Later, after the team had used their considerable powers to repair some of the damage and rescue a few trapped miners, they faced the camp manager. He was a somber-looking native of the planet Equus, and he shook his long, broad features in dismay.
“Whhhy did they do it? Whhhat could they have wanted with our Carsons?” he said.
“What is a Carson?” asked Blok. “We lacked such devices on Dryad.”
Colossal Boy smiled and said, “Blok, a Carson is a powerful digging machine. It can literally drill to the core of a planet in minutes. They used them to extract ore or other vital minerals.”
Dream Girl sat on the manager’s desk and continued wiping away mud and grit from her hair and face. “Right. They were named for the twentieth-century explorer Cave Carson. The question is not so much what can they do, but why did these pirates steal them?” she said in a bored tone.
Phantom Girl said, “We can try to get answers from the ones we captured, although thus far all they say is that they were paid well to distract any Science Police or security squads while their partners took the machines.”
“They won’t sell each other out easily,” said Ultra Boy. “They are deadly and greedy, but they live by a weird code of their own. I know that from personal experience.”
Quislet hovered nearby. “Quislet thinks they want to do what pirates do! They can use the Carsons to unearth a buried treasure!”
Shrinking Violet shook her head. “Not likely. They may style themselves and model their hierarchy on ancient pirates, but they really are just robbers. My instincts say they are not after a buried treasure.”
Dream Girl smiled and said, “Well, I do trust your detective skills, Vi. Still, why would they want to take machines of such a pedestrian nature?”
Phantom Girl frowned. “You know, I’m sure glad Mordru is still imprisoned and in that trance on Zerox. Otherwise, I could see them using their machines to free him from one of his tombs. They would not live long afterward, but they could do it under the mistaken belief that he would serve them!”
Ultra Boy drew the pretty girl closer and said, “Don’t worry, Tinya. That old wizard is no longer buried, and I doubt he even knows what’s going on around him.”
Dream Girl stood up and used one finger to gently trace a pattern on the Equine manager’s chest. “Don’t worry, sir. The Legion is on the job, and we won’t fail you. We’ll get back your machines or prevent them from being used for crime,” she cooed.
He nodded rapidly. “Thhhank you!”
Nura led the others to their cruiser and suddenly pitched forward. Ultra Boy caught her in his arms and said, “Is it another vision?”
Nura groaned and leaned on his powerful arms. She sighed deeply. “Jo, it’s not a vision, or not like any I’ve had before,” she said softly. “It was just a… sensation. Some type of feeling of evil.”
Shrinking Violet said, “Well, the sooner we get back to Earth and look into these pirates and their motives, the sooner we’ll have answers.”
“Right,” Phantom Girl said. “I’ll set a course and contact Element Lad.”
“Good idea,” said Vi. “I also suggest we call an old friend back into action.” The petite beauty explained her idea as the sleek cruiser zoomed through space.
Later, on Earth, two different groups of colorful figures respectively offered farewells and hellos.
A good-natured, dark-haired man rested one plump hand on a large medi-tank while his attractive brunette wife steadied the device as they loaded in on a ship. Bouncing Boy and his bride from Cargg, Duo Damsel, looked grim as they helped the servo-droids carry one of their ex-pupils aboard the ship. “Ganglios, or Tellus, don’t worry about a thing,” said one of the replicating Duo Damsels as Luornu Durgo Taine used her ability to split into two separate but fully functioning bodies.
An orange-skinned woman chimed in readily, “Like, we’ll miss you, Tellus. You are sooo totally starshine!”
Comet Queen turned to the nearly bare-skinned but striking Laurel Kent as the descendant of Superman adjusted her red cloak and looked on somberly. Being invulnerable doesn’t keep me from feeling sadness, she thought. I sure hope Tellus will recover soon from the injuries he received at the hands of that evil Ultragirl from Qward. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: Heroes No More?]
Tellus remained still in his medi-tank, but he understood the feelings of his teachers and former classmates from his time in the Legion Academy. He projected his own sadness at the parting with his formidable mental powers.
