Minute Man: 1999: Jack Weston, American Champion

Minute Man: The Five Earths Project

Minute Man

Future Tales, 1999

Jack Weston, American Champion

by Dan Swanson

Prologue

December 1999

The Hall of Justice, Headquarters of the Squadron of Justice

The SoJ had just finished a mission. Everyone has returned home except Minute Man (Jack Weston), who was on monitor duty, and Captain Lightning (Fred Freeman), Minute Man’s best friend. They were discussing this past mission, in which they had once again saved the world, when Jack sprang a major bombshell.

“You know, Fred, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think it’s time for Minute Man to retire.”

“What?!?!” Fred was astounded. “”Why would you do that?”

“Minute Man is getting old, Fred. Remember, I first donned this costume in 1940. It’s been 60 years.”

“Only 40 if you count the Suspendium! And besides, you aren’t old! I don’t know how you do it, but you look exactly the same age as when I first met you, back during the second World War. Heck, you are 10 years older than I am, but these days you look 10 years younger! And Minute Man does so much good in the world – how could you ever consider retiring?”

Jack smiled, quite amused that Fred was totally missing his point. He wondered if the Wisdom of Solomon would help him figure it out first, or if Jack would have to spell it out for him. He mentally bet on Solomon.

“You’re right about the physical thing, Fred. I feel as young as I did back then, and I’m even stronger and faster. It’s other things…” Jack’s face clouded as he remembered some of those ‘other things’…

“Many members of my generation have died already, and the rest are old. Of course, most of the ones who are still alive never expected to reach their 80s, but even so, they can’t help but look at me, an 80 year old man who is still physically in his early 20s, without resentment and suspicion.”

“Some people think the government performed secret experiments on me which are keeping me young, and the government has the knowledge and power to provide eternal youth to everyone, but is keeping it for only a select few. My generation, which used to look at me for hope and inspiration, resents me, some even hate and fear me. I can’t deal with that any longer…”

“To later generations, I represent a relic of the past. Patriotism isn’t in style any longer, and to the youngsters I represent the militaristic United States that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan and fought a war of oppression in Vietnam. In fact, some of them think I fought in Vietnam! My values are out of sync with the majority values of today.”

Captain Lightning interrupted. He was agitated at what he was hearing. “Jack, you know that’s not true! The people of the United States are just as patriotic as they ever were.”

“Sorry, Cap, but that just ain’t so. I’m not saying they aren’t patriotic, but they express their patriotism differently than I ever did – differently than I do and always will do. They want the US to be sort of a ‘big brother’ to the world, rather than one state among a community of equals. Take care of everyone, don’t tread on anyone’s values, moral relativism – it’s just not for me. I can’t change – I continue to see right and wrong in the world, where people today say ‘That’s their way, and just because our way is different, doesn’t make it better.’ Our way _is_ better! If I didn’t believe that, I couldn’t fight for it.”

“But, because I’m a relic of the patriotic, militaristic, imperialistic past, the younger generations no longer trust me either. Heaven forbid, I might tread on some bad guy’s rights!” His voice was loaded with angry sarcasm as he said that. He paused a moment, and then went on, in a much quieter tone. “Even when they agree with something I’ve done, because of my association with the ways of the past, they figure I just have some ulterior motive, and the next time out I’ll revert to type – or what they see as ‘type’.”

“So my generation doesn’t like or trust me, and younger generations don’t either. So it seems to me, it’s time for Minute Man to retire.”

Fred had been listening closely, and there was the start of a smile on his face. “Ah, I think I’m starting to see. You said, ‘It’s time for Minute Man to retire.’ but you didn’t say anything about Jack Weston retiring!”

Jack had won the bet with himself – trust the Wisdom of Solomon to figure it out, every time!

“Right. Minute Man is going to retire, but a new costumed hero will take his place. But people can never suspect that this new hero is Minute Man, or it will just make them more suspicion, and it will make their hatred and fears even worse. I haven’t quite figured that out yet.” Actually, he did have a plan, but he wanted Captain Lightning to look it over and apply the Wisdom of Solomon once again. He couldn’t afford to go wrong on this one…

Minute Man and Captain Lightning, two ‘relics’ of the 40s, talked late into the night.

Chapter 1

John ‘Jack’ Westfall, Professor of American History at Minuteman College in Concord, Massachusetts, finished grading the last final exam for the Fall 1999 freshman course, 20th Century History. He stretched, wincing at the cracks coming from his stiff joints. He should learn to break up his grading sessions, but no matter what he promised himself when he started, he always worked straight through.

As usual, he was amused at some of the answers to essay questions – students today often had no real knowledge of history, and they often didn’t really care, either. Jack’s enthusiasm for his subject had rubbed off on many of them, however, and he was in general satisfied with the results. There didn’t appear to be any budding history majors among them, but that wasn’t surprising – everybody these days seemed to want to major in some computer-related field or other.

Westfall was a mystery to many of his colleagues. He had a distance learning undergraduate degree in History from University of Phoenix, and he had received both his Masters and his Ph.D. from Minuteman College. But very little was known about his earlier life. Jack’s official records showed that he had been adopted at 6, and lived with missionary parents in various countries in Central America until his parents died at 16. He had lied about his age and joined a mercenary band, and begun his mail-order education. When he had the undergraduate degree, he quit the mercenaries and began going to Minuteman College full time for his advanced degrees.

Although the ink on his Ph.D. was barely dry, Jack had extensive knowledge of World War II, often lecturing about it as if he had actually been there.

