Here There Be Monsters
Part 5: "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)"
The double boom of thunder outside heralded just what Mrs. Bromfield thought it would. "Billy and Freddy will be at the door," she said. "Go meet them, Jives. Tell them Mary can't play today."
Jives looked a bit nervous. "Ah, is that what Madame wishes? They've been friends of the Madame's daughter and of the Madame for years."
"And will go on being so, I'm sure," Mrs. Bromfield replied. "But I'd much rather young Freddy remembered that friendship has its limitations. Be a good sort and get on with it, Jives."
The butler walked off in the direction of the door. "Wait," she said. "Make sure that Mary knows my wishes as well. I don't want her running off with those two at the drop of a thunderbolt all the time. Two of them should be enough."
Jives wasn't sure he understood all of the Madame's references, but he merely said, "Yes, Madame. As you wish," and went off to do it.
Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman were ringing the doorbell about the time Jives opened it. "Hello, Master Batson, Master Freeman," said Jives, who had learned all his British mannerisms from P. G. Wodehouse.
"That was fast," blinked Billy.
"Hi, Jives," said Freddy, holding something behind him. "We'd like to see Mary, if she's in."
The butler looked uncomfortable to them. "Regrettably, young sirs, I must inform you that, well, she is not exactly in today. Not exactly."
Billy shifted his position on the doorstep beside Freddy. "How exact is ‘not exactly,' Jives? We've been her friends for years, remember?"
"And your friend too," said Freddy. "Right?" He looked Jives right in the eye. Jives preferred to look at young Batson.
"Indeed, sirs. You may always count upon the friendship of myself. But the Madame has asked me to inform you that Mary, quote, ‘can't play today', unquote. Her exact words. So..."
"So," said Freddy. He looked like he was trying to do a slow burn and hide it all at the same time. "So, Jives, Mrs. Bromfield doesn't want her to see us. And vice versa."
"Oh, I wouldn't put it that way, not at all, Master Freeman, not at all," Jives said, attempting to calm the waters. "It's just that, well, the Madame wishes the friendship to stay friendly. Merely friendly. That is, if the young master undestands my meaning."
"I understand the heck out of it, Jives," said Freddy, sourly. "Give the Madame my warmest regards. Tell her now I know--" He stopped himself.
"Freddy," warned Billy.
Jives had to say it. "Yes?" he queried.
"Tell her now I know why she never remarried," said Freddy. "Come on, Billy, let's get out of here."
Billy looked after Freddy as he turned and walked away. He shot a troubled look back to Jives. "Uh, Jives, please don't tell her that. For all our sakes."
Jives nodded. "I won't. For all our sakes. Goodbye, Billy."
"So long, Jives," said Billy. He turned to run after Freddy, who was hiking it down the block.
Jives looked after them for a second and then closed the door. He had seen that, for some reason, young Freddy was carrying a dinner plate and fork behind his back. With any luck, they might get to Mary before he did. He walked towards the hall staircase which led to Mary Batson's bedroom.
He walked as slowly as could be reasonably expected.
Mary, snooping through a copy of a women's wear trade mag and making sketches in a pad of art paper, turned her head when she heard the rapping at her window.
Captain Marvel, Jr. was floating there, in all his blue-and-yellow glory. He had a plate in his hand. Captain Marvel, grinning, was floating beside him. She got up and opened the window. "What's up, you two? Come on in before somebody sees you."
"Might not be a good idea, Mary," said Cap.
"Jives is coming upstairs to tell you you'd better not go with us," Junior explained. "But he hasn't gotten there yet."
"What?" She looked astonished. "You mean that Mother doesn't..."
"Yeah," said Freddy. "But this is business, not pleasure. You coming?"
For answer, Mary said, "Shazam," in a quiet, ladylike voice.
Jives's knock on the door came about the time that the boom of localized thunder was heard through the door. He was sure Mrs. Bromfield must have heard it, too. "Miss Mary," he called. No answer. But the door wasn't locked.
He pushed it open and noted that the room was empty. The desk light was still on and Mary's drawing pencil was still placed on the paper which showed her variation of a current wardrobe wonder. Jives had to admit it looked as though she had talent.
The window was open and a gentle breeze blew the blue curtains away from it.
