by Dan Swanson
“So they’ve attacked St. Louis as well?” Red Rocket asked Majique. “Any idea what they were looking for? How’d you get free? Are there any other prisoners aboard?”
Majique didn’t immediately respond to his questions. “How’d you know it was St. Louis?”
“I’m a detective.” She’d already seen his face, so Todd Drake figured it was futile to try to conceal his civilian identity. He examined the room closely as he spoke. “I’ve heard about some of the cases you’ve solved for the St. Louis P.D. Pretty impressive, actually!”
Valerie Coppersmith flushed slightly at praise from the famous super-hero. Todd moved to the door, listened closely, and then continued his questions.
“How’d you escape?”
“I wasn’t captured. I sneaked onto the saucer to look around, and it took off.”
He shook his head slightly at that, but just asked another question. “Did you see any aliens?”
“Soldiers killed two of them on the ground. I only saw one, and… I think I — I think I killed it.” Val was not a violent person, and now that she had time to think about what had happened, reaction was starting to set in. She started shaking violently, and she felt as if she was going to throw up. Rocket touched her gently on her shoulder, but she jerked away as if from an electric spark. He decided the best thing he could do was be to keep her busy.
He picked up the gun she had dropped. It was something like a pistol, and there was a volleyball-sized globe hanging from the grip by a short hose. It was identical to those used by the robots that had captured him, except for the hose and globe, as the hose on the robots had extended over their shoulder into a backpack. Rocket was starting to wonder about these pistols. In Chicago they had been very ineffective weapons.
Red Rocket examined it closely, being careful never to point it at Majique. There was no obvious trigger. “Did you see any of them use one of these?” She shook her head. “We might have time to experiment later.” Reluctantly, he carefully laid the pistol down on the floor; the scientist in him wanted to figure it out right now, but the heroic adventurer knew there were other priorities. He hated leaving it behind, but even smashing it could be dangerous, and it was too awkward to carry.
“So, they took my combat suit when they captured me. Can you use your powers to find it?” he asked her, getting back to the business at hand.
“They don’t work that way. I can find people by sensing their emotions, but I’m not good at finding things.”
“How about a spell, like the one that freed me?” he interrupted.
“I don’t know any finding spells.” She shuddered again, thinking of how she had just used the only other spell she knew. And then she stopped, as her intuition gave her a possibility. “Hold on — I may have something that can help.” She pulled open the blue bag and reached inside.
I could really use something to help us out, here! she thought to the bag. Something to help the hero find his armor. She closed her hand, and there was a thin rod of some sort lying across her palm. Unlike the ring, whatever this was didn’t come out easily; she had to strain both physically and psychically to pull it forth. It turned out to be a smooth black rod about eight inches long and the diameter of a pencil, with some kind of gem mounted on the end — a small magic wand. Her intuition told her it could help — and also, not to put it down.
She held it high overhead and gestured grandly. “Wand, bring me Red Rocket’s armor.” Nothing happened. Angrily, she pulled it down and pointed it at Rocket, who immediately stepped aside. She turned slightly to adjust, and he moved again.
“Stand still!” she ordered him angrily, but he moved more quickly than she could follow, stepping in closer, pushing her arm aside, and slipping behind her. He reached around her with both arms, one arm clasping the wrist to prevent her from waving that wand around any further, the other clamping down over her mouth. She tried to bite him.
“Listen,” he whispered in her ear. “I don’t know you — no way am I going to let you use an unknown magic wand on me!” She started to retort, but all she could do was mumble. “OK, now watch the jewel!” he ordered, and forced her to turn through a wide arc. Partway through the turn, the gem started to glow; as they turned more, it glowed even brighter and then started to dim again. “Understand?” She nodded. He let her go.
“Don’t you ever touch me like that again!” she hissed sharply.
“Agreed,” he replied easily. “Unless you point a potential weapon at me again,” he added a bit more sharply.
She nodded reluctantly. “How did you know how to make it work?” she asked.
“Didn’t, actually. But I saw it start to glow when you were swinging it around, so I took a guess. I’ve had a little experience with magic.”
It wasn’t just an idle boast. He’d fought against Wizzo the Wizard, perhaps the most powerful mage on the planet since Ibis the Invincible had vanished. (*) Majique had studied the stories on those battles jealously; she coveted the many powerful magical artifacts Wizzo had used. A stunning realization came upon her. Through great luck, she was now closer than she had ever been before in her life to obtaining her secret desire.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Rocket & Tom Atomic: Times Past, 1956: Right and Magic.]
I’ve got to get Red Rocket to show me where those things are! she thought to herself. Finally! A chance at the power I’ve always deserved! Although, of course, they had to first get away from the aliens. Reluctantly, she brought her thoughts back to the present.