Of course, by now you recognize John Westfall as an alter-ego of Jack Weston, a.k.a. Minute Man. Jack Weston was born in 1920, and he looked no older than 25. Jim Barr, a.k.a. Bulletman, had helped him set up the John Westfall identity several years ago, to conceal from people the fact that Jack Weston wasn’t aging. Jim’s enhanced intellect made it easy for him to figure out ways to insert ‘official’ documents where they needed to be to confirm John Westfall’s identity, and his background was deliberately vague to make it hard to track down anything about him.

Jack had actually completed the necessary course work for his advanced degrees in recent history, which wasn’t difficult, as he had lived through much of it. And when he graduated, teaching history seemed to be a logical step. He got a good deal of satisfaction out of helping people, or he wouldn’t have been in the hero business in the first place. He was unhappy with what he saw as a shifting of American values away from the traditional, towards… what? If he could teach some of these kids to appreciate American history, he saw that as a very valuable contribution to society, indeed.

Suddenly, without warning, Jack found himself instantly elsewhere! As he recovered, he realized he was in costume. “Damn him!” he though to himself, although he wasn’t nearly as upset as his words indicated. “I’ve told him time and again that I don’t like this teleportation crap!” But Ibis could be pig-headed – when he wanted help, he wanted it now! and the Ibistick gave him the power to have help, now. Jack quickly looked around and sized up the situation. He didn’t know where he was, but it was a good approximation of hell!

Chapter 2

Jack was in a tremendous open room, certainly the largest single room he had ever seen. It was some kind of factory – or it had been, he thought, because now it was a disaster scene. There were scattered fires burning throughout the room, and massive machinery everywhere, some of it trashed. A haze of stinging smoke filled the room, bringing tears to Jack’s eyes, and causing him pain as he breathed.

Panicked white-clad workers were stampeding towards doors in several of the walls, many of them assisting others who were injured. Still more were lying unconscious, or crawling away from a raging battle. A giant man, over 7 feet tall and seemingly as massive as a mountain, wearing only tattered clothes, with light blue skin and black hair was smashing everything around him. He was opposed by Ibis the Invincible. The most shocking thing, to Jack, was to see Captain Marvel sprawled unconscious on the factory floor at Ibis’ feet.

The blue man-monster was easily tearing some of the massive machines from the floor and launching them at Ibis. Ibis was using the Ibistick to protect himself and Captain Marvel, and he also had to keep flying metal from killing the workers who still hadn’t managed to get out of range. While Ibis was occupied with flying machinery, the blue villain would turn to a ‘quiet’ corner of the building and beams of flame would flare from his eyes, causing more fires and chaos throughout the massive building. Jack saw him gesture, and a blast of shimmering red energy flew from his hand, forming a glowing red globe about yet another massive machine. The globe shrank to the size of a soccer ball and then vanished, leaving behind a ‘soccer ball’ composed of incredibly dense metal.

A streamer of blue energy flew from his other hand, firing this globe of metal like a cannon ball at Ibis. The embattled magician was barely able to deflect this missile, but the impact of cannon ball with his magical energy staggered him. The ball itself crashed through everything in its path and eventually tore open a big hole in the outside wall. Jack lost sight of it by this time.

Of course, while he observed all this, Minute Man wasn’t just looking around. Somebody needed to distract that monster long enough for Ibis to get the civilians out of danger! He ran towards the monster at full speed, trying to plan a strategy. He didn’t realize it, but he was talking to himself as he ran. “Damn, I wish Ibis had managed to get a couple of the other big guns!” He was mainly thinking of Captain Lightning and his wife Mary Marvel, but the Bullets could be helpful now, too. Still, anyone who could knock Cap out could probably deal with the other Marvels as well. “I guess I’ll have to do the best I can on my own!”

“Not alone, young fella!” Minute Man was moving faster than any Olympic runner, yet he was passed as if he were standing still by a figure in yellow and black. “This here’s my factory, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let some monster destroy everything I’ve built!” With that, the mysterious figure launched himself into the air with both fists in front of him and struck the monster like a missile, driving him backwards and knocking him from his feet. They crashed into yet another giant piece of machinery and fell to the floor, wrestling and trying to exchange blows.

Ibis took advantage of the short breather. He held the Ibistick high. “Ibistick, gently clear the workers from this charnel building!” All the remaining workers were lifted, gently but quickly, and carried through various doors and breeches in the wall, then gently deposited outside the building. This took several seconds, during which time, Minute Man reached the duo battling on the floor. Jack took a split second to yell at Ibis “Clear the air in here!” and then he joined the battle!

Chapter 3

The air cleared quickly following the words “Ibistick, purify this tainted cloud.” Ibis spared a second to check Captain Marvel’s condition, a second he shouldn’t have spared. The blue giant suddenly threw the yellow and black costumed man off of him, directly at Ibis, and the two collided violently. Both men fell to the ground but both climbed slowly to their feet. Everyone was surprised when the giant spoke.

“You doddering old fool! You’ve doomed yourself. Even if you manage to protect your precious factory, you’ll be dead in less than an hour!”

“Doddering, eh?” The mysterious hero hoisted a massive production machine into the air and hurled it at the blue giant. “I think you picked the wrong old fool!” The giant was staggered by the impact, but though he reeled backwards, he did not fall.

“Fool again, I say! You don’t know who you face! You’ve never known. I’ve heard you laugh at me when you thought I couldn’t hear! Telling your rich industrialist buddies ‘He’s just an old stoner – used to be a brilliant bio-chemist, but he wiped out his mind with acid in a commune in the 60s.’ Well, old man, we’ll see who’s lost his mind now!” He stomped on the floor, and a jagged section of floor collapsed into the basement. The blue man hit the basement floor and bounded easily back to the factory floor. “The time has come for you and the other polluters and despoilers, and the Fantastic Man is bringing your doom!” The mystery-man was shocked when he realized who the blue giant must be. “Larry? You’re Larry Finklestein? Larry, you’re wrong. Some idiot said that once, but I busted him out of here so damn fast he bled.”

