by Dan Swanson
High above San Francisco, Shiva broke formation with Master Man. Flying halfway around the world wasn’t nearly as fast or convenient as being instantly transported by Shazam, but it had been an interesting flight. Early on, Shiva had subtly tested the older hero by continually increasing his flight speed until he was straining, and flying faster than he ever had before, but Master Man kept up easily, apparently not even noticing Shiva’s extra effort. The wisdom of Brahma suggested that Shiva’s larger size and increased air resistance, especially at such high speeds in the atmosphere, was probably the reason. Shiva reasoned that he was probably stronger than Master Man, though, based on their relative sizes.
Shiva had also started to develop a couple of powers that Captain Marvel had never displayed. He was surprised to find that Master Man was working on the same kind of program — and was thrilled to find a confidant with similar experiences to share. They discussed their methods and showed off their new abilities, and then it was time for Shiva to meet Palette, while Master Man flew on to Chicago to recruit Tom Atomic and Lady Victory to their cause.
Landing in an alley near Haight Street, Shiva said his word and switched back to Martin Martine in order to avoid attracting attention. Master Man’s video monitoring screen had given him a good idea of the layout of the neighborhood, and he proceeded quickly to a very large house surrounded by high hedges. The lawn inside the hedges was crowded with sculptures and statues, and the house, though probably dating back over one-hundred years, was well-maintained and painted immaculately. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He tried the door, and it was open. He was extremely uncomfortable just walking into a stranger’s house, but it was a very unusual and urgent situation.
Before entering, he ensured that no one was around to watch, then said his magic word again and allowed the blue rain to wash upward, transforming him into the hulking, four-armed, blue-skinned Shiva. Quickly, he entered the house.
Within he found a woman sitting in the living room, reading a book. Shiva knew that Alex Silverstone, also known as Palette, was one of the two resident super-heroines of San Francisco, but she looked awful. Her clothes were wrinkled and dirty, and there were dark shadows under her eyes. She was slumped over a table, and there were crumbs and pizza crusts littering her lap and the table, and empty beer bottles scattered on the floor.
On one wall in her room, a single scene from a movie of some kind was playing over and over, though no projector was visible. Shiva realized in horror that he was somehow watching the aliens land in Golden Gate Park as Alex had seen it, from the moment the aliens appeared until the moment Miss Music was shot and disintegrated until the moment the alien saucer took off again. He looked away as Alex watched her partner change into her costume, then shuddered when the scene started to play again. Master Man had explained how Palette’s powers seemed to work; part of her mind must be reliving the moment of her partner’s death over and over again.
“Excuse me, I’m Shiva, the super-hero from Fawcett City. You may have heard of me. I’m looking for help to fight the aliens who killed your partner.”
“She’s alive,” Alex said flatly. “Leave me alone.” There was no emotion and no inflection in her voice; to Shiva, it almost didn’t sound human.
Shiva was stunned. He’d never been ignored before, and she somehow thought that Miss Music was still alive. “But… they disintegrated her. I just watched it.”
“It’s all in here.” She picked up a book and threw it at him. “If you really want to help, stop bothering me, and figure out where they took her.” She never looked up from her reading.
The title of the book was Alien Invasion, Coming Right Up! With the speed of Garuda, Shiva finished reading the book in seconds. It took slightly longer for the wisdom of Brahma to help him sort out the obvious untruths and embellishments. He was left with a series of unsupported claims made by the author.
An alien invasion craft had crashed in New Mexico in 1947. While most of the aliens died, the remaining few intended to complete the invasion plans. They used their superior technology to build a secret base underground in the desert, and started their fabrication machines, turning out robot armies. Each fabricator machine created a different type of robot.
