Captain Marvel in ...

Speak No Evil

Written by Cynthia Finnegan

Captain Marvel and related characters © 2009 DC Comics, Inc., a Time-Warner company.

Captain Marvel, Billy Batson & Sivana created by William Parker and C.C. Beck.

Freddy Freeman created by Otto Binder and Mac Raboy

Timothy Karnes and Sabbac created by Ed Herron and Raboy

Used without permission & not for profit.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Wisdom of Solomon! The Strength of Hercules! The Stamina of Atlas! The Power of Zeus! The Courage of Achilles! And the Speed of Mercury!

The legendary powers and abilities of six of history's greatest gods and heroes have been gathered together and placed in the hands of young reporter Billy Batson! Now, when he says the name of the ancient wizard ... Shazam! ... he is instantly transformed by a bolt of magic lightning into the World's Mightiest Mortal ... Captain Marvel!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Mount Baldy, in the Catskills

In one of his many hidden laboratory complexes, Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana sat broodingly, wondering where his magnificent scheme went wrong.

By rights, the government should have capitulated and given him the money he asked for. Not that he really needed the fifty billion; he had vast, untapped resources of wealth. But, well, a little pocket-change does come in handy sometimes, like those times when you've just polished off the last bottle of your favorite vintage Napoleon brandy and needed to buy another hundred or so cases of it.

Just a few days earlier, he used an electromagnetic device called the Power Leech on the city, causing massive blackouts, traffic jams, and plunging the city, and perhaps the world later on, into utter chaos. He had Manhattan on the ropes, but then a red-suited impediment calling himself, of all things, "Captain Marvel", stepped in and ruined everything. If it hadn't been for some quick thinking and a handy teleporter, his assistant, Beautia, would have been in the hands of the authorities.

I must find out everything I can about this "Captain Marvel" fool, the evil genius thought, and soon, so I can wipe him off the face of the Earth before he finds and thwarts me ...

New York, NY

In an abandoned warehouse on the waterfront, a young man prepared to sell his soul to the forces of evil.

Timothy Karnes had set up an elaborate ritual to summon the Prince of Darkness. He had shaved his head and set the circle, then he fasted, chanted and flogged himself for three days and nights, as the volumes his late teachers wouldn't allow him to see instructed.

He wanted what all dabblers in the Dark Arts want, power over all living creatures, and he was willing to do anything and kill anyone to get that power. That was the reason why he slaughtered the men and women who had been teaching him ceremonial magick; he needed the power that their deaths raised to make the summoning work and their blood to paint the arcane symbols to cast it.

Karnes was one of the physically ugliest examples of humanity ever born. Tall and skinny, he had a thick, hooked nose that was too broad at its base and a set of huge bucked teeth that were better suited for a horse's mouth than a human's. His narrow, beady eyes were the flat, cold gray of lead slugs. In fact, someone once mentioned that he had the eyes of a stone-cold killer.

If that person only knew just how right they were.

On the borderline of the third and fourth days, Tim performed one last chant, putting all of his willpower into it. Seconds after he intoned the last note, a great plume of smoke billowed out of the circle, accompanied by the most appalling stench of sulfur, brimstone and decay. When the fumes cleared, an enormous, gray-skinned figure stood inside the circle; his huge, bull-horned head brushing against the ceiling.

"WHY HAVE YOU SUMMONED ME, TIMOTHY KARNES?" The hideous creature demanded, its ... or rather, his ... loud, booming voice seemingly everywhere at once.

"I crave a boon from you, Dark Lord," Karnes replied avidly, abasing himself before the being. "I beg you for the gift of power."

"SUCH A GIFT I CAN GIVE YOU, BUT I DEMAND SOMETHING IN RETURN."

"Anything! Just tell me what you want and it's yours!"

"THEN BEHOLD!" A vision flashed into the air in front of Karnes. It was the image of a young boy with blue-black hair and blue eyes. Karnes hadn't gotten a good look at the boy's facial features, but he could tell that the youngster was working the streets as a newsboy. Just before Karnes could get more than a cursory glance, the image changed to a man garbed in crimson and gold.

"THIS WHELP HAS BEEN GIVEN GREAT POWERS BY AN OLD FOE OF MINE. FIND HIM, KILL HIM, AND YOU WILL HAVE POWER BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS.

"I GIVE YOU THESE POWERS TO DEFEAT HIM.

"FROM MYSELF, SATAN, YOU WILL GAIN INVINCIBLE STRENGTH. ANY WILL GRANT YOU AN INDESTRUCTIBLE BODY. BELIAL GIVES YOU HIS GREAT WISDOM. THE FLAME POWERS OF BEELZEBUB ARE YOURS TO CALL UPON. ASMODEUS GRANTS YOU HIS EVIL COURAGE, AND CRAETEIS, THE ABILITY TO FLY.

"ALL YOU NEED DO IS SAY THE WORD SABBAC."

Karnes shouted "SABBAC!", and in response, a bolt of black lightning flashed up from below the ground, striking the young man.

An instant later, as the sulfurous smoke cleared, Timothy Karnes found himself transformed into something out of a nightmare.

If it were possible, Karnes had become even uglier than before. His horse-like teeth were now rows of needle-like fangs and the tips of his fingers now sported razor-sharp claws instead of nails. His body had become taller and almost freakishly muscled, and his garments had been changed from long black robes, black jeans and sandals to a blood-red tunic, black leggings and boots. The pupils of his eyes were now blood red with dark red irises, but expression-wise, they were still the same soulless eyes of a cold-blooded killer.

All in all, the Demon King was pleased with what he had wrought, and so was his willing servant. Sabbac grinned savagely at the thought of the mayhem he would commit.

"NOW, GO FORTH SABBAC, MY SON IN EVIL! FIND THE BOY AND DO AS I BID!" the voice thundered as Sabbac flew forth into the night.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A few days later, on a corner near an abandoned subway station not far from 42nd Street, a young former newsboy was saying goodbye to his previous life. Billy Batson still couldn't quite believe everything that had happened to him in the past few days, and in many ways it still seemed like a dream come true.

