Here There Be Monsters
Part 6: "Meet With the Monsters"
It had been a good five years for Jim Barr and his wife Susan since they'd taken off the gravity helmets.
They'd finally gotten married instead of just "keeping company". Jim had continued as a police scientist, while Susan had borne a son and daughter and, with all that, gone to college and gotten a degree in education. As soon as Jim, Junior and Helen were a couple of years older, she was going into teaching full-time. Right now, she was just glad the problems of changing and teething were done, as was Jim. He was also thankful that he didn't have to get up at 2 a.m. anymore for feedings.
So the Barrs were settled into suburban life, happy with it, and content to leave their uniforms in the trunk.
But now Jimmy, their son, ran into the front room and hollered, "Mommy! Daddy! It's a ghost!"
Jim Barr folded his newspaper and Susan put down her paperback novel. "Where?", said Jim. "What kind of a ghost, Jimmy?"
Susan shot him a glance. They'd made a lot of enemies, but, as far as they knew, none of their foes had been aware of their secret identities. If one was--
"There! See him?" The 4-year-old boy pointed in the direction of the dining room. A man wearing a turban and a business suit stepped out of it, holding a golden wand in his hand.
"Greetings, Jim and Susan Barr," he said. "Sorry I had to make my entrance like this, but I felt it best to appear in person before you."
"Ibis," said Susan. "What are you doing here? It's been years. And why didn't you just phone?"
The magician smiled in his most ingratiating way. "A phone call does not have the immediacy of a face-to-face meeting, Susan. I and several others have been recruited to deal with a specific crisis. Too few of them have any sort of superhuman ability. We need all the heroes we can find. We are hoping that we can count your other selves among our number."
Jim Barr folded his arms. "Susan and I didn't exactly have super-powers. Just gravity helmets. They allowed us to fly, they repelled bullets, and that's it."
The female half of the Barr couple was comforting Jimmy. "It's all right, honey. He isn't a ghost, just a magician." To Ibis she said, "Well, we did gain some strength from Jim's hormone injection. But it didn't make us super-people, it just bulked Jim up and gave me strength enough to beat male crooks. You already knew that."
Ibis said, "True. But you also have experience in fighting supercriminals, and many of them have recently escaped imprisonment. Among their number are the Black Rat, the second Weeper, and several other of your foes. Those villains were specifically targeted for liberation from prison. They are your former responsibilities."
"Not any more." Jim Barr sat down in his easy chair, took a pipe from a small table beside it, and began to fill it with Sir Walter Raleigh. "We're married. We've got a kid to raise. Plus, the Marvel Family is still in operation. Any one of them could take out all our old waltzing partners with one punch. Sorry, Ibis, I can't go along."
Susan shot a concerned look at him. "But, Jim...what if the Marvel Family don't know about the Black Rat and all of those creeps being out? Or what if they're busy fighting the Sivanas or somebody?"
"Are you really a magician?" asked Jimmy, wonderingly. "Like Merlin and Blackstone the Magician Detective and all'a them?"
Ibis stepped forward and ruffled the boy's hair. "Yes, young one, I am. I operated a little before their time, though."
Jim Barr lit his pipe, waved out the match, dropped it on the table. "Sorry, Ibis, the answer is no. We just answer to the name of Barr now. No Bulletman or Bulletgirl anymore. And Jimmy, remember--you don't mention those names, or the visit from our magician friend here, to anyone. Got that?"
"Got it, Dad," murmured Jimmy, looking wonderingly at Ibis's golden wand.
The brown-haired beauty bit her lip and said, "Jim, I don't know?"
"You don't know what?" Barr glared at her. "In case you've forgotten, Susan, you're a wife and mother now. My wife, Jimmy's mother. We stopped wearing the helmets and costumes six years ago. I won't have you galvanting around--"
"You won't?" Susan's eyes blazed, and Jimmy didn't like seeing her like that. "Mr. Jim Barr, in case you've forgotten, I agreed to be your wife, not your bondservant. I'm also not employed full-time. If I want to put on the suit again, I'll damned well do it. If the guys we used to fight before are loose again, I think we have a responsibility to put them back."
