|With One Magic Word
Author: Cyn Finnegan PM
Set in the Fawcett Universe. An orphaned newsboy is given the powers of six ancient gods and heroes to stem the rising tide of evil.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Billy Batson/Captain Marvel & Jebediah of Canaan/Wizard Shazam - Words: 16,761 - Favs: 5 - Published: 03-21-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4937748
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Captain Marvel in "With One Magic Word ..."
Written by Cynthia Finnegan, with a huge "thank you" to Bill Parker for writing the BEST origin story ever, and to Mike Acord for helping me tweak it for modern readers.
Special thanks go to Mike Acord, John Berry, Brian Chapel, Don Bearden, Seth Gottleib and all my friends for their support.
Captain Marvel, Billy Batson, Shazam & Ebenezer Batson created by William Parker & C.C. Beck.
Merrill & Jocelyn Batson created by E. Nelson Bridwell & Don Newton.
Mary Batson created by Otto Binder & Marc Swayze.
James Carlisle created by Cynthia Finnegan.
Shazam, Captain Marvel & related characters © 2009 DC Comics, Inc.
Used without permission and not for profit, so please don't sue me.
The Home of Ebenezer Batson, New York, NY, Late April
An attractive, auburn-haired woman watched the seconds tick by as she timed the thermometer in her young son's mouth. An outbreak of chicken pox had hit the city hard, and the boy sitting in the bed next to her had contracted a bad case of them a just few days earlier. The black-haired youngster fidgeted impatiently, waiting for his mother to remove the thing stuck under his tongue. He wanted to be on this trip with his parents in the worst way, but he wouldn't be able to go with them if he still had a fever.
Even in her early thirties, Jocelyn Batson still looked like woman fresh out of college and moved with all the grace of a dancer. Her reddish brown hair fell around her jaw line in soft, natural ringlet curls, and her frank, blue-green eyes regarded the world around her with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of a lifetime of experience.
Of course, being an Associate Professor of Egyptology at New York University, both of those qualities often served her well.
Jocelyn, or Joy for short, was attired in a comfortable ensemble of navy blue slacks of cotton jersey, a blouse that was little more than a lace-embellished t-shirt and a pair of canvas oxfords. She had figured that if she were going to spend a whole sixteen hours in a bouncing airplane, she might as well be dressed comfortably.
As the thermometer finally beeped, she pulled it out of her young son's mouth and checked the results. She looked at the readout carefully, but the news wasn't good.
"Well?" The boy asked anxiously, literally bouncing where he sat.
"One hundred and one point two," she said as she showed her son the device's display screen. "Sorry, sweetheart, but you still have a bit of a fever."
"Mom, please tell me you're kidding," the black-haired boy replied humorously, trying his darnedest not to scratch the tiny red bumps that still itched under the layer of Calamine lotion and blue pajamas he wore.
Although named for his late paternal grandfather, Billy Batson was nearly the spitting image of his father at nine. He was a bit small for his age, and his short, blue-black hair was a tousled shock of loose curls, some of which tumbled over his brow in three forelocks. Billy's lightning-blue eyes didn't need to be fitted for glasses yet, but with any luck, they never would be. The only feature on his face that was distinctly his mother's was Billy's almost turned-up nose.
If there was one thing young Billy wasn't, it was a whiner. To him, things like whining or throwing temper tantrums over things he couldn't control were stupid and unproductive wastes of time and energy. Besides, he had seen too many of his peers get hock-deep into trouble with their parents for resorting to such tactics, and he realized early in his young life that it really wasn't worth the grief.
On the stand next to Billy's bed was a stack of books, ones he had read or begun reading since he became ill. Already reading well above his grade-level, he was starting to lean more towards "sword and sorcery" fantasy than some of his friends were. Billy's favorite book so far had been Tolkien's The Hobbit and another he had just finished, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Hawkmistress, wasn't bad either.
"I only wish I were, Billy, but you know what a fever means ..."
"I know. It means I'm stuck here with Uncle Ben while you and Dad are having fun in Egypt."
"Darn, and here I was hoping you'd be feeling better by now, short-round," a jovial male voice interrupted. "Your mother and I will be awfully lonesome without you."
Merrill Batson entered the room, kissed his wife on the cheek and flashed his young son a warm smile. A handsome man who looks belied his real age, Merrill was in his mid-thirties, stood at about six foot three and was a broad-shouldered, athletic-looking man with a ruggedly handsome face, all of which served to hide the bookish academic he truly was. His only concessions to his real age were some strands of silver in his blue-black hair and some permanent laugh lines around his bespectacled, lightning-blue eyes.
Merrill was the head curator of the Egyptian Studies wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had one of the largest exhibits in the United States, and the head of the Archaeology Department at New York University. The collar of the white shirt he wore was open, and the tan trousers he'd paired it with were loose and comfortable.
Although technically her boss at the University, Merrill considered Jocelyn his equal in every way. They had been on many digs before this, and he considered her his partner in more than just the marital sense.
In truth, he was only "Doctor Batson" to his associates at the Museum, his students and his fellows out in the "field." But at home, he was "Dad" to his young son, and Merrill, a big, good-natured kid at heart to his beloved wife, his brothers and the members of the Malcolm Foundation, the ones financing this dig.
Ebenezer Batson, or Ben for short, entered the room behind Merrill. Ben was the polar opposite of his baby brother in both looks and demeanor, and it showed. His hair was little more than a stringy, chin-length gray fringe clinging around the sides and back of his head; it almost seemed to match his slate gray eyes and dark gray suit. He wasn't quite as tall as Merrill, as thin as a rail, and his long, mulish face held a constant sour expression, like he had a rotten pickle stuck in his craw.
For the eldest Batson brothers to say that he didn't care for his youngest sibling, his sister-in-law or their child would have been a gross understatement. He loathed children, especially his brother's only son, and never bothered to hide the fact. He had never married or fathered a child of his own, and never seemed to have time for much of a social life. In fact, the closest Ben ever came to actually having fun was the annual shareholder's meeting for Amalgamated Broadcasting board of directors, which both he and Merrill were members of. But then again, money and power were Ben's only real loves.
It was discomfiting to Ben that Billy looked so much like his father, so he was often verbally abusive towards the youngster when Merrill and Jocelyn were around, and often physically abusive when they weren't. He'd been known to give Billy a cuff on the boy's dimpled chin or a slap across the face without the slightest provocation, then claim the boy was "sassing him" later on. And since Ben claimed he had arthritis in his hands and wrists, he struck the lad with enough force to hurt him, but never hard enough to leave a hand print as evidence. The claim had other advantages, too, in that people who didn't know him often felt sorry for him.
Merrill and Jocelyn never once believed Ben's assertions that Billy was behaving as badly as he claimed the boy did, but it was impossible for them to prove Ben was hitting Billy. If they could, they would be out of that house fast enough to leave Ben spinning like a top in the halls.
After a moment, Ben motioned Merrill towards the hallway and said, "Merrill, would you join me in the hall for a moment? I need to talk to you about the finances ..."
"Not now, Ben, please. I want to talk with my son for a bit before we have to go to the airport."
"Now, Merrill, or I'll call you on your cell phone every hour on the hour while you're in Saqqara and we'll discuss it then. What do you think Malcolm will say about all the overage and roaming charges, eh?"
Merrill sighed resignedly, then followed his eldest brother out of the room and into the hallway. He hated arguing, especially about money, but Ebenezer had a bone in his teeth and he wouldn't let go of it until he thought it was settled. It frustrated him to no end that Ben, unlike himself and his elder brother, Dudley, was so enamored with wealth and material goods.
Although they hadn't talked about it with their son yet, Merrill and Jocelyn had one other child; a daughter they named Mary after Merrill's mother. Mary was a pretty baby who was born an hour after Billy was and looked more like her mother than her father. The little girl had been blessed with her mother's auburn curls and almost turned up nose, but she also had her father's pale blue eyes and dimpled cheeks.
The twins shared almost everything from the time they were brought home from the hospital, even the elephant doll Billy now held in his arms. It was believed the baby girl had been stolen after the Batsons were involved in a car accident called a "swoop and squat," an collision usually engineered to bilk victims out of their insurance money. This time, however, the crooks' objective seemed to be child stealing.
The police called in the FBI to help them find the missing baby, but no one could locate her. The press had a field day with the story, calling the "Baby Girl Batson" case one of the worst kidnapping cases since the Lindbergh baby. Even Sterling Morris, owner of Amalgamated Broadcasting, got involved by offering a ten thousand dollar reward for any information on the case. But without any leads or even a ransom demand, the authorities called off the search after only a few weeks.
For the past nine and a half years, the couple spent every day wondering what could have happened to her, where she was now, what she looked like and how much she had grown. The elephant doll, her birth certificate and some baby clothes that had been lovingly stored in a trunk were all they had left of their long-lost daughter.
Billy looked at his mother and saw the sad, wistful expression on her face and wondered once again why his mom and dad looked so sad sometimes, and why they wouldn't tell him what caused it until he was older. It was frustrating not knowing, but he figured they'd tell him what it was all about when the time was right.
"Mom, I want you to take Ganesha with you," Billy said emphatically as he gave the toy elephant, named for a Hindu god, to his mother.
"Why, Billy?" she replied gently, handing the stuffed animal back."You're still sick, so you need him more than your father and I do."
"I can't explain it without sounding completely loopy, but I feel like ... like I'll never see you again."
"Honey, you'll be joining us in Cairo as soon as Dr. Wilson tells your uncle that you're well enough to travel."
The boy wrapped his arms tightly around his mother's shoulders, gave her a fierce hug and said "I know, but it doesn't make this ... this bad feeling go … what the heck ...?"