Just a few months ago, he had been left orphaned when his parents, a pair of prominent archaeologists, were killed in an accident while on a dig in Egypt. Soon after their funeral, Billy's legal guardian, his uncle Ebenezer, had cast the boy out into the streets to fend for himself. Then, while working as a newsboy, he received truly unimaginable powers from an old wizard. He only had to say the name of the wizard Shazam to become a big, tall fellow dressed in red and gold called Captain Marvel.

Well, so long, old corner, Billy thought as he walked through the park towards school, 'cause starting today, I'm working at WHIZ for real!

Shortly after that, as Captain Marvel, he met the mad scientist named Sivana, who used his Power Leech to nearly bring the five boroughs to their collective knees. Although Sivana and two of his assistants escaped capture, the self-styled "World's Maddest Scientist" vowed to destroy his other self.

Yeah, like that'll ever happen, Billy thought with a chuckle. He'd have to catch me as me in order to do that, and he doesn't know about me yet! Or that I'm also Captain Marvel! And hopefully, he'll never find out, either!

This morning was a good one. It was a clear, cold early December morning as perfect as any could be. Autumn flowers were still blooming, geese were still winging there way south, and Billy had his dream job at WHIZ-7, Amalgamated Broadcasting System's main affiliate. School would be out for Thanksgiving soon, and his tenth birthday and Christmas were fast approaching, too. This would be his first one without his family there, but Billy worked like a fiend to get his grades back up to his usual A+ level.

Mom and Dad would've wanted that ...

The park was a convenient shortcut; it shaved at least five minutes off Billy's walking time and, even during the Winter, it was a pleasant hike from his temporary home inside the old subway station. He was running a little late, just a minute or two, so he picked up his pace and went off the foot path. A few moments later, the lad tripped over something and sprawled to the ground, dropping his books and papers in front of him.

Holy Moley, what was that?! He turned his head to see what caused him to fall and his eyes beheld a grisly sight. It was the body of a boy his own age.

Oh, my …

Billy had never seen a dead body before, and he was terrified by the sight of it. The boy lying dead on the ground before him bore a superficial resemblance to him: tousled black hair and blue eyes, but the remains of his clothes were more ragged than Billy's old ones had been. From what he could see, this other boy's whole body was covered with slash marks, and from the look in his eyes, the last hours of his young life were a haze of pain and fear.

Upon seeing the gaping hole in the other boy's chest where his heart should have been, the boy reporter did the only logical thing he could. He found the nearest pay phone and called 911, found the closest stand of bushes and lost his meager breakfast, and then he finally broke down and started crying.

A few minutes later, the police and the Crime Lab arrived on the scene, and a gentle but persistent patrolman named Bellows questioned Billy until he thought he would scream. No, he didn't know who the boy was. Yes, that's the way he found the body. No, he didn't move or touch anything.

Billy overheard the detective approaching him tell the patrolman that this boy was the third body they found in a week, and that he would be escorting the young witness the rest of the way to school. He recognized the detective; it was Don Harrison, the father of one of his classmates, Daisy.

"I'll take it from here, Jim," Harrison said to the patrolman, then knelt to the boy's eye level and tried to look as non-threatening as he possibly could. "Hello there, Billy. You ready to go?"

"Uh-huh," the boy replied absently as he stared resolutely at the tops of his brand new sneakers.

"Maybe I should take you home and have your uncle call the doctor."

"No!" Billy said frantically. If anyone finds out that Uncle Ebenezer threw me out, they'll … they'll ship me off to Juvenile Hall! Then they'll put me in a foster home and won't be able to work at WHIZ!

"No," he continued entreatingly. "Just … take me to school. Please?"

Poor little fellow's as pale as a sheet, the police inspector thought as he escorted the boy to his car, and it looks as though he's going to be sick again. This is his first murder, and I'd better treat him with kid gloves, for his sake.

As Harrison drove Billy the rest of the way to school, he attempted to engage the boy in a conversation, hoping that some harmless chit-chat would take his young mind off of what he had just seen, and it seemed to be working. They made one stop along the way; a hamburger shop. The detective bought Billy a chocolate milk shake to give the growing boy a little nourishment and remove the taste of sour bile from his mouth. And this seemed to be working, too; the youngster looked a lot less green and actually perked up a bit.

As they enter the school, Mrs. Woodman, the principal of the PS, met the boy and the detective in the hall. Billy looked at the clock over her shoulder and realized exactly how tardy he really was. He'd never been tardy a day in his life and now he was a whole hour late for school!

I'm dead, he thought as he looked from the clock to the stern woman. I am so dead. Even if I told her the truth, she'd never believe it …

"I hope you have a good explanation for why you're an hour late, Mr. Batson," she said, her arms crossed over her ample chest.

"I ... no, ma'am, I don't," Billy replied.

"I'm afraid it's my fault, Mrs. Woodman," the inspector interrupted, genuinely concerned. The last thing Harrison wanted was for Billy to get into trouble for doing the right thing! He took Mrs. Woodman aside and continued, "Billy found a boy's body this morning, and seeing it made him pretty ill. I had him kept at the scene to answer a few questions."

"A body?" she said, horrified as she looked from the boy to the detective. "Who's body …?"

"It was a boy around Billy's age, maybe a little younger. Definitely a homeless kid, but we aren't sure if he was a runaway, a throwaway or if his family was on the streets, too. He's the third one in a week, and all three of them bore a strong resemblance to Billy. I know he's with his uncle, but I'd like you to keep a close eye on him, too. He could be in danger ..."

When the two adults noticed Billy trying to hear what they were saying, Mrs. Woodman said, "You're excused from being tardy this time, Mr. Batson. Now get to Ms. Shepard's class before you're too much later. Now, if you'll excuse me, Detective, I have a new student to finish enrolling."

Soon, Billy was sitting at his desk in Ms. Shepard's class. Ms. Shepard was his favorite teacher because she used no set structure and she used Art, Creative Writing and Storytelling as teaching tools. Of course, it helped that Ms. Shepard was also the nicest teacher in the whole school. Even the older kids liked her.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Woodman arrived with the new student in tow; a boy whom some of the other kids, especially school bully Ryan Taylor, were calling a "sissy-boy," "cat-eyed freak," or worse.