Barr was on his feet. "The police have a responsibility to do that. So do the Feds. We don't get paid for it, Susan. We never did." He pointed the end of his pipe at Ibis. "And as for you, sir, coming in here and stirring things up like this--"
"Jim, that will be enough!" said Susan.
Ibis held up his hand. "Peace, Jim. I do not mean to be a divider. If you wish to demur, I will understand. However, several of our comrades also came from such circumstances as yours. They, too, were retired. They, too, often as not, have families and children. But they felt that the threat was too great to be ignored. At least, by those of us who are still able to do something about it."
Barr was silent for a moment. Then he said, "What sort of a threat are you talking about? The Black Rat, the Weeper, and all the rest were pretty localized menaces."
"I speak of others, such as the Red Crusher, Mr. Atom, possibly some of Mr. Mind's old Monster Society," said Ibis. "They have been liberated, along with the more human villains."
Jim and Susan considered his statement, soberly. Jim said, "You can't expect us to make much headway against those two villains."
"There are many others, Jim, who are more of our caliber," Ibis replied.
Finally, Jim Barr said, "Where and when do you need me?"
"Jim," said Susan.
Without looking at her, Jim said, "I'll take this thing on my own. Where and when?"
"No, you won't," said Susan. "We're still a team. I'll see if Jimmy can stay at my sister's."
Jimmy said, "Aw, Mom. I wanna see you and Dad fight bad guys."
"Not this time, you wouldn't, Jimmy," said Susan. "Not this time."
Ibis did not smile as he told the Barrs, who were once Bulletman and Bulletgirl, where to rezendevous with the Squadron of Justice.
Captain Marvel reeled back from the punches delivered by Ibac and the Acrobat. They actually hurt. That was incredible.
Ibac, certainly, had the power to injure him. He was about as close to a Shazam-powered being as his evil patron could make him. But he seemed more powerful this time. At least Cap's equal, seemingly...possibly more. The Acrobat had been no more than a human criminal, one of Captain Marvel, Jr.'s foes, who turned into a crazed killer beneath the full moon. Now, here he was, surviving unaided in outer space and trading punches with the World's Mightiest Mortal himself.
It was, thought Marvel, an uncanny situation. But two things were paramount: 1) he was being hit, and 2) he had to hit back. So he did.
Captain Marvel kicked out at Ibac's solar plexus, his yellow boot impacting hard against the villain's bare, steel-hard stomach. The bad man grunted with the impact, but not much more. Simultaneously, the hero blocked another blow from the Acrobat, then cracked him smartly on the cheek. His foe went flying backward, opening his mouth as if to cry out in pain, but nothing could be heard in the vacuum of space.
Well, thank Heaven for that much, anyway, Cap thought. Ibac was closing to grapple with him now. Cap got his knees up against the brute's hairy chest to keep from being bear-hugged. Ibac's uneven teeth were bared in a horrible grin. The warrior of Shazam decided to wipe it off his face.
He rocketed his mighty fist forward and slammed it into Ibac's mouth.
The villain's mohawked head ratcheted back. For a moment, Cap was sure he had done some damage, and sent his other fist forward to follow up on it. But Ibac's larger hand caught Marvel's fist, and held it firmly. Cap was astonished.
Ibac's lip was swelled a bit, but he was still grinning. Before Captain Marvel could react, his opponent had both mighty arms wrapped around his arms and chest, and was crushing him in a grip that held more power than he had ever had before.
More power, Cap was prepared to admit, than Marvel himself possessed.
Neither of them needed to breathe in space, but the force of the grip was itself taking a toll on the hero. He resisted its force, trying to expand his chest and arms beyond their confines, but could not do so. Captain Marvel closed his eyes in effort, straining to liberate himself from Ibac's cruel grip, but could not.
He tried to bring his knee up towards Ibac's stomach, but his nemesis had turned his hip towards Marvel to prevent that. Marvel couldn't secure a scissors grip about his foe in the position he held.
Abruptly, he felt a slamming blow to the side of his head. He shook his head to clear it, and saw the Acrobat, his nose dripping off globules of blood, smiling grimly and preparing to unleash another blow.
