The Legion of Frontier Heroes
by Chaim Mattis Keller
As the train pulled out of the station and headed west, I observed the couple in the berth in front of me. Well, perhaps "couple" was the wrong word. But it sure wouldn't be for long.
"Hey, big guy, I'm Tina. Who're you?"
The large Indian turned toward her, somewhat surprised at her forwardness. "I'm Jonah Great Eagle of the Nez Perce," he responded.
"Nez Perce?" asked Tina. "I thought you guys lived further northwest," she said.
"Ever since Chief Joseph said to fight no more, my tribe has had no need for warriors," answered Jonah. "I have wandered through the United States looking for a place where I belong. I think Legion is the answer."
Tina went from mildly flirtatious into complete mating-dance mode. "Well, I sure was hopin' to find a good, strong man to protect me out in this great big world, so I'm sure glad you're goin' my way," she told him. She grabbed the warrior's thickly muscled arm and rested her head upon it. "You know how to take care of a woman, Jonah?"
The Great Eagle set his face, with effort, stonily impassive. "I shall see that you come to no harm," he said in a painfully plain tone of voice.
I felt it was time to make myself known. "So you two are headed to Legion too, huh? Nice coincidence," I said.
The startled pair both turned in my direction; Jonah in relief, Tina in annoyance. I could see I had my audience. "You know, two guys and a girl on a train is how that whole Legion thing got started in the first place. I reckon we'll fit in there just fine."
"And you are...?" asked the young lady.
"Sheriff Thomas Kallor, youngest boy in Texas to ever get the star pinned on him," I introduced myself. "I'm actually headed to Legion to pool our law-enforcement forces over some varmints I've heard about."
"How interesting," said Tina, icily.
"Not nearly as interesting as your mother would find it that you never got to your Philadelphia finishing school, Miss Wazzo," I said, shocking her. "Legion, Colorado is a bit out of the way for you."
"What?" she sputtered. "But I..."
I got a kick out of seeing miss smooth falter when dealing with a pro. "Don't you worry none, Miss Wazzo. I ain't gonna rat you out. But your prior escapes have already made you a household name amongst the bounty hunters and such, and you know she'll get you back again in a jiff if she hears about this."
Tina practically burst into tears. "But I can't go back there! I can't! You don't know what it's like being forced into a mold you don't fit. I'm not one of these stuffy little 'young ladies.' I need to live!"
Jonah then spoke up. "But I know what it's like," he said. "My chief wants us to stop making war on the white man, but some of us were born for that role...what was I to do?"
"I knew you'd understand, Jonah," said Tina, hugging the big man not out of confident seductiveness but out of vulnerability. "Not like this...repulsive..."
"I'm not all that bad, ma'am," I told her, as the train rumbled toward the Rocky Mountains. "Not so'd I'd manipulate some big lug into holding me."
Her cheeks reddened, so she changed the subject. "You said the Legion started out this way?"
"Yup, or so I reckon," I said. "It was right around here that Rocky Krinn, Saturn Girl and the Lightning Kid saved R. J. Brande's life as he was headed out prospecting for more silver. Saturn Girl, who supposedly can tell what people are thinking just by looking at them, alerted the other two to the assassin. The Lightning Kid, fastest gun in the west, took him down, and Krinn caught his partner, who was running away. First strike he made after that incident, he set up a town around it and declared the three of them heroes of the frontier."
Hours later, the train came to a stop and the conductor yelled, "Legion!"
Jonah, Tina and I disembarked with a few others. "Star Boy! Over here!" called the Legion sheriff, Rocky Krinn. I approached and the other two followed me. They were intercepted by an older man with a mustache and a big smile.
"Welcome to Legion," he said. "I'm R. J. Brande...please come with me."
As they left with Brande, I conversed with Krinn. "It's an honor to have the Star Boy of Texas visit us," he said to me.
"The honor's mine, Sheriff Krinn, and call me Tom" I said, recognizing the magnetic personality for which he was famed. "I've run into a problem which I think the Legion will have a great interest in, and I'm glad to see I was right."
"We'll talk about that when we get to headquarters," he said. "And call me Rocky, like everyone around here does. In the meantime, care to give me your impression of the two folks who were with you?"
"Hmm...I only met them on this trip. The Indian seems to be strong and brave, and I'm sure you can find good use for him. But be careful, he seems to be easily manipulated. The girl is nothing but trouble."
"What makes you say that?" Rocky asked.
"Who do you think was manipulating the Indian? She's got everything a woman should have and knows how to use it all to get what she wants. In addition, she's a chronic runaway. I heard of her back in Texas, she's skipping out on a boarding school her ma's sent her to as we speak."
