by Brian K. Asbury
The roll call:
- Duo Damsel
- Element Lad
- Ferro Lad
- Invisible Kid (Leader)
- Karate Kid
- Lightning Lad
- Princess Projectra
- Saturn Girl
- with special guest appearance by Timber Wolf
The robot rushed forward at blinding speed, lashing out at the young man who was its opponent. Only reflexes honed by a lifetime of discipline and training saved the orange-clad youth from a blow that would have decapitated anyone with less skill and agility. Instead, he ducked under the robot’s flailing limb and, applying leverage, flipped it smartly over to land crashing on the hard floor.
The robot was on its feet again in a fraction of a second, but that was all its opponent needed to strike out with a spinning dropkick that sent the automaton tumbling for a second time. The robot’s photoelectric eyes seemed to blaze with cybernetic fury as it leaped up again, this time not wasting effort on regaining its balance but springing directly toward the young man, electricity arcing between its outstretched hands. Again, the human dodged and kicked out, this time with such force that one of the robot’s arms popped out of its socket and hung limp, trailing wires and sparking.
The young man moved in for the kill, leaping up and yelling at the top of his voice. As he came down, his arm lanced out like a spear, fingers extended. However, instead of those fingers breaking on the robot’s shell, the sheer power and speed of the blow took them cleanly through metal, plastic, and glass and out through the other side of the machine’s chest. He straightened, drawing back his arm, and the robot toppled over for a third time. This time it did not rise.
Hands clapped together from the other side of the room. A second young man, brown hair tousled and a grin on his rugged face, approached. “And you say you don’t have super-strength? You’re having us on, pal!”
The fighter, panting from his exertions, turned to face the newcomer. “I don’t. It’s all down to training. I’ve been practicing these techniques since I was a small child. It takes a special kind of mental discipline to make it happen, but any part of the body can become a deadly weapon if you know how.”
“Yeah, whatever.” The newcomer looked down at the fallen robot. “I don’t think old man Brande will be too pleased at yet another training ‘bot trashed though. ‘Specially by somebody who claims he hasn’t any real super-powers. Hell, I do have super-strength, and I’d have struggled against that thing on maximum.”
The fighter smiled. “Lone Wolf, isn’t it? I’ve just been reading about you in the Legion’s case files.” He extended his hand.
“Timber Wolf, these days,” said the other. “But my friends call me Brin.” He accepted the handshake and pumped vigorously.
“Val,” said the fighter. “Also known as–”
“Karate Kid. Yeah, I know. They showed us your audition in class the other day. Very impressive, the way you tossed Superboy around like that.”
Val Armorr grinned shyly. “I think he took it easy on me, if the truth be told. He didn’t expect some upstart kid from Earth to be able to give him a fight.”
“You nearly got a bum deal, though, getting blamed for sabotaging the Earth’s defenses against the Khunds. Good thing you were able to clear your name.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “One of Us Is a Traitor,” Adventure Comics #346 (July, 1966) and “The Traitor’s Triumph,” Adventure Comics #347 (August, 1966).]
Val’s smile faded to grim determination. “Nemesis Kid got away, though. But I’ll catch up to him someday and make him pay for what he did; I swear.”
“Yeah…” said Brin Londo. “But let’s not spoil the party mood, huh? Fancy a Silverale, buddy?”
“I never touch the stuff,” Val said. “But I could use something to eat. C’mon, Wolf. Let’s hit the showers, and I’ll treat you to lunch and introduce you to some friends of mine.”
“What I don’t understand,” said Val, seating himself opposite Timber Wolf and depositing his tray on the table, “is what you’re doing here, at the Academy.”
“What d’you mean?” asked Timber Wolf, munching on his steak sandwich.
“Well, according to the report I read, you were offered Legion membership over a year ago, when you first met the Legion. But you still don’t seem to have officially joined the team. I’m just here at the Academy to use the training facilities, but you seem to be a student here.”
Timber Wolf shrugged. “It’s because I’m still waiting for the psychs to make up their mind whether I’m sane or not.”
“You’ve got to understand that I haven’t had led what you’d call a normal life, K.K. For years I thought I was an android named Karth Arn. It wasn’t until I met the Legion that I learned that the real Karth Arn had switched places with me and brainwashed me into thinking I was him. It all left me pretty screwed up — I believed I wasn’t human, and I shunned human company. Anyway, when the Legion brought me back to Earth, they offered me membership, but we kinda agreed by mutual consent that I should undergo psych therapy first — get my real memories back, adjust to being around people again, y’know?”