They’d captured some humans and experimented on them. They used a collection gun that fired a beam at a person, who then was instantly shrunk to very small size, and sucked up into the storage cell attached to the gun, then restored to normal size back at the base. They had discovered that some humans, who had been exposed to radiation over fairly long periods of time, could be “encouraged” by the alien’s technology to mutate and develop super-powers, but these super-powers were virtually useless. One of the enhanced humans could freeze small volumes of water about one ice cube worth at a time, for example. The enhancement process also interfered with the humans’ mental capacity, allowing the aliens to brainwash them. Despite their limited super-powers, these humans were being trained to make use of their powers in service of the aliens. The author of this book, Eric Damien, had been one such experimental subject who had escaped and tried frantically to warn the world. Once he got away from the alien machines, both his super-power and the brainwashing had worn off.
The aliens had also developed technology that they hoped to use to copy more powerful super-powers from existing heroes into their slave population. Damien had predicted that the aliens would soon begin a four-pronged invasion strategy, first to collect humans who had high exposure to radiation in order to increase the size of their slave army, second to harvest existing heroes to try to use their technology to duplicate the heroes’ powers into their slaves, third to recover various Atlantean artifacts that had been buried all over North America since the fall of Atlantis, and fourth to make use of a mysterious device called a star gate to bring in reinforcements from their homeworld.
Damien had no idea about the history of the star gate, who built it, how it got to Earth, or why it had never been used before, but Shiva had already experienced it in action. This, plus the captures of Kali and Miss Music, tended to support many of Damien’s claims. The aliens Damien warned about were real, and the invasion he had predicted had begun.
A loud crashing sound, something metal smashing into something breakable, shattered Tomas Thomas’ concentration, and he quickly looked up to see Lady Victory’s disk-shaped shield bouncing away from a now-headless granite statue. The shield then bounced once on the floor and into a corner, then rebounded away, rolling on its edge in a smooth arc. When it rolled over one of her feet, Lady Victory made a slight kicking motion, and the shield hopped up into the air. She didn’t even seem to adjust her hand as she casually closed it on one of the carrying straps.
“I didn’t know you could do that!” he exclaimed. That was pretty impressive, he thought, especially for an unenhanced human being.
“I call it ‘walking the dog’ — picked it up from watching Jack play with his yo-yo,” she snapped. “That and a nickel will get me a cup of coffee.”
Tomas knew she wasn’t angry with him — at least, he hoped not. “You’re wrecking the place, you know,” he complained mildly. They were in a well-furnished interior room in the building that housed the DMT Agency in Chicago, a place where the partners often retired to do the reading that was so often associated with being a detective.
“That statue has always been awful. And you know we’ve been planning to tear out the walls and carpet.” Tomas knew no such thing. They had discussed it once, months ago, and had tabled the idea — until now, he guessed. “We should’a been out of here hours ago, if you didn’t have to stop and study! You’ve been tinkering with that alien stuff for too long!” Tomas was indeed tinkering with some of the guns the alien invaders had been using. “Todd could be dead by now, or worse, for all we know!”
“You know we’re waiting for reports on where to look, Bonnie. We can’t just head out and search the whole world.”
“I might be able to help,” said a third voice. The two heroes slipped into defensive postures as they turned to face the newcomer. All the doors were locked; nobody should have been able to get in here. And then they relaxed again — both of them were familiar with Master Man.
“Why, it’s the king of the mountain!” Tomas quipped. He’d once thought he was the most powerful man on the planet, but Master Man had knocked him out of the top spot just by existing, and there was now something of a friendly rivalry between the two heroes. (*) “We were just getting ready to leave.”
“Red Rocket is held captive somewhere in the American Southwest,” Master Man said, cutting to the chase. “Several other heroes were captured as well. Shiva and I are putting together a team of the remaining heroes to attempt a rescue — and fight off the alien invasion.”
“Do you know where in the Southwest?” Lady Victory asked anxiously.
“Somehow they’re able to foul up my monitoring devices, so I’m not sure exactly. But I should be able to get us close enough so that Tom’s gravity anomaly detector should work.”