"Don't worry, that's taken care of. We've got one of our guys over at the finishing school in Philadelphia getting her legitimately removed right now."
"What? You're helping her do this?"
"I imagine her slippery tendencies could come in handy," said Krinn, as we entered Legion headquarters. "Why waste such talent?"
"I see...still, I don't like it much."
"Then let's change the subject," said Rocky. "Pull up a seat and tell me what the Legion can do for you."
I sat down. "You ever hear of a guy called Doctor Universo?"
"Can't say I ever have. What's his angle?"
"Your basic snake-oil salesman...sells his "Doctor Universo's Miracle Tonic," cures everything, supposedly."
"And he's Legion business because...?"
"He's got Validus."
Krinn's eyes opened wide. "Dream Girl," he called, and the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen stepped into the room. "Could you do me a favor, please?" he asked her. "Have a telegram sent to Mrs. Winifred Wazzo, staying at Liberty Bell Suites in Philadelphia that he...I mean, she should take the fastest train possible to Austin, Texas, final destination to follow."
Dream Girl shot me a look and suddenly I had enormous sympathy for how Jonah acted on the train. "Will do, handsome. See ya real soon," she said, and she winked as she left the room.
And that's how I ended up attending my first Legion meeting, along with Jonah and Tina, who apparently were already accepted into the group's ranks. "I call this meeting of the Legion of Frontier Heroes to order," declared Krinn. "I'd like to open by welcoming our guest, Sheriff Tom Kallor, the Star Boy of Texas."
"Howdy," I said, and everyone murmured acknowledgement.
"As you know, the Fatal Five escaped from prison several weeks ago. Their whereabouts were a total mystery until Sheriff Kallor arrived. Apparently Validus has been spotted around Texas with a medicine salesman called Doctor Universo. Universo has been traveling to sell a cure-all "Miracle Tonic" and Validus is his prize exhibit. I'm going to form several teams."
"Doc Brains, Saturn Girl, Tina, Great Eagle and Invisible Kid. You'll head back to Texas with Star Boy and rendezvous with Chameleon there. Brainy, you and Saturn Girl are going to be up-front in asking him about his Miracle Tonic - what it's made of, how it works. You others will try to find out in a more secret way."
"Dream Girl, Lightning Kid, Karate Kid, Dirk. You four will also be going to Texas, to investigate some recently reported bank robberies. They don't appear to involve the Fatal Five, but they didn't begin before the Five escaped from prison, and now that we know Validus is in Texas, we've got to consider a link."
"Everyone else, remain here to coordinate, handle other emergencies and, if necessary, we'll join you in the field later. Any questions?...Tina."
"Who are these Fatal Five? Jonah and I are new here."
Krinn put an old "Wanted" poster on an easel. "Let's start with Validus. Poor soul, he was deformed since birth...no eyes, very soft skull which had to be re-enforced with glass, constantly being re-fitted for his growth. He was abandoned by his parents and raised in hospitals, and grew at an enormous rate...what'd you say that's called, Brainy?"
"Pituitary giant. His brain overproduces growth hormones which only aggravated..."
"Thanks, Brainy," interrupted Krinn. "Basically, Validus is an emotional and mental infant in a huge and powerful body, in almost constant pain, prone to fits of rage. With the apparent exception of this Doctor Universo, only one man has ever been able to control him and direct those fits..." Rocky Krinn tapped the wanted poster for effect..."Tharok."
"He only had half his face," observed Jonah.
"Correct. He was a petty crook for whom the struggle against the law turned personal when a deputy shot and disfigured him. He constantly wears a metal mask over the damaged part of his face. He's the group's leader and brainpower. The others all follow him."
Krinn pointed to the next three in succession. "Persuader. Was a lumberjack in the upper peninsula of Michigan when he got into a bar fight and killed someone with his axe. Even if he's relieved of his axe, he's very strong. Emerald Empress. She ran a bordello in Arkansas right near Indian territory and she and her girls had a racket in which they killed rich clients and stole their money. When her gang was busted, she escaped, taking with her her favorite weapons, a pistol and a knife, both with emeralds set in the handles. She'd always been obsessed with the color green. Finally, Mano. A Mexican bandit whose right hand is apparently completely without sensation. His favorite trick is picking up hot coals with that hand and torturing his victims by burning them."
I watched Tina slowly lose color as Krinn described each one. "You okay, Miss Wazzo?"
She shot me a look of contempt and sidled over to Jonah. "I'll manage, Star Boy." I could see that the trip back to Texas was going to be full of laughs.
As we arrived in Ozona, Texas, we could see the crowd gathering around a temporary stage. "Do you suffer from gout? Dropsy? Even cancer? Anything at all? Doctor Universo's Miracle Tonic can save you! Perhaps you're not even sick at all, but just wish to have extra vitality! This cleansing tonic will rid your body of everything and anything that doesn't belong, giving you new life!"
