by Martin Maenza
The jungle was thick with vegetation. The moisture of the rainforest combined with the sweltering heat to fill the air with a heavy steam. This would have been uncomfortable for most men.
For Luke Case, a criminal also known as Power Fist, it was a lot worse.
His body was no longer his own, or at least not the body he was born with. Thick, coarse hair covered him head to toe, and his features were more that of a simian than a man. He moved quickly, on all fours, in a trot-like pace — arms down, legs swung out, feet planted solid, so arms could swing forward for the next sequence. He ignored the leaves and branches that smashed against his face. Power Fist merely kept moving.
That was, until he crashed through a last set of brush and stopped fast. The dirt on the ground kicked up as he skidded to a halt.
The smell was different, too — not damp, steamy vegetation. The air was still heavy, but more with dirty pollution and exhaust. The sounds of exotic birds and other creatures was replaced with honking car horns and yelling voices. These were the sounds and smells he knew well.
Suicide Slum? How was he home?
He stared down at his foot, realizing the digits were touching the edge of the asphalt road, and pulled the foot back quickly — back to the dirt. I don’t belong there anymore, he thought. In his heart, he felt a pain of loss. He could not go home again.
That made him angry. He snarled with his jagged teeth in frustration. He started to beat his chest with his large fists in an animalistic way. “That’s not home, not anymore!” Power Fist yelled out.
Suddenly, a voice rattled in the back of his mind. It was melodic and charming and rather deep. “But it can be again…” the voice teased, “…assuming you still want it to be…”
“I do!” Power Fist roared. “I do!”
“And what would you do to have that again?” the voice asked. “Beg… borrow… steal…?”
Power Fist’s situation flashed through his head in a brief instant. It had been almost a year since Grodd’s ray had transformed him into a talking ape as part of the super-gorilla’s plan to be take over the hidden Gorilla City. And despite their constant and best efforts, his cohorts in the Secret Society could not yet restore him. It seemed hopeless. But to have the chance to walk out into public again as a man…
“Yes! Even kill!” he said.
“How about your soul?” the voice asked. “Willing to give that up to be a man again?”
“My soul?” Power Fist blinked.
“What good is a soul if you have to live the rest of your days as a lowly creature, never to walk down the streets again without the pointing and staring, or to feel the touch of a woman against your bare skin? In comparison, is there really any choice?”
Power Fist considered again. This was crazy. It didn’t make any sense, any of it. Still, the offer seemed very, very tempting to him and something he couldn’t pass up. “Sure, why not?” he finally said. “My soul.”
There was silence. The voice was gone.
Power Fist felt confused. “Well?” No answer. It had to be something his own mind worked up — it had to. He was finally going crazy.
He looked down at his hands and was stunned. They were normal again. He rubbed the two dark-skinned hands together. “No hair! No hair!” He felt his body. It, too, was mostly smooth, except for the natural body hair he had always had since puberty.
“Yahooo!” Power Fist screamed out, thrusting his arms triumphantly in the air. He darted across the asphalt and streaked around the city. He was a man again — a man. It felt greater than he ever imagined it could.
He bolted up in bed, disoriented.
“What the–?!” he asked as he blinked. The darkened room came into focus. It was his room in the Sinister Citadel, the hidden headquarters atop a large building in downtown San Francisco.
Power Fist pulled back the sheet to see his large body was still covered in coarse hair. “Damn it!” he cursed. “It was all just a dream!” With a sigh, he rolled back over to try to get back to sleep.
All a dream?
At a small table in the bedroom of her apartment, a beautiful young woman with blonde hair tied back in a bun sat in her black bra and pantyhose. She leaned close to the lighted mirror, applying the last of the makeup to her face before getting dressed. A small radio on the dresser blared music, and she sang along to the song.
“…go crazy, let’s get nuts!” Harleen rose from her seat. “Let’s look for the purple banana ’til they put us in the truck…” She danced across the room to her closet and pulled out a long-sleeved plum blouse. She put on the top and buttoned up the front three quarters of the way. Then she slipped into a black skirt and reached back to zip it up. Last, she stepped into a pair of black heels and moved over to turn off the radio just as the music was starting to fade. “How I love that song!”
Just then, the telephone rang. She caught it on the second ring. “Hello,” she said. “Yes, this is Dr. Quinzel.”
Harleen reached for her wire-framed glasses and slipped them on as she listened to the person on the other end. “Why, yes, I do remember you,” she said. “What can I do for you?” A pause.
Harleen dug through her purse, checking for her keys. “What?” she said. “You are?” A pause.
“Well,” Harleen said, glancing at the clock. “I did have a meeting this morning, but I think it’s something I can get out of, especially given your circumstances.” She reached for a pad and pen by the phone. “Now, where are you again?” A pause.