Sitting on the sill was the dinner plate and fork that young Freeman had been holding.
"Oh, dear," said Jives, as he took the plate and fork in hand. "Oh, dear me."
He'd have to tell the Madame that he'd been a little late. But perhaps he could wait until he gave this mealware a good washing.
Despite himself, and his premonitions about the Madame's reaction, he couldn't stifle a smile.
Ibac's booted feet touched the soil of Venus not far from the field where Georgia Sivana hung her scarecrows. Nobody was around. He stamped into the main compound some yards away and went into Sivana's big headquarters building. The double doors opened automatically for him and the robot guards did not fire. The big boss and some of the others were in the main meeting room. As he confronted them, a big, ugly grin split his face.
"It's done," he said. "And it works. I can feel it."
"You can?" The bald scientist looked up at him, peering through his thick glasses. "I can measure your strength scientifically, you know."
"Don't gotta measure it scientifically," said Ibac, proudly. "I can feel it. All over me. More power." He flexed his muscles, already awesome in size, not visibly bigger. But his mien indicated to Sivana and the rest that the operation had indeed been successful.
"Just so," said Sivana. He took a box from underneath his seat at the big table at which the others sat with him. Placing it on the tabletop, he fished inside it, came up with a black disk. He flipped it to one of their number. "Here. Black Beauty. Try it on. Tell me what it feels like."
Black Beauty, who had gotten so tired of horse-book jokes she once shot a guy in the leg over it, caught the disk. It seemed to pulse power, even through her black gloves. She drew in a breath. It was almost...well, almost sexual.
"Don't just sit there with it in your hand," snapped Sivana. "Put it against your body."
She shot him a nasty look. Black Beauty had been an old foe of Captain Marvel's who used her feminine wiles and seductive body to get her farther than male strength would have. Her dress was cut low in front. Deliberately, she poked the disc among her cleavage, giving the old poop a sight of what he'd never get, and then moved her hand away to manipulate the disk till it adhered to her skin just below the diaphragm.
Her eyes went wide. The feel of power...she had never, ever before had any kind of physical power.
Without conscious volition, Black Beauty's hands gripped the hard wood of the table edge and broke it off. "Wow," she said, looking at the fragments in her hands. "Wow."
"Wow indeed," said Sivana. "Come on, boys, there's one for everybody."
Trug, Sabbac, the Weeper, the Black Rat, Illyria, and all the rest hollered their approval and demanded the use of the box. "One apiece!" called Sivana. The box was passed quickly down the line, greedy hands reaching within, pulling out discs, putting them against flesh.
Georgia Sivana, in her white blouse, pleated black skirt, glasses, bobby sox and saddle shoes, appeared at her father's elbow. "Daddy," she said. "You did say everybody."
"Dad-dy!" She looked hurt, standing on one foot, then the next, holding her gun forlornly and pointing it at the floor.
"Georgia, I said no," he replied, sternly. "I want the others to try their luck against the Cheeses first. If they're successful, there should be enough left for you. I don't want to risk you and Junior at this time."
"Oh, gee," simpered Georgia. "With my luck they'll go and kill Mary, and I won't ever get a chance to do anything to her. It's not fair, Daddy, it's just not fair."
Sivana was conscious of the presence of the others at the table. They were watching the two of them. He was not pleased.
He stuck out his hand. "Give it here."
"Oh, Daddy, dammit, don't make me do that!"
"Give it here. Now."
Cursing under her breath, she stretched out the gun towards him. "Take your finger off the trigger, young lady," he said. She did. He grasped the gun by the barrel and took it away from her.
"Thanks to your behavior, especially before my associates, you will not see this weapon for an entire week," said Sivana. "Furthermore, you are forbidden to hold or fire the weapons of anyone else in this compound. If I catch you violating my orders, young lady, I'll take a switch to your backside and you will not smell gunpowder for a month. Is that clear?"
She was sniffling.
"Is that clear?" demanded Sivana, his face turning red.
"Yes, Daddy," said Georgia, looking at the floor.
"Now go to your room," said Sivana. Georgia, not looking at him, shuffled out of the room. He heard her steps quickening to a run once she was out of sight.
The Acrobat looked up. "Gee, Boss, aren't you being a little hard on her?"
