by Brian K. Asbury
Emerging into the open air, eight identical Lianne Raebulds took to the air, flying in pairs. In reality, the original Lianne was being carried by Invisible Kid, while Element Lad carried Gigi Cusimano, and Princess Projectra (who had lent her flight ring to Ferro Lad so that he could carry Officer Salkind’s statue) was being carried by Duo Damsel.
As the convoy swooped upward, they were joined by a grinning Karate Kid, who said, “I see what you meant by that last remark. Which of you is really which?” No one answered. “Sorry, stupid question,” said Val Armorr. “OK, guys, I’ll take point. Follow me.” He flew off ahead of the bizarre flock of Raebulds, his keen eyes alert for any sign of their enemy.
The flight to the New Hong Kong spaceport actually proved uneventful, and a quarter-hour later saw the nine flying figures descend toward a sleek Science Police cruiser sitting atop an elevated launch pad. The Raebulds alighted on the pad, with Karate Kid still suspended in the air above them. Two hovering S.P. robots rose up to block their path to the cruiser. “Halt and identify yourselves!” one of them intoned.
“Ah. Slight problem, people,” Gigi’s voice said. “They don’t recognize us. You’re going to have to reveal me as me, Princess.” A second later, one of the eight Liannes shimmered into the shapely form of the young Science Police officer. She approached the droids and touched a concealed stud on the cuff of her uniform. A holographic badge appeared in the air before her.
“You are Officer Gigi Cusimano,” one of the robots said. “You have authorized access to this craft. Proceed.”
“I have passengers to take with me,” Gigi said. “You will also allow them to board.”
“Acknowledged.” The robots moved aside. As Gigi and the others approached the ship, its access hatch slid open.
But standing in the airlock was a silver-suited figure with weapon raised.
The assassin fired, and one of the Liannes changed into a glass statue.
A split-second later, Karate Kid streaked down out of the sky and tackled the argent gunman, throwing him out of the lock and at the feet of the other Liannes with deceptive ease. The weapon went flying and was suddenly encased in an iron ball, which rolled off the elevated apron to the plasticrete below.
“Oops!” Duo Damsel’s voice said. “Hope no one was under that!”
“Fortunately not!” said Projectra.
Meanwhile, the silver-clad killer found himself gripped by iron hands. “Got you at last, pal! Try to fade out this time, and I’ll rip that suit from your back!”
“That will not be necessary. My mission is almost complete now. I have no intention of leaving, and every intention of explaining my actions to you.”
Karate Kid leaped down from the ship. “Who did he get? I can’t tell which of you is which!”
The illusion faded, and everyone’s hearts sank. “He got the real Lianne!” said Invisible Kid sadly.
“Of course I got the real one!” said Ferro Lad’s prisoner triumphantly. “Having been deceived by an illusion earlier, I was not going to allow such a trick to thwart me again. My tracking scanners are easily capable of distinguishing my real target from a crowd of look-alikes. It was a good strategy, though; I congratulate you on a bold effort.”
“Tracking scanners?” said Ferro Lad. He pulled the mask from his prisoner, revealing a molded metallic face with glowing eyes.
“He’s a robot!” gasped Gigi.
“A cyborg, actually. My name is Dazakri. I am a police officer from a world called Shenaar, which exists in a dimension other than this one.”
“A police officer?” exclaimed an incredulous Karate Kid. “Do the cops on your world act as judge, jury, and executioner, too? You’ve killed eight people and all but killed these two as well!” He pointed to the statues that had been Salkind and Lianne.
“I have killed no one.”
“Really? I don’t know how things work in your dimension, but here, if you transmute somebody to glass and then smash them into little pieces, they’re pretty dead!” The Kid drew back his arm as if to punch the cyborg out.
Invisible Kid touched his arm. “No, Val.” Karate Kid withdrew to stand by Projectra. Lyle Norg stared into the prisoner’s eyes. “What do you mean, you have killed no one? How can that be?”
“Eight of the twelve people I was sent here to track down are alive and well and have been taken into custody in my home dimension by my fellow officers. Two died several years ago and are thus beyond the law. The remaining two stand before us and, if you will allow me to break up their earthly forms as I did the others, they will also face justice on Shenaar.”
“Justice for what? What is it they’re supposed to have done?”
“Whatever it was,” said Luornu Durgo, “it explains why they all suddenly appeared from nowhere on the same day. They obviously crossed into our universe on the run from the law and established new identities here.”
“So our shiny pal claims, anyway,” said Ferro Lad. “But how do we know he’s telling the truth?”
“Let him speak,” said Element Lad.
“I agree,” Lyle said. “Go on. Tell us what these supposed fugitives are allegedly guilty of.”
“They are guilty of changing me into what you see now,” said Dazakri, “along with every other citizen of my world. They were scientists — a consortium working to develop a biological agent which would destroy a minor wasting disease afflicting certain food animals native to our world. In truth, the disease was not a major problem, but it did cost our farmers much in wasted money and resources every year. They were willing to pay a fortune for a cure, so anyone who was able to develop one stood to become very rich, indeed.
“Unfortunately, the ‘cure’ the consortium developed instead caused the disease to cross species to afflict us — my people. We are not human, I should add, but closer to what you think of as reptiles. The plague swiftly spread throughout the entire population, eating at our flesh and rotting it on our bodies. Our medical science is highly advanced, but no one could find a cure. We could only replace the afflicted parts of our bodies with mechanical prosthetics, until most of our population had become as you see me now — more machine than flesh.
