Zeroman vs. Ecdysia: Trapped By the Temptress
The dreams came again in the night.
The woman danced for him, and he followed her avidly with his eyes, his breathing ragged, a bulge growing in his trunks. Then, at last, she came to him, and they sank to the ground in passion. She moved against him, whispering things into his ear. Important things. Things he must do. Their clothes melted away, and they writhed together in ecstasy. There was a shattering climax. . . .
That was when he woke up, drenched in sweat and semen, heart pounding. As always, on awakening, he couldn’t remember what the woman had said to him, or who she had been. Also as always, he felt both sated and ashamed. He imagined a drug addict might feel something similar right after coming down from a high, before withdrawal set in.
There was no set pattern to the dreams. They could come any night, but might be weeks apart. The only thing was, they hadn’t started until after his embarrassing run-in with the escaped arch-criminal Ecdysia. The immortal villainess had lured him into a trap from which he had barely escaped. The whole encounter had been humiliating, so much so that he had never told anyone else in the League of Virtue about it. He hadn’t even been able to bring himself to log a computer report, even in his private record. He kept meaning to, but somehow it never quite happened.
Zeroman sighed and got up. He went into the bathroom next to his personal suite in League headquarters and took a long shower, then put on a fresh costume: bands crossing his bare chest, belt, trunks, boots with folded cuffs. When he’d designed the outfit, he’d considered a cape, but a little experimenting had convinced him it would only get in the way in a fight. Capes looked better on flying heroes anyway. He didn’t bother with a helmet, either: his energy-absorption powers protected him against impacts, fire, even lightning. The last item he put on was a pair of wristbands; the right one contained a League communicator.
He went down to the kitchen and fixed breakfast, a pair of boiled eggs and some coffee. None of the other Leaguers seemed to be around. Most of them, of course, had private identities and were probably at home.
He sighed. It was probably just as well. He wasn’t good at socializing, and hadn’t been even before the outlaw tech group Advanced Science Projects had kidnapped him and made him a guinea pig in its efforts to create super-beings. These days, his appearance tended to put people off: dead-black skin, bone-white hair, eyes which were featureless ovals of blazing red. Even some of his fellow heroes seemed spooked by him at times. Dates—forget it; the few he’d had since his transformation had been disasters. The women who’d been willing were mostly super-groupies, and even the few he might have wanted to date again had been put off by the inevitable media hounding. Not to mention the odd villain attack or two; nothing ruined an evening like almost getting killed by some costumed maniac.
Zeroman smiled grimly. He had a better chance of getting laid by a female super-crook like Ecdysia than by any normal woman. How pathetic was that?
Done eating, Zeroman headed for the computer room. It was an off shift; the monitor systems were on automatic. It took only a palm scan and a few keypresses to access the system.
There was a new e-mail on file, flagged as urgent. Zeroman opened it.
Uh-oh, he thought. The message was addressed from one of the League’s government contacts, and warned that several of the LOV’s old adversaries had been observed going into and out of a supposedly abandoned office building in the downtown area, one of the casualties of the recent recession. The roster was impressive: Midas; Dr. Id; Burnout; Siphon; even someone wearing Dr. Domme’s old costume. It couldn’t be her, of course; Domme had died years ago in a mental hospital in Massachusetts. It almost looked as if someone were assembling a new version of the Seven Deadly Sins from back in the sixties.
This wasn’t something he could handle by himself. Feeling apprehensive—he’d never called a general League alert before—he pressed a large square red button to the right of the main monitor bank. A loud steady beeping began. His League communicator answered with beeps of its own; the other Leaguers’ comms would be doing the same, he knew.
Soon, other members were checking in, their icons lighting up on the display screen as they did: Dr. Truth, Magnaman, Titan, Soldier X, the Streak, Blindspot, Merman, Suprema. Zeroman carefully filled them in on the warning he’d read. Over their communications links, they agreed to meet at League headquarters and then check out the alert as a team. If it were for real, they’d have a serious fight on their hands.
One communicator icon stayed dark. No one had seen the Spook, or his mortal “host” Victor Sands, in over two months. If Sands was dead, the spectral avenger might be cut off from the world of the living—at least until he could find a new host, if that was even possible. Zeroman didn’t like not knowing what had happened to one of the most powerful Leaguers.