The sounds of shouting interrupted Billy's conversation with his mother. His father and least-favorite uncle were having another shouting match in the hall just outside the bedroom door, probably about one of Ben's three favorite subjects: money, himself or both. The brothers had been arguing every day since Ebenezer "invited" them to stay in the home that he and his younger brothers, Dudley and Merrill, had been raised in.
"Sounds like your father and uncle are having another fight," Jocelyn chimed in sourly. "You stay put, and I'll go find out what they're yelling about this time."
She angrily walked over to where her husband and brother-in-law were arguing. She was tired of hearing Ebenezer's constant bickering with Merrill over how the family's finances were being spent. It was bad enough that most of Ben's business interests could only be labeled as "quasi-legal" at best, but there was something about this man he insisted they take along with them that didn't set right with her. There was something unsettling about this Carlisle character, especially in the way he stared at her and her son when they first met him. The man gave Billy a severe case of the heebie-jeebies.
Why on Earth did we ever move in with Ebenezer? she asked herself as she stepped into the hallway. Because Merrill and I made some bad investments, thanks to Ben's "advice", and rather than go completely broke, we sold our home to cover them. I thought he'd changed when he offered to let us stay here, but he hasn't. Money's still all he cares about, and Ben's still not the sharing type.
It wasn't fair to Merrill or to Dudley. They grew up in this drafty old house, too, and they should've had some say in what happened to it when their folks died.
"Dammit, Merrill," Ebenezer shouted bitterly. "I've sunk enough money into all of your "wild goose" field trips to choke a horse, and I've never asked for nor demanded anything in return …!"
"I know exactly where the money for the expedition is coming from, Ben!" Merrill yelled back, jabbing his thumb into his chest. "Why do you act like I don't? And most of my "wild geese" paid off very handsomely for the Museum and Malcolm ...!"
"For Malcolm and the Museum, yes! But not for …!"
"Will you two quit your bickering?" Jocelyn said in a sharp whisper. "You're frightening my son!"
Merrill and Ben both looked over to where Billy was. Though it had no effect on his uncle, the look on Billy's young face, a mixture of confusion and fear, touched his father deeply. He knew that he couldn't continue to put his family through any more trauma, and that it was finally time to drop the bomb and let his older brother know what they'd been doing.
"Ben, since our living here has become such an inconvenience for you, I'm letting you know right now that we've had a house built in Avalon Hills," Merrill finally announced. "It's in a very nice neighborhood with good schools nearby. They'll finish building while we're in Egypt, so we'll pack up our things and move into it as soon as we get back."
"Really, Merrill?" Ben asked, his thin face awash with avid curiosity. "Think about what this will do to Billy, especially this late in the school year ..."
That did it. Jocelyn turned on her brother-in-law lightning-quick, folding her arms across her chest and began to speak in defense of her family, not bothering to hide the strong Texas twang in her voice.
"Don't you dare use our son as an excuse for another one of your guilt trips," she answered angrily. "Get this through that thick skull of yours, Ben: we're leaving. There's nothing left for us to "think about." You've made your feelings about us living with you in "your house" crystal clear."
"While we're at the dig, I'm going to have Dr. Malcolm start looking into some irregularities I found in the Museum's shipping manifests," Merrill added, putting his arm around his wife in a show of support. "Some of the more valuable items are missing or have been replaced with copies made of brass. They could've been some cataloguing errors, but I don't want to take the chance that they might've been stolen, either."
As he digested this news, the smug expression on Ben's face faded into one of panicked anxiety. If anybody at the Foundation or at the Museum found out what he'd been up to, losing his precious money would be the least of his worries. He'd count himself lucky if he got probation instead of a long prison sentence.
"Now wait a minute, you two," he yelped as they turned back towards Billy's bedroom. "There's no need to make a hasty decision about this …!"
"It's hardly a "hasty decision," brother. You've been pushing us to get out practically since we moved in last year. This last battle just cemented the when of it."
So, they've almost figured out what's been going on, eh? he thought as he watched his brother and sister-in-law return to their son's room. This changes everything. You two go ahead on your wild goose chase, little brother, and as soon as I can load your precious brat on a Cairo-bound 747, I'll figure out a way to get rid of all three of you ... permanently.
The couple returned to their son's bedroom arm in arm. Billy was anxious; he'd heard snippets of the exchange between his parents and uncle, especially the part where his mom let Uncle Ben have it with both barrels, but he hadn't heard the whole thing. Thanks to his parents, Billy had been blessed, or cursed, with a double dose of curiosity and by the time his parents returned, it was eating him alive.
"Mom? Dad? What happened?" he asked.
"Listen, Billy," Merrill said to his son, putting his arm around him, "since your uncle won't stop arguing with me over a lot of nothing, we'll be moving into the Avalon Hills house as soon as we get back."
"Really?!" Billy replied excitedly.
"Yes, son, really. It means you'll have to transfer to another school this fall ..."
"Dad, it's okay. If I remember what you and Mom told me about the school I'll be going to, the only thing I have to get used to is wearing a jacket and tie every day!"
"And being picked up," Jocelyn added. "I'm gonna ... I'm going to ... hand in a request to the University so I can cut back on my hours and be home when school lets out."
"Honey, when did you decide this?" Merrill asked as his wife fluffed the pillows behind their son's head. Both he and Billy were surprised by that announcement.
"Out in the hallway, about two minutes ago," Jocelyn replied, giving her husband an enigmatic look. "Why?"
"No reason. Just took me by surprise, is all."
Billy looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. Noticing how late it was getting, he yelped, "Holy Moley! Mom, Dad, please stop fussing over me! You're gonna wind up missing your flight!"
"He's right," Ebenezer added vacantly. "You really should be going, before your plane leaves without you. Besides, Carlisle isn't exactly the most patient man on Earth."
"Are you sure, Ben?" Merrill asked skeptically. His eldest brother's sudden change in tune struck him as out of character. Why was he in such a rush to get rid of them?
"I'm sure. Billy and I will get along just fine, you'll see. Now get going, and I'll send Billy out to you in a couple of weeks."
Jocelyn and Merrill hugged their son, bidding him a fond farewell. Jocelyn told Billy to be good, and he promised her he would. As the left the room, a taxicab parked outside the gate and the driver blew it's horn in two short blasts, just to let them know he was there waiting. A few moments later, the cabbie came up to the door and helped the Batsons load their luggage into the trunk.
Inside, Billy clambered out of bed, ran up to his window and opened it. Just before they got in the taxi, Jocelyn looked up and blew a kiss up to him. The boy returned the gesture and waved goodbye to both of his parents. He stayed by the window until the cab drove out of sight, then trudged back to his bed, hopped into it and turned the TV on to Cartoon Network to watch the new episode of The Powerpuff Girls. A moment later, Ben's lanky form loomed just inside the door frame and glared at Billy, his expression more sour than before.
"Don't get too comfortable in that bed, boy," the eldest Batson brother growled at his young nephew. "The moment you're well enough to travel, you'll be out of my house and on the first flight to Egypt I can book."
The Malcolm Expedition, Saqqara, Egypt, Mid-May
Outside one of the ancient tomb sites, Doctor Merrill Batson waited for his wife, Professor Jocelyn Batson, and their less-than-willing "assistant," James Carlisle, to join him. He wanted to enter and explore a series of hidden passageways he'd discovered earlier that morning, mostly to see if any archaeological treasures could be found. Their liaison between the Malcolm Foundation and the Antiquities Bureau waited back at the base camp with one of the others for the Batsons to return with their findings. They needed to quickly explore, catalogue and record video of the contents of this new find. The main team was waiting on them to finish this side trip so the search for the tombs of Kings Aha and Djer could continue.
Merrill opened his water bottle and took a deep drink, vainly trying to replenish some of the fluids he'd lost, then poured some of it on his head in an attempt to cool himself off. Thanks to the hot desert air, his short-sleeved white shirt had glued itself to his shoulders and back by perspiration and every inch of exposed skin was baked brown. It was already a sweltering 110o in the shade and it wasn't June yet.
Holy Moley, Merrill thought wryly, wiping his sweaty brow with the back of his hand, it's been getting hotter here every day since we got here, and it's starting to take its toll. By the time Joy and I have finished for the day, we're usually too wiped out to do more than pick at our food, shower, crawl into bed and sleep. We've even been too tired to use the hotel's swimming pool, and we both love swimming!
As he put his hard hat back on, Merrill swore to himself that the next expedition he and Joy went on would be the Mayan dig Malcolm himself was heading up in the Yucatan in a few months' time. He'd always wanted to take the family to Cancun, which was about an hour's drive by Jeep from the site, and since Ben wasn't a sponsor, they wouldn't be forced to take Carlisle along. That man gave Merrill a bad case of the creeps.
I can't wait for our part of this dig to be over. Compared to this, a Summer in Mexico will be a cake walk, especially without Carlisle acting as a proverbial millstone around our necks. And Billy will love exploring Chitchen Itza and combing the beaches of Cancun for sea shells ...
"Hey, baby. Quarter for your thoughts?" Jocelyn drawled with an affectionate smile. Like her husband, she wore a lightweight, short-sleeved white shirt and khaki slacks, and her skin was also sun-browned. She had the latest model in digital video cameras hanging on a strap around her slender wrist. Because of all the nearby excavation, everyone had been kitted out with steel-toed work boots, hard hats with high-powered lamps mounted on them and GPS trackers in case there was another "accident."
"A quarter? They're not worth that much, since I'm only thinking about the heat and the latest "disaster" to hit us," Merrill replied with a humorless chuckle.
Merrill wasn't the only one having bad feelings about this dig. Jocelyn was too, started having them from the moment their plane landed in Cairo. Unlike her husband, the unease she felt was actually manifesting itself into vivid nightmares that would wake her, shaking and sweating, from a sound sleep.
