by Dan Swanson
Friday, April 1, 1949:
The Opal City Register carried Betsy’s interview with Vic Valor on the front page. Once again, there were people who suggested that his account of the incident might possibly stray from the facts. But they only had inferences to go on, since nobody had been conscious in the power station to see the actual fight. However, the debate about the truth of Valor’s adventures was about to lose its immediacy.
At exactly 5:01 P.M., every radio and TV program in Opal City went off the air, replaced by a single broadcast — a broadcast from a seeming madman.
The TV screens showed a man wearing some sort of silvery armor. It was difficult to make out the details, because the armor’s surface appeared to be a shiny, silvery mirror. The mirrored surface reflected the man’s surroundings, and the reflected images shifted when he moved. Some of the viewers became seasick watching him. He held a scepter-like device in one hand that looked very similar to Starman’s gravity rod.
“I am Xenon! I control your radios and televisions to demonstrate my power! I demand that Opal City pay me one million dollars as insurance! Yes, insurance… that I won’t destroy your city.” There was a slight pause, and then laughter blared out, much louder than Xenon had been talking. It was so loud it hurt to listen to it. Then his voice returned to normal. “You have until seven P.M. today. If I haven’t received my payment by then, I will destroy City Hall.
“Just in case you doubt my power, I will now destroy the condemned Bextar Building. I know that the city is planning to demolish this building and that the estimated cost is around $1.5 million. So just think of this as my civic contribution — the condemned building will be destroyed ahead of schedule, and the city saves a half a million dollars!” Once again there was a slight pause, and once again, incredibly loud laughter blared forth.
“And don’t think anyone can stop me, especially not that pantywaist stupor hero Vicky Valentine! He’s too scared to come out before midnight, and if he did, I’d just blow him away! Remember, there’s a seven P.M. deadline — and I do mean dead!” He paused again, and by this time people had learned to cover their ears to protect themselves from the blaring laughter. He continued to laugh as he leaped into the air and flew away from the camera at high speed.
The stationary view from the ground was replaced by a view from another camera, apparently flying behind and slightly above Xenon. That flying TV camera followed Xenon’s scepter wherever he went.
Seconds later, the Bextar Building came into the view of the flying camera. Xenon pointed his scepter at it, and the building was immediately enveloped in a golden glow. A second later, there was the sound of a loud explosion, which continued for about fifteen seconds, kind of like a long, rolling thunderclap. The building crumpled inward and then collapsed to the ground. A giant wave of dust flowed outward from the ruined building, blanketing the surrounding neighborhood with a thick black cloud.
Xenon turned to the camera and laughed again. Most of his audience winced in pain. “One hour, forty-five minutes, and counting! And all you clever cops thinking about setting up a trap — don’t! I’ll be ready for you. If you are stupid enough to try, Police Headquarters will get it right after City Hall. And your insurance premiums will go up to $2 million.” A slight pause, and then even louder than before, he laughed again.
He wasn’t done yet, either. “Mr. Mayor! Yes, I’m talking to you, Mayor! You get that money and go on TV, and I’ll give you further instructions then. Any TV studio is OK with me — I own ’em all right now, anyway!” Everyone realized he was about to laugh again, which he did before continuing. “I expect to hear from you real soon now. Don’t keep me waiting!”
The mayor and Police Commissioner Red Bailey had been meeting with the city council in the council chambers at City Hall. An aide had run into the room, interrupting the meeting to tell them about Xenon’s threats. Within minutes, a TV had been brought into the council chambers, and everyone watched in awe and dread as the Bextar Building was destroyed. A clamor arose after Xenon had delivered his message for the mayor.
Half the council wanted the mayor to stand up to Xenon; paying blackmail money only led to more blackmail. The other half didn’t want to take the risk and demanded he pay. After all, they reasoned, the city had been going to spend that money anyway. The mayor was a belt-and-suspenders type of guy. He immediately ordered the city treasurer to start getting the money together, and then he called the governor and asked him if he could contact the state police, the National Guard, and the Justice Society. If they could come up with a safe plan to capture Xenon and protect his city, he would authorize it. But unless someone could show him a no-risk plan, he would pay the insurance premium.
