Here There Be Monsters
Part 8: "Men Among the Monsters"
President Eisenhower didn't want to believe the reports.
As if the damned Reds weren't making enough trouble already, or organized crime, which Hoover never wanted to admit existed (where the hell had he been during the Kefauver hearings, for cripes' sake?), or those blamed troublesome Democrats who just wouldn't get with the program, or the this, or the that, now he had--what? Space aliens to worry about?
The Mount Palomar Observatory had just barely managed to record the passage of strange objects towards Venus from the general direction of Earth. At first he thought it was the Russians. But hell, even they weren't that far along in rockets. A lot further than the U.S., to be sure, dammit, but even they couldn't get that far yet.
Unfortunately, one independent operator could, and had, several times over. Thankfully, they had the Marvel Family to counter him. And wasn't there some poop about him being based on Venus?
That was maybe the problem. Mount Palomar had made another observation in the last 24 hours. Not only had things been going from Earth to Venus. This time, they observed some sort of craft coming from Venus to Earth.
At the rate it was travelling, they estimated it would reach the planet within another day's time.
Eisenhower sighed and picked up his phone. "Get me Moscow, first. And after I'm done with that, get me station WHIZ. That's a radio station. In Fawcett City. But get me the Premier first. NOW."
There they were, all of them, and to Mickey Malone they looked like kids at a Halloween party. All except for Radar, and in his white trenchcoat he looked like a bleached copy of Dick Tracy.
Mickey himself was wearing his Phantom Eagle outfit, so he couldn't do much mental sniping. There was Ibis, and his recruits Spy Smasher, Minute Man, Mr. Scarlet, Pinky, Bulletman, and Bulletgirl. Plus two new arrivals who had crashed the party and only gotten in by showing i.d.'s from the Secret Squadron.
They were wearing kind-of copies of Captain Midnight's uniform. Except the guy's was blue, with an eye-mask to round it out, and the girl's was, well, a girl's costume. At least it was red, like the original Cap's. He called himself Mister Midnight and she called herself Midnight Maid. They both had that flying webbing thing under their arms. Spy Smasher had shaken hands with both of them. He had known the Captain, briefly.
That made ten of them, and it was hard for them to fit into the single office. Radar'd had to send out for more chairs.
The introes had been made, and Radar was sitting on his desk now, addressing them. "What we know isn't nearly enough. A bunch of longjohn types, some of your old waltzing partners among them, have been sprung from jail. You know that already. The Marvel Family is apparently on the case. We haven't heard from them."
"What if they've wrapped it up already?" asked Minute Man. "Each one of them has more power in his or her pinky than the rest of us do, combined." He noticed Ibis looking at him when he said that.
Radar fixed the hero with his patented gaze, even though Minute Man gave it right back. "We'd know about it if they had. Take it from me. Here's what else I can tell you. Some sort of rocket craft have been making trips from Terra Firma to Venus lately. An observatory has confirmed this. Not to be spread outside this room. And here's another: Uncle Sam's gotten a bad case of butterfingers lately. Somebody took Mr. Atom."
There was a murmuring immediately in the room. All of the heroes knew about the towering, atomic-powered robot. Even Captain Marvel had a hard time in his encounters with Mr. Atom, and if he was on the loose, it would take far more than tricky crime-fighting gimmicks and bare fists to put him away. It'd take somebody on a plane with the Marvels, and not even Ibis was in that category.
"There's other rumors being passed around," said Radar. "Some say the Red Crusher's not where he should be anymore, but we don't know yet. I have learned from independent police reports that two people have been kidnapped within the last 48 hours. Their names are Beautia and Magnificus Sivana."
"The Sivanas," said Pinky. "Holy spit. And Venus. This is all beginning to make sense."
"Watch your language, youngster," admonished Mr. Scarlet. Chuck Ramsey, the self-styled Mr. Midnight, sighed, and Joyce put a gloved hand on his shoulder. She guessed it seemed too much like a replay of what the Old Man used to say to him.
