by Martin Maenza
After a few hours of catching up and hanging out, the apartment seemed a bit cramped for the group of young people, so Val Armorr suggested that perhaps they would like to take in some of the local sites. It was not long before the females chimed in with a cry of, “Shopping!” forcing the males, who outnumbered them two to one, to give in. The group ended up at one of the largest retailers in the city, a many-floored department store that took up the expanse of four large metropolitan city blocks.
And, of course, it was December 24th, the second-busiest shopping day of the season, right after the day after Thanksgiving. Needless to say, the establishment was crowded with all those last-minute shoppers trying to get gifts for their friends and loved ones. Folks were picking over the clothing racks in search of even the closest sizes, and shelves that had once held the hot items of the season were long since empty.
“This is wild,” Rokk Krinn said as he watched the bustling shoppers. “I had heard tell of things like this in the history holos, but I never expected to experience it in person.”
“Hmmph,” Querl Dox grumbled. “I much more prefer shopping online. Less hassle, faster service with delivery to your door, and you can have hundreds of computations running in the background all the while you are doing it.”
The dark-haired youth just shook his head at his teammate. “Brainy, you know how to suck the fun out of even the simplest of things.”
Gim Allon was checking out some items on one table. His flame-haired friend came up and joined him. “What’d you find, big guy?” Dirk Morgna asked.
Gim held up a brass candle holder slotted for nine candles. “It’s an old-fashioned menorah,” he replied. “I thought it would make a great Hanukkah present for my parents this year.”
Dirk checked the tag and nodded in agreement. “Hey, nothing like getting an antique at a reasonable price.”
Garth Ranzz stood with two of his friends near of display case of ceramics. “Yeah, can you believe it, Val?” he was saying. “Wildfire actually won the election. With Mon-El’s term ending and Drake’s beginning, we’re going to be in for some interesting times.”
“I’m sure,” Val Armorr said. Having been leader of the Legion, like Garth and so many of the others, Val knew how difficult the job could be, especially when certain personalities clashed. Val had his share of conflicts with Mon-El during the recent term, especially over Val’s deciding to take leave of the team to come to the twentieth century. He half-wondered if maybe that was why Mon-El did not join the others on this little visit after all.
“Enough of that, Garth,” Tasmia Mallor said. “He doesn’t want to hear about all the organizational interworkings. We’re here with a purpose.” She then turned to Val. “This was an excellent idea,” she said, smiling. “Thanks for being such a good host.”
“No problem,” Val said absently.
“Say,” Tasmia wondered, “this is a nice scarf. Where’d you get it?”
“A friend of mine gave it to me as a gift the other day. I probably should pick up something nice for her, given that she put all her spare time into making this for me special.”
“I’m sure we can find her something. I’ll be glad to help out.”
Projectra stood by a rail, listening intently to the exchange between Val and Tasmia. She brooded silently, especially since Val had voluntarily chosen to exile himself to this earlier century. She still did not understand why, nor was she about to confront him on it, certainly not with everyone else around, at least. The only reason she had agreed to join the others on this little good will visit was because she was very curious about how Val had been faring.
Obviously, she thought, he’s faring just fine.
Imra Ardeen joined her at the rail. “You doing OK, Jeckie?” she asked her friend.
“Fine.” As if Imra needed to ask, being from the telepathic race of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. “It’s just a bit noisy in here, is all.”
“I find it kind of nice,” Imra said, “despite the crowds.” She gestured down over the rail, to the main floor four levels down. “Look at all those people. They all seem to be in a festive mood, despite the shopping frenzy. See, even the children, especially the children. Such joy on their faces as they wait in line to tell Santa Claus what they want.” She referred to a small area in the center in a little makeshift village amidst two towering pine trees decorated with lights and large ornaments.
Projectra nodded. “The children do seem happy,” she said absently. “Have you ever thought about, you know?”
“What?” Imra asked. “Having kids? Oh sure, of course!” She leaned in closer, lowering her voice. “But don’t say anything to Garth about it. I certainly don’t need to scare him off with talk like that.”
“You two do seem happy together,” Projectra noted. “You’ve been a couple for so long now, too. Do you think he’ll ever propose marriage to you?”
“I’m hoping,” Imra said. Then she paused. “How about you and Val? What’s going on there?”
