by Brian K. Asbury
As he fell, Andrew Nolan instinctively transformed back to human, twisting his body as he did so to direct himself toward an ornamental fish pond off to his left. The bystanders scattered as they saw the costumed teenager drop from the sky to hit the water with an almighty splash.
Gasping, Ferro Lad thrust his head out of the water and grabbed for the side with his left arm. He had missed the edge by mere fractions of an inch. He looked at his right side and marveled. Flesh. It was no longer transformed into glass. Yes, it was slightly numb, but he could move and flex his arm normally. His own transformation had apparently canceled that caused by the assassin’s gun.
“Right!” he muttered. “You had a lucky shot there, pal, but now it’s my turn!” He let himself sink to the bottom of the six-foot-deep pool, changing back to his iron form as he did so. Flexing his legs, he kicked against the bottom and launched himself up and out of the pool.
And he landed straight down onto the plasticrete floor of the plaza. “What the–?!” He looked at his flight ring. It didn’t seem to be working. His transformation might have restored his body and even his costume, but it had obviously screwed up the delicate circuitry of the ring. Well, it didn’t matter. He could still run and leap.
He looked around. The two men who had been the object of the Glass Killer’s attention had moved, as had the killer himself. One of them, caught in a pose of running for his life, was already a glass statue, and tottering precariously. The other was still in flight, with the killer in hot pursuit.
“Hold it right there, mister!” yelled Ferro Lad, driving himself after the silver-clad villain.
The Glass Killer whirled around. “You again? By Draldek, how?“
“I’m happy to demonstrate, buddy!” Ferro Lad replied, his mighty iron muscles rapidly closing the distance. The assassin took aim with his weapon, and Andrew tensed himself for a swift transformation, should the beam hit him a second time. However, the killer seemed to think better of it. He suddenly lowered his weapon and fired it at the ground.
Ferro Lad skidded to a halt. He was suddenly standing on a huge sheet of glass, and beneath his feet was a basement bar belonging to one of the sidewalk cafes. “Oh, Grok!” he swore. The glass was starting to crack. He looked down to see terrified faces staring up at him. He braced himself to try to leap off the glass.
But it gave way, plunging him down into the bar, flattening a table as he hit it, and sending glass and Silverale everywhere.
As he picked himself up, he saw to his relief that the people sitting at the table had managed to get out of his way, but several of the bar’s patrons (fortunately few in number at this early hour) had been injured by flying glass.
He was momentarily torn between helping the injured and going after the killer. It was no contest; much as he regretted innocent bystanders getting in the way, no one looked to be in a life-threatening predicament, so the killer had to take priority. He tensed himself to leap out of the hole he had made, then thought better of it and headed for the stairs. No sense in leaping blindly and possibly injuring more people.
Emerging back in the street, the first thing he saw was a pile of broken glass. The killer had made sure another victim would stay dead. However, there was no sign of either the killer himself or the second would-be victim. Perhaps there was still time to make certain at least one of the two men would survive.
He grabbed a shell-shocked young man by the arm. “The guy in the silver outfit! Which way did he go?”
The stunned youth pointed toward an archway. “Thanks!” Ferro Lad said grimly. He set off in pursuit.
Element Lad streaked toward the center of the disturbance as fast as his flight ring could carry him — faster, in fact, since he was using his element-changing powers to alter some of the air ahead of him to hydrogen. The net effect of this was to produce a partial vacuum whose pull on his body increased the speed of his flight.
The Science Police sirens were, he noted, definitely coming from Weng Chiang Plaza, where the S.P. droid he had questioned a few minutes ago had told him there had been an incident involving a Legionnaire. That could only be Ferro Lad, as the plaza was in the south quadrant, which Invisible Kid had assigned to the masked rookie.
However, as he approached the plaza, something caught his eye. A man was running hell for leather toward the transit station, away from the plaza itself. Element Lad changed course to swoop down and take a closer look at the runner — a nondescript, middle-aged black man — and abruptly saw that there was someone else in hot pursuit: a silver-suited man carrying a strange cylindrical device in his right hand. To his horror, Jan Arrah saw the newcomer raise the weapon and take aim at the runner, who had suddenly found himself in a dead end.
Squeezing every ounce of speed from his flight ring, Jan dropped between the runner and his pursuer and raised his hands as the silver assassin fired. Powers born of the radioactive soil of his native world Trom welled up inside him and met the beam of the killer’s weapon full on. Element Lad felt a stab of pain in his head from feedback as the two energies canceled one another, but he held on.
