Here There Be Monsters
Part 11: “An Ending”
Even as Sabbac spoke, he unleashed a bolt of green mystical energy at the three warriors who stood before him. Though Captain Marvels Senior and Junior and Mary Marvel each had the speed of Mercury, they couldn’t scatter fast enough to avoid all the blast. The threesome caught a backwash that rocked their respective worlds and made them struggle up from the floor. The main action of the magic burst dissolved the steel-and-concrete wall beyond them.
Captain Marvel grimaced. Sabbac’s power, strong enough in the past, had been increased to an incredible degree by Sivana’s disk. Most of the formerly-normal powered villains were on a parity with the Marvels, now, and Ibac was beyond them. This was going to be an incredible fight.
But Captain Marvel, Jr. had already lowered his shoulder like a footballer charging through a line, and slammed into Sabbac’s midsection with a speed beyond Earth’s fastest jet. The evil boy-wizard gasped in pain and crashed through a wall.
Marvel Junior followed, leaping through the hole. There was a sound of a brief struggle for almost three seconds. The blue-clad youth reappeared with an unconscious Sabbac in one hand and a crushed Sivana disc in the other, and threw the green-cloaked figure at the feet of the other villains.
Mary Marvel had already flung herself into the battle. For the first time in her existence, she had enemies of her own caliber—worse, or better, yet, two women who had beaten her in a fight. She zeroed in on Illyria and Black Beauty, who both thought they were prepared for the kid heroine in a skirt. As a pair of hammering fists pistoned into their jaws, both villainesses realized they’d made a Titanic-scale mistake.
Illyria was half-in-half-out of the wall and Black Beauty was flat on the floor. Mary stood over them, fists cocked. “I could take those discs out of your dresses, honeys,” she said, with a grim smile. “But I’ve got something to pay you back for, and it wouldn’t be sporting that way. What do you say?”
A gunshot and a bullet ricocheting off the back of her head drew Mary’s attention. Georgia Sivana stood there with a smoking gun. “Oh, you!” said Mary, in exasperation, and, tearing the gun out of her grasp, tore it into pieces with a swift motion. “Now, keep quiet!”
Illyria banged her over the head with a metal rod that bent itself neatly over Mary’s forehead. She elbowed the villainess in the gut and knocked her away, then turned to face an oncoming Black Beauty. She let the brunette take three shots at her jaw, each of which she slapped away, then drew back and let her have it.
Black Beauty didn’t stop travelling until she was through two rooms and the outer wall and skidded to a halt in the Venusian vegetation, as conscious as a stone statue.
Illyria, still clutching her stomach, turned to the others about her, the Black Rat, the Weeper, the Acrobat, and the Black Poet. “What’re you waiting for? Give me a hand with her, already?”
“Uh...we thought you were supposed to handle her,” stumbled the Weeper, and then burst into tears. “But if we have to...”
The Black Rat started forward, his razor-sharp talons extended. That was as far as he got before Cap Junior barrelled into him and knocked him back into the other three. A swift series of motions stripped the villains of their disks. The Marvel boy grasped them in his clenched hands and exerted pressure, cracking them like wafers. Four looks of disappointment met him, and the Weeper seemed to be crying harder than ever.
“I guess that just leaves us,” said Mary to Illyria.
“You shouldn’t have taken it personally,” said the villainess. “I’d have done it to any good-for-nothing American.”
Mary said, “But you did it to me.”
She unleashed an uppercut that slammed the Axis girl-spy into the ceiling. Her unconscious body dangled there, with her head jammed through the roofing. Mary Marvel dusted her palms off, satisfied, and started to turn.
Before she could, something rocketed into her from behind and caused her to create a new passageway into the chamber beyond.
Blows were raining down on her, and they hurt. On her back, Mary looked up, and saw a skinny, bespectacled, big-toothed enemy who looked like she was having the time of her life.
Georgia Sivana sneered, “I got Black Beauty’s disk away from her. Now let’s see how you do against somebody who really does hate you!”
Mary tried to grab for the place under Georgia’s blouse where she thought the disk might be hidden and got a smack in the jaw for her efforts. She knew the Sivana girl hated her, but she had no idea what it would be like to face her when she possessed powers equal to a Marvel.
Grimly, Mary thrust her arms up and shoved Georgia skyward, crashing her through the ceiling. She followed. Georgia had been super-powered for less than three minutes, but she looked as though she already knew how to use them to their fullest, deadliest extent.
The other two Marvels were busy on their own.
Captain Marvel faced the mightiest enemy of all, and Ibac didn’t seem to be in any mood to let Cap take his disk. The bare-chested villain’s great right arm crashed down upon Marvel’s head and back, while his left fended off the hero’s attempts to grab for the place in his tights where the disk was cached. Ibac grinned, a great, snaggle-toothed, terrifying grin.
“Just you ‘n’ me this time,” said Ibac. “Nobody else but us!”
He wrapped his titan hands around Captain Marvel’s throat and squeezed, even as he crouched and thrust off of the floor, carrying them through the ceiling which disintegrated before them. The two of them hurtled through the sky, on the way to the upper atmosphere of Venus and beyond it. Captain Marvel struggled against the grip, battered Ibac’s arms, tried kicking out at him, and found it of no use. The enemy was just too strong.
The edges of his vision became purplish. Even though Captain Marvel didn’t need to breathe to survive, Ibac could crush his windpipe, could break his neck. Could kill him. And he appeared to be better than fifty percent there.
But there had to be a way. The people of Earth needed him, needed Mary and Junior as well, to stop the twin horrors threatening them. The entire Monster Society imperilled Earth. If it had only been for himself, then Captain Marvel might have–-he admitted it—considered defeat at a superior enemy’s hands.
Yet it was not for himself. It never was.
With a prayer to a being far greater than any of the six who empowered him, Captain Marvel drew his legs up and thrust his boots hard against Ibac’s chest. He grasped Ibac’s wrists and, with his body half-bent, pushed as hard against his foe with his yellow-booted feet as his failing strength would allow. Ibac noted the effort and kept choking him. With the pressure the villain was exerting, the fight should have been over in seconds.
Still, those seconds passed, and more besides. And Ibac’s hands trembled with fatigue. Even though he had probably twice his foe’s power–
–how was that any good against a foe who had twice his spirit?
Captain Marvel’s face was red. Even as far up as the edge of Venusian space, that was obvious. But his teeth were bared in a feral grin, and his muscles were as tight as the highest grade of titanium steel wire. However long it would take, he would take it. However much effort it took, he would provide it. Even if he blacked out while doing it, he would resist the power of Ibac. He would—
And then he felt the rough hands of Ibac tearing free of his throat as the mightiest super-villain on Venus or Earth hurtled away from him, as if bounced from a spring.
Marvel involuntarily gasped, taking in nothing but what free-floating atoms there were in the vacuum. Time to recover. Time to plan a new attack. Time, which only amounted to a few seconds. In that interval, he flew backwards to put more space between himself and Ibac.
The champion of evil was already coming for him.
The World’s Mightiest Mortal shrugged, altered his course in mid-flight, and hurtled forward with his head down. He slammed into Ibac’s midsection with a head-butt that made the villain gasp in silent pain. Then his hand came down on Captain Marvel’s back.
