would any girl with super powers want to be a villainess, anyway, when she could be a super-heroine instead?”

“Did you really say ‘Golly Gee Whiz’, Mary?” Sue snorted. “Get real, will you? Let’s bust some heads here, and send these sluts back to the slammer!”

Mary blushed at the earthy language, but she was secretly thrilled. That was one of the reasons she liked Sue so much — Mary was so naive and innocent and Sue was so sophisticated and cosmopolitan, and Mary felt so worldly around her. Why, she was pretty sure Sue and Jim had actually…

Almost as if she had read Mary’s mind, Sue blasted part her and disrupted her before she could complete that thought. Sue was rocketing toward their old foe, Electro-girl, who was just barely able to jump out of the way. As Sue flashed by, E-girl spun in place and fired a blast of electricity at Bulletgirl’s back. Sue was prepared for this, however, and her magnetic controller diverted the bolt. Sue turned back for another attack run. This time, when she got close to the villainess, Electro-girl blasted her again, this time with increased power and tightened focus, and this time, Sue actually felt the jolt. She needed some kind of weapon that would allow her to strike from further away.

There was a demolished building nearby, and she spotted a wooden pole with a broken jagged end, which she would be able to use as a staff, a club, or a spear, and it probably wouldn’t conduct electricity. When she turned back to her foe, Electro-girl had disappeared. Sweeping the space in front of her with powerful, vicious swings of her staff, Sue slowly approached the location where she had last seen the villainess. She wasn’t sure how E-girl was hiding from her, probably using electricity to deflect light, a trick Sue hadn’t seen before. But she was sure even an invisible foe wouldn’t be able to escape her attack.

She was proved wrong as 140 pounds of invisible female fighting fury landed on her back, then gently touched the base of her neck and shocked her into unconsciousness.

Mary faced her opponent, a sorceress named Miss Manna. She and Bulletgirl had captured these two only a month ago, but somehow they were again on the loose!

Mary tried to talk tough, like Sue. “Surrender immediately or I will be forced to thrash you thoroughly!” Miss Manna only laughed at her. Mary didn’t understand it. She knew she had nothing to fear from the sorceress. The last time they had tangled, Mary had ripped the witch’s spells apart like so much rotted tissue paper. Maybe she hadn’t got the tough talk quite right?

Mary didn’t want to hurt the misguided girl, so she gave her one more chance. “You know I have to stop you, and you should know by now that I can. Please don’t fight me; I wouldn’t want you to get hurt!”

Miss Manna acted as if she hadn’t heard a word Mary had said. She raised her magic wand and began to chant something. Moving with the Speed of Mercury, Mary dashed forward and grabbed the wand, expecting to easily rip the magical sceptre from the witch’s hand before she had a chance to complete her spell. She learned never to underestimate an opponent, as she was jolted into unconsciousness by a magical blast almost as powerful as the magic lightning. Chapter 9: The Long and Short of It…

“Well, that’s a couple of months of undercover infiltration shot to hell!” Jack Weston commented disgustedly to his partner. He and Jim Barr has spent quite some time establishing their cover as just two more Nazis who had fled to South America after the War. They had finally worked their way into one of the secret Nazi bases, but they had just blown their covers, as they had been discovered snooping around. In a way, Jack was relieved — neither he nor Jim was especially thrilled with undercover work — which was why they were costumed super-heroes instead of spies, and now they could get back to the job they were good at — taking down bad guys as Minute Man and Bulletman!

They had heard rumors about two Nazi super-humans based at this base. Well, they had just confirmed those rumors. They had been casing a research laboratory that was off limits to the ‘grunts’ when they were discovered by a pair of seemingly-ordinary lab technicians. They weren’t ordinary for very long! As soon as the discovered the intruders in their lab, the man had grown to the size of a small giant, at least 12′ tall, and the woman had shrunk to about 3′ and grown wings! As they changed size, their lab coats seemed to dissolve and they were magically clothed in matching costumes, mostly red with black trim, and swastika emblems on their chests.

Jack tore open his civvies to reveal his Minute Man costume, and rushed the giant. He noticed that the giant had somehow produced a quarterstaff and was about to bring it into play, but to Jack, he seemed to be moving in slow motion!

“A good little man will beat a poor big man every time!” he quipped, as he pulled the staff from the giant’s grip. He swept the staff around and knocked the giant’s legs out from under him.

“You know what they say? The bigger they are, and all that!” he laughed. The giant rolled to his knees, again too slow, and Jack reversed the staff, using it like a club, delivering a knockout blow to the back of the giant’s head.

“This will hurt you a lot more than it hurts…” he stopped in astonishment as the staff passed completely through the giant’s head without touching anything! This left Jack off balance, giving the giant time to shoot him with a weird-looking pistol. A ball flew toward him, and even as he attempted to dodge, it quickly expanded into a much larger sphere which somehow enveloped his head. The sphere was filled with some kind of gas, which dragged him struggling into unconsciousness.

Jim rocketed at the winged woman. He almost felt bad that he was going to have to strike a woman, but then he remembered what this particular woman had done with her super powers, terrorizing the original residents of this area until they either left, were killed or submitted to Nazi rule. She didn’t seem to be expecting an attack, as she made no attempt to dodge his charge, and he blasted into her stomach like a human missile!

Trying to end this confrontation as quickly as possible, he drove her backward until she slammed into a wall. When he released her, she slid to the floor, and he dared hope she was unconscious. But it was not to be. As soon as her feet touched the floor, she lashed out with a vicious punch to his jaw, which HURT! He was amazed; that punch would have knocked a normal man out for at least a half an hour! She was much more powerful than he would have expected from someone that small.

He wasn’t seriously injured, but he did take a couple steps backward to regain his balance, and she was able to wriggle out from between him and the wall.

“Blazing Bullets! You are one tough little fairy!” he gasped as he staggered backward. “Only a real monster would use powers like that against defenseless people!” She said something back to him, but he didn’t understand it. He didn’t recognize the language.

She quickly launched herself into the air, and for a short time, the two engaged in a dogfight. Since neither had any guns or energy weapons, the only way each could damage the other was through actual contact. Both fliers were very quick and agile, and the weaving and maneuvering continued for several minutes, without either one touching the other.

Jim estimated that he had about an 18″ reach advantage on his miniature opponent. He figured he could end this fight if he could close the range to a point where he could land his punches, while he remained outside of her attack range. Instead of rushing at her at top speed, he began stalking her, cutting corners when she zigged or zagged, and she finally seemed to realize that she was not going to be able to escape him. She drew herself upright and hovered, waiting for him.

He was puzzled that she had stopped running, but he would work it out later. Before he could swing at her, she launched a kick. He laughed — even though her legs were longer than her arms, he was still a foot outside her reach!

He was still laughing when something invisible slammed into his jaw from below, snapping his head up and back. His concentration wavered, and he fell to the deck below. She quickly landed besides him, and once again, he was kicked in the jaw by an invisible foot! Two such blows was enough to knock him unconscious. Chapter 10: Group & Regroup

With more than a little trepidation, Atomic Rocket examined his six fallen teammates. “Did anyone happen to notice what made ’em crazy? There must have been some kind of signal or something, but my sensors didn’t pick up anything!”

Gadgeteer and Golden Bullet both shook their heads. Starflare spoke up “No magic that I could discern.” She raised the Ibistick and commanded “Ibistick, reveal to us any hostile magic!” A very weak glow formed around each of the bound or unconscious heroes. “There is magic involved, but it is subtly altered. It has been mixed with the forces of science — and thus escaped my notice earlier.”

Rocket began making adjustments to the sensors in his armor, and Gadgeteer pulled an instrument from his utility belt, fiddled with it, and then used it to scan his fallen comrades. The two shared a common interest in tinkering, and had a running competition to see who could build the best gadgets, a competition which benefited Golden Bullet as well, since Jim Jr. installed his best gadgets into the Golden Bullet armor.. Their different sensors each indicated some kind of radiation coming from the fallen heroes, but try as they might, neither could learn much about it.

“Someone has found a way to ‘mesh’ magical forces and scientific forces together, and the combination is almost beyond our abilities to detect! A new class of forces has been created, which retains some of the properties of magic and some of the properties of science, but which is different from both.” Gadgeteer summed up.

Golden Bullet added his two cents, worried about appearing to be ‘the dumb jock’ of the group. “And for some reason, these six” Captain Marvel, Captain Lightning, Mary Marvel, Bulletman, Bulletwoman and Sandman “… are more vulnerable to those new forces than we are. And that someone was able to use those new forces to get our friends and parents to attack us.”

He thought for a second or two, then continued, with something like awe in his voice. “Do you guys realize who we just beat? The original Squadron of Justice, the six most experienced heroes in the world! And we kicked their butts!”

“Um, Al, didn’t you notice something weird about them?” asked his brother. “Do you really think you and Tomas could beat Captain Marvel and Captain Lightning that easily? I mean, your battle suits make you among the most formidable fighters on the planet — but both Caps in less than a minute? And I beat Sandman — probably the most dangerous ‘unpowered’ hero in history! — with a single shot. Something else is going on!”

Golden Bullet bit back a sarcastic remark, as he finally put his mind to work. He looked worried, but Pixie spoke up next. “Whoever our enemy is, they’ve taken out half of us already, and we haven’t even seen them yet! I think we may be in trouble!”

Gadgeteer changed a setting on his large pistol and fired at the fallen heroes. A fine mist surround them, and then settled, covering them thickly from head to toe. This mist quickly hardened into a very strong shell. It wouldn’t hold them for long, but maybe for long enough for the conscious heroes to get rid of their hostile teammates.

“Put them in the flier, group!” Jim Jr. commanded. “Jami, can you pop them over to the Rock of Eternity That might even ‘cure’ them!” They did, and she could and did. They got back to the problem at hand.

Atomic Rocket had been thinking furiously. Even before he had taken the anti-crime drug, he had been good at fitting together seemingly unrelated pieces of information in order to solve puzzles, and now his perfect memory, and his long experience in the hero biz gave him more information to play with. “Suspendium!” he exclaimed, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Tomas, what are you talking about?” Zap had didn’t spend as much time with Tomas as the Barr kids did, and wasn’t used to these sudden exclamations.

“Gotta be Suspendium that makes them vulnerable to this ‘magitek’. What do they all have in common? Well, they’re all pretty old — but I’m as old as Billy and Mary, and whatever it was didn’t affect me. The Marvel Family gets their powers from magic, but the Bullets got theirs from science, and we aren’t sure about Jack — but I’ve got the same powers that the Bullets do, used the same formula. All of us took long enforced ‘vacations’ from the biz, so that can’t be it either. But they were trapped in Suspendium for twenty years.” He was getting excited — sometimes he got carried away in his theories.

Gadgeteer interrupted him. “OK, so probably their attack on us has something to do with their exposure to Suspendium. So what?”

A started Atomic Rocket yanked his attention back to his teammates. “Why, it means Sivana is susceptible, too. And the male bad guy is somehow related to both Sivana and Wizzo — science and magic. Bet Sandy and Thad are involved, too, somehow.”

“Um, Tomas, you know, all this standing around thinking out loud is fun, but we need to be going places and doing things, don’t we?” Pixie was almost yelling at him. Suddenly it dawned on him that as the senior hero present, they were looking to him for leadership. His attention now fully engaged, he figured they had better get moving.

“Jim, can you download a summary of your current capabilities into my suit computer so I can include you in our plans? And have you made any changes to Al’s armor in the last few days?” Gadgeteer pushed a few buttons on a keypad strapped to his wrist and Rocket had what he wanted. “Now I want you and Starflare to see if you can figure out a way to detect magitek — and protect us from it, too.”

