by Dan Swanson
Lightfinger Looie had snatched the costume and run from the store. Now he sat at home, stared at the awful thing and feeling sorry for himself.
He was on the verge of incredible powers. Once he donned the chosen costume, he would be the world’s quickest mortal. The costume he’d been selected to wear was the costume of the Rush’s arch-nemesis, who had awesome speed powers similar to the russet rocket and who was, in some ways, even more powerful.
This was a foe who’d frequently defeated the russet rocket and escaped the combined forces of every police agency in the world. He was number one on the FBI’s ten most wanted list, leader of the most vicious band of villains Earth-R had ever known. All the power and prestige Looie had dreamed of his whole life, all was his for the taking, except for that horrid costume.
He knew, from reading every issue of The Rush, that he had to be wearing the costume — with nothing covering it — or he’d be powerless. He couldn’t have it altered by a tailor or even dye it a different color; the costume’s magic would cause it to instantly revert back to the original design. And it wouldn’t work for anyone other than Looie; the genie’s spell had chosen him specifically, so he couldn’t give it to someone else who could use it on his behalf.
At least, that was how it worked in the comics. Wouldn’t that genie laugh at him if this costume worked differently than the one in the comics, and maybe he could wear some other costume over top this one and still have his powers? The genie had done nothing but mess with him so far. Looie surely wanted to have the last laugh on that arrogant puff of smoke.
There was no one around to see him; he could at least try it on, and no one would ever know. And he could do some tests in the privacy of his apartment to see if it worked the same way as in the comics; he’d put a sweatsuit over top and see what happened. And, he rationalized, even if he couldn’t cover it up, when he had the costume on, he could move fast enough that no one would be able to see him. So, just maybe, it wouldn’t be that bad after all.
He picked up the mask — two shiny disks the size of five-dollar gold pieces, with cutouts for the eyes — and placed them over his own eyes. They stuck, as he knew they would. He looked in the mirror. Not his favorite color, but not so terrible, either. So far, so good.
Looie took a deep breath and stepped into the blue and silver tights, then drew them up. He could actually feel the magic swrling in the air around his legs, caressing them and gently charging them with super-speed energy. Then came the matching colored skintight top, and one of Looie’s major fears was assuaged; the magic in the uniform molded his body to the proper dimensions, so he wouldn’t be the first super-villain wearing a skintight costume over a major paunch. He stepped into the dainty little booties — what had the artists who’d created this character been thinking? An orange sash — a sash, and an orange one, at that, for a male super-villain?
Gimme a break! he thought in disgust. This would be the first item he tried to change his looks without losing his powers. He knew that, occasionally, the comic-book villain had used the sash as a weapon, sometimes like a whip and sometimes like a bolo, so maybe he could discard it without consequence.
The orange gauntlets were equally sappy, though Looie had to admit that they went with the rest of the outfit. The absolute worst parts of the costume, each worse than the other, were the full-face mask, the golden-orange cape, and the orange beret. How was he supposed to eat or breathe? And why would a villain who moved at super-speed wear either a cape or a beret? How would they stay on? Wouldn’t the cape always be getting in his way?
It was, all in all, a ludicrous outfit. Yet, after looking in the mirror for a long time, Looie had to admit he looked better in it than he had in a long time, fit and young and powerful. And nobody could see his face, so it gave him a perfect hiding place. Once he took this costume off, and his body resettled into the potbellied slouch he normally assumed, no one would ever suspect that Lightfinger Looie was also the czar of zoom, the king of quick — Monsieur Soudain.
With a chuckle, he wondered if the magic of the costume would also give him a French accent, or whether he would have to cultivate one? He laughed to himself, as he realized that no matter how the genie had tried to screw him over, he had actually come out ahead.
Maybe that laugh tempted fate just a little too much, or the genie was hanging around reading Looie’s thoughts, or maybe it had always been Looie’s destiny. Whatever it was, at that instant, Looie vanished from the Earth-S universe, magically transported through the vibrational barriers between the universes to Earth-R, or Earth-S-Minus, where he soon established himself as the arch-nemesis of the russet rocket.
