September 7, 1943
Who Said that Name?
"HARK! I AM CALL'D; MY LITTLE SPIRIT, SEE,
SITS IN A FOGGY CLOUD, AND STAYS FOR ME."
words, Hecate, Queen of Witches, swept off the stage and the curtain rang down on Act 3, Scene 5 of the infamous Scottish Play. Krista took a deep breath and relaxed; Hecate wasn't due back on stage until her big confrontation with Macbeth in Act 4, Scene
1. She thought she'd done pretty well for her first performance in front of such a large audience; she hadn't stumbled once, and she'd remembered all her lines (which was more than she could say for some of her fellow actors). As always, backstage was an exquisitely
ordered chaos, with stagehands changing props and cast members changing costumes, some even being made up again for different roles in the next scene. Krista was glad Hecate wore the same costume and makeup throughout the play; having to sit through a half
hour of makeup once an evening was more than enough for her.
Still, Scene 6 had never seemed to go so fast in rehearsals; it seemed like just a blink of time before the director was warning her to get ready for her next entrance. "You're on!" he whispered.
"Break a leg!"
Krista had never cared for that particular sentiment, but it was tradition — just like the theatrical refusal to speak the play's actual name. Ironically, the name was believed to be bad luck, while being urged to "break a leg"
was considered exactly the opposite.
The Marble City Amateur Theater Company was putting on their annual Summer's End production, and this year it was the Scottish Play. To her own astonishment, Krista Tracy had been selected for the role of Hecate.
She had very little acting experience, though perhaps teaching sixth grade might be good preparation for playing the Queen of Witches. My students would certainly agree, she figured, at least on my bad days. Though not even they would have
recognized the sturdy, curvaceous, red-haired beauty hidden inside the withered, ugly witch with the scraggly white hair, who tormented the newly-crowned King of Scotland with her veiled warnings of doom.
Opening night, even in a very small production,
was always exciting and a little scary, and Krista was thrilled with how well the play was proceeding. Her only disappointment was that her good friend Dr. Ned Quest couldn't be there. An urgent matter had popped up an hour ago that required the attention
of Dr. Lambda himself. But he'd promised to take her out for a late snack after the production.
The members of the Marble City Theater Group were well aware of the reputation of the Scottish Play. Only when the final curtain had rung down on a successful
production did they stop holding their collective breath; almost every time this particular play was produced, there was usually at least one cast member who forgot the curse and actually uttered the play's real name, inevitably leading to some disaster or
other on stage on opening night.
After the cast was introduced and finished taking their bows, the director handed the microphone to the Mayor of Marble City.
"I'd like to thank you, Mr. Foxwill, and the entire cast and crew of the Marble City
Amateur Theater Company, for this wonderful production of Shakespeare's Scottish Play!" Even the Mayor knew enough not to invoke that cursed name. "We are honored to have in our audience tonight one of America's premier theatrical performers, an actress who
defined the roles of Titania and Hecate for generations to come in her renowned stage performances in the 1890s, Miss Fanny Hough!"
To thunderous applause, a very wizened old woman dressed as Hecate, her painfully arched back forcing her to stoop and
use a cane, stepped out from behind the curtain. She slowly and laboriously made her way to center stage, and took the microphone from the Mayor. "Phooey! Never had to use one of these newfangled things before. Don't never let anyone tell you there's anything
good in growin' old!" she squeaked in a weak, wavering voice.
Before she could continue, someone else barged onstage through the closed curtains, and roughly shoved through the line of actors to reach the Mayor's side.
"Gasp!" "Oh my Good Lord!"
"We're all dead!" "Our Father, Who art in heaven…" were only a few of the exclamations from the front rows as people recognized the intruder. Then someone further away realized who it was, leaped to his feet, and screamed at the top of his lungs,
"We gotta get outta here! It's DR. BOOM!"
The squat figure in the spherical helmet pointed, and a spiral of pink light — resembling nothing so much as a giant stretched-out glowing spring — flashed between her fist and the back wall,
causing a very loud explosion. Then the PA system thundered:
"EVERYONE STAY IN YOUR SEATS, AND NO ONE WILL BE HURT! SO SWEARS
DR. BOOM." Somehow Boom was projecting her voice directly into the theater's PA system, and it was so loud it was physically
stunning. People put their hands on their ears, collapsing fearfully back into their seats. "I, TOO, WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE THEATER GROUP FOR PUTTING ON THIS PRODUCTION OF MACBETH. I'VE BEEN WAITING SO LONG FOR FANNY HOUGH TO COME OUT OF HIDING!"
was a bizarre figure wearing a sickly brown-yellow tunic with an explosion emblem imposed over gray metallic armor, and her black helmet looked like a round cartoon bomb, complete with a sparkling fuse sticking out the top. She was a notorious criminal genius
with a fascination for blowing things up, as she'd just displayed.