The bald, bearded man with the monocle continued his carnival-barker act on the stage, and though the entire throng was rapt, the Legionnaires and I had work to do. "What do you think?" I whispered to Saturn Girl.
"Can't tell yet. He's busy acting; I need to observe him in ordinary conversation to read him properly."
"I thought you could read minds."
"My reputation was intentionally exaggerated so Mr. Barnum could draw people to his "Mind-Reader from Saturn". The truth is, I'm simply very, very good at observing body language, the invisible cues that people unintentionally give out as they talk and behave. The sales pitch he's giving is part of a practiced scheme, it's not the way he normally behaves."
We turned our attention back to Universo. "...Too good to be true? Well, feast your eyes on my prize patient. His uncontrollable fits and outbursts made him a terror to any town near which he'd be spotted. But poor little Validus is merely a boy in pain, blind and trapped in a world he can't understand and which offers him no help. UNTIL! He started drinking Doctor Universo's Miracle Tonic. I now present to you...Validus!" Universo's assistant, a thirteen-year-old boy, pulled away a sheet, and the audience...including, I'll admit, myself...gasped at the sight of the now-docile monster, sitting peacefully in a chair and still towering over all.
"Now, who amongst you will try some of my Miracle Tonic to show all these fine people what a fantastic concoction it is? You, sir, please come up on the stage." One of the townspeople meekly obeyed. "I see your leg is somewhat shaky. Would you like to walk like a man again?"
Naturally, the man said yes, and predictably, he took a drink. For a moment, he got a glazed look in his eye, but then, Universo told him, "Now, march!" the man ignored any shakiness he ever had and walked a straight line. The audience clapped heartily.
That was the end of the demonstration, so we lined up with everyone else. Of course, we were only slightly interested in actually purchasing the product.
"So, young fellers, how many bottles of Doctor Universo's Miracle Tonic can I offer you today?" asked the good doctor.
Our own Doc Brains spoke up. "Actually, Sir, I'd prefer to introduce myself. I'm a fellow scientist, you see, and I'm curious to understand what goes into this miracle tonic of yours."
"Ah, ah, young man...you know we scientists can't just give away our secrets for free," said Universo with a smile on his face. "Would you like to buy some? Only ten dollars a bottle."
I mentally sneered at Brainy's naiveté. "Where did Validus come from? Do you know where the rest of the Fatal Five are?" I asked.
"Oh, a lawman, eh? Well, a guarantee you, young sheriff, that everything I'm doing is completely above-board. I was attacked out of the blue by the big brute, and I have no idea where the others are. Now please, if you're not buying anything, you're wasting my valuable time."
Once we were out of earshot, I asked Saturn Girl, "So, what do you think?"
"He's very cool, and hard to read," she said. "But I don't believe for a second that he was attacked by Validus."
I hoped the other teams were having better luck.
Nearby, behind the stage, Tina, Jonah and Invisible Kid made their way to Doctor Universo's tent. There was a guard watching over it. "Here's where you earn your reputation, Tina," said Invisible Kid.
She felt around the tent carefully, and, before the others even saw her do anything, she was gone. "Where'd she go?" asked the alarmed Great Eagle, much too loudly.
"She must be inside the tent...that's what she does best, sneaking into places. You knew that, didn't you?" whispered Invisible Kid.
"I just met her on the train to Colorado," said Jonah, sheepishly.
"I think the guard heard you," said Invisible Kid. "We'd better disappear." Jonah, following orders, ran like the wind away from the tent, and was soon unable to spot his teammate. He nervously kept an eye on the tent, wondering if he had just doomed Tina, whom he found extremely intriguing.
In Pecos, 150 miles away, the other team of Legionnaires investigated the most recent robbery in the series they'd heard about.
"Sure, we was robbed, but it weren't no Fatal Five," said one of the local deputies. "We've got the robbers in jail right now."
"You do?" asked the Lightning Kid, surprised. "Can we see them?"
"Sure...they're right here." The deputy led the four Legionnaires to a row of jail cells where several dozen seemingly ordinary people were sitting.
"Which cell is the bank robbers?" asked Dirk.
"All of them," said the deputy. "This whole crowd here swarmed over the bank with pickaxes, crowbars, you name it. By the time we lawmen were able to pull the crowd away, thousands of dollars in bank notes and jewelry were gone. None of these guys denies breaking into the bank, but none of them claim to be the leader or to know where the money is."
"Are any of these people career criminals, sir?" asked Karate Kid.