Cap kicked in his flight power and propelled them away, trying to shake Ibac loose, but it was of no use. The Acrobat grabbed hold of Marvel's head and stayed attached to both of them. Through it all, Ibac did not slacken his bear hug.
The grip was incredibly painful. Even against foes in his own power class, such as Z or Black Adam, Captain Marvel had never endured such agony. He refused to open his mouth for an unheard groan, but his teeth were bared and his sweat was globing off into the void. The veins were visible on his neck and forehead, and his flesh was reddened with the force of his resistance and pain.
It took awhile, but the result was inevitable.
Captain Marvel passed out. He hung limp in Ibac's grip.
The hulking villain continued to pressure him for several minutes, to make certain that his foe was not faking it. Finally, satisfied, he released him.
The World's Mightiest Mortal hung, motionless and unconscious, in the black vacuum. The Acrobat would have danced a jig, if there was any surface to dance it on. He aimed a kick at Marvel's head.
Ibac stopped him, grabbing him by the ankle. He gave the other villain a bit of a squeeze, enough to cause him pain, and the Acrobat refrained from trying to abuse the hero. Ibac was afraid that such a blow might rouse Marvel. And even though he outpowered him at this point, he still didn't fancy having to try to crush him again.
The bare-chested being grabbed the back of Captain Marvel's belt-sash in his right hand and, exerting his own flight-power, flew in the direction of Mars. The Acrobat hung on to Ibac's feet, hitching a ride, since his partner's speed surpassed his own.
The Acrobat considered the ache in his leg, and decided he didn't like his partner very much.
But that was a small thing, considering that he'd been given the chance to see the Big Red Cheese crushed into insensibility.
Maybe soon he'd get to see the same thing happen to the Little Blue Cheese. Some of the girls had dibs on Mary, but maybe he'd wangle the chance to watch.
And afterwards, if she was still alive, maybe he could get another kind of dibs on Mary.
After all, there were other things you could do with girls besides fight them.
Chase Yale had been trying to catch up with Senator McCarthy for an interview. It was tough enough to do so. The man was being blown out of the water by people like Ed Murrow and some of the Senate members who were finding the courage to stand up to him. Now that he was on the slide, of course. Chase wanted to make sure he kept sliding.
A small part of Chase felt a twinge of guilt. He didn't like Communists any better than McCarthy did...well, it was hard to gauge just how deeply Joe and his cronies hated them, that was for sure; it couldn't all be a put-up job...but the more he'd gotten to see the man in action, the less he liked him. Chase did love the new spirit of conservatism in the U.S. But he didn't want to see it fall into fascism.
He'd spent enough time fighting it in Europe, as a reporter and in costume.
Ibis appeared before him and Chase suddenly became slackjawed.
When the magician told him what he wanted, Chase Yale told him thanks, but no thanks. His days in a mask were long over, and he only fought bad guys as a TV newsman these days. No amount of arguing could convince him. So, Ibis had finally left a number where the group they were building could be reached. But Yale threw it in File 13, after the man with the wand did a fadeout.
Commando Yank was a thing of the past, and that's just where Chase wanted to leave him.
Captain Marvel, Jr., and Mary Marvel stood on sky, held each other, and looked into each other's eyes.
"I've got to say it again," muttered Junior. "I know I've said it before, a lot of times before, but--you know--"
"I love you, too, Freddy," said Mary, and buried her head against his neck.
He gently stroked her shoulders beneath the white of her cape and summoned all the courage of Achilles. "I want to make love to you," he whispered.
"I know. But we mustn't."
"We're not married. And the--the Old Man might take our powers away."
Junior sighed. "So we'll run away, elope, and let your Mom know afterward. Billy, too."
Mary wound her arms more tightly about his midsection, feeling the muscles of his back. "We could. But, Freddy, I don't...I don't like to go behind Mom's back about this. She's been good to me. I want to be upfront about it."
"Honey, going behind your Mom's back may be the only way we can do this thing."
She didn't say anything.
"Wish there weren't so many rules," said Junior, disgustedly.
"They're supposed to be good for us," said Mary. "Keep us from having kids out of wedlock and ruining our reputations. But sometimes...I wish there weren't so many rules, either." She turned her face towards him. "Do you think they'd want an Ingrid Bergman for a superheroine?"