"So what are we expected to do about this?" asked Bulletgirl. "After all, our gravity helmets are good, but I'm not built for space travel."
Ibis raised his wand. "Nor will that be necessary, Bulletgirl. After all, the Ibistick has the power of magic supreme. All I need do is say, ‘Ibistick! Transport myself and all those in this room with me, save Radar, to the surface of Venus, near Dr. Sivana's old hideout--'"
With a flash of light, like an old-time photographer's powder igniting, the nine of them were gone.
Radar couldn't suppress a start. The power of the magician was awesome, staggering. Only an ordinary guy in a turban, but he wielded the power of the gods, with that wand. Maybe, with him on their side, the free world--hell, the world as a whole--still had a chance.
The International Policeman checked the radio communicator in his pocket. It was still on, and would remain so. He had no idea how long it would take communications to travel from Venus, even if Ibis hyped them, or whether such transmissions could reach Earth at all.
But as long as there was a chance, he was going to be here for them, waiting for their call. Waiting for Ike's call, too.
Maybe he should call Ike, instead?
Nah. It felt more satisfying to have him make the call.
"--and we will be there."
As Ibis's words left his mouth, the nine of them felt the loamy soil of Venus below their feet. The heroes of Earth turned their heads and bodies and gaped at the scarlet-and-yellow-colored jungle around them like rubes come to New York for the first time.
"My God," said Chuck. "I thought I'd seen everything in my day, with the Captain. But nothing like this. Never like this."
Spy Smasher felt one of the red leaves of a plant growing nearby. "Certainly doesn't feel like anything on our world. Wouldn't really expect it to, of course."
Pinky whirled on the older man. "‘Wouldn't really expect it to?' ‘Wouldn't really expect it to?' Great holy blazes, Spy! This is...this is a whole alien planet! And we just...just stepped into it. Because Ibis said a few magic words, and...and..."
"Easy, Pink," said Scarlet, laying a hand on Pinky's arm.
Pinky knocked it away. "Don't, Brian. Just...don't. Not here. Not now."
Scarlet couldn't say anything. Whether from the awe of relocation to another world, or from the young man's defiance, none could tell. Probably not even him.
Susan Barr, the metal-helmeted Bulletgirl, was holding onto her husband's arm as the two of them walked over the vegetation-covered ground. "Jim," she said, gazing at the Venusian creeper ferns before them.
"It's okay, Susan," he said, trying to sound as if they'd just stepped onto a platform at Grand Central. "It's under control."
"Jim, nothing's under control. Not here," she said, emphatically. "This is something beyond our...our referents. Even beyond our experience, Jim. And we've seen so, so much in our time..."
They heard a great croaking noise to their left.
Bulletman saw the giant frog first, before it leaped towards them.
Somebody behind them cried out. Maybe it was Midnight, or Pinky, or even Minute Man, though Jim Barr doubted the latter. All he knew is that a huge, cold-skinned amphibian weighing more than he did had jumped on him and was bearing him down, wrapping a horribly slimy tongue about his face.
Susan hadn't screamed. He was proud of that.
With the thing's tongue still trying to cut off his air, Bulletman activated his gravity helmet and lifted both of them off of the ground. From a lurch he felt, he guessed that Susan had done the same thing and grabbed hold of the man-sized frog from the other side. Actually, of all the heroes save Isis, Bulletman was probably the least promising choice for lunch the monster could have made.
There was more to Bulletman than just the helmet that repulsed gravity and bullets. A serum he had devised and taken over a decade back had rebuilt his body in a day, giving him strength that was almost more than human. Susan had taken the same serum after becoming Bulletgirl. He just grabbed the thing's tongue with both hands and ripped its tongue away from his face, if not out of the frog's mouth.
He wiped some slobberslime out of his eyes and saw Susan holding onto it with one arm and a leg and battering its head with her other arm. "Nuts to that," he said, and, jackknifing down, grabbed both of its wriggling legs. Barr thought, despite himself, that most restaraunteurs he knew would have committed grand larceny to serve or even display a pair of frog's legs this big.