"Not one of 'em," said the deputy. "I'd say they just went loco for a bit, but so many people? Can't be."
"Where do we take this, Garth?" Dirk asked the Lightning Kid.
Garth scratched his head. "I haven't the foggiest idea."
"Somehow, I knew you were going to say that," said Dream Girl.
In Ozona, Saturn Girl, Doc Brains and I waited impatiently in our hotel room for the others. "I knew it was a mistake to trust this mission to a rookie," grumbled Saturn Girl.
"Until now, we didn't really have anyone who could sneak around like that," Brainy replied. "It was only logical to initiate her in that manner. In any case, Invisible Kid is experienced enough that he should be able to manage her."
Elsewhere in Ozona, Jonah Great Eagle observed Doctor Universo's tent from afar, blessed with the excellent eyesight of his namesake. He waited and watched in the hopes of seeing Tina slip out of the tent, but in the hours since he accidentally blew their cover, he hadn't seen her, nor had Invisible Kid re-appeared. Now Doctor Universo appeared to be dismantling his tent and packing. Suddenly, he saw a big, brawny man with an axe strapped to his back ride up to Universo on a horse. That had to be the Persuader, Jonah understood.
"What are you doing here?" Universo asked him. "You're supposed to be with the others, several towns behind me. Our agreement was that you not let anyone see me with you four."
"We're not happy, Universo. Empress is getting very restless. There've hardly been any emeralds at all in the towns you've been going through."
"So let her buy some! You've got the cash!"
"Yeah - bank notes that everyone's looking for. We need stuff that's legit."
"In good time, Persuader. Once we hit Austin, you'll have the finest banks Texas has to offer. In the mean time, much as it breaks my heart, you'll have to tell Tharok and Emerald Empress that they'll have to satisfy themselves with the contents of the bank vaults in these towns for now."
Persuader walked away, and Universo continued packing. Much as Jonah wished to keep watching for Tina, he couldn't imagine where she was, as the canvas was rolled up and loaded onto Universo's wagon. Instead, he decided to trail the Persuader.
The Persuader rode into town. Jonah watched with alarm as he watched the Persuader hitch his horse outside the hotel where the other Legionnaires were staying. Jonah swiftly circled around the back of the hotel and began scaling the wall until he could see into the window of his teammates' room. Apparently hearing a knock, one of his teammates went to open the door. Jonah jumped through the window, scattering broken glass all over the place. "Get Down!" He warned.
Dutifully, we hit the floor. With blinding speed, the Great Eagle practically flew to the door and knocked the Persuader off his feet.
When Saturn Girl saw who Jonah had warned us about, she yelled, "Jonah! Stop! He's on our side!"
Jonah got up. "I thought he was one of the Fatal Five," she said to Saturn Girl, giving a puzzled look.
The newcomer took a damp rag and began wiping makeup off his face. "Glad to hear my disguise fooled you. My name's Rip Daggett, everyone calls me Chameleon."
Invisible Kid walked in behind him. "They wouldn't have opened the door for us if we hadn't used a special code-knock, Jonah. I got a ride here with him from Doctor Universo's tent."
"Where's Tina?" Jonah wanted to know.
"I haven't seen her," said the Invisible Kid. "Sorry."
Jonah shook Chameleon's hand, and I offered mine as well. "So, did you find out anything significant?"
"Doctor Universo is definitely working together with the Fatal Five, and they are definitely involved in the bank robberies. They always follow a few days behind Universo."
"Excellent work, Rip," said Saturn Girl. "Jonah, you were obviously observing them. Do you have anything to add?"
"Yes. Universo is leaving town, and I'm very afraid that he's taken Tina with him!"
Universo headed east on the beaten trail toward Austin. As he and his tent guard drove his horse team, he concentrated on the road ahead, not thinking of the cargo in the covered wagon behind him. In said wagon, Tina Wazzo silently slipped out of a folded-up tent sheet.
"Who are you?" a voice asked her, making her jump.
She turned and saw Doctor Universo's young stage assistant. "I'm...a friend. Who are you?"
"My name's Ron," he said. "I'm his son," he said, pointing toward the front of the wagon.
"Doctor Universo's son?" she asked.
"Well, that's his stage name, but yeah."
"Is he good to you?" Tina asked.
"Why do you want to know?" asked Ron, suspicious.
"I care about people. I try to help them."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I want to see if your father is like that as well."
Ron relaxed slightly. "He cares about me. I doubt he cares much for others, though. He's always been looking for a quick buck, for as long as I can remember. Other people are just money to him."
"What about the medicine? He must care about people if he could make something like that."
"Nah. He doesn't talk about healing people. He just talks about taking their money. He's not a real doctor, you know."
"I guessed that. Well, you're better than him, right? You can help me stop him."
