by Dan Swanson
Kali figured that the best way to help the people in Central Park was to keep the giant saucer from landing, so she rocketed up under it, slowed, put her shoulder to it, and lifted — or tried to lift. It continued downward, not even slowing. She realized she wasn’t even touching the hull, though it didn’t matter, as the force-field she was pushing against was definitely solid. She rolled around until the field was resting on her back, then lifted again. The strain was incredible, so she pushed her powers ever harder, and she saw that she was having some effect. The aliens had been using their inertia-less lifters to slow the ship’s descent; now they shut the engines off entirely, and Kali was actually carrying the entire weight of the ship on her shoulders.
It was now just a matter of will — could she lift this tremendous weight? The calculating portion of her mind told her no, which just made her even more stubborn. She watched the ground, and as she strained, she realized that she was succeeding. Their descent was slowing. This encouraged her, and she strained ever harder, and she was encouraged even more as the ground below her started to slowly recede. She had done it — she was lifting this massive saucer. Straining her powers to their maximum limits, she then reached deeper, drawing on a supply of willpower and mental strength she had never before knew existed. And always, the calculating portion of her mind was warning her that something was wrong. She was Kali, world’s most majestic woman, but even her powers had limits — limits she’d fully tested before. How could she suddenly be this much more powerful?
Shiva was finally finished evacuating the landing zone, and she relaxed just the smallest bit. He would be here to help her soon, and together they would toss this alien back where it came from. Inside, however, the aliens changed tactics. They restarted the drive motor at high power, this time pushing toward the earth — and Kali, caught off-guard, was driven into the ground with the equivalent of a small planet smashing down on her. She was knocked into unconsciousness when she was instantly driven through forty feet of rock and soil, smashing into the underlying bedrock, with the saucer’s mass crushing down on her.
And yet, as Shiva had surmised, her invulnerability was proof against even this abuse. Her magical recuperative ability helped her regain consciousness in seconds. She almost panicked; she’d never before realized she had a touch of claustrophobia. But what human before her had ever had a better reason for claustrophobia? Probably none, she reassured herself.
The bedrock around her had actually melted due to the energy of her impact, then cooled off again quickly, and she was lying in a skintight, form-fitted abscess in the bedrock. Straining, she brought her arms down to her waist, shattering the stone around her. Then, forcing her upper arms back up above her head, she brought them together into a point. She used her lower arms to drive hand-grips into the cooled magma around her, twisted to start her body spinning, and then, combining her powers of strength, speed, and flight, she drove forward, spinning ever faster, like an invulnerable human drill bit. A minute later, she judged she had gone far enough, and she angled upward, and then she was free.
Kali roared into the air, arced back around, and slammed into the saucer — only to bounce off of the nigh-impregnable force-field. As she backed away to get a running start, she noticed that a portion of the hull had changed color, and then a large black bubble shot from the that hull section and engulfed her.
“Hey! Not fair!” she screamed, then quickly closed her mouth as the black goo around her started to creep inside. They can’t shoot things without a gun!
Kali struggled, but to no avail. The glop stuck to her, hampering her every motion. She couldn’t smash it, tear it, or even get away from it. She couldn’t see or hear anything. Her claustrophobia started to come back, and now she could barely think, such was her growing panic.
Still, somewhere in her mind was calculating something. There was one thing she hadn’t tried yet, something she’d never dared try before, though she’d considered it many times.
“Rakasha!” An incredibly powerful magical flame roared up from the ground below. The force-field surrounding the goo vanished instantly, the advanced technology that created it overwhelmed by the powerful, primitive magic in the flame. The goo burned instantly, and then Kali was wreathed in oily black smoke, and then she was gone, replaced by Lily Martine.
Realizing suddenly that she was several hundred feet in the air and falling, she shouted, “Rakasha!” The process repeated, replacing Lily with Kali — a Kali with newfound knowledge. She halted her fall and looked at the saucer, seeing that the hull section closest to her was changing color. She moved instantly, and when she stopped, she watched a black globe shoot out of the surface, almost faster than she could see, right through the place she’d just been. It vanished spontaneously, and then another section of hull began changing color.
Fool me once, shame on you… she thought smugly to herself.
Now that she knew the warning signs, she could easily avoid this weapon. She decided she was going to break through the force-field, so she moved in close and started pounding. She had to dodge several times, but she always came back to that same spot and continued pounding. It might have been her imagination, but she thought she could feel that spot becoming softer.
She saw the hull change color again, but this time, not under her. She turned to warn her partner, but it was too late — he was now caught in one of the gooey globes.
Kali thought that perhaps, working together, she and Shiva would be able to smash the globe and defeat the goo, but she would need to communicate with him to coordinate their efforts. It would be easier to burn him out of this globe and then show him how to avoid this trap. She positioned herself above the globe encasing Shiva and said her magic word.