The red-clad hero sent one of his own up to Ibac’s jaw, and then tried to grab for the disk in his foe’s tights. Ibac’s hand closed on his wrist and held it back.
It was still an unequal fight, and Captain Marvel had no choice but to fight it.
Captain Marvel, Jr. stood and faced the remaining villains. This had to be finished quickly, if what the Sivanas had boasted to them about the Red Crusher and Mr. Atom on Earth was true. The Black Rat, the Black Poet, the Weeper, the Acrobat, Sivana, Sivana, Junior, and Trug were the only ones left on their feet. It’d only be a second’s work to get them off of them.
At least, that was what he thought before Trug raised his hands and a wall of darkness surrounded him.
Instantly, he knew that he was not where he had been standing a moment ago. The darkness was more than what one would experience if the lights had simply been turned off. It was a pure abscence of light. Plus, he was falling, the floor under him having been replaced by empty space. He righted himself with his flight power, closed his eyes, opened them again, and still saw starless black.
Captain Marvel, Jr. shouted, and could not hear himself. He flew forward at twice the speed of sound, and contacted nothing. He could feel the cold of this place, a cold beyond imagining, though it could not harm him.
Where was he?
The wisdom of Solomon only worked when there were referents from which to draw upon. This was not space, though it was a vacuum. Was it a trick of the mind? Was he being induced to dream? He banged his fists together and felt the pain. Ah, that was good. At least he had access to some sensations.
Well, then: he had been sent to some other place by Trug’s magic. How did he get back? He pivoted 360 degrees, using his vision to its best extent. He could see nothing.
It was like being stranded in the midst of the largest desert on Earth. He could fly for days, years, centuries, and probably not contact anything. But he had to try.
Then, as he readied himself, he saw light, felt solid earth below him, breathed air, felt warmth.
He was back in the lair of Dr. Sivana. Trug was not far from him, looking chagrined. The other bad guys with him weren’t appearing too happy, either. There were others in the room, as well. Three fallen Japanese scientists were laid out unceremoniously on the floor, and a host of costumed figures were standing there.
The Boy Marvel recognized most of them at a glance. Ibis, Spy Smasher, Phantom Eagle, Minute Man, Bulletman, Bulletgirl, Mr. Scarlet, Pinky, Magnificus Sivana, Beautia Sivana, and a young man and woman in costumes like that of Captain Midnight.
“Huh,” he said. It seemed to be the only appropriate thing to say.
“Greetings, Captain Marvel, Jr.,” said Ibis, somewhat formally. “Trug sent you into a subdimension. I brought you back. Now I must send you hence, to Earth. The great robot and his ally must be stopped, and you are the only one left to stop them.”
“Fine by me, Ibis,” said Junior. “Just take care of all these guys while I’m gone.”
“You got it,” said Minute Man, smiling. “We’d have been here earlier, but we had to deal with Hashi, Smashi, and Peeyu before we could get here.”
Sivana took the opportunity to bolt and run. Reflexively, Junior started in his direction. “No,” said Ibis. “Ibistick: send Captain Marvel, Jr. to Earth to fight Mr. Atom and the Red Crusher.”
In mid-lunge, the Youth of Power saw the Venusian setting replaced by one of Earth. To be specific, that of the American Northwest. It was somewhere in the midst of a fairly large city, one whose buildings were visibly damaged. The noise of metal smashing concrete and glass resounded behind him, to his left, and told him where the enemy was.
He whirled to see a towering, gleaming metal giant and a human one, the latter clad in the dungarees of the Chinese Army. Both of them were busy wrecking skyscrapers, although the people of the city seemed to have been evacuated.
At the same moment, he heard a noise of jets and saw Air Force planes overhead. To be specific, bombers.
To be even more specific, a certain type of bomber. And he knew what its payload would be.
He flew upward, but not at the villains. In seconds, he showed himself to the pilots of the planes, whose eyes widened as they saw him. There was no way to communicate with them, but his presence, he hoped, gave them the message: Leave the monsters to me.
The bombers altered course, circling about the area. Junior sighed in relief, then set his jaw and flew downward like a meteor. His pace was so rapid that the aura of air friction was visible about him, briefly. He lanced downward towards the Menace of Metal, fists outstretched for a double hammer-blow.
He struck the joint where Mr. Atom’s head joined his body, and, denting it slightly, bounced off like a tennis ball.
Captain Marvel, Jr. fell, banged off and toppled a lightpost, and hit the sidewalk, cracking it with the impact. He felt the pain of his contact with the giant robot. Mr. Atom was powerful, true enough, and had been too durable for even Captain Marvel to demolish in their encounters. But there was no way that he could be this strong. Not without the aid of Sivana’s Sun Disk.
Atom loomed over him now, and his hands were outstretched. Junior didn’t know if the robot’s bolts of radioactivity could affect him now, but he wasn’t eager to find out. He sped away from the spot where he had been lying just before a burst of virulent energy from Atom’s hands contacted it, leaving scorched pavement below. His arc of flight towards Atom was interrupted by contact with a titanic spiked ball of metal which smashed him through a wrecked building and sent him, trailing stone and glass fragments, to the ground again.
The young hero shook his head, clearing out the cobwebs and getting stone and plaster dust out of his hair. If even the Crusher were this mighty, it was going to be sheer hell fighting them both.
Before he could leap back into the sky, Junior heard a voice on a bullhorn amplifier. “Attention, Junior. Attention, Captain Marvel, Jr. Can you hear me?”
That had to be a brave action, thought Junior, risking drawing attention to oneself when Atom and Crusher were around. Heck, even being here when those two were around ought to qualify you for a Medal of Honor.
But he recognized the voice.
Jumping up, he jackknifed in mid-air and flew quickly through the streets to the source of the amplified voice. Four men were in a jeep, parked in an alleyway, all of them in civvies. Uncle Dudley Batson, plus three other Billy Batsons, Hill Billy, Tall Billy, and Fat Billy.
“Thank God it’s you, son,” said Dudley. “We came here to help.”
Junior looked up at the towering figures of Mr. Atom and Red Crusher, both of them demolishing a couple more tall structures.
“Like how?”, he asked.
Ibis had called upon the power of his Ibistick to neutralize Trug’s Sun Disk, but the villain’s magic had power to withstand his. Instead, the two of them had blasted through the walls of the enclosure and engaged in a wizard’s duel outside, smashing away at each other with fire, ice, airbursts, energy blasts, shortish demons that splattered themselves on Ibis’s mystic forcefield, and other such things. Sweat poured from the Egyptian wizard’s brow as he spoke his commands and forced his will through the ancient wand, staving off Trug’s deadly spells and unleashing his own against the dark sorcerer in the brown business suit.
Bulletman claimed the Black Rat for his own, since the bad guys were heavily outnumbered. The other heroes deferred to him and held back. The Rat decided the better part of valor was to run like a mongoose and got as far as jumping through one of the holes in the wall created by one of the crashing heroes. Then the Flying Detective swished through and tackled him by the legs on the alien ground outside. Snarling, the Rat swung his razor-taloned right hand at the helmeted hero. Bulletman dodged, grabbed the Rat’s wrist in a crushing grip, and unleashed a jab at the Rat’s jaw with his free hand. Obligingly, the Rat fell unconscious.
