Ellen Slayton moved around the room, snapping pictures of the lab, while Lydia Long continued to talk to the scientist. “Dr. Marzan,” Lydia was saying, “it’s not that I don’t believe you, but what you’re describing sounds an awful lot like perpetual motion. Isn’t that impossible?”
The slender man with the pointed features nodded. “Yes, Miss Long, it is. But this isn’t the same thing. Perpetual motion is creating new energy out of nothing. My discovery simply channels the energy that’s all around us.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Ellen said as she walked back over to where Lydia and the doctor sat. “What’s the difference?”
“Everything in the universe has an energy field,” the scientist explained. “Tri-Gammalite absorbs this energy and then stores it for use later. It’s not creating energy out of nothing… In fact, it’s actually creating energy out of EVERYTHING!”
“Tri-Gammalite?” Lydia asked.
“Actually a nickname that we use around the lab,” Dr. Marzan said. “The official name, for now, is Element 317.”
“I’m confused,” Ellen said. “This sounds like a fabulous discovery. Why isn’t the scientific community knocking down your door? Why are we the only representatives of the media to listen to you? I mean, The World Dispatch isn’t exactly the Scientific Journal!”
“I know,” the doctor said with a sigh. “To be honest, Miss Slayton, your… publication was the only one that would listen to me. People don’t want to believe that such a discovery is even POSSIBLE, let alone that it actually exists! So, I have to try to spread the word however I can. Eventually, I hope that SOMEONE will take me seriously enough to at least investigate my discovery.”
Lydia took control of the conversation. “Speaking of your discovery, doctor, can we see it?”
The elderly man hopped to his feet. “Of course! That IS why you’re here, after all. Come with me.”
He led Lydia and Helen into another room, where he removed a box from a small floor safe. “This box,” he said, “is lined with glass. For some reason, which we haven’t fully grasped yet, it seems to nullify the effects of the Tri-Gammalite. The best guess we have is that the glass is energetically inert, and somehow shields the stone from any outside energy.”
He opened the box revealing a small pale white stone with thin black veins running through it. After a second or two, the stone began to glow. Ellen staggered slightly as she moved close to take a better look. Her sudden weakness was not lost on Lydia.
“Does the stone always react like that?” the brunette asked.
“No!” the surprised scientist said. “Never! There must be a tremendous power source in the stone’s field of influence!”
“Perhaps you should close it up, then,” Lydia said. “We wouldn’t want it to get overloaded or anything like that!”
Dr. Marzan closed the lid. “I doubt that the stone COULD become overloaded, but it would be safer to keep it shut up until I can investigate this phenomenon a bit more!” He turned towards Ellen and asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you ladies?”
Ellen recovered quickly and glanced at Lydia, who shook her head slightly. “No, I think we are okay,” the young blonde replied. “We have everything we need for our article, and we can contact you if we need more. Thank you for your time, doctor!” She smiled sweetly, but the girl was never happier than when they could leave that laboratory.
“Was it like the Zoronite?” Lydia asked as they drove home.
Ellen wrinkled her nose in thought and then shook her head, causing her pony-tail to sway behind her. “Not really. The Zoronite makes me feel bad; it kind of burns. This was more of a draining; if felt more like it feels when I’ve expended too much energy and not recharged my power stores.”
“Well, Dr. Marzan DID say that Tri-Gammalite absorbed energy, so maybe it was drawing it out of you. I think your best bet would be to steer clear of the stuff as much as possible.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” the siren from the stars said. “If Dr. Marzan is depending on an article in the Dispatch to get him noticed, I doubt anyone will ever take him or Tri-Gammalite seriously!’
“You’re probably right,” Lydia said with a sigh. “I sure hope so, for your sake!”
“I’m not overly worried,” Ellen reassured her friend. “I doubt that we’ll be hearing from Dr. Marzan or Tri-Gammalite any time in the near future.”
Sadly, that was not to be the case. Two weeks later, just as Ellen walked in to the Dispatch for her afternoon shift, after a morning at Mac U, she noticed Lydia on the phone, a worried look on her face. She tuned in her hyper-hearing to pick up both sides of the conversation, and was shocked to hear Dr. Marzan’s voice on the other end of the line.