Chuck Taine forced a smile as he gestured to Magnetic Kid. “Pol, I appreciate your joining us like this,” said Bouncing Boy. “I know the Legion could use you, now that you are a member in your brother’s spot, but it’s sure swell of you to want to accompany us while we take Tellus home to Hykraius for treatment.”
“He and I are friends,” said Pol Krinn. “I know he says being back in the great mother ocean will heal him, but I want to be around to be sure.” They entered the ship and slowly piloted it away to the strange world of their friend’s birth. Below, Laurel and Comet Queen waved a final farewell and returned to their own vacation.
On the other side of the Legion complex, Dream Girl, Shrinking Violet, Ultra Boy, and Phantom Girl greeted two women who arrived together. The first woman was a cute brunette with sparkling eyes that keenly noted every detail around her. She wore the uniform of an officer of the Science Police, and she carried herself with a mixture of the professional and the free-spirited.
Tinya Wazzo smiled at her in greeting. She liked Gigi Cusimano and admired her ability to live in such a slightly hedonistic manner. Tinya was not shy herself, but she lacked the spunky Gigi’s willingness to shock people in her private moments. Gigi had been summoned to provide an official presence while the heroes questioned a few of the captured pirates.
The lovely woman next to her had been summoned to do the questioning in a way only she could do. This woman, wearing a brief pink costume linked by a stylized representation of Saturn, was blonde and confident. Saturn Girl had been a founder of the Legion during her teens, and now the young mother and wife had other responsibilities but still possessed a passion for her old team and justice. Imra Ardeen Ranzz smiled as her friends rushed forward to greet her.
“Imra, you look sensational!” said Phantom Girl. “Starshine, as Comet Queen would say!”
Saturn Girl hugged her briefly and said, “Thank you. Garth sends his love. He and baby Graym are visiting his family back on Winath. He is so devoted to being a father that I could not tear him away. You know his folks died years ago in an accident, but each of them were twins, and their respective siblings could not wait to see our baby. As much as I relish being a mother and wife, I was getting a bit restless. Of course, I hated to leave my ‘men,’ too, but I still have that old ache for Legion duty and service. I guess that’s why I wanted to become a Science Police officer all those years ago. I want to help people.”
“I’m happy Lightning Lad is so content,” said Shrinking Violet. “He’s suffered more than most of us over the years. Are you sure he doesn’t mind your return to active duty?”
Imra shook her head firmly. “No. He knows me too well to try to keep me home. That’s one of the reasons I love him so much. He is confident in our relationship and can allow me to follow my own course at times like this. He knows with poor Tellus hurt that the team could use my powers until he comes back.”
Dream Girl interrupted and said, “Let’s get down to business. Gigi looks bored. Can you use your powers to do what the S.P. mind probes failed to do? Saturn Girl, can you learn why Captain Frake committed that rather odd crime?” Saturn Girl nodded knowingly. Nura Nal was very smart and very capable, but she loved the spotlight and could only allow another female to occupy it for a short while.
“I have Frake and three of her men here, too,” said Gigi. “Bring them in, Dvron!”
Offiver Roon Dvron nodded in greeting as the redheaded cop led in the bound pirates. Frake glared at Ultra Boy in malice. She clearly knew enough of her late sister’s past to hate the hero from Rimbor who once was her object of desire.
Jo Nah frowned. He knew he was not to blame for the death of the other Captain Frake, but he still felt a bit guilty. It was simply part of his heroic nature. Phantom Girl took his hand knowingly. She understood exactly what her lover was feeling. She knew him that well.
Shrinking Violet and Gigi had nodded briefly to one another, but neither was overly warm to the other woman. This was due to the fact that both of them were somewhat involved with the Legion’s Sun Boy, Dirk Morgna.
Salu Digby bit her lip in annoyance. I am tired of letting her type walk all over me, thought Shrinking Violet. I’m not sure if Dirk is worth my time, but I won’t be beaten by anyone again in any type of contest.