"I can't. He's my dad. He's all I've got."
"I know what you mean. All I have for family is my mother. But sticking with her was getting in the way of being who I really am. I found friends and my life's a lot better now. If you'd like, my friends could be your friends too."
"I can't leave him."
"Could you let me peek at his notes? Or his ingredients? To see what his miracle tonic is made of?"
Ron wrestled with himself. "I suppose I could sit here and not stop you from looking in that box," he said, pointing.
Tina kissed him on the forehead. "I knew you're a better man than your father. I'm going to see if he's really helping people or if he's actually hurting them." Ron blushed as Tina frantically looked through the box indicated, memorizing the labels on bottles of liquid and boxes of powder. Finally, she touched her finger to her lip and slipped back into her hiding place.
At Legion headquarters the following day, Rocky Krinn examined the reports his two field teams had telegraphed him. The Lightning Kid reported that, however, bizarre the bank robberies, there is no concrete sign of Fatal Five involvement. Chameleon, on the other hand, claimed to be certain that the Fatal Five would rob the bank in Ozona in a few days. Clearly, the Ozona team would have to stay where they were, but there had to be a good use for the others as well. Chameleon reported that Universo would ultimately end up in Austin. Rocky hatched a plan. Suddenly, one more telegraph message came in. It was from Tina, reporting that she was in Junction, Texas, Doctor Universo's next stop, and she had names of chemicals that the Doctor was using in his concoctions. "Iron Kid, Lightning Lass, Triplets...we've got a job to do," Krinn announced, first sending the list of chemicals to Doc Brains in Ozona.
For three nights, Jonah Great Eagle, Invisible Kid, Chameleon and I stood guard over the bank in Ozona. Jonah was the first to hear something in the distance. "Get ready," warned the Great Eagle. I pulled out my gun, expecting to fire on four members of the Fatal Five.
Instead, we saw a crowd of ordinary Texans rushing toward us, carrying whatever tools they could hold in their hands. "I can't shoot them!" I yelled to the others.
"Then use your fists, Star Boy!" Jonah commanded. But four people restricting themselves to bare fists and fighting defensively could hardly stand up to the swarm swinging tools. Within moments, we were trampled over and helpless as the citizens hacked through the door of the bank vault. As they swarmed around the bank vault, we tried throwing ourselves into the crowd to stop them from taking anything, but in the midst of it all, someone yelled, "Scatter!" The crowd obeyed, and we ended up running after them, handcuffing as many as we could. By the time there was no one left in the street to catch, the vault was empty, and none of the crowd had more than a few bank notes on them...often apparently by accident.
By the next morning, we sent word of our failure to headquarters, scratching our heads like Lightning Kid's crew before us. Fortunately, we had Brainy on our side, whose head has probably never been scratched. "I think I've figured it out and sent my preliminary conclusions to headquarters," he declared. "To be certain, I want to medically examine some of the townsfolk who've been taking the Miracle Tonic."
"You heard the man," commanded Saturn Girl. "Get us some volunteers so we can figure out what's going on here."
Within hours, we returned with several. "Now, you say you had a stomach flu?" Brainy asked one.
"Yessir, Doc, and as soon as I drank the Miracle Tonic, I didn't have it anymore. My stomach don't hurt none like it used to."
"Did you stop vomiting? Did your stools return to normal?"
"Well, I did still upchuck once or twice, but I wasn't hurtin' no more."
"Did you take any Miracle Tonic this morning?"
"Yessir. Peps me up, it does!"
"Well, I think the illness is returning. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you had to throw up again in the next ten seconds."
"Here, use this basin. Great Eagle, please move him aside, Saturn Girl, show in the next patient."
Brainy looked at the next one. "Now, according to my notes, you had a bad back?"
"Yessiree, Doc," he replied. "I couldn't lift a thing, it caused me so much pain. Now, I take my Doctor Universo's Miracle Tonic every morning, and I'm hauling heavy loads all day, painlessly."
"That's interesting," said Doc Brains. "I'm rather surprised, though, that it hasn't affected your hands, then."
"Yes, my understanding is that lifting heavy loads upon immediate relief from back pain causes one's hands to begin twitching uncontrollably. Well, thanks for seeing me. Great Eagle, you can see him out." The man left, his hands visibly twitching.
And so it went for about five more test subjects, until Brainy reported his findings. "While there are some chemicals on Tina's list which don't seem to fit into the mix, Doctor Universo's Miracle Tonic is indeed a miracle of pharmaceutical chemistry," he told us. "However, it cures nothing. It's essentially a barbiturate that makes the user extremely receptive to the power of suggestion. Thus, when these people take it and are told they will feel better, they do, although the underlying conditions are no closer to being cured, and in fact, they are probably being exacerbated by the additional strain placed on their bodies. Validus is no doubt given a stronger version of the drug, to practically sedate him."
