Tales of Earth-I: Origin of the Time Crystal

Tales of Earth-I: The Five Earths Multiverse

Tales of Earth-I

Origin of the Time Crystal

by Dave Barnowski

The Magic Crystal of History grants its owner the power to travel through time. But if you knew having the time crystal would lead to certain death, would you allow another to accept it, even if it was for the greater good? Immortals Arion and Nommo weigh this question one night in 1934.

Author’s note: Arion is the titular character from Arion, Lord of Atlantis, while Nommo is the immortal Doctor Mist. Bobby and Binks are a pair of time-traveling teenagers who had a strip that ran for three years, predating Superman, from New Fun Comics #1 (February, 1935) to More Fun Comics #50 (December, 1939).


It was hot, sweltering, damp night in New Orleans, Louisiana. Two men were in a small copse of woods near the house where the teenage brother and sister named Bobby and Binks lived. The two men were very ancient, but only one looked old. One was a big, strong black man who looked to be in only in his mid-twenties, and the other looked to be ninety years old, if a day. The two men were arguing in hushed tones, as it was about two in the morning, and they didn’t want to wake anyone up.

“Now look, Arion,” said the black man, “I made the crystal, but I’m having second thoughts about this.”

“We’ve been over this before, Nommo,” said Arion. “Bobby and Binks have to discover that crystal in their attic sometime next year, or else history’s changed.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But if they do find the crystal, they’re doomed.”

“Yes, I know, but we don’t have a choice. Besides, maybe Madame Xanadu was wrong.”

“Arion, she saw them burned at the stake in Salem. Xan doesn’t make that kind of a mistake, and you know it.”

Arion looked hard at Nommo. He was right. If they planted the crystal that would allow Bobby and Binks to have four years of adventures through time, they would also die a horrible and painful death. “We have no choice,” Arion repeated. “Those two kids appeared at exactly the right time to tell us just what we need to know to save at least twenty dangerous situations — information that we did not know. If not for their warnings, we would have made the wrong choices.”

“You don’t know that, Arion,” Nommo whispered harshly.

“Yes, I do. When Ess-Pa died in childbirth, I thought I was wrong about her. If not for the warning of Bobby and Binks, I would not have watched her child as closely as I did. We would have lost the Second Crisis.”

Nommo inhaled deeply and held his breath for a long moment, then exhaled loudly. “All right, Arion,” he said. “You’ve made your point, but you go in and put the crystal in the attic. I haven’t the stomach for it.”

Arion looked at his friend and smiled sadly. “I thank you for making the crystal, Nommo. You’ve done your part. I’ll do mine.”

“Arion, we have two crystals now — the one I made, and the one Xan gave us all those years ago. What are we going to do with the second one?” asked Nommo.

Arion smiled and said, “We wait another twenty-two years, and in 1956 we give it to Rip Hunter, so he can have a power source for his time machine.” With that statement, Arion disappeared and went to the house. Sneaking inside, he crept into the attic. He placed the crystal along with a short note telling Bobby and Binks to stay hidden when they went to Salem, Massachusetts. He knew the note was probably a futile effort to save their lives, but he had to try, anyway. When he returned to Nommo, he told his former pupil about the note.

“Good,” said Nommo. “Hopefully this will change Immortal Man’s report of how he saw them both guillotined back in Paris during the French Revolution.”

The two immortals then left the woods in silence to look for a place to get a good, stiff drink, because neither liked the business they’d done on this night in the summer of 1934.

The End

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The Justice Machine: A Day in the Life

The Justice Machine: The Five Earths Multiverse

The Justice Machine

A Day in the Life

by Dan Swanson

When a spidermonk gains super-powers and goes on a rampage, the Justice Machine is called in to stop the tiny terror! Meanwhile, a terrorist strikes at the very heart of the government itself, pitting another group of Justice Machine members against dangerous foes! Just another day in the life for the Justice Machine!

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The Justice Machine: A Day in the Life, Epilogue: Historical Reconstruction

by Dan Swanson

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Part of Chief Prosecutor Bettan’s team had already removed the two mercenaries. They weren’t too worried about their immediate futures; they knew that Chief Bettan would rather employ them than kill them, though the conditions of their future employment might not be quite as pleasant as being independent contractors. In fact, he had already made them offers they couldn’t refuse by the time they were led away.

Banefactor was a different story. From the instant her helmet was removed, she had been ranting about the oppression of Georwell by the government and Council Central, and even energetic buffets to the head and threats of torture hadn’t shut her up. Bettan had finally ordered her gagged, and his team had dragged her into a small, luxurious room overlooking the Council Chamber, a virtual twin to the room where Dexter had started this day’s exercise in death and destruction. There were currently armored shutters covering the window, and the room itself was totally undamaged. The chief prosecutor attempted to continue his interrogation.

“How did you survive the firing squad, Dexter?”

“The spirit of opposition to the evil oppression of Georwell can never be extinguished. I am the dark force which will destroy you and all like you!” was all the response Banefactor would give. Bettan soon abandoned that line of questioning. He realized that this person might not even be Dexter. Research Central could do genetic testing later, and if there was a match, he would find out why the firing squad had failed — and there would be more firing squads that wouldn’t fail. Meanwhile, he’d noticed that Banefactor talked as if she was a separate entity from Dexter, and responded slightly more positively if he played along with her.

“There is nothing Dexter’s file that shows any prior connection between her and the Underground. How did they contact you?”

“Idiotic fool!” Yes, that was certainly a much more positive response. “There is never any need for the Underground to contact me. I know what they know, for I am the spirit of the Underground.”

Much more promising; Bettan tried to follow up on this line of questioning. Banefactor insisted that she was an immortal spirit, born in opposition to Emperor Orge. “When the betrayer Orge Georwell murdered his sworn liege lord Good King Deward, at that very instant, the dark force of opposition was born. The Imperium was born from the blood of those Georwell betrayed, and the Underground’s blood will be its death.”

To Bettan, this was the raving of a lunatic. There were no records predating Emperor Orge Georwell’s assumption to the throne, and certainly no mention in any history to indicate that he had been a betrayer. Indeed, all surviving records from that period indicated that Georwell was beloved by the people of his time, to whom he had brought peace and prosperity that continued to this day. Still, there might be some truth in Banefactor’s ravings — there were rumors, legends, and even records in the Chief Prosecutor’s files that suggested that at least one immortal stalked through Georwell’s history.

“I have brought the beginning of the end!” Banefactor boasted. “Council Central is no more, and without its head, the evil of the body politic will wither and die!”

To that one, at least, Bettan could respond. “I rather think not.” He pressed a button, and the shutter slid away from the window. Behind was the council chamber in pristine condition, and the two enemies could see all nine councilors sitting patiently in their podiums, very much alive. Bettan clicked on a television, and the two listened to a newscast. An extremely attractive woman in a revealing outfit spoke in a deep, throaty voice, as a video next to her.

“Earlier today, a group of traitors from the Underground attempted to invade Council Central and disrupt the trial of suspected Underground mastermind Dewantay Seysa. All they accomplished was to save the republic the cost of a trial, as the automatic security weapons in the council chamber instantly vaporized the group — along with Seysa.”

The recorded video showed a group of five figures in armor, including Banefactor, bursting into the council chamber, weapons blazing. The councilors and the audience were protected by force-fields, and the weapon fire was harmlessly reflected. The unfortunate Seysa, standing alone in the middle of the chamber, was disintegrated by friendly fire, and then the chamber’s automated weapons opened up for just under a second. A hole opened in the middle of the floor, and powerful blasts of water washed the remaining slag down the drain. Councilor Seven, today’s chair, casually moved on to the next agenda item.

“You see?” Bettan said, smiling at the stunned Banefactor. “You achieved nothing today, and by this time tomorrow, no one will even remember you.”

Banefactor screamed and collapsed, unconscious. It was Dexter who finally awakened, almost six months later. She recalled nothing of the past year of her life, even after gentle persuasion by agents of Chief Prosecutor Bettan. But Research Central was interested in her, as they wanted to discover if she had really been possessed by a spirit, and when the prosecutor’s office was through with her, she lived the rest of her life as a Research Central experimental subject.


The members of the Justice Machine were gathered in the Citadel of Justice infirmary. Batterstar was wearing a bulky suit that was tethered to several different items of medical apparatus via cables, hoses, and conduits. Inside the suit, advanced Georwellian medical technology worked with her body’s own superior regenerative capabilities to heal her injuries. Meanwhile, anesthetics and nerve blocks had virtually abolished her pain, and she was conducting the post-mission debriefing with her team. Collapsor and Spectrum had gone first, and Remanence and Lionheart were just finishing their report. Lionheart introduced the team to their new mascot, Kalyx the spidermonk.

“So how can you be sure that little critter isn’t going to go berserk again and destroy the Citadel before we can get her under control?” Tyvain asked Lionheart sharply.

Before he could answer, Collapsor spoke up. “I took care of it, boss. Research Central planted some kind of gizmo in the monkey. I chopped it up good by shrinking pieces of it down to the size of quarks. Then Spec fried the rest of it. It’s gone forever.”

Tyvain wasn’t totally happy with this solution. “You’re sure there won’t be any after-affects? I thought you were a physicist, not a biologist,” she snapped sarcastically. “Would have been nice to have that thing to study, and I doubt if Research Central is going to let us look at their records. But…” She paused, softening her voice. “…from what R.C. information we have been able to gather…” And she nodded to Remanence, whose natural affinity for computers was enhanced by the nature of his powers. “…it seems as if the device could have been incredibly dangerous. So we’ll consider that a wash.”

She turned to Lionheart. “Leo, I’m not willing to let that critter run around loose until we’re sure it wasn’t affected in some other way by the R.C. gizmo. Since you can talk to it, you’ve got a new pet. And see me tomorrow, start of business. I’m… interested in your rationale for destroying a Research Central facility the way you did. Lucky for you, the workers there are enthusiastic about evacuation procedures.” Lionheart had been playing with Kalyx and had looked annoyed when they were disturbed. He was pleased when Tyvain assigned him responsibility for the spidermonk. He didn’t see any reason to comment, however, so he didn’t.

She turned to the rest of her team. “OK, that about wraps up this shift. Update your Guardian counterpart and call it a day.” Tyvain would spend the night in the infirmary, but she was used to that, and besides, she spent most of her free time in her quarters in the Citadel of Justice, anyway — she didn’t have a family to go home to, as several of her teammates did.

The Guardians were essentially the night shift complement of the Justice Machine, a group of heroes who handled crises when the Justice Machine was off-shift. The Guardian team had been created by Chief Prosecutor Bettan when he was appointed to office only about five years ago. All members of the Guardians were appointed by Prosecutor Bettan. Batterstar liked the idea of having someone other than the Justice Machine to handle emergencies occasionally, but she was not pleased at the jealousy and animosity that was growing between the two teams. It was her (unofficial) opinion that Bettan was trying to build his own private army, but as long as Council Central approved of the Guardians, she wasn’t going to make herself a target by saying so.

“Hold on, boss. How did you really beat Banefactor?” Collapsor wanted to know. “And what did you mean about designing combat armor?”

