by Dan Swanson
Johnny Thunder was unhappy when his favorite soap opera, As the Heart Beats, was interrupted by a newsflash. But as soon as he saw what was being reported, his anger was quenched.
“We interrupt this program with a special live news bulletin. In Centennial Park in Seacoast City, two unknown men are engaged in a life-and-death battle. One man appears to have super-powers similar to Green Lantern, only dressed in white and gray, while the other is armed with a supply of exotic gadgets and weapons. As you can see, the unknown flying man has just been knocked from the sky with some unknown weapon, and the other man is now attacking with a sword. Wait! The gadget man has just sprayed the flying man with some kind of paste! KSEA News was fortunate to have a live news crew broadcasting from the scene of the building collapse, next to the park, so we can bring you this exclusive coverage.”
Johnny had heard enough. “The flying guy — that’s that new guy, Jim Chisholm, who was working out at JSA Headquarters last week! Say, you’d think there would be something we could do to help!”
On the TV screen, the cocoon surrounding Chisholm suddenly exploded. He flew at the other figure at incredible speed and slammed into him, driving him back into and entirely through the walls of a nearby gazebo. Chisholm stopped, and a giant hand sprung from his glove, reaching for the villain. This hand seemed to be somewhat out of control, totally demolishing the wooden gazebo. Chisholm looked astonished. He quickly dissolved the white construct and ran over to the villain. As he approached, the camera panned to the villain, who could be seen writhing in pain. In the background, Johnny could see police and ambulances approaching. Then Jim collapsed to the ground.
“T-bolt, what happened? I expected you to whisk us off to Centennial Park!” Johnny yelled. “Why did Jim almost kill that guy? What trashed his power, and how did he get it back? I’ll bet you had something to do with this!”
It was hard to believe, but the magic Thunderbolt almost looked sheepish. “Well, Master John, you wished that we could help Chisholm, but you didn’t specifically say how. As you know, when you are not specific, I have considerable latitude in interpreting your commands.”
“Stop with the excuses already! What did you do?”
“Well, Master John, I didn’t do much… I simply created a little lead shielding, and Jim did the rest on his own!”
“So why did his powers go out of control? And what made him collapse like that?”
“Sorry, O most glorious one, I don’t really know. If you would only ask me to find out…”
“It doesn’t matter. Get us over there quick!” Johnny and the Thunderbolt vanished.
Jim Chisholm had been having a bad day. It had started as soon as he woke up. He had finished his first super-hero battle yesterday, and he still didn’t have a super-hero name. And the harder he thought about it, the worse it got.
“Hmm… Gauntlet? Black Lightning? Nope, I want to stay away from names with colors in them. Starhawk sounds pretty good. Glow Master? Silly! Nimbus? That’s not too terrible; I might come back to it. Star Saber? Lighthawk? Laser? Lightbolt? Maybe just Bolt? Darn, this is harder than fighting super-villains! At least I got the costume straightened out.”
Jim hadn’t decided yet if he was going to adopt a secret identity as a super-hero, or let the general public know who he was, but he had decided, at least temporarily, to wear a cowl. His cowl matched the gray of his costume, resembling the cowl Batman used to wear, although without the ears, and with a black fin on top similar to that on Starman’s hood. Jim had discovered that he could will the glove to be invisible, so he started wearing it all the time. Whenever Jim activated the glove, the glow automatically switched whatever he was wearing for his costume, which now included the finned cowl.
Finally, he tried to thrust the whole heroic name issue from his mind and went into the office to get started on his week’s work. Almost before he sat down, the phone rang. It was his biggest client, for whom he was designing a new factory/office building, with bad news. They had just been acquired in a hostile takeover, and the new owner was canceling or postponing all current projects. Jim would get a penalty fee for early cancellation of the project, but the penalty fee wasn’t close to the full fee. He tried to think of this as an opportunity rather than a setback. I get a lump sum now larger than the retainer, and I can find a new client… But he was annoyed, anyway.
He had a 10:30 A.M. appointment in nearby Seacoast City, so he decided to go early, leave his car at a park outside of town, and walk downtown. He noticed that the drivers today seemed worse than normal, which maintained his irritation at a low level, but he was pleasantly surprised to find an open parking spot at the park. He got out of the car and headed toward the center of town. The park was along the bank of the Muddy River, and overhead was the Seacoast Bridge, which carried interstate traffic into downtown. On the bridge, a bizarre accident occurred just as Jim was about to leave the park.
A flatbed semi-trailer truck was cut off by another semi. The flatbed semi driver slammed on his brakes, and his rig jackknifed. The trailer broke free and spun around on the highway, then the rear end jammed into the bridge retaining wall, with the front of the flatbed trailer lying on the road, forming a kind of ramp. A pickup truck, trying to avoid the mess, went out of control and zoomed up the ramp, flying away from the bridge and out over the river. It hit hood first and immediately started to sink.
While the pickup was still in the air, Jim was flying toward it. Before the truck could sink, he picked it up in a giant hand and deposited it safely in the parking lot. He quickly flew to the bridge and scanned the scene. Realizing that no one else had been hurt, he quickly gathered up the tractor and trailer and put them into the parking lot next to the pickup. He then landed at a local phone booth and called the police and an ambulance. He then changed out of his uniform and ran back to the lot to see if he could offer first aid. He wasn’t ready to let the world know about him yet, not without a heroic name, at least.
