Other Times on Other Earth

Other Times on Other Earth is a dynamic look by several different authors into another reality, an alternate Earth where larger-than-life super-humans are more than just comic book characters.

Whether in the pre-World War II era, during the war, in the 50s, 60s or 80s, mystery heroes are heroic – it’s what they do. In origin stories and action adventures, singly and in teams, vs. foes human and monstrous, read on as these exciting heroes fight the good fight and bravely hold the line against evil, standing between us and the darkness.

 

***~~~***

 

Heroes of an Other Earth

Other Times on Other Earth

An Anthology By

 

E. Lee Ball

Darci

Commander Franklin

Dan Swanson

Tim Trust

Vendeker Wulf

 

All stories Copyright © 2016 by the Respective Authors

 

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Table of Contents

Family Matters E. Lee Ball

Dr. Boom, You Fiend Dan Swanson

The Origin of Oxide Darci and Dan

Murder in the Morning Dan Swanson

Kid Aeolus E. Lee Ball

Chores E. Lee Ball

 

Family Matters

By E. Lee Ball

 

Part 1

Marble City, USA Saturday, March 30, 1940

News on the March--”

March 21th. An invasion appears imminent as Hitler's all-female squad of women warriors test the Norwegian defenses. The Valkyries, as der Fuhrer named these highly effective soldiers, look to have powers and abilities that could give our own Major Powers a run for his money. Their code names are as colorful as their costumes.

Here, we have the young woman called Nixe. She appears to be drawing the dew from the leaves of the surrounding trees and directing it in a powerful rush towards the Norwegian troops. Next is the woman-warrior, Berchta. With a few simple gestures, she shapes the snow and ice into monstrous creatures and commands them to attack the defenders. I bet the kiddies would enjoy having her around in peacetime.

That flash that appears to be blinding the camera belongs to WeisseFrau. Her main objective seems to be to hover over the battlefield and target her enemies with beams of excruciatingly bright light. Look out! The woman Hitler named Waldgeist has emerged from the forest and the trees themselves bend down and entangle the Norwegians in their branches.

The cameraman scans the battlefield searching for the leader of the Valkyries, Freifrau Tod des Herzens—Baroness Death's Heart. Some say she is nosferatu, while others swear she is a succubus. Regardless of her mysterious origins, when she appears on the battlefield things go from bad to worse for the defenders.”

Freifrau Tod des Herzens does appear on the movie screen an instant before the camera falls to the ground and goes black. The audience in the theater draws in most of the room's oxygen in a collective gasp. Even I can't resist the reflex to do so. While my fellow patrons do so out of shock and fear, my reaction is because of recognition.

The beautiful young Fraulein clothed in wisps of green, brown, and golden gossamer surrounded by a slight breeze filled with dancing oak leaves is burned into my mind. Despite the years that have passed, I know that face. It reminds me so much of Momma's there can be not even the shadow of a doubt; the woman-warrior called Waldgeist is none other than my dear Gerta. Memories flood over me.

If you lived there—in Deutschland—you couldn't ignore the fact that the storm was coming. The anger, the attitude, the violent rhetoric, all spurred on by a failed artist. Anger because our beloved Germany paid for the folly of a lost war. The attitude that the Fatherland was singled out and humiliated over all the other Central Powers. The violent rhetoric stirring people to rise up in the fanatical belief that they lived in a glorious third Reich destined to rule the world.

Momma died while Poppa was fighting in the trenches in France. My baby sister, Gerta, and I were taken in by Momma's sister until Poppa returned home. The war had taken its toll on him and he was little more than a geist. He was a shell of his former self—physically, mentally, emotionally—so I, alone, returned home with him. I took care of him as best as I could. Gerta continued to live with our aunt.

His days were horrible and his nights...well, his nights were nightmare, for both of us. Most days he wouldn't speak, except to occasionally look at the wardrobe and call for Momma to come out. Every so often, he would call out to Ernst (that is my name, but I believe it also belonged to one of his fellow soldiers.) At first, I would answer him, but he ignored my response. He would look past me and say, “My son is Ernst, as well.” He would then proceed to converse with his friend until he began to scream. Poppa would then begin a frenzied description of the mortar explosion that injured him and killed his friend.

After the first few months, his outbursts were becoming my nightmares. This went on for almost three years—until Poppa went to be with Momma.

I tried to find my aunt and uncle, but they had moved. If they informed Poppa, he was never lucid enough to tell me. I haven't seen my sister since.

That is, until now.

When Hitler began his ascent to power, many of us saw what was coming. I tried again and again to find Gerta, but it was no use. Finally, I had to make a choice. It was either stay in Germany to continue searching and risk being forced into the army to fight in a heinous war, or flee the country. I had already had my fill of one war and wanted no part of another one.

When I left in late July of 1934, I was 25 years-old and my dear Gerta would have been 19. That would make her 25 now. My mind cannot fathom what could have driven her to throw her lot in with Hitler.

When the movie begins, it doesn't take long for the audience to forget Norway and laugh at the antics of the East Side Kids. I had been looking forward to their latest motion picture, Flying Wild, but after what I have just seen on the MarbleTown News, I can think of nothing but Norway. I excuse myself as I slip past the couple sitting between me and the aisle and leave the theater.

My intention is to go home to my apartment, but when I look at Poppa's pocket watch, I realize it is just past 6 PM. I have been wandering Marble City—apparently aimlessly—for over 4 hours. I don't remember the path I took, but I find myself standing outside the Augur Travel Agency. Of course, they are closed, but, I realize that somewhere along the way from the theater to here, I had made a decision. I was returning to Germany to find my Gerta.

 

Part 2

Dublin, Ireland Friday, April 5, 1940 (pre-dawn)

Thanks to the kindhearted travel agent who thought it noble of me wanting to rescue my newly-located sister from the clutches of Nazis, I now walk the streets of Dublin. My accent has garnered a bit of attention in the three days since I arrived, not all of it good. Fortunately—or unfortunately—the attention works to my advantage.

Rather than speak of my intent to rescue my sister, I let the German sympathizers believe I am returning to the Fatherland with information pertinent to an attack on American soil. Blind fools. They are so eager to contribute to the Nazis war effort, they offer to arrange transportation to German occupied Norway.

I mention seeing The Valkyries in a newsreel and inquire if their location is known. One of the young men, barely out of his teens, tells me they have been causing a din in southern Norway as well as northern Denmark.

The tale is that they are in western Sweden, but the Swedes are doing nae about them as long as they cause nae trouble on Swedish soil,” the young man tells me.

I say no more about them, not wanting to arouse suspicions about my true purpose being here.

 

Part 3

North Sea, Off the coast Of Norway, Saturday, April 6, 1940

The sea gods must be angry. They are determined to fill this Irish fishing boat with as much salt water as possible. I just wish I knew whose side they were choosing in the coming war. Are they trying to prevent the fishermen from aiding Hitler, or, like them, have they thrown their lot in with the Nazis; am I the one who is the target of their wrath? I intend no antagonism toward them, but I will swim to Norway if that is what it comes to.

The captain motions for me. “We dare nae go further. Despite our intentions and sympathies, your fellow countrymen would send us to the bottom of the sea since we don't fly a German flag.”

It appears the gods are taking me up on my threat to swim. I am about to ask the man why he brought me this far knowing he could go no farther, when another fisherman appears with a rubber raft.

Continue due east,” he tells me, pointing out across the waves. “We are a rough three kilometers from the Norwegian shore near Egersund. You must hurry, though. It would nae be good for you to be caught in the water come morning.”

I nod and thank the men for their assistance, then we toss the raft overboard. I climb down a rope and lower myself into the raft. I look up to wave, but the fishermen are already in the process of turning the boat back to Ireland.

It takes close to thirty minutes for me to make the journey to shore. Had the weather been better I am certain I could have done it in a third of the time. I drag the raft behind an outcropping of rocks, then change into some dry clothes. Staying out of sight, I make my way down the coast a kilometer or so before heading inland.

More to follow!

Oxide in:

The Origin of Oxide

By Darci & Dan Swanson

 

Part 1 Recruitment

This ad appeared in ‘The Steel City Sentinel’, the city’s widely-circulated morning paper, on a Wednesday in March, 1958.

HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO BE A MYSTERY HERO? Are you smart, in good health, a talented athlete with good reflexes, with a good knowledge of the law and a passion for justice? Growing up, did you haunt used book stores, looking for old copies of Doc Shadow and Gem Anthony pulps? Do you like fast cars, fast women, futuristic technology, and fighting? We are looking for a hero! We offer long hours, great pay, glorious adventure, great danger. For a chance to make a difference in the world, apply in person between 9 AM and 2:30 PM, today only, at 2817 Michigan Avenue, 5th Floor, Suite 3. Ask for Mel.

 

***~~~***

The building at 2817 Michigan Avenue was perhaps three years old, but otherwise it looked just like the other office buildings nearby. The directory in the well-appointed lobby indicated that it was home to at least a dozen different companies. The door to Suite 3, 5th floor, looked just like any other except for the name stenciled in black on the frosted glass: The Gallant Foundation.

