by Dan Swanson
Blackwing had been using the training session to cautiously test a new gadget in his utility belt. He had a container of highly compressed air mounted on each hip, which he could use like rocket engines. He only had approximately five minutes of thrust, however, so he had to use them sparingly. Although they had worked fine in simulations and lab tests, he had really wanted to give them more of a workout during this last workout before using them in battle.
“Oh, well. The best laid plans and all that. Looks like I’ll get them stress-tested under live conditions!” He launched himself into the air, turned the jets on full, and shot through the exit hole left by the mysterious projectile.
The Huntress headed up the stairs instead, intent on finding anyone in the JSA Brownstone who might have been injured. Luckily, it was a slow Sunday evening; she thought that perhaps she and Charles Bullock and the phone attendant had been the only ones present. A quick stop in the security room confirmed her guess. The phone attendant had followed standard emergency procedure. Now there’s an oxymoron! she thought grimly. When the attendant hit the panic button, an alarm was sounded, and she had been automatically sealed in by walls that had been designed to withstand even Superman for a short time. This left the Huntress free to concentrate on the menace.
The images recorded by the security cameras were blurred. She knew that computer enhancement would clean them up in only a few minutes, but she didn’t have a few minutes. A humanoid something had crashed up from the subbasement into the gym, and then burst out to the street, too fast for her to pick out details. She switched to outside cameras, and saw Blackwing engaged in aerial battle with someone she almost recognized. That’s where she needed to be.
When he flashed through the hole out to the street, Blackwing found a very large man floating in the air, examining the building and the damage he had just done. Blackwing was pretty big himself, but he was small next to this fellow. The floating figure wore a costume that was mostly brown, with a red cape and hood, and Blackwing didn’t recognize him. Mutual recognition didn’t seem to matter, though. With a bellow of rage, the big fellow flew to the attack.
Blackwing quickly reviewed his situation. Strong, fast, probably invulnerable, can fly… Damn, I didn’t sign up to fight Superman! He cut his air-jets and pulled his cape in close, plummeting toward the ground, and the villain thundered through the space he had just vacated. Guess we don’t get to choose our customers in this biz, though! His harpoon shot out, and the wire wrapped around the villain’s legs. This may be the single dumbest thing I’ve ever done. He started reeling in the line, working his way up.
The villain abruptly changed course, snapping Blackwing around like a whip, right at the wall of the brownstone.
Time for Plan B! ‘Cept I don’t even have Plan A yet! He released the cable, spread his cape, and managed to evade the wall. He was moving a lot faster than he normally glided, and he decided to use his extra speed to gain some altitude. Meanwhile, as soon as he released the reel, a dead man’s switch released a powerful jolt of electric current into the villain’s body.
The Huntress rushed into the street just in time to see Blackwing flung violently toward the wall of the brownstone. He twisted frantically, managing to avoid hitting the building, and climbed skyward. The villain’s body suddenly spasmed uncontrollably as the hidden taser jolted him, and he crashed to the sidewalk, which shattered explosively. He smashed into the side of an office building, destroying the brick façade, which collapsed and buried him in several tons of rubble.
Finally, Helena Wayne’s subconscious put all the clues together — Opal City, brown and red costume, powers like Superman’s, vulnerable to electricity. She couldn’t help but shout out the answer.
“It’s Vic Valor!”
Insect Queen was talking to herself as she approached JSA Headquarters. “Good. None of my little friends are reporting any news crews on the scene yet! Maybe I’ll be out of here before those yellow idiots show up!”
Since her rejuvenation, Insect Queen was well on her way to becoming more famous than Lana had ever been on her own. Insect Queen had even appeared on a charity benefit telethon not long ago, and it had turned into a disaster.
The host had been interviewing Insect Queen when there was a disturbance in the studio audience. About a third of the crowd had suddenly pulled of their outer wear, exposing yellow costumes, and they had started waving protest signs and chanting.
“They swim, they fly, they walk, they crawl, their only crime is that they’re small. Shame on you, Insect Queen. You are an abuser, and you’re mean! Insects have feelings, too!”
The protesters were so loud that studio security officers were called to evict them, and things went downhill from there.
Lana later discovered that they called themselves People for Equal Rights for Insects, or PERI, and Insect Queen was their ticket to publicity. Or, more accurately, Insect Queen became to them a public symbol of the abuse insects have endured from humans since the beginning of time. After all, Insect Queen forced insects to perform unnatural acts, and killed many of them before their time, with absolutely no regard for their welfare. She was killing them merely to propagate her own twisted version of justice, or even worse, perhaps only so she could become famous.