The giant roared! “BAH! You’ve lied to me for years. Well, it ends NOW!” He raised both hands over his head and started to slam them against a large acetylene tank, used for some of the instrumentation.

“No! You’ll kill…” yelled the mysterious hero, but he never finished.

“Oh, sh…” came from Minute Man, but he never finished either.

Fortunately for both of them, Ibis was speaking, too. “Ibistick, protect us 4!”

The giant struck the tank, which exploded like a bomb, demolishing more of the building. Minute Man had never before seen an explosion from the inside, as violent chaos flared around the heroes as they stood protected inside an invisible magic dome. The collision of explosion and magic was so violent that Ibis was rendered unconscious. The mystery-man stood above his body , protecting him from falling debris. Minute Man, who had been furthest from the blast, circled around the perimeter of the most damaged area, looking for traces of the blue giant. He didn’t have to look far!

The giant burst from a mound of debris, blasting dangerous shrapnel-like scraps in every direction. Minute Man ducked behind a wrecked press of some kind. The giant started towards the hole in the wall, ignoring the heroes. Leaving the mystery-man to look after Captain Marvel and Ibis, Minute Man darted after the bad guy. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but he couldn’t let this monster loose among a crowd of civilians!

Minute Man caught up with the bad guy just outside the factory. He could see a stream of emergency vehicles heading towards the scene, and a wave of employees running away. He ran around in front of the giant and threw a handful of dirt in his face, hoping to blind him. Instead, the Fantastic Man blasted beams of flame from both eyes, igniting some of the cars in the plant parking lot. People ran screaming away from the lot, and only a few seconds later, gas tanks started to explode. Some of the approaching emergency vehicles diverted to the parking lot.

“You fool! NOTHING can stop the Fantastic Man!” the giant bellowed at the top of his lungs. “Despoilers of the natural, beware! Polluters, I’m coming for you! Miners, your holes will be your graves as I bury you alive!”

“Spastic Man? What a great name!” Minute Man dodged close to the giant, hit him quickly, and dodged away again. He didn’t make a practice of taunting his opponents, but he wanted this one’s attention on him for as long as possible.

“You blew up a factory. Does that make you an environmental hero? You picked the wrong place, too, smart guy! Tyler and Tyler is the most environmental-friendly company on the planet!” The Fantastic Man continued to swing at Minute Man, who easily dodged each wild swing.

“Like that fool Tyler, you underestimate me, hero! Now, you, too, will pay!” The giant pointed at Minute Man, and he was instantly surrounded in a sphere of red energy – which started to shrink. “I have powers other than mere strength – the power to crush you like the pitiful pest you are!”

Speaking of Tyler, for that is who the mystery-man was, he came crashing through the side of the building at tremendous speed, and before anyone could react, collided with Fantastic Man. Once again Fantastic Man was knocked sprawling, and the red sphere around Minute Man vanished. But the results weren’t so good for Tyler, as he staggered backwards and then fell to the ground, seemingly unconscious. Once again, Minute Man faced Fantastic Man alone.

And once again, he was not alone for long. Over the horizon, at fantastic speed, flew a strange-looking red and yellow vehicle. As fast as it moved, the missiles it fired were even faster, and the Fantastic Man was simultaneously slammed with 4 exploding missiles. The explosion drove him backward, but once again he stayed on his feet. This was probably the toughest opponent he had ever fought, Minute Man thought.

The Fantastic Man was shaking his head. He was unhurt, but he was confused by the chaos around him. While he was trying to regain his composure, the red and yellow vehicle landed and an athletic figure costumed in red, white and blue leapt out, immediately throwing an 18 inch staff at the behemoth. It struck him in the solar plexus, and actually seemed to affect him as he immediately bent double.

Encouraged, Minute Man attacked again, stepping in quickly and driving his elbow into the back of the giant’s head. The other man was carrying a long red and white staff, and he swept it viciously up from the ground, catching the giant under the chin and straightening him up. As he staggered backwards, Minute Man leaped and kicked him in the chest with both feet, and the other hero swept his staff around behind, catching the giant in the back of the knees. The force of Minute Man’s kick knocked him down, and the staff-wielder reversed the staff and brought the butt down on the Fantastic Man’s forehead, bouncing his head off the ground. To the giant, however, it was mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing.

There was nothing either of these two could do to hurt him, and as soon as he realized this, the Fantastic Man simply ignored them and stood up. He turned his back on the two, squatted, and leaped into the air, a tremendous jump that would carry him for miles. The force of his leap, transmitted through his legs to the ground, blasted a tremendous crater, and the flying debris smashed into Minute Man, knocking him unconscious. Fortunately for the decimated heroes, the Fantastic Man had abandoned the fight. The second unknown hero, the latest arrival, was the only one left standing.

Chapter 4

The lithe red, white and blue-clad hero rushed through a hole in the wall of the burning building. Minute Man and the man in yellow and black were still unconscious, but they were relatively safe for now. If there were still people inside they might need his help.

He was in the single largest pharmaceutical plant in the world, the main manufacturing facility of Tyler and Tyler Pharmaceuticals. Most of the building was a single huge room, two stories tall and filled with equipment. A big section of one wall had been glass, letting the people in the offices on the other side look out at the plant floor. The window on the second floor has recently been shattered from the other side, as something (or someone) had burst out of the laboratory on that floor into the manufacturing area. He hoped that the glass had been safety glass, otherwise anyone under that window would have been cut to shreds by falling glass.

The air inside the plant was amazingly clear, considering how many fires he could see. Not far from where he came in, he saw two familiar figures crumpled on the floor.

