by Dan Swanson
Doctor Mid-Nite thought he might be in trouble. For some reason, he was having difficulty seeing the opponent whom he knew was stalking him. Mid-Nite’s goggles enabled him to see infrared light. Objects at different temperatures radiated different wavelengths of infrared, and human bodies were usually warmer than the things around them, making the infrared color of a human body easily distinguishable from cooler objects behind it. Easily, of course, for those who could perceive infrared.
For some reason, this villain’s body heat seemed to be about the same as the background temperature, and so all Doctor Mid-Nite could see was a blob of color moving against a background of the same color. It was similar to watching a black cat walk in front of a black curtain in shadowy light; he could tell something was coming toward him quickly, but he couldn’t make out any details. Occasionally the figure would cross between Mid-Nite and a hot spot in the wreckage, and the differently colored light from the hot spot would outline the figure, much as that same black cat standing in front of a white curtain would be outlined. So Mid-Nite knew he was being stalked by a humanlike figure, and he also knew that it was moving a little bit faster than the fastest normal human Mid-Nite had ever encountered.
With so much wreckage around, it was impossible for his foe to quietly sneak up on him. Doctor Mid-Nite heard a sound to his left, and turned, throwing his best roundhouse right at the blur he saw. He missed, and the Iron Fury stepped around the outside of the punch and slammed a punch to the side of Mid-Nite’s head that made his head ring. Doctor Mid-Nite jumped backward quickly, but the Iron Fury spun around and launched a kick at Mid-Nite’s head. Mid-Nite barely got a hand up to block the kick. He ducked under the kick and reached his hand under the Iron Fury’s outstretched leg and lifted, toppling the Iron Fury onto his back. But he was up again almost instantly. He swept a kick toward Doctor Mid-Nite’s ankles, and Mid-Nite jumped to avoid this kick. The Iron Fury continued his spin, and he caught Mid-Nite off-guard by sweeping directly into another kick, which caught Mid-Nite in the temple. Doctor Mid-Nite staggered backward.
The Iron Fury was on him in a flash. He rained blows on Doctor Mid-Nite, using his hands and feet equally. It was all Mid-Nite could do to minimize the damage he was taking. He was blocking or evading less than half of the Fury’s kicks and punches. From the impacts he felt when he was hit, he estimated that the Iron Fury was much stronger and faster than any normal human. Mid-Night continued to retreat, blocking punches and kicks when he could. Doctor Mid-Nite hesitated just a little when his foot slipped on some smaller pieces of debris, and the Iron Fury pounced.
The undead villain dropped his head and rammed it into Doctor Mid-Nite’s stomach, and as Mid-Nite bent over, the Iron Fury straightened up and caught Mid-Nite underneath the chin with another head butt.
Doctor Mid-Nite had been right. He was in trouble.
Mid-Nite fell to the ground, unable to move. He was surprised when the Iron Fury didn’t finish him off right away. Instead, Fury kicked him, hard, in the ribcage. And then kicked him again. Mid-Nite used the momentum of the second kick to the chest to roll away from his foe. He swept up a handful of dirt, and as his opponent approached him again, Mid-Nite threw the dirt in his face. This slowed him down momentarily, which allowed Mid-Nite to get back to his feet. He started circling his foe, until he was able to see him clearly against a hot spot in the wreckage — a couple of boxcars that had been on fire earlier and still were hotter than the environment around them. He still couldn’t see his foe as clearly as he would have liked, but it was an improvement.
Doctor Mid-Nite realized that his foe was a trained martial artist. He wasn’t quite sure what tao the man followed, but he really didn’t have time to waste figuring it out. He finally realized that the opponent’s skin wasn’t normal, either — it seemed to be almost like some kind of very flexible light armor. Mid-Nite was having very little success in this fight.
Mid-Nite realized that he wasn’t going to be able to keep up this fight for much longer. Sooner or later, he would miss a block, and the force of that blow would leave him open to the next blow, and it would be all over after that. Or, even if he managed to keep blocking everything, within a few minutes he was going to be so worn out and banged up that he wouldn’t be able to resist any longer. And his opponent showed no signs of slowing down.
Doctor Mid-Nite needed a weapon of some type. He only had one kind of weapon with him, the weapon he was so familiar with — his blackout bombs. As soon as the impulse came to him, his trained reactions took over, and he quickly pulled a blackout bomb from under his cape and threw it.