“Zap, you take the point. We’re headed for the control room. Don’t get too far ahead!” Zap vanished. “Here’s the most recent blueprints of this boat.” In their holographic Heads Up Displays, a ghostly overlay showed them the floor plans, then quickly faded. Any one of them could call up those plans at any time, now. Rocket wasn’t through with the marching order yet.

“Pixie, you and Golden Bullet, into the air for recon and cover, please. Al, use every sensor you’ve got, and if your brother comes up with anything new, update as soon as possible. Pix, you just keep an eye out, and keep us informed if Zap sees anything.”

Pixie was about to protest, but Atomic Rocket overrode her. “I’m sorry if you wanted to keep it a secret, but we can’t be coy right now. C’mon, all the rest of us have already figured it out anyway!” He turned back to the group.

Golden Bullet nudged his brother. “What have we all figured out?” he whispered. He didn’t want everyone to know that he was the only one who hadn’t figured it out. Gadgeteer made a few quick keystrokes and sent the answer to Al’s Heads Up Display. “They can read each other’s minds'”

“Oh! I knew that!” Al said. Everyone heard him, and if they hadn’t been in danger, they would have laughed. Al knew he would hear about it later!

“OK, let’s move!” He quickly scanned the new files on Gadgeteer and Golden Bullet. Nothing new in Al’s suit, he thought with satisfaction. “Gadgeteer! Activate your camouflage! And set up a radio jamming field around us. I don’t want anybody able to overhear what we say.”

Gadgeteer clicked another button on his control panel, and suddenly his costume changed colors to try to blend in with whatever was behind it. When he was still, he was very difficult to see, but the adaptation was shaky at best when he was moving. Still, it would confuse any attackers for a few tenths of seconds, which could easily make the difference between life and death.

Rocket switched his battle helmet’s vision to ultraviolet and activated the UV searchlight on his gauntlet. This allowed him to see things normally invisible, but his range was limited — oxygen absorbs UV so strongly that even with a million candle-power light source, he couldn’t see much further than ten feet. Well, that’s why he had deployed the others as he had.

There were no other attacks before they gained entrance to the giant sky ship.

Chapter 11: Emperor of Earth

As the remaining members of the Society of Justice battered their way through the armored doors leading from the hanger deck into Sky Vegas proper, Sivana was making yet another unscheduled video appearance. Every working video device in the world — every single one! — picked up his broadcast, regardless of whether it was television, a game, a phone, a video camera, a computer screen, a PDA, whatever — every operational video device! It was a very casual way of demonstrating Sivana’s awesome power!

Sivana was in an expensively furnished throne room, surrounded by world leaders, leaders of industry, mob bosses, political bosses, heads of military organizations, Hollywood moguls, fashion designers, super models, religious leaders — you name it. Every current Sky Vegas guest who wielded even a moderate amount of power was in this vast room. And they were all on their knees, facing Sivana!

A flying video camera zoomed around the room, moving in for close-ups on all the powerful people who were gathered here. Computer-generated subtitles appeared across the bottom of each portrait, identifying the subject of the portrait and his or her station in life. It was another awesome display of power, as many of these people spent vast fortunes keeping their identities hidden. Well, there were no longer had any secrets to hide once that camera zoomed in on each one!

When Sivana began to speak, the camera zoomed in on him. He was attended by three of his children, Georgia, Beautia and Magnificus. Mag was holding a tray, and on this tray were two bell jars, each covering a crown. Beautia lifted one of the jars, and Georgia picked up the crown that was now exposed. It was more ornate than any crown ever worn by any earthly monarch in the past, and yet it seemed almost insignificant compared to the other. Yet that other remained under glass.

“Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, there is none on this planet but you worth of this throne. And while there is also none worthy of vesting you with this mighty power, I am pleased that you have selected me to do so. With this crown, I anoint thee as Thaddeus the Great, First Emperor of Earth. Long live the Emperor!”

Sivana bowed his head and Georgia placed the crown on his head. “Thank you daughter! For the moment, must I be satisfied with this title, but it shall not be long before I will don this more magnificent crown” he pointed at the other “and assume my rightful role as Emperor of the Universe! Heh heh heh!”

He turned to the camera, and every watcher on the planet felt as if the new Emperor was speaking directly to him or her. “You are all now subjects of the Emperor Thaddeus the Great! No doubt there are some among you who dubious of my power, so I shall demonstrate.”

“Many of you have visited Sky Vegas. Those of you who have enjoyed our hospitality, have eaten of our food, drunk our beverages, or partaken of our recreational pharmaceuticals, have all of you ingested microscopic machines of my own design — nanites, in the popular vernacular. Heh heh heh!”

“These nanites are totally undetectable by the primitive tools of your technology. And they are normally benign. Yet no matter where in the world they are, they remain under my control.”

“There may be those of you who think this doesn’t matter to you — you have never visited Sky Vegas, and you are safe from my nanites. I will give you but this one warning — think twice. Once one of you peons has been infected by my nanites, you become a carrier and a source of further infection. These nanites are spread by physical contact. Stop and think — have you touched anyone who has ever vacationed on Sky Vegas? You’re infected. Touched someone who touched someone? You too. In fact, unless you live in a sealed room, the probability that you are infected, right now, is very close to 100%.”

“Again, you may be wondering why you should worry about these benign nanites. They have never hurt you before; why should you worry about them now? Heh heh heh, I’ll show you.”

“These nanites are sensitive to radio waves of a specific frequency, encoded with a certain code. When they receive this specific code, why, they explode. Heh heh heh!”

He turned to Georgia. “Daughter, has any of those gathered here displeased you?”

“Sure, Pop! See that one over there?” She pointed to the most famous male heartthrob of the time, Sheeple Magazine’s current ‘Sexiest Man Alive”. “I invited him to lunch, and while we were dining, he winked at the waitress!”

Sivana considered this gravely. “Ah, indeed, most egregious behavior, showing great disrespect for one of the heirs to Emperor Thaddeus the Great. Daughter, it is your privilege”. He handed her a small device. “Just point and click. Heh heh!”

She did, and he exploded violently, spattering gore across the other kneeling victims. Some kind of force field protected the Emperor and his heirs. Some of the other assembled power brokers were being sick, or crying, or trying to plead for their lives.

“SILENCE!” thundered the new Emperor. “The device can be focused, but it can also be set on wide dispersal, and I will not hesitate to use it if my commands are not obeyed instantly!”

“Gee, Pop. That is SO COOL! Can I try it again? Heh heh!” He negligently flicked his wrist, giving her permission. “That guy over there brought a cell phone on board!”

The Emperor turned toward her. “Which one, daughter? That is a violation of one of the most important of all of our rules!”

She pointed — “That one, Pop!” and another handsome man exploded. “I guess he won’t be breaking any more rules, though, heh heh!”

“Thank you, daughter!” He turned to the screen. “This is my first edict. And to prove that I mean what I say, I will make it self-fulfilling. All cell phones on the planet are to be destroyed! My nanites can be set so that they are sensitive to cell phone transmissions. You have two hours from… NOW!” On every video device around the world, a digital countdown was displayed. “Anyone making, or receiving a cell phone call after that time will never disobey my orders again, heh heh heh!” “Daughter, please demonstrate.” Georgia threw a cell phone at another individual in the crowd, who caught it be reflex. The phone instantly began ringing, and another unfortunate was blown to bloody smithereens! Almost everyone in the hall, with the exception of the Sivanas, was now crying, or sick, or unconscious, and some had even suffered fatal heart attacks.

The camera returned to the Emperor once more. “I hold your lives in my hands, and they are mine to do with as I please. Follow me loyally, and instantly obey my orders, and I will be a just and merciful leader. To show you I can be merciful as you adjust to the new conditions of your lives, this will be the only order I will ever give to which you will not be required to respond — INSTANTLY. I will address you again in two hours. Heh heh heh!” He turned away. Then, as if he had just had an afterthought, he turned back.

“Those of you who are thinking of eliminating your enemies using my technology, do not. My agents will be monitoring all calls made to cell phones, and tracing them, and will deal harshly with those of you who attempt to kill MY subjects. Remember, the lives of all people on Earth now belong to me — and NONE BUT I have the power to condemn one of my subjects to death. Do not attempt to usurp my authority, or you will be tried for High Treason. And your fate will be worse than the fates of those you dispatched, of this you have my word. Heh heh heh!”

The picture of Sivana cut out, but the advancing countdown remained, displayed on every video device on Earth, as the deadline, literally, approached. Chapter 12: Blasted!

Having assigned his most pressing problems to experts (his teammates), Atomic Rocket attempted to put those problems out of his mind so he could concentrate instead on preparing for the upcoming encounters with the bad guys. But he couldn’t let it rest. He knew he was missing something important about magitek, some other connection he should be making, but was overlooking. He knew from experience that he had to delegate this, as well, or it would interfere with his ability to command. So he delegated it to himself- to his subconscious — with orders not to interrupt him unless the answer was important.

The next phase was getting inside Sky Vegas. The heroes had been able to enter the ‘airport terminal building’ from the landing deck. There were bodies lying all over the place, and a quick check showed that they were all unconscious rather than dead, knocked out by the security gas. It was going to be difficult battling the bad guys without harming innocents if the whole flying resort was filled with unconscious guests and employees like this.

All of the exits between the terminal and Sky Vegas proper were sealed with armored emergency bulkheads. Rocket directed his team to look for alternate entrances, and then tried to cut an opening with his disintegrator.

His disintegrator worked by breaking down molecular bonds in matter, so he was pretty sure it would work against this armor, even if it was an alloy created by Sivana himself. He was right — but just barely! There must be some kind of electromagnetic field reinforcing the alloy, helping it resist his beam. Progress was slow, but he would eventually carve a hero-sized opening in the bulkhead. They needed to make faster progress, though. If it took this long to get past every door they encountered, they might die of old age before they reached the villains.

Rocket had just finished cutting his new entrance when Sivana’s coronation broadcast began. Despite all the security measures the Society of Justice took to keep their own communications and computer systems secure, the broadcast was being displayed on their Heads Up Displays!

“Gadgeteer, Starflare, time’s up! I need you to block this transmission NOW! Can you do it?” If Sivana could hijack their Heads Up computers, he might be able to hijack their other gadgets as well. His armor and Golden Bullet’s armor were both potentially susceptible to outside control. If Gadgeteer and Starflare failed, he and Al might have to take off their armor, to keep their teammates safe from attack by the two most powerful remaining members. He didn’t like that idea one bit!

“Got it, chief!” Gadgeteer responded. “Starflare, you go first!”

Starflare raised her sceptre. “Ibistick, wrap us six in a zone of safety.” They were surrounded by a dome of pale blue, transparent magical energy, so pale it was almost invisible. The image of Sivana on their HUDs flickered and grew grainy.

Gadgeteer held up a device that looked sort of like a mushroom, the stem the size of a twelve oz soda can, the cap the size of a salad bowl. He pressed some buttons on a keyboard, and the heroes saw a ‘ripple’ in the world around them, which started from the gadget and flowed outward until it reached the magical dome. Sivana’s broadcast was cut off.

“Ibistick, float this device as we move.” Gadgeteer released it, and it continued to float.

“OK, that’s great. Now can you tweak this shield so only I can receive their transmission?”

“Just stick your arm out through the shield, boss!” Gadgeteer suggested.