Saturn Girl leapt on the obvious implication. "So all these people robbing banks - once they were taking the tonic, all it would have taken was someone telling them to swarm the banks!"
I piped in, "And with the people doing the dirty work for them and shielding them from the law, the controllers themselves make off with the loot!"
Jonah then contributed, "And their next stop will be tonight in Junction...where Tina is!"
"That explains where I made my mistake," Chameleon mused. "I was right that the Fatal Five are behind these robberies, but wrong about how to catch them."
And Invisible Kid spoke for everyone when he said, "Lightning Kid's team won't be enough to take on the Fatal Five by themselves. We'd better high-tail it to Junction immediately!"
As if on cue, the swarm of hapless citizens swarmed the bank in Junction that night. As they scurried back to their homes to avoid capture (mostly without success), five Legionnaires took up positions at vantage points around the town. About two hours after the chaos had settled down, four shadowy figures, carrying full sacks, attempted to sneak out of town when no one was looking, a tactic that had worked a score of times in the past two months. However, this time, someone was, in fact, watching.
"Where do you four think you're going?" the Lightning Kid asked Tharok, Mano, the Persuader and the Emerald Empress, six-guns in both hands.
"Damn, it's the Legion!" said the Persuader, reaching to his back to grab his axe.
"I just knew you were going to do that," said Dream Girl, brandishing her own pearl-handled pistol. "Hands up, you're under arrest."
Mano smiled. "Of course, gringa," he said. He swiftly moved his hand in a direction that was indeed upward...and outward as well, toward the Karate Kid. Karate Kid kicked Mano's hand from underneath in an almost instinctive manner, causing the hot coal Mano had been holding to fly through the air...unfortunately, right between Lightning Kid and Dream Girl. As the two stepped aside to avoid it, the four villains drew their weapons and the Empress took her first shot, missing the Legionnaires in motion.
Lightning Kid squeezed off two shots at the Persuader and Tharok, but his speed was no match for the Persuader's swinging axe-head, which anticipated the bullets' path as if it had a mind of its own. "Duck!" yelled the kid who draws as fast as lightning, and he pushed Dream Girl down just as the swinging axe was headed in their direction.
Karate Kid, meanwhile, whirled around and kicked the Emerald Empress's gun out of her hand. "Damn you!" she yelled, backing away from his punches while grabbing for her emerald-encrusted shiv. Pulling it out of her boot, she brandished it in front of her, forcing Karate Kid to fight more defensively.
"So, you want to play with fire, Mano?" challenged Dirk Morgan. "Two can play at that game," he sneered at the Mexican, as he lit some arrows on fire and shot them in Mano's direction.
Tina watched the action from afar. Her forte was stealth, not power, and this was much too fast-paced for her. Still, she couldn't hang back while her teammates were in danger. She crept closer to the battlefield and found the pistol with emeralds embedded in the handle that was kicked from the Empress's hand earlier. She then fired two shots into the air and yelled, "All right, now freeze!"
Dutifully, the combatants stopped in their tracks. Slowly, Tharok turned toward her. "Well, well, a new Legionnaire, eh?"
"I said freeze, Tharok," Tina repeated. "I'll shoot you, I really will."
"Really?" taunted Tharok, slowly moving toward her, his half-face leering eerily. "Have you ever shot someone before? It looks like...THIS!" Tharok removed the mask from the disfigured half of his face.
"EEEK!" Tina screamed in shock and horror. The other Legionnaires, attempting to disarm and secure the other three villains, were caught off guard, and the Persuader landed a solid punch on Karate Kid. The fighting began anew.
I was with the others riding in from Ozona when we heard the scream. As soon as Jonah heard it, he yelled, "Tina!" and kicked his horse into the fastest run I'd ever seen. He reached the battle site and jumped off his horse, plowing right into Tharok's back. "Tina, are you okay?" he asked.
"Just fine, Jo," she said, obviously shaken by the experience. "But look out!" The Emerald Empress had snuck up behind the Great Eagle, and before Tina's warning even registered in his mind, she plunged her knife into his back.
"Aaah!" he yelled in pain, as the rest of us finally caught up to him. With the emerald knife in his back, he swung his body around, bashing its owner on the head and knocking her out. He then pitched forward, unconscious.
"I've got him!" yelled Doc Brains. "You guys cover the others!" We moved into position, and without much more difficulty, we subdued Mano and the Persuader.
I shot Dream Girl a look. "You look good with a gun in your hand," I said.