A slow but steady stream of applicants, most of them male, were efficiently processed. Initially they were greeted by Miss Hart, the receptionist, and required to fill out an application and a personal history. Miss Hart introduced them one-by-one to Mel Lorenzi in her private office where they completed an extremely difficult written test. Then Mel led them into another suite that had been furnished as a gym and introduced them to Bruno Munchen. Bruno ran them all through an even more taxing physical test, then released each applicant with the same promise: “The Foundation will contact you by mail by Tuesday with the results.”

And they would indeed be contacted: while an applicant was being interviewed by Mel, Miss Hart was completing a sincere, personally signed form letter to that applicant expressing regret that the Foundation had decided on another candidate, and including a $25 gift certificate to say “Thank you for your time and effort”. All the regret letters were mailed that evening.

In yet another suite, a pair of people were watching the process on closed circuit TV. These two were strikingly similar in appearance to Mel and Bruno, and each was closely studying the actions, words, and mannerisms of his or her near doppelganger.

Every applicant tried to grill the three Gallant Foundation employees about the Foundation and the job. Each got similar responses from all three: “The Gallant Foundation is an altruistic organization that recruits, trains and equips mystery heroes, and is currently under contract to find a hero for Steel City. You’ve never heard of us as we maintain a very low profile. If you are selected, you will receive arduous training, and you will be supplied with a base of operations, whatever gear you require, and an attractive salary. No, we are not affiliated with the Alliance of Mystery Heroes.” And that was all they got.

The boring routine changed shortly after noon. As a new applicant walked through the door, small devices similar to hearing aids brought the Foundation employees the voice of their mysterious, so-far-unseen employer: “That’s him! Mel and Bruno, go to phase 2 and offer him the job. Ginny and Sam, get ready to take over for them for the rest of the day.”

You sure about this guy, boss? Betcha I can take him.” Bruno whispered into his concealed throat microphone, one of his many inventions.

You say that about everyone, Bruno,” the boss was amused, but he continued hurriedly before the bristling Bruno could reply. “And, I concede, you’re almost always right. I’m continually surprised that a man of your intellectual attainments is such a brawler.” He sighed. “In this case, I hope you’re wrong. But, if you can ‘take him’, then you’re just going to have to make him better.”

 

***~~~***

I’m not filling out anything until I find out more about the job,” the new applicant said firmly.

Miss Hart checked out the new applicant, and liked what she saw: a handsome, well-built black man of above average height, wearing a tailored suit with double-breasted jacket. But rules are rules, whether she approved of his appearance or not.

I’m sorry, sir, but unless you fill out the form completely, you might as well leave,” Miss Hart replied, equally firmly. “The form must be completed before you are interviewed.” She left the form on the desk in front of him and turned back to her work. He stood there for a minute, and his expression changed from an angry frown to a resigned smile as he picked up a clipboard and a pen.

 

***~~~***

Mel, this is Mr. George. Here’s his paperwork.” Miss Hart turned a dazzling smile his way. “Thank you, Mr. Name. Good luck getting the job!”

What’s so special about him?’ Mel wondered, giving him a thorough once-over, and then intently studied him some more. ‘We’ve had other tall, slim, expensively-dressed candidates of many races today.’ He casually tossed his wide-brimmed hat across the room and watched with satisfaction as it settled neatly on a hook on the hat rack. ‘None quite as cheeky, though… or as graceful. Still, Mel, you’ve gotta admit he has that indefinable something called ‘presence’. He draws your attention, just by walking into a room.’

Pleased to meet you, Mr.… George.” There was a slight hesitation before she spoke his last name. “Please sit down while I review your paperwork.” As she sat behind the desk, he ignored the chair and plunked down on the corner of the desk. “Well, I must say you’re very bold.” Mel didn’t sound at all annoyed at his boldness. “You know, you’re the first applicant today who lied on his paperwork. You’ve done some very creative story telling. Mind telling me why?”

That grabbed his attention; he’d expected to either fool her completely or be peremptorily tossed out. Though she didn’t appear annoyed, she was still watching him intently; now he looked her over with matching intensity. Mel was tall, and thin, with very long black hair currently braided and piled on the top of her head, and her olive skin tone and dark eyes suggested Mediterranean ancestry. She appeared to be in her mid-to-late twenties, and was dressed in an expensive, well-tailored executive business suit, but she somehow seemed uncomfortable in the suit, and the suit out of place on her.

Two reasons.” He replied easily as he held up one finger. “First, this whole deal feels like a scam to me. A Foundation I’ve never heard of, publicly recruiting for a paid mystery hero position? And in the personals column?” He shook his head, then continued. “Plus, that ad seems to have been written specifically to snag me. I have every pulp mag that even mentioned Doc Shadow, and I’ve never actually met anyone besides me who even knows who Gem Anthony is.” He paused for a second, looked her over again. “Maybe you’re the first, actually. Anyway, giving all my personal information to someone who might be running a con just doesn’t seem wise to me. Have to admit, though, when I came in I was expecting to be charged an application fee and hustled out the door, so just maybe there’s more to this than I thought.”

She smiled and nodded. “There is. We’re not running a scam, my promise. But please continue, what’s the other reason.”

He raised a second finger. “Two. Just suppose, somehow, that this whole setup is legit, you’re really going to turn someone into a mystery hero, and I’m the guy who gets the job? So now I’m Turbohammer, the mystery hero whose real identity and other information is in some Gallant Foundation filing cabinet somewhere? And my arch nemesis, the Silver Zero, who I assume will be as smart and well informed as I am, suddenly remembers that just before Turbohammer showed up, there was a mystery hero want ad in the Sentinel? Heck, he might have even been one of the other candidates today. So, you aren’t getting my personal information until I’m convinced you’re on the level, and I damned well not writing it down anywhere for your records.”

Mel was smiling broadly. “Congratulations, Mr. George. You’ve passed the first test, and you’re the only one today who’s done so. But I’m not going to call you by a fake name any longer. You know my name, what’s yours?”

He considered. In life, there are a lot of relative strangers to whom you give your name. That much, at least, seemed only courteous. He stuck out his hand and spoke seriously. “Hi, Mel, I’m pleased to meet you. My name is Colt Hampton. Please call me Colt.”

Her return handshake was firm, and her voice sincere. “Nice to make your acquaintance, Colt.” “Now, you’ve really passed the first test,” she thought with satisfaction.

 

***~~~***

Holy cow!” Colt was visibly stunned when he was introduced to Bruno. “This guy is a virtual twin to Doc Shadow’s aide, Porkchop Playfair!” Half a man tall, two men wide, covered with bristly hair just starting to go gray, with a head that looked like it couldn’t contain a brain larger than a walnut.

He’s my second cousin, twice removed!” Clearly Bruno had met this reaction before, and was very amused. He put a little extra squeeze into his handshake, and was himself impressed when the taller man not only didn’t wince, but effortlessly matched his grip. “Only I build things, instead of blowing things up.” Mel almost choked stifling a laugh, so he quickly amended to, “Well, maybe some of the things I build blow things up.” He considered for a second or two. “Well, all right, maybe most of the things I build, actually, but who’s counting?” By now, both Mel and Colt were chuckling, as Bruno did an excellent job of putting Colt at ease. “If you’re still interested in the job, come with us.” He led the way to an elevator.

What about the other guys in the office?” Colt asked, not really caring about the other guys.

Don’t worry, they’ll never know they missed us,” Mel responded mysteriously.

Not running a scam, huh? Getting’ harder and harder to convince me.”

Wait till you see what we got to show you!” Bruno’s sudden childlike enthusiasm was infectious. He wanted to show off!

The elevator opened into a spacious basement garage, almost empty except for two cars and another car covered by a tarpaulin.

As promised in our ad,” Mel said grandly, “the fast car!”

Bruno swept aside the tarp to reveal a stunning car - a sleek, open-topped ebon-colored Jaguar XKD racer. “Three years ago, she won at Le Mans – and she’s much faster now. And, modified to be street legal – by me!” Mel boasted. “Nothin’ can catch her, nothing can touch her!” Colt was moving forward, fascinated by the powerful machine. “You can look but not touch, Hampton. You take the job, she’s yours, but till then, she’s off limits!” The look on her face suggested he would be wise to listen to her, and he stopped, gazing wistfully at a car he’d only dreamed of!

And that ain’t all,” Bruno added proudly. He pulled a transistor radio from his pocket and pressed a button on the side. A panel in the car’s rear deck slid aside and a small turret topped by a small bore cannon rose up, spun smoothly through 360 degrees, and then withdrew. “See, what’d I tell you? Nothing’s gonna blow up – unless I pull the trigger.” He laughed at the unbelieving look on Colt’s face. “There’s half a hundred other gadgets built in, Champ. You want advanced technology? It’s my middle name.”

Colt was feeling a little overwhelmed, and he wanted some time to think. “Guys, this is incredibly awesome. Can I have tonight to think it over, and let you know tomorrow?”