The would-be assassin lowered his weapon. Gasping, Jan relaxed his own powers and said in his soft voice, “That’s enough. The killing stops here. This man is under my protection.”
A grunt issued from under the argent mask. “Another one! You people seem to be crawling out of the woodwork today.” He raised his weapon again. “Get out of my way, boy. No amount of posturing will deflect me from my mission.”
Element Lad held firm. Beneath his calm exterior, anger began to well up. This villain’s attitude was as arrogant as that of the pirate Roxxas, who had slaughtered his fellow Tromites several years before. Well, he had been unable to stop Roxxas, but he would not allow this criminal to continue his senseless killing spree. He had sworn that no murderous bully would ever beat him again.
“Stay behind me, sir,” he told the black man. “I repeat,” he said to the other, “I won’t allow you to harm this man. My powers are more than capable of counteracting your weapon, and my teammates will be here at any moment. Surrender now, while you have the chance.”
The assassin sighed. “Obstinate, aren’t you?” He looked around. A few other people had just emerged from the transit station. “Well, let’s see how many people you can protect at once!” He swung his weapon around and took aim at the new arrivals.
“No!” Element Lad instinctively leaped toward the newcomers, intending to shield them in the same way he had protected the first man. Too late he realized his error: the killer was not really interested in anyone else. Before Jan could move back into position, the weapon fired, and the black man started to transform into glass.
Jan directed his powers toward the victim, desperate to prevent the effects of the weapon taking hold. This wasn’t easy: his powers were most effective in changing simple substances — one element into another. Chemical compounds were another matter; the more complex they were, the harder it was to effect any kind of change at all. And while glass was a fairly simple compound, human flesh was not — it was practically impossible for his powers to affect organic matter of any kind.
He concentrated hard, pouring every ounce of his power into the effort. Sweat poured from his brow, but he knew he was losing the battle. All he was achieving was to slow the process down a little.
“I don’t have time for this,” grunted the assassin. Keeping his weapon trained on his victim, he moved to a nearby lighting standard and, grasping it with his free hand, tore it from its plasticrete setting. He then took aim and hurled it toward Element Lad’s head.
At the last split-second, something unseen cannoned into the Tromite Legionnaire, knocking him sideways and off his feet. His concentration interrupted, he looked up in dismay to see the victim now totally changed to glass. The silver-suited murderer was ripping another street light out of its mountings. However, as he moved forward and took aim with the apparent intent of throwing it at the glass statue, he suddenly stumbled and fell forward, as though he had tripped over something.
“Jan! Now! Immobilize him!” a voice said. Element Lad needed no further encouragement. He gestured and the air around the killer’s legs solidified into pure diamond.
“Well done!” said Invisible Kid, suddenly appearing out of empty air. He kicked at the assassin’s weapon hand, and the glass gun skittered away from its wielder across the plasticrete apron of the transit station approach.
“Whew!” said Element Lad, wiping his brow. “You timed that to perfection, Kid. A pity he was able to completely transform that poor man, though,” he added, indicating the victim.
“You were losing that battle,” Lyle Norg said, picking up the strange weapon, “so it made sense to give priority to saving you. Now that we have this, I should be able to figure out how to reverse its effects.”
“If they can be reversed!”
“It makes sense,” Invisible Kid said, examining the device. “Why else smash the statues if not to prevent them being changed back later?” He walked back to the struggling man in the silver costume. “All right, my friend, talk. What’s all this about? And how do I change this man back?”
The assassin grunted. “You think you’ve won, don’t you? Well, you might have double-teamed me, but I have other strings to my bow!” And his form started to shimmer and fade.
“What the–?!” exclaimed Element Lad, joining his leader. Invisible Kid bent down to examine what was now a hollow diamond mold. “How did he do that?” Jan asked. “Did he teleport, or what?”
“I don’t know!” Lyle said, feeling the inside of the diamond. “He just seemed to — fade away. I’ve never seen an effect like that before.”
Suddenly, both heroes were struck from behind. Invisible Kid felt the glass gun being whisked from his hand, and as he fell, he saw the argent assassin standing behind him. “I did warn you this wasn’t over!” the man said, his fist swinging out to connect with Element Lad’s head.
