by Dan Swanson
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.