"Let go, Susan," he called out. She saw what he was about to do and complied. Before the Venusian frog could unleash its industrial-strength tongue again, Bulletman swung it about in a circle three-times rapidly in mid-air, then released it. The frog hurtled away, into the tree covering of the jungle, and Barr could have sworn he heard it croaking something that sounded like "Glommmp!" just before it crashed into some large palmlike fronds.
Susan clapped her blue-gloved hands. "Bravo, Jim. But I'm still not going to kiss you before you get the rest of that glop off of your face."
"Going to be a hell of a time shaving unless I do," he replied, scraping some of it off with his palm and shaking it over the treetops below.
Bulletgirl's expression changed. She was pointing to the north of him. "Look, Jim. Over there. It must be...what we're looking for."
The Flying Detective shaded his eyes with his unglopped palm. Not far distant at all, buildings of advanced but Earthian design. Plus a number of rockets, quite beyond what any Terran nation possessed. And, unmistakably, a few small human figures moving to and fro nearby them.
"Correct, Susan," he said. "What I'm wondering now is...if they're looking at us."
Georgia Sivana slapped Mary Marvel's face, hard. Then she grabbed her hand and yelped.
"The least she could have done," groaned Georgia, "is turn back to Mary Batson before I hit her. Ouch!"
Thaddeus Sivana, Jr. gave his sister a look of disdain through his coke-bottle glasses. He sniffed. "It's not as though she wasn't wearing the costume, you know. When she's a Marvel, she's simply too hard for you to hit. You don't see me taking a poke at Blue Boy over there, do you?"
Georgia was still massaging her hand. "You don't hate the Little Blue Cheese as much as I hate her. She's got looks and powers and a rich stepmother and a nice house and everything. And she wins, too. Every time, she wins."
"Maybe not this time," said Thad, folding his arms. "Got to admit, Dad's on the right track this time."
"Hmph," said Georgia. "Couldn't have done it without us."
"All we did so far was go to Earth and kidnap our brother and sister."
"We're moral support. And we're family. And don't let anyone tell you that doesn't still mean something, brother."
"I won't, sister," he said.
"If they do, tell me and I'll kill them."
Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Marvel were still apparently unconscious, and showing a few bruises from their fracas with Sivana's allies. The bruises, Georgia thought, were delicious. She'd never seen the Marvel Family's pretty faces messed up before. She just couldn't wait till she could plant a bruise of her own on Mary Marvel's face. She'd have it photographed. No, better yet, she'd have somebody do a painting of it, of her very own bruise, and hang it on her trophy wall. That'd be something to tell her children about. Her great-grandchildren, too.
After all, she was going to have to have a family. In twenty years, the Marvels were going to be ancient history, and she'd have to pass the story of how the family destroyed them on to another generation. And a generation after that, too. Hollywood would probably get it all wrong.
The two lesser Cheeses were in Marvelium shackles upon Marvelium tables under stasis beams, within the same room as the Big Red Cheese, though a good distance away from him and each other. The room itself was as big as an airplane hangar, but much more sturdily constructed. Outside of the trio of Marvels, the two Sivana children were the only persons there.
"If only Mag and Beau were here," said Georgia, the pain almost out of her hand by now. "It would be so, so inspiring to see their faces when they saw the little Cheeses."
Thad smiled. "They looked sad enough when they saw Big Red here. Daddy doesn't want them out of their cells any more than they have to be. After all, look how many times the Cheeses have escaped from us over the years."
"Oh, but not this time, brother," she said, walking over to Mary again and pinching her enemy's cheek. This wouldn't hurt the Marvel girl, but it wouldn't hurt Georgia either.
Mary Marvel's eyes opened.
Georgia withdrew her hand with a gasp. She backed away a pace. Then she relaxed a bit. So the Little Red Cheese was awake.
Mary was evidently registering her predicament. Her biceps were flexing as much as they could in the restraints of the Marvelium and the beam. "Go ahead," Georgia said. "Try and break out of that. Just try, honey."