Sivana looked at him coldly. "I do not raise my children by the Spock book. If she cannot obey my orders, I'll have someone else entirely kill Mary Marvel. And I may even make her watch."
Shrugging, the Acrobat said, "She's your kid. I guess, spare the rod and...well, she doesn't get her rod back."
The rest went back to digging in the box.
Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel, Jr. flew side-by-side over the fields on the outskirts of Fawcett City, piercing clouds, then shooting up a thousand feet when it appeared that their static electric charges might cause a thunderbolt to appear. That could be quite disturbing, in their present state.
But there was nothing they liked better to do than fly. So they usually chose to do so while they talked.
"So a lot of our old waltzing partners are out of jail," said Mary, matter-of-factly. "Big deal. Hardly any of ‘em pose a threat to us, when you get right down to it."
"Don't be so sure, Mary," warned Cap, looking at her sternly. "Remember, most of our foes have been normal human beings, and they've given us difficulties just by putting their brains to work."
"Especially Sivana and Kids, Incorporated," said Junior. "But all those creeps together reminds me of something else, Cap. Remember that outfit you tackled towards the end of the War?"
Captain Marvel looked at Junior, considering the notion. "The Monster Society of Evil. Yes, there are some similarities. But there are differences. The old Society was made up of a lot of aliens, plus a few Earth villains whom I got out of the way early on. Even Hitler was in league with them. Now Hitler's dead, Mr. Mind's dead, and I don't think any aliens are among this bunch, though I'm not sure. Plus there are other escaped villains that we never faced."
Mary, irritated, said, "But it's not like we're the only game in town, brother. Who says these creeps are just after us? Also, who says they have to recruit just our old enemies? Sivana, or whoever's in control, might be after anybody who's ever fought a super-hero. Use that wisdom of Solomon for something other than figuring out who's going to win the Series, Cap."
"Thanks a lot, Mary," said Cap, a trifle acidly. "But Radar may have something. As I said, he seems to be trying to put together a team of heroes to act as a counterforce. Still, if they've got types like Mr. Atom and the Crusher on their side, I think they'll need a little more than Spy Smasher to equal the odds."
Junior flew in front of Mary Marvel and stayed there, pacing her. He looked into her eyes. "Mary, I want to talk."
"Go ahead," she said. She brought herself to a standing halt and hovered, over a thousand feet above the ground. Junior halted himself, too, flew back to her, and hovered before her. He took her hands.
"Mary, we can't stop seeing each other," he said. "No matter what your mother thinks of it."
"I know," she said, caressing his hands with her own. "I don't know how to talk to her about it, Freddy. You don't know her as well as I do. She's not mean, she's just trying to do what she, what she..."
"What she thinks is the right thing," said Junior.
"Yeah," said Mary, a trifle helplessly.
"Now, just a moment, Freddy," said Captain Marvel, pulling up beside them both. "Mrs. Bromfield is Mary's adoptive mother. She does have some authority over her. And..."
"Cap," said Junior, softly, "butt out."
The World's Mightiest Mortal stood there with his jaw hanging down.
Mary looked at him, gently. "Bill, will you leave us for a few minutes? We just need to talk together."
"Oh. Great. Talk," said Captain Marvel, after a few moments. "Sure. Talk while the whole world's in danger from Sivana and his bunch. Like he hasn't threatened the whole world a thousand times, with and without his pair of kids, and without a bunch of bad guys. Sure. Talk about the important things. Uh huh."
For the first time that he could remember, Cap saw a look of hostility on Junior's face.
Mary looked at Junior and said, "Don't, Freddy." He seemed to tamp whatever it was down within him, but only to a degree. She turned to Cap. "Billy, please, go ahead. We'll catch up to you in a few minutes. Honest."
Captain Marvel looked at them both. He sighed. "There's one place I want to try. Don't worry, if I need help I'll come back and get you. Tell your mother hi for me, Mary." He turned and began to fly off.
"Billy, wait," called Mary. But her brother did not turn around.
The World's Mightiest Girl turned to the World's Mightiest Boy. Both stared deeply at each other and tried to find something to say.
But there really wasn't much left to talk about.
So they fell into each other's arms and kissed, long and hard, while the Earth, the clouds, and over a thousand feet of sky turned beneath them.