"And you look good with one in your pocket," she laughed, a joke I didn't get until I glanced downward.
"Come on, off to jail," prodded the Lightning Kid, as the fatal quartet was placed in handcuffs. "You might get a lighter sentence if you tell us where the money's all hidden."
"Haw, wouldn't you like to know," laughed the Persuader. "No way. We'll keep that to ourselves, until the new governor pardons us for our crimes, and then you heroes won't be able to touch us."
"New governor?" Lightning Kid asked. "What, dare I ask, happened to the old one?"
"Haw! You really don't have a clue!" he mocked. "Doctor Universo is treating him for all his ills. Soon he'll be without a care in the world!"
"Austin!" shouted Chameleon. "Universo's been there for days already!"
Fortunately, as it turned out, Sheriff Rocky Krinn was up to the task. "You've got to let me in!" Lorna Dugan told the two Texas Rangers guarding the governor's mansion. "The governor's life may be in danger!"
"Don't be absurd," one Ranger said. "No one's in there but the governor's family and his personal physician."
"Would that be Doctor Universo?" asked Lorna anxiously.
"Oh, so you know him? So you must know he's not dangerous. In fact, since the governor began using Doctor Universo's Miracle Tonic, he's had more energy than ever!"
"Does the tonic cure double vision?" asked Lauren Dugan, stepping out from behind Lorna.
The Ranger rubbed his eyes. "What the..."
The second Ranger slapped him. "Don't be an idiot. You've never seen twins before?"
"I'm not a twin," said Lorna and Lauren at the same time. "Honest."
The Rangers looked at one another, unsure what to make of it.
"I think we'd better...SPLIT!" yelled Lorna and Lauren, as one ran to the left and the other ran to the right, revealing Laura Dugan standing there. The confused Rangers, trying to figure out what just happened, took off, one after Lorna and one after Lauren. Laura signaled Rocky, Iron Kid and Lightning Lass and waved them into the mansion.
"Well, well, what have we here - intruders!" said Doctor Universo, spotting the four. "I think I'd better bring you to the governor for him to decide what to do with you. I imagine that the way you're sneaking around, you must have been plotting to kill the governor. That could get you a death sentence around here."
"Hardly, you quack," replied Rocky. "I'm officially a sheriff and these are my duly-appointed deputies, and we're putting you under arrest for just that sort of thing."
"You have no authority here in Texas, Legionnaire," retorted Universo, walking toward the governor's private quarters. "I made sure the governor signed such a bill, in conjunction with the bill he signed making me lieutenant governor. I have the advantage over you."
"So, when you kill the governor, the power falls to you, does it?"
"Kill him? What makes you think I'm doing anything of the sort? All I have here are the ingredients for my Miracle Tonic, which heals and revitalizes. Nothing deadly," Universo said, as he marched them into his lab, where a number of liquid chemicals were being heated.
"That's not true," said Sheriff Rocky. "You've been packing plenty of chemicals not needed for your Miracle Tonic. No doubt they're poisons. And with the Fatal Five expecting something in return for their loan of Validus, I'm betting you're preparing the governor's deadly dose tonight."
"I underestimated you," Universo said, impressed. "Clearly, you're too dangerous to live." Universo reached for a gun at his hip.
"Don't even try it, Universo," threatened Lightning Lass.
"Was that a threat?" Universo sneered. "Other than the Lightning Kid, I'll bet I can outdraw anyone here." He continued to reach for his gun, until suddenly a shot rang out, causing Universo to double over and then stiffen up. Universo fell backward, breaking a number of chemical vials.
"I'm his twin in skill as well as birth," retorted the Lightning Lass. "I guess you don't know everything, do you, "Doctor"?"
As the chemicals began to form a cloud of smoke, Rocky Krinn commanded his teammates, "Laura, Lightning Lass, evacuate this building! Iron Kid, get Universo on his feet, we'll bring him to a hospital."
The Legionnaire with the iron mask and gauntlets tried to rouse the villain, but was unsuccessful. "I think he's dead, Sheriff."
"Dead? Lightning Lass never aims to hit anything vital," said Krinn.
"No, the wound doesn't look bad enough for that..." the Iron Kid began saying, but he was interrupted by a sudden fit of coughing.
"Kid! Drop Doctor Universo and get out of there quickly!" barked Krinn. "It's those fumes! If Universo was brewing poisons in there, they must be poisonous as well!"
Within minutes, the mansion was evacuated, as the noxious smoke began to spread further. "Close the doors, windows, block the chimney!" commanded the Legion sheriff. "We'll get Doc Brains on his way, hopefully we can contain this poison smoke until he can figure out how to neutralize the poison."