Police Commissioner Red Bailey sighed loudly and headed across the street to police headquarters. He really hated what he was being forced to do. He quickly climbed to the roof and activated the V-Signal. Vic Valor was an arrogant jackass, but he did have super-powers, and until the JSA arrived, Valor was the only person in the city who had any chance of taking down Xenon.
Bailey left a cop on the roof with a walkie-talkie, and orders to clear out at 6:30 if Valor hadn’t showed up before then. He then hustled back downstairs to direct the evacuation.
Xenon floated in the air over City Hall. He saw the evacuations going on below and found them amusing. He didn’t really care if the people got away this time. If he didn’t get his money, he would blast City Hall, and the price would go up. If they didn’t pay then, the next time people would get hurt, and the price would keep going up.
Every TV in Opal City still showed the view from Xenon’s flying camera. Everyone who was still watching saw Vic Valor rocketing toward Xenon. He almost caught Xenon by surprise, but the whistling sound of his high-speed flight warned Xenon at the last microsecond, and he managed to turn slightly toward Valor. Vic Valor had planned to smash him in the back, but instead he bashed Xenon’s helmet with a glancing blow. Xenon spun through the air, but quickly recovered. Both foes hovered, facing each other, each waiting for the other to make a move.
Some of the TV viewers noticed a change to Vic Valor’s helmet. He had replaced his red goggles with dark blue lenses, similar to but larger than those worn by Doctor Mid-Nite. It was the first time anyone had seen Valor this early in the evening, and the remaining daylight didn’t seem to be bothering him.
Xenon spoke first. “Ah, the ever-so-vigilant Vicky Valentine. You really can see in the daytime. I knew that was just a ruse!”
“You’re mistaken, lawbreaker! I’ve simply used superior Xadamite science to modify my visor. Very simple, really — I should have thought of it sooner. I should thank you for forcing me to realize it. But I never thank criminals, especially just before I thrash them!”
Xenon laughed out loud. The sound was loud enough to hurt even Valor’s ears. “Here’s a little Earth super-science, alien! Let’s see how Xadamite science measures up!” He blasted Valor with a powerful energy beam from his scepter. The energy splashed on Valor’s invulnerable body, clung to him, and as the beam continued to batter him, he was forced backward and downward.
Vic Valor realized that this fearsome energy beam might soon overwhelm his invulnerability. He fled from Xenon at top speed, flying so fast that Xenon was unable to hit him. Xenon started to chase the fleeing Valor. Vic wanted to get the fight as far out of Opal City as possible. He slowed a little, trying to entice Xenon to keep following him. He was deliberately heading for the airport landfill; with the workday ended, it was probably the least populated area within twenty miles.
Over the middle of the swamp, Vic Valor turned and blasted up at Xenon with his heat-beam vision. The heat beam reflected wildly off of Xenon’s armor. Although it didn’t harm him, the brilliant shower of jagged flashes did briefly confuse Xenon. He barely managed to point the scepter at Valor and unleashed a powerful beam of energy down toward him. Valor waited until the last millisecond to dodge, and the entire force of Xenon’s blast struck the swamp. The incredible power of the beam instantly vaporized tons of water and mud in a tremendous explosion. Rocks, mud, steam, and debris erupted from the swamp in a deadly plume hundreds of feet high.
Xenon couldn’t dodge in time, and he flew right into the battering force of the explosion. He managed to create an energy-shield around himself, and his armor helped protect him, but even so, he was battered and bruised. A flying boulder smashed him from its path, and he was sure he had cracked some ribs. But his shield and armor held, and he pushed his way through the plume of debris.
Vic Valor almost managed to dodge the explosion entirely. He was blasted by the steam on the outer edge of the plume, which didn’t bother him at all. He turned and scanned the mess behind him, and he wasn’t surprised to see Xenon slowly fly out of the flying debris.
So far, Valor was winning this fight, and hardly appeared to be trying. Xenon needed to try something different. He waved his scepter, and Valor was suddenly enclosed in an energy sphere. Vic tried to punch his way out, but the skin of the sphere was sticky, and it caught Valor’s wrist and held it immobile. He struggled but couldn’t pull his hand free. He thought about punching with his other hand, but if it got caught, too, he would be helpless.
