Starman: 1945: Nuclear Furnace, Chapter 2: Campus Battlefield

by Dan Swanson

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For another minute, Starman and the Aryan Flame exchanged force-blasts, with little visible effect on either. Suddenly, the Flame pointed both arms at Starman and unleashed a double barrage.

Perhaps Starman had been a little careless, since, though the doubly intense explosion didn’t penetrate his shield, it did throw him backward against the wall of a building. The unexpected impact from behind stunned him, and he collapsed to the ground, almost unconscious, unable to move. His gravity-rod’s shield went down, leaving him vulnerable to the Aryan Flame’s blasts. The Flame sneered and took his time aiming his final blast at Starman, savoring his second victory over these feeble American mystery-men. He then unleashed his blast. But his arrogance in savoring his victory over one enemy while others remained to be vanquished saved Starman’s life.

At exactly that instant, a red and white figure landed between Starman and the Aryan Flame, and the blue blast exploded against him, splashing harmlessly off his mighty chest. Starman wasn’t too dazed to realize that Captain Triumph had just saved his life.

“We’ll take over for now, Starman!” proclaimed Captain Triumph. Without waiting for a response, he rocketed directly at the Flame.

The Aryan Flame pointed both arms at Captain Triumph and began blasting him, alternating blasts between his left and right arms. Whenever a beam struck Triumph, there was an explosion, and a sharp spike of radiation. Once again, Triumph came to a halt, as he was unable to fight through the constant explosions.

Meanwhile, Johnny Quick had recovered and now raced toward the scene of the battle at top speed. He saw that the Flame was giving Captain Triumph all of his attention, so Johnny decided to try the old hit him a thousand times before he can blink routine. He didn’t know yet about the heat barrier that apparently protected the Aryan Flame from attacks.

Starman saw Johnny approaching and tried to yell, but Johnny was too fast. Suddenly there was a blinding flash, and a wave of intense heat washed over the area, and Johnny was nowhere to be seen. The horror of what he had just seen filled Ted Knight’s mind, causing his adrenaline to surge, and he flew from the ground and fired blast after blast at the Flame. “You killed Johnny Quick, you Nazi beast! You’ll pay for that!”

The Aryan Flame was having trouble battling both Captain Triumph and Starman at the same time, and both were forcing their way through a barrage of explosions, getting closer and closer to the villain, with vengeance on their minds.

Suddenly, Johnny popped up next to Starman and Captain Triumph and said, “You guys be careful about getting too close to him! There’s some kind of invisible fire around him, and the closer you get, the hotter it gets! I almost got flash-fried! If I hadn’t been able to change directions fast enough, I’d be dead now. But they don’t call me the king of speed for nothing!”

Their horror at Johnny’s apparent death vanished. Captain Triumph turned to Starman and asked him, “Who calls him the king of speed, anyway?”

Starman, looking equally puzzled, replied, “I wonder what the Flash would have to say about that?”

Meanwhile, the Aryan Flame aimed both arms, and the ground where the three mystery-men were standing blew up with the most powerful explosion yet. When the smoke cleared and the debris stopped raining down, Starman and Triumph were still standing in the same place, but both were floating in midair over a big hole in the ground. Starman’s shield surrounded them, and neither man looked the worse for wear.

Johnny Quick zipped back from wherever he had run to and said, very pointedly, “The Flash would tell you guys never to ignore a villain who can shoot death-rays — that is what he would say!”

This episode was starting to get very dangerous. The explosions caused by the Aryan Flame were getting stronger, apparently as he grew more used to his power, and the radiation bursts were becoming more frequent. Too many more of them, and the entire population of this part of New York City would be hospitalized with radiation poisoning.

Ted Knight had an idea how to stop this villain, but he needed a few minutes to gather some materials together. Fortunately, the Manhattan Project was doing atomic energy research, and Ted knew he could find the stuff he needed at the nearby Columbia University campus.

“Can you guys keep him busy for a while?” Starman asked quickly. “I’ll be right back!”

“Get to it!” Johnny Quick yelled.

“We’ll be fine,” said Captain Triumph. “Godspeed!”

Starman flew back to the campus. He needed a lot of lead sheeting and some boron. He knew that there was several tons of boron in a storage room, but he wasn’t sure where to get the lead. As he flew over the domed auditorium, he remembered that the roof of the auditorium was covered in lead plates like shingles. He didn’t want to wreck the auditorium, but his need was great. He used the gravity rod to tear off a bunch of the lead plates, and stacked them on the ground. He then ripped the roof off the storage building and picked up a couple of tons of boron metal.

Since boron absorbed neutrons, it was used in the control rods that control nuclear reactions. The Manhattan Project was well-prepared to build new reactors. But they would need to order more boron after tonight. If there is an after, Ted thought grimly.

Starman carried both the boron and the lead plates back to the scene of the battle. Captain Triumph was attempting to keep the Aryan Flame’s full attention, and every time the Flame tried to blast something, Triumph tried to get between the blast and its target. Johnny Quick had discovered that, whenever the blue blasts hit something solid, they exploded, even if they had not yet reached their intended targets, so whenever Triumph failed to intercept a blast beam, Johnny was trying to block these beams with pieces of rubble.

Between the two of them, they had managed to prevent total destruction of the surrounding neighborhood, but the street where they were fighting resembled a battlefield. Explosions had pocked the street with smoking craters, parked cars and trucks were burning, and all the windows facing the street had been shattered.

