by Dan Swanson
In the middle of the vast cavern there was a large platform the size of a basketball court, and in the middle of the platform, sitting on top of a truncated pyramid apparently made of skulls, was a majestic throne. On that throne sat Wizzo the Wizard. Sitting next to the throne was a giant cat — a saber-tooth tiger, which must have been fifteen-feet long. Wizzo pointed his staff at the two heroes. “The one in blue is yours, my pet. The one in red is mine!”
Red Rocket had been wondering how to ensure the same arrangements. In his boxing career, Todd Drake had lost some fights, but he had never lost a rematch. Something about a rematch upped his intensity and level of preparation, and almost all of his rematch victories were very lopsided, usually ending in a knockout or a technical knockout. He didn’t expect Wizzo to be a pushover, but he had made extra preparation and done some extra planning in anticipation of this encounter. He had a score to settle with this wizard, and it looked like the wizard agreed. As he flashed to the attack, Tom Atomic was surprised to hear over the radio the old University of Chicago Boxing battle-cry: “Cowabunga!”
Red Rocket had tactics he hadn’t used before against Wizzo, and he had had a lot of time to think about their last fight. Last time he had spent most of his time reacting; this time he wanted to force Wizzo to the defensive. He started off with his atomic plasma, but rather than a focused stream of fire, he allowed it to spread out, and it engulfed not just Wizzo but the a wide circle around him. Rocket didn’t expect the plasma to hurt Wizzo — the last time they fought, Wizzo had used a spell that seemed to snuff any flame, even plasma flame — but he was hoping that Wizzo’s vision would be obscured for a couple of seconds.
Somehow, Wizzo’s chants always cut through all other sounds, and even through the roar of the plasma jet, Rocket could hear him chant.
“Ghewwo nnwyku gdolyg tonntu ohuvht ylsgxu zaanuv xuvalu!”
And the plasma vanished. Rocket attacked again. He had pulled his new gun, turned a knob, and yelled, “Fire in the hole!” as he pulled the trigger. At this prearranged signal, he and Tom Atomic both set their helmets to protect them from loud noises, and incredibly loud noises blared from the weapon. The noise seemed to stun Wizzo, and he dropped his staff and clamped his hands to his ears.
Wizzo realized he would quickly pass out under the pounding of this incredible noise. After his experiences last time, he had reluctantly set up another emergency escape, and he used it now. All he had to do was touch a certain gem set into the arm of the chair. However, he realized that he had dropped the staff; to escape without it would leave him virtually powerless. He made a desperate move and snagged the staff with one hand and with the other touched the gem.
Red Rocket zoomed toward him at top speed. If he could get to the wizard before he recovered the staff, he was pretty sure the battle would be over. He managed to touch Wizzo just as the wizard touched the gem in the throne, and the two foes, along with the throne and the staff, vanished.
The giant cat leaped at Tom Atomic, who wasn’t too worried, since he was at least a hundred yards away. But the cat wasn’t just leaping, it was now flying toward him. He quickly moved aside, and the cat changed directions. But it wasn’t as agile a flier as he was, and couldn’t change directions very quickly. One way to use greater agility or mobility against an enemy was to make that enemy commit himself to an attack at a specific place, and then, when it was too late for the enemy to easily change destinations, move somewhere else. So Tom waited until the cat drew close, then moved quickly away, well outside the big cat’s turning radius.
But this was a magical cat. It could not turn in time to attack Tom Atomic, but it swiped a front paw in his direction, anyway. Tom was astonished when the cat’s leg stretched, and the giant paw whacked him across the chest and stomach. The razor-sharp claws scraped across his uniform, but the armor cloth material had been created by the Germans to resist armor-piercing rounds, and it was easily saber-tooth proof. But even though the cloth stiffened and distributed the impact, Ton Atomic was knocked spinning across the room. He was definitely going to have bruises there tomorrow. Actually, he corrected himself, I won’t. By tomorrow, I’ll have healed — one of the great side effects of the anti-crime drug!
He was amazed when the great cat rolled in the air and landed on the roof of the cavern as if it were the ground. Apparently, the cat had the ability to completely ignore gravity. “Well, it is a magical creation. I guess I shouldn’t expect logic.” Then the cat was running at him across the ceiling, much faster than it had been able to leap from a standing start. Tom was having trouble watching it, so he rolled over until he was facing upward; now it looked as if the cat was beneath him.
With his gravity control, he could match it trick for trick. Again it leaped straight at him, but this time he didn’t plan to let it get close enough to whack him. And it surprised him again, by breathing out a gout of flame.
Tom Atomic dropped like a stone. The cat had to arch its head farther and farther back to try to keep him in sight, and it began to arc over into a loop. Tom was able to dodge the flames, and when he looked back at the cat, he could see its was stomach exposed to whatever weapon he cared to fire.
