Super-Stars of Space: The Universe and Mr. Leiber, Chapter 11: Mystery of Prisoner Z

by Libbylawrence

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Stepping closer to the eight convicts, Commander Praydar pointed at the purple-cloaked Insect Master and said, “How did you do it? I know you created the robotic bugs that briefly disrupted the security system, but we know you had no access to the parts, so how did you make them?”

Insect Master grinned broadly and said, “I didn’t have the parts, but I had the know-how. That’s all it took for our benefactor to create them. He drew upon the knowledge I had in my mind. You see, we owe our freedom to Molnur the mentalist!”

Praydar nodded and thought, Of course! We have safeguards against almost any type of attack, but we never thought to prevent the exchange of ideas via telepathy. None of our current inmates possess that kind of power, so we certainly didn’t realize an outsider with such a power could so easily take knowledge from our minds.

“I’ve heard of Molnur,” said Garrock. “His range is so great that he could receive or send thoughts without ever violating our monitored spaceways!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Brainiac’s Super-Revenge,” Action Comics #280 (September, 1961).]

“We don’t mind sharing the facts with you, since you’ll be dead soon, anyway!” cackled Amalak.

Kralik the Conqueror charged forward with a savage battle-cry echoed by a similar shout from Margaxe the Quazar.

Garrock snarled in reply and met the Quazar with a leap of his own. But as his mighty arms grappled with her, he realized her savagery was perhaps greater than his own.

Praydar circled warily and dodged Kralik’s first attack. “You can’t escape here!” he said. “My crew will be closing in on you soon enough!”

Kralik laughed and said, “I don’t really care! I just want to hurt as many of you as I can!”

Ducking under the bigger man’s outstretched arms, Praydar connected with a series of stinging jabs that sent the tyrant reeling backward into his allies. Jumping upward, Praydar caught a railing that held a fire extinguisher, then swung his legs forward until he connected with Kralik’s chest, striking him to the ground. According to his file, Kralik had once given Superman one of the greatest battles of his life early in his career, but the Conqueror had evidently been taken down a few pegs since then. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes,” World’s Finest Comics #173 (February, 1968).]

Insect Master darted forward, but one direct punch knocked him cold. “Without your metallic insects, you aren’t much of a fighter!” said Praydar.

Garrock had just managed to stun the Quazar, but his left arm was aching from her own attack. She almost broke my arm! he thought.

At that moment, Astra and Psyche raced forward. “She sensed something terrible was happening here!” explained the blonde Astra, standing protectively in front of the empath.

“Prisoner Z!” said Psyche. “I’m feeling raw emotions from its holding cell! It is agitated, and energy levels are fluctuating wildly, according to the sensors placed in the containment unit!”

“Ladies, how your beauty adds to my enjoyment of this grand day!” said Amalak.

Beriak the Serpent Man had moved closer, but he’d made no threatening gestures, instead merely swaying slightly to the left or right, all the while staring at them with his gleaming, hypnotic eyes. “Sssurrender! Your armsss are ssso heavy!” hissed the alien invader.

After a moment’s hesitation, Praydar slapped the shocked Serpent Man across the face. “You can’t use hypnosis on me!” said the commander. “I’m immune to it!”

Beriak lunged forward, and Praydar allowed himself to be forced backward by the scaly foe. Grabbing Beriak, the commander used his own momentum to carry them both backward and away from the others. Can’t let him enslave Astra or the others, he thought. They lack my genetic immunity to his powers!

Beriak hissed as he said, “I almossst ruled Earth! Sssupergirl wasss nearly my helplesss bride!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Eyes of the Serpent,” Superman Family #174 (December, 1975-January, 1976).]

Praydar grunted as he slammed his palms against the Serpent Man’s head. “I think the key word in your little speech is almost!” he said. “As in you’re almost beaten right now!” Wrestling Beriak around, he finally managed to knock him out by leveraging him against the nearest wall. Praydar then hurried toward the others and was greeted by the other squads.

“Commander, we have them under control! What remains to be done?” asked a towering guardsman named Xnext. “Amalak, Genia, and Klax-Ar are still loose!”