“Thanks,” said Magnificus.
“Don’t mention it,” said Bulletman, who had noticed the holes in Magnficus’s shirt.
“You fools! You cowards! You...you freaking bunch of pansies!” raged Thaddeus Sivana, Jr. “We suffer a little setback, and you’re ready to throw in the towel on the brink of our ruling the universe! Get up there and fight! Show these punks what you’re made of! Show ‘em–“
Magnificus, looking very peeved, reached over and grabbed him by the shirtfront, lifting him off his feet. “Little brother...shut up,” he said.
“Yessir,” said Thad, Jr. meekly, and, when let down, pressed himself up against the wall.
The Acrobat surged forward, madness in his eyes. “I’ll kill you,” he snarled. “I’m man enough, madman enough, to kill you all! Disc or no disc, I’ve got the power of ten men when the moon is out, and I ought to have enough strength here to do you all in!”
“I’ll take him,” said Spy Smasher, his fist raised.
“No, I’ll take him,” said Minute Man, stepping forward.
“I’ll do him myself,” said Mr. Scarlet, who was closer to him than the other two.
“Aw, Dad, aren’t you going to leave me anything?” complained Pinky.
“I’ll destroy you all!” raged the Acrobat, his hands outthrust as claws. “One by one, I’ll tear your heads off and make lamps out of them! I’ll use your bodies for baseball equipment! I’ll–“
Midnight Maid stepped in his path. “You’ve been reading too many comic books,” she said. With that, she grabbed his arm, judo-tossed him, and sent him headfirst into the wall with a bang. The Acrobat groaned, slumped into a very uncomfortable position, and lay still.
Spy Smasher, Minute Man, and Mr. Scarlet looked on in aggravation, but Pinky smiled behind his hand. At last, Scarlet said, “Oh, well...I guess we have to leave some things for the younger ones to do.”
That left only the Weeper and the Black Poet. Both of them were fairly near one of the smashed-out openings in the lair, and neither of them were eager to tangle with the opposition. The Weeper sighed, drew a revolver out of his shoulder holster, and pointed it in the heroes’ direction. “It’s so sad that it has to come down to this,” he observed, and shed a bitter tear.
Bulletgirl pushed forward as he fired.
The power of her gravity helmet repelled the Weeper’s bullet and, thankfully, the slug buried itself in a wall, not in flesh. Before he could make a remark, the Avenging Aviatrix smashed a blue-gloved, energized fist into his stomach, and then another one into his chin as he doubled. The Weeper fell prostrate, still holding his gun.
“It seems to be that hesitation / Would only lead to devastation,” said the Poet, as he vaulted through the hole. “Therefore, I shall take my leave–“
Pinky grabbed his arm. “Not when I’ve got you by the sleeve!” He hauled him back in and, one punch later, he was out.
Mr. Scarlet nodded approvingly. “Decent work, youngster.”
“Hey, it’s my last gig,” said Pinky, dusting his hands.
The Phantom Eagle spoke. “Well, Squadron, I guess that finishes things up here. Until we hear from Ibis, I guess the best thing to do would be sit back and wait.”
Mister Midnight stepped forward. “Not quite. There’s still one of these punks left on his feet.” He towered over Sivana, Jr., still cowering against the wall, and said, “How do you shut down those Sun Disks still in operation, small fry?”
“Well...you really can’t,” said Thad.
“Give him to me, I’ll convince him he can,” rumbled Magnificus.
“Ease up, Mag,” said Beautia, restraining him with a hand on his shoulder. “I think Thad’s telling the truth. This time, at least.”
Midnight drew his Stasimatic Gun and placed its barrel uncomfortably near Thad Sivana’s head. “You wouldn’t want to know what this can do to your biological processes. Talk.”
Sivana, Jr. wet his lips with his tongue, and then said, “We can’t shut the things down ourselves. They’re only receivers.”
“Where is the transmitter?” asked Midnight Maid, standing near her partner with hands on hips. “And be quick about your answer!”
“The transmitter is–up there!” Sivana, Jr. pointed to the sky. “The sun! We, we built a disk, father and I, a huge parabolic disk that taps the power of the sun and transmits the power into human, human bodies through the Sun Disks. We had to have Ibac and, and Sabbac take it into position, into a solar orbit. It’s closer to the sun even than Mercury. Even we couldn’t get to it now, without their help.”
“There’s no control on it, down here?” asked Minute Man. “No way of stopping it?”
“None,” said Thad. “The Big Cheeses are doomed! The Big Red one, and the Little Blue one, and the Little Red one. Plus your towel-headed friend! They’ll never come back alive. You’ll see!”
Spy Smasher, who had been keeping mum, finally spoke. “No, son. You’ll see. If they come back...” He rested a hand on the brown holster at his belt. “What I’ve got here isn’t as fancy as a Stasimatic Gun. And I’ve used it a lot of times, during the War.” He leaned closer, his face only inches away from Sivana’s. “A lot of times.”
Thad, Jr. slid down the wall and assumed a sitting position, looking up at the heroes in fright.
Minute Man doubted that Spy Smasher would really kill Sivana, Jr. He knew the green-clad man too well for that. But just in case he tried, the tri-colored hero vowed to stop him. After wartime, heroes didn’t kill. “So, what do we do now?” he asked, to lighten the moment.
“Just what the Eagle said,” Bulletman replied. “We sit...and we wait.”
So they did.
Mary Marvel and Georgia Sivana continued their battle through the Venusian atmosphere, and beyond it, into the sector of space above the planet. If Georgia was discomfited about the locale, she didn’t show it. She focussed on her hated enemy and kept punching.
Mary fought back hard, but realized that, up here, taking the disk from Georgia was not an option. Of course, she could try to push the both of them back towards Venus’s atmosphere. But until (she took a punch in the face, shook off the numbness it caused, and hit Georgia back) until the air pressure became dense enough for Georgia to breathe, let alone (she blocked a kick, and tried a chop to the side of Georgia’s neck, which was also blocked) let alone endure without expanding like a heated balloon and popping, it still wouldn’t be enough.
What a strange thing, she thought to herself. What a strange thing that we have to be concerned with the welfare of villains. Most of them would kill us without a second thought. She knew, looking into Georgia’s raging eyes, that the ugly, skinny girl would murder her without compunction, taking only long enough to do the job in the most painful way she knew.
But the Marvel Family were heroes, and heroes did not kill. They didn’t even have as many options open to them as cops. So the Sivanas could be restrained, captured, beaten, but never destroyed. Not unless somehow, someday, they perished by a malfunction of their own evil operandi, or unless someone other than the Marvels took their lives.
Georgia’s nails scratched her cheek enough to hurt. The heck with this, thought Mary, and kicked her right in the breadbasket.
The Sivana girl grabbed her midsection and tried to drag in air. She was vicious, she was brutal, but she just wasn’t used to taking pain. Mary reflected that she hadn’t been used to it, either, at least not at the hands of someone her equal in power. But now, at least, she’d had the experience. She knew what it felt like. And she knew how to give it back.