“Cap…” he yelled, and sprinted towards the two. He quickly examined the unconscious men, but there were no obvious external injuries to either one. Ibis was starting to come around. The unknown helped him sit up against a cabinet. “Ibis, what happened to you and Cap?”

Ibis seemed to be in shock. He shook his head, and instantly regretted it. He quickly raised the Ibistick. “Ibistick, restore me!” The magic wand flared with yellow magical energy, which then flowed around his body and vanished, and he instantly looked much better.

“Wow! Can you do that for Cap .. er .. him” the mystery-man pointed at Captain Marvel.

“I do not think that is wise, young sir. Normally my magic would not affect him, but today something went drastically wrong. I cast a spell at the blue beast – you certainly saw him?” When the other nodded, Ibis continued. “A spell precisely shaped by my will to render the beast instantly unconscious. A spell most powerful, most carefully crafted, a spell which would normally sweep unheeded past Captain Marvel, leaving him untouched.”

He frowned, and once again shook his head. The Ibistick had restored his body, but he was obviously still shaken by the recent events. “A spell that felled the mighty Marvel and was totally useless against its intended target. A foul manifestation, indeed. No, young sir, I have no idea what effect my magic may have on my friend, and I dare not take the risk of another such accident. I fear he must recover on his own.” He looked again at the other man. “Your manner is familiar but your garb is strange. Who are you? And what is your purpose here?”

“I’m called Icon of Freedom, Ibis, and I tried to help defeat the blue giant, but he got away. I came inside to see if there was anyone here who might need help in getting out.”

“A worthy answer! However, you need not worry. I can set much aright and insure the safety of any remaining workers.” He raised the Ibistick again. “Ibistick, extinguish the flames”. He watched for a few seconds, and when the flames were out, he swept the wand in a complete circle. “Ibistick, reveal any within who need our aid!” Two golden arrows formed in the air, one pointing to the second floor lab and one towards a building within the building. A building the size of a 2 bedroom ranch house, totally dwarfed by this majestic room. Ibis quickly took action. “Ibistick, carry me upwards!” and he followed the arrow towards the second floor laboratory.

Icon of Freedom ran to the building and discovered it was a clean room. He burst through both doors, and discovered a dozen people, huddled together between some cabinets and shelves. Several of them were talking on cell phones, and none of them appeared to be hurt. They were fearful when they saw Icon, who was unknown to them, but when one of the ones on the phone said “It’s OK – they say he’s on our side!” they all started cheering.

“Thanks, folks! You can come out now, it’s safe and there are authorities and ambulances outside for anyone who needs them.” He led them out of the smaller building, and they immediately hurried towards the door. He saw Ibis fly out through the hole he had used to enter, carrying a man. Once again, he sprinted to the side of Captain Marvel. This time he picked up the still-unconscious hero and carried him out of the building. As he exited, police and firefighters were entering. He spotted Ibis and the other heroes and the man Ibis had been carrying, clustered with some doctors and ambulance attendants, and carried Marvel over to join them. He carefully laid Cap on a stretcher. As he did so, Marvel stirred, then quickly sat up.

Before anyone could say anything or react, Cap said his magic word. “Shazam!” The magic lightning struck, thunder roared, and suddenly, Captain Marvel was replaced by Bill Batson. As quickly as he could, Bill said the magic word again, “Shazam!” and once more, thunder boomed as magic lightning facilitated the most awesome transformation known to man!

Marvel stood up. “Ah, much better!”

Ibis walked up to him. “I am sorry, my friend. I don’t know what went wrong. It was my magic which laid you low, though I know not why. I’m glad to see you well and hale!”

“It wasn’t your fault. Something interfered with the magic lightning. I knew something was wrong from the moment it struck. I haven’t figured it out quite yet.” He closed his eyes in deep thought.

He applied the Wisdom of Solomon to Bill’s memories of that morning, and played those memories over and over again with the Speed of Mercury. On the fifth or sixth go through, it started to make sense.

Chapter 5

Bill Batson had begun the day with a tour of the Tyler and Tyler Pharmaceutical plant and an interview with Rex Tyler, the retired president and Scientist Emeritus of the company. Tyler had been confined to a wheel chair since his early 20s. Bill understood that he had experienced a heart attack that had almost been fatal, and he had spent the rest of his life developing pharmaceuticals and medical instrumentation to help extend and improve the quality of life. Cynics insisted he was motivated entirely by selfishness and greed; those with a more balanced view realized that his drugs, processes, treatments, and instruments had improved life not only for Tyler himself, but for millions of others.

Tyler’s face was drawn and wasted, and his legs had atrophied after almost 60 years of sitting in a wheel chair. But his grip was strong and his voice was vibrant. The tour was interesting, as was Tyler. The tour ended in a second floor laboratory that overlooked the factory floor through a wall that was entirely made of glass. On the other side of the room was a large glass display case and inside it was a mannequin with a costume on. A costume of yellow and black, with a yellow hood and cape. Red belt and boots. Hanging around the neck was a small hourglass.

“Holy Moley! Bill exclaimed. “What’s that?” Tyler’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “That, youngster, is the uniform of the Sandman!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Tyler, but I don’t recognize the Sandman. Who was he, and why do you have his costume?”

“I understand you are a good friend of Captain Marvel, eh, young fella? Well, time was I was around your age and I thought to get into the mystery-man business myself.” He paused, and Bill was about to answer when he continued.

“Yes siree, I mixed up some miraculous vitamins – supposed to make me strong and fast, just like your friend Marvel. I was going to help the war effort, take the war to the Germans, all that stuff, ya know? So I finished making the stuff, took me a dose, and goldarn, but nothing happened! It was late so I started walking home, and some jerk drove through a puddle and splashed me. Got so mad I picked me up a rock and threw it at ‘im. Lucky for me I didn’t kill anybody – that rock smashed through his back window, then the front window, and knocked a hole in the wall of one of the buildings nearby.”