Junior freed one hand and gently tweaked her nose. "I don't think I'd give a darn what they wanted." Then he looked down. "I suppose we've got to help Cap out on this case."
Her grip about him slackened a bit. "I think we will. Then we talk to Mother about this. Then what?"
He looked seriously at her. "Then we get married, and we tell Billy. And if the two of us have to break off from him...well, that may just have to be."
Mary disengaged from him. "He is my brother," she said.
"I know," said Freddy. "He's my best friend, too. But he isn't what you are to me."
"Me, neither," she replied. "So. Where do you think Cap has gone?"
Junior ran a hand through his unruly black hair. "He was headed for space. Let me kick in the old Wisdom of Solomon for a moment."
"I'll try the same," said Mary. Her powers came from a different set of gods and heroes, it was true, but they were virtual duplicates of the abilities given to Cap and Junior. But the wisdom power was like any of their other abilities: you had to put it into action to use it.
"He was headed into space," said Junior, a few seconds later. "Lots of our enemies have come from other worlds. But if we're talking Monster Society, that narrows it down a lot."
"Billy could have been going to Mr. Mind's homeworld," said Mary. "But I think he'd try a different planet first."
"Right. Sivana used to be based on Venus. Cap would probably check that place out first. Let's go."
The two heirs of Shazam pointed their arms above their heads and flew upwards, reaching the edge of the atmosphere, seeing day fade into the eternal night of Space, feeling the cold (which, for them, was bearable), sensing their lungs automatically shutting down as they entered vacuum. Their skins worked as pressure suits, preventing their superhuman blood from boiling into the void. Like Captain Marvel, they were the perfect astronauts.
It wouldn't be all that long before they reached Venus.
But Mary began to wonder if her mother had already discovered her abscence back home, and what she would say to her.
She also wondered if something unexpected had become of her brother. Of course, harming Captain Marvel was a tall order indeed.
But if anyone could accomplish that, Sivana was the man.
Ibis had one last stop to make. He did not know whether or not the hero he sought was still pursuing his solo battle against his hated enemy, which kept him and his own Squadron separate from the other heroes of his world, for the most part. But the man was worth a try.
Adam Albright received the wand-wielder in his den, wearing smoking jacket, pants, and slippers. Seated near him were Chuck Ramsey and Albright's wife, Joyce Ryan Albright. Both Joyce and Chuck looked to be in their late twenties or early thirties. Albright was well over fifty, and it showed, though he still had a powerful build.
Ibis finished his pitch. "Thus, this new civilization is once again threatened," he said. "In times past, through two wars and beyond, the world could always count on your assistance. Once again, we must beg your aid."
Albright gave him a tough smile. "For the first time, Prince, I find that I must decline."
Ibis looked a bit startled.
"Several reasons," the inventor went on. "First, I'm a generation older than your current crop of costumes, and most of them were already retired by the time you went after them. Second, I've fulfilled my primary mission. Ivan Shark is dead. The Secret Squadron is a thing of the past. So is Captain Midnight. Third, none of those escapees you mentioned are any of my old foes. No Storm Von Clouds, no Baron Togos. Fourth, you've already got enough people, plus the Marvel Family. For once in my life, Ibis, I'm going to settle back and let the others handle it. Give the others, especially Spy Smasher, my regards. But, for the twenty years or so I have left--I'm just going to be Adam Albright, the inventor."
"Of all the men in our profession, you have had the longest career," said Ibis. "Your expertise would be greatly appreciated."
Albright looked annoyed. "Look, Prince, even in the Army, when a soldier gets too old for active duty, they let him ride a desk. Captain Marvel and company have handled things well to this point. They can go on doing so. I have no interest in pursuing this conversation. You're welcome to stay for dinner, but the subject thus pursued is closed."
Chuck looked discomfited, but said nothing. Joyce cast a glance his way, and was ashamed. Even this late, he was overshadowed by her husband, just as he had been in all those days fighting Shark and other bad guys.