“You know I’m a military historian,” she replied, and Collapsor nodded. Professor Tyvain Sithlam taught Military History at the Academy; he’d taken (and barely passed) her course. “Well, my special passion is personal combat armor, and I’m a design consultant for the Armor Division. I was lead designer on the Mark 9 team, and I know almost everything there is to know about every Mark ever designed.” In an earlier identity, she’d actually built the prototype for the Mark 1 armor, but they didn’t need to know that. “During our fight, it came to me that Banefactor was using exactly the capabilities of a Mark 4 suit. And the way it responded to some of my actions suggested she’d swapped a Mark 9 computer into the suit.”

“So why did the suit shut down?” Spectrum demanded.

“The Mark 4 armor and computer, circa 1879, was designed to allow our warriors to survive encounters with Yavak Walking Tanks in the Zheng war.” Tyvain dropped into the lecture mode she used at the Academy. “It was the pinnacle of the ‘bigger and stronger’ design philosophy, and the Mark 4 was the strongest, most indestructible Georwellian military armor ever created. It was also the most difficult to control and required highly trained operators. All later marques, including the Mark 9, have been significantly less powerful and much less bulky. While they provide less protection for the wearer, they are faster, more nimble, and much simpler to use.

“The problem with the Mark 4 was that a human with a superb reaction time could react more quickly than the suit. So the driver could be trying to get the suit to start a new action before the current action was completed. In some circumstances, the conflict between completing a current action and starting a new one created a feedback loop, and the suit would effectively have a seizure. Uncontrollable flailing of limbs that can easily pound a hole through a mountain was deemed an undesirable condition, so failsafe switches were installed. These switches were independent of either the suit’s operator or computer, so if the seizure condition occurred, the suit was shut down. A large part of the training of suit operators, and the programming in the Mark 4 computer, was designed to avoid the seizure condition. The Mark 9 suit’s response time is significantly better than human, so this condition never occurs — and the Mark 9 didn’t have the required programming to recognize or react to the danger. So I just forced Banefactor to release control to the computer, and then I forced the computer to react more quickly than the suit could.”

“What I don’t understand is why you didn’t wait for Lou and Espranze,” Remanence said. “You nearly got killed!”

“You’re almost as bad as the bad guys, Kal!” Tyvain sighed with exasperation. “I’m not exactly helpless, you know! Anyway…” She paused and looked at the clock. “…the Guardians are waiting. Get out of here and go home. I’ll see you all tomorrow!”

They went.


Department of Historical Accuracy (Depha):

In the war room at Depha Martel, shortly after Chief Prosecutor Bettan had arrived at Complex Central to take charge of the battle scene, Historian First Ogilvy surveyed his team of historical reconstruction artists. They knew they were about to deal with an unusual situation, and they were enthusiastically looking forward to the challenge.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he addressed his excited subordinates. “As you know, we at Depha Martel have just been granted a rare opportunity to shine. Today, over one hundred and fifty life stories were brought to a cruel and historically unsuitable conclusion by a group of Underground terrorists. Our task is routine — we must uncover and record the appropriate historically accurate true conclusion of each of these stories.” The euphemisms, established over the long history of Depha, rolled easily off his tongue. “But it is only rarely that we must review and verify this many stories in this short a time. Councilor One suggested that we augment our staff by recalling some of those recently retired, as well as importing experts from other Depha locations, but I convinced him that you are adequate to the task. He has promised to reward us handsomely for our successful efforts. So, let’s get to work.” With a cheer, the team raced to their stations.

Surprisingly, an hour of collaborative research showed that none of the people supposedly involved in the massacre had actually been at Complex Central today.

Several supervisors and a large group of their subordinates had set this morning for a holiday tour of the nearby vacation island of Ailborba, and a mechanical malfunction had caused the tour hoverbus to crash into the side of a cliff. The charred and totally unidentifiable remains of the Complex Central workers were already being shipped back to the mainland along with the remains of the other unfortunate tourists who had been on the bus.

Several others workers, who coincidentally had prior black marks for spotty attendance in their records, had decided to just skip work today. They had boarded a ferry to Second Continent, intending to hit the Tull City casinos. Unfortunately, that ferry had struck some unidentified debris halfway across the Orge Channel, capsized, and sunk almost instantly with no survivors.

It turned out that two or three workers, who had no close friends or acquaintances to check up on them or notice they were gone, hadn’t even died yet, but were on vacation in separate locations and would have unfortunate accidents in the near future.

The artistic imaginations of the historical reconstruction team were strained to the limits, uncovering and documenting the historically appropriate and convincingly coincidental conclusions for each of these many stories in such a short time, but Ogilvy’s faith in his team was justified. Within hours, the final facts had been added to each story, and all that remained was replacing the flawed records already in the public archives with the more-recently verified information. This task was a standard routine for Depha’s computer, and the worldwide replacement took only a few minutes.

Historian First Ogilvy and Councilor One were pleased with the team’s extraordinary efforts, and rewarded them with a catered party, complete with government provided food, intoxicants, and entertainers, which lasted well into the night. The next day, the artists of the Historical Reconstruction team could sharply recall yesterday’s best Justice Day party ever — but only vaguely recalled the intense work that had preceded the debauchery. They never even noticed that those vague memories receded further with time.

All in all, not a bad day’s work at Depha Martel.

The End

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The Justice Machine: A Day in the Life, Chapter 5: Weakest by Far

by Dan Swanson

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Batterstar wasn’t about to just rush through the secret entrance into the council chamber. She was concerned about the information that Officer Friendly™ had provided on Lieutenant Dexter. Not long ago, Dexter had been a spinner in the military propaganda office in Martel, with no combat training of any kind, including combat armor. She’d been on the fast track for promotion until she had been court-martialed for insubordination, found guilty, and given an alpha-grade demotion. The fact that she was alive and kicking was strange, since according to Georwellian military regulations, an alpha-grade demotion was death by firing squad.

A superior officer propositioned her, and she kicked his balls up around his ears, Batterstar interpreted with some sympathy for Dexter. She should’a just killed him. Probably would have been promoted for getting rid of someone incompetent. If this really was Dexter, she wasn’t acting as if she’d been executed six months ago. Maybe the firing squad missed? the leader of the Justice Machine wondered in amusement. More to the point, she mused, her thoughts returned to the present, the automated defenses in the council chamber should be able to handle a single person, even in Mark 9 armor. There’s more going on here than Officer Friendly™ is aware of! But the monitors showed nothing more than Dexter, standing in the center of the devastated room, blasting anything that still moved. With a mental shrug, ‘Star slipped through the door, ready for anything — she hoped.

Her entry didn’t go unnoticed. The sleek, form-fitting Mark 9 armor turned out to be a holographic illusion. When the illusion vanished, a bulky armored green and blue figure almost eight feet tall remained. The armored warrior turned to face Batterstar, moving with the inexorable grace and precision of a heavy cannon turret. Her voice boomed, the room shook, and Batterstar was stunned to realize that she was close to panic.

“I am Banefactor, the next ruler of Georwell!”

The giant armored figure hovered motionless, a half-inch above the floor, saying nothing. For several seconds, nothing happened.

“If you’re waiting for me to faint from fear, darlin’, it’s gonna be a long wait. No wannabe dictator is going to succeed while the Justice Machine is around to stop her.” Batterstar forced a chuckle, though she felt ready to hurl. “Speaking of which… by my authority as the leader of the Justice Machine and an authorized law-enforcement agent of the Free Republic of Georwell, I’m placing you under arrest on charges of treason and murder.”

“Impudent bitch! I’m more powerful than any one of your terrorist lackeys in the Machine. I’ll easily dispense with you, the weakest Machiner by far!” Banefactor roared in amusement. Dexter swung her arm around and launched a projectile from a small linear accelerator mounted along the back of her forearm. The explosive round burst against Batterstar’s chest, tossing her backward like a rag doll. Though the tough material of her costume saved her life, she felt several ribs break, and she was further battered as she skidded to a halt on the debris-strewn floor of the council chamber. The armored villain floated forward slowly, apparently in no hurry to finish off her outgunned opponent.

“I’m more than a little tired of that ‘weakest by far’ bit, too!” Tyvain spat blood as she rose slowly to her feet. Her costume automatically constricted around her chest, temporarily binding her broken ribs. “You’re not the first to say that, and I haven’t been dispensed yet. Do you really think you’re any different?” Batterstar managed to quip. Her voice weak and wavering, she was starting to feel nauseous, her knees were starting to shake, and she could barely force herself not to break and run. She realized she was having trouble thinking as well. What could possibly be causing her to feel like this? She’d certainly fought more fearsome foes.

Not that Banefactor wasn’t intimidating. She was almost seven feet tall, and perhaps four feet wide at the shoulder. The bulky armor covering her head, torso, arms, and legs was a dark metallic blue, accessorized with dull, dark green gauntlets, boots, and girdle. On top of the helmet was a thin fin, which added another foot to her height, and there was a circular red emblem on the middle of her chest. Rows of vicious sharp spikes ran down the outside of her arms and legs. And yet, for all of her bulk and menace, there was something vaguely farcical about Banefactor, and ‘Star felt as if she should be laughing at the armored villain, rather than struggling to merely stand and face her foe.

“My cause is just and right!” Banefactor boomed again. Her amplified voice pounded at Batterstar; a little louder, and that voice could be a deadly offensive weapon. “Georwell is the most corrupt, repressive realm in the galaxy. I fight for the freedom of all the citizens of Georwell.”

Batterstar’s ears and nose started to bleed. Why hasn’t she attacked? she wondered as she fought to think clearly. She’s just mocking me!

Deep inside her mind, Tyvain felt a tiny tinge of something deadly, stirring like a spark struggling to become a flame. She recognized that tiny ember as the first heat of her berserker rage, and the possibility of being overwhelmed by the gangr terrified her more than any opponent possibly could. Centuries of training in self-discipline kicked in; she began a mind-clearing exercise, and a half a second later, she was able to think again. The gangr withdrew to a tiny corner of her mind, temporarily stayed. She could feel its disappointment, almost as if it wasn’t a part of her, but a totally separate entity whose takeover attempt she had foiled.

She’s not attacking because she is attacking! Batterstar realized. Later, if she survived, she’d laugh at that thought, but it was accurate. Banefactor was attacking, right now, using some unseen weapon. ‘Star categorized what was happening to her, and the answer popped into her head. She was being bombarded by subsonics. With the realization that her fear was being forced on her, rather than arising from inside her, the panic receded. But she could feel the physically debilitating effects caused by high-intensity infrasound continuing to mount. She thumbed a switch on the handle of her multi-blaster and fired a burst of a liquid that hardened almost instantly on contact and drenched the front of Banefactor’s armor. The subsonics died instantly.

Banefactor shrugged, and the coating of ultra-hard epoxy on her chest shattered. ‘Star ducked behind some debris for safety. She switched loads in her pistol and fired again from cover. A stream of bullets stitched a line of harmless explosions against Banefactor’s armored chest.

