The odd situation had started earlier during the time the three Heroes had been busy entertaining the orphans. Duplicate Boy had been on patrol while the others were performing their charitable act. He enjoyed performing for the kids as well, but his power was so great in comparison to the mutant gifts the other three possessed that he could easily keep order on their world without their help, or at least that had traditionally been the case.
The handsome, brown-haired hero in green merely drew upon the super-sensory powers of Mon-El to scan the world with effortless ease. If he spotted an accident or natural disaster, he could reach the scene in amazing time via the super-speed or flight of that hero as well. Ord Quelu enjoyed helping people, but sometimes he grew bored. Lallor was a very peaceful place. It’s not like I want to see Mordru or the Fatal Five come calling or anything, he thought, but a guy who can copy the power of any Legionnaire finds it dull to just blow out timber fires or redirect hovercrafts to their proper lanes.
I wonder what Vi is doing today? I could go see her later. Maybe we could watch one of those mystery vids she loves so much. He frowned in consternation as he saw his friends appear in their hover-car. “You guys finished the show a bit early. Don’t tell me the kids started throwing citrus spheres at you again?” he asked with a grin.
“Nothing as pedestrian as their opinions could hope to influence us,” said Life Lass. “We need the approval of a bunch of sniveling humans as little as they need more gamblers on Ventura!”
Duplicate Boy shook his head and said, “Somi, what kind of crazy talk is that? We’re humans, too. I mean, sure, we can do certain things other people can’t do, but people are people!”
“I would expect such simplistic tripe from one who lacks any imagination,” said Evolvo Lad.
Gas Girl smiled coldly and said, “Let me spell it out for you. We’re a higher life form. We should rule the world and let the non-mutants live only to serve us! It is our destiny!”
“Is this a joke?” said Duplicate Boy. “You all sound like replays from the days of Vorr. That creep thought we weren’t good enough to live with normal people. You’re talking as crazy as he used to by claiming we’re too good for other people.”
Evolvo Lad nodded sadly before turning to the two girls and saying, “He is too brainless to join the cause. That is a pity.”
“Sev, I don’t like that kind of comment,” replied Duplicate Boy. “You know none of us is as smart as you are.”
Evolvo Lad shifted form and became a massive, ape-like being. He growled and said, “Let me come down to your level!” He tackled Duplicate Boy, and they plunged off the hover-car to crash into a fountain below.
Ord had been too startled by the actions of his friends to draw upon any heroic power before Sev Tcheru’s furry form had attacked. Still, he was a skilled hero, and he knew how to fight even when he didn’t understand why he was in a battle. He wrestled Evolvo Lad down with superior strength and then deflected an attack by a misty Gas Girl with a blast of super-breath. “I don’t know why you’re all acting so weird, but I do have the means to find out!” he said.
Duplicate Boy dodged a statue as the animated creature reached out for him. He knew Life Lass had been responsible for the stone object’s sudden movement and hostility. “I can dodge your pets all day, Somi, but as Violet always says, the important thing to do is to get to the bottom of any mystery,” he said. “That means all I have to do is draw upon Saturn Girl’s mental powers to scan your minds, or mind!”
Smiling broadly, he said, “Funny, I know we sometimes act as if Sev was the only thinker in the group, but while the rest of us lack his smarts, we do actually have minds of our own. That’s not the case with you bogus Heroes! I only detect one brain guiding you. You’re all illusions!”
Duplicate Boy scowled as the mental pattern began to trail off. “Running scared, huh? Well, no one this side of Superboy can move as fast as I can!” he declared. He flew off and frowned as he lost trace of the other mind that had been projecting the illusions of his friends. He landed and switched powers.
“Great. Just great. By switching from Saturn Girl’s power to Superboy’s speed, I lost the ability to track the mind of my enemy. Now that I’ve switched back to blondie’s mental gifts, I can’t keep up with the rapidly departing mind!” He pushed his way past a thick growth of imported Zuunian dark trees and emerged deeper within the city botanical gardens.
“I see I lost the Astron News crew. I saw them arrive just after the fake Heroes jumped me. That’s just as well. I don’t want to risk hurting them if my sparring partner returns!”
“How commendable! You truly care about those insects! I suppose you really believe the nonsense about equality that you were spouting earlier when you thought you were talking to your friends!” said a man who stepped into view. He looked exactly like Duplicate Boy himself.
“Very funny,” said Ord. “I don’t know how you managed to get such a sophisticated holo-image projector, but looking like me won’t enable you to get me to pull my punches. Just what do you want?” He managed to maintain a reasonable bluff, but Ord didn’t like seeing his exact image confront him in such a manner. A Saturn Girl-style mind scan helped him determine that this figure did not possess the mind he had touched briefly before. That meant this foe that looked just like his mirror image was not the illusionist from before. Could he be a Durlan?
The odd duplicate shifted form, and Ord gasped as he saw the imitation of his handsome features alter into a nearly liquid sludge that ran down his foe’s body in a constantly shifting display of amorphous change. “What are you?” he whispered. “I’ve never seen a Durlan do that! It’s like you don’t have any normal form at all!”
“Enigma lacks your pretty features. That much is true. He can only retain a normal appearance by copying other people’s forms for a brief time,” said a woman. He turned to see a tall woman who had a wildly upswept tower of hair that cascaded around features that would have been at home in a horror holo. Her eyes stared vacantly into space, and she groped almost blindly as she moved closer.
“Image can create illusions. She was the one who lured you here after we created the impression that you’d all gone mad for the media!” said a third figure. “It is a useful power, but the poor dear has suffered for her gift!” This was an ugly man with a gaunt body and an almost skeletal appearance. He wore a black costume with a golden cape.