Krista was standing at the far left end of the stage, and while Boom was still talking, she decided to make her move. Fanny saw her slip away, took a step forward, and again spoke through
the microphone. She was furious! "No good has ever come from naming such, you fool! You've none to blame save thou when in your grave you cool."
As they all watched, a remarkable change came over the old woman. She stood straight, her head held proudly
high, and she seemed to radiate a dreadful, dangerous power that reached out to enwrap every person in the auditorium with a prickly chill, as of approaching death. Without needing to be told, everyone realized instantly that this was the real Hecate, here
in the flesh. Fell-eyed, cold-faced, she dropped the microphone and began to speak in a high-pitched cackle that filled the room with a dark prophecy. Her initial words matched her famous warning to Macbeth, but she added a new and fearful ending:
THAT DISTILL'D BY MAGIC SLEIGHTS
SHALL RAISE SUCH ARTIFICIAL SPRITES
AS BY THE STRENGTH OF THEIR ILLUSION
SHALL DRAW HER ON TO HER CONFUSION:
SHE SHALL SPURN FATE, SCORN DEATH,
AND BEAR HER HOPES 'BOVE WISDOM, GRACE, AND
AND YOU ALL KNOW SECURITY
IS MORTALS' CHIEFEST ENEMY
BLACK SPIRITS AND WHITE, RED SPIRITS AND GRAY;
EXPLODING AURA SOON WILL SHE BETRAY!"
The mysterious dark power retreated as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving Fanny
Hough once again a weak, shriveled old woman. She glanced to the left, her rheumy eyes fearful, just in time to see Lady Lambda fly out of the dressing room.
"Dr. Boom, you fiend, you'd better surrender now!" the heroine thundered. "I've beaten you
before, and I can beat you again!"
"Not this time, you red-and-gray bitch! Come any closer, and I'll blow up the audience!"
Lady Lambda stopped instantly, hovering above the stage like an uncertain spirit.
"I'm taking the old lady," Boom
continued. "Getting her back will cost you a million dollars! She's loaded, so get it from her accounts. I'll call Police Headquarters in an hour with delivery directions, and I want to be put through to Commissioner Cranston instantly, or she dies. Got me?
Mayor, put these cuffs on her hands and ankles."
She tossed two sets of cuffs on the floor at the Mayor's feet, then looked up at the crowd again. "THERE ARE REMOTE CONTROL BOMBS ON ALL THREE DOORS. IF ANYBODY COMES AFTER ME, BOOM! IF ANYBODY GOES OUT
THE DOORS, BOOM! GOOD NIGHT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!"
She threw the cuffed Fanny Hough over her shoulder, then immediately rose several inches in the air as wheels grew out of the bottoms of her boots. She started rolling toward an exit, stage right.
As Lady Lambda hovered helplessly, anxiously watching Dr. Boom leave, her helmet radio snapped out one final communication:
"I know you can get out of the building without setting off my bombs, Lambie, but you really shouldn't. Don't panic, but all
those bombs are really time bombs, set to go off in the next 30 minutes. I'm sure you'll find them in time, if you get started right now instead of chasing me. I'd suggest you start with the one in the basement before you check the doors. It's set to go off
first." She saluted her nemesis jauntily, her speed increasing as she rolled backstage. Lady Lambda was amazed when the brick wall at the back of the building swung apart to let her pass through, then swung shut again behind her.
"Don't worry, ladies
and gentlemen, I'll take care of the bombs!" Lady Lambda confidently announced to the crowd. She turned down her helmet volume so that only those on stage could hear and added, "Try and keep them calm. I'll be back!" She lifted the Stellar Scepter, mentally
ordering it to produce a beam of heat so intense it vaporized a hole in the stage, and dived through.
The tip of the Scepter glowed bright white, illuminating the dingy basement. Thinking fast, Lady Lambda remembered something she'd learned from her
super-genius partner, and scanned the area for electromagnetic anomalies, quickly locating a strong EM signature. It turned out to be a shiny metal box, definitely out of place in all this dust. Since she had no idea when it was set to explode, she ordered
the Scepter to enclose it in a force field. It exploded instantly — safely and silently, thank goodness. She concentrated, increasing the Scepter's sensitivity and detection range, searching for similar EM signatures nearby. In seconds, she had discovered
three similar bombs: one at each door, as Boom had promised. The second bomb also exploded instantly when she enclosed it in a force field.