While he waited for the others to arrive, Zeroman passed some time in the gym. His powers made him invulnerable to brute-force assaults, but his natural strength and agility were only human; he only had super-strength and super-speed when he’d had a chance to absorb energy from some outside source. That was why one of his favorite maneuvers was jumping from a height; he could absorb the energy of impact and turn it into physical strength.
Unfortunately, he was still susceptible to other forms of attack. He’d found that out in his confrontation with Ecdysia. She’d kidnapped him, then nearly turned him into one of her slaves with her erotic hypnosis. Even now, he remembered her dancing . . !
With an effort, Zeroman refocused his mind. He had escaped; that was what counted.
In her hidden lair, the Sinister Seductress smiled. Young Zeroman had no idea what had really happened when the two of them had first met. He thought he had broken loose after only a few moments—but she had put him fully under her power, had programmed and used him for two full hours before letting him “get away.” Ever since, she had had an open channel into the deepest recesses of his mind. Whenever she chose, she could sense his every thought, see through his eyes, hear with his ears, as she was doing now.
And they’d seen each other face-to-face again, several times since that first encounter. She had planted suggestions in his mind while he slept, and he had come to her. She had enjoyed him fully, riding him to climax, rewarding his body with shattering pleasure while keeping his mind afloat in a dream. Each time, she had reinforced her mental bond with him and issued new instructions for him to obey, then sent him away again to awaken with no memory of what had happened. She had monitored him carefully, guiding him through their mental link even when they were apart.
Soon, very soon, she would reap the harvest of those efforts. Thanks to her handsome slave, it had already begun. The breakout from Blackhole, the many months of hiding, of living like a pauper when she had billions at her command, of moving from refuge to refuge among the system of hideouts she had built since the 1930’s, relying on her network of slaves to misdirect the LOV and the normals in their efforts to recapture her—all were finally bearing fruit. After all these years, she would have her revenge.
Ecdysia smiled evilly and licked her lips, picturing it.
Merman gaveled the meeting to order. “All right,” the amphibious hero said, his voice gurgling eerily through the water-filled breathing mask he wore, “we’re here. What’s the plan?”
Magnaman rumbled, “What plan? If the kid’s right, we’d better move in fast, before Midas and the others have a chance to launch whatever they’re planning. Z, let’s see a map of the location where they’re supposed to be holed up.”
Zeroman brought up an aerial map of the site. “Most of the buildings in the area are abandoned. They’re part of a commercial development that went bankrupt in the crash after Midas wiped Wall Street’s databases at midnight on Millennium Eve, December 31, 1999.
“The key building is this one. Hammond Tower. Thirty stories tall, it’s got a helipad on the roof, skylights and emergency elevators along the outside walls. That’s where our informant indicates the bad guys are holed up—most probably on the top floor.”
“The roof it is, then,” Merman said. “We’ve all got our own ways of getting there. Once we’ve rendezvoused there, we can go in and work our way down, floor by floor if we have to.” He looked around at the others. “I don’t have to tell any of you to look out for booby traps.” There was a round of laughter. That sort of thing could be taken for granted. “It’s just as well the surrounding area is practically deserted,” said Suprema. “A full-out battle like the one we may be facing could cost thousands of lives if it were happening in an active commercial or residential zone. We don’t want another Global Commons disaster.”
Everyone nodded agreement. The Global Commons battle of two years ago had ended with the Commons towers in ruins and thousands dead. Even though it had clearly been the fault of the super-criminal Entropy, who had made good on his threat to destroy the towers when the billion-dollar ransom he’d demanded had not been paid, the League had paid a high price. One of their own. Cyclone, had died, and the U.S. government had nearly forced the LOV to disband. Their move to Freedom Island had occurred soon afterward.
“All right, then,” said the Streak, his lean form in its skin-tight blue outfit blurring with speed from his eagerness. “Let’s go!” And he was off, hurtling out of the room and away before another word could be said.
“Damn,” Merman muttered. “I wish he had the sense to wait for the rest of us instead of charging in on his own.”