Mary slammed a punch into Georgia’s jaw as the villainess clutched her gut. It didn’t put her out, and Mary didn’t expect it to. Georgia struggled to free herself from the pain, struggled to bring her hands or foot or knee up against the Little Red Cheese, the girl whom she hated more than anyone else in the universe.
But she was not successful.
The Shazam girl clouted her again on the other side of the jaw, then followed it up with two more blows. Georgia was on the ropes now, or would have been if there had been a ring in space for them to fight in. Another blow, and then another. Only hate was keeping the bad girl awake now. She wouldn’t give in, not even while her enemy was pummeling her like a heavyweight champ. She wouldn’t...
Mary looked at her opponent, saw her bruised face, saw her glassy eyes, and held back her upraised fist in consideration.
She, too, had the wisdom of Solomon. Part of that wisdom included the workings of the human body, and what pressure points could be relied upon to do when touched in a certain way.
With a movement, she placed herself behind Georgia Sivana, and pressed down hard on two of those points, wrapping her legs about Georgia’s midsection to keep her in place. The bad girl struggled for a few moments, but for no more than that. Mary kept the hold on long enough to ensure that Georgia couldn’t be bluffing. The girl hung limp in her grasp.
She loosened her grasp and, taking Georgia by the waist, flew with her towards the surface of Venus. She wondered if Junior and Cap were still there, or if they were on their way to Earth to fight the menaces the Sivanas had sneered to them about.
Junior and Cap. One way or the other, they’d have to have this out. Even if it meant going to the Old Man, and having him take her powers away. And Freddy’s too, if he’d agree to it.
She didn’t want to do it. God knew, she loved being Mary Marvel. But she loved Freddy more than that, and could only hope he loved her enough, as well. She thought he did.
And she knew Billy would always want to be Captain Marvel.
That is, provided they all came through this thing alive.
Ibis had to create a small pocket of atmosphere surrounded by a force-field, within which he could speak his commands. In space, not even an Ibistick could heed him without it.
Trug was sending great flares of solar plasma to batter at his shield, and he feared it would give way soon. The Egyptian was nerved, and a bit disgusted. To think that a second-rate sorceror like this, one whom he had bested time and again in the past decade, could gain power enough to overwhelm him just by the power of some little disk that drew on the power of the sun. Absurd, yes. To think that after 2,000 years...
He stopped in mid-thought. Not that he could have believed that possible, but he did.
The power of the sun. Yes.
Ibis lifted his wand even as the malevolent mage formed a solar fireball between his hands that would sunder the force-bubble entirely when it struck. A grin of savagery was on Trug’s face. At last, a deed which he had pursued since 1940 would be consummated. Ibis would, at last, die.
“Ibistick! Deny to him the power of the sun!”
Between Trug’s hands, his great fireball fizzled out.
That wasn’t the worst thing. Suddenly, he was unable to survive in vacuum. Or to deny the cold. Or to keep what was within his body from trying to surge out of him, and expanding him, and...
“Ibistick! Draw Trug within the force-bubble!”
With invisible force, the wand of ancient Egypt laid hold of the villain and quickly tractored him within the walls of Ibis’s air-filled globe. Trug sucked in air gratefully. He felt the warmth and air pressure and knew what it was like to escape from hell into heaven. It was just that hell was cold, rather than hot.
Then he looked up at Ibis and considered his situation. Trug sprang up, grasping for the wand.
Ibis smacked him down with his free fist. “Now, remain there,” he said. “The Ibistick would not work for the likes of you.”
Rubbing his jaw, Trug did what he was told.
“Ibistick, return us to Venus,” said Ibis.
The force-bubble containing the two sped back towards the alien globe beneath them. One battle, at least, was won.
Ibis knew full well it was only one of many.
Captain Marvel tried to make use of the many martial arts tactics to which his wisdom power gave him access. Against Ibac, they made some headway, but not enough. The monstrous mauler simply bulled ahead with fists, elbows, knees, and feet, smashing away with a power that the hero could not equal.
Marvel’s face showed the bruises of the encounter. Never before had he been in so brutal a fight, even when he faced Ibac as an equal. Ibac had collected a black eye himself, but it was hardly slowing him down. All Captain Marvel could do was fight for time, and that, he feared, was quickly running out. Even the invulnerability of Achilles was of no use against a foe of this much force.
Ibac’s hands reached out for him and he grasped them both, holding them back. The two tumbled over and over in space, straining in a test of strength that Marvel knew he was bound to lose. But while he still had time, he would fight. Nothing less would do...
<My son, can you hear me?>
A voice in his mind. The only voice to whom Captain Marvel deferred, and at such a crucial time. While his arms trembled with the effort of holding back Ibac, Marvel marshaled his thoughts and sent back: <I hear, Master. But I do battle with Ibac.>
<This I know, my son,> came the sending of Shazam, and with it came the mental image of the bearded old man on his throne, a ghost in a subway tunnel or on the Rock of Eternity. <And I am here to help.>
Marvel’s sweat dripped in globules into the void, and the leering face of Ibac inched ever nearer. He wondered if Ibac would try to tear out his throat with those misshapen teeth of his, and wondered if he could do it. <I’m all ears, Master,> he sent. <How can you help?>
<Not I, but you,> telepathed old Shazam. <I cannot appeal to Apollo, but you can. Your enemy’s newfound power stems from the sun. You must ask Apollo to deny it to him. You must ask him now!>
<Good idea,> thought Marvel. <Are you–are you in contact with him?>
<Yes,> thought Shazam. <He is listening.>
<Okay then,> thought the hero. <If you’re out there, Apollo...stop the sun-power from going into Ibac. Stop it now!>
Another mental voice came to him. One which superseded that of Shazam, one which was not counted among his chart of power-givers, but which was an ally nonetheless. <It is done.>
Captain Marvel sighed and, involuntarily, relaxed. The big bruiser would be easy to handle, now. He could take him.
Ibac’s hands went to his throat and began to squeeze.
Marvel’s right fist shot out and smashed Ibac in the eye, paining him enough to loosen his grip. He broke free and flew away, gaining distance. <He’s not weakened yet!>, he frantically told Shazam.
<My son...>, Shazam replied with a tone of regret, <the power of the sun takes several minutes to reach you. If you can survive five more minutes, your foe will lose his advantage.>
<Five minutes,> Shazam sent.
Ibac was already lessening the distance between them. It would be impossible to keep him away for five minutes.
Looking at him, Captain Marvel knew that he possessed, at that moment, seven powers. The wisdom of Solomon. The strength of Hercules. The stamina of Atlas. The power of Zeus. The invulnerability of Achilles. The speed of Mercury.
And the anger of Billy Batson.
With a great unheard roar, the World’s Mightiest Mortal sped his 200-pound-plus bulk at the enemy, pouring on the speed and acceleration as fast as he could manage. Ibac did the same. Both were on a collision course, and the impact would have reduced a mountain range to dust.
Except that, several hundred yards before impact, Marvel changed his course by a hair, stuck his left arm out perpendicular to his body, and continued on, catching Ibac under the chin, pinwheeling him around his arm for three complete turns, and leaving him gasping in pain from the clothesline.
