Issue 13: Heroes

I

We enter on a day like any other in sunny, serene Kokaua Town. The scorching rays of the Hawaiian sun are tempered by a pleasant breeze blowing from the crystalline sea. It is a perfect day in a place close to paradise.

"Help! Oh, help!"

But what's this? A car has suddenly broken down! And right in the path of an oncoming taxi cab! The driver's cries, though powerful and piercing, fail to reach the ears of the woefully ignorant cabbie!

And then, just before the tragic scene can be completed, the broken car is whisked into the air, out of the path of the taxi, and lowered carefully into a streetside parking space.

"With driving like that," a deep, mighty voice calls from above. "He's wasted as a cab driver. He should look into demolition rallies."

The driver stumbles out of the car, dazed but unharmed, and looks up with gratitude at the beaming, crimson figure flying in front of the sun.

Who is this awe-inspiring figure? This incredible avatar of power, courage, and justice? It is none other than...

THE ASTOUNDING ACE!

His daring rescue completed, Ace resumes his regular patrols. Though pleased at the peaceful day being enjoyed by the citizens he so dutifully protects, he is also disappointed by it. For he knows that something much more sinister lurks in the shadows.

"Hm," he muses as he soars faster than a plasma bolt. "I've scoured the entire city, but still no sign of this shapeshifting troublemaker Lilo and Stitch warned me about."*

*Better known as Experiment 628, last seen doing battle with the Fantastic Flute in Issue 11! -Ben Stardust.

"As much as I'd like to keep patrolling 'till I find him, I suppose a watched criminal never strikes. In any event, it's time I head into work. Don't want to keep Mr. Kalama waiting."

Following a quick stop in an inconspicuous alleyway, the Crimson Crusader dons a blue suit and tie, a curly brown wig, and a pair of square glasses. He emerges as mild-mannered reporter Albert Colbert Ebert, with the people of Kokaua Town none the wiser.

"Aloha, Ace," local surfer and fire-dancer David Kawena calls out as he passes Albert.

"Oh. Aloha, Mr. Kawena," Albert responds, disguising his deep, mighty voice with a much more sheepish tone. "But I'm afraid you're mistaken. It's me, Albert Colbert Ebert, reporter for Kokaua Weekly."

"Oh, right. Sorry, Al."

"No worries." Ace carries on, wiping sweat from his brow. That was close, he thinks, nearly thought my secret identity was out.

As he makes his way into the bustling offices of Kokaua Weekly, Albert takes care to make a few deliberate mistakes. An awkward stumble around the secretary's paper-filled desk. An accidental bump into the water cooler by the window. Small but critical actions to ensure nobody would suspect that the clumsy yet mild-mannered Albert Colbert Ebert was secretly the astounding Ace.

Just as Albert reaches his desk, a stern voice cuts through the air, seizing his attention.

"Ebert!"

"Y-Y-Yes, M-Mr. Kalama." Albert rushes to the editor's desk, zig-zagging as fast as he can (though never too fast) between reporters and photographers rushing to and from their desks.

"Where've you been?" Mr. Kalama asks, his grey mustache rising out of a coffee mug reading, Stop Reading This and Get Back to Work!

"I was just-"

"Well, you're here now. That piece you did on that little Poxy guy was a real killer. People like readin' about what your cousins-I mean, what those little furry creatures are up to, how they're helpin' people out. So this week, we're doin' an issue dedicated to 'em. We'll have each of our reporters interviewin' one, talkin' about how and why they contribute to our little bit of paradise here."

"Gee, that sounds just dandy, Mr. Kalama," Albert says.

Gosh, he thinks, I hope I don't get assigned to interview Ace. That'd be the most biased article ever.

"Of course it's dandy, Ebert. Everyone's got their assignments already, but I've saved one for you because you're one of our best."

"Oh. Thank you, Mr. Kalama."

"And also because I knew you'd be late."

"Oh..."

"You'll be givin' us a piece on that Finder guy who runs the lost-and-found down at the beach. Sound good?"

"I-"

"Fantastic. I'm countin' on you, Ebert. Now get on it."

"Thank you, sir-"

"Get outta here!"

As Albert scurries out of Kokaua Weekly, he muses over the prospects of his assignment.

As much as I'd rather keep searching for 628 as Ace, I can't just abandon Albert Colbert Ebert's responsibilities.

But hold on! This might be just what I need! Finder is supposed to be able to find anything and anyone. Perhaps he could be a crucial ally in Ace's hunt for 628.

