Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
The Great and Powerful Oz
The Red Menace glanced at his watch for the third time in the last five minutes. He then nervously drummed his fingers on the arm of the sofa, "I don't know about this Voltar. We may be making a big mistake."
"Oh don't be such a worry wart, Red." Voltar retorted.
"It's just that it's been a really long time since Frogg has flown solo. What if he gets into trouble and we're not there to bail him out?"
"You're underestimating him. He'll be fine." Voltar assured his minion. "He is taking his sweet time about it though," he walked over to the hallway that lead from the Lair living room and called towards Doktor Frogg's laboratory. "Come on Frogg, you're going to be late."
"I think I should stay close," Red suggested. "Just in case something should come up."
"Oh all right," the supreme leader relented. "But not too close. We don't want you to blow his cover."
They heard the sound of a door shutting down the hallway and the two dropped the subject. Moments later, a self-conscious and very different looking Frogg slouched into the living room. His metal chin guard and mechanical claws were gone. Instead of his usual goggles he wore round, black rimmed glasses. Deep blue slacks, matching tie and a light blue shirt replaced his League uniform.
"I look ridiculous," he complained.
"You look great," Voltar corrected his minion. "Supremely mundane. No one would suspect you're really a super-villain."
"I'm not so sure about the hair," Frogg muttered as his hand lifted up to touch where he had his typically unruly locks combed back and caught in a short pony tail at his neck.
"It's fine," Voltar was starting to get exasperated with him. "Who knew you were so image conscious? Are you turning vain on me?"
"No, no..." the made over genius answered. "It's just that I haven't worn 'civvies' in a very long time."
"Uh, Frogg," Red interrupted. "If you're going to do this, we'd better get going now."
"Good luck Frogg," encouraged Voltar. "Get out there and do the League proud."
Frogg flashed his fearless leader a thumbs up with more enthusiasm than he was really feeling and headed for the garage.
Doktor Frogg fidgeted almost incessantly while Red drove him to the MetroTown University. His fingers drumming on the arm rest. His right heel bouncing and tapping. Every few minutes his hand would brush his chin, then go back to drumming on the arm rest.
"Are you going to be all right?" asked a concerned Red.
"Hmmm?" Frogg's thoughts were a million miles away, "Oh, ah yes. I think so. It's just that I feel..." vulnerable, naked... "not quite like myself looking like this."
"Isn't that the point?" Red stated the obvious.
Frogg glanced down at his exposed, scarred hands. "Yes, yes of course."
The closer they got to their destination, the more Red could sense Frogg's unease. "It's not too late," Red started as they were waiting for the light to turn green. "To back out of this, I mean. If you don't feel right about this maybe that means you shouldn't be doing it."
"I'm okay," Frogg reassured his friend and confidant. "It's just nerves, like stage fright. Once I get into it I'll be fine, I'm sure." Frogg took a deep breath, clasped his hands in his lap, and tried to get his nerves under control. "It's Academia after all. I lived and breathed this life for eight years."
Red parked the V mobile a few blocks away from the university, just to be on the safe side. He handed the cardboard box that contained the prototype head piece and computer disks for Doktor Frogg's psionic enhancer. "I'm going to stay nearby the entire time. If anything goes wrong, or even looks like it's about to go wrong, you contact me."
"Thanks," Frogg said as he steadied the box containing his most recent evil device. "Well, it's show-time," and he headed towards the MetroTown University.
As he drew closer to his destination he psyched himself up and organized his thoughts. What he told Red was the truth. The scholarly life was all he knew for eight years. He certainly was familiar enough with it, after all he held doctorates in both science and engineering. He was also adept at dealing with the academia politics one has to tolerate within any university.
His alias wasn't something to be too concerned with either. His forged identification and documents were of the best quality. He even hacked into computer systems of other colleges and universities and invented records that mirrored his own history and accomplishments to one degree or another. It wasn't as if he were a total impostor. He was capable of everything his falsified documents claimed. Frogg's internal dialogue managed to calm himself down a bit.
He waited at a cross walk just across from the campus. When the signal changed from 'don't walk' to 'walk', he froze. It was as if he was telling his body to move but it just wouldn't cooperate. When the signal changed again he gasped. He had not even been aware that he had been holding his breath.
