by Brian K. Asbury
Invisible Kid liked to consider himself to be a thinker. He was no Brainiac 5, but he did pride himself on his intellect, his methodical approach to life, and his duty as a Legionnaire. That, he believed, was why he had been recently elected leader of the Legion ahead of much flashier candidates such as Ultra Boy or Sun Boy.
However, he was the first to admit that this case had gone very badly so far, and as leader he had to accept responsibility for that. Three people had died today, despite the presence of Legionnaires on the scene, and they still didn’t even know why. Only Princess Projectra and Karate Kid had enjoyed a small success, and one that had lent this case a disturbing new aspect.
The involvement of Officer Salkind was not altogether unexpected, though. The more he pondered the list of victims, the more Lyle Norg had begun to come to his own conclusion that vital information had been omitted from the files that Salkind had given the Legion. It had led him to contact the S.P. commissioner himself for permission to override Salkind’s security codes and dig more deeply into the files on the victims for himself.
What this had revealed had surprised even him.
There was a link between the victims — and Salkind himself. But it was not anything that Lyle had suspected. Other than all living within easy reach of one another within the city of New Hong Kong (and of course, Salkind himself lived in the neighborhood, too), they seemed to have nothing at all in common. They had very different jobs, interests, circles of friends; they frequented different bars, restaurants, and places of entertainment. With the exception of the married Chons, it was almost as if they had gone out of their way to avoid one another. All apart from the Chons were unmarried and had no regular partner. One man and one woman were reportedly gay, but again had nothing else to link them. Their ages varied from twenty-six up to sixty-four. Their birthdays were spread throughout the year. Their medical histories showed no common diseases or ailments. None of them were related, even distantly. They even took their holidays in widely different destinations.
But one amazing fact emerged from the files now at Lyle’s disposal. It was the files themselves. They were incomplete.
Not one of them contained a single fact about the person they described before February 29th, 2956 — twenty years ago.
Lyle had used all of his considerable computer skills to dig deeper into the civic records and find out about what these people had been doing before that, but to no avail. He could only conclude that the records from before ’56 simply did not exist. It was as if these people had suddenly all popped into existence on that date.
It had struck him that the youngest victim would have been only six years old then, but a check on her parents, who had died tragically in a space accident while on vacation in ’71, revealed that there were no records relating to them before 2956, either.
“Curious, isn’t it?” said Duo Damsel, looking over his shoulder at the computer screen. “It’s as if the eight victims — plus the parents of one of them and Officer Salkind — didn’t exist before that date, which is Superboy’s birthday, by the way. Do you think that’s significant?”
Lyle smiled. Lately, Luornu seemed to have been developing an infatuation with the Boy of Steel, hopeless though it was; after all, history clearly recorded who Kal-El had eventually married. He had previously suspected that Luornu had had a crush on him, although she had never actually come right out and admitted it. Perhaps this newfound interest in Superboy was a means of easing her frustration.
“I doubt it,” he said. “What it smacks of is that they must have had different identities before then. In fact, that’s the only thing that makes sense. For some reason, they all abandoned their previous lives, whatever they were, and established new personas in this city on that date. That’s no mean feat in a society where everything you do goes on file as a matter of routine. It would have taken considerable skill to fool the public-records computers.”
“You think it was a police operation to protect them from something?”
He shook his head. “I’ve gone pretty deeply into the police computers, Luornu. If this had been a witness-protection scheme or something similar, I’d have found out by now.”
“Well, they must have been running away from something to compel them to create new identities for themselves.”
“I agree. But so far the only thing they’re obviously running away from is our silver-suited friend, and I’ve no idea why.”
Luornu thought about this. “Well, he’s certainly determined to kill them. It’s like he’s executing a viennetta against them or something.”
Lyle chuckled. “I think the word you’re looking for is vendetta.”
“I know,” Luornu said dryly. “I was trying to lighten the mood a little with some humor. Obviously a waste of time,” she added under her breath. “The question is, how many more times is he likely to strike?”
“I think I can answer that,” Lyle replied. “I ran a check to see whether there were any more people in this city whose records don’t go back beyond that date — apart from people born since then, of course.”
“There was just one more — a forty-year-old woman, Lianne Raebuld, who works at the spaceport. I’ve dispatched Element Lad and Ferro Lad there to pick her up and bring her back here to Science Police Headquarters.”
“And Karate Kid and Projectra are also on their way back here with Officer Salkind,” Luornu mused. “It should be interesting to see what happens when they meet up!”
“I protest at this treatment!” cried Salkind. He glanced helplessly at fellow Science Police officer Gigi Cusimano, who only looked away, not speaking.
“I’m the victim here…”
“Correction,” Duo Damsel cut in. “You would have been a victim if her highness here hadn’t saved your miserable–“
“Yes, yes. I’m grateful for that, of course. But you’ve no right to drag me back here like this and treat me as if I’m some sort of criminal. Gigi, for God’s sake, speak to them! You know me!”
