Dr. Lambda and Lady Lambda in: A Very Lambda Christmas

December 22, 1942

Disastrous Gift 

"Dr. Lambda, it's wonderful of you to take the time to make these school visits!" gushed Mr. Harding, the rotund, balding principal of Lamont Gordon Elementary School in Marble City, Maryland. "Our students are going to love listening to you and watching you demonstrate your powers! And we're certainly honored that you took the extra time to join our Welcoming Committee for introductions and coffee."

"It's my pleasure, Mr. Harding. I'll do anything I can do for the war effort, or to inspire kids to learn!" Dr. Lambda replied sincerely.

President Roosevelt had recently called the newly-formed Alliance of Mystery Heroes to Washington, to personally request that they undertake a very important morale-boosting mission across the U.S. as the country entered its second year as a combatant in World War II. He wanted them to make goodwill visits to schools across the country, starting in their home cities. All three heroes had eagerly agreed. Flux was assigned to schools on the West Coast, since she could run there from her own home in Turquoise City, New Mexico, in less than an hour at her top speed. Major Power, the most powerful member, who was based in New York, would tour schools in the Midwest. Dr. Ned Quest, secretly Dr. Lambda, was thrilled with his mission of visiting schools in the Eastern states. He still lived in Marble City; that he had graduated years ago from Lamont Gordon Elementary School himself only made this particular day more special. Mr. Harding had been his fifth grade teacher back then, but Ned was sure the man wouldn't recognize him.

Even though FDR had assured the heroes that their presence in the U.S. as highly visible symbols of national security was vital to the nation's morale, Ned still felt more than a little guilt about not being in the Armed Forces or performing his superheroic feats on the front lines. Although his draft classification had originally been 4F, he had recently been granted super powers by a mysterious alien being. He hated knowing that brave men and women with no special abilities were risking their lives on the front lines on foreign soil every day while he, with all his powers, got to sleep in his own bed each night.

In addition to contributing to the war effort in his civilian job as a government scientist, he tried to compensate by being extra-vigilant in his self-assumed duties as Dr. Lambda, cheerfully making goodwill appearances whenever asked. Today, he was scheduled to speak to the students of Lamont Gordon and then show off his powers. The Faculty Committee that had arranged the whole thing had also set up this coffee reception before the assembly. Ned realized that the coffee klatch was really just an excuse for the Welcoming Committee to get Dr. Lambda's autograph without a crowd of kids around, but he didn't mind. He was particularly amused that Mr. Harding, who had many times lamented that Ned would never amount to anything, was now hanging on his every word.

Dr. Lambda, Mr. Harding, and half a dozen schoolteachers were gathered in the school's small Faculty Lounge, a room with threadbare rugs and worn furniture that had probably been scheduled for redecoration before the war impacted everyone's budgets. The décor was brightened by American flags set in all four corners, and the walls were covered with photos of faculty and ex-students who were now serving in the Armed Forces. Harding and the only male teacher present were both too old to enlist. Everyone was dressed up, though most of the outfits were slightly ill-fitting and the styles had been fashionable several years ago. Dress clothing was a luxury these days; these folks were likely wearing clothes that had been hanging in the backs of their closets for years.

"Would you like more coffee, Doctor?" Harding asked solicitously. "You've hardly sipped yours, and it's cold by now. Krista!" he barked at one of the teachers. "Get Dr, Lambda another cup, will you?" The very attractive woman, who was tall with long, red hair and a healthy figure, looked annoyed. But she nodded, put down her teacup, and drew another cup of coffee for the hero. From the introductions earlier, Ned remembered that her full name was Krista Tracy, and that she taught sixth grade. He'd surprised himself by noticing that she wasn't wearing any rings. He still wasn't used to his new attitude towards women. She didn't appear to enjoy running errands for the principal. Ned didn't blame her; Harding had always grated on his nerves, too.

They were both stunned when Harding suddenly lost his balance, did a few staggering dance steps, and collapsed onto the table. Dr. Lambda moved as quickly as he could, but barely prevented the coffee urn from spilling scalding coffee on the now-unconscious principal. There's something wrong with me, too, Ned realized; I'm barely moving faster than a regular human.

Meanwhile, Krista saw other people around the room collapsing to the floor, and gasped in shock. She immediately reached for the wall phone. "I'm calling for medical help!" she said to the hero, who was by now staggering, on the verge of passing out.