Indeed, Amalak had boldly moved forward, with Klax-Ar following. “I’ve been free long enough to work my old magic! I’m ready now, Commander Praydar, or should I say we’re ready? The drugs have worn off. I can regenerate my syntho-spine right now!”

With a weird laugh, the red-haired pirate began to glow a brilliant green until his body was outlined by a gleaming green humanoid shape that abruptly erupted from his body and surged forward toward the guards.

“Stand back!” cried Praydar. “Energy weapons will only feed that thing’s power!”

Klax-Ar watched with interest, but said nothing. He was clearly fascinated by his leader’s ability to generate the energy-being, and as a scientist, the rogue Kryptonian immediately began to form plans of his own. Still, he merely turned and raced toward the chamber that held Prisoner Z. Amalak’s power can be studied later, he thought. For now, while he is consumed by blood-lust, I’ll secure the secret that lies within that chamber!

Astra and Psyche followed him, as did three other guards. “Secure Prisoner Z at all costs!” shouted Astra. She was a young recruit, but she knew more than enough about the danger that they would face if the occupant of Cell Z broke free.

“It knows we’re here!” cried Psyche. “It senses us, just as I feel its emotions!”

Praydar gestured for the others to follow the women, feeling that he could subdue Amalak on his own. “Garrock, all of you! Seal the chamber! I’ll handle the Kryptonian-Killer!” Although they obeyed his orders with reluctance, they also believed in his remarkable abilities.

Suddenly, Commander Praydar gasped in pain as the weird syntho-spine dived at him and suddenly enveloped his own body. Pain lashed through his body as every nerve burned with the fire caused by the inhuman energy being’s proximity. He realized in horror that his heart was racing, and his breath was growing shallower. This thing is killing me! he thought as sweat beaded on his brow, and he fought to free himself from the crackling energy-being.

Amalak laughed with obvious pleasure at his foe’s peril. “Superman withstood my pet, as did his pretty cousin, but I don’t think you’re in their league!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Today the City, Tomorrow the World,” Superman #312 (June, 1977) and “The Only Way You’ll Save the Earth Is Over My Dead Body,” Superman #313 (July, 1977).]

Commander Praydar knew his guards were close by, but he also realized that this was a personal challenge. He would neither seek help, nor would he surrender. He was responsible for the prison world, and he would die before shirking his duties.

Closing his eyes, Praydar struggled with increasing ferocity until the green creature was slowly forced away from his skin. The green glow even began fading in intensity as the commander strained to subdue it.

But he had begun to weaken as Amalak drew closer. The madman was clearly afraid that his pet was about to lose the fight. Praydar fought harder, but time was against him. With a great shudder of pain, the commander managed to break free of the energy-being, and the effort scattered its essence across the room.

Amalak screamed as his creation was momentarily ripped asunder, as he was connected to the thing in some manner, and felt the pain of its loss. Praydar staggered forward and began to fall. He’d won this latest battle, but at what cost?

Reaching for his throat, Amalak shouted, “I’ll kill you with my bare hands!”

However, before he could connect, his body suddenly stiffened, and he collapsed in front of the weakened Praydar.

The commander looked up to see a pair of high-heeled black boots. As he rose to his feet, he raised his gaze to look directly into the enigmatic eyes of the sultry Genia.

“You must be wondering why I helped you,” she said. “Obviously, you were going to triumph. It is what heroes such as yourself do. It defies logic, but it is sickeningly consistent on the whole. I merely decided to join the winning side.”

Commander Praydar nodded. “Thank you. With Amalak beaten, his energy creature won’t be able to reform.”

Genia rolled her eyes with amused disdain. “Of course,” she said. “Any Coluan child could have told you that!”

***

Down the passageway, the other guards had caught up with Klax-Ar, but had begun to pry open the locked chamber that held Prisoner Z.

“Stop!” cried Astra. “You don’t realize what you’re doing!”

Battering the doors, Klax-Ar shouted, “I know all too well! In my long years of lonely study, I learned all about the being called Zakkad!”

Psyche screamed as she felt a wave of emotion sweep over her. “It is loose!” she cried. “He broke through enough to release Zakkad!”

Sure enough, a tiny opening in the heavily sealed chamber flashed once with a white light that blinded all of the occupants of the room.