"Come on Frogg!" he felt as if he were losing patience with himself. "You can't afford to have an anxiety attack now. Besides, all that stuff happened years ago and not even at this university." Being afraid when you are in danger, or about to be in danger made sense. Fearing an occurrence from the past is just irrational.
When the light changed again he gritted his teeth, clutched the box containing his latest evil abomination, and marched across the street, then onto the campus grounds. He kept his mind occupied by going over a mental checklist of all he needed to accomplish that day. He had to meet with the department professor in charge of the laboratory space his "study" was granted. He also needed to connect the psionic enhancer to the lab's computer and upload the software he programed that operated with the device. Then there were the volunteers to be tested. Not only did the subject need to test high in psychic ability, he or she had to have a degree of compatibility with the enhancer itself.
Keeping his mind busy worked so well he didn't even notice the rather short and chubby man that approached him. "Doctor Grier!" Frogg stopped short and stared at the man expressionlessly. He had stepped sideways into Frogg's path and was looking at him with an expression that was a combination of vexation and confusion.
"Have I made a mistake," the stout little man was dressed in a black long sleeved shirt, black corduroy slacks, and black tennis shoes with the white toe guards and bands. His hair was a platinum blonde that reflected a bluish shade and was swept up in a pompadour with a curl falling down onto his forehead. "Aren't you Dr. Franklin Randall Oliver Grier?"
"Ah, yes. Yes, I'm Dr. Grier." Frogg responded snapping his mind back to the here and now. "Sorry, I have a lot on my mind. And you are..."
"Professor Conniff," the light haired man took Frogg's burden from him, set the box onto the ground, then heartily shook his hand. "Welcome to MetroTown University. We are glad to have a scientist of your caliber conducting his study here at our facilities. I am in charge of the department where your lab is being set up. As a matter of fact, we have a couple of students who have volunteered to be assistants. They are there ready to help you prepare to begin screening potential subjects and install the software and hardware utilized in this project."
Once Professor Conniff released Frogg's hand, he stared at it as if it didn't belong to him for a moment. It had been a very long time since anyone shook hands with him, or even touched the bare skin of his hands. It was something else he would have to get used to. "I don't know what to say," Frogg brought his gaze back to the Professor. "I really appreciate all of this help, but for what I understood, I was allowed laboratory space at the engineering building and limited computer access only."
"That was before your project got full approval. Quite a feat as well. Parapsychology is still considered a pseudo science by the majority of the scientific community."
"I realize that. What made the board of directors change their minds?" Frogg asked.
Professor Conniff picked up the box containing Doktor Frogg's latest device and started towards the Engineering Department Building. "You don't know?"
"Know what?" The disguised villain was beginning to feel the tinge of worry.
"Your project is fully funded."
"My what is what?" Frogg thought he had to be hearing things.
"Your project is receiving an endowment from an organization composed of corporations and entrepreneurs contributing to the advancement of technology and science."
They approached the building. The automatic doors slid open obligingly to let them enter. "Anything your project requires, just file a report and a check will be issued to you. Expenses and miscellaneous as well." He led Frogg in through an open door at the end of the hallway. "With all of the time and effort that you'll be putting into this, you'll need something to live on after all."
What incredible good luck! He had been worried about funds for the League of Super Evil. The super-villainy business hadn't been paying very well for them. Whenever he had the spare time Frogg would repair or rebuild electronics that he and Red would find dumpster diving and sell them online or at swap meets. They lived hand-to-mouth, but at least it kept them from starving. Besides, you can only get away with delaying a pizza delivery guy for free food for so long. Try to do it on a daily basis and they just hang up on you when you phone in your order.
"Here we are," said Professor Conniff as he set the box down onto a table. "I hope that you can find this facility sufficient enough."
Sufficient! It was beautiful. Everything was brand spanking new and sparkling clean. Frogg gaped silently for a moment before regaining his voice. "Uhh, I... tha.... that is...." he stuttered a bit then recovered. "Ah, yes. This will do very nicely thank you."
"Garcia, Lizowski," Professor Conniff called to the two students lounging at a table near the broad windows that had a full view of the campus quad area. "Let's get busy gentlemen. Dr. Grier will be interviewing prospective subjects by the end of this afternoon. Let's see what we have here," he opened the box before Frogg could stop him, held up the makeshift head piece, and frowned at it.