“Honestly, Imra, I don’t know,” Projectra said sadly. She glanced over the railing and eyed the twinkling lights in the reflective surface of the ornaments. It reminded her of the stars, of being a young girl on Orando, and looking up at them at night. How much simpler life had been then. “The carefree life of a child,” she whispered.
Then she noticed something down below. Something unusual caught her eye.
Santa Claus, in the middle of seeing children, suddenly bolted up right and leaped up to stand upon his great big red chair. “The time has come,” he bellowed in a loud voice, “for the real fun and games to begin! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” He pressed a button on his belt, and suddenly the toys that appeared to be mounted about the winter wonderland set sprang to life and started attacking the patrons.
“We’ve got trouble!” Projectra announced to the group.
Before the other Legionnaires could react, Karate Kid was vaulting over the railing. As he free fell the four levels down, he threw his legs over his head and began to somersault. This allowed him to control his descent easily enough. Ever since I arrived here, my flight ring’s been busted, he thought, but I know how to improvise!
He caught the edge of one of the huge decorative trees and swung himself around, changing his momentum and his speed. He released from the branches, flipped twice more, and landed solidly on his two feet on the main floor. “Now to take out this troublemaker!”
“You won’t have to do this alone, Karate Kid!” a voice called from above. Val turned to see Cosmic Boy, the illusion of twentieth-century clothes dropped to reveal his pink and black costume, flying down. The hero from Braal was flanked by Lightning Lad, dressed in blue with lightning bolt trim and white pants highlights, and Sun Boy dressed in red and yellow.
“You boys look like trouble!” Santa Claus snarled. “That puts you on my naughty list! And I’ve got just the thing for you!” He tapped his belt again.
To the panicked cries of the crowd was added the sound of buzzing engines as a dozen gleaming, razor-sharp winged planes began soaring about quickly, trying their best to slice any target they could be lucky to clip.
“Come on, Rokk, Dirk!” Lightning Lad rallied the troops. “Let’s make short work of these jet threats!” He outstretched his hands, and electricity began to form about the end of his white-gloved hands. In a second, an arc of lightning shot through the air and exploded one of the planes.
“Right with you, Garth,” Cosmic Boy replied. He cut around sharply in the air as a plane passed by him. He waited for the plane to turn to make a second pass at him and outstretched his hand. A wave of intense magnetism swept through the air and right into the path of the oncoming plane. As the plane continued to move forward, the magnetism ripped through its metal frame, tearing the deadly toy apart as if it were wheat passing through a combine. “Hah! Just as I thought. These things weren’t made to handle abilities such as ours!”
“Will you guys watch what you are doing?” Brainiac 5 yelled from below as he darted underneath the battle. A woman with a stroller had frozen in her tracks with surprise, making the pair a sitting targets for the falling shards of metal. The green-skinned young man in purple ran to their side and touched the controls on his bulky yellow belt. Instantly, a protective shield shot around the three of them, and just in time. The shrapnel from the shredded plane bounced harmlessly away inches from their heads.
Santa scowled. “More of you? Well, if it’s a war you want, allow me to introduce my army!” Another tap of his belt, and suddenly shots began to ring out all about the floor, thanks to a large platoon of six-inch-high army men armed with rifles and blasters.
A blue-skinned woman in a skimpy black costume with a dark cape flew into action. “Perhaps I can blind them and foil their aim,” Shadow Lass said. From her hands, she projected a stream of darkness that encompassed a small group. Undaunted, the warriors continued to fire wildly, and their shots were heading not only toward the heroes but to the crowds as well. “Oh, that’s not good. Not good at all!”
“Have no fear, Shady!” a booming voice called out. Suddenly, a male figure in red and blue started to grow in size. In a moment, Colossal Boy was a towering giant in the center section of the store. He was easily as tall as the third-floor rails. “At this size, I can block the shots and protect the people. Those bullets are hardly mosquito bites to me when I’m like this!” He positioned his body in such a way to keep most of the patrons safe as they moved toward the exits.
“Good work, Gim,” a blonde in pink called out. “While the others take on the attackers, we can act as crowd control.” Using her telepathic abilities, Saturn Girl sent a message to as many of the panicked shoppers as possible. Calmly, orderly, head for the exits! The situation is under control, but please move to safety! Thank you.
Sun Boy continued to pick off tiny soldiers one by one with his controlled flame blasts. “There’s so many of them!” he exclaimed. “This could take all day!”