"That won't do you any good, my dear. I've already cut the phone wire." A tall, extremely handsome man, with a handlebar mustache and Van Dyke beard matching his distinguished-looking salt-and-pepper hair, stepped into the room. He had a monocle in his left eye and was wearing an immaculately tailored suit, carrying a gold-capped cane in one hand and an expensive leather grip in the other. "You must be a tea drinker, young lady," he observed approvingly in a crisp British accent as he glanced with satisfaction around the Faculty Lounge, which was now filled with unconscious teachers. "Pity for you, though; you'd be better off unconscious for what will soon follow."

"Dr. Disaster, you fiend!" Dr. Lambda managed to gasp as he crumpled to the floor, struggling to remain conscious.

"Ah, Dr. Lambda, your enhanced metabolism is already struggling to counteract my little potion, I see. Perhaps I underestimated you, or perhaps you're not much of a coffee drinker either. In any case, you should remain incapacitated for several minutes. Long enough for my purposes, wot?" Disaster paused, smirking. "Actually, it's better this way. I appreciate the chance to gloat on this memorable occasion — the beginning of my revenge on the so- called Alliance of Mystery Heroes."

Krista had been edging around behind him as he spoke; now she tried to jump him. He casually spun around and rapped her on the side of the head with the heavy handle of his cane, and she dropped to the carpet, stunned. Dr. Disaster took a step back and addressed both barely conscious members of his unexpected audience.

"It was quite unsporting of you, Major Power, and Flux to team up against me, old man!" he reprimanded Dr. Lambda. "Three against one; where is your sense of fair play? Or don't you mighty heroes believe you would have a chance against me, man to man? Or," he mused "in the case of the beautiful Flux, man to girl… In any case, you are quite correct: no one of you can hope to stand against me alone. In order to prevent such unfortunate interference with my plans in the future, I've decided to eliminate you all, one at a time." He chuckled. "So convenient of you to post your schedule for everyone to see, really," he sneered at Lambda. "Makes it ever so much simpler to track you down. Pity so many innocents will die; but so much pithier, really, that you'll be aware that they're dying because of you — and that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it."

With that, he turned and opened his grip, pulling out a black sphere the size of a bowling ball. "Bit of a cliché, I fear. Still, it seems appropriate. This is a very powerful little bomb with a highly advanced timing mechanism of my own devising. It will give me enough time to get clear, but before you can recover, it will explode with devastating force, killing you and everyone in the building. Possibly many in the adjoining buildings as well." He twisted a knob set on the outside of the ball, then set it down carefully in Dr. Lambda's line of sight. "Cheerio, old man." He disappeared out the door, moving quickly but not running.

Krista moaned and sat up, her head pounding, but she didn't have time to worry about that. Fear driving her on, she crawled to the bomb and looked it over. The knob was spinning slowly in a counterclockwise direction. She tried to turn it clockwise, or hold it tightly enough to stop it from spinning, but nothing she could do could halt that inexorable countdown. She crawled to Dr. Lambda frantically, pleading with him to help. His eyes were open, but his body remained flaccid. She picked up the Stellar Scepter and aimed it at the bomb, but nothing happened.

Lambda saw what she was attempting and struggled to speak. "Need… belt and helmet," he whispered.

"I need to wear the belt and helmet to use the Scepter?" she asked, fear clouding her voice.

"Yes!" he hissed. "Take… hurry."

Nodding decisively, she lifted the helmet easily from his head. Freeing the belt was a little more difficult, as she had to shift his boneless body, but her adrenaline was pumping by now. She donned them both, picked up the Stellar Scepter. "Now what?"

"Wish… the bomb… inside a ball… unbreakable…" he whispered. She could barely hear him.

"All it takes is a wish?" she asked in wonderment, then wished as hard as she'd ever wished before. Scepter, I wish you would close that bomb in a ball, harder than diamond!

She couldn't see anything happening, and she wished again, this time with incipient panic driving her thoughts. She felt some kind of mental pulse from the helmet, and then the bomb exploded! Krista felt a slight jolt from the Stellar Scepter, some kind of energy feedback, and then relaxed. When she stopped concentrating, the invisible energy ball vanished, releasing what was left of the explosion. There was a quick flash of heat, a slight pouf, and the smoke that had been trapped in the ball of force expanded to fill the room. Some very hot metal fragments fell to the carpet, and Krista hastily dumped the coffeepot over the resulting small fire.