"I'm having another really bad feeling about all of this," Jocelyn said cautiously as she rubbed her arms. In spite of the desert's heat, goose bumps were popping up on her arms. "With all the "accidents" that have been happening lately, I'd almost swear this dig is cursed ... oops, speak of the devil ..."
The third member of their team, James Carlisle, strode up the dune towards the couple. Carlisle was a brilliant man with a frighteningly shady past. The eldest son of one of the Foundation's sponsors, he was a tall man, red haired, well-muscled and his ruddy face had the kind of harsh, wolfish appearance that even a smile couldn't soften. If anything, a grin would have made Carlisle look even more predatory than he already did.
The gray chinos and safari shirt he wore seemed to match his foreboding demeanor, but the bright yellow backpack Carlisle carried looked out of place on him. It looked like something their son, Billy, or one of his classmates might carry to school with them. When asked what it held, Carlisle always barked that what was in it was no one's business but his.
The whole expedition seemed to be under a curse, and it was all due to James Carlisle's well-orchestrated bouts of carelessness. Items like ushtebas and small pieces of jewelry that were already catalogued suddenly went missing. One of the other teams were nearly buried alive under a landslide, and they could have sworn they heard a muffled explosion before the ground started to shift. Back home, many had whispered that Carlisle was a small-time thug who wasn't averse to hurting people to get what he wanted.
Of the other members of their part of the expedition, only Tal Chotali, an associate professor with NYU and Malcolm's most trusted aide, wasn't going into the chamber with them. He was back at their base camp, carefully cleaning and cataloguing the artifacts each of the teams were finding and somehow managing to keep the computer equipment from frying in the heat. Malcolm and their translator were back in New York, waiting eagerly for Jocelyn to upload their findings so they could be translated accurately.
"So, we ready to go in, or what?" Carlisle asked impatiently.
"No, we're not," Jocelyn said emphatically. "We should head back to base and have Tal Chotali get in contact with his friends at the Antiquities Board. We're going to wind up in ten tons of trouble if they're left out of this."
"Joy's right, Carlisle," Merrill added sternly, agreeing with his wife. "Malcolm's not going to like explaining to the government what we're doing poking around an unexplored chamber without one of their people down there with us."
"Look, do you wanna see if this theory of yours pans out or not?" Carlisle replied, obviously annoyed with the pair. "Your big brother and his "partners" sank some major moolah into this fiasco, and they'll expect to see some kind of return for it."
"Much as it galls me to say it, Joy, he does have a point. Ebenezer's money helped make this trip possible, but only as little as the old cheapskate was willing to chip in," Merrill stated sourly as he stood up, recalling that his eldest brother was also a member of the Malcolm Foundation, and all were major contributors to the Museum.
As the trio entered the cavernous underground tunnel, Joy said, sotto voce, "Darling, we both know exactly how and where Ebenezer got a big chunk of the money he has now, and he didn't inherit it from your dad. The Egyptians won't allow Carlisle to blithely smuggle anything we discover out of the country for him, and he knows it, too. He'd have to be a fool to even try."
So old man Batson was right, for once, Carlisle mused, realizing they were unaware that he had just overheard every word Jocelyn said her husband. They have pretty much figured out what I'm up to here. Well, that's just too bad ... for them, that is ...
The intrepid duo and their companion followed the map made from that morning's satellite scans into the underground corridor. Merrill and Jocelyn were both rankled by the man Ben insisted they take with them as an assistant. The man would watch them both for hours on end, like a man obsessed, and that made her nervous. She tried to push her fears to the back of her mind as she adjusted the hard hat she wore over her curly auburn hair and followed her husband into the tunnel.
"Honey, if what I got from the satellite scans this morning are right, and we do find anything, I swear we'll go right back to base and tell Tal Chotali all about it. Then he can radio the Board and they can take over," Merrill reassured his wife.
"We'd better, buster," she answered as a concerned look crossed her face.
"You're worrying about Billy again, aren't you?"
"Yes. If he hadn't been sick ... if it weren't for the chicken pox ..."
"He'd be here, playing Hide and Seek in the ruins with some of the local kids. I know, darling. I'm worried about him, too. I don't trust Ben as far as I can throw him, but the doctor said Billy's well enough to travel now, so Ben should be sending him to us any day now."
"But Ben's been stalling for almost two weeks now. What if something's wrong with ...?"
"Will you two fools shut up about your brat and pay attention to where you're going?" Carlisle snapped irritably. "This whole dump could be booby-trapped, and you're standing around yammering on and on about your stupid kid instead of watching where you're going!"
"Do you have any children, Carlisle?" Merrill asked irritably.
"No, thank God."
"Then put a sock in it about our concern for ours. According to the satellite scans, we should be reaching the main chamber any time now."
As they continued, their footsteps echoed eerily off the stone walls and the hieroglyphs seemed to flow from one shape into another in the uncertain light. Within moments, they reached the chamber they sought, but there seemed to be nothing beyond it.
"Big "if" on finding anything down in this rabbit hole, Doc," Carlisle sneered. "Looks like we're plumb outta luck to me!"
Indeed, it did seem as if the party had reached a dead end, but Merrill knew that looks could be deceiving. Reopening his bottle of water, he poured a small amount into the palm of his hand, then made a fist and reopened it. He held his dampened hand up in front of the seam where two of the slabs met and smirked. Now he just needed to show them ...
Recalling that their "assistant" was a smoker, Merrill asked, "Carlisle, do you have your cigarettes on you?"
"Yeah," he replied gruffly. "Why, you suddenly take up smoking?"
"Light one up, bring it here and let me hold it in front of this wall. You'll see what happens."
Carlisle fished out a half-pack of cigarettes and a silver-plated cigarette lighter from his pants pocket. He slipped one of the slender sticks between his thin lips, lit it, then handed it to Doctor Batson. Merrill adjusted the miners' lamp on his hardhat, took the cigarette and held it up to the sandstone barrier in front of them. Jocelyn and Carlisle both watched, fascinated, as he held the smoldering cigarette next to the seam between the slabs. A moment later, the smoke from it sucked between the seams of the wall.
"Son of a gun," Carlisle exclaimed in shock. "Willya look at that!"
"Yep, the scans didn't lie. I'll bet my tenure that my passage is right behind this wall!" Merrill retorted, his smirk broadening to a grin. Merrill braced himself against the block of stone and started to push it as hard as he could. Both he and Jocelyn shoved against the slab with all their might, but nothing happened. It didn't shift even a millimeter out of place, and all Carlisle did was stand by and watch.
"C'mon, you stupid, stubborn piece of rock! MOVE!!" he exclaimed with a loud groan. He stopped a few moments later, every muscle in his body screaming in protest. "It … it's no use! It won't budge!"
"Now what?" Joy asked, feeling every bit as defeated as Merrill did.
"I don't know, honey. Maybe there's a lever or a switch in here somewhere ..."
As Merrill spoke, he leaned heavily against the same wall as Carlisle, then jumped forward in alarm when an elbow struck against a carved pictogram and they heard a loud click. One of them had accidentally activated a hidden switch, causing the slab to slide back. Carlisle figured that he did, but as long as the passage was now opening, Merrill didn't care whose elbow it was.
"Holy Moley," he continued as it moved away. "Talk about pure, dumb luck."
Another second and the block cleared away completely, revealing a short corridor and a series of ramps carved into the ancient sandstone, with enough room for the party to make their descent. Doctor and Mrs. Batson entered first, Jocelyn's video camera at the ready, followed closely by their assistant. Carlisle didn't look too happy to be following the Batsons into the unknown. This little side trip seemed to be a big waste of time to him, and he hated to waste time. The chances that they'd actually find anything Old Man Batson would want smuggled back to add to his collection were lowering from slim to none.
"Easy does it," Jocelyn said cautiously. "These ramps look pretty well-worn ... they could be slippery, so let's be careful on the way down."
"They look almost slick enough to slide down on," Merrill quipped as he mischievously waggled his eyebrows at her. "What do you say, honey? Want to sit on my lap and see?"
"I found the switch to open the thing," Carlisle growled, shoving the couple aside, "so I should be the first one in!"
"Whoa!" Merrill exclaimed as the angry Carlisle pushed past them, causing Jocelyn to trip. She felt one of her feet slip off the ramp as she began falling forwards. Instinctively, Merrill's hand shot out and grabbed Jocelyn's wrist, preventing her from going over the edge. As he set his wife back on her feet, he noticed that they were both shaking in fear.
"If this turns out to be a big fat nothing, Malcolm's going to be pretty p. with the two of you," Carlisle remarked smugly as the couple reached the bottom behind him.
Suddenly, Merrill spun Carlisle around and knocked him to the ground with a sound right cross to the jaw. Merrill's punch stunned Carlisle and sent him crashing into the wall behind them, then he rushed up to Carlisle, grabbed him by the collar, hauled him up and roared, "You filthy son of a …! You nearly killed my wife!"
"You'll get yours, Batson," Carlisle growled as he glared at Merrill. "Mark my words ...!"
"Right. You and what army?"
"Merrill! Look!" Jocelyn called out, retrieving her husband's flashlight from where it fell. "Looks like we've just found our passageway!"
The three peered down the hallway, and what they saw amazed them. At the end was another decorated sandstone wall with an unusual carving on it. It was of a female and a male figure on either side of … a thunderbolt?
"Great! It's another dead end!" Carlisle shouted, groping for his lost hat. "So much for you and your crackpot theories!"
"It's not a "dead end", Carlisle," Merrill remarked. "The wall up ahead may look solid, but according to the scans, there should be another chamber right behind it. Joy, I hope your camera wasn't damaged, because I'd like you to shoot some video of this. We can upload and e-mail it to Dr. Malcolm later."
Jocelyn put her camera to her eye and walked through the long corridor, followed by Merrill and Carlisle. The walls were not only decorated with the usual hieroglyphs, but with other, more intricate illustrations. This place was becoming more mysterious by the moment, and they were getting it all on video.