“…no idea how they even got in,” Dr. Marzan was saying. “I tried calling the police, but I don’t think they understand the importance or danger in this situation. Since you and Miss Slayton were the only ones who’ve taken my seriously so far, I thought I’d see if you can help!”
“I understand,” Lydia said. “Actually, I do have some friends and contacts on the Macropolis PD, and I can make a few calls and see if I can light a fire under any of them. But I’m afraid that I can’t promise you much more than that.”
There was a sigh on the phone. “That would be wonderful, Miss Long. Any help that you can give me would be greatly appreciated!”
Lydia thanked the professor and hung up as Ellen walked over and asked what was going on. “Someone stole the Tri-Gammalite,” Lydia responded. “I knew this stuff was going to be a problem!”
Ellen wrinkled her nose. “Let’s not jump to conclusions, Lydia. It could just be a simple break in. Hyper-Girl will have to be a bit more careful, but I’m until we hear anything to the contrary, I can’t spend my life looking over my shoulder the whole time. We had a saying on Zoron: ‘Turn when the pathway does, not before.’ I’ll just wait for this pathway to turn.”
Hyper-Girl was flying over Macropolis three days later, with this conversation barely a memory in her mind, when she was surprised to see someone flying towards her. She used her hyper-vision to get a better look at the individual as they approached each other. It turned out to be a muscular man in a strange copper-colored armor, which resembled chain mail. He wore red gloves and boots, and a wide red belt with a bulging buckle. He leveled out his flight and increased his speed towards the blonde heroine, who hovered in place, waiting to learn who the newcomer was.
“Hello, Hyper-Girl,” the man said as he neared her. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“And you are…?”
“You can call me Lodestone,” the man replied. “Not that you’ll be able to call me much of anything for long!” Suddenly, he shot at Hyper-Girl like a missile, his fists aimed right at the heroine’s bare midriff.
Back on Zoron, Tharka had studied waltra, a martial art similar to judo, so it was easy for her to reach out and grab her attacker’s wrist. Then she swung to the left, as she swung him to the right, so that he would breeze by her. It was a simple move, based entirely on momentum and leverage, that actually required very little of her enormous strength. She was shocked, therefore, when a wave of weakness swept over her as Lodestone past her. She released her grip and watched as he arced around for a return attack. Hyper-Girl felt a wave of ice clutch her heart as she recognized the feeling of weakness as being the same that she had felt when exposed to Tri-Gammalite two weeks earlier. The power absorbing stone had to be somewhere nearby!
While nobody could consider Tharka a coward, one of the basic tenants of waltra was to only fight when necessary and when the odds were even. For that reason, Hyper-Girl decided that she had to move this fight out of the area, to some place where her powers were not being sapped from her. She dove towards the street, allowing gravity to add to her speed. Then she pulled out of the dive and sped off in the direction of the horizon. As she flew over the rooftops, she felt her power slowly start to seep back into her body. Mentally, she marked the block where Lodestone had attacked her; she would come back later and find a way to track down the missing Tri-Gammalite.
Just as this thought entered her mind, she felt her power begin to ebb again. What was happening to her? Could there be more of the strange element scattered throughout the city? She looked around, and noticed Lodestone flying towards her. Could it be that HE was somehow responsible for what was happening to her? As if in answer to her question, he laughed.
“By the way, Hyper-Girl, I don’t suppose you were looking for THIS, were you?” As Lodestone said this, the buckle on his belt opened up, and she saw the Tri-Gammalite mounted there! Exposed from behind its protective barrier, the stone began to glow brightly, and Hyper-Girl suddenly realized that she was no longer flying, she was falling!
The maid of might flipped in the air, looking frantically for someplace to land. She still felt a little bit of her power within her; perhaps the stone couldn’t completely drain her dry. Be that as it may, however, her invulnerability was so depleted that she wasn’t about to take a chance on surviving the fall. There had to be somewhere soft and safe to land! Landing became a moot point, however, when Lodestone grabbed her from behind. She struggled against him, but her lowered strength was no match for the power of his armor.
“Sorry, Hyper-Girl,” he said. “I COULD just drop you, but that would be too easy… MUCH too easy! I have other plans for you!”
“Why?” the girl of tomorrow asked. “What have I ever done to you? I don’t even know you!”
