by Martin Maenza
With relative ease, thanks to the special ring that sat on his finger, Jacques Foccart soared over the teeming population center on Krltos’ largest continent. Of course, thanks to the special abilities he possessed ever since the day he consumed a special serum invented by Lyle Norg, his flight went undetected by the large groups of inhabitants below him. This made Invisible Kid an invaluable member of the covert investigation team known as the Legion Espionage Squad.
Mon Dieu, the hero thought to himself as he watched the light-brown-skinned beings with large, multifaceted eyes move about the various tents and wooden stalls that made up what appeared to a large, open air market. The alien beings made loud, chittering-type sounds as they bartered with one another for items that appeared to be fresh foods as well as clothes and other small objects. The background information we received about this world indicated it was a low-tech planet consisting mostly of mining operations and the like. But I never would have imagined its people would live in such relative poverty.
The scene reminded the young man of something out of the holo-vids he recalled being shown in ancient history class, back when Earth had a number of nations that were less fortunate than others. Third-world nations was what they were referred to, he recalled. He felt slightly blessed to be living in the time period he did. Thirtieth-century Earth was a much more utopian kind of place.
As he watched the crowds, Jacques was looking for individuals who might stand out different from the natives. It was a long shot attempt that perhaps someone connected to those involved with the assassination of Slrvnta the Third would still be milling about. He hoped, for Cosmic Boy’s sake, that he or one of the others turned up something. “Rokk seemed so shaken by the death of the premier. I only hope we can find a clue to the identity of the killer.”
Suddenly, there was a slight buzz in his ear. The transparent man flew to someplace away from the bazaar before he responded to the signal. “Invisible Kid here,” he said after activating the transceiver.
“Jacques, it’s Vi,” said a female voice on the other end. “Found anything yet?”
“Nothing too out of the ordinary,” he replied. “And you?”
“Pretty much the same,” replied Shrinking Violet. “I am surprised, though. From what we’ve read about this planet, I expected something more. It was my impression that the inhabitants of this world worked hard mining natural resources that another race sold for them.”
“Yes,” Jacques agreed. “I’ve hardly seen any indication of that. It does not appear from those I’ve seen that they benefit much from the sale of those resources.” He looked about again. “It does not appear that anyone seems to be working at such endeavors today. Perhaps it some kind of day of rest.”
“Or a festival of some sort,” Shrinking Violet conjectured. “While I cannot understand the native tongue, I can read expressions and tones. Those I’ve observed in my searching seem to be celebrating something.”
“Celebrating what?” Jacques inquired.
“Freedom?” Vi proposed.
Jacques nodded silently. “Shall I meet you at the rendezvous point now?”
“Sounds good,” the woman on the other end of the line replied. “That way we’ll be together when Reep checks in.”
“Roger,” Invisible Kid said. “See you in a few minutes.”
Chameleon Boy heard the slight buzz in his ear but was unable to answer the call at the moment. He knew his teammates would more than understand. After all, the type of investigative work that they were specifically suited for required the need to be incommunicado every now and again.
This was one of those times.
Taking the form of a small winged insect native to the planet, the shape-shifting being from the planet Durla was quite literally a fly on the wall at the moment. From a vantage point in a small crevice in the stone walls of a meeting chamber deep within the city, the Legionnaire had stumbled upon a rather important meeting.
“We’re in full agreement, then?” a blue-skinned humanoid said, speaking Interlac. He wore dark clothing that covered most of his body, including a hood that cast a shadow over a good portion of his facial features. In his hands was a small, computer-like pad device.
“We are,” one of the brown-skinned natives said, also speaking the universal language to help further facilitate the transaction. “In exchange for helping us recover our economic independence, we will provide to you a fraction of our mining resources.”
“And don’t forget the safe havens within your borders,” the blue-skinned man reminded him.
“Yes, yes,” the brown-skinned man agreed. “That as well.”
“Excellent,” the man in blue said. He pressed a button that transmitted the data. “My mistress will be pleased, indeed.”
The brown-skinned alien shook his head. “Technology can fail,” he preached as he reached for a parchment. “We prefer more tangible methods for recording our dealings.” He unrolled the parchment, showing the man the markings of the alien’s language.
The well-built blue man waved his hand. “I’ll take your word for it,” he said.
The Krltosian rolled the paper back up and slid it into a tube-like holder. Then, reaching for one of the candles that lit the room, he tipped the candle and allowed a good portion of wax to drip upon the edges of the tube.
“What’s that for?” the blue man asked.
“To mark the document as sealed, to avoid tampering,” the brown man said. He pulled forth a small metal item from the pocket of his brown robes and pressed it into the wax. It left a mark in the cooling wax. He turned to the other man. “You must mark it as well, to give it a unique seal which cannot be forged.”
The alien in brown just nodded with a slight bit of impatience.
“Fine.” The man in black felt about his person, then decided to press the oval portion of the top of the ring he wore to the wax. It left an impression in the substance as well.
“Very good,” the native of Krltos said, taking the document. “Our deal is sealed.”
“And since we’ve already delivered on part of our end of the bargain, as a show of good faith, might we begin to take our rewards?”
“Of course. Now that the premier is no longer in a position to keep my people enslaved, we can put in place a replacement governing body made up of those who live upon this world.”
“Good,” the man in black said. “We will be in touch soon with our needs.” He turned and started for the door.
Chameleon Boy had seen enough. The man in black seemed to be dressed as Shadow Kid had described the clothes worn by the man who killed the premier. For the time being, Reep Daggle ignored the fact that the killer looked like his friend Val Armorr. It made doing his job much more easier if he could keep a detached aspect to the case.
While the man in black would have to take the winding caverns to return to the streets, the Durlan hero was not bound by such things. Following the flow of air through some small ductwork in the walls, he was able to move more quickly to get ahead of his target. He would emerge on the streets well ahead of the man in black.