I'll approach him first as Albert Colbert Ebert. If he's interested in helping, then I can have him rendezvous with Ace later. Otherwise, it might seem suspicious if Ace meets with Finder shortly after Albert Colbert Ebert is assigned to interview him.

II

Following a short walk through tranquil Kokaua Town, our hero arrives outside the shack headquarters of Found Beach Services and Detective Agency, formerly Found Beach Services, formerly Lost-and-Found Beach Services.

That's peculiar, Albert thinks. It's mid-afternoon on a Thursday, but the windows are shut. There isn't even a 'back soon' note, and I know for a fact Finder can't be sick, thanks to Poxy. This seems mighty fishy.

As the timid reporter investigates the scene, his ears detect voices coming from within the shack. Pressing his ear against the wood, his worst fears are realized as the voices therein reveal their true sinister tones.

"Awright, if ya don't wanna spill the beans, we'll squeeze 'em outta ya."

"Yeah. I think you'll find us very persuasive."

"Naga! Naga beans to spill! Let meega go!"

Those voices, Albert thinks. If they are who I think they are, then Finder's in trouble! I need to get in there and save him! But Albert Colbert Ebert won't be much help to him...

Sprinting behind the cover of a nearby palm tree, our hero sheds his meek disguise, becoming the astounding Ace once more.

Rushing back to the shack, he pulls a window open, casting his heroic silhouette over the sordid scene.

"What in the-?!"

"How can you stay inside on such a beautiful day?!" Ace announces to the dastardly duo of Bonnie and Clyde, who stand on either side of the intrepid investigator Finder, hung upside-down in a cocoon of rope.

"You?!" Clyde exclaims. "Did Jumba program ya to have awful timin'?!"

"Only to be strong enough, fast enough, and daring enough to put a stop to criminals like the two of you," Ace retorts.

"Hey, hey, back it up, big red," Bonnie responds. "We've turned over a new leaf! We work for Finder now!"*

*Ever since their titanic team-up way back in our second ish! -Bennie S.

"I sincerely doubt your duties include tying your boss up," Ace says.

"Naga," Finder exclaims. "Supposed to help meega find lost things, naga tie meega up!"

"Have no fear, cousin!" With the speed of a spaceship, the astounding Ace flies between the pair of sinister swindlers, snatching up Finder.

"The astounding Ace won't let any harm come to you!"

But, as the Crimson Crusader soars out of another window, Bonnie and Clyde grab hold of a dangling length of rope trailing behind the bound Finder. The thieves are pulled into the clear Hawaiian sky after our hero.

"Excuse me, sir and madam," Ace calls after them, "but I'm going to need to see your tickets!"

"Don't ya call me madam," Bonnie says. "And you're bein' real quippy for someone helpin' out a real criminal!"

"Wait, what do you mean?"

"That ain't the real Finder, genius," Clyde answers. "It's a fake! Didn't ya get the memo 'bout the shapeshifter?!"

"Meega naga shapeshifter," Finder cries. "Meega Finder!"

As Ace soars ever higher, looking between all his passengers with inquisitive eyes.

First, the detective.

He's been quite insistent thus far. If he is indeed the scoundrel 628 in disguise, why would he maintain the facade to such an extent?

Then the thieves.

These two have been known to strike whenever a tempting opportunity arises. That shapeshifter being on the loose would undoubtedly make for a good distraction.

"I got the memo, make no mistake," Ace responds, "but it seems to me like the two of you are using 628 as an alibi for robbing poor Finder here!"

"Come on, man," Clyde says. "Ya just come into our office and accuse us of all this?! Thought ya were supposed to be a superhero, not a super-annoying-judgmental-trog!"

"Right, I'm sick 'a this guy," Bonne declares. "Clyde, Pinball Maneuver!"

"You got it, Bon!"

Releasing the rope, Bonnie curls into a ball, landing in Clyde's outstretched steel palm. Then, with a mighty swing, the bulkier thief hurls his partner in crime at Ace, scoring a strike on the forehead.

Holy Moly, Ace thinks. They caught me off guard there. Head's ringing like Mr. Kalama's telephone. Need to keep focused...Bonnie's unraveling. If I'm quick enough...

Reaching out with comet-like speed, Ace manages to seize the descending Bonnie's ankle.

"Hey," she snaps.

"Nice shot, you two," Ace declares, "but with my enhanced agility and endurance, I can quickly bounce back from almost anything! Now, see how you like my version of the 'Pinball Maneuver!'"