“True, very true. However, I’m being well paid to eliminate you. You may find this surprising, girl, but you’ve made some enemies ever since you came to town!”
The pair flew over towards the outskirts of the city. Hyper-Girl struggled the whole way, keeping one eye on the landscape, trying to determine their final destination. After a few moments, she was sure that they were headed towards the rail yard on the west side of Macropolis. It was where all the trains in the city, from the freight lines to the subways, eventually passed through for unloading, service and repair. What did the villain plan to do to her there? The struggling Hyper-Girl thought, “Oh, man, don’t tell me he’s going to tie me to the tracks like some ‘Perils of Pauline’ remake!”
Lodestone was practically glowing with stolen energy as he landed next to a large tanker car. “I’d better close down,” he muttered as the buckle on the belt closed. “I’ve got more than enough energy for what I have in mind. And I’m sure you’re feeling pretty drained by now!”
Actually, she was. Hyper-Girl was helpless as Lodestone fired a light heat beam at the edge of the tanker car, softening the metal. “Got to be careful,” he said. “Wouldn’t want the explosive fuel in here to go off prematurely!” Then he pressed Hyper-Girl’s back into the soft metal, pushing her in so that it molded around her shapely body.
Lodestone casually snatched up some iron bands and stretched them across Hyper-Girl’s torso, welding them in place. He took another and wrapped it around the helpless blonde’s ankles. The heroine of the future could slowly feel her power returning, but it was taking SO long! The iron imprisoned her like a giant fist. “Who are you?” Hyper-Girl demanded. “What do you want?”
Lodestone softened up another strip of metal and wedged it into the girl’s mouth, like a horse bit. He melded the ends into the tanker, just like he had with the bands over the heroine’s chest. “I told you,” he said casually, “I’m Lodestone. As for what I want, I want several million dollars, tax-free. And, with your help, I’m going to get it! I’m being paid an obscene sum of money to eliminate you and cause havoc in the city. This little stunt will enable me to do both in one shot!”
With this, Lodestone disappeared around the side of the tanker car, and Hyper-Girl felt it move forward. The car disappeared down a tunnel, and continued on its journey, connecting with the city’s subway tracks and moving beneath the streets. Finally, it stopped and Lodestone reappeared, smiling evilly beneath the mask that covered his upper face. “In about 15 minutes,” the villain gloated, “the afternoon train will be coming down this track, loaded with tired commuters. When it slams into your car, the resulting explosion should be QUITE spectacular! Probably rip up the street for several blocks, I would imagine…”
“Hmmmph mummmmph mmmmph!” Hyper-Girl squealed into her gag.
Lodestone ignored her muffled protests and continued. “I figure I’m actually doing those poor slobs on the train a favor, ending their pathetic nine-to-five existence. As for you, well, I seriously doubt that even YOU could survive being at ground zero of such a blast in your current condition. By this time tomorrow, I’ll probably be the richest guy you ever met! Bye bye, Hyper-Girl! Thanks for the chance to become wealthy!” And, in a blink he was gone, flying down the tunnel with the energy he had stolen from his victim with that bizarre armor of his.
Hyper-Girl yanked and strained against her metallic bonds, but it was hopeless. Cut off from the sunlight like this, her strength just wasn’t returning fast enough! If she didn’t think of something else, she would probably die, and thousands of innocents would die along with her. Hyper-Girl could feel her energy slowly coming back. But it would never get her back to normal in time. As she strained her ears, she could already hear the train heading this way down the tunnel. There had to be a way out!
As she saw the light of the train come round a bend in the tunnel, a sudden inspiration hit the captive heroine. None of her powers were strong enough to get her out of this predicament, maybe she could use the little bit she had from everything to buy her some time! She used the heat from her hyper-vision to soften the rails leading up to where she was trapped. She could hear the oncoming train slam on its breaks, but it would never be able to stop in time. The soft rails, however, acted as makeshift hydraulics to slow the engine’s approach even more.