Banefactor floated forward, ignoring the ineffective explosions, reached out, and grabbed ‘Star’s pistol. Her powered gauntlet closed, crushing the pistol, then she casually tossed the remains over her shoulder. Tyvain screamed; her trigger finger had been dislocated when Banefactor yanked the gun away, though the tough material of her glove saved her from losing the finger entirely. The gun’s crushed power pack exploded violently, and the unexpected explosion behind her rocked Banefactor forward. The armor’s combat computer took control of the armor, and it tottered and staggered for several seconds as the computer fought to regain balance.

The suit itself had shielded Batterstar from the worst of the explosion, and she watched the impromptu dance with intense interest. As the armor’s jitters finally stilled, ‘Star raced around behind Banefactor, pulled a device from her utility belt, and slapped it on Banefactor’s back. There was a force-field wrapping the armor about a half an inch from its surface, and the field jolted Batterstar backward, as if she’d touched a hot electrical cable, but the device clung. ‘Star smashed into a wall with a sickening crack and slid bonelessly to the floor at the same time the powerful shaped charge exploded. Once again, the armor’s computer managed to retain their balance.

“You’re really a very good fighter, much more dangerous than I’d expected,” Banefactor complemented the Justice Machine’s leader as the suit rotated smoothly to face her again. “Though your actions are certainly hurting you more than they are me. It’s a shame that you serve as a lackey to such an oppressive government, since I intend to destroy every trace of Council Central and those loyal to it. You could save yourself a lot of pain by joining me.”

“And just how long would that partnership last?” Tyvain snapped in reply. She pulled another device from her belt and threw it. The suit’s battle computer temporarily took control again, and faster than ‘Star could follow, the villain’s hand twitched, and the device was speared by an energy beam — which was exactly what Batterstar had hoped she would do. The device was an electromagnetic grenade, and it released a focused EM pulse that raced through the path of ionized air Banefactor’s beam had created and washed over the villain. The armor’s outer force-field was overwhelmed and it collapsed, but it was designed to be expendable. The suit’s battle computer routed a little more power into the liner field, and it expanded to replace the vanished outer field. Inside the armor, Dexter didn’t even notice the transaction.

“Yes, very dangerous!” the armored anarchist’s voice boomed out again. “I assume that is the EM grenade that Georwellian forces used so successfully against the Yavak tanks in the Zheng war? A good weapon in its time, but long obsolete.” She stopped speaking for an instant as she gave a mental command to the suit’s computer. “I think I’ve seen enough of your toys!” ‘Star screamed again as another beam lashed out and vaporized a section of her utility belt, which fell to the floor and melted a large patch of her costume beneath the belt. Still under computer control, the armor raced forward faster than the heroine could see and ripped the bandolier from ‘Star’s costume before knocking the heroine into the air with a powerful kick. Before Tyvain landed, the computer blasted the belt and bandolier into ashes.

“You have only one choice,” Banefactor’s amplified voice beat painfully at the battered hero. “Swear allegiance to me and help me bring a benevolent government to Georwell, or die, slowly and painfully!”

“That sounds like two choices, Baney. I like the third one even better. Fight and defeat you!” Batterstar painfully touched a spot on a decorative ridge that ran down the outside of the leg of her costume. It came loose and stiffened into a quarterstaff, reinforced by a powerful force-field. She moved slowly toward her armored foe, holding the staff in front of her and occasionally using it to prevent a fall. Her head was bloody, she was bent partially over to favor her broken ribs, she was unable to hold the staff properly in the hand with the dislocated finger, and she was unable to bend one knee. But she came on anyway.

She swung the staff with her good hand, and when it hit Banefactor, there was a crack like lightning, and the armored revolutionary was knocked backward. Moving much faster than Banefactor was willing to believe, ‘Star limped forward, and though she moaned with pain and her motions were awkward, she rained blows on her foe. Every blow had an explosive impact, as the force-field in the staff reacted violently with the force-field protecting Banefactor. The villain had been so sure of victory over her injured, much weaker opponent, that she had maintained control of her battle suit herself, but the beating she was taking, painful even through the suit’s protection, convinced her otherwise. She couldn’t wait to tear this bitch’s throat out with her armored gauntlets, so she released the armor to full computer control.

‘Star noticed that Banefactor’s actions had suddenly become faster, surer, and realized that Dexter had surrendered control of the suit to its battle computer — a brand new Georwellian military Mark 9 battle computer, unless she missed her guess, installed in a fifty-year-old suit of the discontinued Mark 4 combat armor, covered with a new skin to keep people from recognizing it. She was certain her guess was accurate, and she was pretty sure she could even guess the serial numbers of both the old suit and the new computer; the military kept an exceptionally accurate count on every suit of armor ever made, and there were very few that had somehow been lost.

So all she had to do was outfight the best combat computer ever designed, installed into the most powerful combat suit ever produced? Piece of cake.

She relaxed into the rhythm of the quarterstaff and slipped into a light combat trance. Adrenaline was released into her blood, and her body began to move more smoothly. The staff sped up until it became a blur, and initially she managed to force Banefactor backward and keep her off balance. Battle armor was rarely involved in hand-to-hand combat, and the Mark 9 had only rudimentary programming for this kind of fighting, but it learned quickly. Blocking the blows of the staff was counterproductive, as each contact produced an explosion, and the cumulative effect of these explosions was starting to produce damage. The computer judged Batterstar’s human reaction speed and calculated that its own reaction speed was enough to dodge the staff rather than block it, while advancing to reaching distance. The Mark 9’s orders changed quality; it forced the suit’s driving motors to full speed.

Ironically, this was what Batterstar had been counting on. The Mark 4 armor was not built to operate at computer speeds, and it failed to protect its occupant from the effects of that speed. Almost instantly, Dexter was violently battered into unconsciousness. And only a few microseconds later, the armor itself began to vibrate almost imperceptibly with each movement. Like positive feedback, every frantic order the Mark 9 computer gave to counteract this vibration instead made it worse, and within microseconds, the armor was thrashing as if it was having an epileptic seizure. The thrashing was deadly dangerous — the flailing super-powered limbs of the suit destroyed everything within reach. Fortunately for the Council Complex and those people still remaining nearby, the old Mark 4 armor had emergency cutoffs installed, designed for just this type of malfunction. The cutoffs cut off, and Banefactor fell to the floor, the warrior inside unconscious, the computer shut down, and the suit totally without power.

Batterstar collapsed to the floor and slipped into unconsciousness herself. When she awakened, Chief Prosecutor Bettan and a team from his office had arrived to take charge of the captured villains, and Spectrum and Collapsor were arguing (as usual) about what they ought to do about her.

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The Justice Machine: A Day in the Life, Chapter 4: Two on Two

by Dan Swanson

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The explosion triggered an automatic alarm in the ready room of the Citadel of Justice. One wall instantly lit up to display a blueprint of Council Complex, with the council chamber flashing. Batterstar, Collapsor, and Spectrum, the Justice Machine members not already involved in a mission, instantly launched themselves toward that wall, which barely snapped aside before Spectrum raced through. Behind the concealed door was a small spherical chamber lined with thick padding. This room was the interior of a capsule that would carry the Justice Machine at ultra-high velocity directly to the council chamber, automatically routed through a series of pneumatic tubes.

Before Batterstar could enter the capsule, the highest priority vidscreen came to life, showing a masked councilor (they always wore masks, so this wasn’t unusual). The heads-up display on the screen indicated that this was Councilor Seven. Batterstar didn’t question the identification, as only a councilor could access that particular communication channel. Councilor Seven didn’t say anything, but as soon as she saw that her call had caught Batterstar’s attention, she panned the camera to show the scene in the room behind her. The screen showed a figure in powered combat armor standing in the middle of the devastated council chamber. Batterstar begrudged the delay in responding to the emergency signal, but Councilor Seven might be sacrificing her life to provide the Justice Machine with important intel on the current situation. She figured it was worth a few seconds of delay.

The big room was filled with smoke and flames, sparks were shooting from severed cables dangling from the ceiling and sticking out of the walls, and the screams and moans of the injured could be heard even over the crackling of the flames and sparks. At least for a while, anyway. Star watched for several seconds as the armored trooper calmly turned and fired, turned and fired, and one by one, surely and quickly, the anguished voices were silenced. She joined her teammates in the capsule as the armored figure finally turned towards the councilor, and forty-three seconds later, the capsule slammed to a stop behind an armored door that opened onto the floor of the council chamber.

The Justice Machine hadn’t wasted those forty-three seconds. When the capsule came to a halt, they knew that the invaders had killed a dozen security agents wearing obsolete armor at a cost of two dead invaders. Batterstar was surprised at the ratio given the obsolete armor security had been wearing; the security agents must have been very well trained. Two of the remaining invaders were making a slow, thorough sweep through every room of the complex, apparently determined to wipe out everyone who still survived. The leader was still in the council chamber. And somehow the invaders had established a force-field around the complex. There would be no reinforcements until that field came down.

As they exited the capsule, Batterstar gave some quick orders. “You two take the marauders in the eastern wing. I’ll take out the boss in the council chamber.”

Spectrum looked at her incredulously. “You’re gonna take out a trained soldier in combat armor by yourself? Why don’t the three of us take down the one in the council chamber and then go after the other two?”

For an instant, she simply stared at him in disbelief. But she realized that he was used to taking orders from Lionheart. She wouldn’t rip him apart for his question — this time. “You forget who you’re talking to, youngster. I designed that armor. Now get moving; people might be dying while you’re jabbering. This is the last time I’m ever going to give you an order twice.”

Without another word, Spectrum grabbed the miniature Collapsor and flew off at high speed down the corridor to the east. Batterstar ran through a quick combat readiness checklist as she typed the Justice Machine override code into the keypad controlling the armored door to the council chamber.

Spectrum, still carrying Collapsor, flashed through a series of corridors in pursuit of their foes, leaving behind him the slowly fading multicolor haze that had given him his name. As they searched for their targets, they received a hasty radio message from their leader. “Officer Friendly™ has finally identified your foes. They’re a couple of independent mercenaries, ex-military, current employer unknown. No known prior contact with the Underground. Rated extremely dangerous.”

“No sweat, boss — just another pair of goons in armored suits,” Collapsor radioed back confidently. “Piece of cake!”

“Don’t mistake them for your average Terror Trooper, Lou. These guys are way better!” Batterstar signed off; she had her own battle to fight.

Spectrum’s electromagnetic senses soon located the mercenaries, and the Council Complex map on the heads-up display built into his goggles showed that they were in a VIP lobby not far away. This room had one wall made entirely of windows and looked out into a small, beautifully landscaped courtyard, totally surrounded by complex buildings. The two heroes entered the courtyard through another exit, and Spectrum melted the lobby windows with a low-intensity energy burst to get the attention of the mercenaries.

“Crap — what did you do that for, you big dim haze?” a disgusted Collapsor asked his teammate. “Now they know we’re here. We could’a ambushed them when they came out.”

“What if they went into another office first, itty-brain? There might still be people alive in there,” the aetheric avenger said, sneering at his teammate.

“Oh, yeah, right,” Collapsor replied in a voice that was even smaller than his current stature. There were few things in the world he hated more than admitting that Spectrum was right about anything. “What say we dump ’em in a puddle?” he spoke more brightly. He was a better strategist than the wavelength warrior, and they both knew it.