Clyde gets a taste of his own medicine as his accomplice is hurled into him, dislodging his grasp on the rope and sending both thieves plummeting to the beach below.

"Man, where was this guy when we were actually robbin' people?!" Bonnie yells on the way down.

"And now," Ace continues, "with further help from my super-speed, I have ample time to free you, Finder, and to also repurpose your restraints into a handy lasso!"

Holding the freed detective in one arm and swinging the lasso with the other, the astounding Ace flies down after Bonnie and Clyde, snaring them with their own rope.

"Sorry to ruin your plans," Ace says as he lands on the roof of Finder's shack, "but you roped yourselves into this."

"Seriously?" Clyde sighs.

"Alrighty, then, Big-Red-and-Stupid," Bonnie says, "whatever he does to ya, it's your own fault!"

Finder answers her with a raspberry.

"Easy, cousin," Ace says. "They won't be bothering you anymore."

"Taka Ace, uh, Al," Finder replies, dusting off his fedora. "No, Ace."

"Did they hurt you at all?"

"Naga. Meega just come back from beach comb, and they tie meega up."

"Well, I'm sorry your new hires didn't work out."

"Ih. Meega, too."

"On the bright side, soon they'll be safe behind bars where they can't do this ever-" Ace turns back to the captured thieves, only to find nothing but an empty lasso.

"What in the blazes-?!"

"Don't worry. I'll round 'em up for ya," a gruff voice says.

Ace swivels back around to the Finder, only to instead find the mountainous form of Kixx.

"Oh fiddlesticks-" is all Ace can say before Kixx's fist comes down on his head.

III

As the bright blue Hawaiian sky fades into crimson dusk, the enormous, black ship of Captain Gantu ascends towards the atmosphere. His cargo contains only a single innocent girl, longing for company, for freedom, and for better days.

If only she knew of the blue-furred hero coming to her rescue, so determined that he would even drive an oil tanker into a volcano.

He would, and he has.

"Hold on, Lilo," the stupendous Stitch says as he rockets towards his nemesis' ship.

"Stitch save youga, and Stitch have perfect thing."

The mighty Experiment crashes through Gantu's window, greeting the towering terror with a triumphant, "Aloha!"

"You," Gantu yells, reaching for his blaster. "You vile, foul, flawed little-"

"Naga call names, Gantu," Stitch says, summoning his secondary arms, each clutching one of his secret weapons.

"Just enjoy these!" He hurls at his enemy two wrappers containing...

"Stewardess (c) Winger-Dingers," Gantu says. "Mmm. Such delicious and moist chocolate sponge cake! Scrumptious vanilla icing!"

While the corrupt captain is distracted, Stitch sneaks to the ship's cargo hold, rescues Lilo, and leaps out of the ship, landing safely on the ground, thanks to his experimental strength and agility.

"Mahalo, Stitch," Lilo says as they walk home. "But do you think Gantu will realize we're gone?"

"Naga," Stitch replies with a wink. "Meega think he like his new cargo better."

There's no flavor more winning than Stewardess (c) Winger-Dingers!

IV

Ace feels as though he'd only blinked, and yet he suddenly finds himself lying on his back. The warmth of the golden beach is replaced by the sinister chill of grey steel. His body feels stiff as he rises, the energy he seemed to have possessed only moments prior now vanished. The first thing that greets him is the barrel of crimson blaster cannon. It emits the despondent groan of a machine shutting down.

"Have sweet dreams?" A familiar voice asks.

Ace spins around and takes to the air, prepared for a fight despite his aching body. In doing so, he bumps his head on a ceiling much lower than he had expected.

"Oh, blitznak," he mutters. As he rubs his head, he looks down. He is met with a tip of a hat from Finder, accompanied by Clyde and Bonnie.

"What in the cosmos is going on here?" He demands.

"Isa 628," Finder answers.

"Toldja that other Finder down there was a fake," Bonnie said. "He sucker-punched ya and took ya to his ship. We followed him and snuck on board."

"We found you and the real Finder in here," Clyde adds. "These weird ray things were keepin' ya guys frozen."

Ace glanced around the room, finding three rows of blaster cannons.

"Well, if that's true, then that's incredibly kind of you," he says, folding his mighty arms.

"But that's just the thing; how do I know it's true? For all I know, one of you might be the imposter again!"

Finder sighs, his eyes hidden beneath the brim of his fedora.

"If we were," Clyde says, "why would we set ya free? And why would we pretend to be the guys you were just fightin'?"

"That..." Ace retorts with a point of a powerful finger. "Is...A sound explanation..."