And they didn't pay any of it the slightest bit of heed.
In a room on the Rock of Eternity, the old wizard sat, and stared at a conjuring of Earth.
The image of the world on which he had been born hung in a flickering vision-screen before him, the stone wall of his cottage visible beyond it. He had a palace elsewhere on the Rock, but this place just seemed homier to him.
Old Shazam's forefinger flickered out, bringing various parts of the globe into closer focus. The viewpoint zoomed in, as if held by a cameraman with a powerful lens. He homed in on the presences of the three he knew and loved best.
The largest one, the one to whom he had first given powers and those in an adult body, was breaking away from the other two. His face reflected the sullenness of his spirit. Now, that was not such a good thing. True, even the best of friends sometimes had anger spats, but if the three of them ever had a permanent falling out, or even a lengthy one, the consequences to the world--to the very universe--could be terrible.
Perhaps he was overreacting. It was hard to say.
He considered tuning in on their thoughts, but did not like to do that often. It made him feel rude. Nonetheless, he sneaked into Captain Marvel's mind as the adult youth flew away from his two partners. He found it an adolescent stew, as he had expected. For all his Wisdom of Solomon, Captain Marvel was still very much a boy.
He appeared to be feeling more of a boy than usual that day.
Shazam sampled a bit of Billy Batson's conflicted nature. He learned of the youth's reaction to Cissie Summerly's announcement, of the business with Mrs. Bromfield, and, finally, of the incident just past with Junior and Mary.
Shazam also learned something of their suspicions regarding Sivana, whom he had met more than once in the last fourteen years. The news of the world's wickedest scientist organizing a team of wrongdoers should have spurred them all into action. They should all be heading for the place Captain Marvel had in his thoughts. Instead, he was going alone.
Perhaps his might would be sufficient. At least, Shazam prayed that it might.
Eons past, Shazam himself had wielded the power of the ancient gods, as a super-hero--the first such being on Earth. Then he had asked for the gift of aging, and been given it, though he aged at a much reduced rate compared to normal men. Even so, he had seemed old when he bequeathed his powers in ancient times to Teth-Adam, which was a great mistake. Then, millenia later, he gave those powers to the three youths, which was anything but a mistake.
He was old by that time. In fact, shortly after he bequeathed the Marvel powers to Billy Batson, he had died. Technically. Crushed to powder by a giant granite block falling upon his aged, body body, pulverizing it in an instant. Shazam existed as a spirit-body here, with a physicality all its own, so long as he wore the Shazamium metal bracelet upon his wrist. Without it, he would fade into random ectoplasm, and probably dissipate. Or perhaps he would fade into another realm of existence altogether.
Shazam did not know, and did not care to know. Not just yet.
Now his gaze turned to Mary and Junior, and he did not need to tap their thoughts. Their tale was told all too well by the looks they gave each other, by the gestures, the caresses, and, finally, by the embrace and kiss.
He had feared this, yet anticipated it.
Mary and Junior were in love.
If only they had all been blood kin. Then none of them would have approached the other, their morality being as high as his own. But Mary was not related to Freddy, and Freddy was worthy of her love.
There lie the problem.
The universe needed its protectors. It needed the three of them, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and Mary Marvel, all together to fight those who would plunge the cosmos into tyranny.
Yet, did not its protectors also have needs? Did they not also ask for love, and could the two of them be blamed if they wished to grant it to one another?
This was such a difficulty, and Shazam had wished that it had never arisen. Or that he had been gone before it arose. But such was not his lot, and he accepted it.
If Junior and Mary came to him, asked for the gift of aging, and would not be put off despite his most serious entreaties, then he would have to give it to them. They would grow older, physically. Mary could bear children without danger. It is possible her Mary Marvel self could safely give birth, possible even that Mary Batson could do so. But it was undetermined.
Captain Marvel, undoubtedly, would grow lonely. He might even break away from their partnership, unable to bear the happiness the two found, and be unwilling to soil their happiness with his sorrow and jealousy. This would be a very, very difficult thing for Shazam.
Still, there was the problem of Sivana. That would occupy their time for the moment. A good challenge would bring them together, and perhaps would keep the minds and hot blood of Mary and Junior focused on different matters.