Some cosmic force, far more powerful than a mere genie, noted and disapproved of a minor disturbance in the balance between universes. Rather than endure this disapproval, the appropriate universes themselves instantly compensated, one expelling a now-surplus being, the other quickly substituting that being to fill the vacuum filled by Lightfinger Looie’s departure — and a bewildered former resident of Earth-S-Minus instantly found herself in Looie’s apartment in Chicago on Earth-S.
Young Jack Drake was finally asleep, and Bonnie Marlowe Drake was relaxing, watching The Outer Edges when her police scanner picked up a report of a silent alarm in the local bank where the Drakes did their business. Her husband Todd was out until later on Red Rocket business, so she woke up the housekeeper to keep an eye on young Jack.
Then Bonnie Drake vanished, replaced instantly by her heroic alter-ego Lady Victory, who strapped her shield to her back and hopped on her bike. Instants later, the V-cycle was speeding toward the bank, its powerful electric motor virtually silent. The bank was totally dark, so she switched her goggles to infrared and made a quick circuit of the building. A plume of warmer air billowed out of a second-floor window that should not have been open. The police had been notified by a silent alarm in the vault itself, rather than a loud external alarm, so whoever was in there might not know he’d been detected.
A ledge under the window looked promising. She parked the bike below the window, up on the stand, and grabbed a couple of gadgets from the bag under the seat. She leaped into a crouch on the back of the seat and released the catapult. The back of the seat swung upward with jarring force, launching her into the air. She twisted slightly to correct her trajectory, then did a flip to make sure she landed on her feet. As she landed, she slammed her hand against the concrete wall, and a muffled explosion drove the end of a piton deep into the concrete wall, giving her just the grip she needed to maintain her balance.
The window hadn’t been left open or unlocked; someone had cut away most of the pane, apparently by melting the glass, just inside the alarm wires. She carefully slipped through and readied her shield, then moved stealthily down the stairs to the lobby. She had expected to follow the fading infrared signature of the thief’s footprints; instead, what she saw puzzled her. A strip of the floor was warmer than the floor around it, almost as if the thief had dragged a warm cloth along behind himself.
This bank didn’t have a walk-in vault, but behind the tellers’ counter there was a big steel safe, maybe eight feet high and almost as deep. The door stood open; someone had removed the dial to reach the inner mechanism of the lock. The door shielded her from the view of the thief, but she could hear someone moving on the other side of the door. The thief was still here, rifling through the contents of the big safe. She considered her options, then tossed a sleeping-gas bomb gently over the front of the door. It fell into the safe, and whoever was there should have been knocked out almost immediately, unless he happened to be wearing a gas mask, which seemed unlikely for a simple bank job.
A green blur rocketed out of the safe and, before Lady Victory could react, knocked her backward, then sped to the front door. The blur slowed, and she was able to make out a small woman dressed in a revealing green outfit. The villainess rubbed her hands over the door lock, and the metal flashed almost instantly through the spectrum as it was friction-heated to well above melting temperature. She pushed, and the doors swung open so fast they literally shattered when they smashed into the concrete walls of the bank.
Lady Victory’s shield was already flashing through the air, but the green-clad woman just ignored it. Moving faster than anyone Lady Victory had ever seen before, she picked up the two bags of bills she had taken from the vault and vanished out of it before the shield could reach her. Through the shattered doors, Lady Victory could see a green streak threading through the approaching squad cars. And then it was gone.
The next day, a Brinks armored truck was making a delivery at a downtown Chicago bank, when the guards heard a strange whooshing noise, and then two of them were practically knocked over by a blast of air, and two of the bags of cash were gone. Before they could recover, the same noise, the same blast of wind, and two more bags were gone. About then, somebody got the back door of the truck closed and locked, so they only ended up losing four bags of money. Only four bags was just a little less than $600,000. Not bad for a few seconds’ work.
In a nondescript building in a modest Chicago commercial district, an accountant for Boss Bradley’s neighborhood protection service was verifying this week’s insurance premiums. Besides Bradley, the accountant, and the supervisors of each of the protection squads, there were half a dozen heavily armed guards making sure that Johnny Legbreaker, Andy the Ape, and Sammy the Shiv didn’t get any ideas.