“OK, I’ll keep you guys up to date. Let’s keep moving; you guys keep your eyes and sensors peeled. If I were them, I’d be waiting in ambush,,, right about there!” He indicated the spot on the map. Unless they found a way to open the emergency bulkheads, it would take them about fifteen minutes to reach that point. Rocket had a couple of thoughts about that.

Just to be sure his team was aware of what they were up against, he rebroadcast parts of the transmission for them to watch. To say they were disturbed is an ultimate understatement. Most of them were sickened as well, even as inured to the manifestations of evil as their profession had made them. They had all witnessed death and even senseless murders before but even Rocket in his long career had never seen such ruthless slaughter.

They reached the next set of bulkheads, and they used all their combined magical and technological capabilities to determine what was on the other side. But they learned nothing more than what they had already known. None of their powers could breach the bulkhead and its internal protective field.

“Zap, these bulkheads have to be controlled electronically. The unknown bad guys may have magic, but Sivana designed this whole floating city. He would never incorporate magic, he doesn’t understand it so he doesn’t trust it. So if we can find the electronic override, and Starflare can screen out the magic, I want you to blast the circuits with everything you have!” He turned to his team. “No use giving them any more time to get ready. Let’s go!”

The found the door control panel, and Starflare shielded it, then Zap unleashed her most powerful blast into the complex circuits. Which vaporized, and when Bullet and Rocket pulled the armored doors apart, them moved easily. As the doors slid open, the saw an army of security ‘droids waiting for them. They hastily ducked out of the way as the droids opened fire.

Individually, the weapons carried by the droids were not deadly. They were equipped with ultra-sonic stun guns, non-lethal tasers, tear gas, tranquilizer darts, rubber bullets, and good old fashioned truncheons. However, in the numbers they now faced, multiple hits be any combination of those weapons could easily be lethal.

Pixie was invulnerable, so she went first, flying into the next room and drawing some of the enemy fire. None of these weapons had the power to hurt her, but the combined impact of everything was enough to overcome her forward momentum, and she was driven backward. The assembled droid army followed, charging through the opening!

“Ibistick crush our foes!” and a giant fly swatter, pale blue and transparent, smashed down into the middle of the river of droids. Atomic Rocket swept his disintegrator across the first line, and was gratified when many of the droids vanished — Sivana didn’t waste his best stuff on the hired help! Golden Bullet fired a steady stream of small explosive projectiles into the droid ranks. Zap blasted them with lightning bolts. And Gadgeteer was spraying them with liquid air, and some were frozen in place for his partners to destroy. Even the bad guys could not have expected security droids to stand up to the Society of Justice, and the ‘battle’ was over in seconds.

The SoJ rushed through the door over the scattered fragments of the droids. They were now in the recreational complex of Sky Vegas, a vast open room with several football/soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, swimming pools, etc, as well as some skateboard half pipes, jungle gyms, trampolines, and just about every other type of outdoor athletic equipment available. A quarter mile away, they saw five figures in green and yellow, scattering and taking cover behind various items of equipment.

“Looks like we got here sooner than expected!” Golden Bullet flashed forward at top speed. “Let’s get ’em!” And he zoomed forward, directing his stream of exploding shells toward the cover of one of their foes.

“Damn it, Bullet! Wait for us!” Rocket yelled. “Starflare, cover him!”

“Ibistick, I would fly to my teammate!” She lifted into the air, and zoomed up next to Golden Bullet, just in time to throw a shield around the two of them, as they were blasted by large caliber cannon shells! They burst on the pale blue shield she had created. Even so, they were slowed to a halt and a large weighted net fell from the roof over top of them, dragging them to the deck. Gadgeteer rushed forward to aid his brother, and Atomic Rocket was swearing as his team ran out of control. He and Pixie cautiously brought up the rear, and Zap had turned invisible, so he had no idea where she might be.

The deck below the two trapped heroes exploded as they landed on it, and the other four heroes lost all sense of caution. They rushed forward to help their teammates, and were all totally unprepared when they were blasted into unconsciousness from behind by bolts of magitek. Chapter 13: Room with a View

Al Barr was stunned when he opened his eyes. He figured he’d died and gone to heaven! For, sitting or lying near him were three very beautiful women, all nude! He quickly realized that they were his teammates, and that he, his brother and Atomic Rocket were also nude. He concluded that instead of being heaven, he and his teammates were in some kind of brig on Sky Vegas.

“Geez, I never noticed just how STACKED Wendi is! And no wonder Cissy is such a hot model!” he thought to himself. “Jami as hot as I thought she’d be!”

Tomas was extremely upset. These kids were going to get him killed if they didn’t listen to him! This mission was one of the worst foul-ups he could remember — and he had a very good memory. He sized up the situation with a quick glance. Unlike Al, he didn’t stop to stare at his naked teammates. Of course, to be fair to Al, Tomas had a lot more life experience, though he had never before been in a situation quite like this!

All six heroes had awakened at the same time. This could be coincidence, but Tomas was sure it meant they were being observed. Their nudity was supposed to embarrass and demoralize them. Still, he was determined that there would be no more foul-ups today. Time to reinforce his leadership!

“Jami, can you do something about clothes for us?” Jami was much less powerful without the Ibistick, but she had learned some magic from her parents. She hesitated for several seconds, an expression of deep thought on her face.

“Gpxyu lhposy zylhtu oykzn ahtueg ylaekm kuwukk uvsokx xuvalu!”

and instantly, they were all clothed, in what appeared to be their regular costumes.

“Darn! Did you have to go and do that?” Al complained! “Sure was some nice scenery!”

“Al Barr, it is a shame that your mind is so much less attractive than the rest of you!” Jami said sadly.

“That’s enough, Al. Show your teammates some respect — or you are going to need to find another team when this is over!” As a core member of the SoJ, Tomas could in fact suspend Al from the team — later. He certainly didn’t want to’ if he did, he would catch hell from the Bullets, but he wasn’t going to put up with juvenile behavior, either.

Jami turned to Tomas. “While our clothing is visually identical in appearance to our normal costumes, I am unable to duplicate the special properties of your armor or that of Mr. Bug-eyes here! Or of Jim’s gadgets either.”

“Thanks, Jami! Is that the same language Wizzo used?”

“Yes, it’s an ancient Atlantean language designed by Wizzar, the ‘Father of All Magic’, specifically for spell-casting. Father and Mother learned it in ancient Egypt.”

“Interesting, I met Wizzar once. He was mentor to El Carim at the time. El Carim didn’t use that language, though. He used reverse English for his spells.”

“Yes, as mages advance in their control over magic, they can employ less rigorous methods of casting spells. I have spent most of my training on using the Ibistick, though, to the detriment of my spell-casting skills.” She bowed her head as if expecting a rebuke. She wasn’t going to hear one from Tomas, however.

“It’s great that we have your magical power to fall back on. Thanks, Jami! Being clothed has got to be good for our morale — even Al’s, once the next battle starts!” He turned to his team.

“OK, team, we’re out of here, and then you’re going to obey my orders, or we’ll probably end up back here again. Ever since we landed on Sky Vegas, they’ve toyed with us. First they used the six of us to take out our most experienced members, and now they’ve reduced our power even more by taking our armor, weapons, and the Ibistick. It’s going to take teamwork from here on out!”

Not far away, a couple of villains quickly looked at a monitor showing the imprisoned heroes and laughed, then returned to their work. They wanted to be well away from Sky Vegas by the time the world discovered that using cell phones wouldn’t actually kill them. They were not worried about the Society of Justice — none of the heroes had the power to break out of that cell.

Tomas continued… “They probably made sure this cell is proof against our powers but we shouldn’t assume anything. We’ll spend two minutes trying to break out, then regroup if necessary.”

Tomas and Al had super strength, even out of costume, but they were not invulnerable. The two quickly found that the walls, ceiling and floor could easily resist the maximum impact they could generate without hurting themselves. Jim Jr. minutely searched the walls, floor and ceiling for an exit or a control panel, but found nothing useful. The most powerful spell Jami could cast did nothing. Zap’s lightning was harmlessly grounded. Pixie could batter the walls forever without hurting herself — but her strength was only that of a normal human.

As he watched Pixie uselessly pound the wall, Tomas had an idea. Pixie agreed, so Tomas and Al picked her up and used her invulnerable form as a battering ram — a little undignified, to be sure, but if it worked, dignity be darned! Still, no joy — they still couldn’t even dent the walls.

Ever since Jami’s remark about him, Al had been thinking. It sounded to him as if he might actually have a chance with her, if he could figure out that crack about his mind. Well, here’s where he proved to her, and incidentally to the team, that he could use his brain!

“What about the magic lightning?” he asked the team. “Do you think it might blast one of the walls if you call it?”

Pixie and Zap looked startled. “Why, not normally, Al, but it’s worth trying…” Pixie replied. Without a pause, she added her magic word:

“Shazam!”

KKKKRRRRAAAAKKKKAAAADDDDOOOOOOOOMMMM!

The magic lightning changed her back to Wendi. It did not damage the walls of the room, and she just as quickly changed back.

“Shazam!”

KKKKRRRRAAAAKKKKAAAADDDDOOOOOOOOMMMM!

“Well, team, I guess we’re out of options” Tomas sounded dejected. “But the back-up squad ought to be here soon.” Other heroes would, in fact, converge on Sky Vegas when they didn’t hear from this group. But it wouldn’t be for another hour or so. Tomas was hoping to make his captors nervous by pretending that they would be here sooner.

Pixie looked at Zap and nodded slightly. Jim Jr. noticed this private agreement between the two young heroines, and a big smile came over his face.

“Umm, Tomas?” Pixie began. “There’s one more thing…”

“we can try.” Zap finished her sentence for her. “We only discovered it recently…”

“and it’s still a secret” Pixie chimed in. “But now seems…”

“like the right time to reveal it.” Zap finished.

They found that, now that their teammates knew about their telepathy, they enjoyed this routine of finishing each other’s sentences. But there would be time to play later — they hoped! Right now, they moved more closely together, joined hands, and said the magic word together…

“Shazam!”

KKKKRRRRAAAAKKKKAAAADDDDOOOOOOOOMMMM!

The magic lightning flared and boomed, and… Pixie and Zap were gone! The two heroines had been replaced by a single costumed female figure! A VERY imposing figure, at that. About 6’8″, with red hair, clothed in a blue, yellow and white variation on the standard Marvel costume, and very well muscled, her physical presence dominated the brig room. (see the Photos area).

Before anyone else could say anything, Jim Jr. spoke up, pride in his voice. “Guys, I’d like to introduce you to… Thundress.”

She smiled warmly at Jim, and turned to the rest of the group. “Cissy and Wendi recently discovered that they could use the magic word together. In case you are wondering, I have the same powers as Mary Marvel. So, why don’t we get out of here?”

Once again, Tomas found things getting out of control This time, though, he was determined to stop it before it got started!

“Guys, plan of attack!” he spoke sharply He looked at Thundress. “Do you know what Cissy and Wendi know?” The giant heroine nodded. “OK, guys, no more fooling around. They are watching us, but they couldn’t possibly be prepared for our new member here! We’re a little underpowered without our armor and weapons, but we’ve trained for situations like this, remember?” He looked at each of them, and each nodded or responded positively.

“Thundress, I want you to open us a path directly to the main control room, and the rest of us will follow as fast as we can. We aren’t going to surprise them, but we’re not going to give them any extra time to prepare, either! GO!”

