Fifteen years earlier — 2972:
Amri Ardeen of Titan was a beautiful blonde fifteen-year-old girl with a chilly disposition. She was something of a human dichotomy, since she deliberately shunned contact with other people, but she also possessed the remarkable ability to read minds and thus instantly know other people more intimately than even their closest loved ones could ever hope to do. Amri was usually gifted, even for a student from the famous Mind Institute of Titan, where pupils with the normal mental abilities every Titanian possessed were schooled in the finer points of the mental arts. Amri was exceptionally gifted, and her powers had the potential to make her the most gifted mentalist in Titan’s history.
No one really needed the power to read and transmit thoughts to realize that the young girl was very deliberately trying to avoid observation as she sat in a crowded shuttle that was headed for Earth and the gigantic Metropolis Space Center. She sat near the back, figuratively and literally keeping her defenses up. As a lovely girl, she was adept at discouraging unwanted advances, and she combined that kind of experience with her own mental powers to shield her from any unwanted contact with the other passengers.
I’m almost there, she thought. Once I reach Earth, I can mingle with the crowds and lose myself among the teeming masses. They won’t find me there. Surely even they won’t bother to hunt me down once I reach Earth!
Amri was, in fact, something of a fugitive from her native Titan. It was true that she was at first a prize pupil at the Mind Institute, but her disregard of certain long-established but nearly sacred practices and another troubling fact about her made her notorious as well as feared at the school.
“She reads minds at will! She makes no excuses, nor does she even attempt to honor the private thoughts of those around her. She takes a perverse pleasure in delving into other minds, and she delights in letting others know that she has invaded their privacy as well!”
“She is truly gifted, but after a series of carefully conducted studies by the finest teachers on the planet and a few invited experts from Medicus I and Mars itself, we have found that Amri Ardeen has the potential to become a criminal and a danger to public safety. For the good of all of Titan, it has become necessary to suppress and dampen her powers before they develop beyond our power to control them!”
The thoughts came from her Mind Institute teachers, and while they thought their thoughts had been screened by psi-screens to keep out unwanted mental listeners, nothing they had done had shielded their thoughts from the girl herself.
They are jealous of me! she thought. They are obsolete and live by a primitive code of morality. I won’t let them cripple me with their mind-dampeners! I will never allow anyone to control me!
She had fled from the Mind Institute and had used her small savings to buy passage to Earth. Once on the planet looming up from below the shuttle, Amri Ardeen knew she would be safe.
Oddly enough, the pretty blonde was not alone in seeking sanctuary on planet Earth. A few rows in front of her sat two other fifteen-year-olds. Rikk Krinn was also trying to avoid attention, and for the dark-haired boy from Braal, travelling incognito was almost impossible, since he had recently been a promising magno-ball player with skills to rival the magnetic manipulation powers found in all natives of Braal. Rikk had actually been born on Earth to Braalian parents, and in some way this had made his powers much stronger than those found in his peers who were born on Braal itself.
Rikk was a natural leader, and his easy good looks and skills had earned him the nickname Cosmic Boy, but the fame and credits that were supposed to be his by right of talent and relentless willpower had been denied him. Oh, he did achieve fame, but it turned so swiftly to notoriety that Rikk could hardly believe it himself. He had thrown a few games and had become involved with Venturian gamblers and Rimborian mobsters. When the scandal was exposed, the once-heroic athlete had been banned from professional sports and had fled Braal.
“The thugs that wanted to use me for easy credits will never forgive me for getting caught. They think I might testify against them, too. I won’t let them kill me! They will never find me once I reach Earth!” he vowed.
He had made friends with the reddish-blond-haired teen who sat next to him. Gard Ranzz was a wild and reckless boy from the normally peaceful Amarta commune on the agricultural planet Winath. He was a good talker, and he was good looking. It was easy for him to make friends, but it was hard for him to keep them because of his explosive temper.