"Alright, listen here, ya flyin' thickie," Bonnie begins, stepping forth.

"Ya might be the big strong hero that everyone loves, but that don't mean ya know better than us. I know you were good right outta the box, and it took us a bit longer than most of our cousins, but we're tryin', dangit! We're tryin' our best! And you ain't helpin' us by accusin' us 'a stuff based on nothin' but that we used to be bad, even after we rescued ya! So if ya wanna be the cool superhero ya call yourself, then ya gotta prove it the same way Clyde and I gotta prove that we've changed!"

As Bonnie catches her breath, Finder and Clyde both open their mouths, only to shrug.

Ace returns to the floor, his head hung. "You're right. While I was busy fighting you two, all I was doing was helping the very villain I'd hoped to stop."

"Pretty much, yeah," Bonnie responds.

"But I'll make it up to you. You have my word. I'll do everything in my power to be the hero you deserve."

Bonnie and Clyde exchange skeptical looks. Finder clears his throat, attracting the former thieves' attention. Their faces soften at the detective's expectant glance.

"Only fair, ain't it?" Clyde asks.

"Yeah," Bonnie says. "I guess so." She extends her hand towards Ace.

"We'll take down 628 together. We'll show ya what we can do, and you can show us what you can do."

Ace shakes her hand.

"Sounds like a deal. I won't let you down. Not again."

V

The Crimson Crusader's newfound allies lead him on a stealthful trek through the ship. Along the way, they pass by several windows offering glimmering views of the clouds and sky.

I wanted to find 628, Ace thinks, I suppose I got my wish.

Soon, our heroes discover the execrable Experiment's quarters. Peering from behind the entryway, they find his gelatinous green form at a towering computer screen, arguing with...Finder?!

"You're completely pathetic," 628 says. "I at least spent several hours as 626 before that musclebound hothead found me out."

"Look, I don't know what I did wrong," Finder's doppelganger retorts. "All I did was ask 149 and 150 which channel that detective show was on, and they tied me up."

Ace turns to the smug-looking Bonnie and Clyde.

"We thought up a trick when Lilo told us about 628," Clyde whispers. "Bonnie took the channel dial off our TV and turned it upside-down."

"So the imposter would turn to the channel Finder likes," Ace whispers back, "only to come up with the wrong one. That's clever."

"Bein' good don't mean ya can't still use some dirty tricks," Bonnie replies with a grin.

"Excuses change nothing," 628 says, swerving his pitch-black eyes to the false Finder.

"They're catching onto us far too quickly. We can't keep failing Dr. Hamsterviel like this. We need to be ten times as thorough with our research and performances as we've been already."

"It takes us weeks to prepare extractions as it is," the false Finder replies.

"Better to spend more time for something than less time for nothing."

"So there are two imposters," Ace whispers. "628 and 629?"

"Not quite," a new voice answers from behind our heroes. Darting around, they find themselves faced with their mutual ally, the dauntless Dupe. This Dupe, however, grins with a maliciousness ill-suited to the kindly ice cream vendor they know.

"Aw, c'mon," Bonnie snaps. "That's cheatin'!"

"Well, you're not exactly the living embodiment of honor and fair play yourself, are you?" The false Dupe retorts before turning to Ace.

"Anyway, to answer your query, 262..." With that, he fires a clear blue beam past our heroes and at the original, gelatinous 628. The inky Experiment promptly splits into two identical copies.

"I can mimic many Experiments' powers as easily as I can their voices and appearances," the false Dupe adds.

"So you can increase your numbers," Ace says with a defiant point, "but not your strength. Dupe's cloning ray divides the target's attributes amongst all of its copies, so all you can do is weaken yourself."*

*As first demonstrated in Dupe's very first astonishing appearance, way back in the 28th ish of the last volume, by Marvelous Maddie and Vigorous Vic! - Beaming Bennie.

"Yes. Dupe's cloning ray does that," the false Dupe responds, his grin fading into a glare brimming with impatience.

"However..."

Ace is suddenly seized in a powerful bear hug, then hurled through the air, bringing his head into a painful meeting with the metal floor. Once released, he looks up at his attacker...Another Ace!

"My cloning ray has no such faults," the other Ace continues. "Second time's the charm."

Ace takes to the air. Beneath him, he finds Bonnie, Clyde, and Finder each locked in a duel with their own reflections.

"You might be able to impersonate us, 628," Ace declares, charging fists-first towards his doppelganger like a comet, "but there's no substitute for the original!"