She was almost thankful to discover that Mighty Isis had similar problems; as it was, she dreaded facing the yellow-clad PERI members almost more than any mere super-villain.
Helena Wayne didn’t remember much about Vic Valor, who had existed a few years before she was born. His entire career had lasted less than a week, way back in 1949, and she was sure he had been a hero. In fact, she had owned a set of action figures when she was growing up, and her two favorites had been Vic Valor and Buzz Lightspeed. But right now she couldn’t quite recall what his powers were. So far, except for the weakness to electricity, he seemed like a pretty fair approximation of Superman. So where had he been the last few decades? And why was he wrecking the JSA Brownstone and trying to smash Blackwing? And wasn’t he supposed to be a hero?
The Huntress threw a bat-grenade at the wall behind the pile of debris, bringing more of the wall down on the buried Valor. She followed up with a freeze capsule, hoping to trap Valor under the frozen pile. She saw it start to quiver, and dived to the ground just before the pile exploded, throwing bits of brick and concrete every which way, like a million bullets.
She managed to escape most of the shrapnel by rolling behind a parked car. Although she was hit several times, her costume did a decent job of protecting her. She was sore, but she didn’t seem to have any broken bones, and didn’t immediately notice any bleeding.
The poor owner of this car was going to regret leaving it parked here overnight. The other side was shredded by the shrapnel, all of the windows were shattered, and now both tires on the side away from her exploded.
If she was going to be a hero, it was time to move. The Huntress flashed over the hood of the battered car, moving almost too fast to follow, hurling a couple more pellets from her utility belt ahead of her. He was too big a target for her to miss. The first two pellets broke against his broad chest and began spitting copious amounts of thick, stinky smoke, hopefully blocking his vision. The third released a gob of sticky glue that expanded on contact and spread to cover Valor’s whole body.
It probably wouldn’t hold for very long. But as outclassed in power as she was, she was going to have to keep moving if she wanted to have any chance at all — and use her utility belt tricks wisely. She slipped her infrared goggles out of the belt and over her eyes, allowing her to see perfectly through her designer smokescreen.
Vic Valor amazed her by diving back into the debris and rolling around, crushing much of it into fine dust. The dust caked over glue, and it lost its stickiness, leaving Valor once again free to move. On the off chance that he might not be completely invulnerable, she quickly shot him with two anesthetic darts from her crossbow, but they didn’t even penetrate the dusty armor she had inadvertently provided him.
Well, electricity had worked once, and she had a taser of her own. She pulled it out and checked that the intensity was set to maximum. At this range, she could hardly miss. She fired the wire into Vic Valor’s chest, where it stuck and then dumped the taser’s incredible charge into Valor’s massive frame. Helena could smell ozone, and she saw current crackling over the surface of his body, but this time it had no effect. Valor calmly reached up and tore the wire free, yanked the taser from her hand, snatched it from the air, and crushed it.
The Huntress flipped open a lead compartment on her utility belt, and a bright green light flared out. Vic Valor took a step closer and swung at her, a punch she barely dodged. The wind from the punch threw her backward against a brick wall, and the impact knocked the wind out of her. As she slumped to the sidewalk, Valor picked up the battered car and flung it at her. She couldn’t move; she knew this flying car would be the last thing she ever saw. And she had so been looking forward to being Kara’s maid of honor at her upcoming wedding.
Blackwing was in a power dive, and he opened his compressed air-jets to maximum. Still, he knew he couldn’t reach the villain in time to prevent him from throwing the car at the helpless Huntress. There was no way she was going to be able to dodge, either. He wasn’t going to be able to save his friend, but he vowed that he would avenge her. He clicked a control that released two more harpoons, but instead of firing them, he took one in each hand, held them out in front, and aimed them at the villain’s back. A microsecond before he hit, he saw Helena sliding out of the way of the deadly missile on a carpet of something that seemed to be oil. Whatever it was, she wasn’t moving fast enough. But as he slammed his barbed spears into the broad back of the bad guy, the battered car was smashed into the ground by a giant glowing yellow hammer.
Helena didn’t need avenging just yet. That didn’t matter, though; his harpoons had as little effect on his foe as they would have against the hull of a battleship, the hardened tool steel shattering as if it was balsa wood.
But even this hulking monster was constrained by the laws of physics, and Blackwing’s momentum knocked him down like a candlepin in front of a cannonball. He pinwheeled forward and smashed into the wall, very close to where Helena had been lying only seconds before. Blackwing had pretty much knocked himself out of the fight. He thought he may have broken some bones in the collision, and as he passed out, he prayed that whomever had saved Helena could deal with this threat without him.
