by Dan Swanson
“Goddess! I hate New York winters!” actress Lily Martine complained softly to herself as she left the theater after a late performance, irritation twisting her beautiful heart-shaped face into an angry mask. “It wouldn’t be so bad if it was snow, but this dirty, dingy slush is just intolerable!” The beautiful black-haired actress best known under her maiden name of Lily Lovelace stomped her high-heeled boot in disapproval and then swore softly as wet sludge sprayed the brick wall of the theater. “I don’t know why I even bother! There’s no one around to see, anyway, and I’ve got places to go. Rakasha!”
A hot red flame roared up from the slushy pavement, and the snow on the sidewalk sizzled, engulfing Lily a cloud of dirty steam and oily black smoke that wrapped around her tightly, then reluctantly cleared to reveal a tall, four-armed, black-skinned female with a mane of blood red hair and yellow flames flashing from her eyes. She wore a dress of fine golden links with a wide silver belt, buckled with a fist-sized, red-tinged diamond cut into the shape of a skull. Kali, the world’s most majestic woman, leaped into the air and vanished in less than the blink of an eye.
In another place, infinitely far from the dingy streets of New York, yet separated by a magical veil as flimsy as tissue for those who knew the secret, two grotesque figures sat in a room full of flames, watching the amazing transformation through a magical window and cackling with satisfaction.
“Yes, brother, every time she changes, she comes more under our control. Be patient, and soon she will be our agent.” The shape that spoke was humanoid with red skin, female, and larger than human, with giant horns on the front of her head.
“A patient demon, sister? Your sense of humor is almost humanly atrocious! My own plan should provide us with a new human agent much sooner than yours!” boasted the other. (*) The male demon looked much like his sister, save that his skin seemed black as coal.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Shiva: Times Past, 1958: The Birth of Kali.]
Kali sped to the New York headquarters building of the Super Squad in seconds, and raced into the hangar. Good! she thought with satisfaction. The C-57D is set to go. Next stop, Chicago… then St. Louis, then San Fran, and finally, St. Thomas! I’m really looking forward to a week’s vacation in a Caribbean paradise!
The C-57D was an alien flying craft that had been named by the Super Squad member Miss Music, who was an enthusiast of ’50s science-fiction movies. A typical “flying saucer” some thirty feet across and about twelve feet thick in the center, it resembled a scaled-down model of the original C-57D, the famed flying saucer from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet. Shiva had objected at first, worried about potential lawsuits from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but the name had stuck.
The Super Squad had confiscated it from the defeated alien invasion force following the adventure that had brought the group together. (*) The alien interior had been rebuilt into a comfortably appointed cabin with human furnishings and ceilings high enough to accommodate the seven-foot Kali and her taller husband, Shiva. She was taking off empty, but she’d pick up her first passenger in Chicago in less than half an hour.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Super Squad: Times Past, 1961: Origin of the Super Squad.]
“Tammi, why couldn’t you pack last night?” Alex Silverstone’s voice showed her irritation with her tiny roommate. “I could have used an extra hour’s sleep!” It was four A.M.; she and her partner — Palette and Miss Music, respectively — were scheduled to meet their Super Squad teammates Kali, Lady Victory, and Majique on the field at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park in an hour.
“We’re going to the Virgin Islands for a week, and you’re grousing about getting up a little early?” replied Tammi Paige, alias Miss Music, holding up another wisp of nothing from her dainties drawer, then throwing it in her bag after a dismissive shake of her head from Alex. “What do you think of this swimsuit?” It was a tiny bikini, yellow with red polka dots. In the background, a popular rock and roll song was playing softly, thanks to Miss Music’s power to perfectly recreate any sound from memory. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: Miss Music: Times Past, 1959: Muskrat Creek Confidential.]
“I think you won’t be able to see the sand on the beach, since there will be so many boys around. If you’re lucky, you’ll miss the riot, because they’ll arrest you before it starts!” Alex answered disapprovingly.
“Do you really think so? That’s so sweet!” Tammi responded gleefully. She threw it into her bag.
