Star Rovers: The Scavenger Hunt of Space, Chapter 2: Unbalanced Enemy

by HarveyKent

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Rick Purvis landed his spacecraft at the foot of a mountain on the surface of the planet Jaebrum. By Earth standards it was a small mountain, but it was steep and smooth, and the climbing would not be easy. Rick smiled, looking forward to this test of his athletic abilities. The Mbula bird nested in the craggy peaks of these mountains, and to get its egg he would have to scale the mountain. Strapping magno-pitons to his legs and hefting a coil of titanium-link rope over his shoulder, Rick started up the mountain.

Halfway up, Rick heard a noise. He stopped, hugging the mountainside to hold his position. The Mbula bird was not the only Jaebrumite lifeform that frequented these mountains. There was also the creature that Terran xenozoologists had christened the Ursuleo, for its resemblance to a meld of two Terran creatures, the bear and the mountain lion. If Rick met one of those up here, it would take some fancy maneuvering to escape with his life.

Rick held his position on the side of the mountain, waiting. He heard the low, rumbling growl of the Ursuleo. If he were going to outmaneuver it, he would have to wait for it to give away its position first. The growl so echoed among the mountain that he could not tell from the sound. Gingerly, his fingers opened the flap of the ray-pistol in his holster.

Suddenly, the huge shaggy creature sprung from a cave hidden in the mountain face. Rick started in surprise, sending his ray-pistol tumbling down the mountainside. The Ursuleo bounded toward him, its sharp, thick claws biting toe-holds into the smooth rock. Rick executed an acrobatic flip, sending himself high into the air. The Ursuleo charged right through the space where he had been and braked itself several yards away. Rick came down feet-first, his magno-pitons catching hold on the mountainside. Luckily, the mountains of Jaebrum were rich in iron ore.

But luck was not with the lone Star Rover that day. A chunk of the mountain, loosened by the bite of the Ursuleo’s claws, gave way under Rick’s foot. He lost his footing and held to the mountain by one leg. As he struggled to regain his balance, the Ursuleo charged again.

Rick tensed, waiting for the Ursuleo to strike. Suddenly, a golden beam of light lanced down from above. It struck the mountainside directly in front of the Ursuleo, sending up a shower of sparks. The creature turned and bolted, terrified by the incandescent display.

Rick righted himself and looked up. He saw a white-haired man in climbing gear smiling down at him, holding a smoking ray-pistol.

“Hi there,” the man called down. “You looking for a Mbula egg, too?”

“Sure am,” Rick called up. “Thanks for the save. My name’s Rick Purvis, by the way.”

The old man did a double-take. “The famous athlete? One of the three they call the Star Rovers?”

“That’s me,” Rick said, climbing to where the old man stood. “Can I know who saved my butt?”

“The name’s Hawkins, Star Hawkins,” the old man said, extending a hand for Rick to shake.

“Star Hawkins — I’ve heard of you!” Rick said. “You were one of the pioneers of robot rights, fifty years ago!”

“That’s me,” Hawkins said with a smile as he shook Rick’s hand. “Used to be a fairly good ‘private eye,’ too. I’m retired now. I entered this scavenger hunt on a lark. Guess you did, too.”

“Looks like you beat me to the eggs, though,” Rick said. “I can’t complain about it under the circumstances!”

Hawkins laughed. “There’s a good nest up there; ought to be enough eggs for both of us!”

***

“Sure you don’t mind stopping off at Julian Pierce’s asteroid before I drop you off at a space station?” Homer Glint asked his passenger.

“Mind?” Space Ranger asked. “If not for you, I’d still be trapped in my ship under a ton of purple water! Besides, I’d like to meet the illustrious Mr. Pierce.”

“Hey, there’s Rick’s ship!” Homer said, pointing to his view-screen. “Let me see if I can establish contact. Rick!”

The handsome young athlete’s face flickered into view on the comm-screen. “Hi, Homer! Say, you’ve got a passenger! Is that–?”

“Space Ranger — none other,” Homer said, beaming. “He got into a little scrape on Paav; I helped him out of it.”

“Good deal!” Rick said. “It’ll be an honor to meet you, Space Ranger!”

“You can call me Ranger,” the hero chuckled.

“I’m bringing a guest along, too,” Rick said. “Remember Star Hawkins, the private eye and robots’ rights activist? He’s right behind me in his ship. He’s on the hunt, too. He saved my bacon on Jaebrum, and we each got an egg.”