Corona’s sledgehammer changed into a giant fist, and she scooped Vic Valor off the pavement. He started to struggle, and she turned up the pressure. He managed to free one arm, and then the other, and she was at the upper end of her power range. The big man grabbed the index finger of the giant yellow hand and began inexorably prying it open. Corona had undergone some incredible stresses in her training with Green Lantern, Strobe, and several members of the Justice Society, but only Power Girl had been able to break free of her energy constructs. And now Valor was managing. She couldn’t keep this up much longer.
Suddenly, there was a yellow blur flashing around the giant yellow fist. Insect Queen had adapted the speed of a darting dragonfly, and was spinning silk like a spider, flying around and around Vic Valor and Corona’s energy fist. With the added strength of the thick silken cocoon to back her up, Corona was able to release the pressure just the tiniest bit. She could tell that, between the two of them, this prison was just barely beyond Valor’s strength, and she was trying to figure out what to do next. They couldn’t hold him forever. She hoped someone had contacted the JSA. Meanwhile, she yelled at Insect Queen.
“I think if you can wrap on a couple more layers, I can probably hold him until the big guns get here!”
Lana Lang wasn’t sure she could spin a couple of more layers — it took a lot of energy to make silk. But she had a lot of allies nearby. It had been estimated that there were several million spiders for every human on earth, and Insect Queen called all the nearby spiders out of hiding. For a few seconds, millions of spiders swarmed over the silken cocoon, and each added a small contribution. In another few seconds they vanished, and the silken cocoon around Vic Valor was now over eight feet in diameter. The pressure on Corona’s energy construct continued to lessen, and she actually started to worry.
“He probably can’t breathe in there!” said Corona. “We’ll kill him!”
“Wouldn’t bother me, sister!” said Insect Queen. “He would have killed the Huntress without a blink!”
Corona couldn’t believe how cold and uncaring Insect Queen sounded. She didn’t know that Lana was wearing her hard-as-diamond TV critic face.
“Still, that would look bad on tomorrow’s news, wouldn’t it?” added Insect Queen. “If you shrunk the ‘leash’ from your ring to that fist, wouldn’t that leave a little room for airflow?”
Corona was relieved, and she was in the process of making sure Vic Valor had enough air to live, when her efforts were rendered moot. There was a flash of intense heat, and the cocoon vanished instantly into smoke. Valor was apparently done fooling around. He flew like a guided missile at Insect Queen. She was still adapting the darting speed of the dragonfly, and she seemed to instantly move from one place to another, then hover for a second, and then dart to yet another place. Each time Valor targeted her, she darted out of the way, but he kept getting closer and closer, and she was getting very tired. She could see that Corona was getting ready to go back on the attack, so she drew the villain ever closer to the other blonde.
Vic Valor shouted in frustration and plunged at Insect Queen faster than before, and she was almost too slow this time; he managed to shred one of her wings as she dropped instantly toward the ground. He strained as hard as he could to change directions and follow her, and he was completely unprepared for Corona’s attack. Corona swatted him much as legendary tennis star Chrissie Austin would hammer a lazy shot on her baseline with her deadly two-handed backhand, but Corona’s racquet was all sweet spot, fifteen feet of magical energy backed by Corona’s steely willpower. Valor flew up, up and away, headed for the middle of the Atlantic.
The two heroes turned their attention to the two who had fallen before they arrived. A steady stream of ants was carrying the unconscious form of the Huntress toward an undamaged building farther down the street, and Lana darted after them. Corona landed next to Blackwing and bent over to check his pulse.
An invisible fist slammed into her head. Fortunately, she had paid attention in her training sessions, and in her Corona identity she always maintained at least a minimal force-field to protect her. Unfortunately, her shield only deflected the blow rather than blocking it, and she was struck hard enough that she was instantly knocked unconscious. Less than a tenth of a second later, Valor was swinging at Insect Queen.
As Vic Valor had flashed through the air at invisible super-speed, his passage had killed many insects. Insect Queen had sensed his approach, as each insect died with a tiny spiritual sigh that Lana was able to sense. Valor was so fast, she didn’t have time to really react, but she was starting to flinch away from him when he hit her, and this minuscule flinch might have saved her life. Again, though, maybe not. She was knocked tumbling through the air, and she finally crashed to earth and rolled to a stop in a small park a few blocks away. Once Insect Queen lost consciousness, the ants bearing the Huntress to safety had all scurried away. Once again, she was helpless in front of this super-powered madman.