“I know!” Karate Kid grumbled. A number of other mechanized figures were attacking him directly. He swatted them away like bugs as they fell down from the large Christmas trees. As the astronauts and samurais and wrestlers fell to the floor, he stomped them hard with his mighty kicks, smashing them to pieces. “We need to get to the heart of the… gack!”
A mechanized cowboy had lassoed the brown-haired hero about the head and pulled tightly. A thread of thin wire loop cut into his neck.
Karate Kid shook his head back and forth violently, trying to send his attacker flying, but the little cowpoke held fast. The hero’s hands then went for his throat, his fingers trying to slip between the flesh of his neck and the garrote. Once he felt like he had a good grip on each side, he pushed outward on the loop. He felt the wire digging into his fingertips, but he refused to let up despite the pain. It was either small cuts to his fingers or the possibility of being choked to death. Val would rather take the inconvenience of the little cuts.
Finally, the wire lariat snapped, and Karate Kid fell to his knees for a moment to catch his breath. “Val, are you all right?” a white-haired woman in a red costume with a red cape asked with concern as she ran up. Princess Projectra placed her hand on his shoulder.
He looked up at her. “I was getting to think you didn’t care any more, Jeckie,” Karate Kid said.
“Did you actually think that?” she asked.
He was about to answer her when he came to a realization. “Santa! Where did he go?”
“I don’t…” Projectra started to say. “In all the confusion…” She glanced around. “Wait! There he goes!” She pointed to the fleeing figure.
“Let’s get him!” Karate Kid exclaimed, springing to his feet and bursting off into a full run after the man. “He’s behind all of this, and we can’t let him get away!”
Typical, Projectra thought. Duty first, and personal life last!
She decided to aid her sometimes stubborn boyfriend with her own abilities, whether he wanted the help or not. With a little concentration and the wave of her hand, her illusion-casting powers went into action.
The fleeing Santa was making a beeline for what he thought was a store exit when it suddenly vanished before his eyes. The wall yards ahead of him now appeared to be completely seamless. “What the–?!” he exclaimed. “What’s going down here?”
“You are, you maniac!” Karate Kid growled as he nailed the holiday-garbed man with a flying kick.
The deadly Santa went sprawling across the floor, his hat and beard tumbling off. When he looked up from the ground, a long-brown-haired man with glasses was revealed. “Ooo-oow!” he groaned. Suddenly, he was grabbed by the white furry front of his suit and hoisted in the air. “No, no! Don’t hit me again!” His hands went up to his face to protect himself from another blow.
Karate Kid shook his head in disgust as he held the rotund man aloft with one hand. With the other, he grabbed at the Santa’s belt and crushed the buckle with his strength. “Typical,” the hero said. “You use tools of destruction because you don’t have any abilities of your own!” He tossed the man down on the ground. “Who are you, anyway?”
“I can answer that!” Cosmic Boy said. “Being a history buff, I’ve studied enough holos from this era to recognize that face. He’s a criminal known as the Toyman.”
“The Toyman?” Karate Kid asked. “You mean…?”
“Absolutely,” Brainiac 5 said, coming up upon the others. “This whole modus operandi and positive identification indeed confirms his identity as Winslow P. Schott. This man is one of the enemies who vexed our old comrade Superboy, but only after he grew up to be Superman.”
“You? You’re friends of Superman’s? I purposely hit New York City so I could avoid that super do-gooder! All my weeks of planning and preparation were foiled by you meddling heroes!”
Brainiac 5 picked up the shattered pieces of the belt buckle. After analyzing the parts for a moment, he nodded his head. “Just as I computed. He was using this device to control all of his weapons of destruction. As soon as you destroyed it, his deadly toys ceased functioning.” Indeed, the sounds of battle had passed, and the Legionnaires were able to check to see if any innocents had been hurt in the crossfire.
“Good going, Val,” Cosmic Boy said, patting his friend on the shoulder. “Looks like you put an end to this whole crazy ordeal all by yourself.”
Karate Kid nodded, but over Cosmic Boy’s shoulder he could see Projectra turn and walk away toward the others. Yes, it felt good to know he had his friends to turn to when he needed to.
But at the same time, he was reminded of something: of the reason he was here in the twentieth century in the first place. Val Armorr had something to prove, to himself and to someone else. That was something he wasn’t about to forget just because it was the holiday season and just because the others were visiting.
If anything, this whole incident further confirmed his reason for staying in the twentieth century, at least for now.