Super-Stars of Space: The Universe and Mr. Leiber, Chapter 5: Second Chances

by Libbylawrence

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Smallville, USA, was a peaceful, small community whose greatest claim to fame was still proclaimed on the signs leading into town: “Welcome to Smallville, Home of Superboy.”

Although the town had been the home of Superman twenty years ago, when he was still a teenager, these days Smallville was better known as the home town of WGBS anchorwoman Lana Lang and Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. In recent years, Lana’s fame had even surpassed poor Clark’s, despite the fact that they’d grown up together, since the glamorous Lana Lang was much more visible on the nightly news than Clark was with his column in the papers, especially now that he was no longer the face of WGBS Evening News.

Still, whenever former astronaut Brice Rogers thought of Smallville, he mostly recalled his old mentor Professor Altus of Metropolis University. As he remembered, the professor had insisted on making the daily commute into Metropolis from the small town, rather than relocate to a closer neighborhood. As he drove his sporty convertible down the streets of Smallville, Rogers could see why. The small town was an idyllic reminder of a more innocent time in America’s past. I picked a nice day to get nostalgic, he thought with a smile. The weather’s wonderful!

The former astronaut was a handsome, ruggedly built man with strawberry blond hair, who dressed well and clearly radiated good health and prosperity. Since leaving behind his career as an astronaut a few years ago, he had worked in the business world and had built for himself a good reputation in Gotham City as a civic-minded and admirable member of the community. Despite being in his early forties, he still looked as physically fit as he’d been when he went into space.

Adjusting the radio, he shook his head slightly as he recalled what had prompted his abrupt decision to drive from Gotham City to Smallville this morning. People would think I was crazy if I told them that a vivid dream had led me here! he thought. I couldn’t get Professor Altus out of my mind last night. I know he died almost twenty years ago, but for some reason I just felt compelled to visit his old place today.

Turning into a narrow driveway on the outskirts of town, Brice Rogers stopped in front of a large old house that had once been a grand mansion, but was now badly in need of a new paint job. One shutter swung loosely from a hinge, and the yard looked more like a jungle than a typical lawn. It didn’t appear as if anyone had lived there since the professor’s death in 1969.

I hate to see the house looking like this, thought Brice as he shut off the motor and stepped out of his car. When Professor Altus used to invite me and other promising students over during my college days, the house was so orderly and neat!

Taking a glance around the area, he stepped up onto the porch. He started to look into one of the dirty windows, but some instinct led him to reach under a dusty old chair and remove a hidden key. Professor Altus always hid his extra key under there, he remembered with a smile. I guess it’s been hidden there all these years.

Unlocking the front door, Rogers made his way into the old house, coughing as he breathed in the dust. When he died, I was just beginning my military training, he recalled. I sure am sorry that he never lived to see me reach space!

Pushing aside a cobweb, Brice made his way down some steps into a large basement laboratory. He frowned as he wiped his brow and rolled up his sleeves. “I can’t be that out of shape, but I’m sweating like a pig!” he said softly.

His eyes narrowed as he turned to see a large monitor screen and panel board that completely dominated one wall. Turning, he saw a tube-like chamber atop a raised platform. A radiation wall had been erected facing the chamber, and evidently for good reason.

“That thing is giving off heat!” Brice suddenly realized, and looked around. “The power has been cut off for years, and I tried the lights when I first came inside. There must be a hidden generator around here, though I can’t see it or hear it.” Inspecting the chamber closely, he muttered to himself, “What is this thing? It’s like some type of isolation chamber, but it clearly serves some vastly different purpose!”

Circling the device, he then stepped behind the radiation wall and placed one hand on a raised console. He gasped as the device began to shake, and the impact of a sudden blast caused him to trip and fall to the ground.

With a groan, Brice rolled over to see the chamber door slide open as a man with red hair and a colorful costume of green and yellow emerged. His one-piece bodysuit left his muscular arms uncovered, and a yellow headband held his red hair in place. The man in the costume staggered out of the chamber, rubbing his eyes as he gazed around the lab.

A look of concern crossed his face as he saw someone on the ground, and he cried, “What have I done?”

“Don’t worry, I’m unhurt,” said Brice, standing up. “Are you OK? What is that thing you came out of?”

The red-haired man looked at Brice for a moment, before a look of recognition came over his face. “Rogers?” he said slowly. “You’re Brice Rogers, aren’t you? I haven’t seen you since the last time you visited the house!”

“You know me?” said Brice. “Wait! That bright red hair! You’re Professor Altus’ son, Robert Junior!”

“Call me Bob,” the red-haired man said with a nod. “You were a favorite pupil of my father’s! I remember that much, especially after I’d heard you joined the astronaut program. My dad would’ve been proud.”

“I last saw you at the funeral about nineteen years ago,” replied Brice. “What are you doing here? Why were you in that chamber? And why are you wearing that costume?”

Placing one hand to his temple, Bob said, “You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t answer all your questions right away. I’m still a bit stunned. My last memory was entering the energy-chamber, but I don’t know how long I was in there. Time really has a way of getting away from you in there. Is it still Friday evening?”

“No, it’s Monday around noon,” said Brice. “You must’ve been in there for nearly three days! Good thing I came along when I did, or you might never have come out at all!”