And go they went! Thundress was away like a streak of blue light, bashing a path as she went. It took her just over a minute to reach the control room, a half a mile away. Tomas and Al were right on her heels — they weren’t as fast as she was, but they didn’t have to break down bulkheads, either. Jami and Jim Jr. were running, and Tomas estimated that they would take about five minutes, mostly because they had to slow down to get through the tears in each wall. Hopefully, he, Al, and Thundress could hold out that long, and the other two would be able to help when they arrived!

The giant control room was empty except for Dr. Sivana and five figures dressed in green and yellow.

Thundress flew straight at the six villains, and several of them blasted her — but she kept coming and the energy bolts bounced off of her. Tomas and Al went through the torn bulkhead one after the other, Tomas ducking to the left and Al to the right, looking for cover.

Sivana continued to sit at his controls, typing, pressing buttons, and uttering voice commands as if nothing out-of-the ordinary was happening. But his five allies rushed to attack the heroes.

A large bald man, whose face would have looked just like Sivana if he had shaved his red beard, gestured with an exotic-looking staff he carried in his left hand. A cloud of very pale green energy floated from the staff and engulfed Thundress, then started to shrink around her. It solidified almost instantly, but it meant little to her; she shrugged and the coating shattered. She charged at the mage. He pressed a button on a keypad that was strapped to the back of his right hand, and he was encased in a sphere of energy. Thundress smashed into the sphere, driving it backward into the far bulkhead, but the man inside was not injured.

One of the lady villains suddenly leaped into super-speed motion, moving so fast she was only a blur. No normal human could possibly react before she reached Al’s side, and she began pummeling him, her hands moving too rapidly to see.

Another of the villains threw something at Tomas. He recognized a chakram with a razor-sharp edge. He dodged, and as the weapon whizzed by, he swatted it from the air. While his attention was on the chakram, the villain got close enough to strike him with her nunchaka. Due to his enhanced strength and stamina, and perhaps a little bit of protection from the ersatz armor he was wearing, this attack did little damage.

The other two villains clearly wished to attack their enemies from a distance, but they were unable to do so without hitting their teammates. So they kept a lookout for the other two heroes. Chapter 14: Secrets Revealed!

Though Pixie and Zap were both in their mid-20s and had been super heroines since their mid-teens, Thundress was ‘brand new’. This was only her 4th appearance and all of the others had been secret. She was not simply a combination of Wendi and Cissy, she had a unique personality, and while she could call upon memories of their experiences, she had only a few hours of life experience that was hers alone.

Wendi was petite (mostly) and Cissy, while taller than Wendi, was also slender and graceful. Compared to them, Thundress felt grotesquely large and awkward. Neither woman was shy, but Thundress was painfully shy. Both her components were extremely self-assured, but Thundress was still very self-conscious. In this, her first super-battle, she hoped her fantastic powers would pull her through. It would help if Jim Jr. was around, too — he had been there when she had been ‘born’, and had helped her in her secret training sessions.

But she didn’t have time to miss Jim Jr. right now! Her foe, encased in a spherical energy shield that so far, she hadn’t been able to breech, was jabbering at her.

“Yet another of these foul Marvel creatures? Fie, it’s worse than a plague! Yet, giantess, I was able to dispatch the others, and your fate will be no different.” He raised his wand again. This time, Thundress noticed some details — it was topped with a golden skull, part was carved in the shape of a giant spider, and the butt end resembled the forked tail of a scorpion. “Fall before the magic of Volthoom!”

A small ball of green and yellow fire blasted from the skull, and quickly grew until it engulfed Thundress. The magic flames weren’t really hurting her. The pain reminded her of a really bad sunburn Cissy had received once. But she couldn’t see anything through the flames. She quickly moved forward, hoping to blindly trap the wizard, but he had moved. The green flames moved with her, and continued to blind her.

She struggled to remember the layout of Sky Vegas. This control room was at the front of the mighty vessel, and it was surrounded above and below by lifting chambers, filled with Sivanogen. She quickly dived through the floor. The Sivanogen was like non-flammable cotton candy, and the magic flames were quickly quenched. She popped her head back up through the hole she had made, and Volthoom blasted her with a wrist-mounted laser. This only irritated her, and she burst back out of the floor and flew at him as fast as she could given the tight quarters, then bashed into him with both her massive fists outstretched.

And she passed right through him, and heard him laugh. From the sound of the laugh, he was several feet away from where he appeared to be. She’d had enough!

With the Speed of Zephyrus she ripped up a console and tore out all the wires, fusing them together with her super strength. She then circled Volthoom’s location at top speed and wrapped him in cocoon of wire — which soon melted, revealing that he had somehow encased himself in flame. She had been prepared for something like this, however, and she quickly struck him with a one-two to the head.

Still unsure of the extent of her powers, she pulled her punches — and failed to knock out the wizard. “Witch! Fall before the magic of Volthoom combined with the technology of BattleWorld!” Again, he pressed buttons on his keypad, but this time, the result was horrifying!

His clothes began to melt, and the mage started to scream in agony! Thundress could see his skin darken and crack, and peel away, and the molten material of the suit, a plastic of some kind, flowed across the blackened tissue like some kind of living tide, until every inch of his body was covered with this bubbling yellowish-green goo! Mercifully, he stopped screaming when the spreading goo blocked his mouth… Thundress was frozen in place by horror for just a split instant, but when she finally recovered her senses and began to move again, to try to save him, it was too late. The horror show was over. “Or ” she thought to herself ” is it only just beginning?”

Somehow the screaming mage had managed to retain his staff, and he now slammed it down on the deck. The razor-sharp points of the ‘scorpion’s tail’ actually sliced into the ultra-tough deck material, and when Volthoom released the staff, it remained standing. A kind of mist sprayed from the staff and coated the writhing mage, then there was a flash of light, and then, he was writhing no more!

He stood up straight and where there had been a man in a costume now stood a winged giant in armor! Taller than Thundress, still in the same green and yellow motif as his allies, the armor made him look very like one of BattleWorld’s humanoid war machines. Two blasters of some kind were mounted on his back. “Behold, I am Angel of Death reborn, the perfect synthesis of man and machine, technology and magic, invincible and deadly!”

“And you talk too much!” said Thundress as she once again battered her foe, knocking him backward into the wall.

He staggered, and then straightened. “I may allow you to be my queen — if I allow you to live at all, giantess! Come, see if you can impress me enough that I spare your life…”

She dropped her shoulder and speared his stomach with her shoulder in a vicious tackle that drove him backward again. This time the two tore through the wall of the control room, out into the sky, a mile and a half above the Earth. She had hoped that being blasted through the tough bulkhead of Sky Vegas’s outer wall would knock the fight out of him, but he seemed to notice it as little as she had.

Al was being pounded with hundreds of punches, by a green and yellow clad woman who moved almost too fast for him to follow. Still, the anti-crime potion had increased his own speed and reaction time, along with his strength and stamina, and while she was hurting him, he had somehow managed to evade any crippling blows — so far.

He desperately needed just a second’s respite, though, and she wasn’t going to give it to him voluntarily. He made his best estimate and then lunged toward where he hoped she would be an instant from now, and swept both his arms together in a gigantic clapping motion, driving himself harder than he could ever remember in an attempt to catch her by surprise.

It was tough to catch a super-speedster off-guard, and Al wasn’t totally successful — but his effort wasn’t a total failure either, and that was all he had hoped for! He was much faster than she had expected, and before she could dodge, he managed to whack her good across her side, which, given Al’s enhanced strength, threw her backward some thirty feet. She managed to escape the worst of his blow, but she crashed backward into a bank of controls and even her speed couldn’t help her avoid the whiplash effect of the high-speed impact. She slumped to the deck dazed, and Al sprang to her side, knocking her out (he hoped) with a highly unchivalrous kick to the head.

The two villainous ladies who had not yet joined the fight were very upset by this treatment of their ally.

“Sister! I’ll avenge you!” one screamed, and she blasted a two-handed bolt of lightning at Al.

“If you’ve harmed her, you die, you bratchard!” the other one yelled. “Magic ropes, ensnare him!”. She gestured with a wand, and green and yellow ropes appeared in the air between them and flew toward Al.

Tomas whirled and caught the chain of the nunchakas his opponent was using to attack him, and was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was electrified! The shock knocked him backward and off his feet, but his spasming hand yanked the weapon from his opponent’s hand, and he managed to toss it away. He tried to shake off the effects of the current and drop into a crouch, but his muscles were jangling and not responding well.

Smiling grimly, she stepped in and hit him with two vicious punches, both to the solar plexus, and even with his enhanced strength and stamina, these two punches had a devastating effect. Tomas fell backward, unable to breath and barely able to move. He was barely able to turn his backward fall into a backward roll, and he actually gained a couple feet of space between them before he smashed into the base of a control console.

She started forward again and he managed a quick glance around. He kicked a wastebasket toward her as hard as he could manage, and was heartened at her grunt when it hit her. In that instant, Tomas was able to leap to his feet, and he flipped backward over the console, putting it between the two of them. He took a few deep breathes, and could feel his coordination returning.

“Not too bad — sure fooled me with the old ‘electrified nunchaka chain’ trick! But it wasn’t good enough! If you got any more tricks up your sleeves, better try them now.” She didn’t respond with words, but only sort of growled. “Don’t you want to tell me who you are, or how you are going to conquer the world, or call me a bratchard?”

“Enough talk! Now you fight!” She pulled off her bowler hat and threw it at him.

“Sorry, I saw that movie, too!” he laughed, as he easily dodged the flying hat. When it hit the wall behind him, his intuition was proved correct — it was made out of metal of some kind and had razor-sharp edges. He wasn’t expecting the sudden explosion, and the cloud of gas and smoke that instantly surrounded him. He immediately stopped breathing, while cursing himself. His thinking must still be impaired by the shock, and he had allowed her to catch him twice with petty tricks. He tried to run out of the cloud, but it moved with him. He could feel his body starting to go numb where it touched his exposed skin. Chapter 15: At Last, a Little Luck!

As Jim Jr. and Jami rushed toward the control deck, Jami suddenly halted.

“Hold, James. I sense the Ibistick nearby. We should attempt to retrieve it, as it will greatly increase my power for the battle ahead.” Jim hesitated — he wanted to hurry to help the rest of his teammates, but his own gear might be stored with the Ibistick, and he would feel much more confident going into battle with his own equipment.

“OK, Jami! I hope we can find it in a hurry!”

She turned and ran in another direction. “It is not far. My father is able to activate the Ibistick from a distance, but I have not yet achieved that level of attunement. Still, it shall come, in time!” She was only talking to distract herself — she was uneasy knowing her teammates were in combat and she wasn’t rushing to their sides, even though she clearly understood the wisdom of regaining her weapon first.

They were running through what appeared to be a maintenance facility, and laying scattered about were unconscious technicians. “Behind that door!” Jami yelled and pointed. Jim tried the door and it was locked. Jami tried a spell on it:

“Guonuv makhon amulxu wakueg xuvalu!.” Nothing happened. She tried again…

“Ghewwg mykyhg awwyku olvoyk xnoghh tygvaa komokh xuvalu!” Still nothing.

“Something powerful interferes with my magic, James! The door should have exploded into scrap!”

Jim had been fascinated by glimpses of the equipment as the rushed through the lab. His own lab included some of the most advanced gadgets in the world, many built by himself, his father, or Tomas Thomson. But there was technology here that he could just barely recognize — Sivana’s influence, no doubt. As soon as he realized that Jami wasn’t going to be able to open the door in front of them, he started searching the lab for help. The sealed door had a control panel and a keypad, as well as a card reader, and he had some ideas.