The semi driver was fine. The driver in the pickup had been wearing a seatbelt and a shoulder harness, but they hadn’t kept his head from slamming into the steering wheel when the truck had hit the water. He had a heavily bleeding gash on his forehead, and his eyes were glazed and his speech slurred. He probably had a concussion. The ambulance arrived shortly, and Jim slipped away before the police arrived.
Jim was around the corner from his appointment when he stopped at a newsstand to purchase his morning paper. There were puddles in the street from rain the night before, and some jerk deliberately drove through a puddle and thoroughly soaked him. Jim saw him laughing as he drove off.
He didn’t laugh too long, though — when he stopped at the next light, his engine died, and he couldn’t get it restarted. Horns started blaring behind him as he got out of the car and looked under the hood. He was stunned to find that all of the wires had been pulled off of the spark plugs. As he started to reconnect the wires, other drivers angrily drove around him, blaring their horns and honoring him with the one-fingered salute. Unfortunately for this thoughtless driver, there was a puddle on that corner. Every car that sped through the puddle soaked him more thoroughly with cold dirty water.
Chuckling to himself, Jim ducked into an alley and used his glove to dry his clothes. He walked across the street and into the lobby of the building where his appointment was. In the lobby, he stopped to use the brand-new Automatic Teller Machine, or ATM. It swallowed his card, hummed for a couple of minutes, and returned the card. An out of service message popped up on the screen. On a normal morning, Jim probably would have ignored this, but today he decided to investigate.
A little discrete glow-powered investigation showed that there was no money in the ATM, and indeed never had been. All this machine did was record the user’s card information, including the secret code, and then periodically used a modem to send the recorded information to an anonymous phone number. Jim erased all of the information that had so far been recorded, disabled the machine, and reported the whole scheme anonymously to the FBI. Wonderful thing, that glove.
He wasn’t surprised when the elevator stopped working between floors. However, the elevator repairmen were surprised when they finally entered the elevator from the trapdoor on the ceiling and found it empty; people in the lobby swore that they had seen someone enter that elevator.
As he entered the office, Jim heard an explosion nearby. He ran back out into the hall and headed for a window. While it was Jim Chisholm who leaped toward the window, it was his still-unnamed heroic alter ego who flew out the window.
As he approached the scene of the explosion, he wondered just what else could go wrong today. Certainly he was going to miss his appointment, and probably lose the job because of it.
Jim ordered his glove to locate the source of the explosion and then fly him there as quickly as possible. Within seconds, he was hovering over a scene of chaos. Some kind of explosion, perhaps from a gas main, had blown open the back wall of a bank, leaving a hole into the vault. People were still running out of the bank in panic.
It had been less than two minutes since the explosion. Jim used the glow to locate injured people in the building. He discovered two dead bodies in the bank, along with seven people seriously injured. He created a radio receiver, and finding that an ambulance was already on the way, he created a giant hand that picked up the ambulance near the hospital and landed it outside the bank.
Fortunately, the wall that had been blown open fronted on an empty alley, so no one outside the bank had been injured. As he approached the bank, Jim noticed that the walls were starting to crumble, and he feared that within minutes, the entire building would collapse, killing hundreds.
As quickly as thought, glowing white supports surrounded the bank and propped up the building. Jim had to land, as supporting the building took all of his concentration. He saw an emergency response squad composed of firemen and police arriving, and yelled to the commander, “Evacuate the building as quickly as possible. It’s going to collapse, and I can’t hold it more than about fifteen minutes!”
The squad rushed into the building, up the stairs, and began a room-to-room search, sending anyone they found out of the building. As more emergency workers arrived, Jim directed them to help the current searchers. Incredibly, within ten minutes, the rescue team reported that everyone was out of the building.
The strain on Jim was incredible. He had never before supported such massive objects, and he had never been forced to split his attention in so many directions. He couldn’t just shore up the hole, because the entire support structure of the building had started to disintegrate. He needed to replace, by willpower, all of the beams holding the building up.
Making it more difficult was that, every time he braced something, some other piece of rubble would start to shift, and then he had to brace something else. When he moved to brace that, something else would shudder. Despite Jim’s best efforts, bits of brick and concrete and other building materials were raining down from the building, making it dangerous to be nearby. Jim hoped that all the spectators in the gathering crowd would be smart enough to stay back. But he had so much occupying his attention that he had none to spare for spectators.
When the rescue squad reported that everyone was out of the building, he could relax just a little. As the building started to settle, he used the glow to verify that everyone was out. There were no people left, but he was startled to find a kitten cowering between some internal walls. He willed the glove to whisk the kitten to safety. Meanwhile, the rescue squad moved people farther away from the building.
Finally, everyone was far enough away to be safe. Jim relaxed his supports and immediately surrounded the building with a force-field. As the crowd watched in awe, the ten-story building collapsed. The white force-field kept the rubble and dust contained, but the ground shuddered as if there was an earthquake. Buildings on several nearby buildings shattered, and some people in the crowd were injured by flying glass. Fortunately, there were medical teams already on the scene.
Jim looked around and spotted a TV news crew from KSEA. He wasn’t going to be able to stay out of the public eye any longer.