Lucian Crawley watched the clown produce a pistol and aim it at his chest. “Nothing personal, you understand,” the clown said. “I just can’t let anyone stop me. You’re obviously a super-hero; if the fact that you’re immune to my mind-control device isn’t a tip-off, your taste in clothes is. Not that I’m anyone to talk. Who are you?”
“Uh… Mind-Grabber Kid,” Lucian said.
The clown snorted. “Mind-Grabber Kid? Good grief, you’re kidding. I’m sorry, but that’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard, bar none.”
“Oh, really?” Lucian asked, offended. “And what do you call yourself? Clown Guy?”
“Naw, of course not,” the clown said. “I’m Punch. You know, as in and Judy? The famous puppet show?”
“Oh, of course,” Lucian sneered. “Punch, like the puppet. Yeah, that’s much better.”
“Don’t get cute,” Punch warned, waving the gun. “My real name is Sylvester Sepastopol. You see, it’s always been my dream in life to be a super-villain. I first wanted to take down the Justice League, but a friend of mine in the business said I could never do it. To prove him wrong, I went after the Teen Titans first.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Stepping Stones for a Giant Killer,” Teen Titans #19 (January-February, 1969).]
“Since the Titans are still around, and I’ve never heard of you,” Lucian said, “I can guess how that turned out.”
“A minor setback,” Punch declared. “Now, I’m going to make the Titans pay for it. You see the plane over there?” Lucian nodded. “This is the new XF-34, the most powerful single-man fighter jet ever created! Thank you, Ronald Reagan, for seven years of unprecedented military buildup! It’s supposed to be tested tomorrow, but I’m going to take it out for a trial run first. I’m going to turn Titans Tower into the mother of all piles of rubble!”
“You’ll have to go through me first!” Lucian declared.
“Whatever,” Punch said, shrugging, and fired the gun.
Lucian’s telepathy had told him when Punch was about to fire; he dived away, avoiding the bullet.
“A fast one,” Punch commented. “But not fast enough!” He squeezed off two more shots. Lucian knew when they were coming and where they were coming from, but even so he barely managed to dodge them. What could he do? His telepathy was not an offensive power. How could he attack, fight back?
Then it came to him. If he could somehow cancel out Punch’s mind-control, the base personnel would return. The MPs could deal with him. How had Punch done it? Lucian searched the madman’s mind, trying to find the secret. He saw a device, about the size of a tackle box, that Punch had bought on the black market from someone called the Puppeteer. As long as it remained on, the mind-control was in effect. Where was the device now? Lucian looked around the hangar. Ah, there, under the table where Punch had been studying the schematics. Lucian made a dive for it.
“No!” Punch cried, firing the gun again. Lucian twisted in mid-dive, barely rolling out of the way. But the bullet struck the mind-control device instead, sending up a shower of sparks and a smell of burned wiring and ozone.
“Dammit!” Punch shrieked. “That cost me five thousand dollars! Do you know how long I had to save up?”
“It’s all over, Bozo,” Lucian said, getting to his feet. “The MPs will be back, now. Hand over the gun.”
“Over?” Punch repeated. “Get real.” He snapped off another shot, which Lucian tried to dodge. This time, he wasn’t fast enough. He took the bullet in the shoulder, and dropped to his knees, wincing with pain.
“The MPs will be back,” Punch said, skipping toward the XF-34. “But by that time, I’ll be long gone! Ta-ta, Mind-Grabber Kid! I’ll remember you to Titans Tower!”
Lucian stood there, holding his injured shoulder, watching the hatch door of the XF-34 close. What could he do? He couldn’t control minds; he could just read them. There wasn’t any way he could stop Punch from taking off with this powerful new fighter jet. Titans Tower probably had defenses that could stop it, but what if it did get through? What if they recognized it as one of ours and didn’t react to the threat until it was too late?
