by Dan Swanson
Back at the Ross home, Captain Triumph had finally decided that it was stupid to let the bad guys attack first. These guys all had potions that would let them move as fast as the Flash, and while super-speedsters couldn’t harm him, he didn’t have super-speed himself. So it was best to take them out before they drank their potions.
Michael Gallant, in his ghostly form, had identified each of the hoods, so Captain Triumph turned invisible and, moving quickly, took them all out before any of them could react. As quickly as that, the Ross family was safe.
Two of the battles had been won by the good guys, but perhaps the most important battle was between villains. The Rival planned to depose Boss Neuertski, kill Nails McGoon, and take over as the new boss, with Priest Madonne as his second-in-command. Priest figured that right after Dr. Edward Clariss killed the Boss and Nails, the Doc would probably let down his own guard, and Priest would finish him off and take command. None of this second-in-command business for him. But did Nails have his own plans?
An hour before the start of the press conference, a private courier delivered a large box to Opal City Police Commissioner Red Bailey. There was a lot of useful stuff in this box — materials and evidence that could be used to convict Boss Neuertski and finally put him behind bars, which covered his involvement in extortion, blackmail, racketeering, and tax evasion, just to start — stuff nobody in years of investigation had ever been able to pin on him. There were recordings, photographs, ledgers, and documents. Somebody inside Neuertski’s organization had decided to bring him down.
Bailey was convinced of the legitimacy of this stuff within minutes, but with something as big as bringing down the biggest mob boss in Opal City, he wasn’t going to take any chances. He called in lawyers, detectives, and police scientists, and they pored over everything. About the time Ross made his stunning announcement, and Captain Triumph rounded up a bevy of bad guys, Bailey and a handpicked group of cops had surrounded Neuertski’s current location.
When a police riot squad pulled up outside Boss Neuertski’s headquarters, Nails McGoon downed a vial of fortified heavy water, twice as much as a regular dose. It seemed to him that twice the dose ought to be twice as effective, and he figured he would soon be in a fight in which he might need a little extra advantage. He concentrated on stopping the sweep second hand of his watch, and then he was up to speed.
Nails had expected a showdown soon with Edward Clariss, but he hadn’t expected a raid by the OCPD. To keep the Boss safe, it would be better to carry him gently to one of the mob’s safe houses and then return to trash the cops, but he didn’t get the chance. The heavy wooden door to his office literally vaporized, exploding into shards that were immediately burned to nothing by air friction, as Priest Madonne’s kick accelerated it to super-speed. The Rival, in full costume, followed Priest. A super-speed battle in the office could very well end up destroying the building and kill the Boss, so Nails vibrated through the wall, heading for a safer place to fight.
The deadly pair was right behind him. They were out of the city in less time than the blink of an eye, heading almost north. When he reached the Susquehanna River, Nails headed north upstream, skimming down the center of the river, but that didn’t slow down his pursuers, who knew this trick as well. Just north of the U.S. Route 1 bridge, he ran ashore and then abruptly stopped and turned. Priest had to veer to avoid him, and Nails stuck out his leg, vibrating at just the right frequency to avoid injury when Priest tripped over him.
“Sayonara, Johnny!” he snarled as the tumbling body of Priest bounced twice off the hard-packed gravel beach, and then smashed into the granite cliff bounding the river. There was a stunning explosion, as if several tons of TNT had been detonated, but Nails was already several miles south, in the hills of Susquehanna State Park. He smiled grimly; he was younger and in better shape, and slightly faster than the Rival. That was all right; he was done running.
The Rival stopped a few steps from him. “Excellent, Mr. Nails! You have always been a most apt pupil! As it happens, I am currently in need of a new associate. Based on our prior acquaintance, I propose an alliance.” He sounded just like the insane Dr. Clariss, the kindly professor, who had been Nails’ cellmate back in the Federal Penitentiary of Maryland. That insane personality had been the closest thing Nails had to a friend since the age of fourteen.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know youse. Dat guy is gone!” Hearing a voice that sounded so much like his now-departed friend actually hurt Nails, and also made him angry. Before, stopping Clariss had been business, but now it was personal. “I work for da Boss.” He charged at Clariss like a linebacker about to make a tackle. He passed right through his foe and began to stumble. Clariss vanished, then appeared again, a couple of feet away, and he helped Nails’ stumble with a quick kick to the rear end.
Nails vividly remembered Priest’s body starting to shred as he hit the ground at super-speed, and he instantly began vibrating at just the right frequency to pass through matter. He disappeared into the soil, and suddenly the ground around the Rival began shaking like a magnitude ten earthquake, and then about a half an acre of ground around him suddenly dropped away. The Rival was suddenly running on air, and by stomping his feet at super-speed, he was a able to create a column of compressed air underneath him, which prevented him from falling. His outline blurred for an instant, and then was invisible.