Klax-Ar was hurled across the room like a twig in a storm. The other guardsmen were also forced backward by the blinding flash of white energy, until only Psyche and Astra remained nearby.

“Zakkad felt my empathic power!” Psyche cried in horror. “I never realized it could do so, but it did, and… it wanted me to come here!”

Astra tried to shield the smaller girl with her own body, but her efforts were futile. The white glow flashed again and again, and then faded away.

The remaining guards rushed forward as Klax-Ar tried to stand up. “By Rao!” he cried in anger. “Zakkad is gone!”

Garrock slammed his huge fists down in helpless frustration as well. “Not only that, but it’s disintegrated Astra and Psyche as well!”

By the time Commander Praydar and the remaining guards reached the sad scene, some order began to be restored. Genia, Elastic Crook, and Klax-Ar surrendered as the prison break came to an end.

“All the other prisoners have been secured and sedated,” said Warden Sargoes. “We won’t take any chances on additional tricks from this Molnur! I’ve asked for some mind-shields with the next supply ship. That will prevent any more mental manipulations by the telepathic rogue!”

Praydar shook his head sadly. “I can’t believe we’ve lost Astra and Psyche. I blame myself!”

Nursing his injured arm, Garrock said, “My friend, you secured Kronis against incredible odds. I know you cared for Psyche, but you did all one man could do!”

The warden added, “As for Zakkad, I will notify Rann. It was the champion of Rann who subdued it and brought it here. Adam Strange should be told that his old foe is loose.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mystery of the Mental Menace,” Showcase #19 (April, 1959); after their initial encounter, Adam Strange later captured Zakkad in an untold tale.]

A silvery laughed echoed throughout the room, and all of the weary staffers turned to face Genia. “Zakkad was a being composed entirely of energy. Only the special shielding of that cell contained it. When Klax-Ar breached the cell, Zakkad didn’t merely escape like some common thug. It drew in all the energy it had thirsted for. I think you’ll find that Zakkad didn’t so much escape as it could no longer be contained.”

Before Praydar could ask the Coluan to clarify what she meant, they were interrupted by an arriving guard.

“Commander, there’s trouble!” he said.

“Not another escape!” said Garrock.

The guard shook his head and said, “No. All prisoners are secure. Our sensors detect an invading force coming right at us!”

“A force?” said the warden. “Are you saying that warships are coming our way?”

“No, not crafts,” said the worried guard. “Humanoids! Dozens of humanoids are flying toward us without using spacecrafts! And, Commander, they are all dressed like Superman!” Before the others could react to the startling news, the guard continued. “It’s true! I’ve detected around thirty-six flying figures headed this way! We lack detail at this point, but the red and blue costumes and red capes are apparent!”

“Superman?” said Praydar. “I know some of the Man of Steel’s family members have worn his costume, including Supergirl, but I don’t think there were that many on Earth. I suppose they could be some of the other survivors of Krypton’s fiery death, such as the citizens of Kandor who now live on New Rokyn, which include the Phantom Zone criminals!”

Klax-Ar stepped forward and said, “I am one of those survivors, but you already knew that. What you don’t know I can tell you. Before Jor-El invented the Phantom Zone projector, my homeworld dealt with those they deemed as criminals by placing them in suspended animation and launching them into orbit around the planet. Reformation tapes played within those rockets in an effort to brainwash the captives into becoming model citizens. Some of those rockets survived the destruction of Krypton and were carried on the shock waves into deep space!”

Genia smiled as she softly said, “But you were never placed in such a confinement, were you?”

Klax-Ar shook his head and trembled with unconcealed rage. “No! My punishment consisted of being exiled on a barren asteroid. I was considered beyond reformation. The Science Council feared me! They were all timid and lacked my genius!”

“We have no time for hysterical outbursts,” said Garrock. “He prolonged his life during his exile through unnatural experiments, and they drove him mad. (*) He isn’t worth our time!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man Who Destroyed Krypton,” Superboy #67 (September, 1958).]

“My people have come for me!” cried Klax-Ar. “You’ll see!”

“Could he be right?” asked Warden Sargoes.

The entire complex shook as if struck by a massive object. Alarms began to sound as the new arrivals made their presence felt.

“They smashed through the dome!” cried Warden Sargoes after receiving a report from an on-wall monitor. “It resealed behind them, but they’re within the compound!”