The new boy was a little taller than Billy and almost as pretty as a girl, with thick, wavy blue-black hair, slightly slanted sapphire blue eyes and was as thin as a rail. His clothes, a blue sweater, a white shirt and gray pants, were old, but still good enough to wear to church if he wanted to. As he looked at his new classmates, one of them called him a filthy name, which elicited an angry look from Ms. Shepard.

"Everyone, can I have your attention, please?" Ms. Shepard said as she presented the new student to his classmates. "This is our new student, Freddy Freeman. Freddy comes to us from Portland, Maine. Freddy, why don't you take the seat in front of Billy over there?"

"Yes, ma'am," the boy she called Freddy replied shyly, his voice carrying a slight English accent. He unconsciously ran his hand through his hair, every last strand falling neatly back into place. He'd heard the nasty comments about his looks but chose to ignore them. The last thing he was going to do was let a bunch of bullies know just how much their stupid remarks had hurt him. As Freddy took his seat, the boy the teacher called "Billy" held out his hand in greeting.

"Hi, I'm Billy Batson," he said with a dimpled grin.

"Freddy Freeman. Hi," he replied, turning in his chair and returning his handshake. "You aren't one of the jerks who called me names when I came in, were you?"

Billy looked at Freddy suspiciously and said, "Nope, why?"

"Good, then I won't have to kick your tail for you after school." The look on Freddy's face let Billy know that it wasn't a threat, but that he was playing around.

"You wish," Billy muttered good-naturedly, knowing right then that this was going to be the start of a beautiful friendship.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the basement of a long-derelict Catholic church just outside Manhattan proper, Tim Karnes read the afternoon edition and swore at himself in disgust. The wrong boy. The boy he slew the night before wasn't the boy Satan had instructed him to find and kill, just some nameless homeless brat who vaguely resembled his target. If only he had paid attention to the images his master tried to show him, he wouldn't be in this bind!

Then again, the boy's torture and death did make Karnes feel more powerful, at least magically speaking. He'd never felt such tremendous power coursing through his body before. Well, not since he slaughtered the members of the magicians coven he'd joined to learn the demon-summoning ritual, anyway.

Yes, the physical and emotional agony Karnes put his victims through before their deaths were making him more powerful, but there was a drawback. It was an addictive rush, and he would have to transform into Sabbac tonight and go hunting for another "fix" of that power. He also knew that, next time, he couldn't just transform again and snatch another kid off the streets. He'd need help from someone who's face wasn't so bloody ugly.

After thinking for a moment, Karnes picked up his cell phone and made a call.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I'd forgotten how cold it gets here…, the rotund, genial, balding man in his mid-forties thought as he got off the Greyhound bus at the Port Authority.

Dudley Batson had returned to town to catch up with his brothers, Ebenezer and Merrill, regale his sister-in-law Jocelyn with his travel tales, and play doting uncle to his nephew, Billy, whom he adored. Being a con-man and street magician since he left college, he had been out of touch with his family for a few years. The last time, he and Ebenezer had another fight over Ben's favorite subject, money, again and Merrill wound up caught in the middle. Again.

Dudley was good at what he did. But, unlike most people in his profession, he only conned other grifters, people who preyed on widows, orphans and the elderly, and he gave almost all of it back to the people and only kept what he needed to get to the next town. Now, he was home and eager to see his family after nearly five years.

How old is Billy now? Eight or nine? Dudley mused as he walked. No, wait, he'll be ten this birthday. He's probably grown so much since the last time I visited, I won't be able to ... Great Godfrey, is that what I look like? I look a mess!

Dudley caught sight of his reflection in a mirror in a store window and, right now, he looked more like the hippie he was years earlier than his normal, dapper self. He had been on the road for a couple of months and it showed. His mostly-white hair was almost shoulder-length and he now sported a long, white beard. The once-nice suit he had on was none the better for wear, and his walking shoes were a disaster, as well.

Correction, I look like Santa Claus on the hobo. I'd better buy a newspaper and find myself a room to rent. But first I'd better go to the barber, the bank and a haberdashery. If I show up at the house looking like this, I might scare the lad silly.

An hour later, a clipped, clean-shaven and nattily-dressed Dudley stepped out of Citizen's Bank on Oak and Main, where he kept an account since he was a teenager, with enough money to rent a room and buy a couple more nice new suits. He noticed the newsstand as he arrived at the bank, and decided to get his paper there. He needed a place to stay, and there was no possible way he'd stay under the same roof with Ebenezer. There was no two ways about it.

Even as kids, Ben and Dudley could never stand one another. Whenever Ben did something wrong, like pilfer money out of their father's wallet, he'd claim innocence and blame either Dudley or Merrill for the theft. Even after old Will Batson caught his eldest helping himself to the household funds, Ben usually tried to claim that one of his younger brothers put him up to it. A threatened Summer-long visit to Great Aunt Lizzie's house in Bridgeport put an end to that for a while.

As he paid the elderly proprietor for the copy of the Post, Dudley noticed the headline.

"Still No Clues In Deaths of Prominent Archaeologists."

"Cave-in No Longer Considered Accidental."

"UPI - US and Egyptian authorities still have no leads in the deaths of archaeologists Merrill and Jocelyn Batson four months ago. According to witnesses, the Malcolm Foundation's liaison with the Egyptian Antiquities Bureau, Tal Chotali, was attacked by James Carlisle, the Batsons' assistant, while escaping the cave-in that claimed the couple's lives.

"Carlisle, 35, hasn't been seen since he drove away from the site at a high rate of speed …"

Good heavens, Dudley thought as he felt his heart sink. Joy and Merrill … dead?! But how? And what's become of Billy?

"Excuse me, sir, but do you know how this happened ...?" Dudley asked the newsstand's proprietor. Nathaniel Freeman, who had taken over the newsstand after the original owner had sold it to him and left town a few days ago.

"I dunno, mister. I'm new here, m'self," Freeman, a robust, mustached former fisherman, replied. "Just moved here from Portland with m' wife an' grandson coupla weeks ago. Bought this stand last week."

Dudley paid for his paper and walked away, his mind reeling with shock. He felt that there was only one person in the entire city who could tell him what had happened to Merrill, Joy and little Billy. It was the same person who would most likely have custody of young Billy.