Nails was startled; how had the Rival made himself invisible? Nails had the same powers as the Rival; surely, if his foe had simply run away, Nails would have seen him. Then the ground under him started to rumble, and the Rival burst from the ground, spinning impossibly fast, and after him came a stream of lava, and the pit Nails had created started filling up with molten rock. Nails accelerated and ran up the sheer wall of the pit. He saw his foe, standing across the red-hot lake from him, and realized that they were evenly matched, and that this battle might go on for hours. It was time to see if his mega-dose of heavy water worked as he hoped it would.
Using the same technique Clariss had taught him for activating his super-speed, Nails focused all his attention on Clariss and concentrated on slowing him down. It was working; even though Clariss was now rushing toward him at top speed, with some other super-speed trick or tactic on his mind, Nails could see him slowing down, with every step, as if he was running through water, and finally, barely moving, almost as if frozen in glass. Nails carefully moved toward the Rival, and during the instant that he moved, the world seemed to disappear. Stunned, he stopped moving and realized that, in that smallest instant, his body speed was so great that he had moved thousands of miles, and was now surrounded by ocean. And his senses couldn’t keep up with his hyper-speed. He couldn’t stand here, or he would sink, but did he dare to move again?
The ocean around him made it an easy choice. He tried to slide forward by no more than an inch, and again, the world around him blurred and disappeared, and when it cleared again, he was still surrounded by ocean. Well, it was keeping him from sinking, and sooner or later, he had to end up on land, didn’t he? He repeated the experiment, but still found water, so he tried again, and ended up surrounded by a lot of ice. It wasn’t where he wanted to be, but it proved his point. Even though he couldn’t control his hyper-speed, by making these very careful, small moves, he was sure that eventually he would end up someplace safe.
His next cautious move proved him right; he was standing in a market square of some sort, surrounded by buildings of wood and stone no more than two stories tall, and the square was partially filled with a small crowd of people, some of them in makeshift booths, others milling around, all of them wearing heavy, furred clothing. He had no idea where he was, but he didn’t care. He needed to shed part of his hyper-speed, and this place would suit him just fine.
He concentrated on one of the statues, a girl with a pretty face, and imagined that he could see her moving — just barely moving, as he didn’t want to completely lose his speed, or he might never get home. As he concentrated on her face, he began to wonder about her expression. He had thought she might be angry and yelling at someone, but the longer he looked, the more he started to realize that this woman was terrified of something. He interrupted his concentration and looked around him, this time really seeing the crowd.
Some of these people were terrified. Everyone who was looking in the same direction as the girl he had been observing. Some were in the middle of screams, while others were pointing at something in the sky, and still others seemed to be trying to turn and run. He looked in that direction and saw a giant ball of fire in the sky, barely moving, seeming headed directly toward this village. At the same time, he felt an incredible pain in his chest, as if there was a giant clamp around his body, being tightened by Superman.
Nails was not well-educated, but he was very intelligent, and he recognized the symptoms of a heart attack. He staggered and collapsed backward to the ground, and everything around him started to go dark. All he could see was the flaming meteor that seemed to be growing larger and larger, and there was a roaring in his ears, a roaring so loud it was painful, and then his vision failed, everything went black, and the sound cut out, and he was alone in an infinite, silent, black universe.
Eons later, he heard a noise. It sounded like the rush of the wind, an eerily familiar noise, and then he remembered that he heard this noise whenever he ran. He had never realized just how much he had enjoyed the running, but it came back to him now. When he had run, he had felt different — stronger and faster, yes, but also better, somehow, and happier, content with life in a way he had never achieved as ordinary thug Nails McGoon. It was too bad he hadn’t realized this sooner, he thought with regret. He had wasted so much of his life, and it had been necessary to die to figure out the meaning of life.
With that thought came a distant puzzlement; he had never believed in an afterlife. If he was dead, how could he be thinking? What’s going on? With that thought, he opened his eyes — to horror.
The meteor still had not struck. It was maybe one hundred yards away and approaching slowly, inexorably, like an unstoppable juggernaut. There must have been a shock wave of some kind in front of it, as people and buildings were slowly being flattened as he watched, and everything flammable was bursting into flame.
Nails didn’t understand the Book of Revelation stuff, and he had always scoffed at near-death stories. Certainly, he didn’t think about those kind of things right now. What he did think about was another chance to run. He felt exalted, somehow, though he didn’t know the word, as if he had somehow transcended the old Nails and become something different, something new. It was pure rapture.