“Bad pun, Rick,” Karel Sorenson’s musical voice chimed in. The two male Star Rovers saw her lovely face on their comm-screens.

“Karel! I didn’t see your ship’s energy-trail,” Rick said.

“And you may not, for a while,” Karel said. “My ship got damaged on Melcor-78; you’ll never believe how! I’m in a space cab right behind you boys. Luckily they have a full comm-console in the back!”

“Oh, hey, I see you!” Homer said. “Looks like we’ll all get to Pierce’s asteroid together!”

“Looks like,” Rick agreed.

And on that asteroid, in the silence of a palatial home, an old man patiently waited.

***

After the four spacecraft landed on the small asteroid, the occupants exchanged greetings. A couple of autographs were signed. The ships were parked in front of a large home, built on the lines of a castle of medieval Earth.

The Star Rovers, Space Ranger, and Star Hawkins and his robot aide Ilda-II entered the home. The Space Cabbie stayed with his cab. “They also serve who only stand and wait… with the meter running,” he had joked. Rick and Star each had a Mbula egg, Homer had the flaming seashell in the glassium box, and Karel had the Blue Stone in her bag.

At the front door of the castle-like home, Rick pressed a button on a vidicom device. The screen flickered into full color, showing the wizened face of a man who looked many years older than Star Hawkins, who himself was nearing eighty.

“Mr. Pierce?” Rick asked. “We’re contestants in your scavenger hunt. We’ve come to drop off some items.”

“Do come in,” the old man’s wheezy voice said. The door slid into the wall, allowing them entrance.

“How old would you say he is?” Homer asked.

“Well, he can obviously afford rejuv treatments, like I got,” Star Hawkins said. “But they only do so much. I’d put him at a hundred, if he’s a day.”

The star-hopping adventurers walked down a long hallway in the palatial home. Karel joked as they walked. “Why do I feel like Dorothy, going to see the Wizard of Oz?” she asked.

“Who?” Space Ranger asked, genuinely confused.

“An old movie; 2D, in fact,” Rick commented. “Karel’s a real history buff.”

I’ll say she is,” Homer chimed in. “You know, her real name is Mary Smith. ‘Karel Sorenson’ is a stage name she chose when she entered beauty contests, based on an obscure twenty-first-century adventurer.”

“Twentieth,” Karel corrected. “Late twentieth. (*) Hey, that looks like a parlor.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Batman and the Star Rovers: Silverthorn.]

The Star Rovers, Space Ranger, Cryll, Star Hawkins, and Ilda-II entered a room furnished like an early-twentieth-century parlor. Karel marveled at the detail therein.

An old man sat in a large chair in the center of the room. The old man from the vidscreen. “What do you have for me?” he asked in his wheezy voice.

“I’ve got the flaming seashell,” Homer said, holding out the glassium box.

“And I’ve got the Blue Stone,” Karel said, opening her bag. A faint blue glow pulsed from within the bag.

“The stone!” the old man shouted, suddenly no longer weak and wheezy. Springing like a cobra, he leaped forward and snatched the bag from Karel.

“Hey!” Karel shouted. “What’s going on?”

But the only answer she had was the sight of the old man enveloped by the blue glow. It grew from the stone, enveloping him like a thing alive. As the adventurers watched, the glow took on a definite shape — a humanoid shape.

“At last!” a voice boomed in a sound that was not a voice. It was a roll of thunder, a howl of gale-force wind, the explosion of a sun going nova.

The space adventurers watched as the blue nimbus became a fully detailed humanoid shape. It covered Julian Pierce’s body completely, like a suit. When the nimbus moved an arm, Pierce moved an arm; it moved him like a marionette. Pierce’s eyes were open and glazed, his mouth slack; the blue nimbus’ face changed expression as it reveled in having form.

“My thanks for restoring me to complete form,” it said in the rolling-thunder voice. “After so long, so very long, I am whole again!”

“Who are you?” Space Ranger demanded. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“Who am I?” the blue glow asked. “It has been so long, even I do not remember my real name. I called myself Libra when I battled the League of Justice… Lord, it was over a hundred and fifty years ago!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Balance of Power,” Justice League of America #111 (June, 1974).]

Karel gasped. She had read of that battle. Could this truly be he?