Now, while Hyper-Girl couldn’t free herself, her ankles were bound together, but not fastened to the train. She lifted her legs so that her body formed an “L” shape and hoped that her strength and invulnerability had returned enough…
The oncoming train slammed into Hyper-Girl’s feet and buckled her knees, driving her legs backwards. At the last second, a surge of the heroine’s hyper-powered adrenaline kicked in, and she shoved back, causing the car on which she was tied to roll! The two trains plummeted down the dark tunnel, held apart only by the strength of Hyper-Girl’s legs! She knew she couldn’t keep this up for long, however, and prayed that the commuter train would stop before her legs gave out. Dimly, as she fought the pain and exhaustion, she was aware of her feet leaving the train engine, as it stopped and she continued to roll. She breathed a sigh of relief; disaster had been averted!
As her powers slowly began to seep back into her body, Hyper-Girl exerted her flying ability to keep the car’s momentum going. She could feel herself weakening again with the exertion, but she poured out all the energy she had into the effort. The train car began to slow, as Hyper-Girl ran out of energy and momentum. Finally, just as she figured her ploy had failed, the car rolled out into the open of the train yard. Sunlight poured down on the captive heroine, flooding her with energy. In a matter of seconds, Hyper-Girl felt like her own self again!
The blonde beauty bit down on the bit-gag, her teeth sheering off the metal, which she spit out as she snapped the band around her ankles and pulled free the straps across her torso. Then she lifted the car of explosive fuel and carried over to a side track before leaping into the air, hovering as she soaked up the solar power, rejuvenating her. As strength poured back into her body, Hyper-Girl began to ponder her next move.
“So, you have no idea as to who could be using your Tri-Gammalite to power this ‘Lodestone’ armor?” Lydia asked into the phone as she doodled on a pad in front of her.
“I’m afraid not,” Dr. Marzan said. “The very EXISTENCE of Tri-Gammalite was a closely guarded secret until your article appeared, and you never mentioned were it was kept or how it was stored. The only suspicious thing around here was the recent disappearance of one of our janitors, but he certainly doesn’t have the know-how to create the kind of weaponry you’ve described.”
“Could you give me his name, anyway?” Lydia asked, her instincts suddenly firing up.
“Hendricks. Eli Hendricks. I’m afraid I don’t have an address or phone number handy, but I could look them up if you’d like…?”
“No need,” Lydia said as she jotted down the name. “Thanks for your help, Doctor.” She hung up the phone and called to Ellen, “I’ve got a lead! I’m going to check it out.”
Hyper-Girl suddenly appeared between Lydia and the front door of their apartment. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Lydia sighed. “El, we can’t do this every time I go out. I was taking care of myself long before you and your hyper-powers dropped into my life. I’m just going to do a quick recon mission. If there’s anybody there, I’ll get out. Otherwise, I’ll give the place a quick once over and then let you know what I’ve found. Meanwhile, you’ve got to check with the police, who are much more likely to talk to a bone fide superheroine than a reporter looking for a story. Let me alone, and go!”
Hyper-Girl sighed. “You’re right… You have the radio watch?”
Lydia tapped the gift Ellen had recently given her. “Don’t leave home without it! Relax, sweetie, I’ve got everything under control!”
The apartment was empty; it looked like it had been for quite some time. If Lydia had to take a guest, she would think that nobody had lived in this apartment for about two weeks. But, all her research showed that this was the last place Eli Hendricks had lived, and his rent was paid up for another three months. Something was fishy about the situation. She began to move quickly but efficiently about the three-room flat, looking for clues.
The more she saw, the more Lydia got the impression that Eli Hendricks may have “hung his hat” in this apartment, but he didn’t really LIVE here. There was almost nothing of a personal nature here.
“Nobody could live this way,” Lydia mused. “It looks more like someone cleared the place out of anything that might have meaning…” She began to flip over the cushions of the couch, looking for SOMETHING to make this trip worthwhile. The ravishing reporter was just about to give up when a small scrap of paper grabbed her attention. She pulled it out and noticed an address written on it. There was something familiar about the address, but before she could even pocket the paper, she felt herself grabbed from behind and a gloved hand clamped over her mouth.
Lydia felt herself tackled to the floor and her wrists yanked behind her back. A strip of plastic slipped over her wrists and locked into place, securing them. Next, the unknown attacker stuffed a cloth into the girl’s mouth and used another cloth pulled between her teeth and tied behind her head to secure the gag before standing up. Lydia rolled over to observe the man.