The inside of the sphere started to fill with crackling electrical energy. Valor could feel it crawling over his skin, like a mild itch. As the energy density increased, the itching turned to pain. Last night, Valor had discovered that he was vulnerable to high-powered electrical current. He had to get out of this trap quickly.
Maybe the energy sphere wouldn’t block his disintegration beam. He aimed his free hand at Xenon’s scepter and blasted away. Unexpectedly, the energy sphere popped like a soap bubble. Valor was free again. Xenon frantically flew out of the path of the disintegration beam, and his wild gyrations enabled him to avoid it. But he had forgotten his damaged ribs, and the pain from his chest almost caused him to pass out. He realized that he had to win this fight in the next few seconds or not at all.
And now was his best chance. Vic Valor was free of the trap, but his body was still suffering the effects of the electricity. He was shivering uncontrollably, his arms and legs were weak and limp, and he couldn’t concentrate enough to fly. He crashed to the ground and lay there quivering.
Xenon leaped on his chance. From the floor of the crater his earlier blast had created, he used the scepter like an ice cream scoop and scooped up a giant half-sphere of granite bedrock. He smashed this giant piece of rock down on top of Valor, pinning him to the ground and hopefully crushing him. Just to be sure, Xenon piled several more scoops of rock on top of and around the first one, and then he used an energy beam from the scepter to fuse all the different rock lumps together. He waited several minutes, and there were no signs of life — not that he expected any.
Xenon made an adjustment to his armor through the controls on the scepter, and the pneumatic inner suit tightened gently around his chest. He made careful adjustments until the sleeve supported him comfortably. It was not as good as a doctor would have done, but it was good enough for the moment. Now he had some money to collect. He anticipated that he would really enjoy selling insurance.
Before he left, he unfastened his helmet and spit on the dully-glowing pile of rocks that marked Vic Valor’s final resting-place. “Hey, Boy Scout! You weren’t so damn tough. Sorry you’ll never get a real burial, but at least you have a granite monument!” He tapped the ends of his thumb and middle finger on his right hand together twice, then laughed his trademark laugh. Before he turned to fly back toward Opal City, he used his scepter to carve an epithet into the side of the mound: Vicky Valentine — Rest in Pieces. His finger and thumb clicked again, and he laughed once more.
Xenon noticed that it was past seven P.M., and he hadn’t heard from the mayor yet. That didn’t bother him; he looked forward to wrecking more buildings. He knew he’d get his money sooner or later. The longer they delayed, the more fun he would have.
As he flew away, Xenon heard what sounded like frying bacon behind him. It probably had something to do with swamp water boiling away from the still-hot mound of granite, but he had time, so he turned around to make sure. A lump of rock the size of his head, moving at least a hundred miles per hour, smashed into his helmet. Before he even felt the impact, another stone smashed into his chest. Within seconds, he was battered into unconsciousness by a dozen rocks Vic Valor had thrown at him at super-speed. The frying bacon sound had been caused by Valor’s disintegration beam eating through the granite rock pile. Fortunately, he was more invulnerable to physical trauma than he was to electricity.
When he lapsed into unconsciousness, Xenon dropped the scepter. As soon as it fell from his limp hand, his armor changed from a shiny mirror to a dull gray color, and both villain and scepter fell toward the earth. Valor was barely able to move fast enough to catch them, and he realized he might not be quite as invulnerable as he thought; there wasn’t a part of his body that didn’t scream with aches and pains. But nothing seemed to be broken, and everything seemed to be working. He tucked the scepter into his belt and, carrying Xenon over one shoulder, headed back toward town. He didn’t realize it, but Xenon’s flying camera was still following him.
Vic Valor was puzzled to see the V-Signal, but he headed toward police headquarters and landed on the roof. He was greeted by a group of wildly cheering cops, including Commissioner Red Bailey.