As he traveled quickly, he was free to also make contact to the others. “Vi, Jacques, follow my signal,” he said into his transceiver. “I think I have a lead that needs to be investigated further.”
“Right!” he heard on the other end.
The man in black emerged from a doorway out on the street. Quickly, confidently, he turned to his right, headed down the row behind a number of smaller structures, and cut into an alleyway. His goal was to move unnoticed through the streets.
He realized he wasn’t alone in the alleyway when a female dressed in green with long, shoulder-length black hair suddenly appeared before him.
“Going somewhere?” she asked with a smile.
The man’s eyes narrowed. His hand darted into the pockets of his robes and quickly emerged. With a snap of his wrist, a pair of throwing stars whizzed through the air at the woman’s neck. His confident smile faded as the projectiles aimed for her chest suddenly whizzed over her head.
How? he thought in surprise. Then he realized that his aim wasn’t off at all. The woman had changed size at the last second to avoid the attack.
“Tsk-tsk,” a male voice said from behind him. “That is no way to treat a lady.”
The man in black spun around, looking for the source of the voice. The entrance to the alleyway was empty.
Realizing the woman was still there, he decided to make a run for it in the direction he had come. The man in black started to sprint, only to be cut short when something clotheslined him about the neck. He fell to the dirt, hard, caught off-guard by the surprising attack. “What… what’s going on?” the man asked as he looked about.
A bird swooped down and changed shape before his eyes, growing larger and more humanoid. Chameleon Boy stood before him, blocking his path. “That’s what we’d like to know.” Shrinking Violet approached from the other way, restored to her normal height. Suddenly, a black-skinned man in a yellow costume appeared next to her. The trio had the man surrounded.
The man in black quickly registered the three. “The Legion!”
“Yes,” said Chameleon Boy. “And we would like to have a word with you regarding the assassination of premier Slrvnta the Third.”
The man in black sized up the situation. Where there were three, there easily could be more. He didn’t like his odds, nor did he like the nature of the situation. From the looks on their faces, they already appeared to know quite a bit. His mission was completed, but the organization could not be compromised.
He weighed his options instantly in his mind.
Attempt to fight and be captured, enduring interrogation. No matter what, he would be tracked down anyway and eliminated.
Or die with honor and leave the enemy bewildered.
It wasn’t a hard choice.
“Failure is not an option,” he said firmly. He grabbed in his robes and threw something.
“Watch out!” Violet warned. The heroes prepared for an attack, only to see the man’s compu-pad whiz past them and shatter against the rock walls.
As they turned back, the man was on his knees, shoving his hand to his face.
“Subdue him before he can attack us,” Chameleon Boy ordered as he lunged forward.
The man swallowed and smiled confidently. “You’ll get no answers from…” He choked. “…me…”
Chameleon Boy had become a serpent, wrapping his coils about the man to bind him. The body though went limp and then started to soften.
“Reep, look out!” Violet warned.
“Mon Dieu!” Invisible Kid gasped. “The man… he is melting!“
Indeed, the body beneath the brown robes turned squishy and oozed about.
Chameleon Boy released him and backed away, becoming human again. The man’s robes and weapons fell to the ground, the remains of his body now a seething, evaporating puddle of goo.
“What happened?” Violet asked.
Chameleon Boy bowed his head. “He committed suicide,” the hero said. “With some kind of ultra-fast acting biological agent of some kind. In seconds, it ate up his body from the inside out.”
Invisible Kid blinked in disbelief. “That’s insane! Why would anyone do that to themselves?”
“Whatever information he had, he wanted to make sure we didn’t get it,” Chameleon Boy concluded.
“What do we do now?” Shrinking Violet asked.
Chameleon Boy stared at the pile of clothes and other items that remained, cloth and metal unaffected by the killing mechanism. “We sift through the pieces and try to find some clues.”
The other two nodded. “We’ll see what we can salvage from the compu-pad,” Violet said. “Jacques, will you help me?”
“Oui,” the African hero said. The three made sure to carefully get everything they could.
In a hidden retreat across the cold, silent expanse of stars, a large muscular man with no hair knocked on the chamber door that was ajar.
“Come,” a voice inside acknowledged.
The man in black stepped inside and bowed. “I have word from Krltos, mistress,” he said.
A stunning woman with long crimson hair also dressed in black turned to face him. “Speak, Ubu.”
The manservant looked up. “The good news is that the contracts have been sealed. We have access to the resources as well as safe haven as we chose.”
The woman, Alita, frowned. “We have known each other for many years,” she said. “Whenever you start off with the ‘good news,’ that usually implies you have bad to follow. What is it?”
Ubu swallowed. She did know him well. “There was a Legion Cruiser spotted in the area around Krltos.”
“The Legion!” the woman spat. “No doubt investigating the premier’s death.”
Ubu nodded silently.
Alita stood and approached him. “Tell me, was our agent captured?”
“No, mistress. He is dead.”
“Good! That saves me the trouble of sending someone to silence him.” She started to pace, running things through her head.
“Mistress, about the Legion,” Ubu finally said. “Will they pose a problem?”
Alita paused. “They could,” she explained, “but only if they manage to get in step with us. As long as we stay ahead of them, they will be nothing more than dogs nipping at our heels. Still, if they’re that persistent, perhaps we should throw them a bone. That might get them off the track and not compromise all our years of careful planning.”
“That is wise,” Ubu said, praising her.
“Leave me!” Alita said, waving him away in a dismissive manner. “I need time alone to devise the perfect strategy to handle this situation.”
Ubu bowed and backed out of the room. “As you wish, mistress.” He stepped out of the chamber and closed the door behind him.