While the other criminals of the Crime Syndicate of America pondered the bowman’s words, Alexander Luthor himself was also engaged in deep thought. The brilliant scientist and hero was still very much alive, although he was a prisoner. He gazed out of a cell window, watching two moons in an alien sky.
“Fascinating! This primitive world is like something out of Burroughs,” he said to himself. “It combines barbaric splendor with bizarre creatures and alien science. I would give my right arm to be free and to have the time to study their culture, but with my family and friends wondering about my very existence and possibly thinking me dead, I must get back to earth.”
He was bald with a red beard and wore a red and blue suit of armor, although most of his weaponry was powerless now. He had used many of his resources in the Games.
“I never thought I’d end up fighting for survival in blood sports like some gladiator from an old film,” he said.
The sultry redhead who shared his cell snorted in contempt. “I didn’t exactly expect to go from corrupt ex-cop to captive warrior woman, either,” she said as she reclined in one corner.
She had flowing red hair and wore a bikini top of gold with red and green tights and red slippers. However, the most remarkable feature of the alien woman’s attire was the harness that held her wings. She was a former member of the Wingmen, the police force of the world called Thanagar, and she had been a crooked cop. When her crimes were exposed, she had fled that world for Earth. Her journey had brought her to the Crime Syndicate, and she had toyed with the villain called Power Ring until a sudden battle with the heroic Luthor had resulted in this odd couple being transported from Earth to this world where they were currently imprisoned. Her name was Shayera, and she called herself Lady Shrike.
“I wonder if we would have been better off dead,” she said. “We both thought that energy beam that hit us when we were fighting was a death ray. However, instead of killing us, it brought us far across space to this vile dump.”
She gazed at Luthor and shook her head. He was so moral and so rigidly noble. He reminded her of her former colleagues in the police force on Thanagar. The Wingmen had been famous for their valor and their rectitude. However, Shayera had turned bad. She and her partner Katar had betrayed the code of their world’s legal system. Then Katar had betrayed her as well, and she now felt that old rush of hate as she recalled the handsome ex-cop. Katar, wherever you are, may you be eaten by a tigracat, she thought. Or better still, may I find you and rend you with my bare hands.
“I know those losers in the Crime Syndicate won’t bother to try to rescue me,” she said aloud, “so I hope your own allies care more for you than mine do for me.”
Luthor sighed. “I am lucky to be loved, and I have good friends. Still, the odds that they will find us or even realize that we’re not dead aren’t good. My sister is precognitive, and she saw the events of my death. I mean… she had a vision in which I died. I fear she must think that the ray that brought us here actually killed us. That would make her vision correct.”
A rumbling sound came closer as a burly guard opened their door. He wore spiked armor and carried a glowing blue staff. Past experience had taught the two prisoners not to risk getting touched with the neural disrupter. Escape was not an option while their captor carried such a potent weapon.
“Prepare yourselves. It is once more time for your combat,” he announced. “You will fight anew in the Great Games arena for the amusement of our master.”
Shayera said, “I’d like to get my hands on this master. I would teach him not to enslave a woman like me.”
Luthor said to the guard, “I have noticed your world’s ruler watching us from his throne in the arena. He strikes me as being an alien to your world. He moves slightly differently from the other natives of this planet. He isn’t a native, is he?”
The guard glanced left and right and then shrugged. “He is, in truth, from your world. He came here by accident, and he used his battle skills to conquer this planet. It was easy, since our world had known only peace for eons. We had lost the arts of war until he came and forced us to serve him. He overwhelmed us all. He modified our science and used previously benign devices to hurt and kill. He governs us with an iron fist and is more the tyrant of Rann than the hero. Still, we live, and thus we obey him.”
He led the couple out into a huge arena where a crowd had gathered to watch the ritual of battle and blood. A blond man attired in a uniform of red and white sat above the rest. He lounged on a throne and gazed down at his subjects with a look of cold calculation. He was clearly cruel and violent by nature.
“You have a keen eye, Earthling,” continued the guard as he shoved them out and a gate closed behind them. “Our master is also from Earth. His name is Alec Strange.”
Luthor frowned as he tried to imagine just how one Earthman could dominate an entire world so easily. “He must be a dangerous man. We know he certainly makes effective use of his resources. We had no more arrived here via that teleportation ray than we were detected and arrested by his guards. Alec Strange? That name was in the news once. I think he was a felon convicted of stealing certain priceless archeological treasures. He was a man with no values and no sense of honor. He would enjoy seeing others fight and die for sport.”
“I have no interest in his origin,” said Shayera. “I want to be free. I will be free now.” She spun around and kicked Luthor to the ground, then connected with two more kicks and tackled him as he fell. “I will kill you now! I will end your life, and then — by right of victory — I will be freed!”
She clawed at his face as he tried to block her attack. The crowd roared with pleasure. They had expected to see the pair fight a captive monster as they had before, but this turn of events excited them as well.
“Lady Shrike — stop it!” shouted Luthor. “You and I should be allies. We both have a common goal. We want to be free!” He managed to generate a mild shock from his gloves before the wild Thanagarian woman released him and staggered backward.
He saw Alec Strange laughing from above. The man was cocky and ruthless, and Luthor wondered again how he could free himself and possibly this world from the tyrant of Rann.