“Sounds good,” Spectrum replied grudgingly. “As long as you don’t screw up!”

The minute mammoth activated his electrostatic compressed air ramjet and zoomed away, straight down. Spectrum’s powers currently shielded the two heroes from the sensors in the armor, and the mercenaries were cautious about entering the courtyard to face an unknown foe. Then Spectrum became visible directly in front of them and attacked with a tightly focused beam of high-intensity red light. The sparkling beam bounced from the armors’ shields, and the two mercs responded by blasting with their plasma disintegrators. The quantum crusader was driven backward by the plasma beams, though his powers protected him, and the mercs confidently rushed forward. They knew that other than his electromagnetic powers, Spectrum was a normal human, and they could easily tear him to shreds with the enhanced strength of their armor.

When the miniature marauder reached the ground, he used his power to compress a chunk of dirt to submicroscopic size, dropped into the hole he had created, and repeated the process. In only a few seconds, he’d dug down about a foot and excavated a cavity about the size of a volleyball. He dropped a small pellet from his utility belt, and then zoomed out of the hole. At maximum acceleration, he zoomed across the mercs’ field of vision before they could focus on him. This pellet had originally been a boulder about the size of a reclining chair, currently collapsed to about the size of a terrestrial flea. It was going to do more than create an itch, though, in just a few seconds.

Just before the mercs reached the prone figure of Spectrum, it disappeared. It had been an illusion projected by the photonic phantom. They were blasted from above by a powerful energy blast, which didn’t affect them in their armor but vaporized all of the vegetation and the foot of soil in the courtyard, turning a big section of the paving material beneath the dirt into a deep pool of lava. Boot jets in the armor automatically flared to life, temporarily preventing the villains from falling into the puddle. Collapsor let the collapsed boulder expand instantly to its full size. The fist-sized cavity the mighty mini had excavated couldn’t contain the suddenly full-sized boulder, and there was a terrific explosion just behind the hovering mercenaries, knocking them off balance, and they fell forward into the lava.

Their boot jets couldn’t help them escape this trap, and there was nothing to grab hold of. The armors’ combat computers automatically sealed all external ports, but the suits were so heavy, they continued to sink more deeply into the lava. The gyroscopes in the suits struggled to return them to a vertical position, and as they sunk, they sluggishly rotated upright.

From above, Collapsor threw a handful of small pellets into the lava puddle. These pellets were originally large aluminum cylinders. Collapsor had filled them with thousands of gallons of a collapsed super-coolant fluid (like freon on steroids, thanks to Georwellian technology), then collapsed the tanks (doubly collapsing the fluid). He now allowed the fluid to return instantly to its normal volume. The collapsed tanks vaporized in less than a nanosecond from the growing internal pressure. Since expansion was a cooling process, when the highly compressed cooling fluid instantly expanded to several thousand times its previous volume, the temperature in the small courtyard plummeted, and the lava puddle almost instantly solidified. This left two armored mercenaries buried neck deep in what was now a solid glassy substance similar to obsidian.

In the more than sixty years the Georwellian military had been using armor, no one had ever captured an armored warrior in a vat of obsidian before. Undoubtedly, given time, the mercs could have escaped, but the Justice Machine teammates didn’t give them time. Spectrum aimed an arm at one of the mercs and focused an intense green energy beam on a small section of the force-field surrounding his head. The field near the focus point became visible, and started turning gray, then continued to get darker and darker.

“That field’s going to overload and collapse, pal,” Collapsor, now returned to normal size, said gently to the pinned mercenary. “You know what happens then, right?”

“Maybe he doesn’t, small fry! That would be pretty funny, wouldn’t it?” his teammate chuckled. “Why not let him find out for himself?”

“C’mon, you pastel punk! You know the boss wants us to bring back something we can at least identify. If that field collapses, what’ll we tell her? We’ll end up with extra duty again, like the last time you had a little fun.”

Neither merc said anything, but they both knew what would happen if the force-field failed. The field was currently absorbing the energy of the quantum crusader’s beam, and the suit’s power supply was storing that absorbed energy. Normal activity in the armor (particularly firing the weapons) could use that stored energy, and after a battle, there were a number of ways to release extra safely. But the storage capacity of the power supply wasn’t unlimited, and if it overloaded, it would fail and release all of the stored energy inside the armor, crisping the wearer and even melting the incredibly durable ceramoplast shell. The changing color of the force-field was a visual disaster warning mechanism, and if it turned black, it was too late.

“We just tell her these two guys were too stupid to give up. She’ll never know. We won’t even have to wipe the videos. That explosion when their boss blew up the council chamber wiped out the security computer.” Spectrum aimed the other fist, and another dark spot blossomed. Not a peep from either of the mercs.

“Well, since they helped us out, I guess you’re right.” Collapsor shrugged, his face again screwed up with the pain of agreeing with his teammate. “We got our rep to consider, don’t we? Bring ’em back alive too often, and the rest of ’em start thinking we’re soft.” He enlarged an item from his utility belt, which turned out to be a laser pistol. A bar of energy flashed from the barrel of the gun, and a third dark spot flowered on the merc’s force-field. The gray areas started to run together.

“You know, we’re gonna have to kill the other, too, if this guy won’t give up,” the Little Leviathan said his partner curiously. “Can’t take a chance of him talkin’.”

“That’s what makes it so much fun!” the aetheric avenger laughed again. “Won’t be long now!”

“I surrender!” The endangered merc had his suit’s PA volume set to maximum — not a bad idea, actually, as it used up a little bit of energy. “I’ll shut down the field if you guys stop blasting!”

“I thought you might,” Spectrum chuckled. One of his beams stopped, but the other remained at full intensity. Collapsor stopped firing as well. Two of the dark spots vanished. The third one dimmed, and then began to advance again. Collapsor expanded another item from his utility belt.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” the diminutive defender told the merc. “You’re gonna turn on your disarm receiver. When you do, Pastel Pete, here, will stop blasting you.” He held up the box he’d just expanded. “I’ll send the deactivate code. If your suit shuts down, you live. If it doesn’t, we start blastin’ again, and you get fried.” A combat suit could be shut down by a coded radio signal received through a special receiver inside the suit. The receiver was automatically activated if the body in the armor was unconscious or dead, and a conscious occupant of the suit could activate it manually. “Got it?”

“How do I…” the merc said, starting to ask how he could trust the two heroes, but then realizing he really didn’t have any choices. He concentrated, and a mental command activated the disarm receiver. The box in Collapsor’s hand beeped, Spectrum stopped blasting, and Collapsor sent the code that shut down the combat suit. He then touched the back of the merc’s helmet and collapsed some of the control circuits. With one suit of armor now impotent, they turned their attention to the other mercenary, who quickly surrendered and had his own armor deactivated.

Collapsor used his power to dig the depowered mercenaries out of the obsidian, totally destroying both suits of armor in the process. He expanded some more items from his utility belt and slapped manacles on both prisoners. One of the captives was complaining about the pre-mission intel they had been given.

“It’s not fair! They told us that you aren’t powerful enough to overload our force-fields!” he whined to Spectrum. Collapsor roared with laughter.

“And they were right!” he crowed. “Ol’ partially cloudy, here, could barely give you a bad sunburn!” He ignored the deadly looks his teammate was giving him. “But he’s pretty good at illusions — like the illusion that your force-field was turning black! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!”

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The Justice Machine: A Day in the Life, Chapter 3: The Menace of Banefactor

by Dan Swanson

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Shortly after the hyper carrying Lionheart and Remanence blasted away from the Citadel of Justice, another alarm went off in Citadel of Justice’s emergency monitor room. For an instant, the senior situation analyst was shaking with anxiety, but she quickly realized that this alert wouldn’t require a decision from her — it came from the Council Central building and had automatically been routed directly to the Justice Machine. Not long later, she heard the whoosh of the super-speed pneumatic capsule connecting the Citadel directly to the Council Central Complex. Somebody’s gonna be busted hard, she thought. They took at least fifteen seconds longer than regs allow to get away. But at least it’s not the senior analyst whose head rolls this time! she thought with satisfaction. She didn’t know what had delayed the Justice Machine’s response, but she did know that their commander, Chief Prosecutor Bettan, wouldn’t overlook it. Somebody’s head was definitely in danger.


A few minutes earlier:

Today was the semi-annual Justice for All Day. Following a long-standing tradition, a dangerous traitor to the Imperium would be given a fair trial in front of all nine members of Council Central, transmitted for everyone in the Imperium to see, after which the traitor would be executed. Justice Day was one of the few worldwide holidays for the working class. The wide, flat plaza around Council Complex, the meeting place of Council Central, was crowded with civilians celebrating their rare day off. Many were hoping to get a seat at the trial.

Today’s trial would be particularly compelling. Dewantay Seysa, the defendant, was a former colonel of the Georwellian Occupational Force who had received several decorations in the Erwhon Annexation almost thirty years ago. He was a small, highly charismatic man, and sometime in the last ten years he had been subverted and become a leader of the Underground. He’d been captured several months ago. The anger the public felt about his betrayal of their beliefs was palpable (at least according to Council Central’s opinion polls), and the press had called for his immediate execution. Council Central had decided instead to postpone his trial until Justice Day, today.

Inside the complex, Security Sergeant Lebet watched the plaza monitors with her new commanding officer, Captain Vinnel. Vinnel had just been transferred here from the Uncle Kindly™ brigade, and he wasn’t happy with his new position. This close to Council Central, an officer was always under intense scrutiny day and night. Vinnel was determined to take no chances and do everything by the book, and he strongly disapproved of any kind of personal initiative in those under his command. After twenty-eight years in Complex Security, the sergeant knew that there was a lot more that the book didn’t cover than what it did.

Lebet leaned forward to adjust a control on her panel, throwing a switch that the original designers hadn’t installed. Everything that happened in the control room was now being recorded by devices that Vinnel didn’t know about and couldn’t wipe later. Though she took immense pride in being very good at her job, Lebet also understood the value of covering her ass. Several prior commanders had tried to blame their failures on her, but she was still here, and they weren’t.

“The crowd doesn’t look right to me,” Lebet told her commanding officer hopefully. Maybe this time he’d listen. “A lot of these people are dressed to party, but the mood isn’t festive enough.”

“Officer Friendly™ says everything is within normal parameters,” he responded to her sharply. When Vinnel had arrived, he’d had Officer Friendly™ crowd analysis software installed on the complex’s security computer, even though Research Central admitted that it was still experimental.

“Sir!” she acknowledged with a sigh. She’d hoped Vinnel might respect her experience. But she tried one more time; she really was good at what she did. “The…” But her C.O. cut her off before she could draw his attention to indicate a pair of secondary monitors on the Officer Friendly™ control panel.

“That will be all, Sergeant!” he ordered with an angry snap. “We don’t rely on intuition around here. Keep your eyes on the crowd!”

Friendly’s trend indicators were showing that the patterns of crowd movement were becoming more sluggish than it expected, based on comparisons with recorded crowd movements at other, similar events, and that unusually dense knots of people were developing around the entrances to the complex. The variations hadn’t yet reached the level necessary to trigger and alarm, but the trend was obvious. Lebet had already noticed these things herself, and her instincts told her they meant trouble. At that instant, another security program beeped for attention.