As Bob started to reel, he reached out one hand to steady his fall, and ended up slamming his fist against the machine. To Brice Rogers’ great surprise, the metal chamber buckled, and would have been reduced to scrap metal had it not been reinforced.

“You’re a superhuman!” cried Brice.

Bob Altus glanced down at his fists and said, “Yes, that was always our goal with this machine. Maybe I’d better explain.” He sat down on a rickety chair and covered his eyes with one hand for a moment before resuming his story.

“As you know, my father had two passions: He loved science, and he hated communism,” began Bob. “Thus he vowed to use his science skills to combat the Russians!”

Brice nodded as he replied, “Yes, he was… well… a bit obsessive about not only the commies, but extraterrestrials as well. He believed the Soviets were entrenched in our country, and he even distrusted Superboy for being an alien!”

“Exactly,” said Bob. “Remember back in the early 1950s when Captain Comet’s battles against alien invaders first introduced our society to the idea that extraterrestrial life not only existed, but was hostile? It was as if a bomb had gone off! Now people not only had to fear the reds, but also the aliens! Then, in 1958, Superboy showed up and revealed that he was also an alien, but one who vowed to use his powers only to help people.”

Brice leaned forward. “Yes, your dad refused to believe that Superboy or the other super-heroes of the time were what they claimed to be,” he said. “He insisted that they were all either secret communist agents or extraterrestrials. We had an argument over it, as I recall.”

“My grandfather had developed the energy-chamber back in 1946 in order to grant super-powers to my father when he was a young man,” explained Bob. “Unfortunately, the original chamber exploded, killing my grandfather and crippling my father. Dad felt that I could be the ‘super-hero’ that he was unable to be, and subjected me to the energy-chamber from a young age, while having me trained in athletics. He planned for me to become a weapon against communist agents. When Superboy first appeared, he thought the Boy of Steel was stealing my thunder, and accelerated my power build-up so that I could expose and replace other heroes like Superboy, Plastic Man, or Robotman!”

“I’ve met Superman and Batman,” said Brice. “Professor Altus was all wrong about them and the other super-heroes. They are heroes in every sense of the word! They saved me when I was ill!”

“I never shared my dad’s views about them, either,” said Bob. “Not really. But I still wanted the power he gave me. In 1968, I was finally ready to take on Superboy under the fanciful name of Pulsar, but with my dad directing me to fight him while also secretly sabotaging Superboy with red sun rays, it was a disaster. (*) I went to live with my mother after that, and my father died a year later, by which time my powers had completely worn off. Over the last two decades, I’d hardly even thought about this crazy lab or my brief career as Pulsar — until now.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Main Event: Smallville, U.S.A.,” The New Adventures of Superboy #31 (July, 1982), which must take place in 1968, since the word “Pulsar” was coined in that year.]

“So that’s what the costume is for,” said Brice. “You were going to try to be a hero again, but do it right this time!”

“Exactly,” replied Bob. “I wasn’t ready back when I was a kid, but I guess you could say I’ve gained a bit of worldly wisdom since then. Last week I thought I’d pay my old homestead a visit, since we never did get around to selling the old estate. I couldn’t help but wonder if the energy-chamber still worked. Sure enough, I was able to power it up again. I went in just as I’d done many times in my youth, but this time no one was around to let me out. To me it feels as if I entered the energy-chamber just a few minutes ago, though it seems that’s not the case.”

“Like I said, I’m afraid nearly three days have passed since you entered the chamber,” replied Brice. “You must have been put into a coma while inside the machine when it was powered up.”

“Well, it looks like it worked,” said Bob. “I wonder…” Suddenly, he bolted up the steps and out the front door before Brice could reply.

“He’s really moving. He must have super-speed like Superman!” cried Brice, hurrying after him. “Come back, Bob!” he yelled. “Don’t do anything rash!”

As the ex-astronaut tried to catch up to the super-swift man in green and gold, who was already outside racing through the unkempt estate grounds, he raised his hands as if to magnify his voice. To his surprise, a force-beam erupted from his hands and knocked Pulsar into a hedge before he could attempt to fly.

“Great Scott!” Brice shouted in astonishment. “My old powers are back, too! I’m so sorry, Bob! Are you all right?”

As Pulsar stood up unhurt, and turned to face his companion, a strange look came into his eyes. “You’re superhuman, too? How can this be?” asked Bob.

Brice Rogers shook his head and said, “Heaven help me, I don’t know! I encountered some radiation from a comet around fifteen years ago when I was in space. It gave me super-powers, but it also turned me into a real Jekyll and Hyde type with a split personality. I called myself Moonman and rampaged through Gotham City until Superman and Batman cured me. (*) Something has restored my old powers, but without causing me to go crazy this time!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Menace of the Moonman,” World’s Finest Comics #98 (December, 1958).]

“I think I can explain a bit about that!” said a female voice.

The two men turned to see Stacy Macklin in the brief green and gold costume of Lady Lunar.

“Brice, I tracked you down because I need your help,” she said. “Looks like you may have the same problem I have. Our powers have mysteriously returned!”

“That costume!” said Brice. “You’re Stacy Macklin, alias Lady Lunar! I remember meeting you years ago!”

Suddenly, gunshots echoed from a distance before the blonde beauty could explain.

“More trouble?” said Brice. “And I thought Smallville was a peaceful town!”

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