By this time, Dr. Lambda had pulled himself into a sitting position. "It helps...if you wish for something…you can see," he gasped with a wry smile. Krista chuckled, and tried not to look at his face as she placed his helmet back on his head.

"I don't know you," she told him earnestly, "but if we ever run into each other in real life, I promise I won't give your secret away."

Dr. Lambda's super-powered metabolism was fighting to overcome the drug, and by now he was recovered enough to put on his belt and take back the Scepter. "Please call the police, Miss Tracy. I'll go tell the kids they're going to have to wait a couple of days for the rest of the show. I suspect they'll give us more trouble than Dr. Disaster did, so come help me out as soon as you can!"

Dr. Lambda walked unsteadily into the gymnasium. The stands had been pulled out, and were filled with cheering kids and the rest of the teachers. He stepped up to the microphone. "Hi, kids! Thanks for the great welcome!" The kids started cheering again. "I hate to tell you this, but I've got some bad news." The gym was instantly silent; by now, everyone had encountered bad news related to the war, and they waited, hoping Dr. Lambda wasn't going to announce that yet another neighbor or friend had died in combat. "Mr. Harding and several of your teachers are sick," he explained, "and we're going to have to postpone the show until they're better."

"You're not the real Dr. Lambda!" one kid cried suddenly. "I knew it. This was a trick all along!" Within seconds, every kid in the gym was booing, and then someone started stamping his feet. The same kid started a chant in time with his stomps. "You're a fake! You're a fake!"

Before it got too loud, Dr. Lambda lifted from the floor and floated closer to the suddenly silent kids. A glowing tendril stretched from the Stellar Scepter and quickly expanded to enclose the stands, which then gently lifted a foot off the floor.

"I'm the real Dr. Lambda, for sure," he announced, using the PA system built into his helmet to make sure that he was heard by all. "And I guarantee you'll get your show… as soon as your teachers are all healthy again." The stands lowered back to the floor, just as gently. Later that day, the maintenance staff would be pleased to find that the floor underneath the bleachers was spotless.

Back at the podium, Krista picked up the microphone. "Kids, you all need to go back to your homerooms. Since some of your teachers are ill, you might have to mind someone other than your own homeroom teacher. As soon as we're sure everyone's in their own homeroom, we're going to let you go home early. And I guarantee, Dr. Lambda will be back!" All the kids started cheering.

Dr. Lambda spent a few minutes talking to the police, then took his leave. He dialed his helmet radio to the reserved Alliance of Mystery Heroes frequency and let his fellow members know that Dr. Disaster was looking for revenge. He then spent the rest of the day in a fruitless search for the villain, but was unable to find even the least clue.

Christmas Cheer 

The next afternoon, in his civilian identity as Ned Quest, Dr. Lambda went back to Lamont Gordon Elementary School. He inquired at the office after Miss Tracy, waited until class let out, and walked into her classroom.

"Oh my!" she exclaimed, startled, when she recognized her visitor. "What are you doing here, Doctor?" She sounded a bit wary. There were a lot of people who still didn't trust the secretive vigilantes the press had dubbed 'mystery heroes,' and as far as she knew, she was the first person to unmask one of them. How far would Dr. Lambda go to keep his civilian identity secret?

"I'm here to say 'Thank you' for saving my life, and the lives of everyone else in the school as well, yesterday," he told her. "And for taking charge afterward. You're a very brave lady — many people would have run."

"I don't think it was so brave. But I couldn't let my students die," she protested modestly, but she was blushing from the praise. "So why didn't Dr. Lambda come by to say thank you instead of… whoever you are?"

"I thought that under the circumstances, I owed you a proper introduction. I'm Dr. Ned Quest. Pleased to meet you, Miss Tracy!" They shook hands.

"I guess you can call me Kris," she said, shyly. "We did meet under rather unique circumstances."

"I'd be delighted, as long as you call me Ned. You know, I owe you a really big favor. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Kris was thoughtful for a moment; she wasn't normally the type to ask anyone for favors. "Do you really mean that?" she finally asked, a bit diffidently. "I just happen to need a really big favor right now."

"Absolutely. Your wish is my command!"

"Since school started, I've been collecting Christmas gifts for some people I know who wouldn't have any otherwise. The kids have brought in stuff, and we've built some toys for class projects, and all the other teachers have helped. But the guy who was supposed to help me deliver all the gifts tonight is really sick…"

"Say no more!" he responded jovially. "I'd love to help you play Santa!"