It turned out the speedster had more sense than Merman had thought. Arriving at the target building, he had dutifully waited on the roof. Magnaman and Suprema caught up with him first, flying in under their own power at just under the speed of sound. The rest followed in one of the League’s aircraft, a VTOL jet. They set down carefully, the jet’s high-tech sound baffles obscuring the engine noise almost completely, and joined the rest, ready for battle.
They weren’t ready for what came next, however. One of the elevators suddenly hummed, then opened. Ecdysia stepped out.
“What the hell—what’s she doing here?” Merman exploded. “She wasn’t on your list, Zeroman!”
“Of course not,” chuckled Ecdysia. “The alert you got was a fake. The informant’s name, the validation codes, everything to make it look real came from your very own Zeroman.”
Merman whirled. “Traitor!” he yelled at the younger hero, who looked stunned.
“Oh, don’t blame him,” scolded the villainess. “He’s been under my power for months. He had no idea what he was doing. And very soon, neither will you.”
She pressed a button on one of the bracelets she was wearing, and began to dance. . . .
Zeroman had been miserable at the revelation that Ecdysia had been using him. As her beautiful body began to undulate, however, he forgot about it. His eyes followed the motion of her muscles, her breasts, her arms and legs, and the rest of the world faded. He never noticed the others similarly losing themselves in the dance; for him, they didn’t exist at the moment. There was only the motion, and the pleasure, and the beauty . . . !
One of the heroes was unaffected. Soldier X said in his unemotional voice, “You are wasting your time, woman. Your powers cannot affect me, and once I have taken you into custody, the others will recover soon enough. Surrender now. Do not compel me to use physical force.” He moved toward Ecdysia purposefully.
She smiled. “You’re welcome to try, machine man.”
Suddenly, Soldier X stumbled. A strange crackling noise came from his open mouth, and his eyes glowed brightly, then went black. He toppled like a felled tree and lay absolutely still.
“I know you can still hear me,” Ecdysia addressed him. “Among the materials my young pawn delivered to me were detailed files on all of you. In your case, that included details of the immobilization codes your government creators established to stop you if you ever went rogue.” Reaching into her cleavage, she pulled out a small device. “A slave of mine built this; powered by my own body heat, it sends out those codes automatically. As soon as you got close enough, its broadcast paralyzed you.”
She smiled in triumph. “I may not be able to control you like the others—although given time, I may be able to find a way of reprogramming that artificial brain of yours—but right now, you’re no more threat to me than the Tin Woodman before the oil can.” She turned away, calling over her shoulder, “I’ll have someone come up to collect you later. Ta-ta, now!”
A prisoner in his own body, Soldier X could only reflect on the irony that Ecdysia had been able to stop him this way because, no matter how the media described him, he wasn’t really an “android,” made of real, if artificial, flesh and bone; he was a robot, with a robot’s weaknesses. Then again, if he had been a true android, he might have succumbed to her spell like the others.
Ecdysia herded the other Leaguers into the elevator and down into her penthouse. The window Zeroman had wrecked had long since been repaired, of course, by workmen who, thanks to her powers, never wondered what a fancy apartment was doing on the top floor of an abandoned office building. Once they got out of the elevator cab, the erotic enchantress lined them up and left them there. She had plans for all of them, but she needed to get something first.
When she returned, Suprema was struggling back to awareness. A normal woman would have stayed lost in la-la land for at least a half hour, but her powers of recuperation were as superhuman as her strength. “What . . . what’s happening?” the heroine asked thickly, shaking her head. Then, a moment later, “Ecdysia!”
“That’s right, dear,” the other woman responded. “Don’t worry your pretty head about me, though. In a moment, you’ll be under control again, and happy to be that way.”
“No!” Suprema was defiant. “I know your tricks, bitch. You caught me by surprise before, but not this time. You can’t put me under if I can’t see you—and I don’t have to!” The heroine closed her eyes and prepared to spring.
The villainess coolly brought out a small blowpipe, put it to her lips and puffed. A spray of fine powder shot from the pipe into Suprema’s face.
The effect was instantaneous. The magnificently-built blonde heroine wavered. Her eyes crossed and she fell over, rolling onto her back. “Wha, whee, hee hee, what was that?” she giggled stupidly, her hands coming up to begin massaging her impressive bosom.