None of this will be around tomorrow, cowboy. Not the office, not the gun, not the car. We’ll look for our guy somewhere else.” Mel sounded regretful.

If this isn’t a scam, it seems like a very expensive practical joke at my expense,” Colt said with a touch of anger. He was about to say more, when suddenly, he looked very thoughtful. “Say,” he mused slowly, “Someone who knows me well enough to bait me in, throwing money around like bubblegum wrappers, dangling the car of my dreams in front of me, setting up complex and pointless practical jokes… you wouldn’t be working for Denny David, would you?” He pronounced it “Dah-veed”.

Neither Foundation employee had ever met their boss. “Never heard the name,” Mel declared firmly as Bruno shook his head uncertainly. “Who is Denny David?”

Rich kid I grew up with, liked spending his time on my side of the tracks, smart as a whip but no sense of humor. My best friend until he went off to college. Nobody else would set me up like this, or have the cash to pay for all this…” He swept his hand around, indicating not only the basement and the cars, but Mel and Bruno as well. “You may not know it, but he’s around somewhere. C’mon, Denny, show yourself!”

There was silence for a few seconds, and then a voice over a speaker built into the wall. “I thought it might take you a little longer to figure it out, Colt. Yes, folks, I’m Denny David, but this is no practical joke. And, by the way, Slick, I’m hurt to hear you say my jokes were pointless. They always had a point – not that you ever got that point!”

So, rich kid, why are you hiding from us? Afraid to show your face?”

It’s not my face I’m hiding, Colt,” this time it was his voice in person, as door in the wall slid aside and a man in a wheelchair rolled into the room.

More to follow!

Lady Lambda in:

Dr. Boom, You Fiend

By Dan Swanson

 

Part 1

April 1943

"Golly gee whiz, Miss Tracy!" young Danny Seeger whined to his 6th grade teacher from behind his scarred desk, no doubt echoing the other hundreds of boys who had used this desk before him. It was a beautiful spring day, too beautiful to be in this old, stuffy classroom when he wanted to be outdoors playing baseball. "My dad says that poetry is for sissies! Why do we have to learn this girly stuff, anyway?"

The rest of the class laughed nervously, and from the desk behind him, Ricky Karnly, Danny's best friend, loudly whispered of approaching doom. "NOW you're gonna get it!" he predicted. Much to everyone's surprise, though, their attractive, statuesque, red-headed teacher took the question seriously.

"Some of the most famous men in history were poets, Danny. Surely you've heard of William Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allen Poe and Robert Frost?" She knew he had – they had studied all of them during the fall last year. "So, being a poet is one way to be famous and remembered long after you die. It's not girly to want to be famous, is it?" Danny reluctantly shook his head, no.

"But even more important, girls really like poetry. I know I really like it when someone writes a poem for me!" She knew he had a crush on her; most of her male students did. "Say you wanted to impress some girl and try to get her to be your girlfriend..."

Every boy in the room shook his head and made some kind of denial; Bobby Jones in the back of the room snickered: "Yucch! Girls are icky!" But those same boys were all listening intently, too, as they were at that stage where they wanted to impress those icky girls, but were afraid to try– and wouldn't know what to do anyway.

"Like, for example, Cindy. Cindy, would you like it if some boy like Danny wrote you a poem?" Kris also knew that Danny was sweet on Cindy, but afraid to show it.

"Oh, that'd be boss, Miss Tracy! I'd like it even better than flowers!" the cute, curly haired brunette responded brightly. Then she giggled, "If it was a good poem, I might even kiss him!" Now it was the girls' turn to laugh, and the boys made faces again. But Krista noticed a thoughtful look in young Danny's eyes.

Before Krista could delve deeper into her subject, or embarrass Danny any more, there was an urgent knock on the classroom door and then it swung open even before the pretty teacher could respond. Mr. Harding and Miss Finch, the short stout Principal and short stout Assistant Principal, rushed in, followed by someone else Krista recognized – Mrs. Cutting, a retired teacher who often filled in when one of the regular teachers at Lamont Gordon Elementary was sick or couldn't make it to school. Her heart fell into her feet at Harding’s words.

"Please come with me, Miss Tracy," Principal Harding requested brusquely. "Miss Finch and Mrs. Cutting will take care of your students." When she hesitated for a second, he barked gruffly: "Quickly now! We can't keep HIM waiting!"

He grabbed Kris’s arm and started pulled her brusquely into the hallway, which suddenly seemed cold and foreboding despite being decorated with the bright and happy springtime decorations students made in art classes this time every year.

"Oh my God! Ned, Is Ned OK?" She was almost instantly frantic with worry. After 15 months of World War II, everyone knew someone who had been pulled aside at school or work, or heard that dreaded knock on the door, to receive the bad news when a husband or relative had been killed in action. Her fiancé, Ned Quest, wasn’t in the military, though. He was also the mystery hero known as Dr. Lambda, master of gravity and electromagnetism, and he was currently on a secret government mission with the rest of the Alliance of Mystery Heroes. Harding didn’t know that Ned was also Dr. Lambda, but he did know that Ned was involved in Top Secret research projects for the War Department.

"I don't know, Kris. The caller didn't say anything about Ned. I'm sorry," Harding replied sympathetically. He’d had to break the bad news to several teachers and students, and he knew just how anxious she must be feeling. "Just to get you on the phone as quickly as possible."

She didn't have time to ask any more questions as he hustled her into the schools’ reception area. “Please use the phone in my office.” Harding opened the door and aimed her at his desk. “We’ll wait outside.”

As she picked up the phone, she could see Harding and the school secretary hurrying out into the hall.

"Hello, this is Krista Tracy," she said in a quivering voice, still fearful that the call must mean something terrible had happened to her fiancé.

"Thank you, Miss Tracy." The voice was soft but firm. Her stomach lurched again at the operator’s next words. "Please hold for President Roosevelt."

She immediately recognized the next voice from years of radio Fireside Chats over the last 11 years, calm and friendly yet concise and commanding. “Miss Tracy, I’m sorry if this call alarmed you, but it is of utmost importance that I talk with you – not as Krista Tracy, but as Lady Lambda.” As Lady Lambda, Kris wielded the same amazing powers as her partner and fiancé.

Years later, Kris would still be amazed and dismayed that she had actually interrupted the President of the United States. “Is Ned all right?!” she demanded harshly.

Your fiancé is fine, Miss Tracy,” FDR replied reassuringly. “But Washington, DC, is in grave danger from Dr. Boom. She is demanding that Lady Lambda – you! - face her immediately or she will kill hostages. She gave a 45 minute deadline. There’s no time to waste; it took 10 minutes to get you on the phone.”

I… I can’t!” Kris gasped fearfully. “I can’t get there in time,” she sobbed, “and even if I could, Dr. Boom almost beat Ned and Flux at the same time last month.”

Flux was one of the other members of the Alliance of Mystery Heroes, a woman who could run at almost the speed of sound. But even with the combined powers of Dr. Lambda’s control of natural forces and Flux’s speed, the pair had been unable to capture Dr. Boom after she had rampaged through Hollywood, destroying several of the most prominent movie studios. No one knew why she had gone on her binge of destruction or even where she had come from. But now she was back, trashing Washington, a continent away from the scene of her earlier wrecking spree.

There’s no way I can beat her alone. Surely the Army or the Marines…”

Her voice trailed off as she heard Roosevelt clear his throat with a loud “Harrumph!” Then: “Dr. Lambda boasted to me just last week that your Stellar Scepters will allow the two of you to achieve 600 miles an hour. It’s only 80 miles from Marble City to DC. You can easily get here before Boom’s deadline,” Roosevelt insisted.

But I just can’t!” Kris wailed, almost in tears. She continued, almost babbling. “Ned only gave me the battle suit and Stellar Scepter 3 months ago, and he’s still training me to use them. He won’t even allow me to go out on a patrol unless he’s with me! I’ve never faced anyone other than a couple of bank robbers. If Ned couldn’t beat her, I sure won’t be able to! She’ll kill me.”

Roosevelt put on his best “command” voice and cut her off. “Lady Lambda, Dr. Boom has over a hundred hostages trapped in Griffith Stadium, and she will blow it, and them, to smithereens if you don’t show up to battle her in just… 27 minutes. She’s already put over a dozen people into hospitals, and it’s a miracle no one has died yet. She’s promised to release her hostages as soon as she can see you coming. You are the only one who can stop her – and the deadline is now only 26 minutes away!”

She almost recoiled from the snap in FDR’s voice. He WAS the Commander in Chief, the most powerful man in the world, and his orders, given in that same tone of voice, were to be carried out!

There is a government staff car out front that can get you home in 4 minutes or less. After that you are on your own! So get a move on, young lady, and STOP DR. BOOM!” He paused, then gave her one more piece of information. “You’ll have no trouble finding her – she’s on the infield in Griffith Stadium, and you’ll be able to spot it from miles away!” Then he upped the emotional ante: “Stop her for your country, Kris!” and then raised the pot again. Gently: “Stop her for me.”