Mid-Nite never threw his bombs directly at people. A blackout bomb exploded with considerable force, and could probably hurt a normal human badly if it struck him. In addition, the chemicals in the bomb that combined to produce the thick, dark smoke were caustic and could cause irritation and pain. In particular, if the unmixed chancels got in someone’s eye, they could cause blindness. But this wasn’t a normal situation. Mid-Nite threw the blackout bomb directly at his foe’s chest.
Even the Iron Fury’s superior speed was not enough to protect him. The blackout bomb hit him squarely on the chest and burst. The concussion was enough to drive the man backward, snapping his head forward and down, which brought his face into contact with the reacting chemicals. The man staggered back, pawing at his eyes, but made no sounds. Doctor Mid-Nite had planned to finish the fight as soon as the bomb went off, but he found that he still couldn’t see his foe clearly. He needed a better plan. So Mid-Nite decided on a tactical withdrawal.
Amazing-Man had begun running toward the figures revealed when the boxcar exploded. Along the way, he touched a steel train wheel and converted his body into organic steel. The change slowed him down significantly, but he was very strong and almost invulnerable in this form. Suddenly, there was a silent explosion about ten feet in front of him that left a very deep crater. Will Everett tried to stop before he fell in, but couldn’t. He stumbled and rolled right over the edge of the crater, but didn’t fall in. As he finally stopped rolling, the hole beneath him vanished.
Will looked around for an enemy. He saw Starman engaged with Electraking, and Doctor Mid-Nite fighting the Iron Fury. Mister Terrific was trying to avoid the explosive blasts of the Aryan Flame, but the fourth figure seemed to have vanished. Suddenly, Amazing-Man was struck from the side by something very heavy and quite invisible. It sounded like steel striking steel, and the invisible club struck Will repeatedly. He wasn’t really being hurt, but it sure was annoying. He flailed wildly around himself, hoping to strike his opponent by accident, but none of his punches struck anything. What a frustrating fight.
Amazing-Man’s invisible opponent, the Phantasm, must have been growing tired. His strikes slowed and then stopped. Will saw a four-foot section of demolished train track, with a ragged point on one end, appear out of nowhere a few feet in front of him. He still couldn’t see the Phantasm, but now that he had a general idea of where to look, he noticed that several of the piles of rubble wavered, as if there were hot air rising from the ground between Will and the piles. He couldn’t be sure it was his foe, but he was willing to take a chance. If the Phantasm was causing this wavering effect, he was retreating.
Will noticed that in the wreckage nearby was the door from the end of one of the passenger coaches, including the rubber weatherproofing seal. Amazing-Man, immediately touching this seal, turned his body into rubber.
Then he grabbed two very heavy pieces of wreckage, one with each arm, and backed away from the area where he thought his foe might be lurking invisibly. He stretched his arms as far as he could, and then jumped into the air. His stretched arms snapped back to their normal length like two rubber bands, and he was shot into the air like a slingshot. While he was still in the air, he expanded his body until it was very thin and covered a lot of area, and when he fell to the ground, he trapped the Phantasm under the elastic tarp his body had become.
“Just like Plastic Man!” Will smirked to himself in satisfaction. He quickly found out that it was harder being Plastic Man than it appeared to be.
Not only were his muscles now made of rubber, but they were almost paper-thin rubber. Will didn’t have the experience using this form to know how to apply leverage with his muscles in that condition. The Phantasm stood up, stretched out his arms, and started crumpling Amazing-Man between them like a big sheet of newsprint paper. He wasn’t doing any permanent harm to Will, but it was causing the hero incredible agony. He nearly passed out.
The Phantasm threw him aside, then again picked up the four-foot piece of railroad track. He must have had superior strength to pick it up so easily. He swung it at Amazing-Man like a baseball bat. Will quickly touched a piece of metal wreckage and willed himself to change. Unfortunately, he was touching a piece of aluminum, and when the steel rail smashed into him, he was knocked down and knocked out. As Will hit the ground, the Phantasm changed his grip on the track section. He raised it in both hands over his head, and plunged the pointed end at Amazing-Man’s chest like a spear.
Just before the point pierced Will’s chest, Starman deflected the downward plunge of the pointed steel stake to the side. He had realized he wasn’t going to be able to move Will in time and changed his tactics. Even so, he was almost too late. While the pointed end didn’t skewer Amazing-Man through the center of his chest, it didn’t miss entirely. The jagged point scraped down the side of Will’s aluminum rib cage, leaving a jagged, six-inch-long tear in his side.
