by Dan Swanson
While everyone was rushing around in a panic, either trying to escape or trying to rescue other people from the doomed building, one man ignored the chaos and calmly looted the bank vault. He was quite satisfied with the way this operation was going. He had not expected that the whole building would threaten to collapse, but that was all to the good. The looter didn’t know who the super-powered guy was, but as long as he was occupied, it made looting that much simpler. He hadn’t expected to meet any super-heroes in Seacoast City.
It wasn’t too surprising that no one saw this lone figure looting the vault. He was wearing a high-tech camouflage cloak that changed to match whatever background he was standing in front of. As long as he stayed near a wall and moved carefully, he was very difficult to see. With the chaos of the collapsing building to distract them, no one else around paid him any attention. Naturally, the cloak was stolen. In fact, the man was equipped with many items of equipment, all of them stolen.
In his mind, he called himself the Pack Rat. He didn’t know if anyone else was using the name, and he didn’t care. He never expected to be famous, anyway. The fewer people that knew about him, the better for him. Pack Rat sort of described him, but he didn’t just collect stuff — he stole anything he could get his hands on that might be of use to him.
He opened his briefcase and started stuffing it with money and negotiable securities. And he continued stuffing it long after it should have been full. The briefcase was actually much larger inside than out, with about the same volume as a one-car garage. It had an additional useful property — it never weighed more than an ordinary, empty briefcase, regardless of what was stored in it. The only limitation was that any item he wanted to carry had to fit through the opening, which was the size of a regular briefcase. He had stolen the briefcase from a young wizard. He didn’t know how or why it worked, but as long as it worked, he didn’t care.
Finally, the vault was empty, and the Pack Rat slowly moved out of the vault and through the hole in the back of the bank. He then walked slowly down the alley, away from the front of the bank. Just before he left the alley for the next street, he took off his cloak and stuffed it into the briefcase. Under the cloak he had on an expensive three-piece business suit (stolen, of course). He stepped out onto the sidewalk and merged with the crowd of pedestrians, most of whom were gawking at the bank building, which was surrounded by various glowing white hands, girders, jacks, and other constructs keeping the building from collapsing.
When Jim and the emergency squad herded the crowd away from the building, the Pack Rat went with them, unnoticed. After watching for about fifteen minutes, the building collapsed. I hope there was somebody important inside! he mused to himself. It would be a shame to waste all that destruction.
The Pack Rat decided on a walk across nearby Centennial Park. As he neared the lake, he was suddenly surrounded by a cage made of glowing white bars.
As soon as he was sure that everyone was safely out of the building, Jim Chisholm let it collapse. Hardly had it finished falling when he started using the glow to determine the cause of the explosion. Hmm… there are traces of magic lingering in the alley behind the bank. Jim turned that way, and suddenly his eyes were covered by glowing white goggles. These lenses will help me follow these traces.
The traces led into the crowd and then became very hard to follow. Apparently, whoever was leaving this little trace of magic had mingled with the crowd of spectators for a few minutes, and the milling around of the large crowd had somehow dispersed the lingering magical traces.
As he looked around, Jim realized that there were only a few streets leaving the scene of this disaster, so he quickly used the glow to check them all. He was very gratified when his glove detected a trace of magic leading to Centennial Park, and even more pleased when he realized that the trace was getting stronger.
Suddenly, the glove formed a glowing white arrow in the air, pointing at a young man in an expensive dark gray three-piece suit, carrying a briefcase.
“Hold it, buddy! My glove says you are carrying something magical, and I need to see what it is!” Jim’s commanding voice rang out. He commanded the glove to form a cage around the man.
Pack Rat had expected to sneak away unnoticed, and he really wasn’t prepared to fight a super-hero. He was a thief, not a fighter. He tried to think of something in his case that he could use, but he was having problems remembering just what was in there, so he dumped the case on the ground inside the cage and frantically started searching through the pile of stuff.
Suddenly, the cage dissolved, and Jim fell to the ground, landing hard on the muddy turf near Pack Rat. He staggered to his feet to see the thief coming at him with a sword. Even though he was a little disoriented that his glove had failed so suddenly, and a little dazed by the fall, Jim wasn’t all that worried. He had often worked out against trained swordsmen, and it was immediately clear to him that Pack Rat had no training with a sword whatsoever. Of course, anyone with a sword could be dangerous, especially against an opponent with no weapon and no armor. As Rat swung the sword, Jim got a better view of it and realized that it was actually a scimitar — a long, curved blade, widest near the point, with a very sharp edge on the convex side. The handle was covered with jewels, and it looked like something out of a movie.