Ebenezer.

A quick cab ride later, Dudley arrived at the manor house that he was raised in. He climbed up the steps and rang the doorbell, not knowing what to expect. A maid answered the door with a bright smile. She was new, hired after Ebenezer threw Billy into the streets to fend for himself.

"I need to speak to Mr. Batson. Right now, please," Dudley said.

"Whom may I say is calling?" she asked.

"Mr. Batson's brother." He knew that would get Ben's attention.

Minutes later, the man himself slowly descended the staircase, dressed in a black business suit. But even then, you could not tell they were brothers; they were as completely opposite as people get. Ben was tall, thin and saturnine, while Dudley was shorter and more robust. In fact, the only thing the two brothers had in common was male pattern baldness, which Merrill, thankfully, hadn't inherited.

"What do you want here, Dudley?" Ebenezer demanded curtly, adjusting his glasses.

"I'm not here to fight with you, Ben. All I want is to find out what happened to our brother, his wife and their son."

"Merrill and Jocelyn was killed in an on-site accident; a cave-in, I believe."

"I read about that in the newspaper. Where's Billy? In school?"

"Oh yes, he's in school, all right. A nice boarding school in England, and I don't expect to see him until possibly Christmas Eve."

He's lying. I know he is, he thought as he studied his older brother's face, trying to look Ebenezer in the eye.

"Well," Dudley said sharply as he turned to leave, "I see you've covered all your bases as usual, Ben. You're a very busy man, so I won't keep you any longer."

Dudley exited his late parents' home in disgust. hailed another taxi to take him to a building with rooms to let. A cab stopped, and as he opened the door, a bus pulled up to the stop light. On the back of the bus was an ad for the WHIZ-7 news, hyping their newest and youngest investigative reporter. It was when Dudley took a closer look at the caption under the picture that stunned him.

"Billy … Batson!?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Throughout the day, Billy and the new kid, Freddy Freeman, were beginning to become firm friends; they were even picked for the same dodge ball team at PE. History was the last class of the day, and Billy was showing Freddy where the rest of the class were in their lessons, and Freddy found that he wasn't as far behind as he'd thought.

::Billy,:: came a voice in Billy's mind.

"Great Sir?" Billy asked in a whisper, then realized only he could "hear" the voice.

::Yes, lad. You're in grave danger, and I need to speak to you of it as soon as possible. Come to the old subway tunnel after your class.::

:You're in luck, Great Sir. Final bell rings in three minutes, so I'll be there in three minutes and three seconds.:

"Billy? You okay?" Freddy whispered, looking like his new friend like he had lost his mind.

"Hmm?" Billy whispered back. "Oh sure, Freddy, just thinking."

"Is there something you two boys want to share with the rest of the class?" Ms. Shepard asked with a cheery smile. If she was annoyed by the boys' disruption, it wasn't obvious to them.

"No, ma'am," the boys said, almost in unison.

About a minute later, the final bell rang and everyone ran into the cloakroom, bundled themselves up and headed out the doors. As Billy headed for the doors, with Freddy not far away, his friend Cissie Summerly stopped him.

Cissie was a pretty girl with strawberry blonde hair and pale blue-green eyes. Like the rest of the student body, she was dressed warmly in a heavy jacket, sweater and jeans, but hers were of a slightly better quality than most of her schoolmates. Of course, unknown to most of the rest of Ms. Shepard's class, Cissie was also the niece of Billy's new boss, Sterling Morris, and the wealthy man did enjoy trying to spoil his only niece.

"Hey, Billy! Wait up!" the girl called out urgently.

"Hey, Cissie. What's wrong?" Billy asked.

"Well, you didn't hear it from me, but Ryan Taylor's been bragging that he's going to beat you and your "new boyfriend" up at lunchtime tomorrow. Guy's a total creep."

"Ryan Taylor," Freddy queried as he approached. "Is he the jerk who called me a …?"

"Afraid so, Freddy," Billy replied. "Sorry your first day here sucked so badly."

"I'm not. I've taken the scales off a few bullies before, most of 'em bigger than me, and sent them running. This guy's just like some of the ones who used to hassle me back in Portland and if he wants a fight, I'll give him one."

"We will. You're not the only one he says he's going to beat up. Besides, I've been taking karate at the Youth Center for a couple of months, so I can handle myself pretty well."

"Say, Billy, why were you so late this morning?" Cissie asked, changing the subject. "Mrs. Woodman really went on the warpath when you finally got here!"

"I found a body on the way here this morning; a boy who was about our age," he sighed resignedly, the image of that poor lad still fresh in his mind. "I called the police and they kept me there and questioned me for almost an hour. Daisy's dad drove me the rest of the way."

Both Cissie and Freddy were aghast at Billy's response. Being a city kid, Cissie knew that New York was not a real friendly place for a child, even one who had a family to go home to.

"A body?" Freddy inquired, swallowing audibly. "You mean a real … dead …?"

"Body. Yep. It made me sick to my stomach, too." Billy took a look at his watch and his eyes widened. "Shoot, I've gotta go! I have to be somewhere, right now! See you tomorrow! And don't forget to watch the channel 7 news tonight!"

"Why do you want us to watch the news on channel 7 tonight?" Freddy asked, but Billy was already well out of earshot.

"You really are from out of town, aren't you?" Cissie quipped with a giggle. "Allow me to explain ..."

Billy waved at the pair as he ran off, and Cissie gave Freddy a brief rundown of what happened over the previous weekend, her voice gaining an almost worshipful tone as she described her new hero, Captain Marvel, to him. She even offered to bring Freddy a tape of the battle between the Captain and the so-called Phantom Scientist's henchmen the next day, explaining to him that her parents recorded it on their TiVo. A moment later, Cissie's mother called out to her from their minivan. The pretty young girl waved goodbye to the boy and joined her mother in the vehicle.

Meanwhile, unnoticed by anyone, Billy ducked into a nearby alley and, after a moment, a loud clap of thunder could be heard, and if anyone had looked towards the alley, they would have seen a red, white and gold blur leave the area.