"Honey, can you recognize any of these illustrations?" Jocelyn asked as she slowly panned the camera around the chamber.
"That could be Aseth on the left," Merrill answered, pointing at the two images, "and I think that's Ousir, the god of the underworld, on the right. This central image looks like some kind of a stylized thunderbolt, but what the heck do these symbols mean?"
Merrill peered closely at another series of images, trying to decipher them. He had never seen some of these characters before. The marks looked almost like Sumerian cuneiform, but they also looked older than that. Much older. It was just too bad that the University's expert on Sumerian and Assyro-Babylonian civilization had become ill before the expedition started.
"What are these?" Jocelyn inquired as she panned around to get a shot of the odd writings.
"I honestly don't know," he replied, studying the carvings up close. "They don't even look Egyptian to me!!"
"Wait a minute," Carlisle mumbled, staring at the intricate carvings. "You mean to tell me that with all your degrees and all the fancy schools you went to, you two geniuses can't read a bunch of chicken scratches?! Cripes …!"
"No, can you?" Joy asked sarcastically, loading another blank memory card into the video camera.
"Most of these characters are definitely Egyptian hieroglyphs, but these," Merrill said absently, pointing at another section of the wall in front of them, "aren't. Arrgh ... this is so frustrating! I wish Patterson hadn't come down with that cold! He's the expert on pre-Egyptian civilizations ..."
"Ahhh, stop your gassing and find a way through this door!" Carlisle said angrily. "If the rest of this theory of yours pans out, Chotali and his buddies from the Antiquities Board will want you to catalog anything you find. Then the government'll grab the choicest pieces for themselves."
"If this find's as major as it looks," Joy chimed in, "I doubt the Egyptians will ever let anything we catalog of their sight, even to loan!"
"Feh, to Hell with this!" Carlisle complained as he began to feel the wall with his hands in front of him. "Out of my way!"
"Wait a minute, Carlisle!" Merrill barked at his assistant, who was about to touch the patterns in front of him. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"You two know-it-alls keep trying to translate this ancient graffiti! Me, I'm going to feel around and find a way past this wall without you butting in! It worked once ...!"
"Don't be a fool! You have no idea of what might happen if you go blindly groping around in here ...!"
As Carlisle's fingers brushed one of the sets of unknown characters, a jolt of electricity surged through the wall and struck both he and Merrill, hurling them both backward into the opposite wall. Carlisle was knocked out cold, but his hands weren't even singed. Merrill was unharmed, but had the wind knocked out of him. Jocelyn ran to her husband's side as they hit the floor.
"Wow, that was a nice little warn-off," Merrill said dazedly, shaking his head to clear it. "What in the heck happened?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing!" she cried. "Are you all right? How's …?"
"I'm fine, darlin'," he said reassuringly, running his fingers through her auburn curls, "but it looks to me like Carlisle's out for the proverbial count. Do you smell that?"
Jocelyn sniffed the air and replied, "I sure do. Is that ozone?"
"It certainly is. By rights, that bolt of lightning should've barbecued us, but it didn't! It's as if whoever this place belonged to knew how to harness and control electricity! That's not possible ... unless ..."
Merrill levered himself off the ground and stood on the spot where Carlisle had been. Facing the wall, he placed his own hands on a different set of cuneiforms with a determined look on his face. If he was right about this, it might be the way into the next chamber. If not, he'd wind up flat on his back on the floor again.
Either way, what did he have to lose besides time?
"Merrill William Batson, have you gone nuts?" Jocelyn exclaimed in the same tone she usually took with their son. "What on Earth do you think you're doing?"
"Honey, we've been reading these "cuneiforms" all wrong. They aren't words themselves; they're letters spelling out one! It's like a password on a computer. They spell … Shazam?"
With a click and soft whoosh, the passage unlocked. The massive slab inscribed with the thunderbolt slid into a hidden track in the wall while a second bolt of lightning struck directly in front of the intrepid pair, illuminating the corridor in a brilliant, blue-white glare.
"Good heavens!" they exclaimed in unison.
The couple peered in through dust and smoke, and what they saw took their collective breath away. Inside the chamber were many statues of gold and bronze, the most prominent one molded in the form of an articulated scorpion with polished quartz lenses. There was also what looked like a gold altar off to the left, but the centerpiece of the chamber was a large golden chest, its lid covered by the mosaic of a sacred scarab, inlaid with sapphires and rubies.
"Will you wait a minute?" she called out to her husband, then held her hand over her nose and mouth as they entered the chamber. "Ugh! Good grief! What is that smell?!"
"Dust, decay, ozone and really old, really rotten kyphi," Merrill joked, then paused for a moment. "Something feels odd about this place. It's not really a tomb, but it's not a temple, either. It feels more like we're breaking into someone's home."
"There's a good reason for that, baby; it was someone's home," Joy handed Merrill an object resembling an old, leather-bound scroll. "Look at this. Remind you of anything?"
When Merrill untied the binding, they found it filled with sheets of what looked to be parchment paper, both blank and written on, with the same strange cuneiforms that appeared at the entrance to the chamber. From what the couple could decipher, there were lists of names, times, appointments and even errands listed on some of the sheets.
"You're right, Joy. We've got to get Tal down here. He'll never believe you just found the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a day planner." Merrill took his walkie-talkie out of its belt holster, turned it on and began to call Tal Chotali back at the base camp. All he could get, though, was static.
"Party one to base, come in please," he said, then jiggled the radio as if doing so would make it work better. "Shoot, we must be out of range. I'll head back for the entrance and try again in a few minutes. Meanwhile, hon, why don't you shoot some video of the chest. Look at it ... its absolutely gorgeous. Now let's get a look at what's inside … huh, will you look at this? It's almost like one of those Russian nesting boxes!"
Indeed, inside the first chest was another, smaller one, surrounded by gold ingots and unset jewels. And another. And another, and each was as ornate as the first one. Finally, they got to the last one, which fit neatly in the palm of Merrill's hand.
"It's almost as if whoever left these here were packing to move," Merrill continued jokingly, "only instead of using shredded newspaper or Styrofoam peanuts, they used jewelry."
Jocelyn pointed to a cartouche on the final box out to her husband and said, "Merrill, I think this says "Let not those of evil intent touch ... no, not touch, contaminate ... the Eye of Horus, for to do so will free Seth-Kerakh from the Realm of the Dead and release Khem-Adam from his banishment to the farthest star." Wonder what the heck that means ...?"
"You're right on that count, honey, and I've no idea what it could mean. What's really weird about all of this is that, while I've heard of Shazam and Khem-Adam before, this "Seth-Kerakh" character's never appeared in any of the texts I've researched, not even as a footnote. You know what this means ...?"
"It means that these chambers are at least five thousand years old, maybe even dating back before the First Dynasty!" Jocelyn cried as she hugged her husband tightly, caught up in Merrill's enthusiasm at their discovery.
"Right!" he exclaimed, returning the embrace. "This chamber might not lead us to Djer's tomb, but it could wind up being more historically important than that! I can't wait til we can get back to base camp and upload the video to the folks back at the Foundation! Malcolm will go absolutely nuts over it!!"
"Yaaay! Honey, we did it!!"
Meanwhile, Carlisle woke up in the corridor, holding the back of his head like it hurt. He knew that if it hadn't been for the hard hats they were all wearing, his brains could have been splattered all over the floor. He couldn't remember just what happened, and he didn't care, either. Something seemed to be trying to possess him; an all-consuming greed bordering on madness.
Se … Seth-Kerakh? Wh … where have I heard that name before ...? Carlisle thought as he slid in the chamber behind the couple. Seeing the couple cataloging the treasures they'd found was agitating him to an unbelievable degree. Something was goading him to stop them ... at any cost ... from doing their jobs.
"Thieves!" Carlisle shouted, pushing the couple aside as he began removing the items from the chest. "These "ornaments" belong to me! I will not allow you to steal them as that old wretch Shazam did!"
"Merrill!" Jocelyn cried, getting her husband's attention. "We have to stop him! He's gone mad!"
"Put those down now, Carlisle!" Batson exclaimed. "They belong to the Egyptian government …!"
"They are mine, you fool! Away from me, both of you!" he yelled, grinning ferally as he grabbed at the treasures the couple held.
"We won't let you get away with …!"
Jocelyn grabbed both the chest and the statue in an attempt to wrestle them out of Carlisle's grasp. When he pushed her away, the lens in the tail of the Scorpion freed itself and dropped into her hand, unnoticed by her assailant. She fell, dropping the gold box on the stones. It popped open and a fiery blue diamond nearly the size of her husband's fist rolled across the floor.
"You will pay for …!" Carlisle screamed, pushing her back. "The Eye of Horus ... give it to me now, wench!!"
"Forget it, creep!" Jocelyn exclaimed, diving after the jewel. She managed to reach the glittering orb before Carlisle did, snatched it up and returned it to its box. Merrill charged Carlisle and pulled him away from her, grabbing the arm that reached for his wife. He shoved Carlisle away from her and sent him sprawling over the largest treasure chest in a heap. The seemingly possessed Carlisle dropped the scorpion statue as he fell over.
"Joy! Take the jewel and the scorpion statue and get out of here! NOW!!" he shouted to his wife. His fist struck Carlisle on the jaw, staggering him, but not knocking him out. Merrill turned to see if she was leaving when, with a savage leap, Carlisle jumped onto his unguarded back and began beating him brutally. A well-placed blow to the back of his skull sent Merrill to the ground and, as he fell, he struck his temple on the corner of the middle-sized chest with a crack, and blood began to pool under his head where he landed.