“Just a little something my, ah, colleague Dr. Id came up with a while back,” Ecdysia replied. “It punches all the right buttons inside you, doesn’t it?”
“Oh yes, ha ha, oh, heee,” the now helpless Suprema answered, her mind dissolving into pretty sparkles. “Gotta fight it, hee, hee, hoo, oohhh. . . .” “Don’t bother,” Ecdysia said. “I gave you a dose that’d drop an elephant. Even your resistance isn’t enough.” “Hee hee hee, y-you’ll never, ha ha ha, get away with this, hee ha hoo,” her victim sputtered. Her booted legs were scissoring in and out, their heels drumming the floor. Her hands pawed at her costume blouse, rolling it up. As Ecdysia watched, the heroine peeled the blouse off over her head, still giggling, and waved it briefly in the air before tossing it aside. “Of course not, dear,” Ecdysia said, gently raising Suprema’s head to slip on a set of earphones. The tape loop in the headset would work with the euphoriant; by the time the drug wore off, which should be several hours from now, the gorgeous crimefighter would have a whole new outlook on life. A whole new identity, in fact, one which would never pose a problem for Ecdysia again. “There’s nothing to worry about. So just relax into the feeling, and listen to the nice tape, and forget about everything else. Yes, that’s right. Just let it happen.” “Hee hee hee, relax, lis’n to the nice hee hee tape, ha ha, forget. . . .” As Ecdysia lowered the heroine’s head again, Suprema dissolved into more witless laughter. The drug was turning her brain to putty, just as it had been designed to do.
At last, Ecdysia gloated, at last her greatest foes were at her mercy. Not that she meant to have any.
TO BE CONTINUED. . . .
Zeroman vs. Ecdysia II: Trapped By the Temptress
Ecdysia stood and approached her male victims. “Now boys, before I put you too far under to appreciate it, there’s someone I want you to meet.” She raised her voice dramatically and called, “Oh Victor, honey, you can come out now!”
From a side room, Victor Sands emerged.
Even in his dazed state, that shocked Zeroman. If Sands were under Ecdysia’s spell, that meant she controlled the Spook as well—one of the few heroes who was supposed to be immune to her allure. How—?
“Oh, but my dear handsome Zeroman,” the villainess cooed, turning to face him, “you gave me the idea. You told me all about how your ghostly friend needs a human vessel. I figured, if I could get Victor here under my power, I’d have the Spook all bottled up. Maybe I can’t control him, but I can keep him from ever showing his translucent face again. Victor knows I don’t want the Spook around, so he won’t summon him ever again. Will you, dear?”
“No, Mistress,” Victor replied, a dreamy smile on his face. “Never summon him.” An odd look flickered in his eyes. “Ever again.”
Ecdysia didn’t see that look. She clapped her manicured hands happily. “Good boy! Now Victor, go over and stand with the others and watch me dance.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Victor said, and obeyed. Zeroman realized Ecdysia must have kidnapped Sands two months ago; that was why he and his ectoplasmic alter ego hadn’t been seen since then.
By now, his mind must be mush. And it’s my fault, he thought numbly. I blew his secret, led her to him.
“Don’t feel so guilty, honey,” Ecdysia teased, sensing his thoughts again. In person, thanks to the link she had with him now, it was nearly automatic. “In a little while, you’ll be happy you helped me. I don’t need you to think you’re free anymore, so when you watch me dance this time, you’ll forget all about everything except obeying me, pleasing me.” She grinned wickedly. “Pleasuring me. Forever.” She threw back her head and laughed out loud.
“No. . . .” It came out as a whisper. Zeroman wanted to look away, to make a break for it, something, anything. His body didn’t move, though. It wanted to obey. It had to obey! As seductive music began to sound and the succubus of crime began to slither sinuously before him, he couldn’t even look aside to see what his fellow Leaguers were doing.
Ecdysia had no such problem. She watched the male adventurers gloatingly as she stretched up, raising her arms above her head, then peeled off first one long glove, then the other, slowly, slowly, swinging each one rhythmically before dropping it. Their attention was riveted; even the strong-willed Magnaman was aware of nothing but her dance. Suprema, wriggling ecstatically on the floor and now beginning to slide her costume’s skirt down her powerful legs, went utterly unnoticed by her teammates.