Now that's weird, Freddy thought at hearing the distant sound of thunder as he headed for his grandfather's newsstand. Why on Earth would lightning be striking now? There isn't a cloud in the sky!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Captain Marvel arrived at the abandoned subway station a few seconds after Billy called the old wizard's name. He flew into the tunnel faster than the eye could follow and suddenly found himself in Shazam's chamber. As he alighted in front of the statues of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man, he noticed the fire pots in front of the statues had been extinguished since Billy was first here, and the chamber was plunged into total darkness.

Striking two stones together, Captain Marvel re-ignited the fire pot in front of the statue of Pride. He picked up a torch that lay near Shazam's throne and lit the remaining hearths with it, then remembering the brazier next to the globe was lit when Billy first visited the chamber, re-ignited it and put the torch back in its bracket. A faint rumble of thunder later and the ancient wizard appeared, sitting on the marble throne, his grave yet kindly face was noticeably troubled.

"Greetings, my son," Shazam said. "No doubt you know why I've called you here."

"Yes," the hero replied, still bothered by the morning's event. "That ... that poor boy Billy found in the park on his way to school this morning …"

"Was the third such death in a week. Unfortunately, there will be another lad found tomorrow."

Captain Marvel's throat went dry at the spirit's announcement of other victims, and he swallowed hard in a vain attempt to moisten it. "But why?"

"To draw you out, my son. The perpetrator of these crimes is a twisted parody of you, created by the forces of evil. He's also a sorcerer, but not a powerful one, yet. He uses the pain and suffering of his victims to increase his power."

"I'll do whatever it takes to stop him, short of murder. What else can I do?"

"You must be vigilant, my son," Shazam said, placing a ghostly hand on the Captain's shoulder in a fatherly fashion. "This creature is an inhuman monster, and he will stop at nothing to kill the one he's looking for."

"Who is this person, Great Sir, and who's the one he's hunting for? I need to know, so I can protect him."

"His name's Sabbac, my son, and the one he seeks is you."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Captain Marvel flew out of the old wizard's chamber with a deeply troubled heart. On his way to WHIZ-TV, he stopped in the area of the station where Billy slept just long enough to gather his meager belongings into a backpack and continued on to the Amalgamated Broadcasting building on Madison.

Until I can find and capture Sabbac, he reasoned, it'll be safer for Billy if he didn't stay here. WHIZ will be the safest place to stay for now.

Moments later, Captain Marvel landed in the alley between the WHIZ and Beck Buildings, said his magic word and became Billy Batson once again. As he entered the lobby, Billy found his new boss, Sterling Morris, waiting for him.

"Billy! There you are," Morris said, his relief obvious even to the youngster. Since these murders began three days earlier, Morris had been fretting himself into a potential ulcer, and if the information Chief Kent gave him this morning was correct, he had every reason to worry about the boy.

"I'm sorry I'm late, Mr. Morris," Billy rejoined as the media head clipped a badge on the front of the youngster's sweater. "I was delayed."

"Late? Nonsense, my boy! You're just in time for the nickel tour. Now, I've just clipped your station ID card onto your sweater. They'll also serve as your pass for press conferences and the like. You can take it home with you or leave it here at the security desk when you go home at night."

"Yes, sir." I wish I could tell him that I don't have a home to go to.

"And now, for the rest of the facility …"

Sterling Morris was the kind of man who engendered fierce loyalty in his employees, even former ones who had moved on to other networks and cable news venues. He did this by treating everyone, even the interns, like they mattered, paying better-than-fair wages, instituting full, company paid insurance and even opening up a day care center on the ground floor. In return, he got the best efforts his staff had to give and that resulted in awards and accolades. So, when the police chief told him about a potential serial killer first thing that morning, he naturally promised that the facts about the victims would be kept off the air. Including the dead boys' resemblance to WHIZ-7's newest and youngest reporter.

Billy was actually glad for the semi-enforced tour; he got to learn the layout of the building and found several places where he could stow his gear. Morris explained his work schedule to him and let Billy know that, due to child labor laws, a tutor would be hired to help him keep up with his schoolwork.

The biggest surprise for Billy came when they reached the thirtieth floor. Mr. Morris guided the boy through the maze of people and cubicles to a frosted glass and wood door with "William M. Batson" in gold letters.

"This --- is this MY office?!" Billy stammered, taken aback. Once more, he had dropped the "old soul" persona and became pure child again.

"Indeed it is, Billy," Morris replied, grinning at the look on the boy's face. "Go on in and take a look."

Billy gripped the doorknob, gave it a twist and entered the outer office where his secretary, if and when he hired one, would be situated. There were filing cabinets and bookshelves along two of the walls and a new computer with the latest software resided on the secretary's desk. When he entered the inner office, his own private space, his jaw dropped.

It was ENORMOUS!

There was a huge desk in the middle of the room that had a laptop computer on it, thick pile carpeting on the floors, and the windows opened as well, so Captain Marvel also had an entrance. More of the bookcases lined the wall on the right. There was a stereo with a CD player on the middle shelf, and an overstuffed and very comfortable looking sofa was against the left wall with an end table next to it. A high-definition television set, complete with a DVD player, VCR and digital stereo sound, also took up some shelf space.

Bringing the boy back to reality, Mr. Morris reminded the youngster that he had a newscast to prepare for. As the boy and his new employer headed up to the studio, Billy knew he would be spending his nights in his new office, sleeping on that wonderful couch. But first, he was going to give an exclusive report of the city's new protector and how he saved everyone from the threat of the Phantom Scientist.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Hours later, Mr. Morris was checking the satellite feeds on the thirtieth floor when he heard a noise and traced it to its source: Billy's office. Opening the door, Morris saw the boy on the sofa; asleep, but not soundly. Apparently, he was deep in the throes of a nightmare and knocked an empty plastic tumbler off the end table while he kicked off his blanket.

How on Earth did that window get opened? Good grief, it's freezing in here! The media mogul picked the glass and set it back on the table, then closed the window, straightened out Billy's blanket and tucked it around the boy. A few moments later, Billy stopped shivering, murmured something and fell back to sleep.

I wonder what he's doing sleeping here? Morris thought as he left as quietly as possible. I guess he'll tell me what's going on sooner or later.