But, with flawless timing, 628 reaches out and catches Ace's fists. The steel floor shrieks as his claws dig into it, maintaining their position despite the true Ace's efforts.

The shapeshifter glowers, answering Ace's determined look with a twisted reflection of it.

"We'll see about that," he says.

With that, he brings Ace down with an ear-ringing headbutt. However, the Crimson Crusader, though distorted, swiftly retaliates with a mighty uppercut. The victory is short-lived, though, for 628 comes back with a spinning, back-handed blow.

The courageous cousin and the sinister shapeshifter trade their fair share of blows, taking as much punishment as they dealt. Despite that, they ultimately remain as determined and vigorous as they'd begun.

628 wasn't bluffing, Ace thinks. He's got my strength, my stamina, even my fighting style down to a tee. I'm completely evenly matched.

He glances around at his allies. The two Finders are airborne, pursuing one another about the quarters. The Bonnies grappled with one another. Both Clydes' metal fists produce a resounding clang as they crash.

It seems the others are facing a similar issue. We may all fight for hours on end, perhaps passing out from exhaustion before anyone makes any real dent in their opponent.

He backs away from his doppelganger but stops when his back hits another. He glances back over his shoulder, finding Clyde and Bonnie looking back at him. Finder looks down from above. All are still trapped in their respective duels.

At that moment, they all have the same idea.

In one swift rotating motion, the four Experiments scramble their sparring partners. Clyde blasts the false Finder out of the air with a scorching blue energy beam from his metal hand. Finder picks up the false Bonnie by the ears, spins her around, then casts her away like an Olympic hammer. Bonnie ducks the false Ace's falling fist, then retaliates with a staggering headbutt to the nose. Ace catches the false Clyde's metal fist, then sends him flying with a blow to the gut.

"Aha!" Ace declares to the downed shapeshifters. "You evenly matched us by taking our forms, but by swapping opponents so we weren't fighting our doppelgangers-"

"I think he knows, bud," Clyde says, "bein' on the receivin' end and all."

"Oh...Sorry..."

"S'okay."

The false Bonnie, Clyde, and Finder melt into blobs of green ink, slithering towards the rising false Ace, climbing up his body and dissolving into his crimson fur.

"Leave this to me," the true Ace declares, flying faster than a laser beam to pin 628.

"I wouldn't try anything else if I were you! Your reign of terror ends here, 628!"

"Fine; let's say you're right," 628 responds, his gruff voice wretchedly paired with Ace's face.

"What will you have actually accomplished? I've been trying to get you all back to your master. He wants to change the galaxy, but he can't do that unless you destroy what's already there. If you stop that, then you'll just continue squatting here. You won't change anything."

"Not at all, 628," Ace begins. "Change happens all the time around here. It may not be tremendous, galaxy-destroying change..." He glances back at his allies and is met with smiles.

"It's much smaller, but that doesn't make it any less meaningful."

"Who are you to lecture me about change when you're still exactly as you were when Dr. Jumba created you?!"

Ace hesitates in his answer. He is reluctant to venture back to those memories, to the lab, to space.

And then he remembers Bonnie and Clyde, and how they were, as they said, trying their best.

How can I call myself a hero, he thinks, if I can't do the same when it matters most?

"I made a choice," he says. "I don't know anything about all that techno-talk people like Jumba or Hamsterviel throw around. What I do know is that you and I and all of our cousins have a choice. We always had a choice. I made mine sooner than most, and some made theirs much later than others, but that doesn't mean it's ever too late...And it's not too late for you, either."

"For me?"

"You want to see change? Then you can change right here, right now."

The glaring face of the false Ace began to melt into the inky form and black eyes of 628.

"Or what?" He asks between anxious breaths that betray his stolid voice.

"Or don't," Ace answers. "This isn't a trick. It isn't a threat. It's nothing more or less than the choice you've always had. The choice you always will have."

The shapeshifter does not answer. Amid the silence, for barely a moment, Ace sees tears brewing in those coal-like eyes.

And then, finally, as he begins to assume a solid form, he whispers only a simple question.

"You, too?"

The tears are hidden by a sudden assumption of the form of famed acrobat Elastico. Ace is quick to seize the shapeshifter's raising arm, but it does nothing to stop the elongating fingers. They twist and swerve about the ceiling, avoiding Finder, Bonnie, and Clyde's best attempts at seizing or blasting them.

They reach the computer console, striking a button.

Suddenly, the floor opens like a gate beneath the Experiments' feet.