The TV transmission from Xenon’s flying television camera was still preempting all local programming. Red Bailey and most of the police headquarters staff had been watching the fight from the Silver Shield, a bar a few blocks from headquarters that was run by a retired cop. Bailey had never liked Valor, but this fight was changing his opinion. Like all the other cops in the bar, Bailey was cheering as Valor took an incredible pounding but kept coming back for more. That televised fight firmly established Vic Valor as the new heroic protector of Opal City. Who cared if he had embellished his adventures to the Register? This whole fight was caught on TV, and Valor’s role didn’t need embellishing.
When Valor knocked Xenon unconscious, Bailey and the rest of the cops headed for the roof and the V-Signal, and they were there to greet Valor with cheers when he reached police headquarters.
“Commissioner Bailey, why have you summoned me? You said you had given orders that no one was ever to use the V-Signal again.”
Bailey looked uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, my boy. That was clearly poor judgment on my part. I’d like to start over with you if I could.” Valor gave a slight nod. He then gently laid Xenon down on the roof and turned back to Bailey. Red Bailey’s hand was extended. Vic Valor slowly extended his own hand, and the two men shared a historic handshake.
“Ultimate Valor, on behalf of the Opal City Police Department and Opal City itself, I’d like to say thank you for protecting our fair city tonight! You fought a tremendous fight and overcame a dangerous opponent. Opal City is proud to have you as our protector!”
More than the handshake, Red Bailey’s use of his rank told Vic Valor that he had indeed won Bailey to his side. “Thank you, Commissioner! I’m very gratified, and I hope I can live up to the courageous tradition set by Opal’s police force, fire fighters, and last heroic protector, Starman! I can’t hope to replace Starman, but I can aspire to live up to his legend.”
Vic Valor turned the unconscious Xenon over to the police, who carried him down to the laboratory to try to remove his armor. Valor suggested that there be a doctor present as well, because he feared that Xenon might have internal injuries. And he made Bailey promise to use the V-Signal immediately if there were any problems when Xenon woke up. After all, they really didn’t know much about the abilities built into Xenon’s armor.
But Valor doubted that the armor would work without the scepter. He planned to keep the scepter himself, and was relieved when the commissioner didn’t ask him about it. Finally, with good wishes all around, Valor took to the sky.
As he flew, he pulled out the scepter to examine it. The flying TV camera was still following him and broadcasting his actions, although he wasn’t aware of it.
Suddenly, an incredibly bright beam of light, like a super-bright spotlight, speared upward from the ground. Valor was caught squarely in the center of the beam. The scepter started to emit a golden glow. Instantly, Valor was in terrible pain. The light was trying to suck his mind right out of his body. He didn’t know how it was happening, but he knew that this beam would kill him if he couldn’t escape.
He frantically tried to fly out of the beam, and was shocked when he couldn’t. The inside edge of this beam was somehow solid, and he couldn’t break through. He pounded with all his strength, but to no avail. He blasted with his heat beams and his disintegration beams, with no results. He fled upward, hoping the power of the beam would lessen as he got farther from the source. He noticed no change. He used his telescopic vision and traced the light beam as far as he could see. As best he could tell, it might go on forever.
Vic Valor was growing weaker. The pain was diminishing, but he knew that was only because there was less and less of his mind remaining to feel pain.
He attempted to activate the scepter, but he couldn’t figure out the controls. Whatever this device was, it was definitely not the gravity rod. But it was the only weapon he had. Suddenly, with all his remaining strength, Valor hurled the scepter earthward down the middle of the beam. Perhaps it would damage the source of the beam enough that Valor could escape. But it seemed that his last, most desperate attempt to escape had failed. The deadly beam remained as potent as ever, and Valor was still trapped. He could think of nothing else to try, so he once again began pounding the wall around him.
As he grew weaker, he found that it was growing harder and harder to see. He could feel his conscious mind being erased by the power of this deadly weapon. Valor realized he must be hallucinating, because the last thing he ever saw was Starman, floating in the air outside the tube, his cape billowing behind him, talking to Vic.
“Thanks for protecting our city, Vic! To me, you are a true hero!”
With the vision of Starman still in his mind, fighting courageously as he had fought his entire short life, Victorious Valor, Ultimate of the Invincibles, died.