by Dan Swanson
It was a dark and stormy night in Opal City. Great black clouds hung low over the cityscape, and it had been pouring rain off and on all night. It was cold and blustery, with wind gusts of up to forty miles per hour. There was localized flooding in some sections of town, and the radio and TV stations were urging people to stay at home if they didn’t need to be out. Most of Opal’s residents didn’t need to be told.
Even though observational conditions were impossible tonight, Ted Knight was at his private observatory. He told his wife Doris he was going to be doing equipment maintenance, developing some film, doing careful comparison of some photographic plates he had taken previously, and getting his current paper ready for publication. Doris had planned to drop in on him unannounced later tonight, but the weather conditions had convinced her to stay home.
Shortly before midnight, something interrupted the electricity throughout the city. Phone service went down at the same time. People who were awake at that time figured that these outages must be storm-related — lightning knocking out a power transmission station, or perhaps power lines blown down by the wind. Within seconds, the only lights showing anywhere in Opal City were headlights and taillights from the sparse traffic on the streets.
In a few buildings, emergency lighting kicked in. Some buildings, including Ted’s observatory, some of the local radio stations, and police headquarters, had independent emergency diesel generators, and had their own lights back on as soon as their maintenance people could get those generators up and running.
A police car that happened to be near Opal’s power station radioed headquarters that they were going to check and make sure everything was all right. When they didn’t report back to the dispatcher within fifteen minutes, he assigned two other cars to check out the station, and notified the night chief. Although they didn’t have a specific name for it, the police station went on yellow alert.
Three cops from those two squad cars cautiously entered the power plant, while the fourth stayed with the car, maintaining radio contact with headquarters. When none reported back within five minutes, the chief declared an emergency. Squad cars from all over the city started converging on the power station. Some non-uniformed personnel were sent to the homes of dayshift officers, and the limousine was dispatched to bring Commissioner Red Bailey to headquarters as soon as possible.
It wasn’t raining when the commissioner’s limousine pulled up. As he got out of the car, Bailey happened to look up, and he was startled to see a blood-red circle of light on the clouds. Some idiot had triggered the V-Signal. Bailey had given the emphatic order to the entire force that no one was ever to touch that damned thing. When he found out who set it off, somebody would be looking for a new job.
He sighed as he entered the building and immediately took an elevator to the top floor. That arrogant ass Vic Valor would be here soon, and the commissioner needed to get rid of him as soon as possible. He had been in radio contact with the chief during his limo ride, and he knew there wasn’t anything further he could do right now about this emergency, so he could take a few minutes to deal with Valor and the V-Signal.
When he reached the door to the roof, Red Bailey was surprised to find that it was still locked from inside. Whoever turned it on should still be up there. However, when he stepped out onto the roof, there was nobody there. What’s going on here? he thought to himself. I don’t have time for #@$?#*& mysteries right now! He was in a foul mood when Vic Valor landed beside him seconds later. Valor’s first words didn’t help.
“Commissioner, I expected to be summoned for last night’s emergency, but you never used the V-Signal. It was fortunate for all of us that I discovered the airport sabotage on my own! When your forces require aid, please be sure to summon me!”
“Valor, I’ve given orders that nobody — I repeat, nobody — is ever to use this damned thing! We don’t need your ‘aid,’ and we don’t want your ‘aid’! I don’t know what caused this thing to go off, but I came up here to shut it down! And to get rid of you when you showed up!”
Vic Valor ignored most of Bailey’s rant. He turned and stared intently at the V-Signal, moving his head slowly from side to side.
“What the hell are you doing, Valor?! I’m talking to you!”
Valor walked over to the V-Signal. “I’ve discovered the problem.” He pointed a finger at one of the screws that was holding an access panel closed, and the screw started backing out, without being touched. Within a few seconds, he had the panel open and had reached inside. The V-Signal shut off. “Just a loose wire. It’s fixed now.” He put the access cover back on, once again using some invisible power to drive the screws. He turned back to Bailey. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you correctly. What were you saying about the use of the V-Signal by the police force?”
Red Bailey was flabbergasted. Did Vic Valor only hear what he wanted to hear? Before he could bark out his furious response, the emergency radio scanner built into the V-Signal came to life.
“This is a code nine emergency police alert! Officers down! I repeat, officers down! Some unknown super-villain has taken over the power station, and he’s killed everyone in the building, including investigating officers from the Opal City Police Department! Send emergency response squads to the Opal City Power Station immediately. This is not a drill; this is not a prank! Code nine, code nine, code nine! All units, use extreme caution when approaching the power station!”
Vic Valor turned to Bailey. “I trust our next discussion will be more fruitful!” And he was gone.