“An approaching flier just sent a landing request, along with today’s landing authorization code,” she read to her commanding officer from yet another monitor. “The air traffic control computer automatically granted the request, and the flier will be landing on the security pad in about fifteen seconds.” She touched some buttons on her control panel, and one of the monitors switched views to show a heavily armored flier approaching. The insignia on the flier showed that it was registered to Councilor Six, as had its response to the traffic computer’s automated challenge. She switched to an internal view of the flier, which showed five figures wearing Mark 9 combat armor (the most current model). The monitors still looking at the plaza showed that the crowd was streaming toward the exits — nobody wanted to be around when an armored combat flier landed. Military autopilots were often careless about backwash from a flier’s landing rockets, and human pilots sometimes seemed to be keeping score of how many civilians they could squish by landing outside designated zones.

Lebet immediately put the security garrison on full alert and focused the complex’s highest-powered weapons and armor suppressors on the flier. She took personal charge of the identification procedure and didn’t relax until the security computer came back with positive identification. Councilor Six’s command computer acknowledged releasing an armored security team to Captain Vinnel’s command for the duration of today’s trial.

“Greetings from Councilor Six,” the armored team’s leader announced to Lebet and Captain Vinnel over the visicom, in the weirdly tones that showed that the combat helmet’s voice distorter was in use. “Today’s trial has generated more than the usual amount of public attention, and the councilor felt that additional security might be useful.”

Lebet made sure her commander didn’t see her secret smile of vindication. Captain Vinnel was furious that Councilor Six had decided, on his own, that Complex Security might be inadequate to today’s demands and needed to be reinforced by his own personal troops. He was also annoyed that he hadn’t been notified in advance regarding this temporary addition to his command, but he didn’t dare show his anger. Any councilor had the legal right to do as Councilor Six had done. And even if they hadn’t actually had the authority, complaining about the actions of a councilor was invariably fatal for the person who complained.

Vinnel pressed the button that returned the garrison alert level to normal. Lebet winced but bit her tongue; it seemed to her that if Councilor Six felt the need to send her team armored reinforcements, the condition was anything but normal.

Leaving Sergeant Lebet in the monitor room, Vinnel greeted the armored team in the security screening room. The newcomers removed their helmets, which lowered the anxiety level of the security screeners. Their leader was revealed to be an extremely attractive woman with red hair, hard green eyes, and a saucy smile. She introduced herself as Lieutenant Dexter. Captain Vinnel designated several of his security agents to escort the four armored guards to stations at strategic strong points throughout the complex, while he personally insisted on giving Dexter the grand tour. In the monitor room, Sergeant Lebet noticed that some members of her own team were headed for the armory to don their own armor. Security armor was actually obsolete, hand-me-down military armor, a combination of Mark 6 and Mark 7, less advanced than the Mark 9s Councilor Six’s team was wearing. But Lebet insisted that her team keep their gear in top condition, and even obsolete armor was more than adequate for crowd control.

On another monitor, Vinnel was already making suggestive conversation with Dexter, who seemed quite receptive. The sergeant decided not to tell him that his own agents were also armoring up while he was trying to make time with the lieutenant. He would no doubt order them to stop, and Lebet, at least, wanted some of her own team ready to deal with the threats Councilor Six was worried about.

The grand tour finished in a small, lavishly furnished sitting room with a one-way window overlooking the council floor. Occasionally, important visitors to the complex were entertained here in luxury where they could observe the absolute rulers of the Georwellian Imperium going about their business. Though this particular room was not scheduled for any official use today, Vinnel was sure that he and Dexter could make use of the luxurious facility to transact some private business of their own.

“So that’s how I, single-handedly and unarmed, stopped the Underground’s assassination attempt on Councilor Three last week!” Vinnel finished the highly embellished story he was telling. Lieutenant Dexter’s eyes were wide, and she had cooed appreciative oohs and aahs at appropriate points during the story. “Say, I know how uncomfortable it is to wear combat armor for a long time. My team has everything under control. Why don’t you take off the armor and take a short break, and I’ll order us some lunch?”

She smiled seductively. “Why, Captain, what a wonderful idea. But you know I don’t have anything to wear.” No one wore clothes under armor, just a skintight body suit to prevent chaffing where the armor might rub against skin. The bodysuit was definitely not modest apparel.

“Don’t worry; I think I can find something that will fit,” he said as he turned and opened a closet, reaching in to pull out a hanging garment. As he turned, Dexter donned her helmet and pointed her right arm at him.

“Silly boy, I never worry!” she quipped as she fired her armor’s energy blaster. A bolt of plasma sizzled into his back, disintegrating him instantly, along with the closet and everything in it. “Especially about clothes!”

She turned to the window, disintegrated it with another blast, and tossed a hand grenade into the council chamber. As the grenade went off, she leaped through the jagged opening and used her boot jets to settle slowly to the floor. She spun slowly as she descended, shooting everybody she could see with disintegrator blasts. By the time she’d landed, she’d vaporized everyone in the room, including all nine members of Council Central.

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The Justice Machine: A Day in the Life, Chapter 2: Lionheart to the Rescue

by Dan Swanson

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Incredible pain assailed Scientist Third Cryshard Uneile, more than she had ever imagined possible, and yet that pain only came from half her body — she couldn’t feel a thing below her waist. The heavy cabinet had crashed down on her hips, pinning her in place. The air in the lab was filled with thick smoke that made it almost impossible to breathe, and she could feel her lungs being seared with every desperate gasp she took.

Amazingly, the medical injector gun was on the floor close by. Hope surged through her as she remembered she had chambered the second Energizer pellet. With an effort of will such as she’d never made before, she forced her fingers to close over the handgrip. It was even harder to force her arm around to bring the nozzle into contact with her chest and squeeze the trigger. The activation of the Energizer produced a surge of pain that made her prior distress seem like the gentle wash of a light spring rain. Only the instant influx of biotonic power into her body prevented her heart from stopping as a new paroxysm of agony rushed through her.

The room instantly seemed to cool, her agony vanished, and her strength overflowed as the biotonic energy suffused through her body. She shrugged the cabinet off like a light robe and surged to her feet. As she did so, she noticed that she was starting to feel warmer again. She ripped through the debris heading toward the door; the sooner she got out of this furnace, the better. She smashed through the wall and into the corridor, but the farther she got from the blazing inferno of the lab, the warmer she got. After a few more steps she fell to the floor gasping, and still the heat grew.

Her last thought was that this must be another trap set for her by that traitorous Edun. Then she exploded in a violent burst of flame.

She wasn’t exactly wrong. Underscientist Giekashwan Edun, her unfortunate former subordinate, had in fact warned her specifically about this danger of the Energizer. But she’d known her boss wouldn’t listen to her.

“In the final stages of the development, we encountered significant genetic compatibility issues. The Energizer output must be carefully attuned to the subject’s metabolic cycles, otherwise there will be a build-up of unutilized biotonic energy, followed by spontaneous combustion.”

If Edun had been alive to oversee the tests of the prototypes, the spidermonk wouldn’t have run wild, and Edun could have attuned the Energizer to scientist third. But instead, Uneile’s abhorrent behavior ended up providing her with an appropriate sendoff into the Georwellian afterlife to join her former subordinate.


The most dangerous predator in the jungles of Triah, the home planet of the spidermonks, was a species of large catlike creatures called flying tigers by Georwellian colonists. Like the monks, flying tigers could glide through the air using a membrane spread between their middle pairs of legs. An attack by a large, flying, catlike creature sparked the spidermonk’s instinctive fight/flight response. The biotonic power burning through Kalyx’s body burned away her fear while supercharging her anger. She leaped to the attack, screaming in rage.

What followed was perhaps the strangest fight in Lionheart’s long, battle-filled career. Fully charged with biotonic energy, Kalyx was stronger than Lionheart, and quicker as well, while Lionheart was many times larger. The Energizer made the spidermonk virtually invulnerable, and destruction naturally rolled off of Lionheart’s skin like beads of water.

The automatic security weapons, which had been controlled by the security computer, had stopped firing. Lionheart’s landing had destroyed the computer, which had been buried well away from the Research Central main building for safety. And the security team, which had stopped firing when Lionheart crashed to Georwell, couldn’t resume firing without a risk of hitting the leonine hero. Shooting a member of the Justice Machine, even accidentally, was usually fatal for the shooter, and no one on the security team wanted to take that risk.

The monk clawed and scratched with little effect, and then jumped away again before Lionheart could grab her. She started throwing rocks and other rubble, jumping around wildly, baring her teeth, beating her chest, and screaming in frustration as her missiles bounced off or shattered. Lionheart moved toward the monk slowly, attempting to appear non-threatening. He made soft noises as he approached her, and the security team later swore that he was talking to her, though the noises didn’t seem to be a language.

When her threatening posture and noises didn’t stop the hero, Kalyx screamed again in rage. She grabbed a stick and raced toward her tormenter, swinging the stick around in vicious arcs. He didn’t get out of the way in time, and she managed to whack him in the head. By chance, she’d grabbed a metal reinforcing bar that still had chunks of building materials attached. The fantastic impact of this makeshift mace knocked Lionheart spinning. Before he could recover, the little creature was on him again, pounding him over again, using her club like a sledgehammer. Lionheart waited until Kalyx slammed him across his chest and quickly wrapped both arms around her weapon as she was pulling it back for another blow. The enraged spidermonk yanked twice as hard, and Lionheart held on until he was pulled off the ground. He let go and was catapulted high into the air, as he had planned.

At that instant, Remanence finally got close enough to join the fight. A magnetic battering ram slammed Kalyx back into a puddle of rubble that Remanence had already melted with magnetic induction heating. As she disappeared beneath the molten surface, he used magnetocaloric cooling to solidify the slag, capturing the hapless spidermonk in a chunk of very tough building material.

Before Lionheart could congratulate his teammate on the quick capture of the tiny terror, Remanence sneered at his teammate and spoke rudely. “Hey, old man!” he yelled mockingly. “I thought you were gonna have everything under control when I got here! Guess it’s time to step aside and let the younger generation take over.”

Lionheart’s congratulatory mood darkened in response to his teammate’s rudeness. This jackass had been under his direct command yesterday and had never acted like that when his commander was around. But before he could say anything, the two heroes were startled by an incredibly loud screech, like some incredibly large, powerful creature being tortured, coming from the half-buried beach-ball-sized lump of congealed alloy Remanence had just created. Though Lionheart’s strength had diminished with age, his hearing remained more acute than that of a jungle cat. Only the adaptive earplugs he normally wore kept the sound at a tolerable level. It took an instant for Remanence to deaden his own hearing with his magnetic powers; during that instant he was in agony.

“What the hell was that?” Remanence shouted as the noise ended, fear making his voice crack. He’d never heard anything like it before. If it hadn’t been for the training in the use of his powers he’d received from Batterstar, he thought his head might actually have burst from that powerful high frequency noise.