Before Invisible Kid could react, the killer ran full-tilt for the glass statue, colliding with it and knocking it to the ground, where it burst into a million shards. “A final warning to you,” he said, pointing his weapon toward the two Legionnaires but not firing. “Don’t interfere any further, or I just might be tempted to use this on you!” So saying, he faded away once more.
Just then, Ferro Lad appeared at a run from around a corner. “Hey, you guys!” he said, spying Invisible Kid helping a dazed Element Lad to his feet. “Have you seen–?” He halted, his eyes falling upon the heap of broken glass.
“Ah,” he said. “I see you have…”
As the three Legionnaires began to compare notes, Invisible Kid’s communicator buzzed.
“Somebody wants you, fearless leader,” said Ferro Lad.
“Invisible Kid here,” Lyle said, ignoring the quip.
“This is Duo Damsel,” said a voice from the comm unit. “I’ve had some trouble, Lyle. The killer showed up at Seldon Chon’s home. He apparently glassed the S.P. droid guarding the place.”
“Are you OK?” asked Invisible Kid.
“Well, I did sense that my other self was in trouble, so I hurried over there and found me lying bleeding among a pile of broken glass. I’d tried to stop the intruder, but he was too strong for me. It was a good thing that I showed up when I did, or I might have lost a lot of blood.”
Despite the grimness of the situation, Invisible Kid could not help a small smile forming at the corner of his mouth. The native Carggian language had a complex array of personal pronouns for dealing with its inhabitants’ multiple bodies, but Interlac wasn’t quite up to the task of differentiating between them. Sometimes, when Luornu Durgo was describing things that had taken place when she was divided, it was hard for her to make clear which of her bodies she was talking about at any one time, especially after they had reintegrated.
“But you’re OK now?” he repeated.
“I’m fine. A little bruised, but that’s the advantage of being able to rejoin an injured body into a perfectly fit one. The injuries end up being halved.”
“I don’t get it!” said Ferro Lad. “If D.D. has been fighting the Glass Killer, who have we been battling? Are there two of them?”
“How long ago did this happen?” asked Invisible Kid.
“Well, I was out for a while, but I wasn’t, so I reckon it was about half an hour ago.”
“It could still be one person, then,” observed Element Lad. “He just moves fast.”
“You mean he’s been wherever you are, too?” asked Duo Damsel.
“That’s right. We actually thought we’d beaten him, but he had a trick up his sleeve that we didn’t expect,” said Invisible Kid. “Unfortunately, he’s claimed another victim because of that.”
“Make that two,” said Ferro Lad. “He suckered me, as well.”
“I hate to say it, but Seldon Chon makes three,” Duo Damsel’s voice said mournfully. “We’re not doing very well, are we, guys?”
“The S.P.s aren’t gonna like this,” Ferro Lad said. “And once the holovid news gets hold of it, boy, will we get roasted!”
“I learned a couple of things, though,” said Duo Damsel. “Well, the first is that this guy is way strong. I think that silver suit of his is some sort of powered armor. It doesn’t make him invulnerable, but I hit him with some of my best martial arts moves, and he hardly seemed to feel them. I certainly did, mind — remind me to add gloves to this costume. Ow, my bruised knuckles!”
“We already found out how strong he is, Luornu. What else did you learn?” said Invisible Kid.
“That his victims aren’t random,” she said. “Lyle, Seldon Chon knew the guy — I’m certain of it. I saw his expression. There was recognition there.”
“That’s interesting,” mused Element Lad. “And it tallies with what we saw in the security vid. The killer seemed to call Kayanda Chon by her name, remember?”
“It certainly makes sense, in the light of the fact that he killed Kayanda Chon and then went after her husband, too,” said Duo Damsel. “That’s not the action of a random killer. He knows these people, guys.”
“The two guys just killed also knew each other,” added Ferro Lad. “I saw them talking together just before the Glass Killer showed up.”
“That clinches it,” Invisible Kid said firmly. “There has to be a link between the victims, and between them and the killer, too. Something we’re missing…”
“What do you want us to do, boss?” Ferro Lad asked.
The Legion’s leader thought about it for a moment. “I want the three of you to go back to patrolling the sectors I assigned to you in case he shows up again. I’ll call Karate Kid and get him to cover for me.”
“Why? What are you going to do?”
“Well, first I’m going to try to identify these latest victims. Then I’m heading back to the S.P. headquarters to use their computers to try and find that missing link. We’re not going to beat this villain with sheer brawn — we’ve got to try to outthink him!”