Commissioner Bailey headed for the stairs. He needed to call the state police and the mayor. He would recommend that the mayor call the Justice Society of America and the National Guard. Meanwhile, he knew Vic Valor would get to the power station before he could, and all he could do was pray that Valor wouldn’t make the situation worse. He hadn’t yet started to grieve for the dead cops, but he did have the almost irrelevant thought that the city council was going to have to let him hire more cops now — that was, if he lived through this and still had a job afterward.
Vic Valor was on the job. He was at the power station within minutes. About thirty police cars surrounded the station, shielding sixty or more heavily armed cops. Spotlights powered by their own generators had been brought up, and the grounds around the power station were lit as brightly as if it were daylight. Valor didn’t want to operate in that bright light, so he landed on the roof. He used his disintegration beam set for very short range to cut a hole in the roof, and then flew down into the plant.
He could hear the generators running lower down. He didn’t know where he was going to find the super-villain, so he decided to head for the generator room. The generators were running, so they must still be producing electricity, but something was keeping that electricity from the city. The generator room seemed like a logical place to start looking for the source of the problem.
Valor had no idea of the layout of the power plant, but he didn’t care. Whenever a hallway he was following didn’t lead where he wanted to go, he disintegrated a hole in the wall or the floor. Finally, he cut a hole in a blank wall and discovered that he was looking into a huge room with sixty-foot-high ceilings from a hole about halfway up one wall. This was clearly the generator room.
On the floor were six giant, oil-burning, steam-driven electrical generators, which appeared to be operating normally. Valor quickly noted that jerry-rigged cables ran from each generator to some kind of complex device in the center of the room. Standing upright on a pedestal on top of that device was something that looked a lot like Starman’s gravity rod. His first thought was that it was somehow being charged by the generators around it, although his understanding was that the gravity rod worked on stellar energy, not electricity.
Well, that didn’t seem too important right now. He was going to have to disconnect those cables if he wanted to restore power to Opal City.
He couldn’t see the alleged super-villain, but there were a bunch of bodies scattered on the floor throughout the room. Some were clearly power-plant workers, and others were policemen. Valor used his telescopic vision and was extremely relieved to realize that they were all still breathing, but definitely unconscious. It was fantastic news that they were still alive, but it would complicate his victory over the villain; he would have to find a way to protect the unconscious people during the battle. He never questioned that there would be a battle — there always was — or that he would win, since he always did.
Suddenly, an alarm siren started blaring. A door opened in the far wall of the power room, and a large man walked through, moving quickly but not running. He walked over to the device supporting the gravity rod-like device, threw some switches, and picked up the rod. Valor examined him closely with his telescopic vision, and realized that the man was wearing some kind of high-technology body armor that made him appear larger than he was. The armor had been a dull gray when the man entered the room, but it changed to a highly reflective silver color as he picked up the rod. He aimed the rod at the ceiling and blasted a hole in it, and then flew out of the building through the hole.
Vic Valor wanted to stop him, but the debris falling from the shattered roof was threatening the lives of the unconscious people below. Moving almost too quickly to see, Valor flew into the huge room from his vantage point high on the wall. He was able to deflect some of the falling debris, and he used his heat-beam vision and his disintegration rays to destroy the rest before it crashed to the floor.
Apparently his troubles weren’t over yet. The voltage produced by the generators had nowhere to go, but they were still working. The sounds they made changed to an ominous high-pitched screeching, which was growing louder and louder. Already Valor’s head hurt from the noise. He opened the secret compartment on his belt buckle and touched a switch.
Valor saw electric sparks like lighting bolts leaping from the cables to the floor and walls. It sounded like the generators would tear themselves apart soon, and the lightning bolts were getting more powerful. If one of those bolts struck one of the men lying on the ground, it would be just too bad.
Vic Valor flew at high speed toward the controls of the closest generator. There had to be an emergency cutoff switch somewhere. There it was, a giant knife switch, painted bright red, marked emergency. As he reached for the switch, a lightning bolt blasted him.
Valor had never experienced anything like this before. His invulnerability seemed to protect him, but he was smashed in the chest as if he had just been hit by a giant wrecking ball and thrown backward into the wall of the room. He slid down the wall to the floor. Who would have ever guessed that a cement floor could be so comfortable? It was soft, and he was warm, and he really wanted to close his eyes and go to sleep. Suddenly, he shook his head sharply, and then struggled to stand up. Once he got to his feet, he once again launched himself at full speed toward the kill switch. Perhaps, if he moved fast enough, he could get there before he got zapped again.
He should have realized he couldn’t move faster than electricity. Moving at full speed, he ran into another electric blast. He thought he was braced for this one, but once again he was blasted backward into the wall. Clearly, the frontal approach wasn’t going to work.
Groggily, Vic Valor considered his options. He could easily disintegrate the generators, but he had a feeling that wouldn’t enhance his stature with Commissioner Bailey. Just about any method he could think of to turn those generators off from a distance involved somehow damaging them, and he decided he was not going to do that.