"MERRILL!!" she shrieked as she saw her husband fall to the ground. T - that crack ..., she thought as panic began to rise within her. N - no ... no, h - he can't be ...!
Fighting off the shock that threatened to overwhelm her, Jocelyn clutched the treasures tightly in her nerveless arms. Suddenly, she heard her husband groan softly. Merrill wasn't dead; badly hurt, yes, but not dead. Silently thanking Heaven, Jocelyn began surreptitiously looking for something she could use as a weapon to defend the both of them with. She found an old dagger within easy reach, so she set the box down and grabbed it.
"You should have ran as your man told you to do, wench! Nothing will keep me from retrieving what is rightfully mine ... not Djer, not that doddering old goatherd who calls himself a wizard, and not you two ... dead ... fools!! Now give me those Set-damned gems!!"
With his eyes glowing an unearthly red, Carlisle stalked Jocelyn menacingly, grabbed the statue she held and ripped it out of her grasp, cutting a deep gash into his own hand in the process. Jocelyn fought back, kicking, punching and even trying to slash him with the dagger, but the possessed Carlisle shoved the woman's head into the wall behind her, knocking her as unconscious as her husband was. A moment later, Carlisle came back to himself and seemed to shake off whatever was possessing him.
"What ... happened? Holy ...!" he exclaimed, then looked around and saw the unconscious forms of the Batsons lying on the ground. He knew that if they recovered, they'd set the law on him, and he couldn't let himself go back to jail.
What am I gonna do now?? Carlisle thought frantically. When they wake up, they'll report what happened to the local cops and I'll get busted for attempted murder! I can't let that happen ... C'mon, Jimmy-boy, think ... Ah, got it!
Rummaging through his backpack, Carlisle pulled out a block of C4, blasting caps, two lengths of wire, cutters and a digital egg timer. After a few minutes, he'd fashioned the materials into a crude time bomb, then stuck the device onto the entrance, set the timer for two minutes and started it.
"Now to get out of here before the whole place blows up, but I'll collect these beauties first. Old Man Batson will have my hide if I leave them behind!"
Collecting the dagger, the chest and the Scorpion statue, Carlisle ran as fast as he could for the exit, but he miscalculated the length of time and the amount of explosives he'd used. Before he got halfway to the ramps, the C4 exploded with a massive blast and chunks of debris started falling all around him. Everything going on around him seemed to be happening in slow motion, but the thug escaped before he could be buried along with the bodies of Merrill and Jocelyn Batson.
Back at the main dig site, Tal Chotali thought he heard a muffled explosion off in the distance, then turned to see huge dust clouds and smoke billow out of the tunnel the Batsons and their "assistant" went to explore a few hours earlier. The tall Egyptian, who was Dr. Malcolm's assistant and the expedition's liaison with the Antiquities Bureau, had just gotten off of a video conference with Malcolm back in Manhattan when he heard the blast. The conference had been about Chotali's recommendation that the dig be shut down until the latest series of "accidents" could be investigated.
A few moments later, Carlisle emerged out of the smoke, covered in dust and chips of sandstone, smelling strongly of sulfur and cordite, and was still trying to fight the force that had possessed him inside the chamber. Suspecting a problem, Chotali drew his Beretta in response to Carlisle's dirty, disheveled appearance.
"Tal Chotali," Carlisle said as he stalked out of the temple, his voice sounded strange. "Figures you'd come a-running at the first hint of trouble."
"What in Allah's name happened down there?" Chotali demanded. "Where are Doctor and Professor Batson?"
"By now, Anpu has taken their shades to the Underworld for Ma'at's judgment!"
"What's wrong with you?!?"
"Nothing that cannot be remedied … like this!"
The possessed Carlisle struck again, this time burying the blade of the ancient dagger found by Jocelyn into the Hindu's shoulder and left it there. A minute later, he ran towards the area where the party kept their transportation, leaving Tal Chotali to die. Hotwiring the Jimmy, he gunned the motor and drove off in the general direction of Cairo at a high rate of speed.
As he watched Carlisle drive off, Tal Chotali hit the "Panic Button," sounding the alarm which signaled that yet another accident had just occurred. It was too late to catch Carlisle, but the authorities needed to be notified and Batsons' bodies needed to be located and recovered. Before he passed out from blood loss, Chotali's last thought of was the couple's young son Billy, who was now an orphan.
New York, New York, November
Purchased in the 1600s by Dutch settlers for sixty gilders and a few trinkets, New York City has had several heydays in its time. It was a safe haven for bootleggers and gangsters in the 1920s, saw soup lines and starvation in the 1930s, young men in uniform going off to fight tyranny in the 1940s, the economic boom of the 50's, the sociopolitical upheavals of the 60's and 70's, the booms and busts of the 80's and 90's, and especially the terrible tragedies of recent years.
The buildings were an odd mixture of the best elements of Art Nouveau, Deco and Modern architecture, giving the city a clean, timeless quality that drew tourists by the score. Even new construction, including the SkyTrain which, when completed, would make the old subway system obsolete, reflected the overall flavor of the still-recovering city.
Among the few tourists and vendors still roaming the streets at this wet midnight hour was a young newsboy, trying to hawk his wares in the near-freezing rain to a crowd of passers-by in front of an abandoned and forgotten subway station at a corner near 42nd Street. The cold rain trickled down the little boy's almost turned-up nose and ran into his bright blue eyes, plastered his short, wavy blue-black hair to his skull and soaked through the red and yellow sweater and tattered jeans he wore, causing him to shiver.
Billy Batson had been badly beaten by his cruel uncle, cast out of Ebenezer's home and left to die by shortly after the reading of his parents' will. But the old man had underestimated the boy's courage and resourcefulness. Instead, the boy was not only surviving, but persevering by eking out a meager existence selling newspapers near an old, abandoned Subway station, and leaving clues for other "throw away" kids to which places were warm, dry and relatively free from the kinds of vermin who enjoyed preying on young children.
"Papers!" the nine-year-old sang out, his words leaving his mouth in clouds of steam and his cold, numbed fingers barely registering that he even held a newspaper. The already frigid air made him cough and his lungs hurt and this late in the Autumn, it was only going to get colder.
He hadn't made more than a few dollars that evening, but since most of the restaurants closed their doors at eleven, even the fast food ones, he would most likely go hungry again. That didn't matter, though; he figured he could make up for the lack by splurging on a big breakfast at Doc Quartz's or stopping at the neighborhood bakery for a couple of cinnamon-raisin roll and a cup of hot cocoa, skip lunch and buy something inexpensive for dinner. Hopefully, he would still have enough change left to go to the laudromat and wash his clothes.
He would also wind up sleeping in the same station that he peddled his papers in front of, but he didn't mind because it was safe, dry and warm. Billy had been on the streets of Manhattan for nearly five months now, and in that short time, he had become street-wise, but not cynical. You couldn't be cynical and still have hope. And as illogical as it sounded, young Billy did have hope, because he knew in his heart that the world could still be a better place, in spite of his parents' deaths almost half a year ago and the cowardly attack on his home city just a few years earlier.
He remembered the wake after his parents' memorial. Most of their friends kept telling his uncle how terrible it was for him to lose his younger brother and his sister-in-law, how awful that the Egyptian authorities hadn't turned up any leads yet and how tragic that "the boy" was now an orphan.
But no one spoke to Billy at all. They merely whispered to each other behind their hands about his circumstances. They never mentioned the fact that Ebenezer had given notice to Daniel Dare, the private investigator his folks hired shortly before they left, because he was too greedy and heartless to keep paying the detective. The Batsons' so-called friends didn't ask what was going on mostly because they didn't know ... or didn't care. To them, the deaths of Merrill and Jocelyn Batson were just another tragedy in a decade brimful of tragedies.
Great, he thought, gamely blinking back tears. Cissie Summerly thinking I'm a crybaby. That'd be all I need ...
Billy squeezed his eyes shut to keep the tears from flowing again. He hadn't cried once since his parents' funeral and he was determined not to start again, or else he would never be able to stop. He knew from second-hand experience that monsters existed, only they wore friendly faces and waited for a moment's weakness before they struck.
Just then, a tall, thin-looking man came from nowhere, startling Billy out of his reverie. He was garbed all in black, from his shoes to his trousers, long opera coat and fedora hat. The hat's brim was pulled low over the man's face, and worked with the poor light from the street lamps to obscure his features.
"Paper, sir?" Billy asked, handing the mystery man a copy of the Post.
"Why aren't you at home in bed, son?" the stranger queried, his voice filled with worry.
"I don't have a home, sir. I sleep in the old subway station. It's warm in there." The boy realized what he had just admitted to, and with a look of horror on his face, queried, "You're not a cop, are you?"
"No, I'm not a police officer," he answered with the hint of a chuckle in his voice, motioning the youngster towards the station's entrance. "And I'm not a monster, either. I want you to follow me."
That comment sent a chill up Billy's spine. He'd heard of what happened to youngsters who followed strangers from other street kids. Some went home, but most of them disappeared without a trace and were never seen or heard from again. The police didn't care, either. They never put out "Amber Alerts" on homeless children, even if the kids weren't on the streets by choice.
"No way, mister. My parents told me never to follow strangers, especially not into old subway tunnels."
"A sensible decision, Billy, but you are curious to discover what this is about all, aren't you?"
"Hey, wait a minute!" Billy exclaimed in astonishment, trying to get a look at the man in black's face. "Who the heck are you?! How do you know who I am ...?"
"I know a great deal about you, Billy Batson," the man retorted kindly. "About how you were cast out of your home and left to fend for yourself, about how you leave clues for children in similar straights as you where it's safe for them to sleep ..."
Sensing the boy's increasing alarm, the man added, "I swear upon all that's sacred, no harm will come to you. Now follow me, please, and you'll find out how I know about you and your situation."