Bill didn’t know if he believed this story or not, but it was definitely entertaining. “Wow, sir, what happened then?”

‘Darn’t idiot lost control of the car, is what! Headed right for a diner, packed after the ball game! Coulda killed a bunch a folks. I hadn’t a chance of stopping him, but I started runnin that way anyways, maybe I could get there quick enough to pull some people out afore the car blew up.”

“I passed that car in 4 steps and I almost smashed the diner myself, I was so startled. I strained so hard to stop I furgot there was an out-of-control car right behind me. I turned around and there it was, no way I could move in time! Barely got both hands up, before crashed right into me!”

“Well, as you can guess, I stopped that car, dead on the spot! Smashed it up pretty good, too, heh heh! Bet that jackass thought twice about splashin’ people after that! Anyway, I was sure I was off to a good start to my new career. The Vitamax worked just like I thought it would. I was stronger’n a bull and faster than a car. Figgered I’d call myself the Sandman, after the sand in the hourglass.”

“So, what happened? Why didn’t I ever hear about you before?” Bill asked. He thought he knew at least a little something about every mystery-man, but he had never heard a mention of somebody who used super vitamins. It was a little like Bulletman’s origin, so it wasn’t like it was an unbelievable story. There must be more to it…

“Damn stuff wore off in about an hour. I’d sorta expected it would, but I wasn’t sure. That’s OK, I could always make more. But as soon as it wore off, I had me a real doozy of a heart attack! In the hospital for 3 months – if I hadn’t been young and healthy as a horse, it woulda killed me, sure as shootin’! Wrecked my health, it did, put me in this darned chair for the next 60 years!. Docs told me I wasn’t going to live long, so I spent the rest of my life figerrin out medicines and stuff just to keep me alive! Dumped that formula fast, and until I retired, I never did have time to look at it again.”

“Ahh, when I look back at what might have been…” Bill could see tears in the old man’s eyes.

“Mr. Tyler, maybe you didn’t get to be a mystery-man, but you have done a lot of good in the world – probably helped more people than any single super hero ever could! That’s a great legacy!”

“You’re right, Bill, and thanks for reminding me. But you know, I’ll always wonder what might have been.” He shook his head, sadly.

Chapter 6

Rex looked around, and with a visible effort, snapped his attention back to the present. “Well, Billy boy, I saved some of the best for last. I’ve always thought I oughta been able to make Vitamax safe, but until I retired, I never had time to mess with it. Well, I think I got it licked, and today’s the day I find out if I can really do it.”

“It’s my theory that measured exposure to cosmic rays, gamma rays and nuclear radiation, in specific dosages and in a specific sequence, will change the structure of Vitamax, allowing me to eliminate the dangerous side-affects without changing the beneficial properties. I have 100 pounds of Vitamax in that case there, and it has already been in orbit, on the recent Shuttle flight, where it was exposed to cosmic rays.” He paused, thoughtfully, then continued. “The only other existing sample of Vitamax is in the case with the Sandman uniform, and that’s the old stuff that almost killed me. Once this experiment works, I’ll have to be sure to dispose of that sample safely, so nobody else gets put in danger!”

He opened the case, which was full of bottles filled with pills. “Once the shuttle landed, we sprayed the Vitamax with a special enzyme. My theory says that the three types of radiation will cause ionization in a specific location of the Vitamax compound, and the enzyme will then bond at the ionization site, and the Vitamax will be safe to use, without losing any of its useful properties.”

For the first time, Bill was starting to wonder about Tyler’s mental state. Cosmic rays, radiation, and gamma rays? It sounded pretty darn dangerous to him! Fortunately, he noted to himself, ‘Captain Marvel is only 2 syllables away!’. He remembered the recent Shuttle flight, and its near disaster of a landing when the landing gear wouldn’t open. It seemed like a bad omen to him.

Tyler turned to a control panel, and threw several switches. A trap door in the floor opened, and a platform arose, bearing what appeared to be a futuristic electronic cannon. Before Bill could make a move, a blue beam burst out of the business end and illuminated the case of Vitamax. Just as quickly it snapped off again and the cannon vanished. It happened so fast, Bill wouldn’t have had time to summon Cap, even if he had planned to!

“Nothin’ to do now but wait, Billy boy. Theory says it’ll take a half hour or so to stabilize. Let’s go have lunch!”

“What about the radiation, Mr. Tyler?” Bill was still worried.

“Nothin to worry about, son! That beam was a highly focused combination of Gamma rays and nuclear radiation, focuses strictly on the target. It’s focused by a strong magnetic field, and nothing dangerous can escape. The room is lined with Geiger Counters, and not one of them made a peep. You know, I’m a little excited here, Billy Boy! If this works out the way I expect it will, I’ll be walkin agin in an hour!”

Rex led him from the lab into an executive dining room. They were met there by Rick Tyler, Rex’s son and current president of Tyler and Tyler. His other son, Ralph, was the company’s chief troubleshooter, and was on business in the main T&T plant in Brazil. Almost immediately after Rick entered the room, they were startled by a loud crash, followed by alarms, screams, and explosions.

Bill and Rick rushed back into the lab. Something – or someone – had smashed through the gigantic inside window. As they approached the window, Bill could see a gigantic big blue man, smashing things. Flames were rising from trashed production machines, people were screaming and running. Instantly, Bill said his magic word.

“Shazam!” and the magic lightning bolt struck, creating a deafening thunderclap and initiating one of the most awe-inspiring transformations known! In Bill’s place now stood the majestic form of Captain Marvel, the World’s Mightiest Mortal! But something was slightly wrong. Somehow he felt too… ‘Billyish’ was the only word he could think of. As if the change was incomplete, somehow. But he realized he didn’t have time to try to figure it out right now. He quickly sized up the situation on the factory floor. He was going to need help. He turned to Rick and rattled off some instructions.