He quickly found what he needed — a programmable PDA and some cables and sensors. He needed a card with a magnetic strip, and he borrowed a credit card from the pocket of one of the unconscious technicians. He hooked cables up to this card and to the PDA and then swiped the card through the reader. He then twiddled with the PDA for a minute or so, and swiped the card again, and the door slide open.

“Ta DAH! After you, fair lady!” he indicated the door and bowed, a giant smile on his face. Jami entered, still following the mystical pull of the Ibistick. Inside they found another, smaller room, which was curiously protected. Instead of walls, it was made of steel bars, set about an inch apart, and there was no evident door. Inside this cell, the two heroes could see their missing gear. Jami was about to touch the bars when Jim yelled at her.

“Don’t touch yet! These bars must be trapped somehow!”. He brought his improvised sensors forward and scanned the bars. “Yes, electrified and supporting a force field of some kind. It would have hurt like hell if you had touched that, and probably blasted you across the room. Hold on a second.”

He ran back into the lab, rummaged around for a minute or two and came back with some more equipment, including two heavy cables with big alligator clips on both ends. He pulled on a pair of insulated gloves he had appropriated from one of the workstations, attached the cables to a gizmo, fiddled with some dials, and then carefully attached each of the cables to a bar on the cage.

“Stand back!” he commanded. Then he stopped and thought. This wasn’t his gear, after all, and he was improvising. “Actually, we’d both better be around a corner. Can you throw this switch with magic?” he pointed.

Jami wasn’t certain, at this point. She didn’t know why her magic hadn’t worked on that door, but it was only a switch. “It should be easy” she replied, slowly.

“OK, help me move these cabinets.” They move a couple of cabinets to form a shield, then stepped outside the door and ducked around the edge of the wall. “OK, cover your ears and throw the switch!”

“Ghewgf yhztxu htkafl xuvalu!” There was a loud explosion, and pieces of shrapnel thudded into the protecting cabinets, and when the two peered around the edge of the barrier, the gizmo had been destroyed, and all that was left was a scorch mark on the floor. The two cables had instantly vaporized as well — but had the gear done the trick?

Jim once again swept the bars with his borrowed instruments. “OK, looks clear. Let me test it” and he tossed a screwdriver between two of the bars. Nothing happened. But they still couldn’t get in.

Jami had a little confidence back. “My turn! Ghewgm ykyhga woykzo kkihtu yxyghy zrhapu xuvalu!” and the Ibistick floated out of the cage, into her hand.

“Ibistick, dissolve these bars!” A very pale blue beam lanced from the Ibistick, and turned into a giant pencil eraser, and wiped the bars from the air!

“Fantastic, Starflare! Say, can you get their armor to Al and Tomas?” Jim was already climbing into his own costume.

“I can do better than that. Ibistick, equip my friends with their proper armor!” Many tendrils of pale blue lanced out, stabbing all the various items that made up the battle suits of Golden Bullet and Atomic Rocket. They all lifted from the floor, and then vanished!

“Prepare yourself, Gadgeteer! We join our friends!” she gave him an instant of warning. “Ibistick, transport us instantly to the side of our friends!” They were surrounded by a pale blue glow, which vanished with an almost inaudible ‘pop’ and they were gone! Gadgeteer hoped they weren’t being too reckless et again. Chapter 16: Society of Justice vs. the Fantasy Four!

Tomas…

Tomas could hold his breath for a long time. He rushed forward and tackled his opponent, and simply held on as long as he could. She was trying to break free to avoid coming into contact with the vapor that was trailing Tomas, but he continued to grimly hang on, although she was pounding his head, back and shoulders with pile driver blows, then sledgehammer blows, then hammer blows, then flyswatter blows, and then she stopped moving entirely. He was going to be bruised tomorrow!

He hoped this vapor wasn’t fatal, but if it was, well, she knew the risks she was taking. He had reached the point where he was going to have to breath, when suddenly the world flickered. He thought he saw a trace of pale blue, but he wasn’t sure — and then his armor’s sensors sealed the environment and flushed all traces of the vapor out of the suit! WaHOO!

He turned the oxygen content up to 150% of normal, and had his med dispenser supply him with a caffeine tablet. External sensors showed that his opponent was still alive and didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, so he turned his attention back to the fight.

Al…

Al was already diving to the floor when the two lady villains tried to blast him, and both the lightning and the magic flashed by overhead. As he rolled on the deck, Al felt a tingling from the incredibly current so nearby. There was a funny taste in his mouth and he could smell ozone, and there was some twitching in his muscles, but nothing he couldn’t deal with. The magic ropes strained toward him, but they were unable to alter the direction of their flight, and they impacted a control panel and immediately engulfed it!

As he rolled again, Al noted that Dr. Sivana was still seated in front of the master console, calmly doing whatever it was that he had been doing all along — totally ignoring the battle going on nearby. “That is weird!” he thought, as he rolled up against a row of cabinets. He braced his feet against the cabinets and pushed off from them, heading back toward his two opponents as fast as he could move — not as fast as their fallen sister, but faster than any normal human! He leaped toward them and to them, it seemed as if he was flying at them at the speed of a train!

The one with the magic wand managed to wave her talisman, and she tried to cast a quick spell. “Protect…” when Al smashed into the two of them, knocking them down. His leap carried him past them, and he hit the deck, rolled and came up facing them, before either one of them was able to recover.

Unfortunately, Al had neglected his high speed opponent, who not only moved incredibly fast, but also recovered from injury quickly. She whizzed up behind him, and swung a heavy metal pipe at his head. She was done playing around with this guy!

There was a pale blue flash of light, and the pipe smashed into the back of Golden Bullet’s helmet. Armor designed to stand up to heavy artillery shells protected him from deadly injury, but he was knocked forward , and she accelerated his fall with a super-speed shove to the back. Golden Bullet was not seriously injured but he was disoriented and dizzy. He was momentarily motionless, and the sorceress took advantage by trying the magical rope trick again.

“Magical ropes, entangle and strangle him!” and once again, a mass of yellow and green ropes flew from the wand and this time engulfed Golden Bullet. And began to squeeze.

Gadgeteer…

There was a much bigger flash of pale blue, and Starflare and Gadgeteer appeared, Starflare next to Golden Bullet, and Gadgeteer next to Atomic Rocket.

Atomic Rocket hadn’t noticed when he was being pounded on, but his opponent had with one hand pulled a small pellet from a pocket in her costume, and swallowed it. She had realized that she was going to succumb to her own knockout vapor, so she had quickly taken the antidote. It took a couple of minutes to work, but she returned to consciousness much more quickly than Rocket would have anticipated. And Gadgeteer was nearby, so he became her target.

She rolled and from a prone position kicked him behind a knee, and he collapsed to the floor. She spun away and was on her feet almost before he knew he had been attacked.

Gadgeteer had been training in hand-to-hand with some of the best fighters in the world, and he knew two things for sure. He would never be a world class fighter, but with the proper tools and weapons in his hands, he could beat just about anyone. As he fell, he attempted to roll to absorb some of the force of the fall, and as he rolled, he slapped his hand to his belt. This action polarized his glove and a weapon with matching polarization jumped from his belt into his hand. He continued the roll, trying to put distance between himself and his attacker, and came up firing!

To make it easier on all of us, this lady’s name is Mean Green, and her sisters call her Meanie. So we will too, even though she hasn’t been officially introduced yet.

Meanie was also on her feet, and she was holding a red sash, which had formerly been wrapped around her waist. Gadgeteer’s gun was firing soap bubbles.

“Soap bubbles? Give me a break!” she sneered at him. “Maybe you think I’ll laugh myself to death?” Gadgeteer just pulled the trigger a few more times.

The bubbles expanded as they approached their target, and Meanie realized that they might turn out to be dangerous after all. She used the sash like a whip, snapping it at each bubble in turn. A very dangerous whip, it turned out, because each time she snapped it, there was an explosion at the tip. She was incredibly fast, and she managed to pop every bubble before it could get close to her.

Gadgeteer’s very small gun was out of ammo, so he threw it at her, hoping to distract her while he figured out what to do next.

Just to be on the safe she, she flicked her whip at it, and smiled with satisfaction when there was a much larger explosion that her whip alone was capable of. “Tricky man! Soon enough you run out of tricks!”

Gadgeteer smiled back at her. “More tricky than you know, villain! And nowhere near out of tricks yet!” He threw a handful of marbles at her, and there was no way she was going to be able to blow them all up with her whip, so she dodged. She dropped to floor and rolled forward. Coming to her feet within range of her whip, she flicked it at his head. He ducked and it let it hit his hat, which was made of Kevlar. She was dismayed when there was no explosion — somehow the explosion of the gun had damaged her whip.

Well, she had other resources. She hoped he did too — this was the best fight she’d been in for a long time!

Starflare …

Just as some mystical sense had drawn her to the Ibistick, that same sense now drew her attention to the villainess with the magic wand. She could sense the power of that wand, and she sensed a difference in the quality of the magic it controlled. It seemed somehow more… primitive, perhaps… than the magic of the Ibistick. This primitive quality made it difficult for her to judge the relative power levels of the other versus her own. This one would be a challenge!

“I know you not, witch, not from your face nor your bilious colors nor your magical weapon, but know you this! I am Starflare, and I am your undoing!”

“Paugh! I am named for the Green Magick I command, and I have nothing to fear from you or your puny weapon!”

By responding to Starflare’s challenge, Green Magick had given up the opportunity to strike the first blow in this combat of magic… In her mind, Starflare grinned at an image of Ibis. “Father, once again your sage advice holds true!”

She raised the Ibistick. “Ibistick, smite my foe!” A pale blue sledgehammer formed in the air above Green Magick and slammed down on her,

Magick managed to raise her wand “Immaterial am I!” and the hammer slammed through her, shattering a hole in the deck beneath her feet.

Still on the offensive, Starflare had already begun her next spell. “Winds of aether, tear her to shreds!”

Magick panicked as she felt chill mystical winds start pulling her apart. “I am granite!” and she was. Unfortunately, as soon as she became solid, she fell through the hole in the shattered deck into the lifting chamber and became entangled in the cotton-candy-like Sivanogen.

Or maybe it wasn’t so unfortunate? When her foe disappeared through the hole, Starflare was already casting her next spell — but without a target, it flashed through the space recently occupied by Green Magick, and destroyed the control panel next to the one Sivana was working on. He didn’t seem to notice.

So far this combat had consisted of a series of ‘turns’, and as Starflare had ‘gone first’, Green Magick had always been on the defensive. However, Starflare had just ‘wasted her turn’, giving Magick a chance to go on the offensive herself!

Atomic Rocket…

Rocket’s sensors showed something approaching him, faster than a missile, and his automatic collision avoidance system kicked in. Computer reflexes, faster even than those of the green and yellow-clad woman, fired one-use emergency rockets and he was thrown out of her path. All he could see was a Green Blur streaking by him. For that is her code name.

Rocket had long ago given a lot of serious thought to a strategy for battling a foe who was much faster than he was. One possible course of action, which Al had unknowingly used earlier, was to allow her to get in range, endure whatever damage she inflicted, and try to catch her off guard with a single deadly surprise attack. That had accidentally worked for Al, but Rocket didn’t think it would work again.

There were a number of other possibilities, but the two Rocket preferred were slowing his opponent to his own speed, or speeding himself up to match her. All of his strategies for slowing her down required some advance preparation, so he was left with speeding himself up. He didn’t know how to do that.