It was strange; although he couldn't quite say why, Billy felt as though he could trust the stranger. For some strange reason, this man's voice reminded him of family member or an old friend, but Billy knew he didn't have any friends who were that old. With his curiosity getting the better of him, Billy bravely followed his "guide" into the station.
As they headed for the stairway, they passed by a small group of the very same children the stranger had mentioned earlier. They were all sound asleep around banked fire in a makeshift fireplace they'd made from an old oil barrel and some discarded pieces of aluminum ventilation ducting from the construction of the new SkyTrain station.
When they descended the steps leading to the platform, Billy asked, "Where are we going? They haven't run any trains on this line since they started building the SkyTrain last year!"
"I know that," the stranger replied with a dose of good humor, ruffling the boy's hair. "Just wait and see, and as they say in all the old mystery movies, all will be revealed."
Moments later, they heard a faint rumble that grew progressively louder and louder. Suddenly, a subway car decorated with arcane designs and headlights glowing like a dragon's eyes, roared into the station and stopped, but there was no driver. The car's circular door opened with a disgruntled hiss and a cloud of steam. With an "After you," Billy's "guide" motioned for him to climb aboard the strange car, and then boarded himself shortly after.
"Have no fear," the stranger continued as he ushered Billy into a seat. "Everything's been arranged."
The moment its passengers were seated, the car careened through the darkened tunnel at fantastic speed, and while they tore down the track, Billy kept trying to sneak a peek at the man in black's face. For him to follow a stranger into a possibly dangerous situation with nothing more than a promise that he wouldn't be harmed took a great deal of courage and a certain amount of curiosity and recklessness, and the man seemed to be pleased that the boy possessed those attributes.
A few minutes later, the fantastic car stopped at the end of the line, and the boy and his traveling companion stepped out onto a platform that resembled the mouth of a strange subterranean cavern.
Gathering his courage, Billy followed his guide into an ancient underground hall carved out of the bedrock, grotesquely lit by flaring torches. The left side of the cavern was lined with huge, monstrous-looking statues of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man: Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness and Injustice, and at the end of the cavern, an old, old man in long blue robes with a long white beard sat upon a throne of solid marble, seemingly asleep.
As the pair approached him, the old man's eyes started to open and, oddly enough, the dark-garbed stranger began to vanish into thin air as he opened them fully.
"Welcome, Billy Batson," the old man said, greeting the boy. "Forgive me, lad; it wasn't my intention to deceive you. I knew you to be far too wise to ever follow a stranger into the unknown, but I had to put your courage to the test, and you passed."
"H ... how do you know me?" Billy stammered, taken aback, but still more curious than frightened. "How do you know m - my name?"
"I know everything, my boy. I am ... Shazam!"
As the old man uttered his own name, an enormous black cloud, a blinding flash of lightning and a deafening crack of thunder formed out of nowhere in response. At the same moment, a curious inscription appeared on the wall next to the throne, which explained the source of Shazam's name. The catty-cornered text the old man pointed to was a list of ancient gods and heroes, and their powers and abilities.
The inscription read:
Solomon - Wisdom
Hercules - Strength
Atlas - Stamina
Zeus - Power
Achilles - Courage
Mercury - Speed
"For over three thousand years," Shazam spoke once again, "I've used the wisdom, strength, stamina, power, courage and speed the gods have given me to battle the forces of evil, which every day threaten to extinguish mankind from the face of the earth."
"Whoa, wait a minute, back up," the boy exclaimed, his eyes growing round in surprise. "Did you just say ... three thousand … years?!"
"Yes, lad, and during that time I've seen everything - known everything - that's happened throughout the world from the highest to the lowest. The Historama!" Shazam intoned with a single clap of his hands. Miraculously the Historama, a super television capable of showing events from the past, present and future, hummed to life and scenes from Billy's life, from the moment of his birth onward, began flashing before the young boy's amazed eyes.
"Through the Historama, Billy, I've watched you from the moment you were born. On this screen, I saw your wicked uncle force you from his home to make your way in the world after your parents were killed, leaving you in his care."
One scene displayed on the screen made the boy bite his lower lip softly as tears welled up in his eyes. It was the very day, five months earlier, that Billy's uncle beat him and cast him out into the street to fend for himself.
Ebenezer was in a worse mood than usual that day. He had been angry all the night before about losing something which cost him a great deal of money to obtain, and his mood blackened further when Billy's new teacher, Ms. Shepard, called him to find out about some bruises she'd spotted on the boy's arms the morning before. Since his uncle usually took out his foul moods on the boy physically, Billy thought it best not to ask him what was going on. He went to school as always, blissfully ignorant of what was about to happen.
While he was in class, Ben entered and ransacked the boy's and his parents' rooms, cramming a few articles of clothing and some meager possessions into two paper bags and had the Goodwill truck haul the toys, beds and the rest away. Billy came home promptly at 3:30 and saw some of his things stuffed in bags and piled up in front of the door. When the confused boy asked what was going on, Ebenezer went wild, grabbed his cane and began striking Billy with it.
Still swinging his walking stick, Ebenezer chased Billy until they got to the front door, swung one last time, clipping his nephew across the shoulders and knocking him into the driveway. Finally, Batson grabbed the two bags and hurled them at the boy, then stomped back into the house, slammed the door and locked Billy out, telling him that it wasn't his home anymore.
"I know he got rid of you to gain possession of the money and bonds your parents left to you," Shazam said, trying to gauge the boy's reactions to both his words and to the scenes playing out before them. The next scene they saw was Ebenezer with an opened lock box full of cash, stocks and bonds in front of him as he tallied everything within it. The old miser mumbled something about how stupid his late baby brother and sister-in-law were to give him free access to the funds set aside for his young nephew's care and upkeep.
"Mom and Dad hoped he'd take care of me … if anything ever happened to them," Billy interrupted, feeling nothing but pity for the greedy old wretch he watched on the screen. "If it hadn't been for the GPS locators, no one would've ever found their bodies ..."
"There's no hatred or fear in your heart, lad. That, I think, is a good thing," the wizard said. Maybe it was just his imagination, but Billy could have almost sworn the old man was actually sympathizing with his plight. It was as if the wizard had been through something very similar once in his very, very long life.
Directly above old Shazam's head was a massive block of granite, weighing tons, hanging from the cavern ceiling by a slender, fraying thread. When the thread broke, the block would fall and crush the old man to powder, and the thread was almost worn through. Billy knew he should warn the old man about it, but he didn't get a chance.
"All my life I've fought cruelty and injustice," Shazam continued, placing a grandfatherly hand on the lad's shoulder, "but I'm an old man now, and my time in this world is almost done. What I'm seeking in you is a successor. If you wish it, merely by saying my name you can become the strongest and mightiest man in the world, Captain Marvel.
"But know this, Billy: in the end, only you can make the choice to become my successor. I cannot and will not force you into it. So, if you choose of your own free will to take up my life's mission, speak my name!"
Billy gave the old man's offer a moment's thought, and he decided he liked the sound of that idea. With a faint smile, he took a deep breath and shouted, "Shazam!"
Another huge, black cloud gathered and a deafening clap of thunder roared as a second bolt of lightning struck the boy. For a split-second, he felt like he was changing, getting bigger and becoming stronger; that his form was altering and his mind had been given the keys to a great source of wisdom. When the smoke cleared, a tall, handsome, well-built man in his mid-twenties, garbed in crimson, gold and white, stood in the spot that Billy Batson once occupied.
Billy Batson had become Captain Marvel!
"Holy Moley," the man gasped in amazement, looking at as much of himself as he could without a mirror. "This is so cool!"
"Captain Marvel, I salute you," the old wizard said to his chosen champion. "Henceforth, your sacred duty will be to defend the poor and helpless, to right wrongs and crush evil wherever you may find it."
"Yes, sir," was all he could say in response.
"To become Billy Batson again, you only need to repeat my name. And now, my son, my time on Earth is done, and I must go. Captain Marvel, speak my name!"
"Shazam!" A third thunderbolt crashed down in the underground chamber. Through the blinding flash and the billows of smoke and dust, Captain Marvel saw the granite block fall on Shazam, crushing him to powder.
A moment later, a dazed Billy Batson found himself back at his old post in front of the subway entrance. Shazam, Captain Marvel and the weird underground cavern vanished without a trace, leaving him to wonder if it had ever been there at all.
"Wow, it all seems like a dream," the boy said to himself, and then he shook his head to clear it. He turned his head in surprise when the big clock down the street chimed once.
Holy Moley! he thought with a yawn. It's one o'clock in the morning! I've gotta get some sleep, or I'm never gonna get up early enough to sell all my papers before I have to go to school!
The exhausted boy trudged down the steps into the station, found his warm little corner near the fire and fell into a deep and, for the first time in weeks, dreamless slumber.
Early the next morning, about five hours after Billy fell asleep, he awoke, shook off the last remnants of slumber, grabbed up his allotment of the morning paper, made his way back to his corner and began hawking his wares. Sensational news almost made the lad forget about the amazing adventure he had the night before.
A mysterious madman calling himself the "Phantom Scientist" had been terrorizing the state for weeks, using an electromagnetic device to cut off the city's electricity. The evil genius's experiments were harming people and causing untold millions in damage in the process, and he'd threatened to use his device, called the Power Leech, on the entire country unless he were paid a certain sum by midnight.
The front page of the Times announced:
"Maniac Scientist Threatens Nation-Wide Blackout; Demands $50 Billion "Tribute".
"Officials alarmed at outrageous "ransom demand."
by Montgomery Sturgis
"Police and federal agents are still searching for the elusive Phantom Scientist, the mysterious madman who threatens to shut down state-wide power grids with his diabolical "Power Leech" device unless he receives $50 billion by midnight tonight.