“I also realized pretty quickly how much of my education I’d missed thanks to what Karth Arn had done to me. Androids don’t go to school, y’know? So I enrolled in the Legion Academy for three reasons, really — to train, to get readjusted, and to catch up on my education. Well, I’m pretty much up on all three now, but the psychs still haven’t given me a clean bill of mental health.”
“That must be tough, especially when you see people like me coming in and getting on the team straight away.”
“Yeah, but going out there and screwing up because I’m still not sure who I am would be even worse. So I’m OK with biding my time here until I’m ready.”
“Well, if you want me to remind everybody about you, I’d be happy to–”
“No, it’s OK. Really it is.”
“Not interrupting anything, are we?”
They both looked up. Two costumed newcomers had approached their table during their conversation. One was wearing blue and white and wore a masked hood that covered his entire face; the other was a stunningly attractive young woman in a revealing blue bodice and a pinkish-red cape. Val stood up. “Timber Wolf — Brin — I’d like you to meet Andrew Nolan, AKA Ferro Lad, and Princess Projectra.”
“My friends usually call me Jeckie,” said Princess Projectra in a refined and slightly exotic accent. She offered her hand for the startled Timber Wolf to kiss. Karate Kid held out a chair for her, and she seated herself regally into it.
“I’ve heard of you,” said Ferro Lad, straddling the remaining chair. “Light Lass told me all about you in glowing terms. How come you’re here in the Academy and not in the full team yet?”
Brin sighed. “Here we go again. I just got through explaining to Val, here, that…”
Mercifully, a beeping sound from the wrist communicators worn by the three neophyte Legionnaires relieved him from the burden of repeating it all again at that point.
“We’re wanted back at H.Q.,” said Ferro Lad, jumping up.
Projectra more calmly activated her communicator, and a voice spoke from it: “This is Invisible Kid. All available Legionnaires currently in Metropolis, please report in to headquarters immediately.”
“We had better go,” she said. “Sorry, Timber Wolf. We’ll have to hear your story another time.”
“No hurry…” Brin said as they sped off. He looked at Val’s unfinished lunch. “That’s another reason why I don’t mind being at the Academy,” he muttered to himself. “At least you get to finish your meals in peace!”
The three rookie Legionnaires lost no time in making their way to a building that had become one of Metropolis’ most famous landmarks — the bright yellow and red rocket-shaped Legion Clubhouse. In truth, this small building was only the visible part of the Legion Headquarters, used as meeting-rooms by the members. The Legion’s living quarters, training and fitness center, recreational facilities, sick bay, labs, comms room, and other facilities were almost entirely located in an underground complex beneath the visible clubhouse, which had long since become inadequate to house an organization as large and complex as the Legion of Super-Heroes.
The main briefing room was occupied by three other Legionnaires — the team’s new leader, Invisible Kid, Duo Damsel, and Element Lad. Also present was a Science Police officer unfamiliar to the newcomers. “Ah, good. You’re here,” said Invisible Kid as they entered. “I don’t believe you know Officer Salkind, do you?”
The three nodded in unison. “I’m the Legion’s new Science Police liaison,” said Salkind, a white-haired man in his mid-forties. “I’ve only been in the post a week, but already something has come up which has the S.P. baffled. As I was explaining, I felt the Legion should take a look into the matter.”
“Sounds intriguing,” said Ferro Lad. “What’s up?”
Lyle Norg, AKA Invisible Kid, indicated that they should take seats. When they were all settled in, Officer Salkind punched a button on a remote control, and a holographic street scene appeared in miniature above the meeting table. “You’re about to see a murder committed,” he said. “It occurred in broad daylight in front of security cameras, yet we have no clue as to the identity of the killer, nor the motive.”
He pointed to a figure approaching the center of the scene. “Kayanda Chon, a citizen of New Hong Kong. An ordinary married woman with a promising career in holographic database design. No family other than her husband, no known enemies, no debts, no substance dependencies — in short, no obvious reasons why anyone would want to kill her. But just watch.”