Saturn Girl gently placed both hands on the face of the bitter Captain Frake and concentrated. She was perhaps the most powerful telepath to ever come from the planet of Titan, and she knew more about probing mental defenses with skill and finesse than anyone.
She concentrated and saw images of the female pirate’s life. She had been treated roughly and neglected as a child. Her older sister had been her only ally in the daily fight for survival on New Tortuga. Now, behind the overwhelming pain she felt at her death, Saturn Girl found more recent memories and a dark figure with a palpable malice about him. He was bald, and he had hired Frake to do exactly what she and her crew had done: namely, to occupy the defenders of Asteroid 73Q while other pirates could steal the Carson machines.
Later, Saturn Girl crossed her legs and sat in front of her friends in their headquarters. “I saw the mental image of the man who hired her. I saw the same image in the memories of the other two pirates. Still, our attempt to program that data into our computers failed to produce a match or a name. He is a mystery to us. He recruited them near Ventura.”
Gigi looked up from a panel and said, “My efforts failed, too. We have no record of this man in any of our U.P. sources. He’s a man who doesn’t exist, according to our data.”
Shrinking Violet snorted softly. “Maybe that just means what Imra picked up from their minds was what they saw, but not his true nature. We have distorters that alter our looks; why couldn’t he employ that type of technology, too?”
Dream Girl smiled in approval. “Good idea, Vi. Thanks, Imra. You did a good job. The Science Police probe failed to get even that much.”
Gigi jumped to her feet. “Wait a minute! That means–!” she began in indignation.
“That means our mystery-man is very good,” interrupted Phantom Girl as she kept the peace.
Gigi nodded with a sly grin. “Right. I’d say our best bet is to try to track down some of Frake’s allies. We can wager that other pirates were the ones who were recruited for the other half of the job.” She turned and exited Legion Headquarters as Shrinking Violet and Dream Girl followed. Each had their own agenda.
Meanwhile, a shadowy figure watched from afar with magno lens and whispered, “There she is, that vixen! She’ll pay for what she did to me! I won’t let her escape for long!”
That night found Gigi Cusimano and Dirk Morgna in the exclusive part of Metropolis called Pleasuredome. The wealthy and handsome Sun Boy was dancing with Gigi on a hover platform under a flashing sphere while other couples also enjoyed the quaint splendor of the dance club. He spoke loudly to make himself heard over the pulsing beat. “What do you think? I know it is really old-fashioned, and I give my buddy Rokk grief over his passion for the past, but this ancient thing called disco is pretty fun!”
Gigi, wearing a gold micro-mini with high heels, smiled and drew him closer. “I like it!” she said. “I’m a bit surprised you called. I thought you were with Violet these days.”
“Does this look like I’m with Violet?” said Dirk, kissing Gigi firmly and embracing her under the strobe lights.
Shrinking Violet herself, wearing a pink-fringed top and short skirt, entered and saw it all. She fumed for a moment, then turned and stalked off in anger. “OK, Dirk,” she said softly, “next time we meet, I’ll cool you down, mister high and mighty Sun Boy!”
After she left, Dirk excused himself from Gigi and left her looking for another partner. She was young and wasn’t ready to depart just because her date had classes the next day. She was a good cop, but even her keen eyes failed to see Dirk after he turned a corner and smirked confidently. “It worked perfectly. Little Vi saw all I wanted her to see,” he gloated.
The murdering thug called Weiter was angry. He was feared by lawmen across the galaxy, and he had earned a high position in the intergalactic underworld as what twentieth-century Earth’s Mafia had called a torpedo or hitman. Now, he resented being commanded to assist his underlings in operating mining drills. He had fought and cheated and murdered his way to a high position in Captain Frake’s crew, and this was how the lovely pirate queen treated him? “By the hide of a Khund, I won’t lower myself to this,” he vowed. “These other worms can slave over these drills but not me.”