 

Part 2

Look! Up in the sky!” Rookie waterman “Buckethead' Colliere watched in fascination as a thin white streak lengthened across the cloudless sky, moving southwest at a speed no airplane could match. “What the heck is that?!”

His more experienced crewmates glanced up, shrugged, and went back to their work. After all, they'd seen trails like this before in the last couple of years, and they had families to feed. However, “Saltnose” Salter, the captain and owner, figured Colliere wouldn't be able to keep his mind on work until he had an explanation.

It's one of them 'mystery heroes' off ta see the President,' he drawled. “Ast me, they oughta all be on the fronts, helpin our Joes, but of course, n’body asts me. Now, git t’work – them crabs ain't gonna jump inta the boat by their ownselves!”

High above the bay, a frightened mystery heroine named Lady Lambda tore through the air, surrounded by an almost invisible streamlined shell of pure force. The rear of the shell was surrounded by a shallow cone which resembled a hoop skirt, seemingly made out of clouds that trailed off into a long finger of vapor trail. Her battle outfit was a skin-tight, brick red body suit trimmed with gray and topped with a copper-colored half helm. She gripped her energy-controlling Stellar Scepter in her left hand like a baton topped with a glowing orange softball, pointed in the direction of her flight. Her bulky belt contained a gravity regulator, which allowed her to fly, and two saucer-sized disks sitting on her hips were energy absorbers, capturing and storing the energy her electronics needed to work.

A few changes to the shape of the force field, and I'm flying faster than Ned believed possible!’ In spite of her fear, Lady Lambda felt a tiny smile of triumph. ‘All I had to do was make it visible so I could make some adjustments. He never follows his own advice!” The smile quickly passed - “I do wish Ned were here right now, though. If he and Flux couldn't stop Dr. Boom, how am I going to do it by myself? I wish I had more practice, but he always says there's no need for me to worry with him around. Golly gosh darn him!”

This is Bolling Field flight control to Lady Lambda,” a military sounding voice from her helmet radio spoke into her ear. “We have you spotted. You should be able to see the cloud over the Griffith by now.”

Kris slowed and turned on the magnifier built into her helmet, and her vision zoomed in over the miles between her and Washington, DC. Over the middle of the city she could see a brown cloud, and rising up from the ground beneath were several columns of smoke. She increased the magnification and she could barely make out that the infield itself was pockmarked with craters, and the center field wall was in ruins. The streets around that end of the stadium were filled with burning wreckage and crowded by a ring of military might – soldiers, halftracks and tanks, all with their guns aimed at the breach. She could make out a small crowd in the left field bleachers.

Ah, Lambie, how nice of you to show up!” It was a gravelly female voice she’d never heard before. “I’m releasing the hostages now, but if you aren’t on the ground where I can see you before they get out of my range, BOOM!”

Kris was drifting forward slowly, and by now she could see a crowd of people swarming out of the stadium ramps and running wildly toward the nearest line of soldiers. She didn’t have much time! Despite her fear, she ordered the Scepter to resume her previous speed.

Don’t kill anyone, Dr. Boom!” she pleaded. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She hated that her voice was weak and wavered, but she couldn’t let people die because of her inaction – even though she knew she was going to die instead of them.

As the last of the hostages disappeared into the ring of soldiers, several commanders made bad decisions. “Fire!” The command was issued virtually simultaneously by half a dozen officers. And dozens of soldiers and gunners heard a deadly, frightening sound they had never heard before – the hammers of their guns slamming into the firing pins of their chambered ammunition – and then silence as none of the guns fired.

Idiots! I’m Dr. Boom and I control explosions!” the villain sneered through the PA system built into her own combat suit, loud enough to shake the nearby buildings. “I guess you need another lesson. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!”

As she spoke, she pointed and turned, and a weird beam sprang from her hand. It was a spiral of white light, and as she swept it across the now-empty outfield bleachers and then the field, raining debris on 5th Street before what was left of the carefully tended field erupted in a string of explosions. Soldiers near the walls hit the dirt or ran for cover behind the heavy armored vehicles. Not satisfied, the villain turned to the grandstands behind the plate.

BOOM!” She traced a path down the first base foul line, and the grandstand disintegrated with an explosion that was louder than anything yet. It was lucky for the people on the streets on that side of the stadium that the destruction was so complete – more granite dust was added to the growing cloud, but most of the flying fragments were so small that there were no fatal injuries. So far…

Hey, Lambie, did you enjoy that as much as I did?” Boom taunted Kris over the radio. “Next round of explosions, BOOM! I start blowing up people, not just the landscape. You gonna let that happen? I can’t believe your partner chose a coward – or maybe he did it on purpose to make himself look good in comparison?”

I’m here, Boom!” Kris stumbled when she landed and mentally unleashed a string of bad words she wasn’t even supposed to know. ‘I knew I’m not ready for this!’ Still, she tried to speak bravely. Ned had told her many times that some villains were cowed by tough talk from the heroes. “Prepare yourself to be thoroughly thrashed!” She silently swore again, more vehemently, when Boom laughed uproariously!

C’mon, Lambie, do you think real people talk that way? BOOM!” She pointed, her spiral lashed out, and the ground in front of Lady Lambda exploded.

The explosion threw her backward and high in the air, which was painful but not as nearly deadly for a Lambda as it would have been for someone who wasn’t protected by an armored costume and a powerful force field. She rocketed skyward, then stopped abruptly. She dove on Dr. Boom, preceded by a beam of ruddy red light that lanced from the Stellar Scepter and speared the costumed villain. Anything flammable within ten feet of her foe was vaporized almost instantly, but Boom remained unscathed.

C’mon, Lambie, you have to do better than that. Dr. Lame Duck isn’t the only one with a force field - or didn’t he tell you?”

In fact, he had, but Kris wasn’t thinking too well right now. Had Ned told her what kind of attack Boom would be vulnerable to? Before she could think of anything else, Boom was boasting again.

I worked this one out after your partner and that witch Flux cowardly ganged up on me. BOOM!”

An orange spiral flashed from her pointed arm, and actually wrapped around Kris’s shield, engulfing her in a bubble of orange energy, which then started exploding – not all at once, but like sticks of dynamite with different length fuses. She was battered one way, and then another, and another, shaken inside her shield like the ball in a rattle! It only took an instant or so to destroy her concentration, and without her mental control, her gravity regulator turned off and she plunged to earth. And Boom wasn’t done with her yet!

Boom!” The ground under Lady Lambda exploded, throwing her a dozen feet in the air. Once again she crashed down, limp as a dishrag, into the newly created crater. “Boom!” A large chunk of earth was thrown into the air by the controlled explosion and it crashed down directly on the center of that crater. Without another word, Boom spun in place and began stalking off south, through the streets in the direction of the White House, accompanied by repeated loud shouts of “Boom!” and a series of explosions wherever she pointed.

 

Part 3

Kris came to awareness in total darkness, except for some flashing red lights on the heads-up display inside her helmet. A shaken thought command, and the Stellar Scepter began to glow softly white, and she could see the dimensions of her tomb – a bullet-shaped open space barely larger than she, and she could see dirt and rock pressing against her force field. She was buried! And she suddenly realized something she had never before suspected – she was claustrophobic!

I have to get out of here!” she screamed raggedly to the darkness.

She triggered the heat beam and quickly realized her mistake. There was nowhere for the heat from the beam to go, and within an instant she realized that she was about to fry herself. Another frantic thought and the beam snapped off, but it was already almost unbearably hot, and of course, she hadn’t affected the ground around her in the least.

I’m NEVER going to get out of here,’ she realized in despair. ‘I can’t believe I lived through Dr. Boom’s attack, and now I’m going to smother to death. I wonder how long the air in here will last?’ She sobbed, then stopped abruptly as she suddenly realized what she had just said.

I lived through Boom’s attack! IT WORKED!” she shouted inside her seeming coffin. “The failsafe mechanism works! The failsafe inner force field shock absorber that I INSISTED Ned build into our gear, the failsafe that HE insisted over and over again would NEVER be needed. The arrogant fathead!” Given the circumstances, Kris could probably be forgiven for the other nasty thoughts about her fiancé that ran through her head. But she still had a problem. “How do I get out of here?”

She considered her options. ‘What would Ned do?’ Then she chuckled. “He’d try to blast his way out, and kill himself before he realized he was being stupid!” That chuckle somehow made her feel better. ‘So all I have to do is something Ned would never think of doing.’

She began reviewing what she knew as if she were giving a science lesson to her students. ‘The Scepter controls electromagnetic forces, and the belt regulates gravity.’ Something was tugging at the back of her mind. ‘Other than flying, Ned ignores the gravity regulator and depends on the Scepter. He never uses the gravity regulator for anything else…’ and then it dawned on her. ‘Ned would tell me not to be silly, and to listen to him – but it was my own earlier idea that just saved my life, not one of his! Time for me to start being Lady Lambda, not just a poor copy of Dr. Lambda!’