"It's a prototype." Frogg said feeling more than a little defensive. "So far my budget has been sparse."
"Of course," Said Conniff. He handed the disks from inside the box to the two student assistants, "Start installing this software into the system, then you can help Dr. Grier with preliminary tests." He returned his attention to Frogg, "Once you have this up and running, you can run some more tests on it. The first funding requisition for this project can go to rebuilding that headpiece out of newer materials."
Professor Conniff headed towards the door. Before he exited he turned and said, "I'll leave the three of you to your work. If you have any questions or need anything at all, just page me."
Frogg stared at the empty space by the door that the chubby little man had previously occupied. Things were going a lot better than he expected. He couldn't help but feel like he hit the jackpot.
In a couple of hours, he and the student assistants had the project's system up and running. A good thing too, it was ready to go just as the first volunteers started to arrive. Professor Conniff had been so good to have memos and flyers set up around the campus. Even though the University was at its summer session, the word had spread about the study. Conniff even had his own secretary arrange the schedule for tests. Very convenient for Frogg, he hadn't expected to see any potential subjects for at least a week.
Frogg instructed his lab assistants in the Zener Card tests procedure and immediately began to work on his psionic enhancer, connecting it to the laboratory computer and running a few tests to make sure there weren't any bugs in the system. He finished his work just as one of the lab assistants, Lizowski, informed him that the first volunteer subject was ready to be tested for calibration with the enhancer.
The volunteer was seated comfortably in a chair much like a reclining lounger. Frogg was about to place the psionic enhancer on the agreeable, middle-aged man when the device discharged sending an electrical charge through his body as it sought to 'ground' as pesky ol' electricity is known to do. All of his muscles painfully convulsed. He even lost control of his vocal chords as they produced sounds that almost sounded like giggling. The sensation was far from pleasant and all too familiar.
Being electrocuted feels somewhat like when you get your funny bone hit really hard. Now multiply that by about one hundred and send it rushing all over your body. Nothing to be giggling at.
As he slowly regained consciousness he became aware that one of the student lab assistants was leaning over him. Frogg was lying flat on his back and gasping as he struggled to fill his lungs. One of the other things that happens when you get electrocuted is that it knocks the wind out of you worse than a harsh tackle by a football linebacker.
"Dude!" exclaimed Lizowski, his blonde hair that usually was kept in place by a ski cap fell into his blue eyes as he looked down onto Frogg's prone form. The muscles in his face tense with concern. "Are you gonna be all right? "
Before Frogg could answer him, the other lab assistant, Garcia came running into the room carrying a tan case. "I found it!" he shouted as he dropped onto his knees next to Lizowski. "Oh your alive," he panted. "Guess we won't be needing this after all."
"Needing what?" asked Frogg, still struggling to regain his own breath.
"This," Garcia opened the case to reveal a portable defibrillator.
"Dude, you weren't moving," Lizowski said gravely, "it looked as if you had stopped breathing."
"We thought that jolt had stopped your heart for sure," added Garcia.
Frogg stared at the defibrillator feeling very glad that he had regained consciousness when he did. Even the thought of those pads sending more electricity into his body, and specifically directed into his heart made him feel a bit queasy. "No, I'm okay. In fact that's not the first time that has happened to me."
"Really?" said Garcia as he and Lizowski exchanged a glance. "Well then, I think it would be a very good idea if we kept this nearby, just in case we ever need it."
"No, that won't be necessary," Frogg protested.
"It's only a safety precaution," added Lizowski.
"It'll be right here by the first aid kit," Garcia said as he set the tan case onto a counter just below where the kit was attached to the wall. "You never know, what with all the electricity and newly assembled inventions..."
"Just to be on the safe side, dude." Lizowski finished Garcia's sentence for him. Frogg got the impression that they do that to each other often.
"Oh all right," Frogg was annoyed that they sensed he was accident prone. Not due to clumsiness, just his bad luck. "And it's Dr. Grier or Doctor, not dude. I'm not a cowboy."
"Okay dude, um... I mean Doctor," responded the laid-back Lizowski.
