The once and former Space Cabbie walked into the alley with the laser-wielder behind him. They walked almost to the end of the alley, the jovacite pavement, swept clean by the daily sonicleaser drones, ringing tinnily under their feet.
“OK, cabbie,” the man growled. “That’s far enough. Turn around now, nice and slow.”
Slowly, Space Cabbie turned to face his assailant — a tall, broad-shouldered man, features that looked chiseled from granite, eyes sunk deep in their sockets, eyes that blazed with hate.
“You know me?” he asked gruffly. “You remember who I am?”
Space Cabbie thought a moment, then nodded. “O. Ryan Carter,” he said. “I didn’t know you were back on Earth. How are things on Takron-Galtos?”
“Pretty lousy,” Carter snarled. “And I had a lot of time to find that out, thanks to you! I had a pretty sweet thing going, cabbie. Do you know what Ionian nose candy goes for on the Earthside black market? And in five years, nobody ever thought to look for it in old-fashioned toy snow globes — nobody but you!”
Space Cabbie shrugged. “Can I help it if your girlfriend thought it’d be a laugh to give me one of the globes as a tip?”
“So whoever expected you to look inside?” Carter asked. Then he suddenly tired of the banter. “I owe you for fifteen years of my life, cabbie. And here’s where I collect!”
Space Cabbie looked at the huge man aiming the hand-laser at him, his form shaded by the setting sun behind him. That gave him an idea. “Wait a minute, Carter! Look, can’t we talk about this? I-I’ll pay you–” Feigning fear, Space Cabbie began fumbling in his pocket.
“Pay me?” Carter snorted derisively. “You ain’t got nothing worth the years I spent on that hunk of rock!”
“Here, look!” Space Cabbie said, drawing the plastic 500-IBU card from his pocket. He held it carefully, by the edges, holding out its shiny plastic surface. “Y-you can have it — just please–” Space Cabbie tilted his hand, catching the bright rays of the sun on the shiny surface of the card. The rays were deflected into Carter’s eyes; the big man instinctively threw his hand up to his face. Space Cabbie acted in that moment his foe was blinded. His leg lashed out in a tight arc, knocking Carter’s legs out from underneath him. The big man went down, arms flailing for purchase. The hand-laser sailed from his hand; Space Cabbie caught it and aimed it down at his assailant.
“Looks like it’s back to Takron-Galtos for you, Carter,” Space Cabbie said triumphantly. The defeated drug smuggler only snarled.
Minutes later, uniformed police were taking Carter away in manacles. “That was quick thinking, sir,” one of them, a young pup of thirty-five, said to Space Cabbie. “We’ll take care of him now.”
“He’s got some accomplices,” Space Cabbie said. “He’s had some guys tailing me all day. I’m sure you can get him to tell you–“
“What?” Carter demanded, honestly surprised. “Tailing you? You’re nuts, cabbie! I’ve been on my own! I happened to see you comin’ outta the museum; spared me the trouble of lookin’ for you! I ain’t workin’ with anyone!” The police led Carter away. Space Cabbie turned and walked off, more confused than ever.
“I know someone was following me,” he said to himself. “If not Carter’s goons, then who?”
“It was us,” a calm, placid voice said from behind.
Space Cabbie whirled to see two men, dressed from head to foot in black. They appeared to be about forty years of age; one had reddish-brown hair and a clean-shaven face, the other ginger-colored hair and beard. “We have been following you, Mr. Parker,” the bearded one said. “We had to be sure you were who we thought you were.”
“And now we know for sure,” the beardless one added.
“How did you know my name?” the cabbie demanded. “Who are you?”
“We know much about you, Gardner Parker,” the bearded one said. “We have been searching a long time for you. We have been searching for you since you left your own time and journeyed to this one, but we lost track of you when you left the armed service. We had almost given up hope, until we saw you on the holovid broadcast.”
“As to who we are,” the beardless one said, “have you ever heard of homo magi?“
“Homo magi?” Gardner Parker repeated. “What, you mean the witches and warlocks?”
The bearded one shook his head ruefully. “A term imposed on us by a technologically biased society. In this age of scientific marvels, homo magi are mistrusted and feared, as once were other minorities.”
“We are not evil, or even inhuman,” the beardless one said. “We are human beings like any other, except that we were born with a genetic code that allows us to commune with the magical energies of the universe. It is this gift that the technocrats fear and mistrust.”
“That is why we are leaving Earth,” the bearded one went on. “The homo magi are departing this world that has outgrown us and needs us no longer.”
“Wild,” said Gardner Parker, the onetime Space Cabbie, taking it all in. “But — you said you were looking for me? Why?”
“Because, Gardner Parker,” the beardless one said, smiling, “you are one of us.”
Space Cabbie gasped at that. “Me? A homo magi? Th-that’s impossible! I can’t do magic! I don’t have any gift!”
“You were never told, then?” the bearded one asked. “Told of your heritage?”
“I–” Gardner Parker started to deny any knowledge of his heritage. Then he recalled a childhood trip to the Space Museum with his father, Thomas Parker. His father had told him a story of the Justice League of America, the legendary twentieth-century team of adventurers. He had concluded the tale by telling young Gardner that he was a descendant of one of the Justice League members. He had not told Gardner which one; he promised to reveal that at a later date, when Gardner was older. (*) Both of Gardner’s parents were killed in the Okaaran war before that date ever came. In desperation, the young orphan had broken into the Space Museum after hours and tried to use a time machine on display there to go back in time and save his parents. The twenty-fifth-century youth had overshot his intended destination and ended up stranded in the twenty-second century. The truth came flooding into Space Cabbie’s brain in that instant.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Secret That Time Forgot,” Justice League of America #206 (September, 1982).]
“Zatanna?” he whispered.
“Precisely,” the beardless one nodded. “One of the greatest of us all, Zatanna Zatara of the Justice League of America. She was your ancestor. And through her, you have the genetic code of the homo magi.”
“Surely you have noticed something?” the bearded one probed. “Some difference about you, some talent or fortune that sets you apart?”
Space Cabbie pondered that. For decades, he had gotten into more tight scrapes and bizarre adventures than any ten other cabbies he knew. And somehow, he always managed to come out on top, even just now with Carter.
“Come with us,” the bearded one entreated. “We have been invited to settle on another world, a beautiful planet where the homo magi can thrive amongst the magical peoples already living there! Its climate is perfect, nearly a copy of Earth. Zerox the Sorcerer’s World is a planet where we can live unmolested by the fear and suspicion of the technocrats.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Secret Identity of Super-Horse,” Action Comics #301 (June, 1962) and “Mordru the Merciless,” Adventure Comics #369 (June, 1968).]
“We will show you the wonders locked inside you,” the beardless one said. “And you will have friends, a family. You will never be alone again.”
Gardner Parker, Space Cabbie, looked up at the sky, which was just turning dark now. He could barely make out the stars. A family — something he hadn’t had since his parents were killed three hundred years in the future, which from his perspective was so long, long ago. To never be alone again…
“When do we leave?” he asked with a grin.
“Right away,” the bearded one said, smiling. “Welcome, Gardner Parker! Welcome to our family!”