I can use our powers in ways he’s never thought of – and I WILL! The gravity regulator can make me lighter – why can’t it make something ELSE lighter?! And if lighter, why not…’

She set about putting her plan into action.

 

Part 4

Many of the soldiers around the field had witnessed the devastating defeat of Lady Lambda, and a few of them were already rushing toward the crater to try to help. They fell back in alarm when a brightly-glowing spike pushed up out of the pile of rubble. A plug of that rubble suddenly popped into the air like the cork from a champagne bottle, moved to the side, and crashed back down. A ragged cheer rose as a blurred red and gray missile rocketed from the hole, rising in volume when Lady Lambda abruptly came to an instant halt while she scanned the landscape, and then sped off at high speed after Dr. Boom.

Somehow Boom sensed her coming, again, spoiling the sneak attack she had planned. “Why, Lambie,” she drawled into her own radio, trying to conceal her shock that her foe still lived, “How nice to see you again. I guess Dr. Lame Duck’s toys are a little better made than I thought. Still, you should have run when you had a chance. By attacking me again, you’ve sealed your fate!”

Do your worst, Dr. Boom, you fiend! I’m ready for you now, and you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” In the back of Kris’s mind, an incongruous thought popped up: ‘My goodness, I sound as corny as Ned, with dialog straight out of a Sturdiman comic book!’

Kris’s mocking tone angered the bad Doctor, and she once again lashed out with a new weapon. And once again caught Lady Lambda by surprise. “Your partner isn’t the only super genius in town, you know. I built this one for Major Power – but you’ll do for a field test! Kaaa BOOOOOOOM!” She swung her arm like a tennis player hitting a forehand.

There was no explosion, but the sensors in the Scepter screamed in electronic alarm! Kris had no time to react before the invisible ‘tennis racquet’ force field that Boom was swinging slammed into her right at the sweet spot and she was swatted violently out over the Potomac where she tumbled into the river with barely a splash.

Well, that was pretty stupid,’ she admonished herself. ‘She’s sensed me coming twice - she must have built-in radar or something like it. I need to get closer to her for what I have in mind – guess I’d better try to sneak up on her.’

A thought command, and she floated slowly upwards, coming to a halt a few feet above the surface. It wasn’t very difficult to get a general idea of Boom’s present location, with new explosions every few seconds. She zoomed off in that direction, hugging the landscape, until she caught sight of her foe – who this time didn’t seem to realize she was back.

Dr. Boom’s limbs seemed to be growing heavier, as if she were rapidly getting more and more tired – and then, too late, she figured out what was happening to her. Somehow gravity was increasing, and it quickly pulled her to the ground, pinning her down and making it difficult for her to breath, much less talk – which stifled the stream of profanity she was trying to force into sound.

Before her bones started breaking under their own weight, gravity stopped rising. The pressure on her chest and head eased almost to normal, though her limbs remained firmly pinned. She turned her head and snarled at the sight of Lady Lambda, who was walking towards her, totally unaffected by the forces that had trapped her!

I just realized, Dr. Boom, that someone who controls gravity is pretty darn powerful. As you are no doubt aware by now, I’ve refocused gravity around you. You won’t be able to move until I let you go.” Kris couldn’t help boasting, just a little. “I think I’ll find the answer to a mystery which has been puzzling me for a while.”

She examined Dr. Boom’s helmet closely. “Hey, nice work, Doc, for one of the bad guys!” She touched the recessed quick-clasps that held Boom’s helmet on. “On and off in a hurry – but no worry about it getting popped off by accident. Nice!” Boom didn’t deign to answer.

Kris pulled off the helmet and straightened abruptly. “OH MY GOD! You’re Anne Cavanaugh! But, but...” she sputtered. “But why? You’re rich, beautiful, and one of the most famous actresses in the world! I’ve seen ALL your movies.”

Ain’t you a dumb Dora?” Chevalier snapped. “I WAS alla those things, you idiot. The talkies, they stole it all from me. Never had to learn to read a script, like all those Broadway witches getting parts now. Haven’t had a lead role since ‘35, and my last bit part was in ‘38. Top of the heap to trash. Well, everyone is going to pay for ignoring me!” She was practically screaming. “Your partner spoiled my revenge on Hollywood. I’m going to kill you as my revenge on him!”

Kris stood silent for a few seconds, and then a voice spoke in her helmet radio. “Hang on Kris! I’ll be there in 2 minutes, and I’ll take care of Dr. Boom for you! Just hold on!” It was Ned, of course.

Kris didn’t know whether to be furious because Ned was assuming she would need to be saved from Dr. Boom, or relieved that he was back safe from his secret mission, or touched by his obvious concern for her. So she decided to be amused instead.

Why, thank you, Dr. Lambda! I do need someone to turn her over to the authorities and take care of the paperwork, and you know how I hate it when you leave that stuff to me. So this time it’s your turn.” She chuckled, then continued. “And hurry it up, will you? My class is putting on a skit for the parents after school today, and if I hurry, I think I can just get there in time!”

Alex Silverstone in:

Murder in the Morning

By Dan Swanson

 

Part 1 Murder in the Herbal Garden

San Francisco, Monday, April 20, 1959

It was going to be a beautiful spring day in San Francisco, although it would be an hour or so before the sun burned off the chill and the thin morning fog. Alexandra Silverstone, who preferred the name Alex, had arisen hours earlier than normal in order to finish the mural she was painting on the outside of the Far Eastern Treasures curio shop in Chinatown. This early in the morning there was no traffic as she sped silently through the streets on her World War II-era electric motorcycle.

The mural had been commissioned by Liling Kam, the proprietor of Far Eastern Treasures, who was quickly becoming a good friend, although Alex was still confused by the parable her friend had selected as the basis for the mural. I’ve heard that silly story a half-dozen times, and I still haven’t figured out the moral! she thought, laughing to herself. Still, several images from the parable made striking visuals — the Jade Emperor in his disguise as an ancient wise man, freeing the trapped Chinese Desert Cat kitten from a tangle of thorns in the desert, Monkey confronting the majestic Dragon Kings assembled outside their cavern stronghold, the mortal lovers hard at work on the ransom gift, and the Jade Emperor in his glorious palace being reunited with his favorite pet. Moral be darned, she was certainly proud of this work.

As she parked her bike in front of Far Eastern Treasures, a big man wearing a brown trench coat and flat cap came out of the Herbal Garden (a shop three doors down), glanced quickly at Alex, then hurried off down the street in the other direction, vanishing into the fog less than two blocks away. Alex found this to be alarming. In the week she had been working here, Alex had never seen anyone enter or leave the Herbal Garden before noon. She felt compelled to investigate. Only a few minutes later, she was telling her story to the police.

I checked the front door, and it was unlocked, so I opened it and looked inside,” Alex said, repeating her story for at least the third time to San Francisco Homicide Squad Detective Robert Ironside, a tall, heavyset man with thick dark hair, bushy eyebrows, and an intense look on his face. “The place was a shambles, as you can see.”

The walls of the front room of the Herbal Garden were lined with shelves that were normally filled with bottles, jars, tins, small cloth bags tied shut with colorful threads, flasks, beakers, and whatever other kinds of small containers you could think of. Now these shelves were virtually empty, and the containers were dashed to the floor, where they had been shattered, crushed, torn, smashed, or otherwise destroyed. The mingled herbs, spices, potions, liquors, powders, dried leaves, and whatever else gave the room a pungent, indescribably awful odor. It had irritated Alex’s eyes and almost made her sick when she had first entered, though it had thinned considerably as soon as the door was opened.

And then–” She faltered, her voice catching at the memory of what she’d discovered. “–then I looked behind the counter and saw Mr. Zheng just lying there with his face all purple and that terrible wire wrapped around his neck.” No longer able to speak, she buried her head in her hands and sobbed.

Thank you, Miss Silverstone. I’m truly sorry you had such an awful experience,” said Ironside, trying to comfort her. “Do you remember anything else about the man you saw that might help us identify him?”

Alex shook her head. She really didn’t remember anything more, as she hadn’t been paying attention, and the man had only glanced her way for an instant.

Whoever trashed this place must have made plenty of noise,” the detective continued after a pause. “Did you hear anything?”

No, sir. I was just getting off my bike when that man came out the door,” she replied around her sobs.

Well, thanks for the information,” Detective Ironside said. “Why don’t you go home and try to rest and calm down — and if you think of anything else you can tell us, come on down to the station later and ask for me. Are you sure you don’t want a ride home?” When she shook her head emphatically, he gave her his card. “Don’t worry, we’ll get whoever did this!”

 

Part 2 Vision on the Wall

Liling Kam, the curio shop proprietor, assured Alex she could finish the mural when she felt better. Putting on her helmet and a heavy leather riding jacket, she hopped on her bike and considered where to go. Her apartment was in the Bayview area not too far from the newly named Candlestick Park, but she decided not to head back there. She wanted to hang out and enjoy the sun, and that neighborhood wasn’t really a good place to just hang out. She thought instead she’d cruise the Golden Gate area and see if there were any new For Sale signs. Her folks had left her a nice inheritance, and she wanted to buy a house in that area.