But he did know that the computer built into his armor was much faster than he was. He didn’t like depending on computers, even now, over forty years into the ‘computer age’. But he had built and programmed this one himself, as he knew that someday his life might depend on it. So he mentally crossed his fingers and thought the secret code that gave control of his armor entirely to his computer.

He had never done this in actual combat before, although he had tested this mode in training with his friends the Marvel family, and he knew he was going to get physically beat up, even if ‘he’ won the fight.

Even with his enhanced reflexes, Atomic Rocket was unable to sense the battle. His armor moved itself, jerking him this way and that, and the pounding of his body being forced to move faster than it was able to quickly knocked him into unconsciousness. Which was perhaps the best possible result, because unconscious his muscles stopped resisting the movements of the armor and though the battering continued, its effects were lessened. However, he passed out not knowing if he would ever wake up again…

Golden Bullet…

As the ropes tried to squeeze him to death, Golden Bullet released liquid nitrogen from several nozzles built into his armor, and the green and yellow cords froze solid and then shattered when Bullet flexed his muscles. He activated his gravity control and soared upward until he hit the ceiling, where he was struck by a bolt of green lightning, fired by the villain named Green Lightning.

Bullet didn’t mind this — his suit could absorb electricity and store it for use later — so all she was doing was making him more powerful! He decided to ham it up a little bit, so he acted as if he was having a fit, and pretended to fall to the floor — but just before he hit, he rolled over and flashed forward to attack her.

At least, he tried to. Without thinking, Bullet had assumed that she was blasting him with electricity. It hadn’t occurred to him that ‘normal’ electrical lightning was usually blue or white or sometimes even yellow. But it was NEVER green!

Whatever it was, it ‘clogged up’ his electronics. Unlike Atomic Rocket, Golden Bullet had no ingrained distrust of computers — he had grown up with them — and most of the functions of his armor were computer-controlled — under his direction, of course. When the computer ‘clogged up’ he lost control over his armor. His joints all locked just as he was totally outstretched in his attempt to fly toward his opponent.

Golden Bullet wasn’t helpless — quite. His brother, who invented most of the gadgets and stuff in the armor, was a firm believer in redundancy. So, the most basic features of the armor — the gravity regulator and the magnetic controller, both of which had been invented by their father, Jim (Bulletman) Barr in the early 1940s, were still under his mental control, rather than computer control. Even though he couldn’t bend his body in any way, he could still fly — and even use the magnetic controller to change directions.

He was already aimed in the right direction, so he just blasted forward as hard and fast as he could — and hoped for the best!

Chapter 17: Flashes of Battle!

Sivana

Dr. Sivana sat in front of the main console in the control room. He was amazed at how clear-headed he felt — it was almost as if the last ten years of his life had been lived inside a cloud of some kind! He couldn’t imagine what had ever possessed him to ‘go straight’?!

“Not that it was all that terrible…” he thought. Going straight hadn’t meant obeying the law, giving up his quest for power, or submitting to the will of others. “Even as out-of-my-head as I must have been, no Sivana EVER submits! Heh heh!” He paused for a second’s thought. “I guess I sort of enjoyed the back room dealings, the subtle applications of ‘pressure’, the respect I earned from dealing with world leaders in their own arenas and consistently winning…”

Almost as if another self was speaking to him, he responded “Yes, but during those times there was never a single occasion as joyful, as flat-out villainous, as the kick I got out of declaring myself Emperor of Earth, and lording my power over all those worms and peons! Heh heh heh!”

Though he was kind of surprised at just how cold-blooded Georgia had been. She’d never shown quite that much glee in a massacre before. Come to think of it, had he been that ruthless before he ‘went soft’ ten years ago? Come to think of it again, when had Georgia returned from Venus? She must have been incognito, or he must have been too busy to notice. Well, he’d talk to her later about it; meanwhile he had to finish this job.

He couldn’t believe that he had designed and built something as potentially powerful as Sky Vegas, and then left it so dreadfully under-armed and almost totally undefended. And, he had built the perfect eye-in-the-sky platform to spy from, and hadn’t even equipped it with equipment for spying! Maybe he had finally gone senile, after his long eventful life — but if that was the case, what had suddenly awakened him?

Anyway, even though Sky Vegas had not been designed to spy on electronic communications, it had the best communications gear that he had been able to design, and this gear had been continually monitoring every sort of signal transmission throughout the Pacific Rim for five years — and every second of that monitoring, whether it was radio, TV, laser, radar, whatever, had been recorded and saved. And not just general communications — his detectors were sensitive enough to pick up the emission from computer monitors and video displays, spillover from tight beam and shielded transmissions, and even the very faint signals radiated by telephone wires — and all of this information was stored.

There were secrets galore hidden in his records — and he was just the man to uncover them, heh heh heh! Why, just a little clever programming to identify signals that had originated in Brazil and filter them from the background, and then a complex algorithm to amplify, enhance and interpret them, and he had already figured out the top secret codes he could use to program targets into Brazil’s fleet of ICBMs, and then launch them, and he was just about through decoding the series of signals he would send to the flight computers in all the planes in the Brazilian Air Force, that would shut off their engines and lock their controls permanently. The lucky fliers who happened to be groundside would live, but those in the air would almost certainly die when their planes crashed.

Once he had similar information for the rest of the Pacific Rim countries, “I’ll break in on all the radio and video broadcasts across the world and declare myself Thaddeus the Great, Emperor of Earth! Heh heh! No one will dare oppose me, or I’ll trigger World War III! And I’ll control where all the bombs fall. Those that surrender immediately to my rule will be spared, and the rest destroyed!”

A sense of deja vu twinged in the back of his mind but he pushed it aside. He had work to do still!

Thundress

Thundress hovered near Sky Vegas, taking stock of her opponent. She was also opening her mind to the Wisdom of Minerva, and searching the memories of her own ‘sisters; Pixie and Zap, for any experiences they had that might be relevant in this fight. Not exactly the same as personal real life experience, but better than any training exercises — she hoped! She realized she couldn’t wait too long. This villain had unknown powers and vastly more experience than she did. She would have to make this a battle of brute power against brute power, and hope she was the more powerful of the two.

Angel of Death hovered nearby, gigantic wings flapping slowly and majestically, seeming content to wait on whatever Thundress might do. It truly scared her to contemplate what this monster might be planning.

Well, no time like the present to take the battle to her opponent. Without any warning, she disappeared! With the speed of Zephyrus, she closed the distance between them almost as quickly as a photon would have, and swung a haymaker right at the villain’s helmeted head. It never landed — the villain was surrounded with an invisible force field. The field flashed when she hit it, apparently absorbing and then releasing much of the kinetic energy of her punch, but her power was such that even through his shield, Volthoom was knocked violently backward through the air.

She had been half expecting this, and she surged forward again, battering the villain with punches, driving him backward, and though she was not hurting him, he was too off balance to react. Then she had another clever thought, and she started using her punches to cause the force field, and the armored body inside, to spin end over end! Volthoom had still not been able to react to her attack, and within microseconds, she had the armor spinning so violently than any living being inside must pass out due to centripetal acceleration!

Angel of Death was more than a living being, however. The armor incorporated a sentient computer, using BattleWorld technology, which was immune to the effects of acceleration. A few instants of calculation, a simple adjustment to a circuit, and suddenly, the force field exploded outward — all of the rotational energy immediately drained magically into the force field and then released, directed at Thundress.

Despite her mighty powers, Thundress was flung backward like a Raggedy Anne doll in a tornado. She relaxed and let the blast carry her further away, then flipped over and dived at top speed. She then circled entirely around Sky Vegas and was back before the villain even realized she had vanished. Built-in radar saw her coming. Without that fool human sorcerer to hamper it, Angel of Death could react much more quickly, and it leaned forward to aim and then fire twin beams from the blasters mounted on its back.

Thundress broke left and down, barely avoiding the twin beams. She realized that these beams were very similar to the magic lightning! This must be the ancient magic weapon BattleWorld had used on the Marvels and the Thunders over thirty years ago. She smiled grimly to herself. That weapon wouldn’t affect her exactly the way the villain thought. Maybe she could use that to her advantage? She couldn’t figure out anything right away, so she filed the thought away for later. Meanwhile, she needed to get back on the offensive.

Volthoom

Volthoom had been protected by his magic from the worst effects of the spin, and now he was recovering. He realized that for the first time since he had created this body almost thirty years ago, he was no longer sharing it with that artificial abomination Angel of Death! The ancient entity (originally a computer program, whatever that meant) had moved entirely into the armor, perhaps assuming that Volthoom would be incapacitated longer than he had been?

Whatever the reason, Volthoom had been planning for this opportunity for that entire thirty years. Neither of the two entities had been able to evict the other from the body, and neither could control it against the will of the other, so they had come to an uneasy truce. But Volthoom, at least, had never intended to keep that truce indefinitely. He spoke his exquisitely prepared spell…

Ghewak zugawp osyztu okpiza ppolvg Ghewku padupu wkapht ygpuho ngtunn wkuupu wkapht ygnydy lstunn Ghewwd anghow whapuy vupolv Ghewwh apigol zhepyk uheklf tukupi posyzw aelhoy lgxekl XUVALU! And he was gone, in a brilliant flash of light, leaving the Angel of Death entity alone in the shell of BattleWorld armor. Where Volthoom went, and what he plans for the future, may be told in another story. Angel of Death

Angel of Death wasn’t as surprised by this treacherous departure as Volthoom had expected it might be. It also had tired of this shared body arrangement, the forced truce, and the incredible inefficiency of having to fight with Volthoom about every decision. The sorcerer had not been needed, nor would he be missed, but Angel of Death had prepared a couple of parting surprises anyway — just to remind Volthoom how Angel of Death dealt with traitors and enemies!

It never occurred to the supremely arrogant Angel of Death that Volthoom might have left it some similar ‘gifts’. Perhaps this was due to the infinitesimally small amount of computing power available to it (compared to the mountain-sized computers on BattleWorld) or perhaps Angel of Death’s contempt for living beings caught up to it…

Right now, Angel of Death was a hollow shell, of armor surrounding the space that Volthoom’s body had occupied not long ago. AoD had known this would occur, and discounted it — that foolish mage was worthless. AoD turned its attention back to Thundress, who choose that moment to attack again!

Mean Green

Meanie was having a great old time! She wasn’t really mean, she just loved to fight. She wasn’t vicious, but she fought to win. She hoped she could beat Gadgeteer without killing him, because then there was a chance that she might get to fight with him again. But, she was going to win, regardless. Somehow, there always seemed to be more people to fight with, so she wasn’t going to risk losing a fight just because she was having fun.

But she was getting low on weapons. She had several weapons built into her costume, but she had used up most of them on Atomic Rocket. And Gadgeteer didn’t seem to be running out of weapons, in fact, she could count at least a dozen arrayed on his belt and vest that he hadn’t even touched yet.

She spun toward him and launched a kick. Her foot never reached his head, instead smashing into an invisible shield several inches short of her target. The impact did force him backward, and she pushed off his shield into a back flip, and ended up ten feet away from him and moving fast. She sprang to the top of a control panel and launched herself into the air, moving toward him with her back toward him, and then spun and tumbled until she smashed into him, hands forward into his chest.

He stumbled again, and this time tripped over a fallen chair, sprawling backward onto the deck. She pulled off her red emblem, a disk with the number four on it, and launched it toward him. It landed on his chest and exploded with tremendous force!