Praydar gestured toward Klax-Ar, Genia, and Elastic Crook and said, “Garrock, take these three to their cells! Sedate them.”

Genia raised one dainty hand and said, “Perhaps that action is unwise. I can help you deal with the newcomers. Recall I saved your life when Amalak was about to kill you.”

“Very well,” said Praydar. “Watch her closely, but bring her along.”

“What of the other two?” asked the warden.

Praydar began, “We can–!”

His words were interrupted by a loud crash and the appearance of a dozen costumed figures.

“Great Rao! Those aren’t my people!” cried Klax-Ar, seeing the pale figures silently approaching.

“They look like mutilated marble statues come to life!” gasped the warden.

Commander Praydar nodded as he drew his blaster. “Worse. They’re Bizarro-Supermen!”

The figures were all dressed in identical red and blue Superman costumes, with reversed S insignias, but their resemblance to the legendary hero stopped at their outfits. Each one had shaggy hair, hollow eyes, and rock-like chalky skin.

“Stop! Don’t come any closer!” ordered the commander.

They ignored him as he opened fire, but his laser blasts merely bounced harmlessly off the Bizarros’ chests.

“Bizarros have all of Superman’s powers, but with their reverse logic, they can be completely unpredictable!” said Warden Sargoes. “Still, these ones aren’t like any Bizarros I’ve ever heard of — they’re acting in concert, silently destroying everything in their path!”

“Stop them!” cried Klax-Ar. “They’ll kill us all!”

“They will, indeed, unless you allow me to stop them,” said Genia.

As the Bizarro-Supermen closed in on the guards, they silently used their remarkable powers to devastate the defenders.

Commander Praydar started to swing at the nearest one, but before he could act, he was casually knocked across the room. We don’t stand a chance against them! he thought.

Elastic Crook was desperately trying to flee through a narrow outlet, but his flight was stopped when one of the Bizarros stared at him, and icy beams shot from its eyes to freeze the rubbery crook in place. A smashing blow from the creature then shattered the criminal into icy shards.

Garrock bounced forward, but failed to slow the nearest invader.

“Think!” cried Genia. “I can stop them if you allow it!”

Praydar nodded and said, “Fall back! Try to slow their progress! Genia, what can we do to stop them?”

The beautiful Coluan said, “It takes a Kryptonian to stop a Kryptonian, and in spite of their inhuman appearance, Bizarros are imperfect duplicates of a Kryptonian — Superman himself.”

Warden Sargoes almost shrieked as he said, “We have no Kryptonian!”

Genia smiled wickedly as she nodded at Klax-Ar. “He’ll do nicely,” said the green-hued genius.

“I have no powers!” said Klax-Ar. “My experiments with atron-rays that prolonged my longevity also robbed my cells of the ability to gain super-powers under yellow suns!”

“Obviously!” said Genia. “Yet I can fix that in minutes if you give me access to the laboratory.”

“We can’t trust Klax-Ar,” said Praydar. “If he gains super-powers he’ll flee or join those things!”

Lights dimmed as crashes echoed from above, and their situation grew grimmer.

“Give her what she needs!” cried the warden. “We have no choice!”

***

Later, as the guards waged a frantic war against the sluggish invaders, Genia worked swiftly in the prison lab, where she equipped the wary Klax-Ar with a harness draped over his torso.

“This device will only work on a Kryptonian,” she said. “It should drain power out of those things, and into your cells. You’ll be a living sponge, so to speak.”

Klax-Ar smiled readily and said, “At first I was against this. I saw it as a suicide mission. But from what you say, this device will give me the powers I always wanted and will render those things harmless at the same time!”

“I have to admit the idea was brilliant,” agreed Praydar. “He won’t defy us, since the only way he can gain these powers is to stop the invaders!”

“What happens afterward?” asked Garrock.

“A pardon!” said Warden Sargoes. “He gets a full pardon!”

“That is only fitting!” said Klax-Ar. “How do I activate the power harness?”

“You need to go into the midst of the Bizarros,” said Genia. “Their proximity will serve as a catalyst for the energy-sapping process.”

Klax-Ar nodded. “Now, gentlemen, allow me to do your job for you!”

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