“Call 1-800 Justice immediately. Tell the operator that Captain Marvel told you to call, and that my password for the day is ‘goblin’. I want Ibis here 5 minutes ago! Move, man! Don’t let me down, lives are at stake!” Cap flew through the broken window and headed for the scene of the first explosion. He wanted to use the Speed of Mercury, but he was afraid of fanning the fires, and stirring up the chemical fumes that were already in place. He moved as fast as he could, but he knew in advance he was going to be too slow unless he got help.

Rick rushed into the boardroom and called the famed Squadron of Justice hot line. Captain Marvel’s password got him through to the member on monitor duty, who just as quickly got hold of Ibis. As Ibis shut off his cell phone, he was already rapping out the command “Ibistick, take me to Captain Marvel!” He disappeared in one place and instantly he was in the burning, exploding factory.

**************************************

Captain Marvel played this scene through his head again and again. Finally, he focused on the magic lightning itself. Bill wasn’t fast enough to see any details, but the speed of Mercury allowed Cap to slow that memory down, until he could actually watch the magic lightning creep through the air towards him. He had never really done this before, but as he watched, he saw something he knew must be wrong. While the lightning was flashing through the factory, a small sliver of the magic lightning split off, as if attracted by something, and instead of striking Bill, it struck the blue man- monster and the case he was carrying.

“It must have been attracted by the radiation somehow, I guess. It didn’t look like much – but it must have been just enough to make me vulnerable to the Ibistick.” He didn’t know it at the time, but that sliver of magic lightning had also made the Fantastic Man temporarily invulnerable to magic.

Satisfied that he had figured out that puzzle, he returned his attention to the scene around him. The speed of Mercury had allowed him to replay the entire morning, a half dozen times, in less than a second. The people around him had not even noticed him pause.

****************************************

What Cap couldn’t see in Billy’s memories was what had happened in the lab after he and Tyler had left.

As they left the lab, the other door opened and a laboratory technician entered the room. He looked furtively about, moved quickly to the case of Vitamax and tried to carry it away with him.

Rex would have recognized this man. His name was Larry Finklestein, and in the early 60s he had been a brilliant biochemist. In fact, the patent for Volium, one of Tyler and Tyler’s most successful products, was in his name, and he had become independently wealthy as T&T had grown. However, things had gone drastically wrong for him.

In the early 70s, he was recruited by a secret organization, allegedly part of the US government, to do research into psychoactive drugs, supposedly for use in mental and criminal rehabilitation. He tried to quit when some of his discoveries started showing up in public, the first of the so called ‘designer drugs’. But he knew too much.

His handlers injected him with a mixture of several of his own drugs, trying to kill him. Instead, the drugs ‘only’ destroyed his mind. His great intellect was erased, leaving him with average intelligence. And he was left unstable and strongly paranoid. Rex had attempted to help his old friend, and had developed some drugs that helped keep his paranoia under control, and given him a job. What Rex didn’t know was that recently, Larry had discontinued his use of these drugs. So far he had managed to conceal his advancing paranoia from everyone.

During his ‘sane’ years, Larry had become an environmentalist and something of an anti-technologist. These causes resonated with his suppressed anger at what had been done to him, and the many users of designer drugs whose lives had been damaged by the misuse of his developments.

And as his paranoia increased, so too did his advanced intellect return to him. He realized that rather than being his friend, Rex Tyler had been enslaving him for years, and though Tyler and Tyler posed as the poster company for environmental friendliness, it was only a publicity ploy. When Rex asked him to assist in some aspects of his Vitamax experiments, Larry had realized that this was his chance to change the world for his cause!

He studied Rex’s plans closely, and realized that Rex, with his severely limited intelligence, had no idea what he was doing. Larry had secretly introduced changes, such things as secretly adding his own enzymes and nutrients to the vat in which Rex was mixing the new batch of Vitamax. He had secretly changed the schedule for exposing the Vitamax to cosmic radiation in the Shuttle, increasing the dosage by several hundred percent. Finally, he had sneaked into this lab several times in the past week, secretly using the radiation cannon on the sample batch.

Yes indeed, this batch of Vitamax would provide him with immense power! And that power, combined with his superior mind, would allow him first, to take revenge on the people in the world who had hurt and enslaved him, and then, ultimately, to cleanse the world of the technology and pollution that had lad to his enslavement. He would become the absolute monarch of a technology- and pollution-free world! He only had this one batch of irradiated Vitamax, but it would last for years, and long before then, he would have the power to secretly make more!

The case of irradiated Vitamax was too heavy for him to move, so he put it down, pulled out a single bottle, and took a single pill.

The result was nothing short of astounding!

In seconds, Larry grew to over 7 feet in height, shredding his clothes. His mass increased as well, and his body looked like a weight-lifter on steroids! His skin turned blue, and flames started filling the air in front of his eyes. He easily picked up the case, then turned and smashed his way through the glass, jumping down to the factory floor. He had planned to escape in secret, but he was so thrilled with the power he had gained that he decided a change of plans was in order!

“Let my enemies beware! Let the rest of the world rejoice! I will destroy those who pollute, I will control the monster of technology! The Fantastic Man is born!”

Chapter 7

Cap walked over to the hero he now knew was called the Sandman, who was just returning to consciousness. “Mr. Tyler, I assume you must have recently used your last remaining sample of Vitamax? You are very likely to die when it wears off, you know?”

“Captain Marvel? I’m thrilled to meet you! You’ve always been an inspiration to me, son! If things had worked out differently, so long ago, I’ve always thought I might have been a hero like you. I like the things you stand for.”