It wasn't quite that easy, as it turned out. She didn't have a car, so he donned his Dr. Lambda disguise to whiz back home to get his. All the gifts were kept in a storeroom at the school, and it didn't take long to load up his car. With her directions, he drove to a dozen different houses, and they delivered several small gifts to each house.

In between drop-offs, they talked. Ned learned that Krista had moved to Marble City from Canton, Ohio for this teaching job, that she'd only been here since September, and she hardly knew anyone yet. Kris learned that Ned was a government scientist and his current assignment was classified. They didn't talk much about Dr. Lambda, except when Kris asked what it was like to fly. "It's always been one of my dreams, to be able to fly. The way you describe it, it sounds so wonderful!" she commented wistfully when he was finished.

"I'd be happy to take you flying sometime," he offered quietly.

"That would be nice," she replied, assuming he meant to carry her, "but it would be ever so much better to fly by myself!"

When they had finally finished playing Santa, they just sat in the car for a few minutes, resting and chatting. "What a wonderful thing it is you've done," he complimented her.

"It's not much, I know," Krista said sadly. "But at least they'll have something under their trees tomorrow on Christmas Eve."

"I think it's a wonderful idea, and I hope you'll let me help you again next year," he insisted. "Can I drive you home?"

Her mood changed suddenly. "Oh, no, I just couldn't. You'd have to go out of your way. We've probably used up your gas ration for several days already. I can't ask you to use up even more on me! Please just let me out, and I'll walk."

To his surprise, Ned was devastated. He'd often been turned down by women, when he'd been skinny and awkward, but he thought the two of them had been getting along so well. And he wasn't asking her on a date or anything like that. It almost sounded as if she were afraid to let him take her home. I wonder why? he thought as he stopped the car so she could get out.

"You're certain? It's very cold tonight."

"I'll be fine!" She slammed the door and walked briskly away.

He drove around the block and parked. But it wasn't Ned who got out of the car; it was Dr. Lambda. He lifted into the sky, then slowly drifted back to the corner. Instead of walking, Kris was waiting for a bus. That made it pretty easy to follow her, but each time the bus stopped, he had to be certain she wasn't one of the passengers getting off. She transferred twice, then made her way down a dark road in a neighborhood Ned usually avoided. She entered an older, run-down apartment building, and an instant later, a light came on in one of the first floor windows.

One peek, he told himself. Just to make sure she's okay. He dropped down, looked in her window for a second, and then immediately lifted back into the sky. He was shaken and saddened at what he had seen. The room was practically bare. A single kitchen chair, a tiny table, a lamp without a shade…and no Christmas tree! Her apartment is more bare, more depressing, than any of the places we delivered gifts to this evening...but she had never said a word about it. She doesn't have a single present of her own. We'll see about that! Dr. Lambda thought as he flew off.

Around noon the next day, Kris was startled when someone knocked on her door. There were two deliverymen outside.

"You Krista Tracy?" She nodded. "Special Delivery!"

"It's Christmas Eve!" she responded in disbelief.

"Yeah, and we wanna get home. Sign this, please." He thrust a clipboard at her. She signed, not sure what she was signing for.

"Okay, Louie, let's bring 'er in!" the man said. His partner pushed a very large packing crate onto the tailgate. The two men lowered it onto a hand truck and wheeled it past the bewildered teacher. "Okay, lady, where do you want it?"

Still stunned, she pointed to the bare floor in front of the window. The two men pulled out some tools and quickly dismantled the crate. Inside were a fully decorated Christmas tree and one elegantly wrapped present.

"Wait! Who's it from?" she yelled at the movers as they got into their truck. "Santa Claus, lady. Have a Merry Christmas!" Louie shouted as they took off.

She finally opened the card on the present. It shed no light on the mystery; it just said, "Do not open 'til Christmas morn!"

Kris didn't even try to resist temptation. She tore the wrapping paper away, and inside she found… a Kris-sized coppery helmet, belt, Stellar Scepter, and a note that read, "Since you couldn't wait, let's go flying! Merry Christmas!"

There was a knock on the door; she was pretty sure she knew who it was. As she went to the door, she was rummaging through her closet in her mind: what did she have to wear that was warm enough for flying on Christmas Eve?