“Stretching metal, not sommat’ee oft hear, isut, pup?” Lionheart snarled. “Yer plash of a hobble won’t hold, I warrant; yon beastie is about to break free,” Lionheart warned his teammate.

Remanence didn’t believe it. The construction materials he’d melted were incredibly strong to start with. And as he’d cooled the puddle of molten materials, he’d also used magnetic annealing to create an impromptu alloy that was many times stronger than the original materials. But his magnetic vision showed that, even though the Tiny Terror was trapped, the energetic aura around the spidermonk was growing darker, or in other words, stronger. The magnetic maven hastily created a sphere of repulsive magnetic force around the blob of slag and squeezed it ever tighter. In response, the monk’s aura grew even darker, and Remanence could feel building pressure, fighting against his force-field, a pressure that quickly reached the threshold of pain.

“It’s eating my power!” the polar protector screamed in growing agony and disbelief.

“Har! Ye’ve harrowed the quiddity and essence, youngkin,” Lionheart snarled at his teammate. “She sponges power an what’s used against her. I’d nigh sapped her out when your blunderin’ recruited ‘er. Now I’m going to have to do it all anon.” The felinoid fighter sighed with resignation. He might be impervious to harm, but even he could feel pain and exhaustion. “Them security boogers look a little antsy. Go tell un I’ll serve this’n myself, and not to use their weapons!” He barked out this order, and Remanence leapt to obey, temporarily forgetting that Lionheart was no longer his commanding officer.

As Lionheart raced toward the lump of super-hardened alloy, now vibrating and shaking despite Remanence’s best efforts, he once again reversed the power of the gravity belt. Just as he reached the blob, the Georwellian guardian staggered and fell forward, and fifteen gravities of force pulled him down as the lump exploded. The gravity belt and Lionheart’s almost-indestructible Justice Machine costume were instantly vaporized, and he was thrown high into the air. His actions saved the lives of the security team and possibly Remanence by reflecting the force and debris of the explosion back into the ground.

Lionheart normally had the grace and balance of a cat, but instead of landing on his feet, this time he landed like a bag filled with rocks. Incredibly, he twitched feebly, then managed to roll over, mewling in pain. Remanence was both awed that his teammate was still alive and horrified to learn that the indestructible hero was not totally invulnerable after all. The front of Lionheart’s body looked like a wind-sculpted miniature badlands of razor-sharp rock, with fragments like ragged throwing stars, slivers, daggers, and knitting needles puncturing his chest and abdomen. Remanence retched when, with a gut-wrenching grunt of agony, the felinoid fighter awkwardly grabbed one of the longest shards, which was sticking through both sides of his left elbow, making his left arm useless.

With a quick jerky motion and a screech like a dying dinosaur, Lionheart tore that needle out. Thick golden fluid, presumably blood, welled from the wound for an instant, covering it, and then stopped flowing. To Remanence, it looked as if the congealed blood was somehow changing into new skin, and the entry wound was gone. The battling bassarisk used both arms to push himself into a sitting position and began pulling other shards from his battered body, unable to totally suppress his moans of agony. The outflow of golden liquid closed each cleared wound, and Lionheart’s movements eased. Aghast in horror and sickened by watching the great hero in such agony, Remanence and the security team rushed to aid the struggling Lionheart, the menace of the tiny terror all but forgotten by everyone, it seemed, but Lionheart himself.

“Keep back!” he grunted at them, painfully. “Keep un all away — an use aught energy weapons nearby!”

As the others changed direction and cautiously made their way through the debris left by the fight and the explosion, Lionheart painfully looked around for his foe. She, too, had been staggered by the explosion, and was just recovering, crawling from the new crater she herself had caused. She watched curiously as Lionheart painfully pulled slivers and shards from his skin. Georwell’s greatest hero could see the monk shuddering in sympathy with his own agony. After a minute, the tiny terror approached slowly, without making any threatening moves.

When she reached the hero, she tentatively reached out and grabbed a sliver, and when Lionheart didn’t object, she carefully pulled it free. With her great strength, it came out much more easily than it would have if the hero had tried to remove it, and with less pain. He thanked her gratefully, and removed a smaller sliver himself. The monk touched the biggest remaining fragment, one that the battling bassarisk hadn’t dared to touch, as it had passed totally through his abdomen, close to his heart, and was certainly piercing one of his lungs. She gave him a questioning look.

“Be quick, little one!” he agreed, and set himself. She seemed to understand what he was saying, and yanked the big fragment out, then instantly threw it as far as she could, clearly hating the deadly spear.

The agony removing this shard produced was momentarily more than Lionheart’s body could deal with, and he slumped forward, virtually unconscious. The security team started forward and raised their weapons, but Remanence stopped them. His respect for his former commander had grown in the last few minutes, almost to the point of hero worship, and he was determined to obey the Georwellian guardian’s most recent order.

As the monk gently but firmly pulled more of the larger fragments, Lionheart recovered consciousness. As the two of them worked together, he talked to the monk, quietly and calmly, and eventually, Kalyx began chittering in response. Lionheart’s own words changed to sound more like the noises made by the monk, and after a while, it became clear to the observers that they were having a conversation. Once most of the shards were removed, he said something to the monk, and then called to Remanence. The spidermonk watched cautiously as the man of magnet approached, ready to attack if provoked.

“The fighting withal, youngkin, it’s the pinch of the game. The monk here betokens she’ll give her parole an we not attack her again,” Lionheart told his teammate, his voice weak and sounding tired. “An she stays with me, I warrant she’ll restrain her demency. I’ve offered her covert at the Citadel of Justice. Whistle up a hyper and let’s retire; we’ll let the Machine’s spinners palaver with Research Central!” He slumped to the ground, exhausted by his terrible ordeal and the effort of speaking. The spidermonk climbed onto his chest and sat there defiantly, clearly planning to stay with her new friend and ready to attack anyone who disturbed them. His ability to talk to animals wasn’t something the battling bassarisk needed often in the technical civilization of Georwell, but he’d put it to good use today. It was good to know that age hadn’t stripped away yet another of his powers.

“The hyper we came in grounded at the New Blefescue District spaceport to wait for us, ” Remanence reported. Batterstar had recognized that his magnetic powers might allow him to mentally send and receive radio transmissions, and hundreds of hours of painful training had proved her right. Now he loved to show off that ability. “They’ll be here in five minutes.” Finally, Lionheart and his new friend could relax.

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The Justice Machine: A Day in the Life, Chapter 1: The Rampage of the Tiny Terror

by Dan Swanson

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Time: 1929 (Georwellian calendar), more than fifty years before the events in Justice Machine and the Elementals.

Location: The New Blefescue District on the Second Continent of the planet Georwell.

Setting: A well-equipped biotonics laboratory in the main facility of the Biosciences Division of Research Central.


“Scientist Third Uneile, I’ve just finished the two Energizer prototypes!” the tall, thin woman with the sharp-chinned face and straggly brown hair told the white-clad woman who had just entered the room.

The room was a biotonics lab, filled with machinery, instruments, and esoteric equipment well advanced over even early twenty-first-century Terran technology. The name tag on the speaker’s drab uniform proclaimed that she was Underscientist Giekashwan Edun, assigned to the Super Powers Project. Her normally sullen face was animated by excitement, and her voice temporarily lacked the disdainful, just-barely-not-insolent tone she normally used when addressing her hated superior.

She almost looks attractive when she’s excited, thought Scientist Third Cryshard Uneile, Edun’s superior in the Energizer Project. Uneile, a dumpy, partially bald woman who projected an aura of impatient self-importance, was the administer of the Energizer Project, one of the many ongoing research projects under the aegis of the Super Powers Department of the Biosciences Division of Research Central.

Too bad she doesn’t spend any time on her appearance; she could almost look hot if she tried. Uneile was overlooking the fact that Edun, like all the other underscientists she commanded, worked two eight-hour shifts each day, every day, under penalty of instant death. Eight hours on, three hours off, eight hours on, five hours off, except for those rare days when Council Central proclaimed a general holiday.

To celebrate the completion of the prototypes, perhaps I’ll order her to pleasure me, the administer considered lasciviously, then reconsidered. No, time enough for that stuff once I’ve demonstrated the Energizer to Scientist First Curman and Scientist Second Farri.

Farri was the director of the Super Powers Department and Uneile’s own supervisor, and he reported to Curman, the sponsor of the Biosciences Division. If these two bigwigs were sufficiently impressed with the Energizer prototypes, Uneile would likely be promoted into an open scientist second position. The official reason for the opening was that only two days ago, Scientist Second Garlach of the Bioweapons Department had retired to his family’s hereditary estate on the island of Euve for health reasons. Uneile knew better.

Gurlach’s health really had been involved; the careless scientist second had been accidentally (Uneile chuckled at her own choice of words) exposed to one of the latest combat viruses being developed by Bioweapons under his leadership. After his painful death, his contaminated body had been incinerated and the ashes dosed with lye. Finally, what remained had been returned to his family on Euve — a not-so-subtle warning to anyone who might be interested in investigating his death.

Uneile’s pleasant daydreams of her coming promotion were interrupted by Edun’s shrill voice. Wouldn’t the underscientist ever stop talking?

“You must allow me to assist you with the demonstration, Scientist Third!” the underscientist was insisting. “As you know, in the final stages of the development we encountered significant genetic compatibility issues…”

Uneile didn’t know; she’d spent so much time recently plotting her promotion that she had ignored the latest progress reports. What she did know was that, in her worldview, underscientists never insisted that their superiors should do anything. Edun’s prattling was beginning to annoy her.

“The prototypes are matched…” the mousy underscientist droned on as Uneile zoned out again.

Once she’d achieved the position of scientist second, her choice of pleasure toys would be more extensive — and much more attractive — than the miserable underscientists who now surrounded her, Uneile mused.

“So you see, Scientist Third, that I must be present…” Edun’s strident tone had interrupted her reverie for the last time.

Before the underscientist could react, Uneile reached out and touched the gem of a ring on her right hand to a device strapped to Edun’s chest. This activated several small capsules implanted in Edun’s heart, blowing it to shreds. The resulting drop in blood pressure induced instant unconsciousness, and Underscientist Giekashwan Edun, the genius behind the Energizer Project, was dead by the time her slumping body fell from her stool and hit the floor.

“No, geeky one, I don’t see that you must be present,” she mocked her former subordinate as two scuttling cleaning droids dragged the body from the room. “It really sucks to be you, doesn’t it?” She chuckled. “But it sure is good to be the boss!” One benefit of being promoted to scientist second was that she could finally remove the similar device on her own chest, to which Scientist Second Farri had the key.

So that bitch thought she’d use the Energizer on herself, did she? Scientist Third Cryshard Uneile thought sneeringly. I knew I couldn’t trust her!

The BB-sized biotonic Energizers were implanted using a standard compressed air-powered medical injector gun. The prototypes were labeled Lab Test Animal S/N SM1929-734 and Giekashwan Edun. Edun had planned to give herself super-powers if the animal test was successful. I’ve certainly put an end to that plot! the scientist third thought to herself with satisfaction.