Alex was cruising slowly westward on Geary Boulevard when she heard the roar of an engine and the squealing of tires to her right — and a car came shooting out of a cross street directly at her. She twisted the throttle hard, and the bike almost leaped ahead with incredible acceleration, tearing her out of the path of the out-of-control car. The instant acceleration of her electric bike had saved the day.

Or was the car really out of control? The tires screamed again as the speeding vehicle swerved slightly to the right, barely clipped the last inch of Alex’s rear tire, and fishtailed into a rubber-burning left turn before roaring off eastward down Geary Boulevard. The rear of the bike wrenched up and around, and Alex was thrown off violently. She tumbled helplessly through the air and smashed lengthwise into and halfway through the tall hedge on the center median strip.

A few minutes later she was speaking with Detective Ironside again while sitting on the back bumper of an ambulance. Although she’d been protected from major injuries by the hedge and her jacket and helmet, she had numerous abrasions and puncture wounds that an emergency medical technician was still patching up.

You’re the only witness to the murder of Yi Zheng, and whoever did it is out to get you,” Ironside insisted. “Are you sure you didn’t see who was driving? Or can you tell me anything about the car?”

I’m pretty sure it was a late model Ford Falcon, robin’s egg blue, but that’s all I had time to see,” she replied thoughtfully.

Stolen,” the detective said. “We just got a radio report. Somebody stole that car not twenty minutes ago and abandoned it a few blocks down Geary.” Looking at her sharply, he added, “You need police protection until we catch the murderer.” He was a little frustrated, as she’d declined the offer twice before. And she did it once again.

I’ll take your offer of a ride home, especially if you bring my bike,” she said, “but I’ll be OK on my own when I get there.”

He’d already pointed out that her current condition and the condition of her bike argued that she wouldn’t continue to be OK on her own, but she’d insisted that now that she knew she was in danger, it would be different. He couldn’t force her to accept police protection, so he changed the subject. “The bike doesn’t look too bad, considering,” he said, commiserating with her.

Needs a new tire and tube on the rear wheel,” Alex said. “Handlebars are going to have to be replaced. The seat was ripped right off. Started right up, though. No gas to spill, no transmission to wreck.” She agreed with his sentiment with a wan smile. “I can get parts at Cully’s and have the worst of it fixed before dinner, long as there’s nothing wrong that we can’t see. At least it’ll keep me in the garage most of the day, which ought to make you happy.”

A small panel van with San Francisco Police Department markings showed up. The driver, Officer Donna Sparks, and Detective Ironside helped Alex load her bike in the back. Officer Sparks was pleasant and helpful, even stopping at Cully’s while Alex bought the parts she was going to need.

After a couple of hours of work, Alex Silverstone took the bike around the block. It wasn’t smooth — the wheels needed to be rebalanced — but she could ride it. She plugged in the charger and retired to the living room of her apartment, where she sat on her sofa and simply stared at the wall for an hour, totally exhausted. Finally, she recovered enough to begin replaying in her mind the scene this morning when the murderer hurried from the Herbal Garden.

Closing her eyes, she mentally relived the morning from the time she had awakened. She was astounded at the clarity of the image that was forming on the back of her eyelids. It was almost like watching a Technicolor movie, only more real. Once again, she watched the brown-dressed man step out onto the street. She concentrated on him intently as he began turning toward her.

A clattering sound in the kitchen startled her, causing her eyes to snap open, and she was astounded to see the same scene much larger on the wall in front of her, as clear as if she were looking through a wall of glass. She could hardly believe her eyes — and in that instant of disbelief, the illusion on the wall vanished.

The noise in the kitchen was temporarily more important. ‘It could be that guy coming after me again’, she thought with worry. Carefully opening a drawer in the end table, she pulled out a small pistol and crept into the kitchen, only to discover that her cat Bandit had caused the clatter by knocking a spoon off the counter.

Damn, I’m jumpy!’ she thought emphatically. ‘Maybe I should’a listened when Ironside said I needed protection. Maybe he’d assign Officer Sparks — that wouldn’t be so bad.’ Leaving the pistol out on the end table, she sat back down to ponder the mystery of the vision on the wall.

Maybe it was a hallucination caused by that awful vapor this morning,’ Alex wondered to herself. ‘Can I do it again?’ Taking several long, slow breaths to calm herself, she closed her eyes and once again mentally relived her morning. And once again, the scene grew clear in her mind, more quickly this time. Cautiously, she opened her eyes, and there it was — the vision in her mind somehow projected on the wall, a “movie” of everything she’d seen this morning. Once again, Alex concentrated intensely as the suspected murderer turned toward her, wishing she could stop the action at the critical instant so she could study the man’s face — and indeed, at the critical instant, the vision stopped changing.

Alex peered intently at the face of the man who might have tried to kill her, wishing she could get a close-up of his face, and was stunned when his face expanded, as if her mental camera were zooming in. The face became larger than life, perfect in every detail, and she studied it until she was sure she could draw it from memory. Then she wished it away. ‘Whew! I’m glad I can turn this thing off, whatever it is,’ she thought with relief.

Then she went to her desk and got out her drawing materials. As she started concentrating on remembering that face, the illusion appeared again, this time on the page of her sketch pad. This certainly made it easy to draw a realistic sketch, and she’d learned more about her newly discovered power.

How come I’m not blowing a gasket? This is really weird stuff! Her thoughts raced. It’s like I’ve somehow always known about this, like it’s been hiding inside me all my life. Just an extension of what I’ve always been able to do.’ She pondered this thought. ‘It’s not like there aren’t other people in the world with weird powers. Look at Zenith, for example.’ Then quickly, “It’s not like showing movies of slides from my eyes is anything like being able to fly or lift busses, but it IS unusual. And, it’s mine!’

Continuing to experiment with this new ability, she discovered that what she could do was project illusions on surfaces — illusions of anything she’d ever seen in the past, as well as illusions of things she could imagine. It didn’t have to be a flat surface, and the illusions didn’t have to be pictures — she found she could project the illusion of a different color on her hands and arms. The illusions also lasted as long as she wanted them to. At first she had to concentrate intently, but with practice she found that she could maintain an image with only part of her mind. And she thought her illusions must be real, not just in her mind, because she could also see their reflections in a mirror. So other people should be able to see them, too.

Finally, she decided to take a break. She had a lot to think about, and besides, she needed to take her sketch to the police.

 

Part 3 The Ghost of Yi Zheng

At the police station, Alex Silverstone was quickly shown to Detective Robert Ironside’s office. His desk was piled high with folders. She traced the scent of hot pizza to a large pizza box sitting on one of the chairs.

I’m surprised to see you here, Detective — isn’t your shift over?” she wanted to know.

Homicide doesn’t work in shifts, Miss Silverstone,” he replied. She could hear exhaustion in his voice. It must have been a long day. “What can I do for you?”

This is the guy who came out of Herbal Gardens this morning,” she said, passing him the sketch.

Woof!” he exclaimed. “I talked to this guy today. Hold on, I’ll show you.” He started pawing through folders. “Say, did you do that yourself?” he said, gesturing at the sketch as he continued digging, and she nodded her head. “If you’re looking for work, the Department can always use a good sketch artist.” Finding the folder he was looking for, he pulled it out and motioned her over to look at the photos it contained. “Here it is: Mickey ‘the Muscle’ Blake. What do you think?”

That’s him, all right. Why’d you talk to him? What did he say?” she wanted to know.

We think Mickey’s part of a protection racket in Chinatown,” he replied. “He loves his flat caps — got a million of ’em and wouldn’t be seen without them — so that’s why your description sent me to him. But he’s got an alibi. Shacked up with his girlfriend, he says, and she backs him up.” He looked puzzled. “So how’d you make this drawing of somebody whose face you said you hadn’t seen that well before?”

This question made Alex uneasy. She didn’t want to reveal her newfound powers, so she changed the subject. “What kind of floozy would spend the night with this kind of bum?”

The kind he paid for,” Ironside sighed. “So we don’t put a lot of weight on her statement; he could’a bought that as well. Right now, though, it’s your word against the two of them. But you can’t dodge my question like that. How’d you come up with that sketch?”

I went home and concentrated on remembering him, and realized I’d seen him more clearly than I first thought,” she said in earnest. “This really is the man I saw.”

Likely it is,” he agreed. “But coming in with a sketch hours later, after you already said you couldn’t I.D. the guy — you might’ve made it of the first guy you saw on the street, or somebody you don’t like.” Seeing a growing anger in her eyes, he changed tracks and said, “That’s not what I think, but it’s what his slick lawyer will say. It’s just not enough to bring him in. We’ll keep a closer eye on him, but that’s all I can do right now.”