"Sterling Morris, owner and president of Amalgamated Broadcasting System, says the nation will be plunged into chaos if the "mad wizard of destruction" is not found by 12 a.m., and his diabolical machine smashed …"
"Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" Billy sang out. "Maniac scientist threatens country's electric supply!"
Two men approached Billy as he sold the morning paper; one tall, ruddy and muscular with a half-smoked cigarette dangling out of his mouth, and the other one was short and stocky running to beefy. The tall one seemed familiar to Billy, almost as if he had seen that harsh, wolfish face before.
"Gimme a paper, kid," the tall man demanded, handing the boy two quarters. He blew a puff of acrid tobacco smoke in Billy's face, causing the boy to cough.
"Wanna read about the boss, eh?" the stocky man asked with a chuckle.
"Shut up, you idiot! C'mon, let's get outta here."
I wonder what they meant by that? Billy thought as he watched the men walk away. Then the idea struck him, and his eyes widened with the realization. Holy Moley! Maybe their "Boss" is really the Phantom Scientist! I'd better follow them!
Billy trailed the suspicious pair at a discreet distance, being careful not to lose them or let them see him. After a few minutes, he watched the two men enter the luxurious Skytower Apartments. Billy tried to follow them inside the building, but the imposing figure of the doorman stopped him.
"Go on an' beat it, kid!" the gruff-looking man said. "You ain't selling your lousy newspapers in here!"
"But ... but I ...!" Billy started to say something, but the doorman would brook no argument.
Unable to follow the strange men to their apartment, Billy thought of the next best thing; call on network mogul Sterling Morris and tell him what he discovered. Billy slipped into the WHIZ building through a service entrance and went up the stairs. He peeked out into the hallway and, seeing no one, proceeded to a pair of great oaken doors which bore the legend "STERLING MORRIS" in goldtone letters.
The door wasn't locked, so the boy pushed it open and found Mr. Morris on the phone facing the window, unable to see that he had a young intruder. Billy felt uncomfortable as he slipped into the opulent office, since he looked so terribly scruffy in his worn-out sweater, jeans and sneakers.
The media mogul looked every bit as intimidating as Billy remembered from the fundraisers his parents once threw at their home. Sterling Morris had a commanding presence about him. Medium height and barrel-chested, his mostly white hair was neatly clipped and combed back with pomade and his moustache formed a thin black line above his upper lip. The Armani suit he wore wasn't the newest in terms of fashion, but the casual observer couldn't tell that. In spite of his seemingly intimidating stature, Morris was also a good man who cared about the city and used his wealth to support many of its worthier causes.
Right now, however, Billy wasn't seeing that. He was looking at a decidedly angry and frustrated man who was on the verge of losing everything.
"Yes, Chief, I understand, but I hope you understand that the city will have to depend solely on its mounted officers if that fiend isn't found by midnight!" Morris spoke into the receiver irritably.
As the media mogul turned to set the phone down, he was mildly surprised to see a ragged-looking and very embarrassed newsboy of about nine or ten standing before him.
"I like to think I'm a polite kind of guy," Morris said as he looked at his young, uninvited visitor, "but will you tell me how on Earth you got in here without Mrs. Hammond seeing you?"
"I was lucky, sir, and your secretary was away from her desk," Billy replied, a bit sheepishly. "Mr. Morris, my name is Billy Batson and I've got some information for you. I know where the Phantom Scientist is hiding!"
The boy's name got the network head's attention. He knew of a boy named Billy Batson; he was the only son of Merrill and Jocelyn Batson, two of Amalgamated's smaller shareholders whom he considered friends, but this ragged-looking boy couldn't be their Billy. If the rumors were to be believed, his uncle Ebenezer allegedly packed the boy up and shipped him off to attend a prestigious boarding school in England shortly after his brother and sister-in-law's funeral.
Then again, how often were rumors to be believed? And who was to say that Ebenezer didn't start those rumors himself, just to get Social Services off his back? Besides, how many boys in the US alone had the name Billy Batson? Hundreds? Thousands, even?
Still, there was something of Merrill in this boy's face, and that shock of almost curly black hair ...
Pushing those thoughts out of his mind, Morris decided to humor the kid and listen to his tale, whatever it was.
"Oh, really," Morris said skeptically. "Well, where is he?"
"I think he's in the penthouse of the Skytower Apartments, downtown."
"The Skytower Apartments."
"And you know this because ...?"
"Well, I ... um ... I followed two men there. They bought a paper from me earlier, and from what they said, it sounded like they work for him!"
Excitedly, Billy related to Mr. Morris the full account of what he overheard, how he trailed the suspicious-looking men and how he was rebuffed by the doorman, but the television official scoffed at the boy's story.
"Look, Billy, I appreciate your wanting to help out, but the Skytower Apartments are a little too public a place for a mad scientist's hideout. Why not tell me he's living in City Hall, or in the Capitol Building in Washington?
"This is a serious matter, young man, and I'm in no mood to joke around about it. I'm very busy, so you'd better go before I lose my temper."
Billy turned to leave, then said "Okay, I'll go. Um … just one more thing, Mr. Morris?"
"Yes, Billy?" Morris said, his tone heavy with exasperation.
"If it turns out that I'm right about all of this, and if I can find and shut down the Phantom Scientist's lab … would you give me a job as a reporter? I mean, I've always dreamed of …"
"A job?!" Morris exclaimed incredulously. He had to admit to himself that the kid had moxy. "Billy, I'd give you the whole blasted building if you could find that madman! Now get out of here. I can't afford to waste any more of my time listening to nonsense."
"Thanks, Mr. Morris! Bye!" As the boy ran out, he nearly crashed into two women heading for Mr. Morris's office. "Holy Moley! 'scuse me, ladies! Sorry!"
"Mr. Morris, who was that boy who just ran out of here?" Mrs. Hammond, an attractive, older African-American woman, asked.
"Yeah, what was that all about?" the younger red-haired woman, reporter Beatrice Vaughn, chimed in.
"That boy was our new investigative reporter," Morris replied, admiring the boy's chutzpah.
"Nothing, Betty. The kid had a crazy story about where the Phantom Scientist might be."
Brave kid. He does have the reporter's instinct, though. I might just give him that job, even if he doesn't find the Phantom's lab, Morris thought as he turned toward the window and looked out once more. The maturity and courage the youngster showed had impressed him greatly.
As Billy walked back to his post, he passed by an electronics store with a huge display of televisions in the front window. The picture was nothing but snow, but the Phantom Scientist's voice was being broadcast via a live feed on all channels. It was the same message he'd been broadcasting since he made himself known. The Scientist wanted the state to pay him fifty billion dollars or he would use his invention to permanently knock out all the electrical power from the Canadian border to the State Line.
So all I have to do to get Mr. Morris to hire me is to prove myself right, huh? Billy thought as he listened to the broadcast. Fine then, that's exactly what I'll do! Look out, Mr. Phantom Scientist, 'cause here I come!
Later that night, Billy found himself across the street from the Skytower Apartments. As he looked at the upper floors of the high-rise and the office building next to it, the beginnings of a wild idea came to him.
Me and my big mouth, he thought as he looked at the high rise. How am I ever going to get up to the penthouse without being chased off by the doorman? Hmm, maybe if I go up to the observation tower of that office building over there …
The boy entered the office building unseen and took the elevator up to the observation deck. As he went out the gleaming glass doors, he looked out at the penthouse of the Skytower. Suddenly, another one of the blackouts that had plagued the city for more than two weeks had struck. Every single light in Manhattan went out … except for the ones in the penthouse. If anything, they were burning even brighter than they were before the outage.
Holy Moley, he's at it again! If only my visit with that old wizard last night hadn't been a dream! I'd ... wait a minute ... it wasn't a dream! He really did give me those powers, then all I'd have to do to be able to use them is say …
At last, Billy spoke the magic word again, and with a bolt of magic lightning and a clap of thunder, he miraculously became Captain Marvel. As the lights came back on, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirrored glass. He was now six foot, four inches tall and built like an acrobat or a gymnast; lean and athletic-looking without being overly muscle-bound. He had Billy's lightning blue eyes and full head of thick, wavy raven-black hair which came to a deep widow's peak and tumbled over a narrow, boyishly handsome face with an appealing dimple square in the middle of his chin. He looked a lot like Billy, but a twenty-five-year-old, grown up Billy instead of the boy's normal nine.
Hmm. If I were the egotistical type, I'd say I was a fine-looking fellow, the new hero thought with a confident smirk. I guess I'm what Billy will look like as an adult.
The costume he wore was a pair of form-fitting crimson tights with a medium-sized gold lightning bolt bisecting his chest, pointing towards his right hip, a gold cummerbund-style sash around his waist and below the calf length cuffed boots on his feet. A gold-brocaded white cape hung from his shoulders by a twisted cord, held together by two gold medallions, and five "Captain's stripes" encircled his forearms from wrist almost to his elbow, with part of the fifth band extending almost to the crook of his arm.
I'd better stop admiring myself and get over to the Skytower before I wind up with a swelled head.
With a mighty leap, Captain Marvel began to span the yawning chasm between the two buildings, but his momentum stopped at the halfway point. Before panic could set in, he noticed he wasn't falling as gravity dictated he should be doing, but he was floating in midair, as if suspended by an invisible wire.
Captain Marvel looked at the bright lights below his feet and realized that this was his home, his city, and protecting it and the people who live there were a part of the "sworn duty" the old wizard talked about. Quickly regaining his bearings, he easily flew the rest of the way across the alley, landing on the penthouse balcony as lightly as a feather.
You'd think they'd have some sort of perimeter alarm. I guess they're not counting on anyone coming in from above, Captain Marvel thought once more, looking around. Finding a window that didn't have the drapes drawn, the new hero peered through the glass, saw what he was looking for and whispered "Bingo."