“Think, Vic! They didn’t make you an ultimate for nothing! You are the strongest, smartest, best ultimate ever! You can’t give up! There must be a way!” And suddenly he had it.
Vic Valor pointed his index finger at the kill switch and concentrated. This was much harder than turning a screw from a few inches away. He realized that he had been able to get much closer before the lightning blasted him, so he moved as close as he dared and tried again. It worked; he was able to pull the kill switch to the off position, and the noise the generator was making started to wind down. Only five to go.
Working as fast as he dared, Valor turned off the other generators. He accidentally got too close to two of them before he turned them off, and both times he was blasted. Valor had never tested the limits of his invulnerability, but it was being tested now. The last bolt had hurt more than any other, and Valor’s coordination was just about shot from the electricity jangling through his body. He barely got the fifth generator turned off, and he didn’t know how he was going to take care of the sixth one.
He staggered toward it but fell to the floor. His legs refused to support him any longer. The room had grown quieter as he shut down each generator, but the last one was getting louder and louder, and it was now as loud as all six of them had been a few minutes ago. Without knowing how, Valor was certain that it was only seconds from exploding. No doubt he would survive the explosion, but many of the unconscious workers and officers would be killed or injured. Valor knew there was something he could do, but his mind refused to work; he couldn’t think of it, no matter how hard he tried.
Something in the back of his mind started a countdown, and Vic Valor knew that generator was going to explode at time zero. He concentrated on recalling his abilities, methodically listing them one by one, trying to rediscover the power that he was sure could save everyone. The countdown clicked seven seconds.
“Flight — nope. Super-speed — not right now; my legs are worthless.” Six seconds. “Heat-vision. Hey, that might work!” He tried to blast the generator with his heat-vision. Within a few seconds, he realized that he couldn’t heat that massive generator enough to make a difference in the remaining three seconds. His recent life flashed before his eyes, and he remembered disintegrating the levee. That was it. Fortunately, he had been straining to reach the generator when he collapsed, and both arms were outstretched in that direction. Straining mightily, he raised his hands slightly from the floor and blasted. The generator vanished. The beam wasn’t well controlled, and it opened a small hole in the far wall about fifteen feet off the floor. But Vic didn’t care; he had saved everyone.
“Of course I did! I’m Vic Valor, and it’s what I do!” When he realized that he had said that out loud, he looked around and was relieved that there was no one there to hear him.
Ultimate Vic Valor, Invincible, collapsed on the floor and let himself slip into unconsciousness. Well, actually, it wasn’t like he had a choice.
When he came to, Vic Valor was lying on a cot, covered by a blanket, and was surrounded by a lot of other cots populated by unconscious people. He recognized them as the police and power plant workers who had been in the plant earlier. When he sat up, he attracted the attention of a doctor, who came over to talk to him.
“Ultimate Valor, I’m glad to see you looking well! There didn’t seem to be anything I could do for you except let you rest. I had no way of knowing what your normal vital signs are, but your body temperature is way lower than normal, I can’t find a heartbeat or a pulse, and your skin feels like hard plastic! I couldn’t see any external damage, but I had no way of knowing if you were bleeding internally, or even if you can bleed!”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate your concern. But there is no need for you to worry — an Invincible is trained to ignore injuries, and here on Earth, I seem to be resistant to them, anyway. I’ll be leaving now!”
The doctor thought about trying to stop him, but this was Vic Valor, after all. “Valor, would you please talk to the police before you leave? They really need to know what happened!”
“Sir, could you please give the police my regards? Tell them I surprised a man who appeared to be wearing body armor and wielding Starman’s gravity rod. We battled, and he blew up one of the generators to cover his escape. While I was using my powers to protect the unconscious men in the plant, this costumed man struck me a treacherous blow from behind, and then made his escape by blasting a hole in the roof. I need to go quickly, because I want to search for him while it’s still night!”
And he was gone. Shortly afterward, he dropped in at the Opal City Register and talked to Lily DeLuna, and we already know how that turned out.
Vic Valor told Betsy essentially the same story he told the doctor. Neither Lily nor Betsy had any way to immediately verify what had happened inside the power plant, as there were no witnesses who had been conscious at the time. Lily had her suspicions, especially about the exploding generator, and as she had promised Valor, she would investigate.
Betsy wrote the story, presenting it as Valor’s account of the events at the power plant. She got the front-page byline, and Lily didn’t get fired. As long as the paper kept getting Vic Valor exclusives, the management didn’t really care who wrote the stories. They would have liked to bump Lily back down to copy editor, but she threatened to quit and go to work for the Evening Gazette, and the Register didn’t want to give the Gazette the kind of publicity this would generate. Lily had finally gotten the break that management had previously denied her because of her gender, and she was on her way up.