Once again, the magic fire blasted up from the earth, vaporizing the globe and the goo inside, and turning Kali back to Lily. Unfortunately, the aliens inside were now ready for this trick, and a tractor beam snatched Lily from the air, and a much-smaller vessel rocketed skyward, abandoning the giant saucer and dragging Lily after it. The speed of their flight was so great that Lily blacked out almost instantly, and the tractor beam dragged her aboard.
Shiva found himself suddenly free of the goo. He turned his attention back to the saucer and saw it shrinking, like a beach ball with a hole in it. The force-field was gone, and a quick examination did find the hole. The saucer was indeed a giant balloon, supported by the force-field, hiding something smaller inside, and whatever it was, it was gone now. There was a mist trail through the air, heading straight up — a phenomenon that Shiva recognized. When he moved at hyper-velocity, he carved a hole through the air, and when the air behind him crashed together to fill that hole, mist was formed. Of course, he wasn’t thinking about that, he was rocketing skyward at his highest hyper-velocity, leaving a much smaller parallel mist trail behind him. In femtoseconds he had reached the edge of space thirty miles up, and was forced to admit that he had lost the trail. Why couldn’t he have received the super-acute vision of Garuda along with speed?
It must have been a trap all along, a trap to capture at least one of the two world’s most magnificent heroes. And it had succeeded. Shiva wanted to scream, or break something, or tear wildly across the world, searching for his mate, but the wisdom of Brahma once again kicked in, and he realized he needed to look for more information and find help, and he had a pretty good idea who might be able to help him.
For several years, Shiva had been aware of the presence of another powerful being on Earth with powers approximating his own or Kali’s, but who had chosen to keep his own presence a secret. This being routinely protected the entire planet, unlike Shiva and Kali, who mostly protected North America and, to a lesser extent, the Western Hemisphere. Not that they hadn’t battled global enemies when the occasion called for it, but they usually had their hands full closer to home. Still, this unknown being had accomplished many heroic tasks in the Western Hemisphere, always in secret, and Shiva and Kali were often mistakenly credited for these good works.
Shiva wanted to find this mysterious protector and ask for assistance. He tried to put the wisdom of Brahma to work, making deductions from the various clues he’d picked up over his seven-year career as Shiva, but an idea popped into his mind that might save him hours. Shazam!
Martin Martine’s old school was still there in nearby Fawcett City, looking much the worse for wear. Shiva and Kali received a lot of reward money and donated it to charity, and Shiva had made a mental note to ensure that this place was the beneficiary of his next donation. He wondered why he’d never been back here since he graduated back in ’56; it was almost as if there was something in his mind that steered his thoughts away from this place. Well, he would consider it later; right now he had business.
Using the speed of Garuda to move unnoticed through the halls, he was glad that there were no classes being held right now. The basement door was locked, but the lock didn’t slow him down; he would replace it as soon as his current business was wrapped up. Landing near the fateful brick wall he remembered so well from that day seven years ago, Shiva gently explored the wall with his fingertips. Last time he hadn’t been paying attention, but this time, he realized that this particular piece of brick — around eye-high to his teenage alter ego at the time — was a little wobbly. He pressed a little harder, and there came a curious sensation he remembered distinctly — he was falling, and sliding down a chute of some kind, even though he wasn’t moving.
It suddenly became dark, and then light again, and he was standing on a subway platform. There was a black train waiting for him, covered in silver symbols — five pointed stars, stylized sunbursts, crescent moons, and other mystical symbols. The door slid aside, and Shiva entered. The train made a slight whoosh, but there was no feeling of motion, although Shiva could see through the window a smooth wall sliding past them at high velocity. But before he could estimate the train’s speed, it was already slowing to a halt. He walked through the entrance hall with the statues of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man, and into Shazam’s sanctum. He hadn’t been here since 1953, but nothing had changed during that interval, except him.
It was a large, seemingly natural cavern, containing a throne made of white stone, with an unlit brazier and torch next to it. With confidence he hadn’t known since the first time he was here, he crossed the room and picked up the torch. It was a magical torch, and it flared into flame automatically. He touched it to the brazier, and suddenly there was flame — even though there was no fuel to burn. Out of nowhere, an ethereal figure appeared, sitting in the throne: a large man with long, white hair and beard. Shiva recognized his mentor.
“Shiva, my son! It is wonderful to see you after all these years.” He seemed about to say more, but Shiva interrupted.
“My wife has been kidnapped by aliens. I seek assistance. Do you know of a mighty hero who protects the world, but remains hidden?”
“Yes,” said the old wizard, “there is another who wields the power of Shazam in the cause of right. His name is Master Man. I created him many years ago as what they call these days a fail-safe.” He was about to go on, but Shiva interrupted a second time.
“Can you tell me the story some other time? I need his help right now!”
Shazam sighed. “Yes, my most impatient son. Speak my name!”
“Shazam!” The magic lightning flashed, thunder boomed, and Shiva was gone.