Gard didn’t care. He had never wanted true intimacy. He liked celebrating and drinking Silverale with a few casual chums or some pretty girls, but Gard lived up to his homonymic name. He kept his guard up around most people with one slightly disturbing exception.
On a planet where almost all of the population consisted of twins, Gard and his sister Kayla were exceptionally close. The perky reddish-blonde girl adored her brother and used her not-inconsiderable charms to smooth over the problems his hot temper caused. They were a good team, and they complimented one another’s strengths.
Gard missed Kayla even as he listened to Rikk’s stories about the pleasure palaces of Rimbor. Gard and Kayla were already notorious on Winath because of a family connection that set them apart from every other family on the farm planet. They had a big brother named Mech, who was a freak. The pitied and much-talked-about boy was an anomaly on a planet of twins, since Mech was born without a twin.
Gard and Kayla lived with the shame as best they could, but they also looked down on the sensitive and introspective Mech, and their tight bond left no room for him in their household.
That was why it was so unusual for all of the siblings to take even a short trip together. The three Rannzz siblings had been sent by their parents on a routine delivery errand when their cruiser had developed engine trouble.
Mech was a skilled pilot, and he deftly brought the little craft down safely to a barren planetoid near Winath called Korbul.
A slightly drunken Gard had disobeyed Mech’s request that they stay in the craft and await rescue. “I’m going to look around this hunk of rock!” declared the wild Gard. Kayla had giggled and followed him like a devoted puppy.
Mech had reluctantly followed them. They disdained him, but he was the oldest, and he felt responsible for them. He hurried after his gleeful siblings as they held hands and rushed across the gray and rocky terrain, and lightning flashed in a darkened sky above them.
“Gard! Kayla! Come back here! Those weird beasts are attracted by your cries!” he said as he saw several large creatures approach the pair.
The lightning beasts of Korbul were usually harmless, but they had the ability to absorb and generate the electronic energies that dominated the skies above their pasture land.
Just as Mech reached his siblings, all three were caught in a surge of electromagnetic energy that enveloped them and left them strangely altered. After their rescue, all three of the siblings learned that they had somehow gained the power over electrical energy that the beast possessed.
Gard had used his powers destructively during a drunken night out, and a fire had threatened the grain warehouse near the commune’s heartland.
Mech had summoned help and had heroically put out the blaze, but his efforts to confront Gard ended in disaster when the brothers came to blows.
“I’m sick of you! You aren’t one of us. You are a freak! You don’t belong to this family!” shrieked Gard as he released his lightning at his startled older brother.
Mech had survived the attack, but Gard had raced off into the night. Days later, he had managed to steal enough credits to pay passage to Earth, and now as he relived his abrupt flight from his home, he missed his sister and raged inwardly against his brother. Mech cost me my home! I’ll kill him if I ever see him again! he thought.
Gard had big ideas, but he was also somewhat scared. He knew how serious his actions had been. He could be arrested at any moment if his family had not persuaded the local farm bureau to drop any charges against him. How he would hate being imprisoned. He was born to roam free like those lightning beasts. He was destined to blaze across the cosmos in glory because of the power that was his alone.
He hoped to find work on Earth and then bring Kayla planetside as well. He had big ideas, but he also wanted to avoid being arrested if the Science Police were looking for him.
Little did the three troubled teens realize that there was someone so infamous aboard their shuttle that no self-respecting Science Police officer would waste time looking in their direction.
Leland McCauley III, the rumored leader of a vast criminal empire, and owner of his own private planetoid, was aboard their shuttle that day. He would exert a remarkable influence on all their lives, although as they sat lost in their separate thoughts of escape and revenge, they paid no notice to the shaggy-haired crime lord.
Amri recognized him before the other two teens did so. She frowned as she realized that she could not read his mind. I suppose a notorious figure like him would be able to buy the very best psi-screens to shield his private thoughts from any prying minds, she thought. I wonder if I could find work with him. I’m sure I could persuade him that I would be of use to a man in his line of work!