Gigi turned to him for the first time. “Yes, I do, Kaven. But according to the Legion, you’ve been withholding information and even altering police records to cover something up.”
She shook her dark-tressed head. “No, it’s the truth, Kaven. Invisible Kid has shown me the evidence.”
“Just whose side are you on, Cusimano?”
“The side of justice. The commissioner sent me here to ensure fair play, not to help you wriggle off the hook. People have died, Kaven, and it looks as if you’ve been keeping to yourself information which might have saved them. That not only makes you partially responsible for their deaths, it makes us all look bad. With so few S.P. officers on Earth, if one of us turns bad, that’s a mighty big percentage.”
“I haven’t turned bad! For God’s sake…!”
“Then what, Kaven? Tell us.” Salkind only shook his head. Gigi turned to Invisible Kid. “Is this getting us anywhere? What are we waiting for?”
Lyle turned away from his computer screen to face her. “Patience, Officer Cusimano. We’ve just been waiting for the rest of my team, and they’ve just entered the building. In a few seconds they’ll be here.”
Sure enough, less than half a minute later, a slim woman with short, graying brown hair entered the room, flanked by Ferro Lad and Element Lad. She took one look at Officer Salkind and shrieked.
“Methinks the lady doth recognize her predicament!” said Ferro Lad with a chuckle in his voice.
She ran to Salkind. “Kaven, is it true? Are we the only ones left?”
He shrank away from her. “What are you talking about? Legionnaires, who is this woman?”
Karate Kid sighed. “Where do you get off lying to us, Salkind? You heard Invisible Kid. We know about your little cabal of people who suddenly appeared from nowhere twenty years ago! Isn’t it about time you dropped the pretense and told us what’s going on?”
Element Lad said softly, “He’s right. And especially if you’re still in danger. How can we protect you if we don’t understand why this killer is stalking you?”
Invisible Kid got up from his chair and walked toward Salkind and the new arrival. He simply said, “Well?”
Salkind looked helplessly from one to another in the room. Element Lad and Ferro Lad still stood by the door, preventing exit that way. Duo Damsel stood behind Invisible Kid’s now-empty chair at the computer station. Over by the window, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra stood together, watching him. Gigi merely leaned against a side wall, arms folded, looking down at the floor.
The newly arrived woman, Lianne Raebuld, stared at him. “Answer me, Kaven, please! Is it true? Are all the others gone?”
Salkind sighed. He nodded.
“At last!” muttered Duo Damsel.
“So,” Invisible Kid said. “Are you going to come clean and explain just what has been going on here?”
“Where do you want me to start?”
“Anywhere you like, so long as you answer the obvious questions we have. Who is this killer, and what does he have against… against whoever you people really are? Just what happened twenty years ago to compel you all to establish new identities? Who were you originally, and where did you come from?”
Lianne Raebuld looked away from Salkind to Invisible Kid. “We’ve never told anyone,” she said. “We’ve never dared tell anyone. You wouldn’t understand…”
“Try us!” said Ferro Lad from the doorway. “We might wear weird costumes, but we’re not as stupid as we look!”
“Sorry, fearless leader,” said the masked Legionnaire. “I’ll shut up, shall I?”
“Please! Well?” Invisible Kid said to Salkind and Lianne. “Whatever your reasons for silence, I’d have thought they pale into insignificance compared with the peril you’re in now. Come on — we’re trying to help you!”
Salkind bowed his head. “Very well, I submit. Firstly, you should know that there were twelve of us originally, including Majina Virdee, who was only a child at the time by Earthly standards. We’re not really from Earth — in fact, we’re not even human. We’re…”
Whatever he was about to say died on his lips as a bright shaft of radiance shot between the two Legionnaires at the door and struck him. Before the horrified eyes of everyone in the room, he became transformed, like the others before him, into a glass statue.
“Geez, Louise, he’s here!” exclaimed Ferro Lad, transforming into living iron and bounding through the door.
Element Lad also turned as if to follow, but Invisible Kid cried, “Wait! Jan! Can you change Officer Salkind back?”
The blond youth from Trom shook his head. “I tried to counteract the effect before. It’s beyond the scope of my powers!”
There was a whoosh as Karate Kid flew out of the window, shouting, “I’ll double back around to the front door!”
Lyle nodded. “Luornu! Princess! Protect Ms. Raebuld! Jan, you’re with me!” He ran through the door with Element Lad as Duo Damsel divided herself, and she and Projectra moved into position to guard the terrified woman. Gigi also drew her gun and joined them.
The two male Legionnaires, however, only found Ferro Lad staring at a blank wall. “He’s done a fadeout on us again, guys!” said the mutant hero.
“He’s changed his tactics!” Element Lad observed. “He’s going for the hit-and-run approach now.”