She used her mupedd (multipurpose personal digital device) to scan the test animal’s serial number into her computer. A few seconds later, a droid rolled into the lab bearing a cage containing a spidermonk — a small, eight-legged mammal with long, silky purple fur and a metabolism surprisingly similar to that of a human. Edun had already prepared a painless injection site on one of the monk’s hind legs, shaving a patch of skin and surgically deadening the nerves in that area, but Cryshard ignored it and instead injected the small animal with a sedative.

A skilled and cautious implant-gun operator could do injections that caused minimal tissue damage and were virtually painless, but Uneile wasn’t skilled, nor was she particularly worried about the monk’s comfort. She jammed the nozzle of the gun roughly against the monk’s neck and fired. Instead of passing harmlessly through fatty tissue, the BB-like device tore a hole through the monk’s shoulder muscle.

If the Energizer had actually been inactive, Uneile’s casual cruelty wouldn’t have hurt anyone but the spidermonk. Uneile could have kept it sedated until the wound was healed enough to no longer be painful. But her suspicious former subordinate had set a trap for her. The monk’s Energizer was already activated and set to deliver full power as soon as it was injected.

The immediate surge of biotonic energy into the monk’s nervous system overcame the effects of the sedative. The spidermonk awakened suddenly, in considerable pain due to the shoulder wound and infused with incredible super-powers — but no experience or with or understanding of those powers. As the newly deceased Edun had hoped, this combination was a recipe for impending disaster. Wherever a Georwellian soul went after death, Edun was probably watching what followed with cold satisfaction.

Edun had named this particular spidermonk Kalyx and treated it as a favored pet. Spidermonks are generally friendly, but Scientist Third Uneile had mistreated this one in the past as well as injuring it today. Whatever fear of the scientist third the monk might have felt was instantly seared away by the hot rush of biotonic energy surging through its body, leaving only a burning anger. Instinctively, the monk’s four middle legs stiffened, extending its gliding membranes, while the razor-sharp slashing claws on her other four paws snickered into position. Fangs bared, Kalyx hissed and leaped.

Things happened quickly then. The spidermonk flew across the room like a missile. Due to her new super-strength, she misjudged her leap and missed her target, but her tail lashed out and slapped Uneile as she flashed by the human. The monk’s hypersonic velocity filled the room with a sonic boom, which quickly mixed with the shattering crash as Kalyx smashed into and partway through the outer wall of the lab.

These louder noises masked Uneile’s shriek of pain, abruptly cut off as she flew backward through the air and smashed through the doors of a cabinet filled with small instruments. The cabinet tilted forward, spilling its contents over the slumped scientists third before it crashed down on top of her. Meanwhile, the lab’s automatic safety system activated the building’s disaster alarms. This also sent an emergency signal to the Council Central building and the Citadel of Justice.

The now-terrified spidermonk was struggling frantically to extricate herself from the hole she’d smashed. She was jolted by electric and duotronic shocks as she tore through power and communications cables imbedded in the walls. Though the Energizer absorbed these shocks, increasing her power and protecting her from damage, she still felt some pain, which only fed her panic. She tore her way completely through the wall, shattering a major load-bearing support pillar, and was outside the building.


An alarm went off in the emergency monitor room at the Citadel of Justice. The senior situation analyst in the monitor room immediately and carefully reviewed the security videos from New Blefescue. She had to make an instant decision, and her life might depend on her being right. She quickly decided that a super-powered menace in a Research Central laboratory really did warrant the Justice Machine’s intervention. She was right once again. Her predecessor had been wrong once too often, but she would be going home tonight.

“A spidermonk with super-powers? Who could possibly take that seriously?!” exclaimed the three-inch-tall hero Collapsor (Lou Hofgul), who was currently on monitor duty. He was speaking into his miniature mupedd, which captured the ultra-high squeal of his tiny voice, lowered the frequency into the range of human hearing, amplified it, and rebroadcast it to the mupedds of his fellow Justice Machine members. “I think we should let Research Central clean up their own messes!”

“Shut up, Collapsor,” Batterstar (Tyvain Sithlam), the brand-new leader of the Justice Machine, responded reflexively, though in this case she tended to agree with him. Still, it had taken incredible strength for that tiny creature to tear so easily through the reinforced wall of a Research Central facility. Research Central projects tended to be dangerous, and their buildings were designed to keep their dangerous results inside. Tyvain didn’t want anyone of accusing her of failing to respond to a crisis on her first day as leader of the Justice Machine.

To make matters shakier, Lionheart and Remanence were currently assigned to high alert duty, and she would have to send them to deal with this crisis. Lionheart had been relieved of his position as leader of the Justice Machine only yesterday, and she wasn’t sure how he would respond to her orders. His behavior had been unpredictable lately. The Justice Machine’s physicians said that his fading physical powers and deteriorating mental facilities were only a natural result of his aging process.

Logi turds! Ty snorted emphatically to herself. He’s a mutant, the only one of his kind! How the hell can they claim to know what’s natural for him? Lionheart had recently undergone some experimental medical treatments at Research Central designed to restore his powers, and his mental issues had not surfaced until after those treatments. Her natural distrust for doctors suggested to her that age wasn’t the true cause of his problems.

Many years ago, Tyvain (in an earlier identity and using a different name at that time) had realized that her superior vitality and seeming immortality must be the result of a mutation. She’d once asked a doctor she trusted about it, and found that her trust had been misplaced. He’d seen her as his best chance of becoming immortal himself, and she’d barely escaped becoming a captive medical subject. After that, she’d changed identities more often and stayed away from doctors as much as possible. She doubted that there was anyone alive who realized that she was centuries old, though after long association, Lionheart surely suspected.

“Leo!” she called, short for Lionheart, who didn’t have a civilian identity. “Kal!” Kal Youngstar, AKA Remanence, the Justice Machine’s youngest and perhaps most powerful current member, given Lionheart’s troubles. “Launch with Alert 2 in ninety seconds, max!” Ty fought to keep her nervousness from her voice, but Lionheart just jumped from his seat and headed for the launch bay. She had no idea what she would do if he ever refused to obey her orders. She was perhaps the most highly skilled and deadly fighter in human history, but she trained with Lionheart every day and knew who would win if the two of them ever got into an all-out battle.

Alert 2 was a hypersonic flier able to reach any spot on the planet in forty-five minutes maximum; if it launched in the next ninety seconds as she had just commanded, the two heroes would be over the New Blefescue District, which was located on the near shore of Second Continent, in less than ten minutes.

Leo and Kal were already out the door, and Tyvain guessed that the pilots of Alert 2 were halfway through their preflight checklist by now. In her last identity, she had been an alert pilot for Councilor Four, and she knew that the job was normally rather boring. You sat in the cockpit for six straight hours, eating and relieving yourself in your flight suit, and spent the entire shift running and re-running diagnostics to be sure your flier was ready to launch. Then, three times a week in your off-shift hours, you practiced emergency launch, re-entry, and landing procedures. Alert 2‘s current pilots were good; she’d trained them herself. Her teammates were in good hands.


“Knock off a couple of brews at Big Brother’s after the crisis, old man?” Remanence asked his teammate with a chuckle as they boarded the waiting hyper. No one knew exactly how old Lionheart was, but he had been the leader of the Justice Machine for longer than Kal had been alive. As the youngest member, the maven of magnet often kidded his older teammates about their ages. But he’d never kidded with Lionheart before. It was weird now that Batterstar was the leader.

They dropped into their seats, human-shaped depressions in a large foam-rubber cushion. Before the older hero could reply to Kal’s joke, a hydraulic mechanism activated, and a cushion with matching depressions was pressed down on top of them, locking them firmly in place against the upcoming acceleration. A powerful magnetic field pulled the hyper into the Citadel’s vertical linear accelerator, and fifteen seconds later they were racing toward space, ramjets roaring, at five times the speed of sound and still accelerating. A scant few minutes later, they were slicing downward over New Blefescue.

They were jolted in their cushiony cocoons as their ejection capsule launched automatically. The capsule tumbled wildly, and Lionheart laughed aloud as the sounds of his teammate retching came over their radio link. “You just rest up so you’ll be feelin’ up to a drink after I’ve cleaned up this mess, youngkin,” he suggested as the explosive bolts blew their capsule apart. Both heroes quickly brought their tumbles under control, and for a few seconds, they fell through the thin atmosphere side by side.

“Good one, old timer,” Remanence retorted weakly, adding, you jerk! in his thoughts. There weren’t many people who he didn’t consider jerks. His stomach was feeling slightly better now that he could see again. “Race you! Last one down buys the beer!” he taunted. “Why don’t you just plan on sitting this one out?” He zoomed downward. Lionheart no longer had the power of independent flight and maneuvering with a gravity belt was slow and awkward compared to Lou’s own magnetic power.

Stunted, miserable misbegotten get of a miscreant mutant logi! Lionheart thought to himself savagely, or perhaps he used a slightly shorter expletive. He reversed power to his gravity belt, then plummeted toward the ground ten miles below. He roared at the top of his mighty voice as he whizzed past Remanence, “Ho! Make mine Euvian Stout, boy!” His uproarious laughter faded as he fell away ever faster, favoring his teammate with a dual-handed raised-finger salute.

“Oh, crap,” was all Remanence had to say.


Kalyx tore through the reinforced wall. The destruction of the wall triggered automatic energy weapons concealed throughout the Research Central facility’s expansive campus. Supercharged with biotonic energy, the monk moved faster than the guns could retarget, and a line of blackened destruction followed her erratic course across the campus as she frantically raced for safety. An armed security team raced from the central building, but the ravening destruction spewing from the automatic guns and ripping up the grounds near the scampering monk prevented them from approaching and attempting to apprehend the terrified tiny terror.

As she gradually realized that the weapon fire wasn’t harming her, Kalyx started attacking the hidden weapons emplacements, shredding them with her claws. Whenever the security team got too close, she would throw shards of weapons and chunks of construction materials at them. The situation had evolved into a temporary standoff when Lionheart plummeted onto the scene — or perhaps, speaking more precisely, crashed through the scene. Tons of construction materials, soil, and vegetation exploded into the air as he smashed into the lawn. The ground shuddered as he disappeared, knocking the security team off their feet.

The gravity belt had accelerated Lionheart downward at more than twice the normal force of gravity, and he was moving at well over escape velocity as he neared the ground. Just before he hit, he wrapped into a ball to protect the belt’s mechanism with his invulnerable body. The dirt near his entry point was simply vaporized, and he formed a deep crater by shattering layer of bedrock many feet thick before he stopped falling. He straightened and applied the full lifting power of the belt; instantly, he was rocketing up from the depths of the massive crater he’d blasted.

Before the security team could struggle back to their feet, even before the ejecta from his crash finished falling back to the once-pristine, now-devastated lawn, Lionheart, the most feared fighter in the Georwellian Imperium, was floating majestically over the demolished landscape.

The Justice Machine had arrived.

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Earth-Two Elseworlds: The Spectre and the Demon: Gamemasters

Earth-Two Elseworlds: Five Earths Multiverse

Earth-Two Elseworlds: The Spectre and the Demon


The Race crossover

by Dan Swanson and Christine Nightstar

As the U.S. Presidential race continues, several of the players been moved about like pieces on a grand chess board. But what happens when two of the most powerful spirits — the Spectre and the Demon Etrigan — discover that they are among those who have been manipulated? Guest starring the ghost of the Batman!