Lucian gritted his teeth as the engines hummed to life. This was his destiny, he told himself. This was his role in the grand scheme. If he hadn’t pulled that stupid stunt years ago, his family would never have packed up and moved to Dover. And if they hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been here today, with his strange mental powers, somehow the only one in town immune to Punch’s mind-control device. Every event in his life, every decision he had made, had been to place him here, at this exact moment. And now that he was here, what now?
The schematics. Maybe there was something in them that would tell him how to stop the plane from the outside. He didn’t have time to read them now; Punch was about to take off. But Punch’s mind — the schematics would be uppermost in his mind now; he was concentrating on what he’d learned, to fly the plane out of here and attack Titans Tower with it. Maybe there was something. Lucian concentrated, reached out with his mind, searched. Found Punch’s mind; it was a jumble of aviation diagrams and controls. He picked through, finding the right one. The destruct button. The fail-safe in case the jet malfunctioned and came down in enemy territory. Lucian looked around. Ah, yes, there it was, on the console. It would be a big red one, wouldn’t it?
Lucian looked up. The jet was taxiing toward the open hangar doors. In a few minutes it would be off the ground. He could let it go, let it get out of range… but the jet was experimental, untested. Lucian couldn’t be sure the destruct control would work from a distance. Besides, the pain in his shoulder was getting worse. There was quite a lot of blood on the floor. He would probably pass out before too much longer.
Lucian sighed. His role in the grand scheme.
Grimacing with every step, Lucian forced himself over to the console.
The explosion was huge, a giant orange fireball suddenly blossoming at the airbase. Alarms and klaxons went off instantly, filling the air with their cacophony. The flames leaped high into the afternoon sunset, and great billowy clouds of oily black smoke rose over the base.
“Wow,” Lucian said, watching it all from atop a nearby hill. “That was one wicked blast!”
“I’ll say,” Punch said, standing beside him. “Look, it caved in the hangars on either side of it!”
“Yeah, and the fire is spreading,” Lucian noted. “Look, here comes a fire engine. Check that — about five of them! They should be able to get it under control.”
“Probably,” Punch agreed. “Uh, say, Mind-Grabber Kid…?”
“How did we get out here?”
“That sounds like my cue,” a female voice behind them said. Lucian and Punch both whirled around.
“You!” Lucian gasped. “Th-the girl from the bar? What are you doing here?” It was her, all right — same long dark hair, so dark you couldn’t even see highlights in it, same sleeveless black shirt and black leather pants. Lucian hadn’t noticed before how very pale her skin was; must have been the lighting in the bar.
“You know her, too?” Punch asked. “I met her this morning, when I stopped at Hardee’s for breakfast on my way here!”
“I met her in a bar,” Lucian said. “Her name — say, I never did get your name.”
“Most people call me Dee, for short,” the girl said. “But not for long.”
“Um… short for what?” Lucian asked, with the horrible feeling that he knew.
Dee only smiled at him.
“Oh, man!” Punch wailed, getting it now. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! It wasn’t! I-I’ve been cheated!”
“Cheated? No,” Dee said. “You played a game with life, and you lost. Fair and square.”
Lucian watched the fires, and the firemen struggling to get them under control. “Will anyone… know?” he asked.
“What happened?” Dee asked. “No. Mind-Grabber Kid will not be mourned nor remembered. But you saved a lot of lives today, Lucian. And God alone knows how many more in the future, lives that will be saved by those whose lives you saved today. You don’t get the fame you always wanted. But you got something else. You got to be a hero.”
Lucian smiled. “I think… I like that better.”
Dee grinned. “You’re getting it,” she said. “Now, come on, boys. I’ve got a busy night ahead of me, and I don’t get to punch out at five.”
Dee turned and walked away. Lucian hesitated for just a second, then followed her. Punch hung back for a few moments, staring at the fire, then at Dee and Lucian’s receding backs, straining to see what was ahead of them. Finally, he scurried to catch up with them.