Frogg looked around the room and finally noticed that someone was missing. "What happened to the test subject?"
"He freaked out and split when you got juiced," Garcia answered. "He also went into the waiting room and told the next two volunteers what happened. They cut out too."
Frogg's open palm slapped onto his forehead, then slid down over his eyeglasses as he shook his head. "Well, at least it gives us some time to figure out what went wrong with the prototype's safety systems," he shrugged.
For the rest of the evening the three of them worked on troubleshooting the unit. Then for the rest of the week they'd take turns testing the subjects either with the Zener Cards or the psionic enhancer. One thing that Doktor Frogg always made sure of though, was that he went over the data from the enhancer and no one else. It wouldn't do for either of them to figure out what the device's real purpose was.
His assistants were helpful enough, but neither one of them operated at a genius level. Even so, better to err on the side of caution and keep the sensitive information away from them.
His first check from the fund came very quickly. It was more than enough to purchase new top quality components for the enhancer as well as pay for L.O.S.E.'s bills and groceries. Voltar was overjoyed at the unexpected windfall, and even the Red Menace was beginning to show more enthusiasm about the project. Red did seem to be missing him though, and if he didn't know better, Doomageddon too. Every time he came home at night from the University, Doomie would bite onto one of his shoes and drag him through the Lair.
While he worked on building the latest enhancer unit, Frogg turned over all testing duties to his assistants. With the exception of the computer results from the enhancer of course. It didn't take him too long to have it finished.
The three of them were taking a break. They had about half an hour before the next prospective subject was scheduled to arrive. Garcia and Lizowski were discussing sports, hockey in particular. The two of them were old friends who had grown up together, gone through elementary and high school together, and were now sharing the same interest in higher education. They were most interested in designing sports equipment, making improvements on them for safety and performance, and going into business together after they graduated.
Frogg listened to their conversation as he made finishing touches on the new enhancer. Hockey! A blood sport if ever there was one. Skates were very dangerous, not to mention the hockey sticks, or the puck that feels like getting hit by a hard rock if it pelts you. Whoever invented hockey had to be evil. Here kiddies, go play with blades, clubs, and a rock!
His attention drifted away from the two students' talk and into his own world. He held up the enhancer. It was made of all the finest, state of the art materials. Nothing clunky or improvised about it. This is what he was capable of when provided with the proper environment, funding and materials. It was sleek, ergonomic, even kind of sexy. It was a thing of beauty.
Frogg heard the sound of someone clearing his throat. He glanced over to see that Lizowski and Garcia were eyeing him with dismay. He then realized that he had forgotten that he wasn't alone and lost track of himself. They must have witnessed him stroking the new enhancer lovingly. He was still frozen in the position of hugging the beloved gadget to his cheek. "I ah," he struggled to find and excuse for his bizarre behavior, "this is... um well.... just checking the fit and feel of it. It has to be comfortable. You know, for the subject, otherwise it may not be as effective... you see."
His assistants returned to their conversation, but not without glancing at him occasionally with a measure of concern. Frogg set down the enhancer head piece and turned his attention to his paperwork. So far there has been no clear candidate for the study, not to mention someone suitable as a new recruit for the League. Most of the people who came in to be tested had weak to no psychic ability whatsoever. There had been three who tested higher than average but showed incompatibility with the enhancer. The only volunteer who even came close had tested as modest ability with the Zener Cards, tested very well with the enhancer, but was otherwise not suitable as a new L.O.S.E. member.
That particular subject was a young father to three children. A four year old, a toddler and a newborn. He was also the sole source of income for his family. They would have to figure out how to work around his employment schedule, and if this new minion should lose his job because of his League duties, then the League would find itself responsible for this guy, his wife and their kids. The Lair was chaotic enough without a bunch of screaming rug rats tearing through it. Frogg crossed him off the list. He made a note that the subject was unsuitable due to complications at home.
Frogg was deep in contemplation when he heard Garcia's voice, "May I help you miss?" He turned to see Garcia smiling at some woman with all of the charm he could muster, which said a lot. The first thing that Frogg learned about Garcia, that anyone with half a brain would figure out, was that he was a shameless flirt with an eye for the ladies. Anytime a good looking female wandered in, Garcia would really pour it on.