Starman put down his materials and swooped up to Captain Triumph. “I need your help! Can you build a big box out of those lead plates? Leave the top off, and then crush enough boron to fill it, and then fill it halfway with the powdered boron. I’ll keep this guy occupied!”

Without a word, Triumph flew to his task. He used his super-strength to mold the lead into a big box, and filled it partially with boron. Meanwhile, Starman had enclosed the Aryan Flame in a spherical force-shield with his gravity rod. The Flame was blasting the shield continuously from the inside, and Starman knew he couldn’t hold the shield for more than a few more seconds.

Captain Triumph flew back to him. “The box is ready, Starman!”

“Here’s what we need to do now,” Starman said with a gasp. “We need to get him into the box, and then bury him with the rest of the boron, and then seal the box shut! Captain Triumph, will your invulnerability protect you from the flame shield?”

“It will,” Triumph said with certainty.

“OK, I’m going to let him go. Johnny, you distract him while I get the rest of the boron ready. Triumph, when I say go, you pick him up and drop him in the box. I’ll dump the rest of the boron on him, and then you close and seal the box! Got it?” Johnny and Captain Triumph both nodded, and Starman said, “OK, let’s do this!”

Starman dropped his shield. Johnny Quick started throwing pieces of debris at the Aryan Flame at super-speed. As each piece of rubble came close to the Flame, it flared in a bright light and vanished. Johnny was throwing stuff so fast, that the glare seemed constant. Starman used the gravity rod to pick up the rest of the powdered boron, and then yelled, “Go!

Captain Triumph used his power to become invisible. Suddenly, from behind the Flame, the fire-shield flared brighter than any prior flare. The tires on the nearby cars melted, and some of the gas tanks exploded. Johnny sped to put out the fires as the Aryan Flame jerked into the air, as if struck violently from behind. Triumph dumped the Flame into the box before he could react, and Starman immediately filled the rest of the box with powdered boron. Triumph picked up the top of the box, put it in place, and then pounded the edges until it was sealed.

Starman quickly surrounded the box with a force-shield. The three heroes watched for a few seconds, half-expecting the box to explode and the Aryan Flame to emerge from the explosion, more enraged than ever. Nothing happened right away, and the three started hoping that perhaps this battle might be over. Starman’s gravity rod measured decreasing levels of background radiation, and within a few minutes, the radiation level had returned nearly to normal. There wasn’t any indication that the Aryan Flame was going to break out of the box.

The astral avenger turned to Captain Triumph, who was covered with soot, but otherwise seemed OK. “Are you all right?” asked Starman. “That was a pretty powerful flare you just lived through!”

“It sure was. That’s the most painful thing we’ve felt since we became Captain Triumph! But we’re fine. Do you think it’s over?”

Starman lowered his force-shield and said, “The blue glow around the Aryan Flame appears to be Cherenkov Radiation, which means that there was a nuclear reaction going on inside him. He seemed to be getting more powerful as time passed. I was hoping that we could dampen that reaction, and it looks like it worked.

“You see, what keeps a nuclear reaction going are the neutrons it emits. They strike other atoms, which emit more neutrons, which strike more atoms, et cetera. The boron we buried him in absorbs these neutrons without emitting more neutrons, and instead of growing, the reaction dies down. I wish we could see inside the box! We could kill him if we keep him there long enough. But even Superman can’t see through lead.”

Captain Triumph looked startled, then pleased. “You know, we constantly get compared to him, and we hear a lot that ‘anything we can do, he can do better.’ We get really tired of it sometimes. But this is a situation where we can do something he can’t!

With that, he rubbed a T-shaped birthmark on his arm, and he changed. Well, he didn’t change physically, but his clothes did. His red T-shirt and white pants vanished and were replaced by pajamas. “Sorry, I was asleep when my brother Michael woke me up with the story of the explosions. Anyway, Michael can look inside this box.” Neither Johnny Quick nor Starman could see this Michael that Triumph was talking about, but they both knew his story. Ted Knight didn’t really believe in ghosts or the supernatural, but after meeting the Spectre, he no longer voiced his skepticism so loudly.

Captain Triumph rubbed his birthmark again, and once again his clothes changed, from pajamas to his red and white uniform. “Michael says that he is not glowing blue any more. But he’s going to suffocate if we don’t help him right away!” Triumph quickly punched a hole into the lead box and cleared the boron out of the way. He obviously knew exactly where the man’s head was. “Starman, we can’t keep this powdered boron out of his mouth! We need your help!”

Starman used the gravity rod to clear the powder away from the Aryan Flame’s mouth and head. Starman and Johnny saw with relief that the Flame was now unconscious, no longer blue, and still breathing.

“Great thinking, Starman!” Johnny said, slapping Ted on the back. “You were right about the boron!”

“Say, guys, we gotta go,” said Captain Triumph. “It was good to work with you. Keep ’em flying!” And away he went.

“It’s weird they way he keeps calling himself ‘we,’ don’t you think?” Johnny asked Starman. “I gotta run, I’m having breakfast with Libby later, and I need a little shut-eye. Give me a holler if you need me again!”

Seeing the military police approaching, Starman figured it would be safe to turn the Aryan Flame over to the scientists of the Manhattan Project. Starman gave the whole story to General Groves, and Groves called up some special radiation containment equipment that was kept by the project and took custody of the Flame.

Exhausted, Starman then flew back to his New York City home, changed out of his costume, and fell asleep.

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