Starman quickly pulled Amazing-Man away. He also swept up Doctor Mid-Nite and flew toward the largest pile of wreckage. He figured they could hide behind the wreckage and get a short breather. And maybe Mid-Nite could do something about his ribs and the big gash in Will’s side. At least Will wasn’t bleeding, but Ted Knight was scared what might happen if Will turned back to his normal self with a hole like that in him.
Mister Terrific was fighting the Aryan Flame. He was vastly outmatched in power, and the Flame had a weapon that could strike at a distance, while Terrific didn’t — all he had was his hands. Actually, Terry Sloane mused, quickly amending his first thought, I do have another weapon that can strike at any distance — my brain!
The Aryan Flame opened the combat by aiming a two-handed blast at Mister Terrific, who ducked, but was rocked by the large explosion when the blast beams hit a damaged boxcar behind him. He dropped flat to escape the shrapnel from the explosion, and scurried quickly to his left and out of sight behind another boxcar. Almost instantly, he appeared around the far end of the car.
Mister Terrific started throwing debris at the Aryan Flame, testing his powers. Everything he threw vanished in a bright flash of heat about twelve feet from his foe. The bigger the object, or the harder Terry threw it, the more intense the flash. But the largest stuff he could throw was incinerated, and the Flame hardly slowed down.
The Aryan Flame turned and blasted the boxcar as soon as the rocks hit his heat shield, and Mister Terrific was on the run again.
Terry zigzagged as he ran to avoid more blast beams. The Flame apparently became frustrated, after consistently missing his moving target, so he began chasing Mister Terrific, trying to get close enough so that Terrific wouldn’t be able to dodge in time. Terry turned his head to watch as the Flame ran after him, and he calmly deduced the rest of the shield’s properties. The shield didn’t affect things that were stationary; these things passed through it without being affected. Maybe Terry could use that to his advantage.
The two foes were at an impasse, as Mister Terrific had proved that he was able to effectively dodge any blasts that the Aryan Flame threw his way. But Terry was sure that he would tire before the Flame. He’d had time to formulate a plan, and it was time to put that plan into action.
The locomotive, which Electraking had so casually thrown at Starman, had been a coal-burning steam engine. Mister Terrific climbed up on top of the coal tender and started throwing lumps of coal at the Aryan Flame. Of course, this didn’t hurt him, but it seemed to anger him. He threw another two-handed blast in Terrific’s direction, and the coal car was shattered. This was the most dangerous part of his plan, as this could have easily caused a much bigger explosion. Terry was counting on the metal body of the car to channel the explosion so it would smash the coal inside, but not ignite it. Luckily, it came off without a hitch. The coal tender exploded, vaporizing the coal inside, leaving a huge cloud of coal dust hanging in the air.
Mister Terrific had leaped off the tender an instant before it exploded, and now he made sure that the Aryan Flame saw him dodge into the thick black cloud, as if to hide. He wasn’t moving as fast now as he had been before, and he was clearly limping.
As soon as he could no longer see the Aryan Flame through the coal dust cloud, Terry’s limp vanished, and he ran directly away from his foe as fast as he had ever run before. If the Flame fired a blast beam while Mister Terrific was still in the dust cloud, it would be just too bad for him. But Terry had been sure that the Flame would want to see his blast strike Terrific, and his gamble paid off. The Aryan Flame strode arrogantly through the dust cloud.
When Mister Terrific judged that the Flame was about in the middle of the cloud, he turned and hurled the heaviest rock he could throw into the cloud. The rock struck the shield and was incinerated. The Flame’s movement had allowed coal dust inside the shield, and the whole cloud ignited instantly into a brilliant fireball. The dust wasn’t confined, so it didn’t quite explode, but the sudden fireball produced a loud whoomph, and the concussion was enough to knock Starman off his feet about twenty yards away.
But that fireball and concussion were not enough to harm the Aryan Flame. He was knocked off his feet as well, but he was back on his feet almost as quickly as Mister Terrific was. Apparently, he was invulnerable to flame. Starman, who had witnessed the Aryan Flame’s first incarnation, when his body had seemed to emit blue flames, wasn’t surprised.
Doctor Mid-Nite was tending to Will Everett when Starman picked up Mister Terrific with the gravity rod and flew him to their temporary hiding place. There were four super-powered foes advancing on them, and they all knew that they wouldn’t be able to rest for very long.