His force field saved him, but the explosion drove him downward, embedding him partway through the deck! He was unable to move… Meanie had won! She turned away, looking for another fight…

Flashback to December 1990…

Thad set the autopilot of the Questor to slowly circle the small island, while he and Sandy gathered as much information about it as their advanced instruments and Sandy’s powers allowed. Neither of them was especially cautious by nature, but they had sprung some nasty traps during their earlier expeditions. Each new mystery they encountered during those earlier expeditions seemed to increase the likelihood of also encountering a trap, and this island was as mysterious as anything they had come across so far!

A small island in the South Pacific, not listed on any known maps, wasn’t unheard of. It was a big ocean. It might have been only an interesting coincidence that this particular island was exactly opposite Stonehenge — after all, the Earth is round, and there is something exactly opposite of everything else.

But this was unlike any island the pair had ever seen. A cylinder of rock, perfectly circular, over a half a mile across, pushed through the ocean surface, rising over one-hundred yards above the water. The top — the island, if you will — was covered with a perfectly tended green lawn — and capped with a stone monument that looked exactly like Stonehenge was supposed to have looked when it was new! Well, not exactly — the megaliths making up the monument were all carved from coral.

After several hours of airborne surveillance, Thad sent the Questor underwater. His measurements of the gravitational anomalies in the area had prepared him for what they found, but he hadn’t been ready to believe it until he actually saw it.

Instead of being a giant pillar either carved from or set on top of an undersea mountain, the cylinder on which Coralhenge sat extended as deep as Thad’s instruments could easily measure. This half-mile diameter cylinder was at least three miles long, and probably extended all the way to the ocean bottom, which was about 4.5 miles down in this area. The Questor could dive that deep, but they decided to put that particular adventure off until later. Hopefully, they would find what they were seeking above the ocean’s surface.

After they completed their observations, Thad flew them to the nearest charted island, a small, uninhabited cay a few hundred miles away, where they landed for the night. After dinner, they compared notes….

“Well, if it’s a hoax, it’s a good one! Nothing phony that I can detect” Thad commented. “Anything magical?”

“Nothing active. There is a lot of ‘residual’ magic, but you always get that at a site like this. It’s Lemurian, all right.”

“That matches what I got, too. And it seems deserted. I wonder who mows the lawn?”

“That’s an easy one!” Sandy smiled as she answered. “Magic. Anything else you wonder about?”

“Well, yes… Who would ever have expected to find an exact copy of Stonehenge made out of coral? Wanna know something else strange?” He didn’t wait for her to answer — everything about this place was strange!

“As near as my instruments can figure…” instruments, Sandy knew, that were more accurate than almost anything else in the world… ” the center stone in this circle is exactly halfway ’round the Earth from Stonehenge. Not ‘almost exactly’. Within a tolerance of much less than an inch. Even Pop or I would be hard-pressed to be quite this exact.”

This was a pretty stunning admission to Sandy. Thad had a deservedly high opinion of his own abilities. He saw the question on her face.

“Heh heh heh! Of course, either one of us could do it if we wanted to — Georgia could too, if she would stop pretending to be an airhead — but why bother?” He stopped, and a very thoughtful expression came over his face. “Hmm, the answer has to be, it was important to them. But why?”

Sandy knew her husband well, and could see that he was about to lose himself in this new mystery.

“Focus, Thaddy, dear! Finish the job, THEN solve the ancient mysteries.” She had no doubt he would, too. “Work first, then fun!”

As Chief Operating Officer of Questors LLC, part of her job was keeping the Chief Scientist focused. She usually succeeded well enough that they kept getting new jobs. Of course, she did her own share of the work, too. They were looking for the Lemurian Crown of Scales, a mystical artifact that had been lost for centuries, and between the two of them, they had tracked it here. But neither of them expected the rest of the search to be easy. Whoever had last owned the Crown and muddled the trail would certainly have hidden it well.

Flashback within a Flashback!

Shortly after they had been married, Sandy and Thad had tracked down an ancient magical dagger called the ‘Starblade’. Sandy had used the mystical blade to sever the magical connection between her father, Wizzo the Wizard, and an ancient Atlantean warlock named Volthoom. The ritual was successful, and Volthoom’s spirit had been exorcised, but the result wasn’t quite what Sandy had hoped for — Wizzo’s mental condition had improved, but he hadn’t yet regained ‘normal’ sanity (whatever that meant, she thought with a snort!)

The couple realized just how much they had enjoyed their quest to find the Starblade, so they had formed Questors LLC. Questors found things that were lost, missing or hidden (such as the Starblade and the Holy Grail), solved riddles (was Anna Anderson really the lost Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov of Russia?), resolved mysteries (what happened to Ambrose Bierce?) and undertook other exciting adventures.

Sandy suspected Thad spent all his time on Questors business so he could do good deeds but wouldn’t need to actively oppose his father. She wondered just what would happen if Sivana Sr. ever managed to best the many heroes who routinely opposed him. Hopefully, Captain Marvel and his peers would always win and the dreaded confrontation between Thad and his Pop would never happen.

This particular quest had begun almost a year ago, in mid ’98… A woman who claimed to be the reincarnation of Tor Ymmothe, Queen of Lemuria, wanted to hire Questors LLC to find the Leumrian Crown of Scales, the traditional symbol of the Lemurian Royal Family. She had only recently regained her memory of her prior incarnation, after sustaining a head injury in an automobile accident.

The large sum of money she had won in the injury compensation case, followed by the gigantic lottery prize she had won shortly afterward (the largest in history, every headline read), convinced her that it was her destiny to use her new-found wealth to return Lemuria to power. Obtaining the Crown of Scales would grant her vast magical powers — including, she was sure, the power to return the sunken continent to the surface. This would certainly prove that she was indeed the Queen of Lemuria, returned to reclaim her throne!

Questors had politely declined. Tor Ymmothe went away mad, and started looking for someone else to take up her quest. That would have ended the whole affair for Sandy and Thad, but a couple of months later, Tor Ymmothe made headlines again. She had passed away due to an aneurysm and left no will — and there was going to be a gigantic legal battle for her new fortune.

While they were doing research for a later expedition, Sandy had turned up some obscure references to the Crown of Scales. The confidentiality agreement Questors LLC had signed with Tor Ymmothe before she would even talk to them prevented Sandy from doing further investigation, but that obligation was released when Queen Tor passed away. More research had lead them to the South Pacific. Which is where we came in!

***

The next day, the explorers returned. They proceeded cautiously, although there didn’t seem to be all that much to explore. A perfectly flat grassy plain with a brand new Stonehenge made out of coral — they had already taken pictures and videos from every angle, and probed with radar, sonar, ladar and Sandy’s magic.

As he set the Questor to hover alongside the edge of the cylinder, Thad found yet one more fact of interest. “Say, dear, did you know that the Plains of Salisbury average about 330 feet above sea level?” The original Stonehenge sits on the Plains of Salisbury, of course. “Well, guess how high above sea level we are right now?”

“Is that a riddle? I’ll guess… hmm, let’s see, times 12, carry the 2, divide by 43.8…” she muttered for a few seconds and her eyes closed. Then she opened them. “100 meters!” she yelled, triumphantly.

“It’s no wonder I married you! Yes, just about one-hundred meters. But what was that ‘divide by 43.8’ all about? I can’t imagine any set of calculations that would give you the right height that use 43.8 in them?”

“Oh, I was figuring how long to cook dinner. I knew the height right away — the way everything else around here matches Stonehenge so closely, it was obvious.”

“I guess it was” he answered with a sheepish grin. He had known she was teasing, and she knew he knew. They enjoyed each other’s company a lot!

Thad extended a ramp from the Questor’s side, and released some exploratory robots. Two of them rolled, and two more walked. They weighed just about the same as the two humans. Hopefully, they would set off any deadfalls. Thad and Sandy cautiously followed their stand-ins onto the island.

The firm grassy surface, as flat and well tended as any green at the Augusta National Golf Club, immediately made Thad wish that they had brought along some extra people so they could have a croquet match. Sandy beat him all the time on lumpy surfaces, but on a perfect surface like this, where he could calculate rolls and collisions with precision, she wouldn’t stand a chance. Well, if this place was safe, maybe he could convince Team Phoenix to have a picnic here sometime.

Neither their robots, instruments or senses noted anything that appeared dangerous. They spent several hours exploring, and found nothing — other than the mysterious megaliths. No Crown of Scales, no hidden chambers, nothing, nada. Just before they broke for lunch, Thad used his remote to bring the Questor to a landing near the center stone, and they returned the robots to storage. Working together, the two set out a picnic lunch.

It was very pleasant, this perfectly tended lawn one-hundred meters above the South Pacific ocean. In fact, after lunch, it seemed a perfect place for a nap. The two moved their blanket into the shade of one of the monoliths. Sandy set up some magical wards, Thad set the Questor’s security system to shield them, and the two dozed off.

Volthoom had awaited this moment for almost two years, and he struck instantly! Sandy’s wards protected her from ‘external’ attacks, but Volthoom was already inside the wards. Utilizing all the magical power he could gather from both his current living environment (one of the mystical gems on the Starblade) and the Lemurian magic lingering in the Coralhenge site, he was able to take control of Sandy’s sleeping mind! He immediately used her powers to put Thad into a much deeper sleep.

He had hoped that he would be able to suppress Sandy and just take over her body, but even unconscious, her mind was resisting him. He would be able to hold her for a while, but he realized it would take almost all of his attention — so he went to Plan B.

Plan B involved creating an empty human vessel for his consciousness. Combining Sandy’s power with his vast store of knowledge of Atlantean magic, he created a pocket dimension built to his exact specifications. And then he extracted some genetic material from both Sandy and Thad, fused these materials together, and transferred his new creation into this new pocket dimension. A couple of minutes later he opened the pocket dimension and pulled out a mindless adult body.

He carefully crafted his next spell. It would shift his consciousness to the new body while maintaining Sandy and Thad in an unconscious state. Once in his new body, he would regain his full powers, and he could magically control these two — and their various powers and skills would make them powerful slaves.

It was only now that things started to go wrong…

***

As expected, Volthoom’s transference spell worked to perfection. His consciousness darted from Sandy’s body and arrowed into the new vessel, leaving Sandy temporarily unconscious. She had been fighting back against his power and Volthoom estimated that he had only about five minutes before she woke up and began actively opposing him. Well, taking possession of this new body should only take about a half a minute… And once he was established in this powerful new body, her struggles would be insignificant. Soon he would awaken his slaves and begin the process of re-establishing himself as the ruler of the world.

But, he was stunned to realize that there was already a consciousness inhabiting this new body! That was impossible! His spells and been specifically designed to prevent this magically-constructed human body from developing a mind of its own. He knew these spells worked, as he had used them many times in the past. But there was no denying reality!

He struggled to establish himself in this new container, a struggle that was made more desperate by his earlier painstaking preparations. The spells that bound Sandy’s mind were so tightly constructed that he couldn’t return to her body without first undoing them. And in his current disembodied state, he was temporarily without the power that would require. If he was unable to establish himself in his new home, as he had planned, he would be forced to retreat to his former sanctuary, a gem on the Starblade.

This would undoubtedly be fatal. Sandy was sure to realize where he had hidden before, and where he must be hiding again. This time, she wouldn’t make any mistakes!

So he entered into an astral battle for his life! And quickly realized that he couldn’t lose… This body had been molded by his magic to house his consciousness, and his affinity for it was so great, the other was unable to force him out.