Shazam chose to focus upon Captain Marvel, and regretted that he could not easily communicate with his protégé, unless, of course, the hero came to the Rock or lit the brazier in the old tunnel. The Captain appeared to be already in space.
The old wizard caught a last glimpse of Mary and Junior as the screen's focus shifted.
They were still kissing.
The craft carrying Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, Jr. and Magnificus had touched down about an hour ago. The two were the only ones within it. Sivana the Elder's warpdrive had brought the rocket to Venus from Earth in a matter of hours. Touchdown had been made in a landing field not far from the compound, and several of Sivana's henchmen had been there to tend the ship and see to the spacesuited pair within it. Junior stepped from the hatch onto the gantry elevator and unhooked his helmet. Two of his dad's goons went in and wheeled out the guerney-type affair to which a spacesuit-wearing Magnificus was bound by metal bands. He was trying to talk to them, frantically. But they couldn't hear him through the helmet, and they opted to leave it on. The elevator schussed down the distance between the level of the rocket hatch and the ground.
"What's going on now?" asked Sivana, Jr., his white helmet lodged under one arm.
The two Asians, Hashimoto and Mashita (nicknamed Hashi and Smashi by Mr. Mind, all those years ago), regarded him as they stood beside the prone Magnificus. Hashimoto said, "The work of your father progresses. The one called Ibac successfully placed the transmission dish within effective range of the sun. The disks have been tested and seem efficient."
"Neat," said the young mastermind. "Maybe then Pops'll let me hook onto one of those things and tear into Little Blue, like I've always wanted to."
Hashimoto and Mashita looked at each other. Then Mashita said, "Unfortunately, your father is reluctant to let you or your daughter partake of their power yet. He wishes to test their use through some of the others first."
Young Sivana's expression eroded from astonishment to anger. "Why, that old--! He can't do this to me! I'll burn up his long underwear! I'll put acid in his Burma Shave! I'll--I'll tear up his old Captain Marvel scrapbooks! Better yet, I won't let him look at my pictures of Irish McCalla anymore!"
It seemed to the youth that Hashi was suppressing a smile as he said, "Your sister expressed similar sentiments a short time ago, and lost the use of her favorite weapon. A cooler head and great discretion would be advised, young master. Also think upon the fact that, in time, your father likely will bequeath disks to you and your sister, and one to himself, as well."
But Thaddeus Jr. wasn't thinking about delayed gratification anymore. True, his seething had died to a slow burn, but he still was the picture of discontent. The elevator hit ground level, and the scion of Sivana strode ahead in his bulky suit, leaving Hashi and Smashi to bring up the rear with their horizontal burden.
"Dad ain't gonna spoil my fun," he muttered. "If he does, I'll take Magnificus and just--go on the other side of the planet. That'll show him."
He found his father in a monitor room, looking intently at a screen which had a view of space on it. "Dad," he said, "we've got to talk."
"Not now, son," rasped Sivana. "Come watch."
"Dad, I haven't got time to watch some crummy Tom Corbett show with you," complained Sivana, Jr. "This is important."
"Shut up and watch," said his elder. "This isn't a TV show. Ibac and Acrobat are in space. The big man's got a camera on his chest. That's where you're seeing these pictures from."
"In space? We just got back from there."
"I know," said Sivana, irritably. Then his expression brightened. "Look. See there?" His finger stabbed at a figure in the screen.
Junior looked closely at it, his eyes widening. "Captain Marvel," he said. "How'd you know he was coming?"
"Law of probability, youngster," said Sivana. "He was bound to learn we were in operation. We aren't on Earth. Where's the most logical place for us to have gone? Right here. Venus. Where we started from. My sentry satellites picked him up. I sent those two to intercept him. That's all."
Junior was startled by something he saw in the screen. "Who's that guy in the costume?"
"The Acrobat," said Sivana.
"But he doesn't have any powers. And he hit Captain Marvel. And--he knocked him backward."
"He didn't have any powers before today," he said. "I think you can tell how surprised the Big Red Cheese is, even from here. Just wait till Ibac gets a crack at him."
"Won't have to wait too long," said Junior, wonderingly. "Here he comes."
The two of them settled in for the show.
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