by Dan Swanson
The threat of a nuclear explosion had been broadcast over radio and TV, and the population of New York City was in a panic. The Circle Line had ordered all its boats to dock at the nearest pier, but the captain of the particular boat that Tomas Thomas was on decided to head out toward Long Island Sound rather than dock. Just before they passed under the Queensboro Bridge headed north, he made an announcement over the boat’s public address system.
“I won’t make your decisions for you, folks. It might be faster to go ashore and take your chances. Anyone who wants to go ashore, report to the rear deck, and we will lower the lifeboats. The old Circle Queen isn’t the fastest tub afloat, but I think the roads are gonna be jammed. I don’t know how long we’ve got, but if we get an hour, we’ll be more ‘n’ twenty miles away, and I’ll bet most of the cars on the road will still be in Queens.” Apparently, most of the passengers agreed with him, because only a single boatload was filled.
Tomas convinced Jack Drake to remain with Delia Lynn and her daughter Janet, and he went into the river as the lifeboat was headed for Queens. His powerful strokes cut through the water quickly, and in minutes he was ashore in Manhattan. He raced back to his hotel at his top speed. Even though he often had to find ways around or through panicked crowds, with his enhanced stamina and speed it was only a matter of a few minutes before he tore into the hotel. It took him almost as long to fight his way up the stairs to his room. But shortly afterward, Tom Atomic burst through the hotel window and flashed through the sky toward the Meadowlands. “Hold on, guys! The cavalry is on the way!” he radioed ahead. When neither of his partners responded, Tomas did his best to go even faster.
Lady Victory found that most of this building was empty. As she crept slowly toward the front of the building, she heard one loud, angry voice, alternating between screaming orders and screaming curses. She couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but she guessed that the man yelling orders was the leader of the group, and that he was angry.
She heard a crashing noise, with glass shattering, and she knew Red Rocket had made his entrance. Rushing forward, she hoped to reach the confrontation in time to join the fun. She burst into the front room, and had a quick glimpse of a small man sitting in front of a big control panel, before she spotted Red Rocket lying on the ground with half a dozen bad guys pounding on him.
Screaming in rage, Lady Victory threw her shield at the group as hard as she could, and followed it up as fast as she could move. She didn’t have time for subtlety, and the shield hit one villain on the back of the head, spun off and hit a second in the face, and spun past him and hit one more a glancing blow. The first two were down by the time she smashed into the rest like a bowling ball.
Unlike Red Rocket, who was a flying arsenal, and Tom Atomic, who was one of the three or four strongest men in the world, Lady Victory depended mostly on her non-enhanced physical prowess and the extensive martial arts training she had received from her partners. As a result, she rarely got involved with threats to the world, instead focusing on threats that affected normal folks, such as muggings, gang violence, and domestic disputes. If the six men she was facing had been trained fighters, she might have had some problems with them, but they weren’t — they were just normal men with guns.
Lady Victory scattered them on her first pass through them, and used the far wall to redirect her momentum, pushing off and coming to a landing right next to Red Rocket. She made sure he was moving, and then she was busy again, taking another assailant out with a spinning kick to the head. She dropped flat on the floor, causing the two men who were rushing her to collide when they couldn’t stop their momentum, knocking each other down. Only one was left, and he was running.
She turned to the man at the control panel, and immediately stopped short. The man had moved and was now kneeling next to Red Rocket, holding an unfamiliar device with a pistol grip against the side of Rocket’s head.
The man smiled. “Ah, I see I guessed correctly. Very well, my dear, you will allow my man to bind you, or I will disintegrate Red Rocket’s head.” The man who had been running returned, carrying some rope. He bound Lady Victory’s hands behind her, and not all that well, she realized, then bound her feet and forced her backward into a chair. The position was very uncomfortable, but she didn’t complain, as it left her hands behind her, out of sight and hidden by her body. She had used a trick that Todd Drake had taught her, flexing her muscles as he tied his knots, hoping that when she relaxed, it gave her some slack to play with. She wasn’t surprised when it worked; she had been in similar, though somewhat less desperate situations before.
Lady Victory examined the leader and his follower closely. He was only about five feet, two inches tall, and wore a military surplus camouflage outfit, which had a patch sewed to his shirt pocket: a Mercator projection of the Earth, and the initials GGG. He had long red hair and a long red beard, and she was stunned by the fanatical gleam in his eyes; she knew that this was an incredibly dangerous man. The control panel where he’d been seated was built into the back of the trailer that had been crashed into the room, and she could see that it was mostly covered with flashing red lights.
The follower was a big surprise to her, as he looked like a hippie, having long hair, a beard, tie-died bell bottoms, a paisley-print shirt, platform sandals, and no socks, and he was older than she’d have expected from his dress, approximately thirty, she guessed. He was certainly not the kind of man she would have expected to find involved in an operation that had ruthlessly killed so many people.
She checked out the rest of the unconscious bodies on the floor, and they were dressed the same. She noticed that each of them had the same patch sewed somewhere on their shirts. It looked as if the entire male population of a commune had turned out to protect the Meadowlands from the evil capitalist despoilers. No wonder that they had no concept of tactics, or discipline. But who could have convinced a group of aging hippies to carry guns and kill people?
“Hold on, guys! The cavalry is on the way!” came Tom Atomic’s voice over the radio. She was surprised that, with the technology at their disposal, this group didn’t seem to be monitoring their radio conversations. She switched her transmitter on, then started talking to her captor.
“You probably know who I am — Lady Victory. And the unconscious man you were so bravely threatening is Red Rocket. But who are you?”
