The Pax Children’s Home was one of the most beautiful structures on the planet Lallor. The care and cost that went into the design and construction of the orphanage was evident to any observer. The fact that the children who lived there were clearly happy and well cared for was equally obvious. There was a large staff to tend to their needs, and these workers were well paid for their duties.
This type of thoughtful concern for basic humanitarian needs was not in the least remarkable on Lallor, since almost every public building or private service on the near-utopian planet had been created with the care and resources necessary to make the ideal real. The People’s Park was nearby, and the children of Pax often visited the luxurious scenic park on their day trips. The Medical Center was at the other end of the huge complex, and once more, any casual observer could tell the facility was run with care and an abundance of features designed to make the patients comfortable and well.
While such niceties were pleasant surprises for those tourists who were visiting Lallor for the first time, such considerations had long been familiar to the natives. The key to much of the planet’s humanitarian and social service-based infrastructure originated in the fact that the planet had experienced the opposite extreme as well during its history. During the time of Prime Minister Vorr, Lallor had been as militaristic as any other world outside the carefully regulated borders of the United Planets. However, an atomic disaster had destroyed the entire continent of Antillar in the year 2958. This terrible accident altered the entire sociopolitical climate of Lallor. All weapons were destroyed, and the planet was temporarily quarantined. When the ban on tourism was finally lifted, Lallor had established an extremely capable orbit patrol dedicated to preventing any weapon from being smuggled onto the planet. In addition to the restriction against all weapons except for the simple batons carried by the Lallorian Police, the entire amount of money traditionally allocated for armaments was redirected to the creation of the Lallorian social services system.
The irony that so much positive change could be born out of a nightmare was only one idea pondered by an odd-looking young man who sat in an awkward lotus position and tried to keep a brightly feathered turban from slipping off of his abnormally large bald head.
“Now, boys and girls, while many of you may think the story of brave Aladdin to be nothing more than a quaint fairy tale handed down from era to era from one world to another,” he shouted, “I shall prove you wrong by displaying the magic lamp itself!” He stood up and adjusted his turban as he reached down to uncover a gleaming golden lamp. Yikes! I almost stepped on the lamp. I’ve got to learn to become more at ease during these charity shows, thought Sev Tcheru as he stood before the assembled orphans and staff of Pax Children’s Home.
The hero known as Evolvo Lad was far more comfortable in situations that required the mutant to use his remarkable powers of personal evolutionary alteration in lifesaving or crime-prevention ways. Still, the caring young man felt a deep and abiding desire to entertain the orphans, and he rose to the occasion in spite of his normally reserved manner. “Kids, from the magic lamp, I will produce a genii!” he said as he struggled to modulate his tone. Public speaking had not prepared him to act as a story-time reader for kids, and he feared that his efforts to seem inviting had instead made him shrill.
As he rubbed the lamp, the kids began to laugh when nothing happened. He frowned and lifted the gold lamp until he was peering into its flowing spout. “I know there’s a magic spirit in there someplace!” he said with a deliberately assumed look of consternation on his narrow face.
A freckled boy with a messy mane of red hair scowled at him and whispered, “This guy is a joke. I’d rather ride the servo-pony!”
Sev whispered into the lamp as he tried to keep one eye on the crowd. “Tal, this is not funny,” he hissed. “Come out! I’m dying here!”
A girlish giggle echoed from the lamp as a mist began to emerge from the lamp and then fill the area in front of the turban-wearing hero. The kids gasped and cheered as the mist assumed a decidedly female shape, and a beautiful and dramatic-looking woman appeared before them. She had a filmy nimbus of white hair that surrounded her face like a cloud. She wore heavy if expertly applied makeup and posed before the kids in a revealing gold harem outfit. She shimmied slightly and then bowed low before an amused Evolvo Lad.
“Master, how may your genii serve you?” she cried. “Shall I bring the very stars down from above? Would you prefer that your slave turned your humble abode into a palace fit for a sultan?” The kids cheered and clapped as Tal Nahii, alias Gas Girl, used her well-developed talent for attracting attention, along with her power to form herself into any gaseous form, to entertain the group.
Sev tilted his turban to one side and nodded appreciatively. Tal is a natural! he thought. She loves the spotlight. She’d love nothing more than to become another Luiza Karamonte Nolan and star in the holo vids if she could! “I order you to turn yon rug into a flying carpet!” he said, gesturing at an ornate rug that he had brought in earlier.