Without letting up, Captain Marvel hurtled up and came down hard on Ibac’s back and head with his feet. He went to the side and slammed a savate kick into Ibac’s maw, almost knocking one of his front teeth out. He elbowed Ibac hard in the side of the head and was gratified that, even though it hurt him, it hurt Ibac, too.
Ibac tried to punch his foe anew. Marvel ducked the blow and came up with an uppercut. The big hulk’s jaw felt like steel, but even steel could be dented. Captain Marvel hauled off and rammed a punch into Ibac’s solar plexus, then pulled back to avoid his foe’s grasp.
Ibac looked upon him with real hatred now, born of pain. Marvel was certain that his foe would hold back at nothing short of death. But if that was how it had to end...he’d make sure the World’s Mightiest Thug would carry the marks of this battle forever.
As Ibac closed in, Marvel slammed a blow to his throat. Ibac grimaced in pain, but managed to get a hold on Marvel’s arm, and then on his face. The hero tried to push the villain’s paw away, but couldn’t make a go of it. Ibac began to squeeze.
He kept squeezing, focusing on crushing Marvel’s face as though it were an orange.
The problem was, it wasn’t being squeezed.
As surprised as Ibac, Captain Marvel grasped his foe’s wrist anew, and, with an effort, pushed him back.
Ibac was stunned. The power couldn’t have left him that quickly. There was no way that Fate would cheat him again. Not with victory so close. Not when he could have broken Marvel like a toy doll...
He shook with anger. He still had power enough to handle this hero. Ibac pulled the disk out of his trunks and crushed it contemptuously in one hand. What Sivana’s crazy science couldn’t provide, Ibac’s good right arm would manage.
He held that thought even as Captain Marvel rocketed forward, one arm cocked back, and smashed into his face with enough megatonnage to dwarf a current nuclear weapon.
Ibac’s eyes crossed and he drifted peacefully in the void.
It took Captain Marvel a few moments to decrease his speed and pull back to Ibac’s locale, but he managed it. His fist hurt, as if he’d actually managed to break a knuckle. His body hurt where Ibac had punched, kicked, and gouged him. He had to be looking like Hades from the fight.
He had hardly felt better in all his life.
Grasping Ibac under the chin, he accelerated back towards Venus. It would take him a few minutes to get there, and the big lunk he was towing would have to be left there. Then he’d have to find Mary and Junior and head for Earth with them as fast as their Mercurial speed would take them.
A nagging thought worked at him that either Mary, Junior, or both would not be there for him when he reached Venus. Another one persisted that there might not be much left to save of America when they made it to Earth.
He banished both thoughts, as much as he could, and kept going.
“It’s simple,” said Dudley Batson. “You say your words, the Billys say, ‘Sha–“...well, you know...and there’ll be four of you to deal with those two monsters. Even with that new power you’ve said they have, that ought to be enough.”
“Yeah, we’ve tried sayin’ ‘Shazam’ all together ourselves, and it don’t work,” allowed Tall Billy.
“Gotta have one of you around so we can draw on your power, together,” said Fat Billy.
“So let’s get to it, and do it, before Mister Metal Hands up there and his Commie partner can do us,” put in Hill Billy Batson.
“Well, I’ll give it a try,” said Junior. “You going to sit this one out, Unk?”
Dudley blustered as much as possible, under the circumstances. “Actually, Junior, if all goes well I’ll be up there trading punches with the best of you. But I’m afraid my Shazambago is still kicking in, so I’ll probably only be able to cheer you on from the sidelines.”
“Assuming there is a sidelines,” said Junior. A large shadow abruptly fell over all of them. The smell of metal and the horrific creak of giant fingers reaching for them all...
Looking up at the hand of Mr. Atom, the World’s Mightiest Boy said, “Captain Marvel,” even as the three Billys harmonized on “Shazam!”
The thunderbolt of Zeus somehow reached around the fingers, split four ways, and transformed the Blue Boy Bolt back into a hobbled teenager leaning on a crutch.
But the Three Lieutenant Marvels were there to push Mr. Atom’s hand back, up, and away.
Uncle Dudley had, with practiced effort, doffed his clothes and stood in his Uncle Marvel suit. “See, Freddy?” he grinned. “What’d I tell you?”
“Captain Marvel,” was Freddy Freeman’s only reply. The bolt struck anew, and Captain Marvel Junior was once again a going concern.
The Red Crusher was apoplectic. Three more Marvels? Even the Politburo had never told him of this! He swung his great mace towards the flying men, hoping to knock them out of the sky, as he had the boy in blue.
If he had managed to make contact, he possibly would have done just that. But Hill Billy and Fat Billy swerved around the descending ball, and hurtled towards the giant’s face with such speed that the Crusher couldn’t even track them.
By the time his mace had impacted on the Earth, his fingers had already let go of its chain. The blows of the two Lieutenants knocked him backward, knocked him out, knocked him...down.
“Timber!” hollered Hill Billy. The giant toppled, bashing against the art deco side of a remaining skyscraper. He slid down its front, his huge cap snagging on a flagpole and remaining twenty stories up. When he came to rest, the Red Crusher was senseless.
Junior and Tall Billy hadn’t made out as well with the rampaging robot. Mr. Atom’s radioactive blast caught them and smashed them to the Earth. The two heroes struggled up, the stinging of the lethal energies affecting even them. Atom’s foot descended, bent on crushing them into the dirt.
“Oh...”, said Uncle Marvel, who knew of nothing else to say.
Fat and Hill Marvel smashed into Atom’s ankle from the side, driving the foot away and causing Mr. Atom to topple to one knee with a resounding smash. Several cars were squashed to scrap beneath him, and the street’s paving material fared worse. The two flying men snatched up Junior and Tall Marvel and bore them a block away. “You all right, guys?” asked Fat Marvel.
“We’ll live,” said Junior. “But we may need to be decontaminated afterwards. Guys, one of us can’t take that monster down. Maybe even two of us can’t handle it. But four of us, at one time–think that’ll be the ticket?”
“It’ll have to be,” said Tall, grimly. “We hit the thing at the same point, as hard as we can?”
“You’ve got it,” said Junior. “Right where his head meets his chest. On three, guys...one...two...THREE!”
Atom had wrenched himself to his feet and was preparing to blast the heroes again. But even his automated reactions weren’t equal to theirs.
A flying wedge of power, harder than any substance mined on Earth, struck Mr. Atom at one of his most vulnerable points. Not far under his horrific mouth, Captain Marvel, Jr., Hill Marvel, Tall Marvel, and Fat Marvel smashed into him with all their strength.
As Junior had said, one would not have sufficed. Two possibly would not have been enough.
But, given the power of four, there was only one outcome for Mr. Atom.
His head was torn from his great robotic body and flew away, coming down in a public park and smashing a Civil War general’s iron statue to pieces. The body smashed down a building, which almost smashed down another, before the four heroes could get beneath it and prop it back up. There was no way they could stand it up again on its cracked foundation. So, regretfully, they let the remainder of the structure crumble over Mr. Atom’s gleaming chest.
With all of its tonnage, it didn’t manage to dent the metal.
Uncle Marvel ran out of hiding. “You did it, lads! You really, really did it! I don’t believe it, and me, I’ve seen it all in my time, well, seen Black Adam and the Sivanas and alien invasions and everything in between, but I’ve never seen anything quite like that!”