“Ah, my dear, I am Gaia Prime, first minister of Gaia, the living embodiment of the planet we live on, Terra. Yet my name doesn’t matter; what is important is my cause — protecting the environment, keeping the unspoiled places as they ought to be, and, in the long run, forcing mankind to treat the planet with respect.”
“Holy ambitious programs!” she exclaimed. “So you’re an idealist, are you? Protect the planet from mankind? I’m not sure killing people to make your point is going to win you any friends.”
The man drew himself to attention, and suddenly he didn’t seem short any longer. He spoke with passion and absolute conviction, and Bonnie Drake was shaken by his charisma. She found herself wishing that he had a plan she could believe in, just so she could follow him. There was no doubt that this man could have been a great power in the world, and might still become that great power if his current plan succeeded. With each completed task, his legend would grow, and those who fell under the power of his will would recruit others, and she could help him change the world. Why, they ought to get started right away. Lady Victory hadn’t even noticed the moment when she had gone from being his enemy to being an apostle.
“Lady Victory, my brothers and sisters around us, with my help, have created an organization called the Guardians of Glorious Gaia! It is our mission to rescue great Gaia’s environment from the depredations of mankind.
“Gaia is our home, the only home of all mankind! Do you destroy your house and expect it to continue to protect you? Do you drop trash in own your living room, poison the waters in your own kitchen, burn down your own bedroom, dig up your own property, and turn it into nothing more than an ugly, muddy gash in the ground?
“You say no? And yet, isn’t this what we do to our beautiful Gaia every day? To oppose this is why I have been joined by my brothers and sisters! Our cause is right, and our righteousness will make us mighty. In the making of an omelet, eggs must be broken; in saving Gaia from humanity, many human lives will be touched, some more violently than others — yet none who are innocent will be harmed, and all will rejoice when we reach our goal!”
Fortunately for Lady Victory, his mesmerizing speech was interrupted as yet another aging hippie, this one a woman, ran into the room.
“Prime, a flying man approaches us from Manhattan at great speed! He will be here in seconds!”
Gaia Prime whirled in that direction and fired his hand weapon. Instead of disintegrating the building, its only effect seemed to be that Lady Victory’s electronics were disabled.
Bonnie Drake’s head was clear, and she was filled with anger. She let it grow, and everything around her — the innocent workers slaughtered without remorse, the casual threat to kill eight million people over some swampland, including her husband, son, and best friend, the sight of six men standing over the helpless form of Red Rocket, hitting and kicking him — added to that rage as she let it build.
Out-of-control anger could be your worst enemy in a fight. Strategy, tactics, and training deserted you, and a dispassionate enemy could easily manipulate your actions. But anger could be harnessed; it could get your adrenaline flowing, increasing your strength and speed, it could help you ignore pain and injury, and it could help you focus to an incredible degree. Lady Victory, alias Bonnie Marlowe Drake, wife, mother, super-heroine, was so angry it scared her. She was going to attack soon, regardless of the consequences. All she needed was the tiniest distraction, an instant of inattention on Gaia Prime’s part.
Then, without warning, a red and blue cannonball smashed through the roof, a couple of walls, and then through the floor of the temporary building. “Oh, my God! That must have been Tomas!” Her anger peaked, and Lady Victory uncoiled as if she had been launched from a rail-gun.
She had already worked the ropes loose from her arms, and from her sitting position Lady Victory lunged forward and pushed off with her still-bound legs. Grasping one hand in the other and extending both arms in front of her, moving fast, she crashed into Gaia Prime like a missile — a foul blow, one that would have disqualified her for life if she’d been fighting under any rules at all. Prime was driven backward, and landed on the floor, where he started retching. Lady Victory landed on top of him and slammed several deadly punches into his head and chest. She was still in the depths of her fury, and even when he stopped moving, she kept punching.
“Bonnie… gahgh — urk–” said a very faint voice, but one that penetrated her fury like a bullet through tissue, puncturing her anger, which deflated like a balloon. She was left as limp and weak as wet tissue. “Don’t kill him…” Red Rocket’s voice trailed off; he had just used the last of his energy and made an heroic effort to save his wife. Losing his grip on consciousness, he slipped back into darkness.
With an ultimate effort, Bonnie crawled to Rocket and checked his pulse. It was strong, and he seemed to be breathing without major problems. She reached into her boot, pulled out her survival knife, and cut the ropes on her legs. She then picked up her shield and moved to the hole in the floor, making a wide circle around the wrecked man on the floor, the once-proud Gaia Prime. Bonnie forced herself not to think about what she had just done, or what she would have done next if Rocket hadn’t stopped her.
Lady Victory was starting to feel a bit more energy as she moved, so she carefully dropped through the hole in the floor. She had to find Tomas Thomas. He must have been swooping down on the building when his systems went out. No normal human could have survived smashing through a building at that speed, but Tom Atomic was far from normal. He had managed to roll himself into a ball before impact, and with the protection offered by his armor-cloth costume, and his superhuman strength and durability, perhaps there was a chance.
She found an incredibly frightening scene. By the huge dent in the side of a giant natural gas tank in the basement, Tom Atomic must have smashed into it to end his out-of-control plunge. From Tom’s position and the dent in the tank, she assumed that his back had smashed into it, and then he had slid to the floor. She didn’t like the angle that his legs made with his body. Without a doubt, at the very least he had multiple broken bones.
Moreover, Tomas was lying next to what had to be the nuclear bomb: a massive device with a control panel covered with lights and a digital display. She breathed a sign of relief, since none of the lights were on, and the display was dark. The electromagnetic pulse fired by Gaia Prime must have disabled the bomb along with everything else nearby that was electronic.