“I don’t know how you know about the Vitamax, but you’re correct. I know I’ll die when it runs out – maybe I’ve got another 40 minutes. But it was worth it to get out of that darned wheelchair and walk – in fact, I RAN! after 60 years. I wish I coulda done more to help you fight against Fantastic Man, but at least there’s somethin left for Rick and Ralph to rebuild. It’s been a good life, Cap! I’m sorry I’m going to be leaving soon, but I’ve got no regrets.”

Cap wasn’t ready to give up yet. “You’re sure it’s going to kill you? You lived through it before!”

“I was young and strong, then, Cap. I don’t have a chance. Say, do you think your buddy Ibis could zap my wife Wendi from home to here before I go? And maybe he could send the three of us to Brazil, so I can see Ralphie one more time, too?”

Minute Man had overheard this conversation, and it reminded him of something. “Ibis, you healed yourself with the Ibistick just a few minutes ago! Can you heal Mr. Tyler, here?”

Ibis’ face was troubled. “I cannot. The Ibistick and I are companions of long-standing, and it is as attuned to me as I am to it. It would take us long hours of intimate study to become familiar enough with this brave man’s failing body to be sure of helping him.”

Jack wasn’t the kind of fighter who gave up easily. The Ibistick was one of the most powerful magical artifacts on the planet. There must be something Ibis could do. Hold on! “Ibis, when your wife was ‘killed’ in ancient Egypt, you put her into a magical trance, until your magic could heal her. Can you do the same for Tyler?”

Ibis looked startled, thought for a few seconds, and then smiled. “Aye, that is indeed well within the scope of my power. I can suspend his life for however long it takes for science or magic to advance to the point where this brave man may be saved. Rex Tyler, I know you desire to see your wife and son, but my spell will be most secure if we perform it now. And you wait, it will become more difficult for my magic to sustain you. And if your miracle Vitamax lose potency unexpectedly, it is unlikely my magic will be able to sustain you at all. Best quickly bid your adieus to your son, who may carry them to your spouse and other son, and let me perform the spell as soon as we may!”

Rex nodded his head. “Give me a few minutes alone with my boy, and I’ll be ready!” He and Rick talked quietly together for a short time, then embraced.

“I’ll see you soon, Dad! Me and Ralph will work day and night until we find some way to help you!”.

“I know you will, son. Tell your mother and brother I love them, and I’ll see you soon! Ibis, I’m ready.”

It wasn’t much of a ritual, given the buildup Ibis had given it. “Ibistick, preserve this man, asleep and unaging, without dreams or changes, until one of his family bids him to awaken” and it was done.

Meanwhile Rick had found his plant manager in the crowd. He directed the man to insure that the plant was totally evacuated. It would be closed for the foreseeable future, but Rick promised that no employee would lose his or her job in the time it took to restore the factory to operational condition. But that was a problem for tomorrow. He convinced one of the ambulance drivers to deliver him and his father to their home, where he had a tough story to tell his mother – as well as his wife and Rex’s grandchildren.

Icon of Freedom walked up to Captain Marvel and Minute Man. “Excuse me, gentlemen” he said courteously “I guess nobody is going to introduce us. So I’ll do the honors. I’ve chosen the code name of Icon of Freedom, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

Marvel shook his hand. “Thanks for your help today, Mr. Freedom. I’m always pleased to meet another one of the good guys!”

Minute Man stuck out his hand. “Interesting name! I’ve always felt that I’m sort of an ‘icon of freedom’ myself.”

“You’re not, you know.” said Icon, matter-of-factly. “What you are is an icon of the United States.”

“Same thing” Jack responded.

“No, sir, it is not the same thing.” Icon responded, quietly but firmly. “You’re a national symbol. The world over, you symbolize the United States. Your values are the values of the United States – and not even the United States of the present, but the United States of the past.”

Marvel looked at Jack. He was expecting Jack to be upset at this seeming attack on his values. “I’ve heard that before, youngster, and it’s not as alien to me as you might expect. I sometimes see things in black and white, compared to you younger folks. But upholding freedom is a mission I can respect. Welcome to the hero biz! And” he said with a big smile “call me Jack!”

“Thanks, Jack! I guess you should call me” he paused for a second and smiled sheepishly “Ike. I hope I’ll represent my ideals as well as you represent your own.” He walked over to his red and yellow vehicle, climbed in, and was gone over the horizon in seconds.

Marvel collared Minute Man and Ibis. “Well, guys, I think we did pretty well here. Ibis, how about jumping us back to SoJ HQ so we can take care of the paperwork and head home?” Both other heroes groaned. The SoJ rules required hand-written reports on any SoJ- related action, but most of the members put their paperwork off as long as possible. One of the problems of hanging around with Marvel was that he was a stickler for the rules. But they realized that the quickest way to done led through start… and Ibis raised the wand. “Ibistick, transport the three of us to the Hall of Justice!” and they were gone.

Epilogue 1

Back at home, Jack sat up late into the night. The encounter with Rex Tyler had disturbed him. He and Rex were contemporaries; they had been born in the same year. And yet, Rex was old, on the verge of death due to old age, while Jack remained young – in fact, he seemed to be even younger today than he had been 26 years ago when he had been rescued from the Suspendium trap. He had tried to live a normal life, but his continual youth was not the blessing he had once thought it would be.

When his neighbors in the American Southwest had started to realize that Jack didn’t seem to age, they had started treating him differently. Some of them were superstitious and assumed he had sold his soul to some evil supernatural agency or other. Some thought he knew the secret of eternal life and refused to share it with his friends and neighbors. It didn’t matter that Jack really didn’t have a secret and had no idea why he was not aging. Resentment and fear grew among his neighbors and friends, each emotion feeding on the other, and eventually he and Sandy were forced to move.