I should've had kids.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day was much the same, except at noon. Lunchtime saw six youngsters being hauled to the principal's office for fighting. Billy, Freddy Freeman and Cissie Summerly were all scratched and bruised, and Freddy now had a bruise under his eye for his trouble, but Ryan Taylor and his crew, who were currently in Mrs. Woodman's office getting yelled at, were actually worse off than they were.

Freddy gave Ryan a bloodied nose when he and Marty Horn tackled Billy. Cissie scratched her calves up badly when Brad Johnson tried to cuff her on the jaw and she kneed him in the breadbasket. Billy's back was scraped up on the blacktop from being double-teamed by Marty and Ryan. Billy was a little sore, but these scratches were nothing compared to the beating Uncle Ben gave him the night he threw the boy out. When the fight was over, Cissie, Billy and Freddy each received an hour's detention, to be served the next Saturday, but Ryan and his gang were suspended for two weeks for starting the fight.

Later that afternoon, as the old wizard predicted, a forth victim was found in the park, this time by a woman walking her dog. Like the boy Billy found the day before, this one was homeless, but he had parents who loved him and were weeping openly when the coroner zipped him up in a body-bag and loaded him into the ambulance. Like Billy, he had blue-black hair and blue eyes, but this boy had something else in common with the boy reporter; he was a newsboy.

Billy was there as a reporter this time, not as a witness. Only this time, he wasn't just sickened by the sight, he was angry. Angry at the fact that some ... some fiend ... could get away with these ghastly murders just because his victims didn't have anywhere to call home.

A moment later, Billy noticed a black panel van creep past the scene. There were two men in the vehicle; a blond and a skinhead, and although he couldn't get the full license plate number, but he did get a good look at the passenger and driver.

I'll bet those two have something to do with these deaths. After all, most crooks do come back to the scene of their crimes, Billy thought as he looked at the two men in the van.

Suddenly, the old wizard's warning to his other self made sense, and he decided right then that he would have to put his own neck at risk before someone else lost someone they loved.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Karnes and his old "friend", Nigel Stewart, crept by the scene in a black, late-model panel van. A young, muscular Englishman with a shock of bleached blond hair, Nigel was as handsome as Karnes was ugly. Nigel knew what made Karnes tick, and vice versa.

For some unknown reason, Karnes needed to find a particular boy, and since Tim's face could frighten off the strongest individual, it was up to him to lure the boy. As long as he didn't know what Karnes did with them, he was cool with it.

As they turned onto Oak Street, Karnes pointed out another boy with blue-black hair hawking papers with an old man at the newsstand in front of the bank. Nigel got out of the vehicle and left his coin pouch on the front seat, leaving it as an enticement. The promise of money was what got the last one. As Nigel walked to the stand, Karnes pulled the van around to the alley behind the bank, then Nigel whistled and signaled to the boy.

"Hey, kid," the young man with the slicked-back blond hair hollered at Freddy in a heavy British accent. "Gimme a copy of the Post, willya?"

"You got it, mister!" Freddy ran from the newsstand up to the young man to give him the newspaper and collect his money. "That'll be fifty cents, please."

"Oh, bugger," the blond man grumbled as he checked his pockets.

"What wrong, mister?"

"I left my coin pouch in my van. If you'll come with me, I'll get yer money for you."

"My grandpa told me never to follow a stranger," Freddy said, eyeing the man suspiciously.

"Sensible advice, but you do wanna get paid, don'cha?"

"Well, yeah, of course I do, but ..."

"All right, come on then, shake a leg," the man said as he walked off.

Freddy accompanied the blond-haired man guardedly, keeping an eye on him at all times. Something wasn't right about this, but his grandparents needed the money from the paper. As they approached an older model black van, someone grabbed him around the shoulders in an attempt to force the boy into the vehicle.

"LET ME GO!"

"Shut up, ya punk! Just shut up and nothing will happen to you!"

Freddy punched, kicked, bit and screamed until his captor slapped him hard across the mouth and told him once again to shut up. After he had thrown him into the back of the van, a scrawny, older teen with the clean-shaven head and huge bucked teeth held the lad's face up to the light. He looked like a refugee from a Marilyn Manson video.

"What a beautiful boy you've brought this time, Nigel. Look at him! He has to be the right one this time!"

"Let go of me, you freak!" Freddy yelled in outrage, trying to pull away. "GRAMPA!!"

"I thought I told ya to shut up, ya stupid little git!" Nigel snarled as he whipped a sickly sweet-smelling rag out of a zip-lock bag in his coat pocket and pressed it to Freddy's nose and mouth, knocking him out.

As the boy's eyes rolled back and he lost his grip on reality, he heard Nigel say, "This is sick, Tim. I want out of it, as soon as possible."

"No, not yet," Karnes told him. "I want to get one more boy, just in case he's not the right one. And this time, Nige, use the ether first. I don't want another screaming brat on my hands."

They drove around the area, looking for yet another victim. A few minutes later, they found what they were looking for. Another newsboy the same age and with almost the same coloring as Freddy, but with shorter, tousled loose curls of blue-black hair, and wearing a worn-out red and yellow sweatshirt and jeans.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Freddy awoke from his ether-induced stupor with a raging headache and an overwhelming need to throw up, but was so dizzy he found himself unable to string his thoughts together. He saw that he was locked in a cage big enough for a large dog with his hands bound to the bars on either side of his head.

Realizing his peril, the boy began to shiver not out of cold, but out of terror. Freddy couldn't remember ever being so frightened in his life, not even while floating in the sea after the freak storm capsized his mother and father's boat and killed them.

"Hey, are you okay?" a concerned voice, young like Freddy's, asked. "Nah, I didn't think so. Good thing I held my breath when they "caught" me. Ether's nasty stuff and the last thing I wanna do is barf again."

"W-who?" Freddy replied, looking to see who spoke to him.

In a separate cage was another boy about his age that he almost seemed to recognize. Raven-haired, like him, but this other boy had bright blue eyes, like the stones in the silver rings that Grandma bought in New Mexico last summer. Like Freddy, the other boy's hands were bound, but he was not nearly as scared as he should be. In fact, the other boy wasn't frightened at all; he acted as though he planned to get caught.