“Sorry, boss,” Ferro Lad said apologetically to Invisible Kid. “We shouldn’t have left the door open.”
“You couldn’t have known,” said the Legion leader. “Come on. Back to the others.”
They returned to the room to an unchanged scene, although Gigi’s gun hand twitched nervously as they entered. Ferro Lad carefully closed the door behind them this time. Lyle spoke into his communicator. “Karate Kid? See anything?”
“No sign of him out here. You?”
“Ferro Lad said he vanished again. Stay out there, and airborne, just in case. He might try the same trick at the window.”
“Will do — although we are sixteen stories up!”
“That might not deter him!”
Invisible Kid turned to the sobbing Lianne Raebuld. “Ms. Raebuld, you have to help us. Is there any way to reverse this process and change Officer Salkind back?”
“The weapon can be reversed,” said Projectra. “I saw the killer do it when he accidentally shot the young lady in the shop.”
“Say, that’s right,” said Luornu. “It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to kill anyone other than his intended victims. Otherwise, why didn’t he shoot Jan and Andrew when they had their backs to him at the door?”
Lianne cleared her throat. “He’s not interested in anyone but us. And I’m now the only one left, unless you can help poor Kaven.”
“Now hold on a sec,” said Ferro Lad. “He used that weapon on me, and he also tried to use it on E-Lad and one or two of you, so don’t tell me his intentions towards us are pure as the driven snow! I don’t believe it!”
“His intention was probably just to immobilize you temporarily until he could get at us,” said Lianne with a shake of her head. “He has nothing against any of you.”
“Which brings us again to the burning question,” said Gigi, speaking for the first time since the attack on her fellow officer. “What does he have against you?“
“Officer Cusimano is right,” said Projectra. “Answers are overdue, madam.”
“I can best answer that!” said a voice from the far side of the room. They whirled about to see the argent assassin materializing there. “And if you will allow me to finish my job, I’ll happily explain everything to you!”
“I don’t believe the nerve of this guy!” cried Duo Damsel, pushing Lianne into a corner where she could shield her with both of her selves.
Ferro Lad stepped forward. The silver-clad killer’s weapon swiveled to cover him. “Let Jan and me take care of this, boss-man. Our powers give us some resistance to that fancy gun of his.” Element Lad moved to join him.
Invisible Kid held up his hand to stop his comrades moving any closer. “Just what makes you think we’re going to let you kill an innocent woman?” he said to the intruder.
“You don’t understand this at all, do you?” the other replied. “All right, I…” Suddenly, Gigi fired her stun-gun. The killer staggered back but seemed to be partially protected by his costume. The young Science Police officer fired twice more. “Very well, if that’s the way it must be…” He faded out again.
“Damn it, Gigi, what did you do that for?” stormed Invisible Kid, rounding on her. “He was just about to tell us what was going on!”
Gigi flushed crimson. “You can’t be sure of that. I just thought… well, if I could stun him, we could take him prisoner and take his equipment away so he couldn’t pull that vanishing trick again!”
“And instead, he pulls the trick anyway! Smart move!” muttered Ferro Lad.
“I didn’t know it wouldn’t affect him!”
Princess Projectra came forward. “This is no time for arguing amongst ourselves!” she said commandingly. “You obviously did hurt him a little, Officer Cusimano, so that buys us a little time to get Ms. Raebuld out of here and to a place of safety.”
“And what place is safe from this guy, Princess?” said Duo Damsel in exasperation. “He seems to be able to track his targets wherever they are!”
“Space,” said Element Lad. They turned to look at him. “We could take her off-planet.”
“Would she be safe, even there?”
“I don’t know. But it’s possible this villain can only track his victims down on Earth. We haven’t seen any evidence that he can fly.”
“If he can teleport, why does he need to fly?”
“It’s a risk we have to take, I think,” said Invisible Kid. “It’s a sound suggestion, Jan. Gigi, can you make an S.P. cruiser available to us if we can reach the spaceport?”
“Yes, but if is the operative word here. How do we get from here to there without giving the killer a chance to strike again? He seems to be able to appear from anywhere, and he only has to hit Ms. Raebuld once!”
“I can take care of that,” said Projectra. She raised her arms, and suddenly everyone in the room looked like Lianne Raebuld.
“Oh, great!” said one of the Liannes in Luornu Durgo’s voice. “Now we’re all targets.”
“It should confuse the Glass Killer long enough for one of us to take him down, though,” said another Lianne in Invisible Kid’s voice. “Good work, Princess. Ferro Lad, can you pick up Officer Salkind and bring him along? If we can get into space, maybe we can contact Brainiac 5. He might be able to figure out how to reverse this process.”
“Then let’s move on out.” He spoke into his comm unit. “Kid, we’re coming out in a couple of minutes. I’m relying on you to run interference for us. But I’ll warn you now — we’re not exactly ourselves at the moment.”