Shiva had insisted that Alex Silverstone spend a few hours taking care of herself, including a couple of hours of sleep, before they moved on to their next destination: Phoenix. Eric Damien’s books suggested that Miss Music would be kept alive so the aliens could replicate her powers in their army of mutated human slaves, and Palette wouldn’t be of much help in a fight in the state she was in. As soon as Shiva drew her attention to her physical condition, she was astounded by how awful she really felt. It was a measure of her condition that she didn’t argue, but followed his directions and immediately took a nap.
While she was asleep, Shiva headed to a nearby junkyard and did a little construction. He used his powers to gather materials recovered from several junked cars and forged a streamlined capsule around two comfortable bucket seats. He could tow this with one hand, and Alex and one other could ride in comfort, even at super-speeds.
When he returned to find Alex still sleeping, Shiva changed back to Martin Martine and did a little shopping, then started work in the kitchen. She awakened to the smell of a thick steak sizzling in the broiler, and the two quickly devoured the huge meal he had prepared. Alex pronounced herself back to normal, so she donned her Palette costume, and they headed for Phoenix.
Donal Regan was in even worse shape than Alex Silverstone had been. A quarter of his body mass was missing, along with some unknown part of his mind and life energies. He was weak, his balance was poor, his concentration shaky. From time to time, with no warning or clear cause, he would be overcome by something resembling an epileptic fit — his limbs would stop working, and he would begin shaking violently. This seemed to be his body adapting to its new conditions; he’d had four or five of these fits over the last day, and they seemed to be getting less painful.
Fortunately, he’d been able to reach his car at the airport without anyone seeing him, and he’d made the ten-minute drive home safely. He had been in hiding ever since. He’d managed to contact Zack on the phone, and asked his foreman to keep people away from him for a few days, claiming that the trauma of the invasion had caused him to have flashbacks to an earlier, grimmer era in his life. Zack understood; he still sometimes had similar flashbacks to some of his experiences in Korea. Zack put out the word that Donal was among those people missing after the alien attack.
In a way, ’tis absolutely true! Donal thought wryly to himself, picturing the missing ‘chaun.
Donal was fighting through his illness, packing stuff and hauling it to his car, getting ready to drive to New Mexico, even in his current condition, when Shiva and Palette showed up. Shiva carefully opened the back door to Donal’s house, breaking the lock as he did so. Donal instantly recognized the seven-foot-tall, four-armed hero with the long flaming red hair, blue skin, and an extra eye. He dropped the suitcase he had been struggling to carry, and sat down on top of it, exhausted.
“Ye’d best have a good reason, breakin’ inta a man’s house that way, hero or no!” He tried to project anger and energy, but didn’t have enough energy to spare, and it came out flat, almost as a whisper. “What’s a big hot-shot New York City hero like ye doin’ here, anyway?” Even his accent was mostly drowned in his fatigue and illness.
“We’re looking for the aliens that have been attacking cities all over the U.S.,” Shiva replied. “Putting together a team of heroes to drive them away.”
“Shiva — look at this guy. What are we doing here?” Palette demanded. “He couldn’t last a round with Howdy Doody!”
Donal stared at her, but didn’t have the strength to reply. “You didn’t look much better this morning,” Shiva reminded her gently.
“Yeah, but what’s wrong with him? How is he going to help us, anyway?”
His anger lent him strength. “Bollox! D’ye ken where they be hidin’?” he asked. “I do.”
This tidbit piqued Alex’s interest. Shiva had indicated that he only had a vague idea where the aliens were — somewhere near Roswell, New Mexico. She hadn’t looked forward to spending hours searching through the desert, even at super-speed. Still, why should they believe him? “How could you possibly know that?” she asked scornfully.
“Those bloody cafflers took away a wee piece o’ me,” he replied, already close to worn out again. “Ye’ll have ta trust me now.”
“We should get moving before you get any worse,” Shiva said. “I think he’ll start feeling better as we get closer.” Palette looked unconvinced — but who would argue with Shiva? Shiva gently helped Donal into the carrier, and Palette got into the other seat, and they were gone.