“I like the metallic silvery one better myself,” Alex replied. Tammi threw that one into the bag as well.
“What about this?” Tammi held up a pair of scandalous dresses that Alex knew had cost almost three-hundred dollars each, a diaphanous sun dress and a little black cocktail dress with sequins, which Tammi wore to artists’ showings, charity receptions, and benefits, and other high-visibility social events when she wanted to be the center of attention… which was all the time.
“We’re not going to the club, Tams, we’re going to the beach.”
“You’d spend the whole week in cutoffs and a grubby tank top!” Tammi complained. “A lot of rich people go there for vacation, you know. Heck, the Rockerfellows own half of one of the islands! They know how to take care of tourists, and they’ve got some great clubs! We’re can’t lay on the beach the whole time.”
With a sigh, Alex gave up. As usual, Tammi would do whatever Tammi wanted to do; it was the only way for their partnership to really work. As Palette, Alex possessed the ability to not only recreate and project any scene she had ever witnessed, but also project scenes straight out of her imagination, which often came in handy as an artist. (*) The two women could also combine their powers in novel ways, such as playing back a movie they saw, with Palette projecting the visuals and Miss Music supplying the sounds, with the experience being similar to seeing that movie in a theater. That was why they were known by some as the Audio-Visual Avengers, and by many more as the two-woman team called AVant Guard.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: Palette: Times Past, 1959: Murder in the Morning.]
Alex set to work packing a picnic basket with breakfast for the whole group, and when Tammi was finally finished packing, the two headed for the park. Alex struggled to pull their big Radio Flyer kid’s wagon, piled high with Tammi’s three giant bags and her own small one. If truth be told, Tam’s three bags weighed more than she did. The dense morning fog distorted sight and sound, and Alex realized she could just pick out the muffled strains of the theme song for the TV Show Alfred Hitchcock Presents mixed with the distant moan of foghorns.
“Minerva, I love San Francisco in January!” Alex mused. “I love the mystery inherent in a pea soup fog like this. You get the feeling that almost anything is possible, and might be revealed with your next step.” Tammi didn’t reply; she hated the cold and damp. When she first moved to San Francisco, she thought she was moving to a semitropical paradise where it would never be cold, but San Francisco in the winter could be bitter. If it hadn’t been for Alex, she would have left again long ago.
Human senses and human-built instruments would have been baffled trying to guide the C-57D to a precision landing in this pea soup fog, but the alien navigational instruments were up to the task. At precisely five A.M. Pacific Standard Time, the C-57D touched down on the fifty-yard line, and the Bay Area bombshells boarded “Super Squad Airlines Flight 101” to St. Thomas. The first annual Super Squad girls only week was underway.
“Since the Super Squad has our own ‘airline,’ why are we flying so darn early in the morning?” grumbled Valerie Coppersmith, alias Majique, as they floated up through the dense San Francisco fog. She had to speak fairly loudly to be heard over the faint whistle of the wind and the background music that she recognized as Flight of the Bumblebee.
“People who see the C-57D tend to panic and call the papers and start another UFO scare,” said Kali disgustedly. “I’d rather fly myself, but I’m sure not going to carry you guys!”
“You’d think that after that story about us in LIFE magazine, people would recognize that the C-57D means Super Squad, not aliens. They should cheer when they see it,” Tammi sniffed peevishly. “And they showed our story on the news on all three TV networks! How could they miss it?”
“Most people still don’t believe in super-heroes, even now,” said Bonnie Marlowe Drake in a soothing tone; as the patriotic Lady Victory, she had been a costumed crime-fighter a few years longer than the others. (*) “Easier to blame every strange thing on UFOs than pay attention to the news.” She changed the subject enthusiastically. “We’ve got reservations for a group of bungalows at a resort near Red Hook, just off the beach. They have all kinds of activities, and they even have a freshwater pool.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Rocket & Tom Atomic: Times Past, 1956: Right and Magic, Epilogue: Lady Victory.]
“And massage!” Tammi cheered. “And a great club.”