The heroine was giving it her utmost, but after a minute or so, she didn't need the wisdom of a goddess to know it wasn't doing any good.
Georgia knelt beside the table, to put her head on a level with Mary's. "Don't you have a word to say, Mary? The kind of word that can get you out of this trap, maybe? Go ahead. Say it."
The brown-haired girl in the red dress with the thunderbolt on the chest pried apart her lips as much as she was able, and strove to make sounds with her tongue.
She could not.
No matter how hard she tried, Mary Marvel couldn't make an audible sound.
"Daddy's stasis beam," cooed Georgia. "It's keyed to your physiology. Won't affect me, but it will affect you. Just like the ones on your brother and Junior. You can't say a word. Not that it would do you much good if you could. Don't worry. We'll keep you alive until the Earth gets conquered. And then?" Georgia shrugged. "Daddy'll give you to me. I'm sure I can find something really, really interesting to do with you."
Mary looked at her with the gaze she would give to a lizard.
"I wonder if your stepmother is waiting up for you, Mary," said Georgia, running a finger under Mary Marvel's nose. "I wonder if she's worrying about her little darling. After all, she hasn't come home. And it's already been a day or more on Earth. Oh, well." Georgia stood up. "She knew that one of these days you wouldn't be coming home. She had to."
Thad Sivana was sitting on the edge of Junior's table. "I won't bother going into all the details of how much I hate you," he said, casually. "I'm not usually as eloquent as my sister. All I'll say is that I intend to have my fun with you, too. Either Daddy will give me powers, or I'll just give orders to the ones who already have them. Whatever the case may be, it'll be fun seeing that super-powered body of yours writhing in pain. Not as much as seeing it torn apart will be, but..." He shrugged. "That'll come later."
"Much later," said a third voice.
Thad and Georgia turned their heads in the direction of its source. The elder Sivana stood, in smoking jacket, pants, and slippers, just inside the doorway.
"It's not that I object so much to your teasing the dumb animals," continued Dr. Sivana, "as I seem to recall you have duties elsewhere. Such as supervising the attack preparations. Just because we've sent the Big Two off today doesn't mean operations have stopped around here, you know."
"We know, Father," said Thad, with a slight bow. "We know."
"And you?" said Sivana, looking at Georgia.
"Oh, yes, definitely, Daddy," she said. "It's just that I couldn't keep away from the little red one here, you know, and it's like...well..." Georgia looked frustrated.
Sivana took her face in his hands. "Georgia, my dear. Don't worry. Fathers understand these things. I was once young, too, you know." Thad didn't look as though he was sure of that, but he was facing his father's back. Sivana continued, "Look at this legacy your dear old dad is handing you. Not many people can say that their father's conquered the Earth, eh? Or killed the Marvel Family? No matter where we go after this, no matter what we do, nobody will be on the same level as us after this. Of course, they never were. But this time, this time, they'll all know it."
Georgia smiled, in daughterly affection. "Oh, Daddy. Will you really give me powers just like Mary Marvel's, so I can tear her to bits?"
The old scientist looked thoughtful. "Well, now, Georgia, that's a hard thing to say. If I gave you powers, it'd still be a one-on-one situation between you and her. That'd be a pretty iffy thing, wouldn't it?"
"Well, I wouldn't do it by myself, Daddy." Georgia put her hands on her hips in exasperation. "I'd have two or more of the other people with powers hold onto her, while I tore her apart a piece at a time. That'd be more fun, anyway. Wouldn't you think so?"
Sivana ran a hand over his bald pate. "Well, I suppose it would have its entertainment value. But wouldn't it be just as satisfying to tell one of the others to tear hunks out of her flesh while you sat and watched?"
"Absolutely not! I believe in getting personally involved with my projects." She folded her arms and waited.
The World's Wickedest Scientist mulled over his response. Then, before he could answer, another person ran through the door and almost upset him. It was Hashimoto. "Honorable Lord Sivana," he gasped. "News of a great and distressing nature."
"What is it?" said Sivana, trying not to show his gratitude.