He was going to need more time, but he couldn’t take the time to follow Professor Clariss’ directions; he blurred into super-speed motion, and as he ran, he concentrated on running faster. And it was working. He flashed through the village, again and again, grabbing villagers and whizzing them away to safety. He found another village a few miles away, and he could only imagine the astonishment of the villagers when their neighbors started to pop up out of nowhere, babbling about a star falling on their own village.
It was going to be close, getting the last villager to safety. Over the last dozen trips or so, Nails had noticed that his rapture was starting to leak away, and his speed was starting to fail. He had to concentrate harder and harder to keep the things around him from moving, and now the pain in his chest was growing again. He started making shorter runs, grabbing villagers and dashing only a mile or so away, in a final blitz to get everyone out of the danger zone. On his last trip, he stumbled into the safe area where he collapsed, dropping his last passenger, then fell still to the ground, never to move again.
The Russian villagers never found out the identity of the man who appeared from nowhere and saved them all from the burning hammer from the sky. They erected a monument to their anonymous hero. So, at least once in his life, Sylvester McGoon did something good. It must have been his destiny.
Back in Maryland, Captain Triumph had dropped the crooks off at an undermanned police headquarters and was flying back to New York City. The billowing smoke from a forest fire, started by the pool of lava in Susquehanna Park, caught his attention, and he dived down to investigate. A half-acre pond of lava less than ten miles from downtown Opal City was definitely dangerous, and more lava was bubbling up even as he watched.
He landed and touched a T-shaped mark on his left wrist. Then he started talking, apparently to no one.
“OK, Michael, while you check out the vent, I’ll look for anyone in danger!” Lance Gallant turned and started running around the pond, as close to it as a human could get, given the great heat being released. His ghostly brother Michael Gallant, meanwhile, dived into the pond and drifted toward the bottom. He discovered that a single, human-sized vent was feeding this whole pond. Curious, he followed it down. It descended, straight as an arrow, a long way down. It was clearly not natural, and he didn’t discover any natural faults that might have caused this. Well, that would make it easier to plug. He floated back up to the surface, aiming directly at Lance, who by now seemed to be moving away from the lava pool. About a half-mile below the surface, he passed through a small cave, and came up with a plan.
He found Lance headed away from the lava pool, using a fireman’s carry to move an unconscious man away from the slowly growing lake of red-hot lava. Although normal human eyes couldn’t see Michael, Lance could, and he gently put down the man he was carrying, then touched his birthmark again. Though there was no visible change, and mortal Lance Gallant once again gave way to Captain Triumph.
The powerful Captain Triumph picked up the unconscious man again and quickly flew him across the river, where he would be safe from the forest fire, at least. He then returned at top speed, and dived into the sluggishly boiling pool. Guided by Michael’s memory, the invulnerable hero found the narrow vent, and dived downward. At what he judged to be a half-mile down, he started carving carefully sized chunks of rock from the walls around him, and jamming these down into the vent below him, driving the plug down by stomping on it with super-strength, then cutting another plug and driving it down and then repeating the process again, until he estimated that he had a plug about a hundred yards long.
Captain Triumph then drove a horizontal tunnel, and as soon as he popped into the cave Michael had discovered, lava started filling it, as the pond on the surface started to drain. Triumph then bored upward and was pleased when he broke through into the bottom of the lava pond, giving it another drain. The small cave wouldn’t drain all the lava, but the level would go down considerably. And he actually had a use for the hot lava.
As fast as he could move, Captain Triumph flew to the outer edge of the forest fire and started creating a firebreak by pulling up trees and throwing them into the lava pond. He moved along the face of the fire as he worked, and eventually he joined up with his earlier efforts, completely encircling the remaining fire with a wide strip of bare earth. He then turned his attention to saving the forest in the circle, but it was really too late. So he flew over the river, picked up the unconscious man, and dropped him off at Port o’ Souls Hospital in Opal City.
Of course, that unconscious man was Edward Clariss, and he was later identified and sent back to prison. He must have been battered into unconsciousness when Nails McGoon ran past him at hyper-speed, but no one ever knew for sure, because Clariss never told, and nobody in Opal City ever saw Nails again.
Boss Neuertski, along with Stones and several other members of his mob, ended up in Maryland Federal Prison. A year later, John Ross would run for office again. As for the Rival, he would eventually regain his super-speed and live to fight the Flash again.
Meanwhile, Lily DeLuna would have another adventure with Doris Knight before heading to Italy to find her brother Eddie.