by Dan Swanson
Vic Valor used the emergency band radio built into his helmet, as well as the sirens, to quickly locate the burning building. It was a tall building, around twelve stories, he estimated, and the fire was located on the fourth floor. Several fire trucks had already arrived, and hoses were blasting streams of high-pressure water into the danger areas. Valor located someone who was yelling orders, and he landed nearby. He walked up to the yelling man.
“Pardon me, sir. Are you in charge here? I am Ultimate Valor, and Police Commissioner Bailey sent me to assist you with this emergency. How can I help?”
The fire chief had seen Vic Valor land and remembered reading about him in the paper today. If this flying guy had Red Bailey’s approval, the chief could certainly use the help of a mystery-man. “Can you put out the fire?”
“I’m not certain, sir. I have never actually tried to put out a large fire before — it has always been against my union rules. But Commissioner Bailey tells me that rules are different here. Can you confirm for me that it is allowable for a law-enforcement officer to engage in firefighting activity?”
The chief couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “How can Bailey trust an idiot like you? This is an emergency!”
“Ah, I see!” Valor smiled largely. “In the event of an emergency, normal rules may be suspended?”
The chief had already had enough. “Listen, buster, if you don’t know how to put out the fire, make yourself useful and get people down from the floors above the fire! If you can’t figure out how to do that, and fast, then get the hell out of our way. We have work to do!” Disgustedly, he turned back to his firefighters and resumed giving orders. He would have something to say to Bailey the next time he saw him. He quickly forgot about Valor, as the fire required his complete attention.
Vic Valor reviewed the conversation and decided that the chief had, in fact, agreed that, in an emergency, normal rules were suspended. He realized that he had been given an order, and since he didn’t know how to put out the fire, he had been ordered to rescue people. He leaped into action, flying to the fifth floor, smashing into the building through a window, and searching the floor at his top speed. Fortunately, this was an office building, and there were only a few maintenance people around at this time of night.
After searching for a couple of minutes, he found two people and carried them safely to the ground, then flew back to the next floor and looked for more people to rescue. About a half-hour later, he finished evacuating the top floor of the building. By then, the firefighters had the flames under control, although the fire was still burning. His current task finished, Valor went looking for the chief again.
“Ultimate Valor reporting, sir! As you ordered, I’ve evacuated the building. Does the condition of emergency still exist?”
“Hell, what do you think, flyboy? We’ve still got a fire!” Once again, Vic Valor interpreted this as agreement from the chief, and he awaited the next order. The chief had noticed Valor’s successful rescues, and he was willing to cut him a little slack by now. “Can you survive in that fire?”
“Yes, sir, I believe I can. I seem to be invulnerable to harm on your planet.”
“Good. Do you think you could use that water tank–” He pointed at a water tower on the roof of a shorter building nearby. “–to put out the fire?”
“Yes, sir!” Valor was instantly away. He flew to the roof of the other building and picked up the tank. Smashing a hole in it, he then carried it back to the burning building. He picked a section of building that was burning, tilted the tank so water gushed out, and then slowly flew back and forth next to the burning section until the flames died. He then moved to the next area, and repeated the process. When the tank ran out of water, he flew to the river and refilled it. With Valor’s help added to the job the firefighters were already doing, the fire was quickly extinguished.
The chief was extremely pleased to see that, once he had started to undertake a specific job, Valor had been able to overcome problems that sprung up during the job, such as running out of water, without having to ask for further instructions. He had thought he was going to have to explain every step to the costumed man. Valor’s combination of arrogance, ignorance, and inconsistent initiative was confusing.
Vic Valor landed near the fire chief. “I am pleased to report that, with the assistance of your men, I’ve completed the rescue operations and the extinction of the fire. You and your men are certainly brave and well-trained, but your lack of special abilities seems to put you at something of a disadvantage when dealing with a potentially major disaster such as this fire.”
Egads, this boy was arrogant. But the chief had to admit there was truth in what he had to say. Not that it was a truth any firefighter would be comfortable hearing. Besides that, the chief felt that the bravery and training of the firefighters that Valor had mentioned were, in fact, special abilities. He cut off his angry response. The boy had done a good job tonight. And if he was a recently arrived alien, as the papers reported, he probably didn’t understand just what an ass he was being right now.
“Thank you, son! You saved a lot of lives tonight. Say, if Bailey ever puts you out of a job, come look me up! Opal’s bravest can sure use more like you!”
“Why, thank you, sir! I would be honored to work among men and women as courageous as these, even if you only have the powers granted to normal humans.” Valor didn’t bother to correct the mistaken assumption that he worked for Commissioner Red Bailey. He flew off into the night.
But he had also left the fire chief both steaming mad and confused. Even when he was being gracious, this Vic Valor was still an arrogant son of a gun. Well, he still had work to do. But he hoped Valor would never return to take him up on the job offer.