Through the balcony door, Captain Marvel saw banks of computers and electronic equipment. Armed men garbed in coveralls, including the two who bought the paper from Billy, were monitoring their functions. A high-backed chair sat on a raised dais like a throne, and of its occupant, all that was visible was a bony hand, its fingers tapping restlessly on the arm. Standing beside the chair, a tall, blond man with perfectly sculpted features and muscles of classic proportions could be seen. The seated figure did all the talking.
"All right, enough! ENOUGH!" the Phantom Scientist snarled in a voice of pure venom. "Turn the power back on, you fools! Now Morris and those other idiots will realize I mean business! Prepare for the broadcast! New York has exactly ten minutes before the price of candles takes a very sharp climb! Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, hehhhhhh!"
At Station WHIZ, the power had gone off and come back on again, causing untold chaos on the streets below, and not even the TV stations auxiliary generators would work. Sterling Morris looked out over the city he loved, thinking that this would be the last night he would ever see her lights, when he heard a soft rapping on his office door.
"Come in," Morris said resignedly.
"It's almost midnight, Mr. Morris," Betty replied as she entered.
"I know. I was just hoping that the Batson kid could've kept his promise somehow. Well, no sense in delaying the inevitable."
Morris picked up a remote control on his desk, and as the TV monitor on his wall snapped to life, static washed the screen and a distorted voice could be heard.
"Hello, kiddies," the Phantom Scientist said "It's now eleven fifty-seven P.M. Your city fathers haven't seen the light, and in two and a half minutes, they won't be able to!"
Morris and Betty looked at each other hopelessly as midnight quickly approached.
This is it ...
Captain Marvel leapt forward and with a burst of glass, steel and stone, he exploded into the hideout. Impressed by his own entrance, Captain Marvel glanced at the rubble he had just created. The gang stared at this fantastic intruder for a long moment, wondering what to do next.
Their "boss" settled it for them a moment later.
"DON'T JUST STAND THERE GAPING, YOU MORONS!" The Phantom Scientist screamed. "KILL HIM! KILL HIM NOW!!"
The gang drew their weapons on the Captain and began to fire. He started to throw his arms over his face to shield himself from the hail of gunfire, then realized that the bullets simply ricocheted harmlessly off his body. With a smile, he advanced on the hoods menacingly.
"He's too late! Throw the switch!"
One of the men turned to the main panel. Grasping a lever marked "Primary Leech", he began to pull it downward. As the rest of the gang rushed Marvel, he jumped, hurtling them easily. He shoved the man away from the device and yanked the lever from its socket. Then with one swipe of his powerful fist, he turned the infernal machine into scrap.
Turning, he was suddenly borne to the floor as the gang hurled themselves upon him, but in the next instant, the felons went flying as Captain Marvel easily scrambled to his feet. Some of the men were regrouping to attack when a puff of the hero's breath hurled them against the wall, knocking them unconscious.
Another hooded gangster raised a pry bar and swung it at back of Marvel's head. The red clad giant checked the swing and readied his fist for a haymaker, but the hood's masking headgear slipped off. Captain Marvel found himself gazing into the face of a beautiful, blonde-haired young woman. A look of utter astonishment came over his face, and he dropped his fist. He then set her gently in a nearby chair and carefully bent the metal arms around her, pinning her safely.
A commotion caught his attention and he looked round to see the remaining gang scrambling out a door. He flew to the door to see the men entering an express elevator and descending to the ground floor. Captain Marvel arrived at the elevator doors and forced them open. He looked down the shaft to see the car dropping, then he reached out to grasp the cables in his bare hands.
"Kids, don't try this at home," the Captain said to himself with another grin, this one more pleasant. As his hands closed on the cables, the car jolted to a complete stop, knocking the thugs down. The great gears screamed in protest, but Captain Marvel quickly pulled the car back up the shaft with ease. When it was within his grasp, he yanked it level with the floor.
"Penthouse! All out, please!"
The Phantom Scientist's men crept out of the elevator, trying to keep as much distance between themselves and this crimson and gold clad powerhouse as possible. Captain Marvel secured the entire gang using wires and cables from the wrecked equipment and turned toward the shadowy figure across the room from him. Sitting in the chair was a scrawny, bald troll of a man, dressed in a white lab smock and black pants. He wore thick, horn-rimmed glasses barely balanced on his large vulture's beak of a nose. The blond bodyguard imposed himself between the old man and the hero, ready for a fight.
"Stand down, Magnificus!" he snarled at the blond man, who backed off with a hangdog expression. The old man then loosed his venom on the Captain. "Who are you?"
"The name, "sir," is Captain Marvel," the hero replied just as acerbically, giving the old villain a mock salute.
"What?! "Captain Marvel"? Is that name supposed to be some kind of a joke?"
"A joke that'll be all over you in a second, Mister ..."
"That's DOCTOR Sivana to you, fool!"
When Captain Marvel leapt to the chair, both Sivana and his bodyguard stood motionless as he reached for the old man. As Captain Marvel's hands closed on Sivana arms, they passed right through him, leaving him unharmed and laughing mockingly.
"HOLY MOLEY!!" The Captain exclaimed in shock as his hands held nothing but air.
"Heh, heh, heh, hehhh! What's the matter, you Van Damme aspirant? Can't hold on to one little old hologram? Heh, heh, hehhh! I'd have to be pretty stupid to be there in person!"
"Maybe so, Sivana, but I'm the "fool" who just put an end to your Power Leech."
"But not an end to ME!" the flickering image of the evil little man screamed furiously, shaking both of his fists at him. "This isn't over by a long shot, "friend"! You haven't heard the last of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, you ... you ... Big ... Red ... Cheese!"
"I'm sure I haven't. We'll meet again, Sivana, and when we do, you'll wind up behind prison walls!" Captain Marvel casually tossed a piece of brick at the hologram projector, smashing it to pieces.
As the image wavered and blinked out, there was another one of those mocking laughs. The hero looked at the unconscious thugs and, surprisingly enough, both the bodyguard and the blonde with the crowbar were gone, too.
They must've been teleported away, the crimson clad hero thought. As Captain Marvel surveyed the scene, he noticed an undamaged video camera was still broadcasting and that the entire city saw the events of the last few minutes. He approached the camera and looked into it with a confident, dimpled grin.
"We now return you to your regularly scheduled program," the Captain said with a dose of humor. "And Mr. Morris, if you're watching this, your young friend from this afternoon will meet you in the penthouse of the Skytower. He's the one who told me about this place."
Well, that should hold everyone for a while, including Sivana, he thought as he turned the cameras off. And now …
Another bolt of magic lightning rent the heavens, and he resumed his normal form of Billy Batson to wait for the network president to arrive.
A half-hour later, Sterling Morris arrived with the police not far behind him. While they looked around, Billy told Mr. Morris everything - except how Captain Marvel just happened to be there to destroy Sivana's machines and capture most of his gang.
"And that's what's left of the Power Leech, sir," Billy said, showing Sterling Morris the pile of scrap metal.
"Remarkable," Morris replied, impressed. "It doesn't seem possible that this "Captain Marvel" fellow did all this by himself. If I hadn't seen the whole thing with my own eyes …!"
"But you've got to promise me that you won't tell anyone else I helped Captain Marvel. He's still got to capture Sivana, and it'll be easier for him if nobody knows about me. So now I'll get out of your hair and you can let the police in."
"Very well, Billy. I promise."
"By the way, Mr. Morris, about that job you promised me earlier? Do I get it?"
"It's yours. Starting Monday afternoon, you're Billy Batson, investigative reporter!"
"YES!" Billy crowed, all traces of the poised, mature-beyond-his-years façade gone. "Whoo-hoo! "Billy Batson, Investigative Reporter"! Here's where we go to town, me and …!"
"You and who else, son?"
"Oh, nobody, sir. Just me and the microphone, that's all - just me and "Mike"! See you on Monday!"
The boy ran out of the penthouse, and minutes later, the night sky brightened for an instant, then darkened again and the station owner thought he saw a flash of lightning and heard a loud clap of thunder. Mr. Morris leaned forward, thinking he saw a blur of red, gold and white streak past the remaining windows of the penthouse.
"Did you see that?" Morris asked one of the police officers.
"See what?" the cop replied, confused by the media mogul's question.
"I thought I saw ... forget it."
And as he flew past the apartment building, the World's Mightiest Mortal couldn't help but smile. The job at the TV station would give Billy the resources to find out what happened to his parents and to track down Sivana, wherever he was. But first, Billy would need a place to live and some new clothes, so he would be presentable Monday afternoon.
And somewhere in Eternity, old Shazam smiled. He had chosen his successor well.
Author's Notes: According to the October, 2002 issue of National Geographic and several websites on early Dynastic Egypt (which I used as part of my research for this story), there really was a King Djer. He was the eldest son and heir to the real King Menes (also called Aha), who actually lived until his late sixties and only died after being attacked by a pack of wild dogs and a crocodile (talk about bad luck). Djer allegedly died at a relatively young age from unknown causes. Both the father's and son's tombs were recently unearthed in Saqqara, Egypt.
Aseth, Ousir and Anpu were the original, pre-Alexandrian names for Isis, Osiris and Anubis.
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic: this story is an out-of-continuity parody based on my own ideas of how I think the Fawcett and Quality heroes should be handled. It is neither steeped in nor is it connected with the current continuity of DC Comics. DC's current continuity lacks imagination, humor and guts.
I claim no rights to Captain Marvel or the characters associated with him. Those rights belong to DC Comics (damn it all). The only character I own in this work of fiction is James Carlisle (© Cynthia Finnegan, 2009). I offer my thanks to C.C. Beck, Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Mac Raboy and Marc Swayze for creating such "marvelous" characters for me to terrorize.
Story © 2009, Cynthia Finnegan & the Fawcett Universe, Inc.