"Two flying persons seen in the nearby jungle," said the agitated Oriental. "More properly, over it. With shining helmets upon their heads."
"Flying? With shining helmets?"
"Yes, Lord Sivana. Helmets which brilliantly reflect the light of our Venusian sun."
"Bulletman and Bulletgirl," said Sivana. "Already here. Hashimoto, round up the others. We've a battle to undertake."
"Yes, Lord Sivana." Hashimoto rushed outside.
Dr. Sivana turned to his offspring. "Actually, I should more accurately have said: We've got a cakewalk to undertake."
Then he laughed.
And Georgia laughed.
And Thad laughed.
All of them chorusing a triple "Heh! Heh! Heh!" in the presence of the Marvels.
And if the heroes strove a little harder to burst their bonds, it made not the slightest difference at all.
The Bullet Twins had rejoined their company. Spy Smasher was less than pleased.
"You've revealed yourself to the enemy," he said. "If you saw them, they saw you."
"You're not certain of that," said Bulletgirl, defiantly.
"Sure," said Minute Man, laconically. "Two flying people, with helmets that shine like polished chrome on my Studebaker's hood ornament, playing beanbag toss with a frog half the size of Cleveland. Inconspicuous, wouldn't you say, Scarlet?"
"What's done's done," said Mr. Scarlet. "Let's make our way onto that base and see what we can find."
Phantom Eagle, bringing up the rear with the Midnight pair, looked at both of them. "Neither of you seem to be speaking up much," he said, not unkindly.
Chuck said, "It's my first solo job as a...as a hero. It's different without the Old Man around. But I'll do my best."
"It's the first time for both of us, alone," said Joyce. "Even though we're not alone. You know. And I never thought our first case would be on another planet."
"I never thought I'd put together my first fighter plane from spare parts," mused Mickey. "But I did. Never thought I'd lead my own fighter squadron, up against the Nazis. But I did. And that bit with the sceptre of peace? Like out of a kid's fairy story. But it all...happened. And I got through it okay, somehow. Now we're on Venus. Yeah. But...it's no crazier than flying men, or people that can bend steel in their bare hands, or take a cannon shell in the chest without losing a smile. And I've seen all that. Haven't you?"
"Not personally," said Chuck. "But I've heard of it. And I've seen a lot of other things, too. With the Squadron. With the Captain."
"We'll make it," said Joyce. "I, for one, intend to show you just what I can do, even if I did take my costume design and some of my gimmicks from the Captain. And--"
"Silence!" Ibis, in the midst of them, spoke. "The Ibistick speaks to me. Without words. Our enemies are near."
The jungle parted before them, even though it involved a few trees being torn out of the ground, trailing roots.
In the gap between stood or hovered a number of figures, some in costume, some not. One of them was looking straight at Prince Ibis.
"Unfortunately, Ibis," said Trug, loudly, "it neglected to tell you how near."
Sterling Morris couldn't believe he was getting a call from the representative of the president of the United States. Except that he gave a secret code word that Billy had passed on to Morris, so he knew that the speaker, very likely, was who he claimed to be. All that Morris could say was that Billy had been gone for the day, had missed his news broadcasts, and that the police had an APB out for him and had promised to call in when and if he was sighted.
The man on the other end had said, "Thank you," and hung up.
In a mansion now one person lonelier, Mrs. Bromfield and Jives sat before a fire and said little, though the big radio and the television were turned up simultaneously and both listened for news that might involve the Marvel Family. Unfortunately, none seemed to be forthcoming. Mrs. Bromfield tried knitting, couldn't manage it, and finally gave it up as a lost cause.
But an interesting enough news bulletin came up in a few minutes' time.
The announcer spoke of a large rocket from space which had landed in northern Canada, too quickly for interception, and broken apart to disgorge two huge figures. One of them was a giant robot. The other was a titanic man in a Communist army uniform.
The Canadian army had sent out a detachment to intercept them, and the twosome had gone through the tanks, weapons, and men faster than a combine through a wheatfield. They continued on their way, and towns were being evacuated before them.
They were heading south.