The front door flew open with a crash, and suddenly there was a green fog in the room, and any man who was touched by that fog slumped to the floor, unconscious. By the time anyone in the room realized they were under attack, everyone but the accountant was unconscious, and as he dived under the table, he saw money on the table leap magically back into the sacks that had been used to deliver it. He decided he had better be unconscious, too, and promptly passed out.
Maurice Inc., Chicago’s finest fashion house, was making its annual effort to convince the world that Chicago had displaced Paris as the center of the fashion universe. In partnership with P. Horowicz, perhaps the best known of Chicago’s famous jewelry companies, Maurice was hosting Fashion Flash. Chicago’s best designers showed next year’s collections, and all the models wore Horowicz pieces selected especially to enhance each design. The advertising for the show boasted that over two million dollars in jewelry was involved. Naturally, security was heavy, with a dozen Chicago policemen on hand, and both Maurice and Horowicz had hired private security firms.
Only the haughtiest of the haughty were invited to be in the runway audience. Hundreds stood outside the auditorium, hoping for the merest glimpse of even one of the models. The members of the fashion press had fought tooth and nail for their seats. It was certainly the biggest fashion event in Chicago this year.
Tomas Thomas wouldn’t have believed it was possible to be bored when there was a constant parade of beautiful women only a few feet away, modeling outfits that seemed to be in competition for the most revealing award for 1959, but it was true. Even when he enjoyed the musical selection that accompanied a model, he soon found that all the outfits were starting to look alike. He was only here because his current girlfriend, Joy Tejada, was one of the models, but he would much rather spend an afternoon sightseeing with her than watching her strut up and down the runway.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a real treat for you now!” Somehow, at least the announcer managed to sound excited. The music changed to the 1958 hit Tequila, which seemed to pump some energy into the crowd. “The new star of the industry is Zing, and her Fall collection has taken the fashion world by storm.”
Around Tomas, there was some puzzled muttering. Nobody had heard of Zing or her new line, and they were more than a little disconcerted to be so out of touch.
“Here’s a classy little number, modeled by Zing herself.” The announcer stumbled over that; who had ever heard of a designer modeling her own works? He was starting to wonder if someone was pulling a practical joke, but he couldn’t figure out what else to do, so he continued reading. The muttering around Tomas grew louder as the curtain was pushed aside.
“The perfect outfit for a lively evening of super-villainy…” The announcer finally ran down. As the stunned audience watched and muttered, a smaller model, dressed in a revealing green outfit, strutted down the runway. Along with her costume, in various shades of green, she was sporting a matching set of diamond and ruby-studded rings, bracelets, a single ankle bracelet, a necklace with a brilliant ruby pendant, and earrings. The brilliant red of the rubies fashionably set off the green of her costume. It wasn’t clear if it was the costume or her stage presence that kept the audience silent.
When she reached the end of the runway, she stopped, stared disdainfully at the crowd, and spoke in a strong, confident voice. “You have never heard of me before, but you will hear much of me in the future. I am Zing, czarina of zoom, Chicago’s new queen of crime!”
With that, she vanished. Some of the audience thought they saw an olive green blur flash back up the runway, followed by a male human figure who wasn’t moving quite as fast.
At the word crime, Tomas was moving — and as the hero known as Tom Atomic, he could move very fast. Thanks to the anti-crime drug he had taken years before, he thought he was probably the fourth fastest being currently on Earth, behind only Master Man, Shiva, and Kali. Zing turned and skipped casually back up the runway — her casual skipping was so fast that, to the audience, she vanished into a blur — so she didn’t see Tomas leap from his seat, so fast that a normal human could barely follow his movements. But he quickly realized that he’d just dropped to fifth place; even though he could clearly see her move, he couldn’t come close to matching her speed. He tried to follow her anyway.
By the time he reached the backstage area, she had finished gathering the many pieces of jewelry from the unconscious models lying everywhere and was headed for the door. She vanished without looking back. A squad of Chicago’s finest, two private security firms, and Tom Atomic, in his secret identity, had been helpless to stop her.