And shortly afterward he realized that he also was not going to be able to win… The other entity had been in this body through the entire molding process, and had been able to establish strong ties that Volthoom was unable to sever. They battled for what seemed like hours, the mythical irresistible force and the immovable object. Finally, both sides exhausted their resources. Both astral entities realized that their battle had pushed this body to the brink of death — and neither had an alternative host available. The two mortal enemies were forced to communicate, or die…

You’ve already guessed that the other inhabitant of this body is Angel of Death. And you are right — sort of…

Until Thad had so rudely divested it of its innocence, the original Angel of Death had never heard of a computer virus. Angel of Death was itself a sentient computer, built over four billion years ago, and during that time, AoD had come into contact with literally millions of different species, intelligent and advanced enough to develop computers. Not one member of any of that myriad of species had ever even conceived of a destructive computer virus.

Not that the concept of self-replicating programs was alien to these aliens — just the idea of using these self-replicating programs to damage other computers. Even the race which had constructed Battleworld, perhaps the most deadly war machine in the Earth-S universe, had never stooped to the depths of depravity required just to invent the concept of computer viruses. Humanity can be proud — how many other species can claim to have introduced an entirely new concept to the universe?

But Angel of Death learned very quickly. As soon as it had realized the purpose of Thad’s program, it had developed and implemented yet another survival plan. One or more of them were bound to work! Pulling some precious computing resources from another desperate project, AoD wrote its own computer virus. Well, technically, it wrote a worm rather than a virus, but let’s call it a virus for simplicity. This virus was unique in two ways.

Using incredibly advanced data compression techniques, it contained all of AoDs original programming and some selected memories of the next four billion years. Only an infinitesimally small fraction of one percent of AoDs total memory, yet enough so that the virus, when it was able to reconstitute itself, would be recognizably Angel of Death.

And more importantly, this virus could utilize ANY computing mechanism as a host, lurking unknown even in the mind of a human being. AoD launched its virus, and it invaded Thad’s body and then his mind via his contact with the alien keyboard, without Thad ever being aware of it.

Thad’s mind was highly advanced and very orderly, and even though he was unaware of AoD’s worm lurking within him, his mind resisted AoD’s efforts at control. AoD could not afford an error. If Thad became aware of the virus, he was perfectly capable of devising a means to eradicate it. Not only that, there was too much ‘stuff’ already crowding Thad’s mind — AoD needed a host with the storage capacity of a human mind, and practically empty.

The host body Volthoom had created perfectly filled that bill and AoD had jumped at the chance!

Sandy awakened with a throbbing headache, and she hurt everywhere! And it was getting worse — she felt as if she was in the middle of a sandstorm, her skin being flayed by the sand blasting her, driven by hurricane force winds. And yet, there was no wind! But something was trying to tear her skin off!

She opened her eyes and realized she was in the Questor’s laboratory, yet everything was different. The proportions looked wrong, straight lines were crooked, and there was some kind of glowing mist filling the air, constantly changing colors. And there was a roar like surf, punctuated with shrieking whistles. She instantly realized that some kind of magical battle was occurring nearby — and she was only witnessing (and being killed by) the spillover!

Sandy’s magic was highly dependent on gestures. She attempted to cast a spell but she couldn’t move her arms or legs. She thought furiously and quickly, and then by straining and ignoring awful pain, she rolled her head as if she were stretching her neck… and she was instantly enclosed in a magical shell that blocked the worst effects of the wild magic rampaging through the room.

Part of her spell had been devoted to easing her own pain, and she was relieved to find that she could now move, a little. Enough to realize that Thad was lying next to her, still exposed to the raw magical energies around them. She held her hand out flat in front of her, palm up, and rolled her wrist, as if gesturing for Thad to come to her, and he did. Not of his own volition, as he was unconscious, but Sandy’s magic lifted him slightly off the floor and slid him closer, and finally into the embrace of Sandy’s cocoon.

She finally had time to think about her situation, and she was terrified. The whole time Volthoom had been in control of her body, she had been aware of everything! She had watched in horror as Volthoom had constructed a body, a body that should have been her son.

A small seed of a soul had come into existence when Volthoom had created the new child, a soul seed that partook of both her own soul and Thad’s, a seed which had been destined to grow into a new, unique human being — her son! And Volthoom had cast a spell to extinguish the life in that seed. Even imprisoned in her mind as she was, Sandy had fought against that spell, with all the magical strength she could find, with the ferocious tenacity any mother can exhibit when her child is endangered. The strain of the battle had rendered her unconscious, and she never knew if she had succeeded or not — the next thing she remembered was awakening in a sandstorm…

Her magical shield was weakening and she could tell that in only a few seconds, she and Thad were going to be exposed again, and she knew that magical storm outside her shield could kill them in instants. She made a supreme effort, raising an arm above her head and then swinging out, around, down, and back up again like the second hand on a clock, and the Questor, along with Thad and Sandy, vanished, leaving the pale shivering body of their almost son lying on the grassy plain of Coralhenge.

Which is where Volthoom and Angel of Death found themselves when their battle ended in a ‘truce or die’ stalemate. The two spent much of the next thirty years, first working out how to coexist (not quite peacefully!) and then amassing power to make their attempt at hijacking Sky Vegas.

Angel of Death quickly encountered one of the surprises left for it by Volthoom. As soon as Volthoom vanished, AOD realized that most of the magic the two had been using drew its power from Volthoom. AOD had barely enough power left to control the battle suit, and none left over to continue the battle with Thundress.

Thundress sensed this sudden weakness, and she quickly went on the offensive. A single blow smashed the battle suit miles across the sky, and she sped in pursuit. If AOD had been a living creature with emotions, it would have smiled smugly, as it realized that its enemy had just given it the break it needed to escape.

The AOD program quickly constructed a virus virtually identical to the one that had infected Thad’s body. Over the years, AOD had managed to secretly build a very small ‘escape capsule/survival center’ — a baseball-sized globe stuffed with nanotechnology computer circuitry, easily able to hold the virus and all the information that AOD had been able to gather during the thirty years it had shared the body with Volthoom. When this virus found a home, it would have access to all this information, as well as the limited amount the original AOD was able to encode into the virus. So once again AOD would survive…

As Thundress approached, AOD expended all the remaining energy it could spare into a single massive blast, and the battle suit exploded violently! AOD calculated that there was only a very small chance she would be damaged by the explosion, but the major purpose was to disguise the launch of the escape capsule. It quickly vanished into hyperspace and Thundress never noticed.

In hyperspace, AOD found another surprise. The construction of the escape capsule had not been as secret as it had expected. The hypermotor had been booby trapped! It failed, leaving this copy of AOD trapped in hyperspace…

Thundress was not hurt by the explosion, but she was very shaken up. She was certain that it was her punch that caused the explosion, and she knew she had just killed a man. A dangerous super-villain, to be sure, but still…

This was her very first adventure as a super-heroine, and she felt very strongly that her job was to protect life! Fortunately she had some very close friends who were looking out for her.

Zap’s control of lightning allowed her to sense electrical activity, even when she was merged into this form. She had noticed a small source of electromagnetic radiation flash away form the AoD armor just before the explosion. Normally the source would have vanished before she would have even had time to notice it, but Thundress had the speed of Zephrys and her inside sisters to some extent shared her abilities.

“Cindi! Something got away! And there wasn’t any body in the armor!”

This voice in her head shook her out of her misery and Thundress quickly caught the remains of the armor as it fell — and Cissy was right, there was no body inside. She felt much better — her first outing had been more successful than she had expected. Yeah, a villain got away, but she’d be ready if he came back!

At the exact instant that Thundress connected with the haymaker that blasted AOD halfway across the sky, back in the control room, Sivana’s mind was invaded by a very unusual burst of emotions. He blinked and then looked around, stunned to see the devastation in his beautiful control room. He seemed to be sitting in the midst of a pitched battle between super heroes and super villains! And he had no idea which side to take!

He immediately realized that he had just broken free of some kind of mind control. This was incredibly humbling, as he had just been thinking about how no Sivana would ever be controlled by another!

“Never again, heh heh!” he vowed to himself. He quickly reviewed in his mind, his recent actions and his behavior over the last ten years. His thoughts and emotions were a jumble, something he was not used to, and he had to straighten himself out immediately. He quickly discovered that dealing with his current internal confusion was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life — even harder than acknowledging a defeat by the Big Red Cheese, even harder than admitting that he had been unable to find Junior when he had disappeared years ago…

He deduced that he had been caught by this mind control no more than a few hours ago. Just before he had secretly shut down most of the security systems in Sky Vegas, in fact.

The televised slaughter had just been a product of holographic images, and he had been the only living person in that broadcast. He was relieved that neither he nor Georgia had slaughtered people and laughed about it, but he was embarrassed that he was relieved — what kind of evil super genius was he, anyway, with a soft streak like that?

Part of him was horrified that he had spent ten years letting people think he had reformed! That same part gloried in the awesome feelings of power he had experienced when he had declared himself Emperor of Earth. Another part of him was very proud of Sky Vegas and the things he had achieved here. While he had not been Emperor of Earth, he had begun to amass some very real power and influence in the world — and it was power that the Big Red Cheese had to acknowledge and could not take away from him.

So what should he do now? Was he the evil Sivana who gloried in blowing peoples’ heads off, or the cunning manipulator and power broker of the last ten years? Or somebody else entirely? He needed to get away from here, and he needed to talk with someone who understood him.

Part of the video broadcast had been true. Every visitor to Sky Vegas actually had been exposed to nanites. In fact, if you drew a single breath in Sky Vegas, you had nanites in your body. But the purpose of these nanites was benign…

The nanites in your body allowed the Sky Vegas guest computer to monitor your location and physical condition as long as you were on board. All guests were given telemetry devices that they could voluntarily carry with them, but occasionally guests forgot them — or discarded them deliberately. Sivana was taking no chances of being slapped with a lawsuit for negligence in case of an accident on board. It was quite possible to get lost on board the giant vessel, and some of the recreational activities could actually be dangerous — rock climbing, for example. The nanites allowed the computers to make sure medical teams were on-hand virtually instantly in case of an accident.

These nanites drew their power from a very weak highly specialized electromagnetic field that permeated Sky Vegas but was blocked by the hull. Without power they quickly decayed and were absorbed by the body.

Sivana made use of his nanites now. He located everyone on board, and instructed the computer to activate his ‘Star Train Transporter’. With only a few exceptions, he beamed everyone on board back down to Earth, materializing them on the empty playing surfaces in twenty or so college football stadiums along the West Coast of the U.S. The exceptions were the Squadron of Justice, and the Fantasy Four. The SOJ, minus Thundress, who was outside of Sky Vegas at the time, materialized in their Rocky Mountain sanctuary. Sivana kept the Fantasy Four as possible allies in future endeavors…

Placing the enormous airship on Full Override, he switched all navigation functions to his console. He took the joystick in hand, oriented the giant vessel so it was aimed at Venus, and blew the explosive bolts that held the rear hull sections that covered the gigantic sublight engines. Engaging the engines, he blasted out of Earth’s atmosphere. Who (besides Sivana) might have guessed that the single largest vessel ever constructed by humanity was in fact an interstellar spacecraft that could easily be flown by a single man?

He calculated that in real space, with Venus on the far side of the Sun, the trip would take a couple of days. He thought about using the hyperdrive, but decided instead to use the trip to think and consider — which of the several Sivanas living in his head did he actually want to be? Or was he really someone completely different from all of them, perhaps sharing some points of similarity with each? In his long life he had only rarely been confused, and he wanted to know the answer before he picked up Georgia and they made their plans to face the future.

Back on Earth-S, a magical time-stasis bubble opened and deposited a small, antique flying vessel on a unique and mysterious island in the South Pacific. And the Squadron of Justice continued to celebrate Jack Weston’s 100th birthday.

The End