Now, how likely is it that the timers ran out on both of those bombs at the exact instants I wrapped them
up? she wondered. Either they reacted to my force field, or I cut off some signal that kept them from exploding. So I'll try to detect a signal before I blow up the third one. She flew to the third bomb, and indeed the Stellar Scepter picked
up a faint radio signal that might be what she was looking for. Nodding confidently, she enclosed and exploded the last two bombs, and let the crowd know they could leave safely.
The theater was empty in record time.
Course it’s a Trap!
Now to find Dr. Boom, she thought. Using the Scepter, she determined the direction from which the faint signal originated, and took to the sky. She was flying south over the city, approaching the waterfront,
when the signal simply stopped.
So what now? I'm not just gonna give up! She settled atop a radio spire and thought for a moment. I have an EM signature for her bombs… so if she's built other bombs, maybe I can scan the buildings
on the waterfront and pick up that signature. It's worth a shot. She worked out a search pattern and started flying back and forth over the warehouse district, scanning for electromagnetic anomalies.
Suddenly the Stellar Scepter did pick up a familiar
EM signature — but it wasn't one of Boom's bombs. It was Dr. Lambda's own Stellar Scepter, and he was fast approaching. "What's up, Doc?" she broadcast to her partner on their private wavelength. Other receivers might tune in on their conversation, but
their helmet radios used a new kind of signal phase modulation, based on a concept by Nikola Tesla that Ned had developed further. Anybody listening in would hear only random static.
"Hey there, Sunshine! What's a nice girl like you doing in a dump
"Oh, Ned, you say the most romantic things!" she teased her partner. "I'm looking for Dr. Boom."
"What a coincidence. So am I," he replied grimly. "An MCPD informant called in a tip that she's somewhere on the waterfront. How'd you
She told him the whole story. "Suppose I send you the bomb signature, and we'll split up the search?"
"I'm all ears."
A few minutes later, Dr. Lambda's Stellar Scepter picked up a weak EM signal that matched the bomb signature.
"It's coming from a warehouse below. Home in on my beacon, partner! I'm going in."
"Ned, don't be an idiot! Wait for me! It's bound to be a trap!" But she knew he wouldn't wait, so she put on an extra burst of speed.
An instant later, her fears
were realized as she received a frantic warning: "It's a TRA." His signal cut off abruptly, leaving her alone and fearful above the dark city.
"Of course it's a trap, you idiot! It's Dr. Boom! Hold on, I'm on my way!" Krista yelled back, though
she had no way of knowing whether he'd heard her or not.
An instant later, his homing beacon stopped, too. Lady Lambda was getting a little tired of signals that cut out before she reached their sources, but at least she knew the direction to search.
She switched her own beacon on, in case her partner might escape and try to locate her. It was easy to find the warehouse Ned had attacked: not too unsurprisingly, there was a big, perfectly circular hole in the roof where Ned had melted his way through.
She was certain Dr. Boom would have set traps other than the one Dr. Lambda had set off, so she had to be clever about her attack; what could she do that Boom might not have already anticipated? Because surely, Dr. Boom realized that if Dr. Lambda was already
here, Lady Lambda couldn't be far behind…
Magic? I Think Not
Dr. Lambda lay slumped on a raised platform, imprisoned in a cage of crackling green energy. Two heavy cables, surrounded by a pulsating jade
glow, ran from the platform to a complex machine covered with dials, gauges, switches, and flashing lights. The advanced electronics lab around him showed evidence of a battle, with the damaged equipment and unconscious thugs being tended to by their fellows
attesting to the havoc that Dr. Lambda had been able to wreak before he was captured. Dr. Boom stood triumphantly in front of the cage, with Miss Hough lying unconscious beside her, her costume bedraggled and tattered, the handcuffs still shackling her wrists
"It was just a stroke of luck that I read about the Theater Group honoring Miss Hough tonight," Boom gloated. "Not many people know it, but she retired from acting a rich woman, and she's made some very shrewd investments since. She's probably
the richest American nobody knows anything about. Her security force is well-paid and dangerous, and she only rarely ventures out in public, so imagine how happy I was when she was lured out!" Boom laughed.
Dr. Lambda tried to sit up, tried to struggle
against the green field, but he was as weak as a kitten.
"Fight, Dr. Lambda, fight!" Dr. Boom crowed. "Weaken yourself even further! Make yourself more useless than you are, so you can watch the show I've prepared for you...without being able to do
a thing about it! Your partner will be here soon, old friend, and I'm not going to simply capture her. No, she'll die for thwarting my plans in the past. And after you've seen her die, only then will it be your turn, and you will go to your death in hopelessness
and despair, knowing there was nothing you could do to save her!"