How can he talk, and I can't? Freddy thought, still trying to shake off the brain-numbing effects of the inhalant.

"Freddy, don't try to talk, okay?" the other boy said, and Freddy nodded yes. "Look, it's me, Billy Batson. I sit right behind you in Ms. Shepard's class at school, remember? Don't worry, Captain Marvel's a friend of mine. He's going to get us out of this mess."

"I rather doubt that, little boy," Karnes said with a superior air. "Nigel, take this one .." he gestured to Freddy, "... to the can. I imagine he's suffering from the ether and would probably like to puke right now. You know what to do with him when he's gotten himself cleaned up."

"Leave him alone, you monster!" Billy yelled, struggling against his own bonds. "It's ME you're ...!"

"Shaddup, ye little punk!" Nigel yelled back, pulling a switchblade out of his jeans pocket and threatening Billy with it. "Yer gonna be next, so just shut yer cake hole!"

He slid the sharp blade in-between Freddy's wrists and the bars, parting the ropes with a snap. The cage door opened, allowing Karnes to reach in and pull the boy to his feet. The young man removed the gag from the boy's mouth, causing him to retch, but not spit up and Karnes handed Freddy a rag, in case he decided to heave on the way to the restroom. "Nigel" grabbed Freddy by the collar of his shirt and pulled him towards the bathroom while Karnes left for his "workroom", leaving Billy alone.

Once they were well out of the room, Billy shouted, "Shazam!"

A bolt of magic lightning crashed through the window and struck him, transforming the boy once again into the mighty form of Captain Marvel. The red and gold clad hero stood amongst the wreckage of Billy's prison, angry with both Billy and Freddy's mistreatment at the hands of these would-be sorcerers, and the fact that while he'd been searching for them, they had been hunting for him. Or rather, for Billy.

If you've harmed that boy in any way, I swear I'll make you pay for it … he thought angrily. It was as if the spirits of the fiend's victims were with Captain Marvel, pleading with him to act as their instrument of vengeance.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In another room, Freddy found himself bound spread-eagle to a huge, flat slab of black marble. He could smell the stench of brimstone wafting throughout the room and nearly jumped out of his skin as a pair of hands touched him, ripping his good shirt open. He heard himself saying no, but he might as well have been talking to himself for all the good it did. He lifted his head and saw that Karnes was now standing next to him. His black robes opened, showing a reversed pentagram hideously burned onto his chest. Outside, a loud clap of thunder shook the windows as the young boy began to struggle.

"Don't fight me, boy," Karnes growled, moving towards Freddy with a very sharp dagger. "It's so much easier if you don't fight me."

"Please, don't hurt me," Freddy stammered, feeling terror and anger rise within him. "I ... I'm only ten ... I don't wanna die ...! My ... my gramma and grampa will do anything! Just let me go! Please!!"

"I couldn't let you go even if I wanted to. You can identify me to the cops. Besides, breaking you is going to be so much fun …"

The fiend was laughing, taking sadistic pleasure in his young victim's torment. Karnes grabbed a fistful of the boy's thick, wavy hair and laid the dagger against his throat, about to cut him, when a tall, powerfully built man clad in crimson, gold and white burst in, smashing the heavy, oaken door to splinters. A grim-faced Captain Marvel had burst into the chamber, dragging the unconscious Nigel behind him.

"Let him go, NOW!" the hero growled, anger flashing in his eyes like lightning.

"So I was wrong again," Karnes replied with a fiendish grin, still pressing the blade to Freddy's throat. "You were the other brat, after all. And there you stand. Good, now I don't have to wait to say …SABBAC!"

A bolt of black lightning boiled up from the ground and struck Karnes, transforming him. He was taller, broader in the shoulders, his bucked teeth were now razor-sharp fangs and his ebon robes turned to a blood red and black tights. The old wizard had warned Captain Marvel that the forces of darkness had created a warped caricature of him, and now the World's Mightiest Mortal was standing in front of this creature formed of demonic magic.

"Eat THIS, hero!" the evil being gestured, a stream of Beelzebub's flame shooting out of his hand. The blast hit Captain Marvel full in the chest …

… And had absolutely no effect. The World's Mightiest Mortal shrugged off the bolt of Hellfire and closed in on his monstrous foe. As Captain Marvel came closer to the fiend, he pressed his dagger tighter to his young victim's throat, causing the boy to wince as the flesh beneath the razor-sharp blade began to part and bleed.

"Oh, please keep coming … what did they call you in the paper? Captain Marvel? … and I'll start dissecting this little punk right in front of you."

"No, you won't!"

Using a portion of his great speed, Captain Marvel rushed forward, caught Sabbac's wrist in a crushing grip and snatched the knife from the vile creature's grasp. He casually flung the blade into the wall behind him, where it sunk up to the quillions and vibrated from the force.

Instead of being concerned that he might be next, Sabbac simply flexed his hand, grinned fiendishly and exclaimed, "You moron! I don't need a knife to kill the kid! Not when I can tear him to shreds with my claws!!"

"You won't tear anyone apart if I break your fingers first!"

Grabbing the demonic sorcerer by the shoulder, Captain Marvel pulled Sabbac away from his intended victim and leveled a punch that would have killed a normal human, but it only stunned the villain and split his lower lip open. The hero then realized that Sabbac was almost as invulnerable as he. Almost, but not quite.

"Is that the best you can do?" Sabbac sneered tauntingly, shaking his head to clear the bells ringing in his ears and wiping some blood from his now-split lip.

"No," Cap replied furiously, lifting the sorcerer to his feet by his collar, "and neither is this!"

Once again utilizing his incredible strength and speed, Captain Marvel delivered a flurry of kicks and punches to his foe's face and body, silently thanking Heaven for the karate lessons Billy had been taking. He scored many hits, and although the demon-mage blocked a few of Cap's better shots, and even scored a few hits on the hero, the hyper-speed battering was beginning to take a heavy toll on Sabbac.

I … I don't understand it! The red and black garbed villain thought as the World's Mightiest Mortal kept up the beating. Satan himself gave me these powers to kill him, yet I can't!!