The rod pointed through the one of the walls of the room, so they were going to have to use the corridors. “The door to outside is that way,” Majique said, pointing to the left. “The corridor is narrow, and there are a lot of closed doors on both sides. Also, there’s a dead alien…”
“Did you see any cross-corridors going in the right direction?” he asked. She shook her head. “OK, stay here for a second.” Before she could ask why, he was out the door and moving to the left. An instant later he was back, carrying the alien.
“Hope he doesn’t have any broken bones, or it could’a messed him up carrying him,” he said, gently laying the alien body on the floor.
“He’s alive?” Majique was thrilled to hear she wasn’t a killer — and a little apprehensive being around a living alien.
“He’s breathing, at least,” Rocket replied. “I don’t want to carry him with us. Do you have anything we can use to tie him up?”
She thought for a second, then tucked the wand into the sash she used as a belt, feeling relieved when it didn’t vanish. “Turn your head!” she ordered him, then lifted her skirts and pulled a wicked-looking dagger from a sheath on her leg. A couple of quick slashes, and she’d cut some long strips from the bottom of one of her petticoats. They quickly bound the alien.
“OK. Time to go exploring!”
Master Man led Shiva several miles straight up, and Shiva was stunned to realize that they were in a gigantic cone-shaped room, now approaching the point of the cone.
“Yes — we are in my Sanctum, a giant hall carved from the living heart of Mt. Everest,” Master Man responded to his observation. “And this–” He directed their flight through a short tunnel in one of the walls into a very interesting room: two walls completely covered with books, and the wall between them a giant TV screen. “–is where I monitor the world, so I can fly to the aid of those who need me. Though you and Kali haven’t left me much to do recently!”
“So why the cold welcome down below?” Shiva wondered. “It sure looked to me like you were about to be overwhelmed by alien robots! I never got beat up by another hero before.” Not that there were any other heroes who could beat him up, except perhaps Kali.
“Sorry.” Master Man sounded sheepish, and Shiva knew the apology was real. “I was just a boy back in the 1920s when Shazam visited me under the guise of a kindly old doctor and gave me a magic pill he called the vitacap. (*) I didn’t even know who the doctor was back then, especially since it was over a decade before Captain Marvel showed up. But three months before Shazam created the Big Red Cheese, he revealed himself to me and provided me with my Troublescope–” He indicated the giant television-like monitoring device. “–and told me he wanted me to be his backup in case of problems with Marvel. Sort of a low blow, you see? I was first, and up until then, I’d had a pretty spectacular career, even if very few had heard about me. Why not have Marvel be my backup? But I accepted it. It was pretty tough for a while, mostly sitting around waiting for some disaster that Captain Marvel couldn’t handle alone.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Master Man, Master Comics #1 (March, 1940) and Captain Marvel: Master Race.]
“Originally, I made my home in a lofty castle I built atop Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. But with Captain Marvel more active there than any other place in the world, I decided to relocate to the world’s tallest mountain — Mount Everest. So I began building an even grander headquarters for myself here — the Sanctum — and bided my time.” He waved his arms, indicating the incredible cavern around them. “And then up popped the Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel, and then the Lieutenants Marvel, and I could’ve slept for the next few years and nobody would have known the difference!”
Shiva was starting to see where this was going, so he spoke up. “And then the Marvel Family suddenly vanished, a situation Shazam had seemingly created you for, but instead he made me and Kali!” Master Man seemed a little uneasy, but nodded. Shiva continued. “Yeah, no wonder you were peeved! But you know, I never asked for my powers!”
“Look, let’s forget the whole thing for now.” Master Man was definitely uneasy. “I’ve kept myself busy, as you’ve seen,” he said, sweeping his arms to indicate the incredible museum within a mountain he had created. “We have an alien invasion to worry about. And we need to find Kali.”
As Master Man touched some controls, a montage of scenes began flickering across the Troublescope faster than any normal human could follow. Together they watched several alien attacks, and saw several heroes get captured, carried off, or vaporized while driving off those attacks. But none of Master Man’s various spy devices was able to make out where the alien ships went when they flew away.
“Those aliens are pretty tough,” said Shiva. “I think we could use some help — and there are a bunch of heroes searching for their partners. Why don’t we contact them all and see if we can work together?”
“I’m not normally a work-together type of guy,” Master Man said hesitantly.
“You don’t have to hide away inside a mountain just because Shazam told you you’re his secret weapon!” Shiva insisted. “Now’s a perfect time for you to go public!” Master Man looked indecisive. “Look, Shazam himself sent me here to get help.”
The older hero made up his mind. “You’re right. Let’s get started!”
Using Val Coppersmith’s dagger, Red Rocket was able to pry the chains loose from the wall, gaining two vicious weapons in the process. He then convinced Majique to use her powers in a new fashion — instead of blocking out all the ambient psychic impressions of living, thinking beings looking for a single person much farther away, could she locate any other thinking beings nearby?