“How are we paying for all this?” Val was worried; she didn’t yet make enough from her fortune-telling business to pay for a Caribbean vacation, and she’d just blown through the last of her latest reward for helping the St. Louis police solve another missing person case.
“No problems, mon,” Kali said, grinning at her as she tried to fake an island accent. “After Hurricane Jenny last year, I did some rescue and reconstruction operations in the Virgin Islands, and the island government contacted the Super Squad to offer us free hospitality as a reward. At our November meeting, when the five of us started planning a vacation without the boys, I remembered the invitation. Ya, mon, it was a perfect fit.” The others nodded.
“So everyone working for the resort will know we’re the Super Squad?” Alex asked disapprovingly. “Tam and I haven’t been able to keep our identities secret, and it’s starting to get annoying having legions of adoring fans hanging around all the time, asking for our autographs or just staring at us, hoping for a chance to talk to us.”
“I didn’t mind legions of adoring fans, at first,” Tammi added sadly. “It was cool being recognized and idolized — better than being a movie star! But now it’s kind of creepy — there’s people walking through our yard and all over our gardens, and yesterday I even caught some guy peeping through the bathroom window!”
“The government hasn’t told the resort who we are,” Bonnie reassured them. “To them, we’re just another group of rich tourists…” She looked around at the group and grinned. “…rich, beautiful tourists! Even if they don’t know who we are, we’re going to draw a crowd. This is going to be fun.” Tammi cheered up and laughed at this.
A while later, after they had landed discreetly, Kali changed back to Lily and checked in at the Red Hook Resort. They agreed to spend the morning unpacking and getting settled in, then meet for lunch. Alex finished unpacking in minutes; Tammi was just starting on her second bag when someone knocked on the door of their bungalow.
“I can help you with your secret identity problem,” Val announced cheerfully as she barged in. “Hold on.” Without waiting for acknowledgement, she completed a short chant in a language unknown to either of the California girls, then dramatically opened her large leather pouch and reached in.
Behind the magical gossamer veil in that far-away-yet-nearby flame-filled place, the male demon smirked in evil satisfaction as he spoke to the other. “Watch this, sister! I think you’ll find it amusing…”
“Oh, grotty!” Val exclaimed in disgust. “It’s all wet and slimy!” She pulled her hand out of the pouch, clutching a large handful of dripping seaweed and fronds.
“Oh, gross! It’s dripping icky slime on the carpet!” Tammi yelped as she jumped to her feet. “Get it out of here!”
“Tams, we’re in a bungalow only yards from the ocean. We’ll be tracking in sticky sand and dripping salt water all over everything all week!” With the keen eye of an artist, Alex realized that there was something inside the mass of seaweed, something that was the right size and shape to be a bottle. Her artistic curiosity was aroused. She took the wet mess from Val and started to examine it closely. Sure enough, there was something solid in the lump of weed. She carefully began pulling away strands and asked Val, “What is it?”
“I summoned a magical charm that will cause people to forget your other identities, as long as it is yours. If you give it away, lose it, or it gets stolen, it will stop working.” Val felt uneasy as she said that. She had a seemingly instinctive magical connection with the artifacts she summoned, and she sensed that there was more to this artifact than the purpose to which Alex and Tammi would turn it. But it would do the job they needed.
Now that she realized how powerful this artifact was, she would like to have it back, to study and use to augment her own abilities once she’d figured it out, but she’d already given it away. It was unfortunate, but in a couple of hours she could summon another artifact.
The bottle was blue glass, made cloudy by long submersion in salt water, shaped like a hip liquor flask, and partially covered with corroded gilt-metal filigree. Barnacles clung to part of the glass surface. The metal cap was in surprisingly good condition, and there was something in the bottle, something that rattled when Alex shook it gently, though it was impossible to discern through the cloudy blue glass.
“Ooo-ooohhh! I wonder if there’s a genie inside?” Tammi asked in awe. “I want to make a wish!”
“No genie,” Val said uncertainly. “But I don’t think you should open it. The magic is trapped inside the bottle, and it will stop working if you let it out.”
“Wow! That is outta site cool!” Tammi exclaimed. “Let’s hit the beach!”