Ah, Sandy… the thought of Sandy hurt more than anything else.

Sandy had been around thirty when they met. She had stayed with him until she was forty, but she had found it increasingly more difficult to watch Jack slowly get younger as she steadily got older. Every day, she faced the reminder that some day, she would die of old age while Jack was still young. Jack tried to convince her that forty wasn’t old, and that she would likely live at least another sixty years or more, but finally, she couldn’t stand it any more. She left, and took part of Jack’s heart with her. They had parted on ‘friendly’ terms, but neither of them was really interested in remaining in contact.

After Sandy had left, Jack had changed his life almost totally. He had changed his identity and profession, and had moved to Massachusetts from the Southwest. In the five years since Sandy had left, Jack had been strongly attracted to several other women, but he wasn’t prepared to go through that kind of pain again, the pain of a loved one walking away.

Jack realized that not only had he changed his life, his personality had also gradually changed, and not in ways he liked. He was no longer the happy-go-lucky, wise cracking smart aleck, and he no longer looked forward to each and every day as an exciting challenge. Who would have thought that being ‘blessed’ with seemingly eternal youth would be such a curse, and that it would show itself in such a short time?

And yet, as he considered, he remembered Rex, withered and feeble, confined for most of his life to a wheel chair, a man who had spent his life looking for what Jack was cursing, Jack gradually changed his mind again. He had somehow been given a tremendous gift, and wallowing in pity because of the drawbacks that went along with this gift seemed somehow cowardly and selfish. He had always been strong enough to deal with whatever setbacks accompanied the many triumphs in his life, and he was still strong enough. He would live his life with the same joy and acceptance he had always had in the past, and deal with the consequences as they arose.

The ‘old’ Jack was still there, and it was time for him to return! With a new heroic identity on the horizon, there was no time like the present…

“I’ve been away, but now I’m back!” he shouted, in his quiet study, waking his dog Starz, who started barking. “Look out world, here comes Jack!”

Epilogue 2

During the next week, Captain Marvel and Captain Lightning had managed to capture the Fantastic Man, when his Vitamax pill wore off in the middle of a fight. They had been alerted to his appearance by the monitor on duty at SoJ HQ, and they had been unable to subdue him in a terrific battle. But about an hour after he was first sighted, he had suddenly changed back to Larry Finklestein, and with the Speed of Mercury, the two heroes were able to restrain him before he could take another pill. Captain Marvel reported that some of the Fantastic Man’s powers had changed from their prior encounter, and he thought that perhaps each Vitamax pill gave him slightly different abilities. An extensive search was mounted for the incredibly dangerous case of irradiated Vitamax, but it was never found.

Minute Man had foiled some robberies and saved some lives during that week. Icon of Freedom made some appearances during that week as well. Some historical buffs recognized his flying vehicle as being similar to the ‘Gyro-sub’ that Spy Smasher had used in World War II, a fact which Icon quickly acknowledged. He had contracted with an expert to re-engineer the gyro sub, and the sub’s electronics had been miniaturized, while the instrumentation and weapons had been updated to 2000 standards. This provided much more room inside, but the basic engine, which reputedly had been able to drive the Gyro- sub ‘at the speed of light’ had remained unchanged.

(The ‘speed of light’ stories had always been an exaggeration, by the way. The Gyro-sub had been capable of about Mach 4 back then, and with a redesign to take advantage of advances in aerodynamics, it now had a top speed of about 3600 miles an hour, or about Mach 6. A system of baffles and unique streamlining muffled but could not entirely eliminate the sonic boom, which sounded about as loud as an M-80. A quarter-mile away, you could barely hear it. The expert who re- engineered the sub was Jim Barr.)

A week after the original appearance of the Fantastic Man, Icon of Freedom, and the second appearance of the Sandman, Minute Man announced his retirement. Rather than having a press conference, he provided a statement that was given to the media by the SoJ’s media liaison.

“Minute Man came on the scene in 1940. Ever since then, with a 20 year time out due to Dr. Sivana, I have fought for America and American values, both in America and around the world, and occasionally other extraordinary venues including outer space, the moon, other planets, the past, the future, in magical realms and even in the realm of dreams. My values haven’t changed, but the world has. To many, I symbolize obsolete ideals, and my very presence reminds them of an era they wish to forget.”

“Today I am announcing that I am retiring as Minute Man. I remain as a reserve member of the Squadron of Justice and as long as I can answer the call, I will be available in emergencies. The world still needs heroes, and the world still has heroes. And new heroes are being born all the time. My heart is heavy, yet my spirit is light, knowing the tradition of heroes will continue, even without me.

“It has been a unique honor to serve as a symbol of America for so long. I wish you all well, as I say, not ‘good by’, but ‘until we meet again’.”

Epilogue 3

Jack and Fred’s original plan had been to have Captain Lightning pretend to be a different hero, one with abilities similar to those of Minute Man, and to have the two come into contact several times after the other hero’s original appearance and before Minute Man retired. However, the events of the week had changed that.

When Icon of Freedom had shown up during the first battle with the Fantastic Man, Jack had been startled. Captain Lightning had seemingly made a lot of unilateral changes to the plan! They hadn’t discussed a flying submarine or bo sticks! But he discovered that Fred was as baffled as he was. Icon of Freedom was what he appeared to be, a totally new hero. As Jack considered the events of the day, a new plan occurred to him, a plan he liked even more than his original. The next day, he put events into motion…

A secret telephone call, a furtive midnight meeting, a mysterious suitcase changing hands, some careful tailoring, and it was done. The night after Minuteman retired, Jack put on his new costume, and stood in front of a mirror. Different, but clearly paying homage to the original. Jack left his house and went to meet the world as the new Sandman.

The End