Ecdysia unhooked her sequined bra and let it fall to the floor as well, then swung her magnificent breasts from side to side. The men’s eyes helplessly followed the motion; after a moment, their bodies began to sway in time with her own. She rotated her bosom in lazy circles, and again their eyes followed. All of them were slack-jawed by now, their minds emptying. Soon enough, their balls would empty as well, at her command.
Using the muscle control she had begun developing before any of them were born, she rotated her massive tits in opposite directions—and again, the men’s eyes tried to follow. Disoriented, Zeroman and the Streak almost fell over; even the mighty Magnaman wavered.
“Can you hear me, boys?” Ecdysia cooed.
“Uh. Uh. Uh. Uhhh,” they responded, almost in unison. All of them sported massive erections now. Their bodies spasmed in a weird dance routine of their own.
Ecdysia stepped forward and pulled Merman’s breathing mask away, spilling the water it contained. The aquatic adventurer didn’t move. She stepped closer, twined her arms around him and kissed him hard. His arms went around her in a powerful grip and his hips thrust forward against her.
“Ah-ah-ah,” she said. “Not yet, honey. Let go.” Merman’s arms fell to his side.
Ecdysia studied him. He wasn’t really to her taste, she decided. Too—well—fishy, with those gill slits on the sides of his face. Ah, well; all she had to do was keep him under for a few hours, and without his breather, his gills would dry out and he’d suffocate. She laughed softly; at least he’d die happy.
She returned to her dance, writhing before her entranced enemies. They watched avidly, panting, unaware as one by one they began to drool, abandoning dignity. The last of their defenses were crumbling.
Zeroman, of course, was totally out of it. Her months of erotic conditioning had made the youthful super-hero utterly helpless against her. He’d fallen almost immediately into the deepest of trances, lost in the universe of pleasure she had fashioned as his mind’s prison. As he watched his mistress dancing, he sank to his knees.
Ecdysia studied the Streak, then Blindspot, then Titan. Each had useful powers: speed, invisibility, size-changing. They would make valuable recruits. The warning she had arranged for Zeroman to receive hadn’t been a complete lie: a new super-villain group was to be formed. But she would lead it, and the League of Virtue would supply its members, super-slaves eager to carry out any command.
Her eyes rested on Magnaman. So like her dear departed foe Omniman, she mused. Super-strong, super-fast, nearly invulnerable to physical attack, with enhanced senses and the power of flight. None of that had protected him from her, though.
And so handsome. Yes, this one was definitely a keeper. “You’re mine,” she gloated. “Utterly, absolutely mine.” She ran her hand through Magnaman’s dark hair, caressed his movie-idol face, traced the rock-hard line of his upper arm with her fingers. “And with you by my side, no one can stop me!” She leaned in and fastened her lips on his, and his body responded eagerly, grinding against her and spurting uncontrollably. Too soon, she thought; he hadn’t even taken his pants off yet. Well, there’s more where that came from. And it’s clear his body knows who’s in charge now.
This promised to be a great victory party, she thought to herself, smirking. After making her preparations, she’d sent her non-powered slaves away, except for Victor. They’d have been useless against the League, and would only have gotten in the way of her celebration once the heroes were hypnotized. Now she could have them all—perhaps even Suprema, once her reprogramming was complete. Who could stop her?
“Ahem,” came an unexpected voice.
Ecdysia pulled away from Magnaman as if she’d been jabbed with a cattle prod. “What the hell—WHO SAID THAT??”
But she knew. Only one person—if “person” was the right word—had that echo-chamber voice.
She turned, slowly, and there he was. “Spook.”
A half-visible figure bowed mockingly. “In the—ah, well, you know.”
Ecdysia darted a glance at Victor Sands, who was shuddering and moaning in private pleasure, very obviously still under her spell. “You can’t be here! Sands is mine, and he’s forbidden to call you. You can’t appear unless he does! You can’t!”
The Spook smiled a frightening smile. “My dear, wherever did you get that idea?” He held up a hand. “Oh, yes—my file with the League. It says I need a human host to stay connected to the mortal world. No doubt it also records times when Victor called for my help and I responded.” The smile grew wider, even more frightening. “But my dear Ecdysia, while it’s true I need a mortal ‘anchor’ to tie me to this world, Victor has never controlled me. Think of us as a partnership.”