Based on Ellen’s description, this had to be Lodestone. He was looking at her, with a confused look on his face. “Who the heck are you?” he asked. “And what are you doing in my apartment? Not that it makes much difference; I just stopped for one final look-see before I vacate the premises for good! Still, I don’t like the idea of leaving a snooper around. Who knows how much you’ve figured out!”
Lydia shook her head and tried to assure the man that she knew nothing, but the gag prevented her protests from making any sense at all. “Hey, I’ve got it!” Lodestone said as he ignored the girl’s muffled “mmmphs”. “I can get rid of you and make it look like I died at the same time!” He ran into the kitchen, and Lydia could see him light the burners on the stove and blow out the flames. He also turned on the oven and opened the door.
“The gas will slowly fill the apartment,” Lodestone said thoughtfully. “Now I just need a way to ignite it! Oh, wait!” He dug around in a drawer in the end table until he found a candle, which he lit and placed on the far side of the room. “That should do it! Now, since there’s nothing else here I need, I’ll just be going! But, first…”
He pulled out another of the “plastic handcuffs” and used it to bind Lydia’s ankles before he went over to the window. “Maybe I’ll come back in a little while, when the gas blows. That should provide plenty of energy for my suit!” And he leapt out the window, flying away.
Lydia had seen these plastic handcuffs when she did a story on the Macropolis PD a few years back. She knew that they wouldn’t break, at least not from her efforts! She had to find another way out of this mess. First, though, she had to keep from blowing up! She wriggled her body along the floor towards the candle. The going was slow, but she was making definite headway. Soon, she was before the candle and breathed as hard as she could through her nostrils, but it wasn’t enough to blow the candle out. She dropped onto her back and raised her feet above the candle. Trying hard not to think of what this would do to her shoes, Lydia dropped her heel on top of the flame, extinguishing it! Now, she began to fight the strap around her wrists. She could still suffocate from the gas, but she had bought herself the time she needed to try and reach the radio switch on her watch. It was awkward, given the angle, but if she pulled and worked at it, she just might make it…
True to his word, Lodestone glided over the rooftops, returning to his apartment. He had just robbed a jewelry store, and hoped that he hadn’t missed the explosion. He probably wouldn’t wait too long; patience was never one of his virtues. Still, he could use the boost to his energy level. He was sorry he had had to kill Hyper-Girl. She had given him SUCH a rush! If only he could have kept her captive so that he could constantly replenish his energy at that level! But, he knew that was just an idle dream and he would have to be content with more mundane sources of energy from now on. Still, for all the trouble she could have caused, Lodestone would miss Hyper-Girl!
Just as he had this thought, however, the green-and-purple-clad heroine rocketed up from his apartment and slammed into his jaw, sending him reeling! Her left hand smashed into his belt buckle, fusing the iris closed.
“What do you say we try this again, but without the bauble?” Hyper-Girl asked as she maintained her distance from him.
“Interesting idea, sweetheart,” Lodestone said as he rubbed his jaw. But even from that brief contact I absorbed enough of your energy to do THIS!” He grabbed the front of the buckle and ripped it open, exposing the Tri-Gammalite!
Hyper-Girl, however, was not unprepared. From behind her back, she whipped out a pane of glass, taken from the window of the villain’s apartment. She hoped to use it as a shield, and positioned it between her and the armored criminal. While the plan was working, it wasn’t working as well as she’d hoped. It made sense, energy radiated in every direction, not just a straight line. The stone couldn’t take energy from her in a “frontal assault”, but it was leeching off the part of her aura that extended past her glass shield. At least she had bought herself some time!
“Clever, Hyper-babe,” the villain sneered. “But I can still feel your energy seeping into me! I’m getting stronger by the second, and you’re getting weaker! Face it, Hyper-Girl, you can’t win!” He flew directly at the heroine, smashing through the glass. Hyper-Girl felt her energy weaken as she swung her legs up and kicked the criminal. He grunted, but managed to punch the pretty powerhouse in her bare midriff, doubling her over.