As a last-ditch effort, Sabbac flew through the building, trying to find another way out. He seemed to sense that he was a dead man if Captain Marvel ever caught him.

"Oh, no you don't!" Captain Marvel shouted after his foe. "There's no way on Earth you're getting away from me that easily!"

He flew after Sabbac, easily keeping pace with him. It was only a matter of moments until the World's Mightiest Mortal caught him.

I - I can't lose him! Sabbac thought frantically, trying to escape his pursuer. Master ... Lord of Darkness, please, HELP ME!

"YOU HAVE FAILED ME, TIMOTHY KARNES!" a cold voice filled with a dark, ancient intensity boomed throughout the building; even Captain Marvel could hear it. "YOU ARE NOT YET WORTHY TO BEAR THE GIFTS OF POWER WHICH I BESTOWED UPON YOU!"

"No …NOOOOOO!!"

Once again, black lightning boiled up from the ground and struck in mid-air, returning Sabbac to his normal form of Timothy Karnes. As Karnes fell from the sky, screaming for help, Captain Marvel swooped down to catch the child-killer by the waistband his pants.

"Please, don't kill me!" Karnes wailed in the same hysterical tone his victims used and saying the same words Freddy had just minutes earlier.

"Shut up, Karnes!" Captain Marvel snapped. "I'm not going to kill you, but I'll make sure you spend the rest of your pathetic existence in prison for your crimes! If the prison system of the state of New York wants you to give you a harsher punishment for what you've done, that's their business! Either way, you'll never harm another child again! I'll see to that!"

The moment they touched down, Karnes passed out. Captain Marvel found some rope, bound both young men wrist and ankle, and called the police, giving Billy the full credit for Karnes and Nigel's capture. He then went back to the room where Freddy was being held.

When Captain Marvel once again entered the chamber, Freddy looked up at him in a daze, not believing what he was seeing. He was seeing a real, live hero in the flesh, but was too groggy to appreciate it. While the hero snapped the boy's bonds, he noticed the cut on Freddy's neck. It was small, less than a quarter of an inch long, and the blood had already clotted, sealing the wound. But it was the fact that Freddy was shivering and sweating profusely that had the hero worried.

Holy Moley! He's burning up! the Captain thought as he touched the boy's sweat-drenched face. It's probably ether poisoning! I'd better get him to a doctor … fast!

Then, utilizing only a fraction of his great speed, took to the air and quickly flew the boy to the nearest hospital.

Epilogue

Later, at St. Vincent's Hospital, Freddy awoke to see his grandparents, Nathaniel and Adeline Freeman, standing worriedly over him. Nathaniel felt the lad's brow for signs of a fever, while Adeline, a tiny sparrow of a woman, fussed over her "little boy's" blankets. Freddy had to keep his right eye closed to see straight; the ether poisoning had given him an odd double-vision, turning everything in his that eye askew. He also had a bandage on his neck from where Karnes' dagger cut him.

"Gramma? Grampa? Where'm I? Wha' ha'n'd?" Freddy murmured torpidly, his tongue not wanting to cooperate with his brain. A side effect of the ether poisoning seemed to be that the boy couldn't remember anything that happened to him over the past few hours.

"Hush now, Freddy," Adeline replied, then kissed his forehead. "You're in the hospital. You've been very sick for the past few days, sweetheart, but you're going to be fine now."

"There's someone here t' meet ye, lad," Nathaniel added, then stood aside. Standing behind the old gent was a tall crimson and gold clad figure. Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal, gave the boy an encouraging smile as he drew closer to the bed.

"Hello, Freddy," the Captain said, extending his hand in greeting. "My friend Billy Batson told me about your being sick, so I asked your grandparents if I could pay you a visit. I brought you this …"

What Captain Marvel brought with him was a framed photo of himself that he'd autographed with gold ink. The inscription the hero had written on it read:

To my new pal, Freddy Freeman,

Get well soon!

Best wishes,

Captain Marvel.

"Wow ... thank you," was all the star-struck boy could say. Sick or not, even meeting his now-second favorite hero, Bulletman, couldn't top this thrill.

"You'd better get some rest now, Freddy. Meningitis is nothin' to fool around with," Nathaniel said, gave his grandson a kiss on his forehead, then he ushered his wife and the hero out of the room.

As they walked down the hall, Captain Marvel turned to Nathaniel. He had already told the Freemans the most of the story about Karnes and what he was up to, only omitting why he was after Billy Batson in the first place. He was uncomfortable with the story Nathaniel and Adeline came up with, but then lying made him feel uneasy to begin with.

"Mr. Freeman, I don't like the idea of lying to Freddy about his ordeal …"

"Neither do I, young man, but it'll be safer for him if he doesn't remember everythin' that happened back there. I love that boy. He's the only son of our only son, and I won't have 'im hurt by this."

"I don't want to see him hurt either, sir, but if the police can't get the evidence they need convict Karnes, both he and Billy may be needed to testify against him. For that, he'll need to remember what happened in there ..."

"But what if he never remembers?" Adeline cried. "What then?"

"Then maybe it'll be for the best, ma'am," he retorted emphatically. "Billy Batson will testify, but not by himself. I'll be there, as well."

"Captain, I want you to swear that you won't ever tell Freddy about what happened tonight," Nathaniel said, just as emphatically as the hero.

"I won't promise you that, sir, but I won't mention tonight's events to him, either, unless he begins to remember and asks me about them directly. That's the only promise I'll make about it."

And Billy won't, either, the hero added in afterthought. Not unless Freddy asks me ...

For now, only the elder Freemans and Captain Marvel would know the truth of how close Freddy came to death.

Finis

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Next episode: Billy begins to dig into the mystery behind the tragic deaths of his parents. Who is the mysterious villain called the Scorpion, and what connection does he have to Billy's estranged uncle, Ebenezer Batson? Be here when Captain Marvel faces "The Curse of the Scorpion!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

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 have been handled by DC Comics. It is neither steeped in nor is it connected with DC's current continuity. 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 characters I own in this work of fiction are Ms. Shepard, Ryan Taylor, Marty Horn & Brad Johnson (© 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 © Cynthia Finnegan, 2009

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