The four weary heroes, touching ground, individually smiled at him. Dudley rushed up to Junior, about to touch his arm in comradeship.
Then he hesitated, and hesitated a second more, and finally let his hand droop back to his side.
Junior looked curiously at him. “What’s the problem, Unk? We brought Robby the Robot down. We’ve beaten the Crusher. So why are you looking like you’ve swallowed a persimmon?”
“Yes, you did that,” said Dudley, ruefully. “You really did. But I...I did nothing. I wear the same costume as Captain Marvel, the same as three of you, and I...” Dudley hung his head, studying the street. “...did nothing.
“I’m only a fraud, Freddy. A fraud who plays Captain Marvel so that he can be part of...part of your family. I’ve never been anything, Freddy. Never been able to do anything much, except get in the way, and be rescued, and be...and be a silly old, doddering old fool. I’ve never, ever been able to be...” He drew in a great breath, and said the last two words almost in a whisper. “...a Marvel.”
Junior stood there, fists on his hips, for a long moment. Then he said, “Oh. Then I guess nobody was around to trick Black Adam into saying ‘Shazam’ when all of the rest of us were fighting him. That’s strange. I seem to remember four people fighting him, not just three.”
“I think you’ve got something there, Junior,” said Tall Marvel. “And maybe my ol’ memory’s playin’ tricks on me, but wasn’t it some guy who called us all up the other day and got all three of us together, and had us track these two giant freaks up here, and made us stay, even when the whole town’d been evacuated, just hopin’ that one of you would show up so we could say our word?”
“And, by golly, you did,” added Fat Marvel. “I think all three of us were so scared that we...well, I didn’t even think of food. That’s how scared I was. But there seemed to be this one guy with us, and I’d almost bet he was the scaredest of all of us. Seems to me that, even though he was, he wouldn’t think of cuttin’ and runnin’, even with those two walkin’ skyscrapers raising Cain over the whole city. Of course, I could be mistaken.”
“Sure could be,” said Hill Marvel. “But, by cracky, I seem to recall that little gal Mary talkin’ about an uncle she had, sayin’ that he was one of the bravest men she ever met. Because even though he didn’t seem to have as much power as her and Cap and Junior here, probably because of that ‘bago thing, he still fought beside the three of ‘em like a house afire. She said that, as far as she was concerned, he was as much a Marvel as anybody. And she said she loved him like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Oh,” said Junior, quietly but clearly, “I think I’d believe.”
“Of course,” Hill went on, “I could be wrong about hearing all that. If there ain’t really no Uncle Marvel, if’n Mary’s just tellin’ us a lie...”
“What?” Dudley Batson was on the Lieutenant Marvel in an instant, grabbing him by the shirtfront, his eyes ablaze. “Mary never lies! Mary’s incapable of lying! You take that back right now, you young whippersnapper, or I’ll...I’ll...”
“I take it back, Unk, I take it back, every word of it,” said Hill Marvel, feigning terror. “After all...even I wouldn’t want to tangle with Uncle Marvel, would I?”
“Sure wouldn’t,” said Tall Marvel, smiling. “I’d rather take on Mr. Atom again, with one hand roped behind me.”
“That goes double for me,” opined Fat Marvel. “Anybody tells me there isn’t a real Uncle Marvel, I’ll have him eatin’ dinner through a straw for a week afterward.”
“And when he heals up from that, I’ll take care of him for the next week,” said Junior. “So what about you, Unk? You have the floor. Or the street, as it was.”
Dudley Batson, gingerly, let go of Hill Marvel’s red shirt. Then he stood away, brushed off his costume, and harrumphed. “Well. That, ahem, that Shazambago of mine is a tricky sort of thing at times. Why, it can even affect the mind sometimes, youngsters. Make you say things you shouldn’t. Even make you think things that really couldn’t be so. Ahem. I’m sure you’ll be able to overlook whatever, ah, comments I may have made under its influence. You will, won’t you?”
“Don’t believe I heard any comments, Uncle,” Junior said. “I just remember you helping us bring down Mr. Atom. You remember that too, don’t you, Tall?”
“Absolutely,” said Tall Marvel. “Why, if it wasn’t for the five of us flyin’ up there and knockin’ off Mr. Atom’s head, we’d be lyin’ in the ruins ‘stead of him.”
“Couldn’t have done it with one, or two,” said Fat. “Maybe not even with three, or four. But with five...”
“...now, that’s the number it took, bubbas,” said Hill Marvel, and hoisted Uncle Dudley onto one of his shoulders. “This time, we rolled just what it took. A perfect five.”
Dudley couldn’t speak.
After another moment, Tall Marvel said, “I believe Unk got a bit of ‘bago around the eyes.”
“Couldn’t be anything less, Tall,” said Junior. “Couldn’t be anything less.”
Sivana seethed in anger. Even with the greatest plan of his life in motion, with the greatest gimmick he’d managed to invent, with the entire Big Cheese Family helpless, with all of it on television for the world to see...the blasted fool Marvel luck had done it again.
Luck. That was all it was. Just damnable, imbecile, moronic, unbelievable luck.
Well. There was nothing left to do now, except hope that another few gimmicks of his worked correctly. The Big Red Cheese was fighting Ibac. The Little Red Cheese was fighting Georgia, and she hoped it’d be a lesson to both of them. The Little Blue Cheese, well, who knew where he was? And Ibis was off somewhere else, leaving only that collection of idiots in union suits to deal with. No, to avoid.
He sat at the controls of his rocket ship, and, with a touch of an activator, stirred it to life. Were he a religious man, he might have prayed for his own luck to hold for the few minutes it took to build up power.
If he had, his prayers would have been answered. But he did not pray, so he only chalked up the detonation, the lift-off, and the escape from Venus to his own genius.
Within Sivana’s lair, the noise of the rocket engines drew the Squadron of Justice’s attention. Bulletman and Bulletgirl led the pack, taking to the air, followed by the gliding pair of Mister Midnight and Midnight Maid.
“Sivana,” said Bulletman, as the shining needle threaded through the air at a speed even he could not match. He and Bulletgirl followed for a few minutes, then gave up. It would take the Marvels to catch that one.
“Well, he got away,” announced Bulletman to the others, after touchdown. “But at least we have the others. And his kids.”
When they reentered Sivana’s compound, the heroes were met by an astonished Beautia and Magnificus. “He’s gone!” blurted the blonde woman.
“Who?” said Spy Smasher, feeling as though he’d know the answer before they told him. “Your father? We already saw his rocket take off.”
“No, Thad,” said Magnificus, his hands spread in astonishment. “My little brother. I mean, I saw him dissolve. I really saw it. He just vanished into thin air, from the shoes on up!”
“Dad wouldn’t kill him,” said Beautia. “Even if he’d messed up. He would never kill his son. Not even Mag.”
“What about the other bad guys?” said Minute Man. “Are they gone, too?”
“No, they’re still lying around like logs,” said Magnificus. “They’re still there. But my brother...”
Phantom Eagle went inside and assured himself that the Acrobat, the Black Rat, the Black Poet, the Weeper, Black Beauty, Illyria, and Sabbac were still in dreamland.
“Well, at least I’ve got something to show Radar when we get back,” he said.