"You won't have time," came a voice from amongst the evacuees. "The mansion's not air-tight. The cloud will come out and blanket the sky so thickly, you won't be able to see the sun. But I might be able to help you. I'm Ron Vidar, Doctor Universo's son."
"Do you know what your father's got in there? How we can make it safe to breathe again?" asked Lorna...or maybe it was Lauren.
"I think so. I don't really know chemistry like my Dad did, but I know how he writes, and I have his notes right here." He showed Rocky a page with several chemical formulae. "The shorthand at the top of this page says that this formula will make the poison inert. If you have a chemist here in town who can mix this up for us..."
"I'll have every chemist in town working on that!" declared the governor. "Rangers, get moving! Knock down every pharmacist's door, get those chemists up now!"
As the Rangers ran off, Ron said, "In the mean time, we'll need to arrange for how the antidote gets distributed. To spread it around the mansion quickly, we'll need some sort of explosive device..."
The governor interrupted again. "The armory is two blocks that way," he pointed, handing over a ring of keys to Sheriff Krinn. "Take whatever you need."
By the time the Rangers arrived back with several glass vials of the antidote, the smoke was already beginning to leak out the sides of the governor's mansion, obscuring the view of the coming sunrise. "We've got to get this stuff into the mansion," Ron said. Swallowing hard, he said, "I'll volunteer. It was my dad who caused all this mess. None of you should have to give your lives for it."
"No," said Rocky, "you don't have to do that. We're trained as heroes, one of us will go."
Iron Kid chimed in, "You have so much to offer the world, Ron. Don't end it now."
"Please," said Ron. "I sat by and watched my father bilk all those people of their money, and now he was going to kill the governor and take over the whole state...I've got to be the one," he said, and began walking toward the fume-filled house of certain death.
Before anyone could react, the Iron Kid yelled, "No!" and hit Ron with his iron-covered fist. Frozen in shock, the others just stared as Iron Kid rushed into the governor's mansion. Soon, they heard a muffled "Boom!" and, within moments, the black smoke inside the governor's mansion began to lighten.
"Who was that masked kid?" one of the governor's Texas Rangers asked.
"I don't know," the other replied, "but he sure did clean up this town."
Two days later, in Legion, we held a service for Iron Kid. "Andy was a special boy," said R. J. Brande, crying. "And he epitomized the spirit of our Legion. When I was riding the train on that fateful day, the only thought in my mind was how the railroads were bringing Americans closer to each other in body, but the wounds of the War Between the States were too fresh for Americans to get closer to one another in their hearts. When those three gallant youngsters heading west saved my life from the assassination attempt, I knew that I had found something that touches in the hearts of us all: the exuberance of youth, and the optimism of the pioneer. People like this let anyone into their hearts, and know how to bring out the best in everyone they encounter.
"Andrew...the Iron Kid...was shunned from a young age because he didn't look quite like you or me. Yet he knew that somewhere out in this vast land there was a place for him, and he wasn't afraid to explore. His mask of iron did not so much hide his true face as it did reveal his true spirit: strong and bold as the knights of old. You're in a better place, son...we thank you for your sacrifice." Brande, on the verge of tears, stepped down.
I watched, all choked up, as Karate Kid stepped up after him. "I was almost certainly Andrew's best friend in the Legion...in the world. We were kindred spirits...he, outcast for his facial features, as happened to me in Japan, when my developing American face made a liar of my mother, proving that I was in fact fathered by one of Commodore Perry's crew. We joined the Legion at the same time, and he considered me something of a big brother."
"Before I was rejected by the land of my birth, I was taught the way of the samurai, and the importance of death with honor. I can see that my "little brother" Andrew absorbed that lesson well. Farewell, Legionnaire, warrior true," said Karate Kid stoically, as he stepped down from the podium.
After the funeral, Rocky asked me, "So, headed back to your home town now?"
"I guess," I said, my heart not really in it.
"What's troubling you?"
"Iron Kid's sacrifice...I'd like to think I could be a hero like that. I don't feel right going back to the relative safety of being a small-town sheriff. There are bigger problems out on the vast frontier...for one thing, Validus was never found after the smoke cleared...and there doesn't have to be one less lawman to help out."
"You're welcome to stay, if you'd like."
"Could I?" I asked. "I think taking Iron Kid's place...just feels right for me right now."
"Of course, Star Boy," said Rocky. "You go home and get your stuff, and I'll prepare space for you right now. Legion is for anyone whose intentions are good and are looking to fill a yearning in their heart."
"I will," I told Rocky, happily. As I headed toward the train for a temporary trip back to Texas, I saw Dream Girl walk up to him.
"I knew he'd stay," she said with a smile, and I smiled too.
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This piece is © 2002 by Chaim Mattis Keller.
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