At that instant, someone knocked on the office door and asked Ironside for a word. As the detective stepped out into the hall for a private chat with his colleague, Alex picked up Blake’s dossier and paged through it. The police knew a lot about him — where he lived, where he hung out, the people he associated with, how he usually dressed, and even his favorite drink. But they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him of anything; until they did, he was just one of the usual suspects. Since the police couldn’t really do anything about him right now, she decided that for her own safety she was going to have to take matters into her own hands.

Have you changed your mind about police protection?” Detective Ironside asked when he came back into his office. Shaking her head, she thought it might be fun palling around with Officer Sparks for a while, but a cop following her around right now would only get in her way. A nasty smile ghosted across her face as a plan formed in her mind. That smile must have alarmed Ironside, for as he shook her hand, he emphasized, “You should try to stay inside until we crack this case. Don’t do anything stupid.” She nodded, acknowledging his words without agreeing to them, and took her leave.

When she got home, Alex Silverstone raided her closet and found an old wig and a costume she’d worn for Halloween last year when she’d dressed as a construction worker. Fashioning a false beard and mustache from the wig, she donned her disguise and sat down in front of a mirror.

OK, Yi Zheng, it’s time for a comeback,’ she thought and projected an illusion of his face superimposed over her face and studied it in the mirror. The hardest part was the bald head. ‘I hope I don’t have to shave my head to get this right!, she worried. But the immediate visual feedback helped, and with practice, she got getter. “OK, got it,” she finally said to herself with smug satisfaction. “Now for the other guy.”

She altered the illusion of Yi Zheng’s face into another that was similar but not Asian and clearly not the same person as the murdered shopkeeper. ‘I think I’ll call you Ray,’ she thought at the new image, imagining Ray smiling in return. ‘Nice to meet you, Alex!’

Alex practiced until she could switch faces from Yi Zheng to Ray instantly and maintain either face without concentration. Then she practiced projecting Yi Zheng onto her wall as she had seen him this morning, and she mixed in some special effects she’d seen in a recent teleplay called Ghostbusters, starring comedian Steve Allen. ‘Funny how much Steve looks like Sturdiman from the Sunday funnies,’ she noted to herself, smugly satisfied that her new powers were easily up to the demands of her scheme.

Then she dressed in her blue-collar working man’s outfit, appropriately padded to disguise her female figure, and went back to the streets. It was almost midnight by now. The police dossier had disclosed that Mickey “the Muscle” Blake usually closed down a sleazy North Waterfront bar with several of his friends.

Only fifteen minutes at this time of night,’ she thought. ‘If he follows his regular routine, I’ve got plenty of time.’ Starting the bike, she instantly swore out loud. “Damn! The headlight isn’t working!” No time to fix it — no other way to get there in time. I’ll have to hope the streetlights give enough light.”

This proved much easier than she’d thought, and she gradually realized that she was using another aspect of her new powers — she could see very well in much lower levels of light than she had been able to before. This discovery excited her, and before she reached the North Waterfront, she discovered even more.

When she concentrated on something, just as her memory could zoom in on illusions, her eyes could zoom in like a telephoto zoom lens on a camera. She barely retained control of her bike when she was trying to zoom in on a street sign a couple of blocks away and failed to notice a pothole. After that, she turned her full attention back to riding and soon pulled up to Blake’s favorite watering hole.

Wearing the face of her creation, Ray, she entered the bar. It was a dingy place, poorly lit, which stank of spilled beer and stale smoke. A tired-looking woman wearing too much makeup sat at the bar. Half a dozen men stood around the pool table, and about the same number were playing darts. Two of the larger tables were crowded, and there were ten or so more patrons sprinkled throughout the rest of the room. Somehow the whole atmosphere screamed dejection; even Elvis playing on the jukebox seemed subdued.

Sure enough, Blake was seated at one of the crowded tables. Judging from the number of empty glasses on the table in front of him, he was drinking heavily tonight, much more so than his friends. The police dossier hadn’t mentioned extensive drinking. Was Blake drinking heavily tonight to either celebrate or forget this morning’s murder?

Doesn’t really matter why,’ she concluded in relief. ‘Now, at least, I won’t have to buy him a drink.’ Her plan would work best if Blake was drunk, but she hadn’t been sure how to guarantee that.

Alex turned Ray’s face to the bartender. “Boilermaker,” she ordered in the deepest, gruffest voice she had, and managed not to wince at the slightly grimy shot glass and beer mug. She wasn’t planning to drink the beer, and the rotgut whiskey would surely kill anything lurking in the shot glass that might be dangerous. Ray selected a table in Blake’s direct line of sight, but it was Yi Zheng who pulled out the chair and sat down.

With her zoom-in vision, it was fairly easy for Alex to keep a discreet eye on the thug and gauge where he was looking. When she saw him stiffen in shock at the sight of the man he had just killed, calmly drinking in his own favorite bar, Yi Zhing looked directly at Baker, raised the whiskey in a salute, and threw down the shot. Alex did this partly for theatrical effect and partly for courage — she was just starting to realize she was bearding a drunken killer in his den. The whiskey shot hit her stomach like a firebomb and exploded outward; she could feel the heat spreading through her body.

The theatrical effect was all she could have hoped for. Mickey “the Muscle” Blake started in astonishment, his chair falling over backward when he stood up, then shoved away from the table, spilling the drinks of several of his drinking companions. By the time he got to his feet, Ray had again replaced Yi Zheng.

You can’t be here! You’re dead!” Blake yelled. Some of his friends stood there in anger, and a man at the table behind him was climbing to his feet as well, upset about Blake’s chair smashing into his back. Alex sat back to enjoy the fun.

Blake was flabbergasted when he saw Ray sitting where he’d just seen Yi Zheng a moment before. “You’re not–” he stopped himself. The man next to him was trying to force Blake back into his chair, while several of his other friends were trying to calm the patron from the other table. The air in the bar was filling with loud laughter and louder voices as patrons anticipated a fight breaking out, and the bartender was picking up the phone with one hand and reaching for a hidden drawer beneath the bar with the other.

But I just saw Zheng — right there!” Blake was still blustering loudly.

Dat ain’t him!” the man restraining him shouted in his ear. “Zheng’s dead, you maroon. Ya said so yerself! Siddown and shut up ‘fore Willie calls the coppers.” Another man hurriedly restored Blake’s chair, then helped the shouting man roughly force Blake to sit down.

Willie! Next round’s on Musclehead Blake!” shouted the friend restraining the patron whom Blake had angered. “Less youse don’ siddown, and den you’ll be mighty sorry,” he muttered in the other man’s ear as he flashed a gun. “Yer choice, bud.” The other man silently sat down.

&@^% it! I ain’t buying no drinks for no #@&6ing buddy!” Blake complained.

Shut the @#&^ up, you @#&^ing jackass!” the standing man snarled. The rest of the table muttered agreement. Blake sullenly shut up, and everyone else cautiously sat down. The bar’s other patrons quieted, disappointed that they had been cheated out of that night’s free entertainment.

Ray slapped a half dollar on the table and stood up. “This place ain’t fer me,” he muttered audibly and walked toward the exit. After Ray opened the door, Yi Zheng turned back to sneer at Blake, then disappeared into the night.

Alex was glad she’d had that shot; she’d never done anything that scary before. Hopping on her bike, she watched the door closely. She didn’t have to wait very long. In only a couple of minutes, Blake came storming out of the bar, swearing at the top of his lungs.

Who da @%&^ does dat $*&&^%ed Willie tink he @%&^ ing is, cuttin’ me off?” the murderer cursed. “$*&@^%ed mother@%&^ er! He’ll @%&6 ing pay!”

Alex wasn’t impressed with his swearing; it showed no imagination. She didn’t use profanity herself, but she could appreciate art in any form, and the repeated use of the same two curse words over and over again wasn’t art — it was boring drivel.

Blake stumbled to a car, swearing and muttering threats under his breath. He saw something white and glowing reflected in the outside mirror and spun around, screamed in terror, then fell to the ground blubbering when there was nothing there.

The bar’s bouncer stuck his head out and screamed, “Damn it, Blake! Go home and sleep it off!”

The drive home wasn’t easy or pleasant for Mickey “the Muscle” Blake. Something white and glowing was following him, but he could only catch glances of it in his outside mirror. Whenever he craned his head around to look for it or slammed on the brakes and leaped out of the car, it was gone. Other times he would see it on a side street somewhere in front of him, and the image was clearer — a floating human figure, glowing a pale white. He couldn’t make out the face, but he didn’t need to.

$*&@^%@%&^ing ghost. I know yer dead, I killed ya myself. Never gonna drink $*&@%&^ing&^% tequila agin. Gotta be $*&@%&^ing seein’ tings,” he ranted as he drove. Finally reaching his destination, he banged into another car as he parked, then stumbled into an apartment building, apparently ignoring the glowing apparition that appeared on the wall of his building.

Alex drove around the building until she saw a light come on in one of the windows. She climbed up the fire escape and peeked through the window to that apartment. It seemed to be a two-room efficiency apartment.