"If this cursed green field wasn't sucking the power from my Stellar Scepter, you wouldn't be laughing, Boom! In fact, let me out of here now, and I'll face you without the Scepter, and
thrash you with my bare hands — just as I did your hired goons!"
"Too late, pretty man. You had your chance already." An alarm sounded. "Aha! One of my lookouts has just spotted your partner. I hope you enjoy the show!"
Lady Lambda, protected
by a translucent glowing energy screen, swooped down and dived through the hole Dr. Lambda had blasted in the roof of the warehouse. Three shimmering lines of intense red instantly speared the heroine, and remained locked on her, regardless of her desperate
twisting attempts to evade them. Before she could flee back to the sky, her force field imploded, instantly vaporizing the red-and-gray clad woman inside and temporarily blinding everyone in the room.
Dr. Lambda screamed in rage as he watched his partner
vanish in a burst of energy, an agonized wordless animal sound torn from his soul.
When Dr. Boom's vision cleared, the cuffs that had been holding Miss Fanny Hough were lying on the floor, shattered and partially melted. Before her stood Hecate, the
Queen of Witches, strong and tall, her robe restored to splendid magnificence, surrounded by a dark, menacing aura and holding a tall staff of gnarled oak. Hecate spoke, in her powerful, high-pitched cackling voice:
"PORTENTS OF FATE DID YOU DENY,
THE VOICE OF DESTINY DEFY,
THE QUEEN OF WITCHES MADE IRATE
YOUR ASPIRATIONS NOW DEFLATE."
Hecate stamped her staff firmly on the floor, and all of Dr. Boom's henchmen collapsed instantly to the pavement, where they lay moaning and scrabbling
weakly. She turned to Boom and raised her staff again; an invisible force slammed into Dr. Boom, knocking her skidding backwards on her armored behind. Boom raised both hands and pointed at the fearsome witch, firing twin spirals of pink; Hecate raised her
staff at the same time, and the pink beams flashed into explosions in the air between them.
"CAPER AND WHIRL, DANCE AND CAVORT!
SPIRITS OF AIR, MORTAL TO THWART.
ZEPHYR ARISE, COME TO MY AID,
CASTIGATE BOOM FOR HER TIRADE!"
She slammed the staff on the floor again. Dr. Boom started to twirl in place as a fierce whirlwind grew around her; soon, it lifted her off the floor. After a half minute, Hecate relented, lifting the staff again. The whirlwind died away and Dr. Boom collapsed,
too dizzy to remain standing. Hecate lowered her staff; Dr. Boom was instantly enveloped in a swarm of glittering multicolored lights, and a short burst of intense heat swept through the room.
Another small wave of the staff, and Boom's helmet was torn
off. Her armor moved on its own, bringing her wrists together, where a short burst of light and heat fused one to the other; then the process was repeated on her ankles. Once her foe was immobilized, Hecate again waved her staff, and the machine that generated
the immaterial cage holding Dr. Lambda imploded into slag. The green energy vanished instantly.
"FORSOOTH, I SHALL NOT SPEAK IT TWICE:
A SINGLE WARNING SHOULD SUFFICE.
AN HOUGH SHOULD E'ER SEE YOU AGAIN
I SHALL RETURN, I MAKE IT
FROM MORTAL REALMS I TAKE MY LEAVE.
YOU HAVE YOUR LIFE — YOUR LAST REPRIEVE."
One final time, Hecate slammed her staff to the floor, and was rewarded with an intense flare of yellow light, brighter than the sun — and
a very interesting "whoomph". The flare continued for almost a minute before slowly fading away; and once again, Hecate had been replaced by the elderly Miss Hough, who was still unconscious. A second or so later, Lady Lambda swooped down through the hole
in the ceiling.
"Guess I'm too late for the fun, eh?" she asked, looking around at Dr. Boom and the bad guys littering the floor, and the devastation caused by the destruction of the cage machine. "What the heck happened here?"
"Good to see you,
partner! For a while there, it really looked like you were finished!" Dr. Lambda replied. He didn't seem as surprised or relieved as someone who'd heard his earlier scream might have expected. "Hold on while I call the police, and then I'll fill you in."
A few minutes later, Miss Hough coughed and tried to sit up. As far as either hero could tell, she seemed to be fine, though a bit confused. She insisted on hearing the story as well, so Dr. Lambda started over.
"As soon as I used up the stored energy
in the Scepter, I was powerless." He remembered the fight with the ten well-paid thugs Dr. Boom employed as minions, how he'd battered at least four of them into unconsciousness before he was overwhelmed. "Well, not exactly powerless, I guess," he amended
his statement with a grin. "Still, it's a serious flaw in our gear, and I need to fix it as soon as possible. You know how these mystery villains are; now that Dr. Boom knows how to stop us, next week Dr. Disaster and the Tin Tarantula will know, and the week
after that, all our foes."