“Then all this time—!”
“I’ve been watching. Waiting. If you had tried to kill Victor, I would have intervened immediately, of course. Since you didn’t, I simply waited to let you play out your hand. Now you have—and it’s over.” The Spook locked eyes with the immortal sexpot and announced, “Ecdysia, you are under arrest for escaping lawful imprisonment; for kidnapping; for assault, in the form of your electronic attack on Soldier X; for brainwashing and attempted brainwashing for the purpose of securing accomplices in further crimes.”
“No!” shouted Ecdysia. “No! I won’t be locked up again!” She backed away.
The Spook advanced on her, grasping her wrist in one semi-transparent but quite solid hand. “Yes. And you will release my fellow Leaguers before you are.”
Defiantly, Ecdysia shot back: “How are you planning to force me, dead man? I know you won’t harm me—and unlike me, you can’t control minds, so you can’t compel me to do anything I refuse to do.”
The Spook didn’t answer her. Not in words. But suddenly, a whirlwind of cold air surrounded the two of them. Darkness shrouded them—and when it lifted, they were somewhere else, in a cold, misty place where there were no colors, only shades of gray. The room they’d occupied a moment before was still visible, but it wavered as if seen through water, and there was a sense of immense distance to the view.
“What have you done?” Ecdysia screamed, really frightened now for the first time in her evil career. “Where are we?” Her voice echoed weirdly.
“Nowhere,” answered her captor. “Nowhere at all. This is the place between all places. Limbo. The realm of those dead who will never reach their final destination.” The Spook’s voice grew harsher. “This is the place to which you would have sent me, had you killed Victor. Forever.”
“The realm of—but I’m alive!”
“A technicality,” said the Spook. “Here, you are as much a spirit as I—but you have no link back to mortality. Here you shall remain. Forever. Unless you agree to free my friends.”
“No! I can’t stay here!” Ecdysia was close to panic. It had all gone wrong! “I’ll do it! Please! I’ll do anything!” She moved in, pressing her body against the Spook’s, instinctively trying to manipulate him in the way which had worked for her for so long.
It didn’t work this time.
“Remember what I am,” chided the spectral super-hero. “You cannot move me as you could my mortal vessel, or young Zeroman.”
“Please!” Cut off here, forever? Alone with the dead? No! “I promise! Please!”
“Done.” There was another whirl of air, and they were back in Ecdysia’s apartment-base. “Now honor your promise.”
Shaken, Ecdysia crouched by the gleefully writhing form of the helpless Suprema and gently removed the headset she had placed over the heroine’s scalp. She went into one of the apartment’s other rooms and emerged with a small atomizer, which she squirted into Suprema’s face. Almost immediately, the other woman sighed, closed her eyes and lay still.
“She’ll be all right shortly,” the villainess declared. “That was the antidote to the drug I used, and since her conditioning was interrupted so soon, she should be herself when she wakes up, in a few minutes.”
“Now the others,” demanded the Spook.
Ecdysia nodded, beaten.
She faced the blissed-out heroes and said, “Listen to me.” Their attention instantly focused on her. “You are rising towards the light. Towards awareness. Yes.” She paused, then went on, “Keep listening to my voice, and follow it upward into the light. In a moment I will snap my fingers, and you will awaken, fully conscious and free of my commands and control. Do you understand?”
“Yes . . . Ecdysia. . . .” all the heroes responded. Their twitching bodies relaxed.
She nodded, then moved towards Zeroman. For him, something more was needed. She looked at him and sighed wistfully, then placed her hands on his temples and said, “I dissolve the bond between us.” Eyes closed, she concentrated, and the mental link between the two of them vanished. She ground her teeth. She had seldom been forced to surrender a slave this way.
Then she moved to Victor Sands and repeated the ritual, feeling the Spook’s cold gaze on her.
“It’s done,” she said at last. Gathering up the discarded bits of her costume, she reclothed herself, then faced the heroes again and snapped her fingers loudly.
At once, they awoke.
“Suprema!” thundered Magnaman. “It was a trap!”