A thin Braalian gestured, and his magnetism helped adjust one of the powerful Carson drills. “You got no choice, Weiter. If we don’t do what he says, he’ll kill us all. He can do it, too! He paid Cap’n Frake to steal the machines, and he’s paying us to use them on this forsaken mud-ball. I say we do what we’re told.”
He nodded toward the nearest machine as three pirates operated it and sent the spinning head pounding into the soil with amazingly force and speed. “Think of it like this: we’re just stealing a planet’s soil,” he said. “That’s not so different from our normal jobs. We take what we can get paid for taking.”
Weiter gripped the smaller man by the neck. “I know we are taking the very core of this cursed planet for him, but I say it’s not my kind of job!”
Suddenly, a holographic projection flashed into view. The image showed a fierce-looking bald man. “Come aboard the Raptor,” he said. “We would grant you an audience, Weiter.”
Weiter scowled and released the Braalian as the smaller pirate and dozens of others across the globe used the stolen devices to dig deeply and carry away the very matter of this world’s core.
He was teleported aboard the elegantly shaped ship called the Raptor, and he entered the private chamber of their mysterious employer. He closed the door behind him and left the guard stationed outside the chamber to listen to all he could hear. “I don’t want to waste my talents on this kind of manual labor!” he said with a defiant rasp to his voice.
The guard heard a husky but sultry female voice say, “We know. We heard you, but then, we see and hear all.” A flash of energy filled the room, and the guard without smelled the sick scent of charred flesh. A feminine but chilling laugh echoed from within the room. Weiter just learned not to cross the boss, he thought, and he was right.
On the planet Ventura, gambling was an art form, and any set of events could be wagered on for high stakes. The planet’s entire culture was roughly based on that type of risk-taking nightlife that had been so much associated with Las Vegas of twentieth-century Earth.
It was also by association a place where crime thrived and desperate men and women sought dangerous employment. A cheap-looking blonde woman lounged on a bar stool in Mayiak Decia’s Luck Lounge and eyed a rough-looking man who drank Silverale with little rest between mugs. She smiled seductively as she caught his one eye. He nodded, and she stood up and crossed the room with a slinky manner that left most of the other occupants of the dive admiring her. “Buy a girl an ale?” she purred.
He grinned and said, “I might. What do I get in return?”
She sat on his lap and said, “Time will tell. What’s your name?”
“I’m Redscan,” he said. “It’s a nickname I picked up in the Khundish arenas.”
She cooed eagerly. “Oooh! Are you a fighter? You sure are big enough!”
He chuckled and ordered their drinks. “I used to be. Now, I’m into other types of work,” he said.
She smiled and continued their conversation. He drank one ale after another and never seemed to notice that the girl in his arms was barely bringing her mug to her lips. Eventually, she managed to get him to drunkenly reveal that he was due to join up with a craft called the Raptor when it reached Earth. She smiled and stood up.
He reached for her, but she had vanished from view. Redscan sputtered in surprise, then began to doze on the table.
Outside the bar, Phantom Girl flew down to meet a disguised Ultra Boy, who had been watching from afar via his penetra-vision. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “You look happy. Did Nura charm the information out of one of Frake’s remaining crew members? Gigi said the known ones who were loose frequent this area.”
Ultra Boy shook his head with a wry grin. He gestured to the cheap blonde who suddenly rose up into view between them. She deactivated a distorter and revealed herself to be Shrinking Violet. “Nura didn’t do it,” she said with a smile. “She was feeling under the weather. I filled in for her. Rather liked it, except for that creep’s dirty hands.”
Tinya gasped as she eyed the once shy Vi and marveled at her remarkably different persona. “Grife! You really have changed, Salu!” she said.
“I’m better for it,” said Violet. “Now, we know the rest of Frake’s crew and their mystery boss are coming to Earth soon. The Raptor is the name of the craft Cusimano said they travel in. We can be ready for trouble. I guess Dreamy’s vision about Earth being in peril was right. It seems like our stolen Carsons are heading for Earth for some reason!”
Jo nodded grimly. “And it can’t be for any good reason, either!”