“The battle ended with my consciousness being dissipated, spread out all over the universe. It took me a century and half again to pull my thoughts back together. Even then I had no form, no solidity. All I could do was possess a human body, one weak and frail enough that I could overwhelm him. Julian Pierce was such a one. But I still craved power! And I knew how to get it! In the moments before my dissipation, I learned all the secrets of the universe; I learned of the vanished civilization on the planet they called Orgo, and which Earthmen now call Melcor-78. I learned of the artifact of great power that they left behind! I conceived of the scavenger hunt, to get that object of power to me! And now that it has, the universe shall be mine!”

The space adventurers were awed by Libra’s words for a moment. The Space Ranger was first to act, drawing his gun and firing. The others quickly followed his lead, but all their energy-blasts struck the blue aura without noticeable effect.

Libra laughed, a laugh that boomed like an exploding nova. “Little fleas, you think to sting Libra! Away with you all!”

The glowing blue being waved its arm dismissively; puppet-like, Pierce’s arm waved also. A wave of pure force struck the star-hoppers, bowling them over like tenpins.

“I no longer need this house; a god does not skulk indoors! Let it be gone!” Libra boomed. A blast of azure energy erupted upward from his shoulders, and the entire top of the house disintegrated in its wake like dust. The blue energy-form of Libra grew, towering above the ruined house like a colossus. Pierce’s body, still its normal size, hung suspended in the center of the glowing blue giant, limbs still moving in time with Libra’s.

“This could turn out to be a tough one,” Space Ranger muttered under his breath.

The Star Rovers, Space Ranger, and Star Hawkins stared up at the glowing blue giant that was Libra. He was now a hundred feet tall, and everything in sight was bathed in the blue glow of his energy-form.

“Any ideas, anybody?” Star Hawkins asked.

“I’ve got one,” Karel said. “We’ll need to distract his attention, though!”

“And how do you propose we do that?” Space Ranger asked.

“Hey — I think it’s being done for us!” Rick said, pointing into the sky. “Look!”

They looked. Something was flying straight at Libra’s giant glowing head. It was the space cab. The space adventurers watched, impressed, as the cab went through dazzling aerobatic maneuvers, buzzing Libra’s head and darting away. Enraged, Libra forgot that he could destroy the space cab with a thought, and grabbed at it with his massive blue hands. Pierce’s body moved in morbid pantomime of the actions.

“Is that enough of a distraction, Karel?” Rick asked.

“No,” Karel said thoughtfully. “He’s distracted, all right, but he’s still concentrating enough on maintaining his aura-field! I need more!”

“You’ve got it, Miss Karel,” Cryll said. In a twinkling he turned into a Vegan reptidor, a lizard-like flying creature, and took off for Libra’s head.

Space Ranger quickly followed his longtime friend, activating his flight-belt. Star Hawkins’ robot companion, Ilda-II, launched herself into the sky with her foot-jets. Rick, Homer, and Star launched an attack from the ground, scattering across the grounds and firing their laser-pistols from three different angles.

Libra growled with rage, confronted by the mass attacks from the puny creatures. He returned the attack with blasts of energy that his foes narrowly evaded. As his rage mounted, his bright blue aura grew lighter, more transparent. Finally, it was little more than an azure shimmer.

“Now!” Karel cried. Steadying her pistol across her left wrist, she took aim and fired.

Libra was so distracted, spreading his power in so many directions at once, Karel’s laser cut right through his aura. True to the mark, the beam sped right to Karel’s intended target: the Blue Stone of Baradhi, still clutched in Julian Pierce’s lifeless hand.

“No!” Libra screamed in a voice like a dying star, as the stone shattered. The tiny explosion was mirrored by a larger one as Libra’s energy form splintered into a million tiny lances of blue light, traveling in all directions at once.

“Let’s hope it’s at least another one-hundred and fifty years before he pulls himself together again,” Karel said grimly.

When it was all over, the space adventurers gathered at their vehicles.

“That was some really fancy flying,” Rick Purvis said to the Space Cabbie. “Where did you learn that?”

The Space Cabbie smiled and doffed his cap. Rick saw the VAW badge pinned inside and returned the smile.

The friends, new and old, said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. Soon only the Star Rovers, and Space Ranger and Cryll, were left on the planet.

“I never did tell you how my ship got damaged,” Karel said. “You’ll never believe this. Adam Strange appeared out of nowhere, gunned me down, and vanished again!”

“Oh, right, Karel,” Rick chided. “Was the Justice League with him?”

“No, really!” Karel insisted. “I was flying along, looking for the temple, when suddenly…”

The End

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