The answer soon came from above as a terrible roar filled the air. The stadium rocked as a torrential wind blasted across the area.
Lady Shrike gasped as her wings were nearly torn from her back. “Curse those winds!” she cried. “It is those winds that prevent me from flying out of here. I can’t rise above the arena, or those infernal winds would rip me apart.”
“The weather here is fascinating, to say the least,” stated Luthor. “Those winds are more powerful than any storm ever seen on Earth. They also seem to stay in constant effect in this world’s upper atmosphere. Space travel by conventional methods is obviously impossible. I surmise that Strange came here by the same means we were brought here. He teleported here from Earth.”
“Would you just shut up?” said Shayera. “I’d sooner be slave girl to this Strange than listen to your endless speculations.”
As the winds ceased for a time, the two prisoners saw a gate rise, and a scaly green dinosaur emerged from a cavern to face them.
“Lady Shrike, our real foe is here. Help me or we’ll both die,” commanded Alex Luthor.
The fiery redhead snarled but obeyed his command; she had to admit to herself that he was a natural leader. She flew low and distracted the slower beast while Luthor slipped around to the side and drove a hastily grabbed metal rod under its scaly protective covering. He knew where to strike, since he had faced such a creature before in these bloody Games.
He grunted as the beast turned and threatened to rip the metal rod out of his grasp. He staggered forward and slipped. The creature rose up above him and loomed over his fallen form for a second, until Shayera slammed into it from above and sent it reeling over. It landed with a crash that drove the rod through its chest.
She forced the rod deeper until it finally died. Planting one slippered foot on its head, she cried, “Victory is mine! Hear me, people of Rann — no one defeats Shayera of Thanagar!”
Luthor stood up and said, “My thanks. That was close, indeed. Why did you help me?”
“I decided you’re right,” she said. “Until we escape this nightmare, we need one another.”
They looked up to the stands, where Alec Strange watched with a look of amusement. They had survived one more day on the barbaric world of Rann. How many more could they last?
Back in their cell, Alexander Luthor and Shayera ate from bowls of watery gruel. Then Luthor frowned as he heard a distinct note.
“My bio-suit is damaged,” he said. “Still, I think the built-in sensors just detected an energy influx not unlike the one that brought us here. With any luck, we may finally learn why we were brought here.”
Lady Shrike had watched for only a split second as a faint energy nimbus surrounded Luthor before she jumped up and wrapped her arms around him, and they were both teleported out of the cell.
They found themselves transported into a tiny laboratory, where they faced a strange little being with pink skin and insectoid eyes.
“Praise Trya — it worked!” he cackled. “You are free!”
“You obviously brought us here from Earth,” remarked Luthor. “You also freed us from the cells. Who are you, and why did you do either action?”
“I am your humble servant, Ranjar Ro,” he said. “I did bring you here, but it was not my device that brought you to Rann. Rather, it was the work of the evil Sardarth.”
Shayera gazed at the small alien and smirked. “Just who is Sardarth? Give me answers, or I’ll swat you like the bug you resemble!” Luthor placed a hand on her bare shoulder, but she impatiently shrugged it away.
“Sardarth was Rann’s greatest scientist,” explained Ranjar Ro. “His brilliant work ushered in a golden age. We knew peace, and we devoted our lives to reflection and meditation, until one day Sardarth’s beloved daughter Alanna died of a fever. He went mad with grief and decided to destroy Rann. Using the brilliance that once benefited our world, he created a death ray. He decided to test it first by aiming it not at Rann’s core but at another world — your world. His decision was purely random. The ray, however, didn’t destroy the Earth. Instead, it brought Alec Strange here by mistake, since it had changed its function in some manner. The dimension of Qward has many such odd nuances!”
“Of course!” said Luthor. “The ray that brought him here was meant to destroy the world. Something in the transmission from space into our dimensional plane altered the ray from a destructive weapon to a teleportation ray.”
Shayera sat down and crossed her legs. “We were brought here by mere chance,” she realized aloud. “Typical of how my life has gone since…” She stopped, leaving the rest of her thoughts unspoken.
“You said Alec took over Rann,” said Luthor. “What of Sardarth? Did he resist him? Does that ray device still exist?”
The alien man chittered softly and said, “Sardarth died at the hands of Alec Strange. I was Sardarth’s aide before his madness. I decided that I could duplicate such a ray beam and use it to summon help from your world. Since Strange was so capable here, I wagered that only another Earthman could defeat him. Truly, I knew you could do so, since I monitored your deeds before acting. You are your world’s greatest hero. I beg you to save our planet from your fellow Earthman. Free us from the tyrant of Rann!”
Lady Shrike kicked over her chair and said, “Are you insane? Use your ray beam to send us home, or I’ll break you apart!” She shook the smaller alien until Luthor separated them.
“No, Shayera!” said Luthor. “I won’t leave until I have freed this world from Alec Strange, and I won’t let Ranjar send you home, either. You’ll fight by my side until I choose to let you leave.”
She sputtered in rage. “Curse you all! Had I the means to do so, I would see you all die a thousand deaths! I have no choice, since this little fiend is the only one who knows how to work his device, and I can’t risk a mistake. I could scatter my atoms across the known universe without his skill.”
Ranjar Ro spread his pink hands and said, “That is so, great lady. You will either liberate us or remain a slave.”