“What’s your problem?” demanded Duplicate Boy. “Why try to smear our image? Are you super-crooks in search of a big score?”
The man in black and gold laughed and said, “You do prattle on witlessly. We’re more than ‘super-crooks,’ as you so mundanely put it. We’re mutants like you, although we have never been allowed to bask in adulation like your group has done. We might be called Villains of Lallor if we decided to use such an inane name. Suffice it to say, we intend to rule this planet by right of genetic superiority!”
“Rule this, pal!” Duplicate Boy punched the gaunt man in the jaw and fell aside as energy exploded from his body, and he suddenly replicated into a second being.
“I am known as Multiplicity for reasons obvious to anyone with half a brain. That includes you, my friend!” said the odd pair in unison.
Before Duplicate Boy could get up, he was savagely struck from behind by a hulking being with rocky skin and an inhuman appearance. “I hope I didn’t break the pretty boy!” he said as a jagged gap that served as his mouth opened.
“You did well, Brute. We all did well,” said Multiplicity. “With Duplicate Boy out of the way, we will easily vanquish his allies!”
Shortly thereafter, the real Heroes of Lallor were en route to the battle scene in their hover-car. The three mutant champions were grimly silent, with one notable exception. Tal Nahii, now clad in her customary pink, white, and black costume, sat with her legs propped up across her side of the control panel. She idly retouched her makeup in the mirror, then pursed her bright, red lips as she concentrated. “You know, that was some illusion!” she said. “I almost believed we were seeing ourselves in combat for a moment!”
Evolvo Lad said, “Gas Girl, how do you know we were seeing an illusion? Our doubles might very well be Durlans or shape-shifters or crooks with illegal image distorters!”
Gas Girl sighed as if the weight of the world was on her trim shoulders as she replied, “Hair! I know you don’t exactly spend a lot of time thinking about it. I mean, how could you? Still, I noticed the scene we saw on the news report showed Ord’s hair moving as he fought the evil doubles, but neither my double nor Somi’s double showed even a trace of movement. The hairstyle on my so-called double made me look really ugly, too. Believe me, when you work as hard as I do to look good, then you notice things like a bad hair day. We were looking at illusions, since the wind affected Ord, but not the images of Somi or me!”
Evolvo Lad shook his head and exchanged a glance with a bemused Life Lass. “You know, when she’s right, she’s right!” he said. “I didn’t even take that particular visual clue into account. Tal, I will never complain about how much time you spend in front of the mirror again!”
“I can animate any distorter, if that’s what they or he or she used!” said Somi Gan. “My rapport with inanimate objects will let me sense such a device in use if we get close to it!”
Before they could respond, the pretty girl in red yelled out in alarm. “Swerve left!” she cried. “We’re heading right for a tower!”
Evolvo Lad wrenched the wheel and sent the hovercraft veering wildly to the side. The vehicle shuddered, but no impact occurred. Gas Girl had been thrown to the floor of the wildly moving craft, and she returned to her seat in a huff. “Sev, how about warning a girl next time you decide to play Astro-Chicken!” she said.
“Tal, one of the old industrial towers was directly in our path,” said Life Lass. “It had been made invisible by some strange illusion. That is why the path before us looked clear! We could have wrecked had I not sensed the structure itself!”
“Our illusion-caster must be near,” said Evolvo Lad. “That was a subtle trick. We’d better be careful.”
Life Lass shrugged and said, “I can tell you that I can’t detect any distorter. The illusions may be magical or innately powered.”
“By the same token, I detect no type of narcotic or hallucinogenic gas,” said Gas Girl. “If we’re seeing things, then it is due to no chemical process, either.”
They landed the craft in People’s Park, where Duplicate Boy stood with three odd newcomers. “Ord, what’s going on here?” asked a worried Life Lass. “Are you in trouble?”
“No,” said Duplicate Boy. “I’ve never been better. These three have enlightened me!”
“Something is wrong here,” warned Evolvo Lad.
Gas Girl frowned and nervously ran a hand through her misty hair. That woman has no pupils in her eyes. She seems blind! she thought as she noticed the odd woman who stood by Ord’s side. She turned to gaze at the man in black and gold. He looked gaunt and sickly, but he apparently possessed more vitality than his appearance would suggest.
The final figure was a true monster with a rocky hide and a massive body. “I’d like you three to meet my new allies,” said Duplicate Boy, “Brute, Multiplicity, and Image.”
Gas Girl changed to a gleaming mist as the weird threesome attacked without warning. Got to try to blind them all by becoming Jovian glitter mist! she thought. Before she could press her attack, the creature called Brute had inhaled her into its mouth. She tried to alter her composition to any number of narcotic forms, but his inhuman body seemed immune to her best efforts. She could not return to human form, either. She had trapped herself.
Evolvo Lad had shifted down the evolutionary scale to his more menacing primate form. He darted forward with impressive agility, but his tackle of Multiplicity only resulted in the instant replication of the man in black and gold. The two Multiplicitys worked well as a team and wrestled with his stronger body. Still, Evolvo Lad was very strong in that altered form, and he managed to hold them both apart and then slam them together. This resulted in more replication, and he fell beneath the foursome as they continued to increase in numbers.
Life Lass turned in horror as Duplicate Boy’s face melted into a runny puddle, and he became her own double. “You’re not Ord! You just copied his looks!” she gasped.
Enigma grabbed her and laughed as she struggled to free herself. Before she could animate anything around them, Life Lass received a stunning blow from Enigma, and she fell to the ground. “We’ve defeated them,” said Enigma. “Now to rid ourselves of the Heroes of Lallor and to conquer this world once and for all!”