“Yes, it was,” the Spook said. “But the danger is past. Ecdysia and I have . . . reached an understanding.” The villainess nodded sullenly. Already the fear in her eyes was giving way to anger.
There was a gasp from the floor, and Suprema, aware of the world around her once more, scrambled to put her costume back together. Then she rose to stand by her male colleagues. The look she directed in Ecdysia’s direction was poisonous. She clenched a powerful fist and drew back her arm to strike.
“No.” The Spook’s voice brooked no argument. “She has surrendered. She shall be punished. Restrain yourself, Suprema.”
The furious female fighter reluctantly lowered her fist. “Just keep her out of my way,” she growled.
The battle was over. Now all that remained was to pick up the pieces.
Soldier X was rebooted after his retrieval from the roof of the building in which Ecdysia had made her base. Merman refilled and reattached his breathing match in plenty of time to avoid the slow death she had planned for him. As the erotic evildoer had promised, Suprema suffered no lingering effects from her attempted brainwashing.
Ecdysia herself, having already escaped from Blackhole, the most secure prison ever designed by humanity, was not returned to the authorities. Instead, with the authorization of a presidential order, she was confined in suspended animation at an undisclosed location. When word of this arrangement reached the media, lawyer-slaves still devoted to the Sinister Seductress at once sued for her release from what they labeled “cruel and unusual punishment.” After years of litigation, a Supreme Court ruling upheld the constitutionality of Ecdysia’s treatment, citing a “compelling national interest” in keeping her safely confined.
Zeroman, humiliated at the way he had been played by Ecdysia and fearing that his fellow heroes could no longer trust him, resigned from the League of Virtue. After trying unsuccessfully to persuade him to stay on, Dr. Truth gave him a parting gift, a small amulet attached to a golden neck-chain.
“I still hope you will return to us,” the master mystic said. “But until you do, this may be of help to you.” He passed the amulet’s chain over Zeroman’s head and let the charm settle onto the younger hero’s chest. Then he produced a hand mirror and held it up.
Zeroman’s old face looked out at him from the glass: sandy hair, green eyes, tanned skin. A human face he hadn’t seen in years.
Reflexively, he looked down at himself. It wasn’t just his face: what he could see of his body looked normal under the costume he was still wearing.
“My God,” he breathed. “I look just the way I used to!”
Dr. Truth smiled. “It isn’t just appearance,” he said. “You are as you once were, as long as you wear this gift. If ever you need to use your powers, you’ll have to take it off.”
Zeroman stared at the sorcerer. “You mean you’ve been able to do this all this time? It’s not that I’m not grateful—but why didn’t you do it before?”
The magician sighed, and Zeroman saw that he looked weary. There were new lines in his face, and more gray in his hair than there had been.
“There is a price for such things,” the wizard said. “To bring forth a truth of your nature so deeply buried, I had to sacrifice some of my own.” He gestured at his face. “Five years of my life. That was the price, to offer you a chance at life as a normal man.”
“My God,” Zeroman said again. “I don’t know how to thank you.” “All I ask,” said the other, “is that you serve the truth. Whether as ordinary man or Zeroman.”
There was nothing Zeroman could say to that, so he said nothing. He turned away and went to his suite. He had a lot of packing to do. And after that, he had the threads of an abandoned life to pick up. At his own request, the League had never revealed his identity when it told the world about ASP’s crazed scheme and its victims. As far as his family, his friends, his few girlfriends knew, he had simply disappeared one day. Until now, that had been for the best
Now, perhaps, things could be different.
Over the next few months, freelance news photographer Dennis Slade achieved a small degree of celebrity. He had an uncanny knack for getting photos of the mysterious Zeroman in action. It was almost as if he knew in advance where the shadowy super-adventurer would turn up.
His success was all the more startling because it had been years since he had contributed any photos to anyone. It was almost as if he’d come back from the dead. When asked, he would smile and speak vaguely of “personal problems” he’d had to overcome, suggesting, perhaps, a battle with booze or drugs—and that was that. No one pressed too hard; after all, he seemed to be doing fine now, so why root through the garbage of the past? It wasn’t as if other journalists didn’t have their secrets.
The League and its world moved on. In her hidden prison Ecdysia slept, dreaming slow dreams which spanned the years, and waited. Someday she would be free again. Someday. . . .