“And meanwhile, we discovered that the consortium of scientists who had unleashed this plague upon us had fled. They had managed to craft artificial human bodies for themselves in this dimension and had crossed over to inhabit them. Once here, they established new identities radically different from one another in the hope that this would hide them from any of our people who managed to follow them here seeking justice.”
“And you were sent to fetch them back?” said Invisible Kid.
The cyborg nodded. “It took us almost twenty of your years to track them down, since they programmed their equipment to self-destruct after they crossed over. Our scientists then devised this suit, which would enable one of us to traverse the dimensions at will, and the weapon I wielded, which would transform their artificial human bodies into a form useless to them. They proved stubborn, however, rendering it necessary for me to smash their transformed bodies before they would vacate them.”
“And what happens when they vacate them?” asked Ferro Lad. “Just curious, you understand…”
“Then their original bodies re-form in our home dimension,” Dazakri said.
“Where you take them into custody?” said Gigi.
The six Legionnaires and Gigi stared at each other for a long moment. “Is it just me who’s having difficulty believing this?” said Luornu at length.
“No, it is not,” Projectra concurred. “It seems to me that we have only this creature’s word for any of this. My own culture is very different from Earth’s, so I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of this world’s law, but your behavior has not been what I would have expected from a law-enforcement official.”
“It wasn’t,” said Gigi. “Even if these people have done what you say, mister, you’re a long way out of your jurisdiction. Didn’t it occur to you to explain your case to your counterparts here on Earth? I’m sure that if you offered proof of these people’s crimes, an extradition order could have been arranged. Instead, you come barging in here, leading us to believe that you’re killing innocent people — one of whom was a six-year-old child at the time of their alleged crimes, for crying out loud! — and endangering other bystanders as well.”
Dazakri’s metallic face remained impassive. “I apologize if my methods seemed crude to you, but when we discovered that one of the fugitives had infiltrated your Science Police, we felt that making myself known to you would have been a futile effort. Would you have taken my word over his? I hardly think so.”
“I’m still not convinced,” said Duo Damsel.
“I don’t think any of us is,” Invisible Kid agreed. “I’m sorry, Dazakri, but you’re going to have to do better than this. We have only your word that any of your story is true, so there is no way in hell I’m going to let you smash these statues. In fact, if somebody will recover your gun…”
“I’ll do it,” said Element Lad, flying away.
“…then we’ll restore Officer Salkind and Ms. Raebuld and see what they have to say about it!”
“That would be a mistake!” said Dazakri.
“I agree!” a voice from above said. “He’s telling the truth, Invisible Kid!”
Nine pairs of eyes turned skyward to see two figures descending toward them. “How long have you been there?” said Invisible Kid.
“Not long,” Saturn Girl said as she and Lightning Lad landed. “Just long enough to scan your prisoner’s surface thoughts as he spoke. As far as I can ascertain, every word he has told you is the truth.”
Lightning Lad looked around. “We’d have been here sooner, but we got diverted to an attempted prison break on Io on the way back to Earth.” He flexed his mechanical arm, and electricity flickered around us. “It didn’t take us long to sort it out, though.”
Gigi sighed. “Even if Dazakri has been telling the truth, the fact remains that his methods have endangered innocent civilians and caused damage to public property. Plus the fact that he has no jurisdiction here and so has effectively been operating as an illegal vigilante.”
“I am willing to pay whatever penalty your laws require of me for any misdemeanors I have committed here,” said Dazakri calmly. “All I ask is that you allow me to complete my mission by smashing these two remaining statues so that the people you know as Kaven Salkind and Lianne Raebuld can be delivered to the authorities on my world. And incidentally, madam,” he added to Gigi, “all of the twelve were adults by the standards of my world. Childhood for my species lasts only a single year, and the six-year-old Majina Virdee was a fully participating member of the consortium. She was their computer specialist, in fact — it was probably she who tampered with your civic record computers so that it would not be noticed that none of them had any history prior to the time they arrived on Earth.”
“Again, he’s telling the truth,” said Saturn Girl.
Lyle shook his head. “No. I still don’t trust him. For all we know, if we let him break up these statues, he’ll just fade out again.”
“I could have done that at any time,” said Dazakri. “Your friend, here, could not have ‘ripped this suit from my back’ faster than I could have phased out back to my own dimension.”
“Well, I still want to hear it from the accused themselves.”
“That might not be possible,” said Element Lad, rejoining them.
“Couldn’t you find the gun?” asked Karate Kid, noting his comrade’s empty hands.
“I found the iron ball I had created around it at the foot of the launch platform,” Jan Arrah replied. “But it was broken open.”
“Should have made it stronger.”
“It was strong enough. It didn’t break open by itself. Someone had broken into it deliberately.”
“Well, don’t look at me,” said Lightning Lad. “Imra and I only just got here.”
“Whoever it was needs to be found,” Lyle said, alarm on his face.
Saturn Girl concentrated. “I detect no thoughts other than those of the eleven of us here,” she said.
“So what you’re saying is that somebody has made off with the one thing that could restore these two?” said Duo Damsel.
Ferro Lad sighed. “It really has been one of those days, hasn’t it, guys?”