Mary Marvel, plunging through the atmosphere of Venus with Georgia Sivana in tow, saw the rocket ascending towards space and didn’t have to waste guesses as to who was in it. She changed course and sped towards it.
Even as she did, she felt Georgia’s mass under her arm changing shape.
She looked down, and gaped in horror.
Georgia seemed to be literally dissolving, from the feet upward. It was as if her solid and liquid being turned into gas, or less than gas. The girl was there, and, within ten seconds, she was not there. It was impossible.
Except that, where the Sivanas were concerned, there was very little that was impossible.
Gritting her teeth, Mary flew towards Sivana’s rocket. The little man within would have the answers, and she’d twist his arm until she got them.
Before she could get to it, the rocket similarly faded from view, beginning with the tail section and its belching fuel-flame, all the way up to the nose. She was flying too fast to stop, but went through only vacuum and random hydrogen atoms where a spaceship had been seconds before.
Disgusted, Mary changed her course and flew towards Sivana’s headquarters. There was no telling what she’d find, but she guessed that there’d be something for her to do when she got there.
The force-bubble bearing Ibis and Trug touched the ground outside Sivana’s lair seconds before Mary Marvel pulled up for a landing. Seconds after that, Captain Marvel himself, looking as he’d been in a particularly nasty barfight. Reassuringly, Ibac was unconscious, under his arm.
“Looks like you got back with yours,” said Mary. “Welcome back, brother.”
“Thanks, sis,” said Marvel. “Where’s Georgia?”
“Wish I knew,” said Mary, smoothing her skirt. “She just evaporated out from under my arm like boiled water. I saw a rocket that Sivana just had to be in, but it faded away too.”
Marvel looked at her. “Invisibility?”
“No. I flew right thru where it would have been. It wasn’t an illusion, either. I could hear its jets. It’s another Sivana gizmo.”
“I think you’re right there, Mary.” He touched her chin. “Looks like she got you a few good ones.”
She smiled at him. “You should’ve seen the other girl. You don’t look so great yourself.”
“It was tough,” Marvel said. “Ibis!”
The magician came towards them and raised his hand in greeting. “You are victorious as well, Captain. As I surmise you are, Mary. What of your comrade?”
“I don’t know,” said Captain Marvel. “We have to get back to Earth immediately. Well, almost immediately. Mary, give me a hand here. We have to wake up Ibac.”
“Wake him up?” Mary was incredulous.
“That’s right. I’m not going to carry Ibac all the way back to Earth.” He held the bruiser in a full-nelson. “Go ahead, slap him.”
Tentatively, Mary slapped Ibac on the cheek. When it didn’t seem to work, she whacked him a bit harder. “Come on, you big lug, wake up,” she snapped. “My idiot brother wants you to.”
Ibis held tightly to his wand and said to Trug, “Make no move, if you wish to return to Earth in a waking state.” The black wizard sulked and said nothing.
Ibac finally shook his mohawked head and spluttered. “Wha’? Whassat? Where’m I?” He caught sight of Mary Marvel and curled his lip in anger. “You. Stop hittin’ me, blast it!”
Mary balled her fist. “Oh, when I start hitting you, you’ll notice it, believe me!”
Captain Marvel tightened his grip. “I want you to do something for me, Ibac. I want you to say your name.”
“Say my name?”
“That’s it. Say your name. Or you’ll have to face me...and Mary...and Ibis. And confidentially, without your disk...I don’t think you’re up to it.”
Ibac strained against the hero for an instant, but felt Captain Marvel’s arms holding him tight. He might have made a good showing against Mary, alone. But the both of them? With that wizard’s crazy wand to back them up?
The fight was already lost, and he knew it.
There was nothing left to say, except for one word.
“Ibac,” said Ibac.
A flash of green fire enveloped Captain Marvel and his foe for a few seconds. Mary involuntarily drew back. Ibis stepped forward, his wand at the ready. Trug looked on in wonder.
When the flames dissipated, Marvel was holding a little man in a street-sweeper’s uniform. He quickly released him. Stanley Printwhistle fell to his knees and one hand, looking about himself in amazement.
“Good Lord,” he gasped. “What have I gotten myself into this time?”
“Nothing, Stanley,” said Captain Marvel, helping him to his feet. “Provided you don’t say your word again. Ever. No matter who tells you to do it.”
“Oh, certainly not,” said Printwhistle. “You can depend on it, Captain Marvel. Oh, my.” He peered at the hero’s face. “Did I...did I really do that?”
“You did,” Marvel smiled. “You were a pretty tough customer this time, Stanley.”
“I’m sorry,” said Stanley, contritely.
“Apology accepted,” said Captain Marvel.
“Gods,” swore Trug, in exasperation.
A few minutes later, the five were joined by the rest of the Squadron of Justice and by the villains whom they hauled into the plastic-paved street before them. Sabbac was bound and gagged by restraints created by the Ibistick. Then the wizard bade all of them gather around him, lifted his wand, and spoke.
“Ibistick! Carry all of us back to Earth, where Mr. Atom and the Red Crusher are to be found!”
In their passing, a couple of giant frogs came out to investigate. The strange clan who peopled this section of their world and who often fought among themselves were too strong to be considered for meals. They were also too noisy to tolerate. Mostly, the frogs and the other beasts kept their distance.
Now, there appeared to be none of them left. Nothing but their smells, and their strange nest.
The giant frogs poked through the dwelling, in and out of the holes that had been knocked in it, and found nothing much they could eat. They abandoned it, but came back to it in later days as a place in which to lay eggs. Other beasts took their turn with it, and others after them.
The only sort of beasts that never came there again were the two-legged, strange-smelling kind.
And that was fine with all the animals of Venus.
A few seconds after saying the word “less,” Captain Marvel, Jr. saw a large, glowing oval-shape come into existence on the street before him, and readied his muscles for whatever threat might emerge from it. The Three Lieutenant Marvels did the same, and even Dudley took a fighting stance.
Then the shape faded, and a host of familiar folk were seen within. “Great guns,” exclaimed Junior. “You’re back!”
Captain Marvel stepped out of the transport-bubble’s event horizon and looked around. “Well,” he said, “I guess we got here late.”
Dudley grabbed his hand and wrung it. “Indeed you did, Captain, but I’m sure you had your own row to hoe, your own battles to, uh, battle, and all that. And let me tell you about how the five of us downed the metallic menace and its Communist comrade. Why, you should have seen us!”
Mary, beaming, drew Dudley away. “We can imagine, Uncle, we can imagine. You can tell us all about it in a bit.”
Uncle Marvel looked at her in concern. “Why, Mary, you’ve been hurt. Those scratches on your face! What have you gotten into?”
“A fight,” said Mary. “A really, really good fight. I’ll tell you about it later.”
“Very well, then,” he said. “We’ll all save our stories for later.”
Ibis approached the Red Crusher and said, “Ibistick! Restore this man to his normal size!”
“I’ve seen a lot, but if I see that,” said the Eagle, “I’ll start believing in the Tooth Fairy.”
In a few seconds, Mr. Scarlet turned to him and said, “Well?”
Mickey Malone shrugged. “Guess I’ll have to start leaving stuff under the pillows again. When I start losing ‘em, that is.”