She concentrated, and within a few seconds she reported, “More people — but no more bug-eyed monsters. Same direction as your battle-suit.”
“There were several hundred robots in Chicago,” he mentioned.
“If I could sense any robots, I would have said so.” She was a little testy, as she’d already told him her power sensed living things.
He held both hands up to fend off the argument and smiled. “Let’s get moving!”
They cautiously opened the door to the next room down the corridor, and inside there were two low tables, several cabinets and workbenches, and a lot of unknown equipment. One of the tables was covered with a pile of clothes, and on the other was a motionless human — a black man wearing only underwear. The light in the room was an unusual blue color. As soon as she realized the man was breathing, Majique rushed into the room. Rocket grabbed her arm to stop her, but she twisted free. Good technique! he thought fleetingly, as she got a step into the room and then collapsed to the floor.
Some cautious experimentation proved to Todd that he didn’t want to go into that room himself. He squatted by the door, leaned away from it, and stuck his hand into the room — only to wake up lying on his back, having tumbled away from the danger as planned. He couldn’t enter, and she was too far for him to lasso her with his chains. He was going to have to go on alone.
The next room was a control room, with a window looking into the blue-lit room. On a table, along with some other equipment, was his battle-suit. Before putting it on, he examined it closely — something had caused the power drain that had allowed him to be captured, and he found something. It looked like a flat artificial spider, squashed flat against the lower back of his costume, with legs outstretched and digging into the material, locking it in place.
Must not be metallic, or my force-field would have kept it out, he thought to himself as he carefully inspected the device. He stretched the upper-half of the suit out on the floor and smashed the device with his chains, then donned the boots and ground the remaining pieces to dust. The built-in system diagnostics showed that his systems were back to normal. Have to watch out for more of those things, he warned himself as he finished suiting up.
Red Rocket finished his inspection of the control room. The general appearance was of something hastily thrown together, not the shining perfection he’d expected from watching various science-fiction films. He paid particular attention to the many cables and bundles of wires criss-crossing the floor behind the various cabinets of controls. He assumed the thickest cable would be carrying power, and his electromagnetic sensors confirmed the presence of a powerful electromagnetic field around that cable. His disintegrator flashed, and both rooms went dark. Todd turned on his floodlight at very low power, and used the disintegrator to slice through the window. He could detect no power in the next room.
Majique began to sit up. “Geez, I have an awful headache!” she complained.
“Be glad you’re alive!” he replied. “You know what they say — ‘only fools rush in’!” As he was helping her to her feet, they heard a moan — the unknown captive started stirring. They rushed to his side.
His eyes opened, and his head snapped around — and then he moaned in pain, and he moved his hands to his head. “$#!*, that hurts!” More slowly, he looked around again. “I guess it means I’m alive, though. You’re Red Rocket, aren’t you? Are you the rescue team?” He started to sit up, and Rocket and Majique helped him. “Thanks!” He was breathing deliberate, long deep breaths.
“Not exactly a rescue. We were captured, too, so it’s more like an escape team. Not feeling too well, eh?”
“Terrible headache!” he agreed. It seemed to be painful for him to talk, and he continued his deep breathing.
“I have a pretty bad headache, too,” Majique said. “Must be some side-effect of whatever knocked us out.”
“It reminds me of sleep apnea,” he told her. “Whatever knocked us out caused us to have problems breathing, and there was a buildup of carbon dioxide in our blood. Breathe deep, and as soon as the CO2 gets flushed, you’ll feel better.” Majique looked dubious, while the unknown man continued to breathe deeply.
“Who are you, by the way?” the man asked Majique.
“Umm… you can call me Majique.”
“Oh, that fortune teller from St. Louis–” She bristled, before he continued. “–who’s solved so many ‘impossible’ cases for the St. Louis Police. Heard good things about you — nice to meet you. Never heard you were such a fox, though.” That mollified her somewhat.
“And just who are you?” she demanded.
“Hold on a second.” He hopped off the table, swayed a little bit, then regained his balance. Moving carefully to the table that was piled with clothing, he started pulling on an obviously expensive burnt orange business suit. “You can call me Oxide. I’m from Pittsburgh, and just getting started in the mystery-man game. Never expected to get caught up in a flying saucer, though.” While he dressed, he told them the story of his capture, carefully omitting any reference to the oxidation pistol. Within a few moments he was dressed, and he slipped his M1911 pistol, which had been in the pile on the table, into one of the empty shoulder holsters.
“You look like you’re feeling better,” Rocket commented.
“Yeah, I’m about good as new.” Neither man commented when Majique started drawing long, slow breaths.
At that instant, the sound of the saucer’s engines changed tone, and Red Rocket recognized the change. “We’d better get ready for action. We’re landing.”