Editor’s note: This story, based on the continuity of Earth-2, is not in itself considered in continuity because of its portrayal of the ghost of Bruce Wayne (Batman of Earth-2), its uncharacteristic depiction of Earth-2’s Zeus (see Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1947: The New Olympians), and the use of Etrigan the Demon, who is an Earth-1 character. It otherwise is a well-written story, and we present it here as an Elseworlds story for your enjoyment.

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Earth-Two Elseworlds: The Spectre and the Demon: Gamemasters, Chapter 3: Spirit of the Bat

by Dan Swanson

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“There is none as skilled with sword and shield as I!” Ares boasted as he approached Etrigan, weaving his sword through a glittering series of arcs and slashes. The flashing sword veritably filled the air in front of him with deadly edges — whatever he closed on would be slashed and chopped to death.

A bored-looking Etrigan pulled a gun from the holster on his side. The barrel was the size of a truck tire. A single shot, a shell the size of a cruise missile, and Ares’ torso was blown to shreds.

“It is always a surprise,
What can be learned through mortal eyes.”

He turned to Hades.

“Greetings, Unk! You must debunk
Zeus’ claim on your allegiance,
Otherwise, right now you die
For your petty malfeasance.”

Hades spoke. “Zeus is my brother, while you and I share naught but our home, the underworld. And even you have not the power to kill the gods of Greece — humans created us, and only with the extinction of humans will we be undone. Still, you have the power to cause great pain to even gods, which gives me pause.” He looked at Ares and shuddered. The god of war — well, his head, shoulders, and arms — was frantically scuttling around the battlefield, gathering scraps of his body and screaming in pain as he did so. “I believe Zeus has transgressed and may need a lesson, so I’ll sit this one out.”

Etrigan turned to the battle between the Spectre and the Greek gods of lightning and fire. Suddenly, the Spectre found himself again in that timeless instant of translation, a private universe inhabited only by Spectre and Demon.

“Please go deal with Wayne, ghastly white,
Allow me to finish your fight;
Lightning and Fire
Have aroused my vast ire;
I do what I do out of spite!”

The Spectre was then standing in front of Bruce Wayne, and he realized that Etrigan had just switched places with him. Across the landscape, two grim Greek gods faced a cackling, prancing Demon, all three growing larger as he watched. In front of him, wearing a cloak and hood that strongly resembled those of the Batman, Bruce Wayne stood motionless, almost as if in some kind of stasis.

“Bruce Wayne, you have much to answer for,” said the Spectre. “While the arrogance of Zeus is understandable, how dare you, of all the spirits in the afterworld, play games with human lives? What was the Batman but a symbol that all humans have the power to choose their own destinies? Do you deny them that which you fought for in life?”

His voice beat at Bruce like a hammer. Bruce was clearly struggling with something but remained silent. Each word inflicted incredible agony on the ghost, who had thought he was beyond physical pain at this point in his existence.

“How is this game you play any different than how Silky Cernak manipulated your wife and led her to her death? In fact, perhaps his blackmail was more honest. Selina at least knew she was being played!”

There was pain on Wayne’s face as he remembered his wife, blackmailed into committing one last crime and then being killed by the blackmailer. (*) He was shuddering, and sweat was pouring from his face. His teeth were clenched, and still he said not a word.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “From Each Ending, a Beginning,” DC Super Stars #17 (November-December, 1977).]

“Did not you learn your lesson when you came unknowingly under the influence of the Psycho-Pirate and nearly tore the JSA apart? Have you forgotten the pitched battle in the Batcave or the terrible consequences? A team that was together for close to forty years, torn apart by the mistrust you spread while under the influence of that villain. (*) And now you bring others unknowing into a mere game?

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Divided We Stand,” All-Star Comics #68 (September-October, 1977) and “United We Fall,” All-Star Comics #69 (November-December, 1977).]

There was clear contempt in the thundering voice. The rage of the Spectre was rarely unleashed in full, and there were few more terrible things in the universe.

“Bruce Wayne, those humans who died because of your game cry out to me for vengeance. Neither your dubious ally, the erstwhile king of the gods, nor the respect you gained from our past association will help you now!”

The Spectre’s face grew in Bruce’s vision, growing impossibly larger, filling his entire universe, filling his entire mind, coming near to wiping out everything that Bruce had ever been or ever strived to be. With a last heroic effort — an effort far greater than any he had ever made, far greater than he had ever imagined that any being could have made — he finally forced himself to speak.

“Jim, help me!

With those words, his struggles stopped, and he had no energy left with which to fight. He slumped, helplessly. He knew that if the Spectre didn’t heed his final words, he might spend the rest of eternity in the place of the damned.

As for the Spectre, these were the last words he had expected from Bruce Wayne. An appeal to Jim Corrigan? As he considered this, he realized yet again the power of Bruce Wayne’s mind. The Spectre was hardened to appeals from the damned, having heard them all millions of times. Nobody ever deserved vengeance; it was always someone else’s fault. Yet Wayne knew that Corrigan could never ignore a plea for help from a friend, not that Corrigan’s intercession would stay the hand of the Spectre if punishment was required. So there must be more to this than just a baseless plea for mercy. And what did Corrigan have that the Spectre did not? Why, he was a detective.

For the third time that day, time stopped. This time, the two who conversed in the timeless limbo were an even stranger pair than before — Police Detective Jim Corrigan and the Spectre.

“Something doesn’t add up,” said Corrigan. “Look, when Etrigan forced me to change, you discovered that I had been under a spell, right? A spell that kept me from noticing this game and also prevented me from thinking about changing.”

“That is correct,” said the Spectre. “Proceed.”

“If I had not been ensorcelled, would you have noticed this game?”

The Spectre thought for a few seconds. “Perhaps not. In fact, likely not. It was a subtle thing and not the sort of affair I normally concern myself with.”

“Right!” said Corrigan. “So why was I pulled in at all? Leave me alone, and don’t make me a pawn, and you won’t have any reason to investigate and won’t become involved. Safest thing to do. On the other hand, if Blood had not been made a pawn, would Etrigan have interfered with this game?”

The Spectre didn’t need to puzzle over that. “No. At most he would have been amused. It would certainly have not aroused his ire.”

“So why include Blood at all?” said Corrigan. “Including Blood guaranteed that Etrigan would interfere with this game. Whoever cast the spells on Blood and me wanted this game to be discovered and destroyed.”

“I begin to see,” said the Spectre. “And no doubt you know the identity of this secret player?”

Corrigan sighed. “C’mon, Spec — you’ve been merged with me for what, almost fifty years? What are you going to do when I pack it in? Isn’t it obvious?

“I have no patience for riddles. Quickly, the answer!”

Corrigan sighed again. “Let me show off a little more, and see if you can work it out yourself. Bruce is a ghost. Do normal ghosts have the kind of power over human behavior that Bruce is exhibiting? You don’t have to answer; I already know. God knows I went through enough years deluded into thinking that you were merely my own ghost, when it should have been perfectly clear that you were a completely separate entity, especially when you spent some fifteen years merged with my counterpart on Earth-One. Zeus must have loaned Bruce some power. Does that clear it up?”

“Ah, Zeus used his power to place a geas on the ghost of Bruce Wayne in order to find a worthy opponent,” reasoned the Spectre. “Being of mortal descent, Wayne was unable to overcome this geas directly, yet he refused to yield. Within the rules of the game he was forced to play, he found a way. You and Blood were among his secret pieces. And he foresaw these consequences entire.” Only someone as intimate with the Spectre as Corrigan could have heard just a small trace of something very much like awe in the spirit’s voice. “A brilliant strategist he proves himself once more!”

The timeless place vanished yet again as they returned to Olympus.

Nearby, Etrigan had messily bested Hephaestus and was toying with Zeus. The Spectre waved a hand over Bruce Wayne, and his will was once more his own.

The angered Bruce gave his voice a power that was normally reserved for gods and demons. “Zeus, you will pay for this!” He launched himself at the god like a human missile. But Zeus had bigger issues to worry about and swung a careless backhand that sent Bruce tumbling, broken, over the landscape.

Zeus roared with laughter. “Puny human shade! Who are you to think you can challenge the king of the gods?”

While still flying through the air, the broken body changed. It became darker and seemed to grow great, dark wings. The tumbling slowed and came under control, and the broken body straightened and, with a final acrobatic roll, landed lightly and turned back to the battle.

“I’m Batman.”

There was no boast to the words, no added emphasis — yet none was needed. Zeus, who had faced and easily defeated every mortal champion ever raised up against him for thousands of years, felt the first twinge of fear. The being that strode toward him across the shattered and devastated grounds of his palace was far more deadly than the shade of Bruce Wayne. Etrigan withdrew from the battle, observing the exchange alongside the Spectre. Neither seemed worried about the outcome.

“You are wearing the body you wore when alive,” Zeus said, trying to sound confident. “You have no more power now then you ever did. And you never had the power to face a god.”

“Sounds like you’re talking to build up your nerve, eh, Zeusy boy? Your power doesn’t matter to me. I already told you — I’m Batman.”

Rather than respond, Zeus let fly a barrage of lightning javelins. Batman slipped agilely between most of them; those he was unable to dodge, he blocked with his insulated cape. Zeus couldn’t believe that any mortal could survive such an attack, yet Batman moved through the lightning storm as casually as if he were strolling through a garden. Before Zeus could react, the Dark Knight was within striking distance, and strike he did — a stinging slap across the face.

The outline of Batman’s hand glowed red on the snarling face of the lord of Olympus. Rather than throw another lightning bolt, he used his next one like a spear or a pike, stabbing and slashing at his foe. Casually, with no apparent effort, Batman evaded each blow and again slipped close to the god to slap him once more, so that he had matching marks on each side of his face.

Zeus roared in rage, and the volume of that roar would have leveled mountains. Batman stood with his cape wrapped around him and weathered the storm. Even Zeus could not sustain such volume for long, and when his voice failed him, Batman slipped close, this time blasting him with pepper spray. Zeus vanished, and Batman was wrapped in the coils of a giant snake. A touch of a switch on his utility belt, and his cape stiffened into knife-edges wings, and the tighter the snake squeezed, the deeper it was cut.

The snake was replaced by a bloody Zeus, but while his wounds quickly closed, he moved a little more slowly than he had before. As for his opponent, the Batman was moving as quickly as ever. A batarang flashed out, trailing a wire and binding Zeus’ arms and legs. Batman moved around behind the bound god, who was unable to turn to track him. A not-so-gentle shove to the back of Zeus’ head, and he toppled to the ground, screaming as his face smashed into the rubble. There was an explosion, melting the wire, and Zeus sprang to his feet.

Enough! Spirit of the Bat, I banish you back to your eternal rest, never again to tread on Mount Olympus!”

And Batman was gone. Zeus turned wearily to the Spectre and Etrigan, who were totally ignoring him. The Demon Etrigan spoke before the two of them vanished.

“When next we meet, we meet as foes;
I take my leave, so it goes.”

The End

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