"I'm here to volunteer to be tested," the blonde girl was facing Garcia and had her back to Frogg. "I am in the right place, aren't I? Some kind of psychic ability thing."
"This is the place," said Garcia as he ran his fingers through his blue-black hair. "But you're early. Quite early in fact." He leaned even closer to her, almost looming over her and said, "Why don't we head over to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee, maybe something to eat while we discuss the project and what got you interested in it?"
Frogg observed the encounter. This Garcia fellow was good. Really smooth with the ladies. He was even smart enough to include something he already knew would be an interest to the girl as a conversation opener. Too bad he wasn't as sharp a scientist as he was a pick-up artist.
"Don't look now Doc, but my buddy's puttin' the moves on your would-be subject." Lizowski warned Frogg in a low voice.
"I can see that," it always annoyed Frogg when someone stated the obvious to him. "Anyone with eyes in his head could. What of it?"
"I thought I should give you a fair warning," Lizowski continued, "If those two take off together for coffee or... whatever... you probably won't be seeing either one of them for the rest of the day."
Frogg took his assistant's advisement into consideration. Lizowski's expression didn't betray any mean-spiritedness. Garcia was a friend of his after all. And if the good looking student did manage to abscond with this girl not to return for the rest of the day, that would mean that Lizowski would have to work twice as hard. And Lizowski was a little bit on the lazy side.
Frogg finally broke eye contact with the mellow, slouchy student and turned his attention to Garcia and the young woman. "Actually, we can begin right away, if that's all right with you." Frogg strode over to where the two of them were standing. "It would help to keep us from getting behind schedule with the paper work if we could get a head sta..."
The girl turned towards him causing Frogg to lose his train of thought. No wonder Garcia was more charmingly assertive with her than usual. She was a real cutey. Large green eyes gazed back at him, set in a heart shaped face, framed by golden blonde, shoulder length hair. Her slight, pleasant smile grew broader as Frogg became aware that he had stopped in mid sentence.
"...start. A head start. If that's okay with you miss..." Frogg recovered. He was completely unaware that he was blushing. A fact that did not go unnoticed by his lab assistants, or the newcomer.
"O'Malley. Alison O'Malley," she responded.
"Your name is Alley O'Malley?" Lizowski giggled.
Alison rolled her eyes, "Oh please! I got enough of that in high school. It's Alison or Miss O'Malley."
Garcia and Lizowski were still trying to stifle laughter. Frogg shot them a sharp look and they suddenly became very busy with trying to appear as if they were busy.
"If we could get started now that would be fine with me," Alison said still gazing up at Frogg. She seemed to be paying no attention to the amusement of the two old cronies pretending to be hard at work.
"Right this way," Frogg led her over to a table and had her fill out some preliminary paperwork which he read over while Lizowski and Garcia conducted the Zener Card test. Lizowski turning over and focusing his attention on the cards while Garcia took notes.
According to the questionnaire, she was twenty-two years old, a professional artist, and learned about the study while taking an extension course at the University. A life drawing workshop. In the additional notes she wrote that she was encouraged to participate in the study due to the nature of her artwork. It went on to say that she paints places and people from her imagination that turn out to be from actual events.
Frogg thought nothing of the last bit of information. Quite often phenomena like that is chalked up to projection or just plain coincidence.
"We're finished here Doctor," Garcia said and handed the clipboard he had been taking notes on to Frogg.
"Hmmmm...." Frogg checked the data. "Acceptable. Now there is a second test. It's a lot easier actually. All you have to do is sit in this recliner and just relax as much as possible."
"That's it?" she asked.
"Well, you do have to wear this fashionable accessory," Frogg held up the brand new headpiece.
Alison smiled and took a seat in the recliner. Frogg carefully set the device on her head and began the calibration test. He watched the computer monitor as the enhancer went through the different brain wave cycles. All tested well within acceptable parameters. If she tests this well consistently, Miss O'Malley would prove to be a prime subject.
"Is this phone number good for day or evening?" Frogg asked glancing at her paperwork again.
"Anytime really. It's my cell phone. If I'm in a class or having a meeting with a client, just leave voicemail and I can get back to you." As Frogg removed the head piece she straightened up. "So how did I do on the other test, the one with the symbols on the cards?"