It took six Marvels and the Ibistick almost two days to repair most of the damage to the city. There was much more that needed to be done, and they promised to attend to it. But even for them, there was only so much they could do at one time.
Radar welcomed the Squadron back with a noncomittal expression. After Phantom Eagle made their report, he wound up with, “So, how’d you think we did, chief?”
The man in the white trenchcoat nodded, slightly. “For a first assignment...that’ll do.”
“Oh, come on!” said Pinky. “We did–“
“Pinky,” said Mr. Scarlet gently. “As the man said...that’ll do.”
“All of you can consider yourselves part of the Squadron of Justice, until further notice,” said Radar. “And let’s hope the notice comes further enough down for you to rest up from this one.”
“Actually, sir, I’m kind of hesitant to join the Squadron at this time,” said Mr. Midnight. “The rest of you have established yourself as solo heroes already. I don’t feel legitimate only being part of a group. Not yet, anyway.”
“And why is that?” said Radar, laconically.
Midnight Maid answered, “Because we were part of another group, sir. Until recently.”
After a pause, Radar said, “Very well, then. But anytime you want to consider membership, call the White House, whoever’s in it at the time...and they’ll call me.”
“Thanks,” said Midnight. “Thanks to all of you. I’ll always consider you my friends. And if you need a hand, mine will always be open.”
“And mine,” put in Joyce.
Spy Smasher said, “I’ve known you before you put on the masks. It’s good seeing you again, and I hope this won’t be the last time. Take care, and say hello to the Captain for me.”
Chuck Ramsey looked a bit sad when he heard that. “I’m afraid,” he said, “you’ll have to do that yourself.” Then he left, Midnight Maid with him.
After another pause, Scarlet said to Radar, “My boy Pinky, here, won’t be able to pick up any further assignments, I’m afraid. He’s going to college soon, and all he’ll be fighting is final exams. But they should be tough enough.”
“My congratulations,” said Radar. “But I think you’ll want to be around for the next thing on our agenda. The president is going to have medals awarded to the Marvel Family, and then to us, at a ceremony in Fawcett City. I won’t be there, but as for the rest of you, I hope you’ll show up.”
Pinky’s head snapped up. “Oh, I’ll show up for that one. Count on it!”
And the grouping of heroes went their separate ways, for the next few days.
Billy Batson shared a booth at the lunch spot near Freddy Freeman’s newsstand with Freddy and Mary both. “You’re really determined to go through with this, then?”, he said, one hand fumbling with a ham and cheese sandwich.
Freddy nodded, resolutely. “Those are the alternatives, Billy. We’re going to ask the Old Man to let us age normally. If we can do it with the powers, that’s fine. If not...” He looked at Mary. “Some things are worth more than powers.”
She smiled back at him and held his hand.
“I’ll do everything I can to see if I can get him to let you stay with the Family,” Billy said. “But ultimately, it’s his decision, not mine. He’s the one who doles out the powers.” He paused. “What about your mother, Mary?”
Mary Batson Bromfield looked back at him, steadily. “She’ll just have to accept it, Billy. She’ll also have to find a place for Freddy in one of the companies she’s got voting power in.”
At that, Freddy looked glum. “I like running the newsstand. But Mary’s, well, used to a certain way of life.”
Billy looked at his glass of milk, then back at the two of them. “So you can do without powers, but not without money?”
She shot him a look of anger. “Billy, that was uncalled for!”
Freddy put his hand on her wrist. “No, honey. He’s got a point. We’re both making sacrifices here for what we want. And, in a way, I guess Billy’s making one of his own. Am I right, Bill?”
He looked back at them, solemnly. “You’ll both end up moving away and I’ll be on my own again.”
Quietly, Mary said, “Maybe. Maybe not. People have to do things, Billy, they have to make changes when they–“ She hesitated, catching herself, then went ahead and said it: “When they grow up.”
“I’ll help talk to him,” Billy said, at last. “We’ll all three talk to him. But we won’t do it until after the awards ceremony. The President expects all three of us to be there, and so do I.”
“We will, Billy,” Freddy assured him. “Mary and I will be there, for certain.”
“But right afterward, we’re going to see the Old Man,” said Mary. “We’ll smile for the cameras and everything, and we won’t make any announcements. We don’t want to ruin the day. But once it’s done, Billy, we’re going to the Rock, and we’re going to talk.”
Billy Batson looked at his plate. A large piece of his life was sliding out from under him. The two best friends he ever had, one of them his sister, both of whom had shared so many adventures with him, were going to marry and go away. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair.
After all, he was only a boy.
“Billy,” said Mary, softly. “You could do the same. If you asked for your aging back, you might even be able to get Cissie back. In a few years, you might be able to get–“
“No. No, no, no.”
“It’s all right, Billy,” said Freddy. “It’s all right.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Billy. “But I guess I’ll have to live with it. I guess both of me will have to live with it.” He edged out of the booth, taking the sandwich with him. “See you around.”
He paid for his meal at the counter, and then left.
Mary, after awhile, said to Freddy, “Do you think he can live with it, Fred? Do you think we can, too?”
Freddy sighed. “I guess we’ll have to, Mary. I guess all of us will have to.”
She gave him a kiss, but he still looked sad afterwards.
They got up, dropped some money at the cash register, and went out.
Somewhere in space, Dr. Sivana completed his medical examination of Thaddeus Sivana, Jr. “You’ll live,” he announced.
Thad, Jr. sat up. “That molecular reassembler thing of yours worked, Pop. Why can’t we use it on the Marvels?”
“Their bodies are too dense,” said Sivana. “Also the power drain is too hefty. Plus there’s the problem of making them wear a receiver, like the ones you wore. Or the one I had stationed around Mars, so we could teleport the rocket over here.” He paused. “A Sivana is always prepared. Remember that.”
“Oh, sure, Daddy,” retorted Georgia. “Like we were prepared for the Marvels to beat us on television, with the whole world watching. Like we were prepared for everything to mess up, and all of the Society but us in jail. Like we were–“
Sivana looked like a cornered snake. Georgia subsided. Gradually, he went back to his familiar mad scientist demeanor.
“The secret of success,” he said, “the secret of survival, is always to have a contingency plan. I have always planned for escape, always planned for a second strike. This rocket is ours. For, when the Big Cheeses and their friends show up in the town square of Fawcett City for their pitiful awards, we will be there, in the skies. We will activate the magnetic generator to draw them up into the element contained in the frontal section of this rocket. Then, with all of them rendered inert by it, we will simply jettison them into space and never see them again. And we can get back to the pressing business of conquering Earth.”
“Well,” said Georgia, “if we get to do that, maybe we’ll still have some fun.”
“The element,” said Thad. “Have you finally dreamed up a name for it, Dad? Like, maybe, Thaddium?”
Sivana shot them a look of contempt. “I’ve called it Suspendium. And I assure you, it will even work on the Marvel Family. Let them have their medals, for all the good it’ll do them. Once they’re in Suspendium, that will be the end of the Marvel Family!”
“Unless something messes up again,” said Thad, “and it’ll be the end of the Sivana family.”
No one outside the confines of the rocket could hear the sound of the slap that followed.
Somehow, it seemed just as well.