The police arrived before he could say more. Miss Hough pulled an officer aside for an instant's conversation, and he quickly ran back out to his squad car. Meanwhile the Lambdas helped the officers remove Dr. Boom from her
armor, restrain her, and carry her out to the black-and-white armored police wagon for transport to jail. Miss Hough found a free minute to talk to the heroes then.
"Thank you, you two, for rescuing me!" she began, but Dr. Lambda interrupted.
looked to me like you did it yourself, ma'am, with a bit of magical assistance from Hecate. I've never seen anything like it before, but it sure looked like a genuine case of possession."
"I don't remember doing anything you said," Miss Hough insisted,
quite puzzled. "Back in the theater, that was all me. I called on all the acting skills I learned in 50 years on stage, and gave the performance of my life. But I don't remember anything after the Mayor cuffed me." She changed the subject abruptly. "I'd really
like to reward the two of you. You probably saved my life."
Lady Lambda spoke before her partner could, but he was going to say very much the same thing. "Thanks, but it's not necessary, Miss Hough. We're volunteers, and our reward is knowing we've
helped someone." She put out her hand and they shook; given her overall appearance, Lady Lambda was surprised at how firm a grip Miss Hough had. There was a lot more to this little old lady than met the eye!
Hough pulled her closer and whispered, "Don't
worry, Krista dear, no one will ever learn your secret from me!" Krista was too stunned to deny anything; how had Miss Hough figured that out? She thought she'd slipped off stage without anyone noticing.
An elegant limousine pulled up just then, and
the chauffeur and a maid helped Miss Hough into the car. As the big car pulled away smoothly, the heroes waved, and Miss Hough waved happily back. It was the last glimpse of her they ever had.
The police wagon, filled with subdued bad guys, followed.
"Spirits of black and white; that must be the police wagon," Lady Lambda said thoughtfully. "And we're the spirits of red and gray. Maybe the old gal does have some magic about her, after all."
As they launched into the air for their flight back
to the theater, where Lady Lambda had left her civilian clothes, Dr. Lambda looked at his partner quizzically. "You know, Kris, my Scepter didn't have enough power to keep broadcasting a homing beacon, but I was receiving your beacon all along — so I
knew you hadn't been destroyed by those red beams. How'd you get in without anyone seeing you, though, when your dummy exploded?"
"Whatever do you mean, dear?" she asked innocently. "I came in during that bright flash Hecate created there at the end."
"Okay, keep your little secrets." He grinned as they landed in the theater. "If you've discovered a way to warp light with a Scepter, I'll figure it out too! Nice work, though, stopping Dr. Boom!"
She grinned back. "What, you don't believe in magic?
You told Miss Hough it was Hecate."
"Why, so I did. And I have to say, you were outstanding in the role of Hecate tonight, both times!" He winked at her, and they dropped the subject.
Krista changed her clothes, and when she came out of her dressing
room, she was surprised that Ned had taken his helmet off. "Ned! What if someone sees?"
"I checked, kid, and there's nobody else around. I have something to say, and I need to say it as Ned." She was about to speak, so he laid his finger on her lips.
"I was thinking about what you said about me being romantic. I know I'm not, but during the fight tonight, it occurred to me that one of us could get killed any time we put on the gear." He took her hand in his, went down on one knee. "So I can't wait until
I figure out a more romantic way to say this. Will you marry me?"
Krista had realized what was about to happen long before Ned finished his long-winded proposal, and she had time to figure out what she was going to say. "Why, Ned, that was absolutely,
positively the most romantic proposal I've ever heard! Of course I'll marry you!"
Their wedding announcement ran in all the Marble City papers the next week, but they didn't get
married right away; their families convinced them to wait a few months, so that everyone from both families would have time to make travel arrangements.
About a month before the wedding, Krista noticed Fanny Hough's obituary in the paper.
she showed it to Ned, and they made a small donation to a charity in her name. A couple of days later, a lawyer for Miss Hough's estate contacted the surprised couple, and asked them to attend the reading of her will.
As it turned out, Miss Hough's
servants each received modest bequests. The lawyer paused dramatically, then kept reading. "As I have no living relatives, as a wedding present to Dr. Ned Quest and Miss Krista Elaine Tracy, I bequeath the balance of my belongings, fortune, and possessions,
to pass into their control only after their wedding."
Krista and Ned looked at each other, eyes wide. Holy cow, they were RICH!