Suddenly, the tiny round screen of the TV was glowing, showing the tortured purple face of Yi Zheng. Blake screamed and viciously kicked the screen, which imploded loudly, spraying the room with shards of glass. The ghostly image floated up the wall, and the now-bleeding Blake pulled out a pistol and fired twice into the wall. This was more than Alex had expected, and the apparition vanished. Blake sank to the floor, sobbing. Alex could hear police sirens wailing, and the lights in the nearby rooms were going on. She hastily climbed down the ladder, and silently vanished into the night.

 

Epilogue Perfect Day to Buy a House

The next day, Alex Silverstone went back to the police station. She was quickly shown to Detective Ironside’s office, and he was all smiles as he shook her hand.

We picked up Mickey Blake last night after he caused a disturbance in his apartment building,” the detective said. “He actually surrendered to the police and claimed he was being haunted by the ghost of Yi Zheng. Couldn’t wait to confess to the murder — and your accident, too, by the way. He’s going to go away for a long time.”

That’s great news,” Alex cheered.

Still more to come, too. Now that news of Zheng’s death has spread through Chinatown, the store owners there are going to the police with stories about the protection ring. With their information and the information Blake gave us last night, we’re gonna bust everyone in that racket.”

Alex left the station with a big smile on her face. ‘If I’m going to continue using this power,’ she thought to herself, ‘I’m going to need an alias like Zenith or Adventurine.’ She thought for a moment about how her ability seemed to manifest itself from her artistic talents and began thinking along those lines. ‘Hmm… I think I’ll call myself — Palette!’

The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky, there was a gentle breeze, and the temperature was perfect. ‘I think I’ll head over to the Golden Gate area. Looks like a perfect day to buy a house.’

 

Kid Aeolus in:

Kid Aeolus

By E. Lee Ball

 

Part 1

May 1980

The police officer tipped his hat back, hooked his thumbs through his belt loops, and whistled. About ten feet up, embedded in the bricks of the Marble City Savings and Loan on Jefferson, the two unconscious men in black looked like bizarre hunting trophies. “Going to be a lot of paperwork,” he said to the teen standing beside him.

A shrug from the boy was his only response.

That's it?” the officer asked, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

I'm sorry for the extra paperwork?” the boy apologized/asked.

The cop shook his head and grinned as he walked back to his squad car. Leaning in through the driver's side window, he lifted the mic from its cradle and pressed the button with his thumb. After informing the dispatcher of his location, he said, “I'm going to need a couple ambulances and ladders.”

The ambulances are en route,” the dispatcher replied after the officer released the button. “Now, did you say ladders?”

I did,” the officer said.

What is the purpose of the ladders?” dispatch asked.

I need them to get the perps down out of the wall,” he replied, trying to sound as non-nonchalant as possible.

Wha...never mind,“ the dispatcher said. “I will get your ladders to you if I have to bring them myself. Over and out.”

The police officer turned his attention back to the boy. “Okay, Jacob. Tell your dear old uncle what happened.”

Jacob looked at his uncle and shrugged. “I'm not really sure.”

The officer opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of approaching sirens changed his mind. “Hang around until we get these guys down and headed to the hospital,” he told his nephew. “When this is over, we will grab a bite to eat.”

Jacob nodded. In the meantime, he thought, I'll see if I can't figure it out myself.

 

***~~~***

Officer Ken Mantleson took a bite out of his burger. Once that first bite was out of the way, he smiled at Jacob. “Whenever you are ready,” he told the teen.

Jacob was staring at the platter in front of him and tracing shapes in his ketchup with a crinkle cut fry. “I don't know if you will believe me,” he told his uncle. “I don't even know if I believe it.”

Ken finished chewing his second bite. “Just start at the beginning and we will see if we can figure it out together.”

The boy nodded. “I was walking past the Savings and Loan when those two guys ran out...no, wait. Let me back up. I didn't sleep good last night. I thought it was something I ate that gave me the weird dream, but now, I'm not too sure.”

Let's start with the dream,” Ken said.

Jacob took a sip of cola, followed by a deep breath. “I don't know if I was asleep, or dreaming I was asleep, but I heard voices.”

Could it have been your parents?” his uncle asked.

The teen shook his head. “That's what I thought, at first. After listening for a few seconds, I realized the voices were male and had a strange accent. I think it was Greek because they sounded like Mr. Galanos.”

Ken put his burger down, slid the plate to the side, and rested his elbows on the table. “Go on.”

Jacob put his drink down. His mind slipped back to the previous night.

 

***~~~***

Are you certain he is the one?”

Jacob stirred, enough to reach the edge of consciousness, but he did not awaken.

I am,” a second voice answered.

Jacob took a deep breath, either in his dream or in reality, and it felt as though he had inhaled an entire cloud. He felt a tingle throughout his whole body.

Lord Aeolus. You have piqued my curiosity,” the first voice said. “Why this child? Why not choose and adult to be the recipient of your gift?”

Surely, Lord Morpheus, even you have heard the prediction of the Fates,” Lord Aeolus said. “Although we are forbidden to intervene directly in the affairs of men, no warnings were given about us using agents when the invasion comes from beyond the stars.”

Lord Morpheus nodded. “I am aware of the prediction. I am even considering an agent of my own. But, why a child?”

Lord Aeolus touched Jacob's forehead. “By choosing this child, he will have a few years to gain the knowledge and skill to utilize what I bestow upon him before the invaders come. I have realized when one grows into the gifts over time, his capabilities are greater than one who is given full knowledge all at once.”

I think, perhaps, you have swayed me to choose a young one as well,” Lord Morpheus said, smiling.

 

***~~~***

Ken watched his nephew as he spoke and was convinced the boy believed what he said. After what he saw at the savings and loan, he was inclined to believe it as well.

When I woke up,” Jacob concluded, “I passed it off as just a wild dream.”

Apparently,” the officer said, “there is more to it than just being a dream. So, what happened today? I know the official statement, but tell me what happened from your point of view.”

Jacob bit a fry in half. “I was heading down Jefferson on my skateboard when those two guys came charging out of the building like stampeding bulls. When they turned the corner, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and all three of us hit the ground. I didn't realize what was going on, at first, then I saw they were wearing masks. I remember one of them scrambling to his feet, but instead of helping his partner up, he jerked a gun out of his pocket and pointed it at me. I put my hand up—like my hand was going to stop the bullet—and the next thing I knew, it felt like all the air in my body built up pressure and shot out my hand. When I opened my eyes, well, you saw what happened.”

Before Ken or his nephew could say another word, three attractive young ladies in their mid-teens entered the diner, looked around until they spotted Jacob, then started walking towards the table. The officer noticed them approaching out the corner of his eye.

I think you are about to have company,” Ken told his nephew.

Jacob glanced their way. “Whoa.”

Do they go to your school?” Ken asked.

The boy shook his head. “Trust me,” he said. “I would definitely know if they went to my school.”

You are Jacob.”

Jacob nodded and looked up at the young woman who addressed him. “That's me,” he said. “Who are you?”

I am Aurianna,” the blonde said, “and these are my sisters, Aniela and Alyx.”

Ken's officer instincts kicked in and he began making mental notes. Why would three girls at least a couple years older than his nephew be interested in Jacob? How odd is it that three young ladies whose names all started with the same letter are hanging out together? And they are names of Greek origin, at that. A blonde—her hair the color of the morning sun, a redhead—her hair the color of the setting sun, and the third girl had hair the color of a storm cloud. Something definitely wasn't kosher, as the saying goes.

Excuse me,” Ken said. “May I ask how you know my nephew?”

Aniela, the red-head, looked at the man. “We are here to help him.”

Help me what?” Jacob asked.

You were chosen,” Alyx replied.

Chosen for what?” Ken asked.

Jacob nodded. “Yeah. Chosen for what?”

In unison, the three girls said, “Jacob has been chosen to be a hero.”

More to follow!

Jube in:

Chores

By E. Lee Ball

 

Part 1

May 1980

The coming of the daikaiju changed everything, and it changed nothing. Problems were still problems, only now they came in a super-size. The fact that all you owned could be crushed beneath the heel of a radiated prehistoric behemoth didn't change the fact that chores had to be done.

Jube hated chores and put them off as long as possible. This morning, his mother had warned him of dire consequences if she returned home to find his room a mess. Despite the threat, he sat on a hill overlooking the Sea of Japan.

The squawks of a flock of gulls caught Jube's attention. Hundreds of the birds had taken flight and were headed out to sea. Because of the size of the flock, he could see them circling about a half a kilometer off shore. Something was happening, or was about to, that would provide plenty of fish for the gulls' dinner.

The relatively calm water beneath the circling birds began to churn until it resembled a huge boiling pot. Jube climbed to his feet, certain he knew what was taking place; a daikaiju was coming ashore. It would be the first time one made landfall in Matsue. He began to wonder which one it would be. As its great, gray head broke the surface, he knew; it was Mahinoakuma. One thought filled his mind. It wasn't the death and destruction that was about to take place. It wasn't that he could soon be homeless. Jube realized he no longer had to worry about chores.

More to follow!

 

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