“No, no, it’ll probably be easier for me to come to you,” Harleen said, writing down the information. “I know the city a bit better than you might. You just sit tight, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.” A pause. “OK, I’ll see you soon.”
Harleen hung up the phone and grabbed her purse. I wasn’t relishing the idea of going to that meeting, anyway, she thought to herself. So I can’t look a gift excuse in the mouth. She fetched her black blazer from the closet, the one that matched the skirt.
Still, Harleen thought as she walked out toward the front door, I hope I’m doing the right thing here. She realized that what she was about to do went against everything she had conditioned herself for. But another part of her realized that she couldn’t turn a cold shoulder to the unexpected caller. She couldn’t.
At ten in the morning, in a wood-paneled conference room on one of the floors atop the Loman Building, eight infamous people sat about the rectangular table. Most of them wore costumes of sorts, except for Power Fist, who, now as an ape, rarely wore any clothing. In the back corner, sitting on top of one of the short cabinets, was a man with straight brown hair and a neatly trimmed mustache and beard, dressed in a green suit. He pulled out a fine Cuban cigar, gave it a quick smell, and then lit it.
Dressed in a golden serpentine costume and mask, Copperhead turned to a dark-haired woman with tattoos all over her olive-skinned body. “Mussst be important if he’sss letting Flassshman sssit in,” he whispered to the woman.
Lydia Anastasios, the Tattooed Lady dressed in a dark skirt and matching short-sleeved blouse, merely nodded silently. If she had any idea why her lover had called the whole group together, she wasn’t divulging any of that at this point, especially not to Copperhead, even if the snake was considered Sam’s right-hand man.
A man in an orange and green costume entered the room and stood at the head of the table. Glancing around the table, he noted quickly who was missing.
“It is about time, Mirror Master,” snapped a dark-haired woman dressed in pink and violet. “You know that some of us have outside commitments to keep.”
“Your daytime job can wait, Star Sapphire,” Mirror Master said. “I was hoping that Dr. Quinzel would be able to make it, but it appears she is a no-show.”
“Oh geezsss,” Copperhead hissed. “Again with the ssshrink.”
“Really,” added the black man in yellow and purple. His mask sat on the table. Having been part of the team now for nearly six months, Leon Ramsey felt no need to wear it to the group meetings. “Why do we need her around here? All her type does is mess wit’ your head, anyway.”
“She’s around because I say she’s around, Trident,” Mirror Master said firmly. Having worked with Dr. Quinzel after his coming back from the “dead,” Sam Scudder knew the woman was very capable in her field. Plus, it didn’t hurt the leader to have an idea what was going on inside the heads of those in the organization. “Now, if we can get on with the business of our regular meeting…”
“The world’s under siege, there were mad quakes all over the city just last month, invaders are all over the globe, and you want to deal with business?” Blindside asked. “The world could end tomorrow! Shouldn’t we be out there taking while the taking’s still good?”
“Scurrying about like rats after scraps is not what the Secret Society is about,” Mirror Master reminded them. “Yes, there is a full-scale invasion that’s been going on this month, but it’s not first of its kind, and it certainly won’t be the last, either.”
“Well, if we ain’t going to jump on golden opportunities,” Throttle said, “maybe we should be out there kicking some alien butt!”
“Excuse me,” Star Sapphire said sharply. “What did you just say?”
“I said maybe these slimy alien scum need to learn a lesson, you know?” the blonde Throttle replied. “We should teach them that Earth ain’t some kind of prize for them to come pluck anytime they want. That we don’t take kindly to their trashing the planet and kidnapping people and such!”
Star Sapphire glared at him angrily, and the gemstone on her tiara flared. A violet beam of energy lashed out across the table, slammed into Throttle, and knocked him backward off his chair. The beam held him about his throat up against the wall. He gagged as he gasped for air.
“Chad!” Blindside exclaimed, jumping from his seat. He tugged at the energy, but could not free his partner from its hold. He turned fast to Sapphire. “Let him go, bitch — now!“
The woman glared back, unrelenting. The beam stayed focused on its task until Mirror Master called out her name firmly. Star Sapphire looked at him, then dropped her attack.
Throttle fell to the floor, gasping for air. Blindside was bending over him. “Chad! Chad! You OK?”
Throttle turned to Blindside. “Yeah… Ricky…” he said softly, his throat sore from the great pressure. “I’ll be fine.” Still, Blindside helped Throttle back to his seat and got him a glass of water.
Throttle looked at Star Sapphire. “And what… ugghh… was that for?”
“How hypocritical of you!” Sapphire said. “One would expect someone like you to perhaps be a bit more tolerant of others who are different!”
“What?” Throttle asked, obviously confused.
“Pssst,” Copperhead leaned to his right with a whisper. “Ssstar’sss from another planet, ssstupid.”