Unfortunately, unlike Red Rocket, Tom Atomic’s costume wasn’t equipped with ranged weapons. He preferred to fight from up close, where his tremendous strength and speed usually gave him a big advantage over his opponents. He smiled with the irony; he was better suited to battle the wizard, and Rocket this tiger, but that wasn’t the way it was working out. Well, he thought, you can pick your friends, but you can’t always pick your enemies!
He zoomed at high speed at the exposed stomach, hoping that he could land a heavy blow and retreat before the claws could get him again, and once again the beast surprised him — it flicked its tail at him like a whip. As fast as he was, he couldn’t avoid this blow, although he managed to twist so that it missed his head. Once again, the saber-tooth delivered a powerful blow to his rib-cage. Again the armor cloth of his costume protected him from fatal damage, but he was pretty sure he had a couple of broken ribs.
How was he going to fight this thing? He couldn’t get close; although it couldn’t tear him apart with its claws, it could probably wrap him up with its elastic body and then roast him for dinner. Think, Tomas! Cats had a good sense of smell, always landed on their feet, saw well in the dark, liked to play with their food, had great hearing… Hold on. Cats could hear up into the ultrasound range — could it be that the same tactic that worked on the bats would work on the cat?
He cranked up the gain on his echolocation transducer again. When Red Rocket had explained how he had used his own ultrasound transducer against Wizzo’s magical henchmen, Tomas had beefed up the circuits so they wouldn’t fail by being overdriven at high volumes. The cat’s head initially snapped around to see what was making the noise, but then it turned and ran as far away as it could get from Tom Atomic, then lay on the ground and covered its ears with its front legs.
Remembering what had happened to the bats when they were beaten, Tom Atomic was hoping he wasn’t about to beat the snot out of some cute neighborhood cat Wizzo had catnapped. But he wasn’t in a very good mood, and he really wasn’t interested in giving the cat another chance at his rib cage. So he dived as hard as he could and smashed it on the back of the neck, hoping he could kill it instantly. But this cat was magically tough, and though it tumbled through the air and finally smashed into the wall of the cave, it turned toward him and got to its feet. The ultrasound wasn’t affecting it any longer, and Tom could see why — the tiger’s ears had disappeared.
It sprang at him again, and he blasted upward at top speed. But it was only a feint, and he had fallen for it. The first movement was only a short hop, and then the cat leaped straight up into the air. His timing was perfect — he was headed straight for Tom Atomic, and there was no way Tom was going to be able to get out of his way this time.
Well, he claimed to be the second strongest and fastest man on Earth, after Master Man. It looked like he was going to have to prove it now. Adrenaline surged through his body, and it seemed to him as if suddenly the tiger was approaching him in slow motion. One giant paw was swinging slowly, yet inexorably toward him from his right. He carefully reached out and pushed down on that paw with both hands, which was enough to leverage his body up and over the blow.
He climbed hand over hand up the leg of the cat, reaching higher each time, and grabbing handfuls of fur. His super-powered yanks on the cat’s hair were actually pulling clumps out, but he was moving so fast by now that he slammed into that cat’s body before it had even felt the pain of having its hair pulled out. He rolled over so that he was straddling the cat’s back, leaned forward and wrapped his arms around its neck, then started to squeeze.
Although from his own point of view he was moving almost casually, to the cat it appeared as if Tom Atomic had suddenly vanished, and then suddenly there was something wrapped around its neck, choking it.
The frantic beast tried to throw Tom off by whirling and rolling, but he really was incredibly strong, his costume allowed him to resist a lot of damage, and he was extremely determined to end this fight now. The tiger’s fire-breath was useless, and it couldn’t stretch its limbs upward and backward. It tried to use its whiplash tail, and though it hit Tom Atomic once, the frantic cat also managed to put a gash in the back of its own head that cut to the bone.
A cat as big as this one, even a magical cat, required a lot of oxygen, and Tom Atomic’s choke-hold had completely cut it off. The frantic struggle only lasted about a minute, and then it got weaker and weaker, and suddenly the majestic tiger stopped moving and collapsed. Tom didn’t want to kill it, but he wasn’t about to be suckered again, either. But suddenly the animal started to shrink, and a few seconds later, it turned into a normal mountain lion. Now a little smaller than a collie, it was still alive, and all of a sudden, Tom had his hands full of a screaming, frightened, slashing, and fighting wild cat.
His armor-cloth costume could easily handle anything this cat could dish out, but part of his head was exposed, so he quickly tossed the animal away from himself, poised to attack again at high speed if it turned back into a saber-tooth. But this mountain lion was smart enough to know when it had had enough. It was headed through the tunnel in seconds. Tom Atomic took a deep breath and started looking for Red Rocket to see if he needed help. But neither Rocket nor Wizzo were anywhere in sight.