Pack Rat swung the scimitar wildly, holding it like a baseball bat. Jim moved backward, and the swing missed, but Jim’s feet caught in the mud, and he fell onto his back. Rat swung the sword over his head and down at Jim like he was chopping wood. Jim rolled aside, and the blade plunged deep into the mud. Jim quickly got to his feet as his opponent struggled to pull the sword free of the muck. In each hand, he had picked up a softball-sized rock.
Approaching him more cautiously now, Pack Rat was clearly worried about the possibility that Jim would throw a rock at him. Instead of swinging wildly, he started stabbing and thrusting. This confirmed to Jim his inexperience with swords — a scimitar is designed for slashing and cutting, not thrusting. Jim was able to anticipate the thrusts, using the rock in one hand or the other to deflect the blade.
Then Pack Rat surprised him. Just before Jim deflected his thrust, Rat twisted his wrist, so the rock in Jim’s hand met the sharp edge of the sword. The blade sheared easily through the rock and cut deeply into the palm of Jim’s hand. He quickly jerked his hand back, and only his quick reflexes saved him from losing part of his hand. The blade was so sharp, Jim didn’t even feel it cut him. But instantly afterward, he did feel the pain.
This was no ordinary sword. No sword Jim had ever faced could have cleaved that rock so easily. Suddenly, Jim had a lot more respect — this opponent, unskilled as he was, could easily kill him if Jim made any more mistakes.
Jim backed away quickly and changed tactics. He hurled the rock in his right hand. It struck Pack Rat on the hand holding the sword. The robber dropped the deadly sword as his fingers were crushed. As Rat stumbled backward, Jim turned his attention quickly to his bleeding hand. He quickly realized that it was only a flesh wound. He jammed his hand under his right armpit and squeezed to stop the bleeding.
This short break gave Pack Rat time to pick up a strange gun. The gun looked like a large squirt gun with a bell-shaped nozzle, connected to a small tank of some kind by a hose. The Pack Rat had stolen it from some small-time costumed criminal named Pastry Pete, who had used it to spray his foes with quick-hardening cake icing. Rat was sure that Pastry Pete had never put his pastry gun to such good use as it was now — Jim was totally encased in quick-hardening icing.
Suddenly, Jim couldn’t move, and he couldn’t breathe, and he couldn’t see. Jim strained to use the glow to break out of the suffocating coating, but nothing happened. Whatever had fouled up the glove was still operating. Jim had known that being a super-hero was dangerous, but he had never expected to die like this — and in only his second heroic battle. No matter how much he strained, he couldn’t move, and the glove wasn’t working, and his head was spinning, and his ears were buzzing, louder and louder, and then…
The coating suddenly vaporized with explosive force, staggering the Pack Rat, even though he was fifty feet away. Jim erupted, flying through the cloud of debris and straight into Pack Rat, with stunning force, lifting him off the ground and driving him completely through the walls of an empty gazebo. Jim formed a hand-shaped glow construct and attempted to pick up the stunned and possibly seriously injured Pack Rat, but the hand appeared to be uncoordinated, and it smashed the wooden gazebo. Jim appeared dazed, but he immediately dispelled the hand and instead approached the Pack Rat on foot. He could hear the sirens of police and ambulances approaching.
When he reached the Pack Rat, Jim found that he was conscious and squirming in pain, although there were no obvious broken bones or external damage. Thank God I didn’t kill him! he thought, and then collapsed on the ground, unconscious. At that instant, Johnny Thunder and the Thunderbolt appeared.
“Say, T-Bolt, are these guys OK?” Johnny asked, concern obvious in his voice.
“Clearly they are not OK, O insightful master! But both will be OK if they are quickly attended by appropriate physicians.”
“Well, then, see to it!” snapped Johnny.
Immediately, the approaching ambulance disappeared from the highway and instantly reappeared next to the injured Pack Rat, and the attendants were popped out of the vehicle to appear, with their equipment, next to their patient, the Pack Rat. Johnny, the Thunderbolt, and Jim Chisholm disappeared.
Several hours later, in Dr. Charles McNider’s office, Johnny, Thunderbolt, and Dr. McNider talked to Jim Chisholm, who lay on a bed. McNider was wearing a medical robe.
“I’m sorry, Jim,” said Johnny with a hangdog expression on his face. “T-bolt and I were only trying to help! You weren’t supposed to end up in a sickbed!”
“I’m not all that upset, Johnny. I’m much more interested in finding out from our resident doctor just how I am, and just what happened.”
Dr. McNider spoke up. “As you can surmise from my attire, Johnny’s Thunderbolt transported me here from home at an inopportune time. Fortunately, I called Myra immediately after I arrived. She was on the verge of hysterics — she’s still not used to her husband disappearing without warning. But there was work to be done.