As he spoke, a strange figure ran into the scene from one side of Kayanda Chon. Clad in an all-covering silver jumpsuit that concealed even his face, the man (at least it seemed to be a man) brandished a peculiar cylindrical weapon that seemed to be coated in the same reflective substance as his clothing. There was no sound on the recording, but Kayanda Chon halted as if he had called her name, and her lips moved as if speaking to the newcomer. Then she backed off in alarm as he raised the silvery cylinder. A pale blue beam issued from it and struck the woman, whose body turned glassy and transparent.
“My God!” said Karate Kid. “What was that?”
“We don’t know,” said Luornu Durgo, AKA Duo Damsel. “We’d only just seen it ourselves when you left.”
Jan Arrah, Element Lad, shook his blond head. “It appears to be transmutation, of a kind that my people considered the most evil crime of all. To use such powers on a living being…!” He shuddered.
Luornu touched his hand. “Jan, however that was done, it was by means of a technological device, not by a natural power. No one is accusing one of your people of being responsible.”
Jan sighed. “I almost wish it were, though. Remember, I’m the last survivor of my planet.”
“We know, we know,” she said tenderly.
Officer Salkind had paused the recording during this exchange. Now he allowed it to continue. “It gets far worse, Legionnaires,” he said. “This is what happened next.” And before the gaze of the stunned Legion members, the holographic man in the silver suit ran up to the transformed Kayanda Chon and pushed her over. Her glass body toppled to the hard street surface, where it bounced once before shattering into a million pieces.
“Oh, my sainted ancestors!” exclaimed Princess Projectra. “That’s horrible!”
“You can say that again!” said Ferro Lad. “What kind of weapon is that, Officer? I’ve never seen anything like it before!”
“Neither have I,” echoed Karate Kid, “and weapons studies are a hobby of mine. I never heard of any ray that could transmute people to glass!”
“And to so callously knock her down like that so that she would shatter!” Projectra looked away from the hologram.
“Easy, Jeckie,” said Karate Kid, touching her hand.
Officer Salkind let her compose herself before he continued. “I wish I could say that that was all, Your Highness,” he said. “But it isn’t. There have been four more killings like this in New Hong Kong within the last twelve hours. A strange silver-suited man appears, changes a passerby to glass with that weird ray, then breaks his victim into a thousand pieces before making his escape.”
Invisible Kid shifted in his chair to look directly at the Science Police officer. “That’s the bit that doesn’t make sense. There are security cameras all over New Hong Kong, especially in crowded shopping areas like that one, and there are S.P. robot patrols covering the whole city. How could this guy have simply run away and vanished into the crowd each time? He’s hardly conspicuous, dressed like that!”
“Perhaps he can turn invisible,” said Salkind dryly. Invisible Kid visibly reddened. “Here’s the details of the other killings,” the officer said, handing each of them a pad. “We’ve gone over them a dozen times, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of pattern to them.”
“You mean this is — oh, what did they call them in the twentieth century — a breakfast killer?” said Duo Damsel.
“That’s serial killer,” said Karate Kid, stifling a snicker.
Ferro Lad was studying the pad intently. “There’s a discrepancy here, surely, Officer. Two of the murders were carried out within five minutes of each other, but at opposite ends of the city. To get from one side of a city the size of New Hong Kong to the other in that time, you’d need the speed of Superboy or Ultra Boy or somebody.”
“Or perhaps there are two of him,” said Salkind, with a sideways glance at Duo Damsel. “The point is that the perp has either powers or technology which gives him the edge over the Science Police. That’s why we need the help of people with similar powers to take him down before anyone else is killed.”
“I can understand that,” said Invisible Kid, “but first we have to find him. And if his victims are chosen as randomly as this suggests, that’s going to be mighty difficult.”
“Not necessarily. If you look at the details on the pad, you’ll see that, although the killings took place in a widespread variety of locations across the city, all of the victims actually live within a radius of one kilometer from one another.”
“Say, that’s right!” said Duo Damsel. “So the killings aren’t so random after all!”
“It would appear that way,” Salkind said. “Our computers are working even now on trying to find some other connection between the victims, to see if we can maybe predict where the killer is likely to strike next. If we can determine that, then it’ll be up to you to intercept him before he can kill again.
“You can rely on the Legion,” said Invisible Kid. “We’ll do our best.”