The fight lasted for a full five minutes, but in the end Hyper-Girl had to lose. She had hoped that the element of surprise would enable her to stop Lodestone before it was too late, but that wasn’t the case. One final blow from his gauntleted right fist and she was dazed. Lodestone grabbed her by the cape and flew down to the ground with his nemesis. He carried her into a sporting goods store, where he used the heroine’s own hyper-speed against her. Moving too quickly for the human eye to follow, Lodestone wrapped Hyper-Girl from her chin to her ankles in rope, chain and even fishing line. He stuffed a sand-filled Hacky Sack ball into her mouth and looped some rope around her head, holding it in place.
“That ought to hold you,” he snarled. “I made the mistake of getting fancy before. This time, I’m going to kill you with my bare hands!” The armored villain wrapped his fingers around Hyper-Girl’s slender throat and had just started to squeeze when he heard a barrage of sirens outside the door.
“Damn! We’ll have to finish this some place a bit more private. Luckily, I know just the place, ” he said as he picked up the heroine and tossed her over his shoulder. As he flew upward, Hyper-Girl couldn’t help but notice that he was glowing slightly, and sounded almost drunk with power.
What surprised her was that she also couldn’t help but notice that her powers were slowly coming back to her. She pondered this carefully, for she had the idea that this could somehow be her salvation. Then, all of a sudden, the answer hit her. He had ripped the cover off the Tri-Gammalite! Even that amazing element must have a limit to how much energy it could process; Lodestone’s armor surely did. But it was now absorbing and trying to process an enormous amount of energy, both from Hyper-Girl’s alien metabolism and from the environment around them. If she could somehow find a way to overload the stone, she would be able to end this easily!
Hyper-Girl bided her time as the energy flowed back into her; if Lodestone knew her powers were returning, he might be more careful with her. She looked around carefully, looking for SOME way to use her new realization to her advantage. Then, she saw it: directly below them was Macropolis’ Bear Island Nuclear Power Plant. The energy output from that facility should be just what she needed! The brave beauty tightened her muscles and then flipped her torso backward, kicking her legs up into Lodestone’s stomach. He was more surprised than hurt, but it was enough to allow Hyper-Girl to break free.
As she plummeted earthward, the girl from the stars exerted her flying ability to carry her towards the nuclear reactor, straining against her bonds the whole time. She could hear her nemesis flying behind, getting closer with each second. She could also feel heat from the energy field that now surrounded the villain. Hyper-Girl strained with all her might. Then, just as Lodestone’s hand touched her ankle, she snapped her bonds. Using the principles of waltra, she flipped her opponent past her hurling him towards the ground and the reactor.
“You want power, Lodestone?” she asked as she felt her own energy flooding back into her limbs. “Here’s some for you!” With that, the hyper-heroine dove downward, driving Lodestone right on top of the reactors!
“Stop!” the criminal screamed in panic. “Make it stop! It’s too much! I can’t take it all…”
Lodestone screamed as arcs of energy poured out of his body and he collapsed. Hyper-Girl flew away to the nearby beach, where she scooped up an armful of sand. Returning to the unconscious criminal, she melted the sand into glass and coated his belt buckle in it before picking him up and turning him over to the authorities.
“So he’s trapped in the armor now?” Lydia asked.
“Yep,” Ellen replied as she cut herself a piece of chocolate cake. “The overload of energy seems to have fused the armor to his body somehow. It’s a tragedy, but he never should have stolen Dr. Marzan’s invention!”
Lydia chewed her lower lip thoughtfully. “Maybe… maybe he DIDN’T!”
“What do uu mnnn?” Ellen asked around a mouthful of cake.
“I’ve looked into your escapades, El. Did you know that Madame X once worked at Macropolis U? And the university was one of the funders of Dr. Marzan’s early experience. And don’t forget that the blue zoronite was on display at the museum when it was stolen!”
Ellen swallowed and took a drink of milk. “What’s your point?”
“Not sure I have one,” Lydia said. “But for years there’s been a rumor in the Macropolis underworld of some kind of uber-crook, a puppet master that has at least partial control over every illegal dealing in this city. And, some say this criminal genius is connected to the University! What if all these adventures of yours aren’t coincidence? What if someone has been out to get you?”
“Lodestone DID say he was hired,” the blonde admitted. “But sooner or later, if this person exists, they’ll have to show themselves. When they do, I’ll be ready!”
Lydia hoped so. But she wasn’t as confident as her friend…
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