“Jim, in your life, you have never before really faced the possibility that you might die. Probably the most dangerous situation you were ever in was in your battle yesterday, and from what I hear, the result of that battle was never really in doubt. Today, first when that blade sliced into your hand, and later you were wrapped in that cocoon, you finally realized you could really die. You were straining to use every bit of your willpower, and every erg of energy your glove had, to break out. But with your glove not working, that shell was like the immovable object.
“When T-bolt suppressed whatever it was that was interfering with your power, suddenly the immovable object changed into something with less resistance than tissue paper. This change from absolute resistance to no resistance cause a mental sprain, much like how swinging very hard at a baseball and completely missing sometimes can lead to sprained muscles.
“Combined with that, you were physically exerting yourself to the maximum, trying to break out of the cocoon. Your adrenaline was pumping, your heart was beating fast, and all your muscles were straining as hard as you have ever strained. And you were short on air. Add to that the shock from the cut to your hand. When you finally broke free, all of the strains on you were relieved, and you started falling into that weakness that always follows an adrenaline rush.
“Because you were straining so hard, you overdrove the glove, and it seemed to be out of control. This was followed by the fear that you had killed a man. These factors all added together caused your collapse. You don’t have to worry; all you need is a little rest! I sewed your hand closed, and it will be sore for a while, but otherwise, you are fine. And you’ll be happy to know that that crook will be fine as well.”
“I feel awful, Doc. I’m glad you think I’m OK, but I sure hope I don’t have another day like that again soon! I really need some rest, but I wonder — do you guys know what screwed up my glove? Up until today, I didn’t know if there was anything that could do that. And what was up with that sword?”
“Say, you know, T-bolt can tell you that!” said Johnny. And, of course, the Thunderbolt did.
“The sword was a magic scimitar allegedly once owned by Sinbad,” explained the Thunderbolt. “It was apparently on display at the Seacoast City Museum for many years, but it was stolen yesterday. The enchantment on it makes it much sharper than a normal sword, as you discovered.
“I was really surprised to discover what interfered with your control of the glove. It seems that the villain was prepared with defenses against a number of different heroes. When his case spilled, one of the items that spilled from it was a chunk of kryptonite! Kryptonite radiation directly interferes with your control over the glow.”
Dr. McNider jumped in. “It’s our theory that no wearer of the glove has ever before encountered kryptonite, which didn’t exist until after Krypton exploded. The people who built the glove didn’t know about kryptonite radiation, so they didn’t build in any protection against it. While kryptonite radiation won’t harm you directly, your glove won’t work if there is unshielded kryptonite nearby. All the Thunderbolt did was shield the kryptonite with lead.
“The glove is probably designed to protect you from any danger from anything that existed when it was created, over 100,000 years ago. So you had best be aware that you might have vulnerabilities to other modern tools, weapons, and natural phenomena that were unknown to the Galactic Patrol.”
Jim smiled wearily. “Well, thanks a lot to all of you, especially you, T-bolt, for helping me out today! Now, if only one of you could help me come up with a good heroic name… T-bolt, do you think you could zap me home? I really need…”
Johnny interrupted. “You haven’t selected a heroic name yet?” Jim shook his head no. “Say, you’d think we could help you with that!” Johnny said.
Dr. McNider looked startled, and then he started to talk. “Sir Glove, WildFlyer, Tomorrowiac, Shadow Rider, Doctor Danger, Turbodazzler, UltraLight, Gamma Warrior, Violet Wing, Jet Nova, Obsidian, Senor Weirdo…”
Jim couldn’t stop himself from joining in. “Nuclear Paladin, Captain Freedom, Bullet Beam, Star Cavalier, Sun Wave, Jet Prodigy, Light Wave, Ricochet Ray, Gray Prowler, Lightning, Shiningwave…”
Even Johnny got into the act. “Space Stinger, Gamma Eagle, Major Rocket, Meteor Guy, Power Prince, Starhawk, UltraBeam, Z-Beam, Star Champion, Quick Lightning, Hawk Nimbus… Hey, T-bolt, cut it out!”
“Yes, Master John, whatever you say, Master John. As always, Master John, your every wish is my absolute command!”
All three looked relieved when the magic spell stopped, and they could stop babbling. Thunderbolt looked at Jim and asked, “Well, did you like any of them?”
Johnny had to interrupt again. “I think you should call yourself Strobe, because when you’re around, it’s lights out for the bad guys!”
Jim finally got a tired word in edgewise. “Sorry, guys, but I think I’ve had enough for one day. Johnny, can you please ask T-bolt to send me home?”
Thunderbolt looked at Johnny, who nodded, and Jim was home. He thought about heading to the kitchen for something to eat, but decided he was too tired. It had been a long day, and it was only Monday.