Vic Valor stopped off at the offices of the Opal City Register. Walking into the pressroom, he saw four employees sitting near their phones or reading the press tickers. One of these was a very attractive young woman. Valor walked directly up to her and introduced himself.
“I am Ultimate Victorious Valor, of the Invincibles. Although I have only been on Earth for a short time, perhaps you have heard of me? May I have your name, please?”
“Umm, uh, hey, hi!” she said, hesitantly, then brightly. “I’m Lily DeLuna. I’m a copy–” Lily coughed. “Sorry! I’m one of the night reporters. I read about you in the morning news! You’re the new hero in town, right?” Lily wasn’t really a reporter yet; she was a copy editor on the night shift. She had a degree in journalism, and was working two jobs to support herself; she waited tables in the afternoons and evenings and did copy editing for the Register at night.
But her boss always told her that everyone who works for a newspaper ought to consider herself a reporter, and promised that, if she ever gave him any good stories, he would give her a contributor’s credit on the byline. She noticed that he never said that to any of the male copy editors, and she figured he was actually trying to give her some other kind of line. But she was going to take him at his word tonight, and get the next Vic Valor story. And none of this contributor business, either. This was her story. After all, Valor was talking to her, nobody else.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Valor?”
Vic Valor immediately started to correct her. “Please call me by my…” He was about to reprimand her, as he had Police Commissioner Bailey, but then he looked at her closely. She was tall, with long, shining black hair, with facial features showing an exotic Asian cast (Lily’s mother was half-Korean), and she had an athletic figure that her business dress-suit couldn’t hide. He didn’t want to be severe with this woman. Smoothly, he continued, “…name, Vic, if I can call you Lily!”
Lily was pleased. She was sure she would get a front-page story out of this encounter, and Valor wasn’t bad-looking, either. A girl could do a lot worse.
“If you haven’t got the complete story on the big fire, tonight, would you be interested in hearing a first-hand account?” Valor continued. Of course she would.
Vic Valor told his story, and for the next half-hour she quizzed him on the details. Finally, she read her notes back to him to make sure she had the facts straight. Most of the real night reporters had gathered around her desk, and she could see that they were jealous that this copy writer was getting their story, but Valor made it clear that this was Lily’s story, and if she didn’t get the story, he would take his exclusives to another paper instead of the Register.
Once the reporting was done, Vic Valor did let one of the staff photographers take several pictures. Once that was done, he turned back to Lily DeLuna.
“I’ve got to leave before the sun comes up, or I’ll be blinded,” said Valor.
“Thanks for the exclusive!” said Lily. “It will be in the morning edition. Please read it and drop by tonight to let me know how you liked it!”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” said Valor. “Yes, I look forward to seeing you again tonight!”
Lily waved as Valor flew away. Examining him avidly, she noticed that he seemed to move awkwardly. He wasn’t clumsy; he just reminded Lily of someone whose shoes were several sizes too big. Maybe it was a difference between his alien species and humans? That thought led to other thoughts, and she wondered just how thoroughly human he was. Lily blushed, then finished submitting her story.
Her boss tried to put his own name on the byline, with Lily’s name as a contributor, but the night editor had heard Valor’s threat, and having more Vic Valor exclusives was more important to the paper than the night supervisor’s ego. Lily got the exclusive and was instantly assigned the task of being the Register’s personal liaison with Valor. It didn’t get her a raise, but the night editor promised that if she kept getting exclusive Valor stories, a raise and promotion to reporter would follow shortly.
The next morning, the Opal City Register had the exclusive story with exclusive pictures. The issue quickly sold out, and the Register did a one-time special print run later that day to fill the clamorous readers’ demands for more copies.
There was nothing in the story that was false, but Vic Valor had told the story in such a way that his own role was emphasized, and the fire department’s role was minimized, and Lily DeLuna had written the story almost exactly has she had heard it. Both Red Bailey and Fire Commissioner Thurman believed that the story was slanted, but they didn’t want to complain publicly; readers might think it was a case of sour grapes.
Opal’s other major newspaper, the Evening Gazette, ran the same story as recounted by an official Opal City Fire Department spokesman. One of the editorials in the Gazette that evening hinted that if Valor hadn’t been involved, the Register would probably have run the fire story on page three, and suggested as well that the Register might be less than objective regarding Vic Valor, in an attempt to boost circulation — though, if that was the case, so far it was working spectacularly. There had always been a mild rivalry between the two papers, and now that rivalry threatened to burst into a feud.
Over the next several nights, Vic Valor made news again and again. And, every night, he talked to Lily DeLuna about his exploits. Within a few days, Lily had the promotion and raise, and was well on her way to becoming Opal City’s second most prominent citizen.