Bonnie and Clyde instinctively grab hold of one another. Finder seizes Clyde's free arm, then attempts to take flight. Sadly, all he can do is slow their descent.

628, meanwhile, thanks to Elastico's rubbery form, slides out of the levitating Ace's grasp. He clings to the wall, reverting to his true form.

I can't bear to leave this here, he thinks, but I can't bear to let my friends down again, either.

"'Til next we meet."

628 regards him with black eyes that mix curiosity and fear, and then the Crimson Crusader can waste no more time.

The water below seems peaceful, soft, and utterly unaware of the tragedy it may soon be the setting for.

"Clyde," Ace yells, "hold Finder and Bonnie close to you!"

"What?!"

Ace's heart misses several beats. "Hold the others close to you! It'll make it easier for me to catch you!"

Clyde obeys instantly. However, with Finder no longer attempting to keep them all aloft, they plummet even faster towards the water.

Ace pushes himself harder, further, faster than he even believes himself capable of. His body freezes and burns all at once. For precisely seven seconds, gravity is his archnemesis.

And then his friends are in his arms. For a while, the universe is frozen. A tiny wave splashes his feet.

Ace looks up at the sky as he and his friends catch their breath. 628's ship is nowhere to be seen.

"Drat," Ace mutters.

"Hey," Bonnie says, "We'd 'a lost a lot more than just him if it weren't for you."

Ace smiles. "Always happy to help a cousin in need."

He looks to the sky once more, and the back to Bonnie. "No matter who they are."

VI

It is a day like any other in sunny, serene Kokaua Town. The offices of Kokaua Weekly are as bustling as ever. However, mild-mannered reporter Albert Colbert Ebert keeps his cool as he sits at his desk, typing out his next article. As his co-workers rush about around him, he is soothed by his radio and the kind words of David Bowie.

"I,

"I wish I could swim,

"Like the dolphins,

"Like dolphins can swim,

"Though nothing,

"Nothing will keep us together,

"We can beat them,

"Forever and ever,

"Oh, we can be heroes,

"Just for one day."

And then the reporter is joined by more friendly voices.

"Aloha, cousin."

"Oh. Aloha, you three," Albert says, swiveling his rotating chair to face Finder, Bonnie, and Clyde.

All three are wearing brown fedoras. Clyde holds a basket brimming with fruit.

"We wanted to thank ya for what ya wrote about us," Bonnie says, taking a newspaper out from under her arm.

She flips to an article where the three detectives tip their hats to Albert from a photograph. The headline reads, Finder's Keepers, followed by the byline, A Day in the Life of the Stupendous Sleuths of Found Detective Agency.

"Oh, my, that's very kind of you," Albert says as Clyde places the fruit basket on his desk.

"We also wanted to thank Ace," Clyde says, "but we haven't seen him in a while. Think you could send him our way?"

"If I see him, them certainly. But I don't know why you think I'll see him first."

"Oh...Uh, well, thanks anyway."

"Also want to tell Ace something," Finder says. "Can youga give message?"

"A message for Ace?" Albert asks. "Are you sure you can trust me with something like that?"

"Ih. Meega trust youga."

Could he have guessed my identity, Ace thinks. Regardless, it might only look more suspicious if I refuse.

"I,

"I will be king,

"And you,

"You will be queen,

"Though nothing will drive them away..."

"Ace talk about choice," Finder begins. "Choice cousins always had...Long ago, back in space, meega make choice..."

Albert fights to keep his expression nothing more than interest.

Ace remembers those years among the stars. He remembers the mere fleeting glimpses of truth, justice, and freedom. And he remembers the grueling chases between himself, his then-unreformed cousins, and the creator who could never accept his choice.

Albert, however, knew nothing of any of it.

"Jumba make meega find Ace," Finder continues. "And meega did. But tell Jumba wrong place. Give Ace more time to be free."

"We can be heroes,

"Just for one day."

Albert says nothing. The words, thank you, reach his lips, and then he remembers who he's supposed to be at that moment.

"I..." He says, "I'll tell him that. And I think he'll say 'thank you.'"

Finder smiles. "Tell him he is welcome."

The detectives bid the reporter farewell. As Albert Colbert Ebert returns to his work, he considers the choices that he and his cousins have made, and those which 628 will make. He feels a warmth that rivals that of the beaming Hawaiian sun.

It is the feeling of hope.

"We can be heroes,

"Just for one day."

And so we close the book for now on the Astounding Ace! Check back next ish for a mesmerizing tale featuring the dazzling dream warrior Remmy! Until then, avid readers, never forget...

Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten!