by Dan Swanson
Ted and Doris Knight were trying to sleep after another night of training with Lily DeLuna. But for Doris, at least, sleep wouldn’t come. Finally, she gave up. Her woman’s intuition kept prodding at her, and she had learned a long time ago to trust it. Sometimes there seemed to be no logic behind what it was prodding her about, but she had found that it was usually right. And she felt that Lily was headed for trouble today.
Doris broke the silence in the bedroom as she said aloud, “Ted, I’m just not going to be able to sleep. Lily wouldn’t have come to us for training with her power rod unless she expected to need it. She must be expecting problems when John Ross resigns today.” Over the past two nights, Lily had given them the whole story about the rumors about the early morning meeting between Ross and Neuertski, how the rumors had proved true, her encounters with Neuertski’s associates, and her meeting with Ross yesterday, including Ross’ decision to resign at the press conference rather than bow to blackmail.
Ted yawned. “She’s a fast learner, and we were both really impressed with her command last night. And you saw her fighting skills! She can take care of herself.”
“Ted, she’s never used the power rod in a dangerous situation before. That’s a lot different than being in a fight. Yes, we did our best, and yes, she sure picked it up fast, but suppose she makes a mistake? She could get hurt, and so could the people around her. If she does get hurt, you’ll always wonder if you didn’t teach her something important, you know. I know you, it would bother you for a long time.”
“Well, Doris, isn’t that exactly why we called in Captain Triumph? That’s darn near as good as having Superman around. Stop worrying and get some sleep.”
“Triumph is going to be guarding Ross’ family, Ted. Lily will be miles away. What if Neuertski does something unexpected?”
Ted knew that he wasn’t going to get any sleep until Doris was satisfied on this issue. And he knew she was right. He was certain that Lily would be able to handle anything a mob boss could throw at her, and yet…
“So what do you want me to do?” he asked, sitting up.
“I don’t want you to do anything, Ted, except loan me the daytime gravity rod. I just want to keep an eye on her. I’ll stay out of sight, and if nothing happens, well, I’ve wasted a day. If something does happen, I’ll be there to lend a hand.”
Ted wasn’t an expert on women, but he was getting to be an expert on one woman, his lovely Doris. He realized that this was one of those times when it was best to go along to get along. And, after a few minutes reflection, he realized that he, too, would feel better if he knew Lily had some secret backup. Doris was going to do this, come hell or high water, and his best course of action right now was whole-hearted cooperation. “OK, honey, but I need to tell you about the changes I just made to the daytime gravity rod.”
Doris’ face started clouding up. “If you are in the middle of working on it, and it isn’t working right now…”
Ted broke in before she could finish “No, dear, it works just fine. In fact, it works better than ever! Let me explain.” Doris’ face returned to a more neutral expression, and she waited quietly.
“You know how I’ve mentioned several times how primitive the power rod is?” She nodded; she and Lily had gotten tired of hearing it. “Well, there were two things in it that were very advanced. The power source itself, and the high-storage-density battery it used to use.” Once again, Doris looked like she was about to interrupt, and Ted hastily continued.
“The power source is some mysterious metal. I wish I had more of it; ever since I saw it, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. You know that I’ve been thinking about redesigning the gravity rod completely? I think that power metal could be the key!” Ted was staring off into space, at something only he could see. Doris knew that he was solving equations and doing complicated electronic design work in his head.
It was just like Ted to start talking about something and drift away to another, irrelevant topic. Doris was used to it, but this wasn’t the time. “Ted, I don’t care about some hypothetical future super-duper gravity rod. You’re telling me something about the daytime rod. Get back to the subject.”
Ted actually shook his head, breaking his mental connection with the schematics he had been drawing in his mind. “Sorry, dear! Anyway, there was also a battery in the power rod, which could store an amazing amount of energy — higher storage density than anything I’ve ever seen, by at least two orders of magnitude! Well, I incorporated that into the daylight gravity rod yesterday, after…” He blushed, and he got a far-off, dreamy look in his eyes, much different than the mental design look.
Doris smiled as she remembered. But she was not going to get sidetracked now. “You did what?”
“I put the battery from Lily’s power rod into the daylight gravity rod, and then let it charge last night. You know how the daylight rod used to be good for only a few hours? With this new battery, it’s now good for eight to ten hours of moderate use during the day before it runs out of power. I’m not satisfied that this is the final answer to the ‘future super-duper gravity rod,’ as you put it, but it’s certainly an improvement over a gravity rod that won’t work at all in daylight.”
“Ted, before we go any further, are you telling me that you took this super-battery out of Lily’s power rod?”
When Doris used that tone, Ted knew he was in trouble, even though he wasn’t sure what he had done wrong. “Well, not exactly. I mean, I did, but it’s OK.”
“What do you mean it’s OK, buster? How do you know she’s not going to run out of power at any second, now? And why didn’t you tell us?”
“Hold on, Doris, please!” Ted really didn’t want to argue over this, especially when he felt that he hadn’t done anything wrong. “I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret or anything. The battery in the power rod really wasn’t necessary; it was a poor design. So I made it better, that’s all. You see, the battery didn’t supply the power for flying or the shield or the energy blasts. All it did was supply electrical current to the regulator circuits. And it would run out of charge every once in a while, and the power rod would stop working until it could be recharged. Now, that could be deadly — if the power rod stopped working in the middle of a fight, Lily could easily be killed.
“The power metal produces a surplus of power, so I just rerouted a little bit of that power back through the regulator circuits. Now she will never have to recharge the rod! Since she had never used it before, she wouldn’t notice any difference. And she’s much safer now. You know as well as I do the consequences of the gravity rods running out of power if we used them too late in the morning!
“And I also used the extra free volume to install the safety override.” Ted had built an automatic cutoff into the power rod, and it would only work if it was within about eight feet of a special radio transmitter. He had then added one of the special transmitters to each of several different pieces of jewelry. As long as Lily was wearing one or more of these special items, the transmitter would be close enough to keep the power rod operational. But if someone else tried to use the power rod, unless that someone was standing right next to Lily, it wouldn’t work.
Doris knew that Ted was rarely wrong about science or technology. And Ted’s description of the changes he had made sounded good. Somewhere in the back of her head, her intuition gave a little twitch, but it was so faint that she completely forgot about it in the next instant. “Yes, darling Ted, I do remember the consequences, and it was good of you to improve Lily’s weapon for her. But next time you do something like that, you had better tell me, at least!”
Ted nodded. He was starting to realize just how arrogant he had been, making major changes to a complicated piece of technology that didn’t belong to him, and assuming he could do so without asking, just because he was improving that technology. He knew he wouldn’t like it if he found somebody making “improvements” to one of his gravity rods without telling him. He determined to tell Lily the next time he saw her, apologize, and offer to put the power rod back the way it was. Unfortunately, both he and Doris forgot about it, and nothing was mentioned to Lily.
Ted changed the subject. “Is today the day you let the world know about Starwoman?” Ted was a little annoyed over what he perceived as a double standard; Doris wouldn’t let him be Starman any more, and yet here she was going off to be Starwoman, and in broad daylight, no less. But he also realized, after his gaffe about the battery, that there would be better times to discuss that than right now.
“You know that gravity lens you used to deflect the Destructo-Ray around you? (*) Well, didn’t it make you invisible at the same time?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Times Past, 1949: Vic Valor, Invincible, Chapter 10: Dreams of Valor.]
Ted was surprised. Yes, of course it had made him invisible. Well, not really, he was as visible as ever, technically, but nobody could see him. But wasn’t that the same thing?
“Honey, that’s a fantastic idea!” Then he stopped to think. “But the gravity lens requires a lot of power. I don’t know exactly, but I think if you keep the gravity lens active, you will probably cut down the time before the gravity rod runs out of power from around nine hours to around four hours.”
“Four hours should be fine. I’ll just wait until eleven o’clock to leave here, and I should easily be home by three. Thanks, Ted, you’re a dear, and I love you!” To prove it, Doris gave him a long, passionate kiss. When they finally, reluctantly broke their lips apart, Ted looked at the alarm clock.
“Hmm, it’s only eight. What are you going to for the next three hours?”
“I think you mean, ‘what are we going to do,’ don’t you?” Doris asked, with an invitational smile.
Back at the press conference, Lily DeLuna walked up to Fred Johnson and whispered to him, “That jerk that used to be my boss? Watch him; he’s packing heat. I am pretty sure he is working for Neuertski. And that other guy he’s with, the reporter from the Globe? Him, too!” Fred had already made the Globe reporter, but he hadn’t noticed McCallahan. Swell… two good guys and four bad guys! he thought. Well, he was pretty sure the odds were about even. The newspaper guys looked like they spent too much time behind a desk.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the media,” began Councilman John Ross. “Thank you very much for attending. There are undoubtedly many media events more exciting than the awarding of a city construction contract. But I hope the buffet lunch afterwards will make up for the tedium.” There were only a few titters of laughter in the audience, but then it wasn’t all that funny, after all.
“Before we get to awarding the contract, there’s another announcement I would like to make.” This piqued their attention a little, but nobody could imagine anything exciting coming out of this press conference. “As many of you know, I was adopted by the Ross family, and I haven’t seen any members of my birth family for over thirty-five years.”
The first hood in the back row was waving frantically at the second hood on the phone. Fred stepped into their line of vision just before the second hood drew his finger across his throat. He said quietly, “You know, Councilman Ross is still talking. But I don’t suppose anybody ever bothered to teach you manners, or maybe you were just too stupid to learn?” Fred didn’t like hoods, and he didn’t care who knew it, especially the hoods. “Just sit back and enjoy the show, buddy-boy!” The first hood was just about to come flying out of his chair when he noticed that Fred had a gun in his hand, pressed against his side where no one else could see it. He settled back in his chair and pretended to listen.
Lily was near the door, too, and she was watching Fred’s back. The second hood dropped the phone and headed toward the conference room. Lily warned Fred, and he backed away so that he could cover both of them.
Ross continued speaking. “Just recently, I was contacted by my older brother Waldo. He was surprised to recognize me from a news photo. But he couldn’t have been as surprised as I was when I learned that Boss Neuertski was really Waldo Neuertski, my older brother!”
This was the press equivalent of a bombshell. The second hood pulled out a gun and took a quick shot at Ross. He missed, but he hadn’t really expected to hit. He hoped that this would tip off the listener on the other end of the phone that something had gone wrong. And suddenly, the quiet press conference dissolved into chaos.
The first hood pulled a vial out of his pocket and quickly drank its contents. He then jumped at Fred, and was clearly surprised when Fred’s shot passed through his left thigh. What’d he think, that gulp was gonna make him Superman? Fred thought. He turned quickly, and as he turned, he saw the other hood quaffing an identical vial. He stopped and stared at Lily, and was still staring when Lily flattened him. “Guess it didn’t work for him, neither!” Fred chuckled.
His chuckles stopped when two more hoods, this time wearing gas masks, burst into the room and hurled glass bottles into the crowd. A vapor billowed out of the broken bottles, and as each person in the room breathed the vapor, he or she stopped moving.