"You didn't get a single one right," he answered.
"Oh, figures." Alison gave a shrug and a little laugh.
"So Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and early evenings are good for you?" Frogg asked as he made a few more notes on the clipboard.
"Huh? Whatever for?" She stood up from the recliner.
Frogg looked at her perplexed "To begin the experiment, of course. I'm sorry, was the information about this unclear? This was just a preliminary test, to weed out unsuitable subjects. So far you've shown to be the most favorable subject for this project." Frogg nervously scratched his head, "I thought I told Professor Conniff to make it clear that anyone chosen as a suitable subject will need to commit to the rest of the study."
"Yes, I understood that." Alison said in a reassuring tone. "It's just that you told me that I failed that other test."
Now it was Frogg's turn to laugh, "Oh,, I'm sorry. I gave you the wrong idea. The way the Zener Card test works, there is a base number that is just statistics. An average of cards guessed correctly by chance alone. The further above or below that average you go, the more psychic the subject may be."
Alison looked at him with her mouth open in shock.
"You see, getting all the cards wrong is not so different from getting every single one right." Frogg continued. "Statistically, it's highly improbable."
"I don't believe it," mused Alison. "I did this to prove that I'm not psychic."
"Well, that would explain why you would get all of the cards wrong. Your subconscious mind was trying to comply with your conscious wishes." Frogg set the clipboard onto a table, "Look, you didn't sign a contract or anything. If you are uncomfortable with continuing with this, we'll just have to keep looking for a test subject."
"Oh no, you don't have to do that. I was just surprised to be the one chosen for this." The pleasant smile returned to her face. "I would be glad to participate in your study Doctor... I don't think I caught your name."
"Fro..." he caught himself, cleared his throat slightly then said, "Frank. Doctor Franklin Grier."
Alison offered her hand. "So I should be here at three o'clock tomorrow?" She asked as he took her hand and shook it, not quickly or roughly like Professor Conniff had. Firmly yet gently.
"Yes, three o'clock would be fine."
"Then I'll see you tomorrow. It was nice meeting you Doctor."
"Nice meeting you too," he was unaware that he had been holding onto her hand all that time until it slipped out of his grip as she turned to walk away. As she reached the door she turned to the two lab assistants. "See you tomorrow fellahs."
"Tomorrow," said Garcia.
"Later," added Lizowski. Once Alison was out of earshot he turned to his friend, "Dude, you're loosing your touch!"
"No way! I'm just not her type is all." Garcia retorted. "She's the kind of girl that goes for the brainy guys."
"Must be." Lizowski agreed. "She really went for you, doc."
"What in the world are you two babbling about?" asked Frogg.
"The dudette test subject." Lizowski answered in his own personal language that resembled English just barely enough for Frogg to comprehend him. "She took a big time shine to you."
"No, she didn't." Frogg began to blush again. "She's just friendly, that's all."
The two of them began to laugh again. "She wasn't that friendly with me," said Lizowski between guffaws.
"Or with me either," added Garcia. "And I was trying to get her to like me."
Frogg crossed his arms and regarded his assistants. Some men gossip just as bad as women do. "She's a test subject and nothing more. I'd like to keep our work here as professional as possible. On that note, isn't there something you two are supposed to be doing right now?"
Garcia and Lizowski got back to work. Lizowski with organizing the documents,Garcia with making phone calls to announce that a test subject had been chosen.
Frogg glanced out of the windows to the Universities' quad area. He spotted Alison walking away. Her golden blonde hair shone in the sun. She had a way of moving that was both graceful and perky at the same time. Not a very common quality.
Frogg had his hand placed on a computer desk chair. He absentmindedly leaned just a bit onto it as he continued to watch Alison, wondering what it would be like to have her as a member of the League. Then he wondered how Voltar would take it. He never thought to mention to his fearless leader that this new psychic member might be a girl. Then again, Voltar never said that it couldn't be either.
Frogg lost sight of Alison as she turned a corner around a building. It was just then that he applied just a little too much of his weight onto the chair, forgetting that it was on wheels. The chair went rolling out from under him, skittered into a wall as he landed sidelong onto the floor.
"DUDE!" he heard Lizowski exclaim.