Ibis took a business card from his vest pocket and slapped it on the coffee table before him. "This is the number where you can reach us, should you care to change your decision. Farewell, Captain Albright."
"So long, Ibis," said Albright. "Next time, call first."
The man with the wand faded from sight, unnervingly.
Albright rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. "These guys won't ever let up on you," he complained. "Harry Truman wanted the same thing last month, and I turned him down, too. I'm going back to the shop. Coming, Joyce?"
"No, Adam," she said, tersely. "Got some stuff to take care of in town."
"Never mind." She turned her face away from her husband. He gave her a quizzical look.
Chuck finally spoke. "I might lend you a hand, Cap. Haven't got much more to do today."
Joyce made a motion with her hand, out of Albright's sight. Chuck Ramsey caught it, and knew its meaning. "On the other hand," he said, "I might just hitch a ride with Joyce."
Albright shrugged. "Suits me. But don't tell me you're having thoughts about that walking mummy's job offer."
"Wouldn't think of it," said Joyce. She got up and took Chuck's hand, and both left the room.
Once they were in the hall, with a closed door between them and Albright, Chuck hissed to her, "What's this all about? Are you keeping secrets from him, of all people?"
Joyce gave him a hard look. "You'd better believe I am," she said. "He's right about one thing. He is too old to play hero any more. But you're also too old to play Stepin Fetchit for him, too. And I'm not going to play Wifey if I don't feel like it." She led him down the hall to one of her rooms. Once inside, she shut the door and locked it. Chuck was feeling nerved, wondering if he shouldn't open the door again and sprint down the hallway to Adam's side. But he held himself in check.
"What are we here for?", he asked.
She looked back at him as she went to a closet. "Nothing immoral, I can assure you." She pushed the closet doors aside.
Joyce went into her spacious closet and dragged forth a medium-sized steamer trunk. It would have been heavy for most women to lug, but she managed it without too much effort. She looked at Chuck. "This has to be kept a secret from Adam. Or I won't show it to you. Can you do that?"
"Can't I trust you at least that much? After all we've been through together?"
She took a key from her purse, unlocked the trunk, and revealed what was inside.
Two costumes, similar to Captain Midnight's. One red, one blue, the latter with an unmistakably female cut to it. There were two sets of gimmicks, duplicating those employed by the Captain: the swing spring, the blackout bomb, the torch, and all the rest. Chuck gazed on the array in wonder.
"I've been busy on my own time," said Joyce. "You and Adam aren't the only ones who know how to tinker with machinery, and I doubt that either of you could have done up these costumes like I could. With or without you, I'm going to lend a hand to that group. What about you?"
Chuck reached for the red costume, held it up like a sacred object, stared back at her in wonder.
"If only...if only we really could," he said.
"We can. Well?"
After a pause, he said, "Where can I change?"
Ibis reported the latest developments to Radar and Mick Malone. The white-coated master spy took the news with a nod. "I figured that we wouldn't get all of them," he said. "But the ones we've got may be enough."
"So, we sit back and wait for them to get here tomorrow?" said Malone. "Should I send out for tea and cookies beforehand?"
Radar gave him an aggravated look. "At ease, Malone. We're still feeling our way here, and I'm trying to get things organized before a situation gets plopped in our laps."
Ibis said, "It is to be hoped that this war does not begin before we can reconvene. Unless it has already done so, and will catch us unawares. Well, gentlemen, I shall return on the morrow. Good evening." His Ibistick glowed as he said, "Ibistick, take me home." Then, once again, Ibis became transparent, and faded from sight.
"Wish I knew how to do that," mused Radar. "It'd save the nation a fortune in transport."
"So--that's all for today?", Malone asked, quietly.
"Yeah," said Radar. "Go home, catch some sleep, say hi to the wife for me, and hope that the world doesn't get taken over before we get up." Then he said, "Or if it does, that we can manage to do something about it."
Malone left first, secretly thrilled. Within 24 hours, he was going to be sharing space with Spy Smasher, Minute Man, Mr. Scarlet, and all the other big names.
Probably within 48, they'd all be in battle. He wondered if any of them would remember the Phantom Eagle.
Then he wondered if, after the battle, there would be a Phantom Eagle left to return from it.