She frowned as the shuttle landed and everyone began to disembark. As McCauley started to depart, two furtive figures approached him from each side. Amri gasped in spite of her normally icy demeanor as she picked up their unshielded thoughts.
“They’re going to kill Mr. McCauley!” she shouted.
Instantly, the two teen boys jumped into action. Amri knew the reddish-blond boy had been watching her with amorous interest since they first boarded the shuttle, but she had not bothered to return his interest with even a cursory psi-scan.
He raised both hands, and blazing bolts of energy crackled through the air to strike the first thug before he could raise a carefully concealed blaster from beneath his jacket. His ally groaned in pain as magnetic forces released by Rikk Krinn slammed him into the roof of the shuttle by repelling his metal belt buckle.
As the thugs collapsed, and the crowd separated in shock, McCauley nodded approval to three hastily appearing bodyguards, and then the old man stared knowingly at the three teens. He whispered something to his nearest associate, and the burly Rimborian approached the teens and made them a surprising offer.
“You three saved Mr. McCauley from harm. He never forgets a favor. Could you join us for a meal and some discussion of how he might repay you?” he asked.
Amri glanced over to the other teens and noticed their excited interest. They are so open in their thoughts, she mused. They think they are cunning, but I can read their minds like open books! Perhaps I can use them. She smiled warmly and said, “I’m Amri Ardeen! You boys are simply wonderful! I was ever so impressed!”
Gard grinned broadly and said, “Yeah? You’re pretty special, too! How’d you know those thugs were going to attack?”
Rikk interrupted and said, “She’s a mind-reader. Ardeen is a Titanian surname!”
Amri nodded demurely, and the three hurried off the shuttle in the wake of McCauley and his men. Clearly, McCauley had enough power and influence to escape from routine Science Police questioning as he led the group away from Metropolis Central Space Port without so much as a brief discussion with the newly arrived Science Police.
“Don’t worry. I have a friend in the S.P. offices. He will answer any unwanted questions!” replied Leland McCauley III as he guided the teens inside a private dining hall. After ordering several hot meals, the odd group began their business.
“Mr. McCauley, I’ve heard that you are the wealthiest man on Earth!” said Gard.
Leland laughed abruptly and said, “Sure. Although that depends on whom you ask. Some think that upstart Brande has more credits. It really comes down to who knows how to use his wealth to the best advantage. I do pretty well with my resources. I’d like to use the three of you as resources, too. You clearly know how to handle yourselves. You have super-powers and you worked as a team back there!”
“Yeah,” said Gard. “The kids and I did pretty well!”
Amri bit her tongue as she thought, What a swelled head he has!
“What is it you want from us?” asked Rikk. “I need some work!”
“You are a practical young man,” said Leland. “I like that. I believe people make their own destinies. I believe people with the right knowledge or skill or power may shape their lives as they please. I know I have always done so. That bothers some people, and that’s why goons like those guys back at the shuttle will always come after me. They are afraid of my freedom. Well, I can offer you the same freedom and the same power to inspire fear and envy, if you’ll join me as a kind of legion or cabal of super-criminals. You’d be the thirtieth century’s version of the Crime Syndicate of America! Protect and obey me, and I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted!”
The three teens smiled readily and accepted the old man’s offer, choosing the soon-to-be-infamous names of Cosmic Boy, Mind Mistress, and Electro Lad. With that simple bargain the Cabal of Super-Criminals was born, and the universe would soon come to tremble in fear at the group’s name.
As the images flickered out of view, Computo said, “Just as Luthor once opposed the Crime Syndicate who inspired the Cabal, so could you fight this group. There is equipment within this very museum that would enable you to make a promising start! I will guide you to it and help you master all you need to know.”
“I will try,” said Urthlo 5. “I’d like to die doing something noble, since my life has been rather dull so far! But how do you propose that I defeat this army of killers?”
“You will journey back in time and prevent their inspiration, the Crime Syndicate of America, from ever forming!” said Computo. “Without their evil example to inspire McCauley, the Cabal would never have formed!”