Gas Girl smiled broadly and winked at him. “Your wish is my command!” she said, batting her eyelashes at him. Sev rolled his own eyes as the carpet began to dance around the room in a wild display of power.
This display came not from Evolvo Lad or Gas Girl. The carpet had been temporarily brought to life by the power of their third friend, Somi Gan, alias Life Lass. The pretty, dark-haired girl hid behind a row of room-dividing screens and carefully used her power by peering out around one of the screens. As the extremely shy girl had hoped, the kids were so busy watching the flamboyant Gas Girl that they did not think to glance her way. She continued to make the carpet fly around the room until the kids laughed and clapped again and again. I’m really just making the rug throw itself around, but to the kids it looks like a flying carpet! Hmm, a throw rug — I guess that joke won’t make the act, she thought with a smile.
After the show ended, and the kids filed out to eat, the manager shook hands with the three heroes and thanked them warmly. “You Heroes of Lallor really live up to your name!” she said. “You’ve made those kids wonderfully happy!”
Evolvo Lad smiled and said, “No thanks are needed. It was our pleasure. This type of thing is a welcome change from some of our duties! We grew up in a restricted center of scientific observation. We can understand how kids who don’t have a home could use some fun.”
The manager departed as Sev and Somi packed up their gear. Tal lounged languidly on the nearest bench and idly polished her nails. “You know, I could really make a splash if I came out of the lamp without a costume!” she sighed.
Somi gasped and said, “Tal, how could you even suggest such a thing? Why, the very idea shocks me!” She continued to sputter as Gas Girl giggled and raised her hand in protest.
“I’m just teasing you, Somi! By Lallor’s moons, you still can’t tell when your roomie is joking!”
Evolvo Lad concealed his own amusement and said, “Girls, you two never tire of this kind of banter. You’d think, after all these years together, you’d grow up a bit!”
“You mean you want us to evolve?” said Tal. “Is that it?”
While the threesome were indeed known as planetary defenders, they were united by far more personal ties. As Sev had mentioned to the staff member, the group had spent their childhood together within an observation center where their unique mutant powers had been the subject of intensive research. They had reacted to their odd environment in different ways.
Somi retreated into herself to a degree in that the bashful girl had developed a passive streak that led her to defer to her friends. She felt more secure in the shadows and seldom ventured far from at least one of the others. On the other hand, Tal responded to their early years as lab subjects by being governed by a desire to be in the spotlight. She deliberately took any opportunity to display her powers, charm, beauty, or wit. Her need for attention was painfully obvious.
As for Sev, his keen intellect had allowed him to understand the others on levels that went beyond their own surface expectations and desires. He could also stand back and view them somewhat clinically, but his affection for them was no less genuine for that type of perspective. He knew the final and most popular member of the heroic group, Duplicate Boy, alias Ord Quelu, had elements of all of their own traits in his own nature. He liked attention, yet he covered his own insecurities by a brash show of machismo. Beneath that cocky attitude, Ord also had his own quirks. He was vulnerable, and his heart was his weakness. He had once developed a psychosomatic loss of his power after he had failed to help a loved one in peril.
Ord was not stupid, but his mutant ability to duplicate the powers of other individuals had left him with something less than a striking and well-developed personality of his own. He tended to rely on his looks and his brawn to win the day. Still, he was very happily involved with the Legionnaire known as Shrinking Violet, and she was a good influence upon him. Their romance had led him to travel space far more than his teammates had ever done. Thus Ord added his own talents and experience to the group.
Evolvo Lad could ponder such theories of human dynamics for hours, but he could also merely relax and accept the fact that he and his friends were more like a family than a business organization.
He noticed Tal flirting with a handsome Rigellian teacher as Somi watched with a quite interest of her own. Before he could continue their affectionate banter, the Astron News flashed on the holo-screen on the wall, and they stopped talking to listen to the bulletin.
Pretty and perky Miet Vije looked grim as she announced the story. “In what can only be believed when seen, the Heroes of Lallor are apparently engaged in a brawl amongst themselves,” she said. “No reason for their strange actions can be determined! We take you live to the scene outside their Paragon Plaza headquarters!”
The three heroes gasped as the holo image displayed the bewildering scene in which Duplicate Boy battled against three beings that looked exactly like Evolvo Lad, Gas Girl, and Life Lass.