by Dan Swanson
The nuclear crisis turned out to be more important than whatever it was that had kept Shiva from investigating this issue by himself, and he reached the Meadowlands shortly after the construction shack exploded. Lady Victory managed to get his attention, and he was able to carry the three heroes back to New York City, where Todd Drake and Tomas Thomas were checked into a hospital after supposedly falling down the stairs at Madison Square Garden during the chaos following the evacuation notice.
Several followers of Gaia Prime were still alive, and after questioning, the outlines of Prime’s story were revealed.
In 1958, a strange family had joined a commune situated in the Adirondack Mountains near Oil City, Pennsylvania. The commune was only a couple of years old at the time. The married couple told a story about how their thirteen-year-old son had used an experimental psychoactive drug that had completely erased his memory. He didn’t know how to walk, talk, or even eat. Over the next few months, much of his memory seemed to return to him, and by 1959, he was pretty indistinguishable from the other kids in the commune.
The commune members, being pioneers in their own ways, were very serious about their philosophy, one tenet of which was to protect the environment. This kid, who became known as Tad, adopted the environmentalist philosophy as his own, and by the time he reached eighteen, he was one of the accepted leaders of the commune. His influence over his comrades grew, and in the mid-1960s they began organizing protests and sponsoring rallies, civil disobedience, and even some well-hidden violence in support of their leader’s adopted cause.
That was, until Tad pushed some of them too far. A refinery in Oil City, Pennsylvania, decided to expand, and Tad encouraged his followers to protest. Some of them sat in front of the earth-breaking machines and refused to move, which led to a standoff, until police forcibly removed some comrades in cuffs. The construction crews got moving, but Tad convinced several more of his followers to once again attempt to interfere. This time, they threw their bodies in the way of construction machinery that was already in motion, and half a dozen of them died horribly, but the construction was halted.
This “victory” brought Tad more followers and more confidence, and he decided to make a grandiose entrance to the international arena by stopping the construction of Giants’ Stadium and the Meadowland Sports Complex, with the results we have already seen.
Tomas Thomas had indeed suffered a severed spinal column, and the medical opinion was that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He didn’t agree; he was sure that the anti-crime drug would soon allow his body to heal itself. Only time would tell.
Shortly after Tomas and Todd Drake were released from the hospital, with Tomas still in a wheelchair, the three returned to Chicago, where Police Commissioner Tony Spinelli called a press conference, suggesting that it concerned a matter of highest public interest. Reporters arrived, Spinelli greeted them, and a few minutes later, Red Rocket flew through the window carrying Lady Victory, followed immediately by Tom Atomic. Spinelli introduced them, and Rocket took the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press, we have asked you here today because Lady Victory and I are announcing our retirement as super-heroes.” There was a lot of chaos then, and everyone tried to ask questions. Rocket held up his hand.
“Please hold your questions; I believe our statements will cover everything.” He paused to shake his head and clear his throat; it was clear that this was a very difficult thing for him to do. Tears rolled down Lady Victory’s mask.
“During several recent situations, I have made some very serious errors in judgment, and we have all been fortunate that no innocents have been injured. In addition, I’ve survived several serious injuries recently, and I no longer heal as quickly as I did when I got into the business. I simply find it harder to just ignore the aches and pains the way youngsters seem to do — the way I used to be able to do!” He chuckled ruefully, and several of the older reporters nodded their heads. Some of the younger ones looked smug.
“I feel strongly that a super-hero should not be a danger to the people he is trying to protect. And so I’m getting out of the business while you are all safe, and I’m still relatively healthy. The Super Squad and Commissioner Spinelli can reach me in emergencies. In addition, my partner Tom Atomic will continue to respond in those situations where a super-hero is required.
“As you are aware, I have shared many of my super-heroic adventures with the beautiful Lady Victory, who has her own announcement to make. Lady Victory?”
He handed her the microphone. Several of the reporters tried to ask questions, but Rocket had the same answer. “Please let her make her announcement, then we will answer your questions.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today for our announcements. Red Rocket flatters me — during my career I have worked with him often, but more often he dealt with national and global threats, while I concentrated more on street crime.
“I am also announcing my retirement today. I’ve been finding it harder and harder to stay in shape so I could wear this costume–” She twirled, leaving all of the men, and many of the women in the room breathless. “–without being embarrassed. You ladies can probably guess at the enhancements I’ve had to make to this costume in the past few years to keep things from sagging.” She punctuated her words with a wink, and most of the women in the room chuckled at this. “And, as Rocket says, the bruises and injuries are harder to overcome these days.
“I have also made arrangements with Commissioner Spinelli and the Super Squad, but I’m confident I won’t be needed. Ever since he came into office, the commissioner has been improving the police force, providing them with better training, better equipment, and better pay than ever before, and the number of cops on the street has gone up significantly. And, equally important, so has their morale! Over the past few months, there have been very few situations where my help was really required; in fact, I almost felt that I was already retired! So neither you nor I will notice a big change.”
Tom Atomic stepped forward and took the microphone before anyone else could speak. “While I am deeply saddened by the retirement of my long-time partner Red Rocket and my long-time associate Lady Victory, I don’t plan to retire myself! When Tom Atomic is needed, there he will be!”
He gave the microphone back to Red Rocket, who finished. “OK, now we’ll take questions.”
The first question came from the noted gossip columnist, Liz Jones. “Lady Victory, you’ve told us for years that you aren’t romantically involved with anyone, because it wouldn’t be fair to your spouse for you to be in danger all the time. Now that you are retired, you would immediately become the most eligible woman in Chicago. Do you have any plans for romance?”
Lady Victory struck a pose — one hand behind the head, the other on her hip, hip thrust slightly forward, one leg in front of the other — and the younger men in the room gasped. “Why, thank you, Liz! I’m not planning to go looking just yet — I’m sort of hoping Red Rocket will be able to find the time to make me an honest woman! What do you say, Red?” She crooked her finger at him, and everyone in the room could see that he was sweating. He took back the microphone.
“Next question, please!”
The questions came thick and fast for about half an hour, and finally Commissioner Spinelli called a halt to things. “C’mon, you guys, you’ve got more than enough for your stories! Time to get back to the offices and start writing.” The heroes took their leave, and Tony Spinelli shook off the few reporters that remained. “Sorry, boys, even if you don’t have work to do, I do!”
Three visitors dropped in on Tomas Thomas’ hotel room: Todd and Bonnie Drake, and Ron Davis, alias Master Man.
As they shook hands and hugged, Tomas spoke to Master Man. “My thanks, M.M.! If Tom Atomic had retired at the same time that Tomas Thomas was confined to a wheelchair, I’m sure someone would have figured out my identity.”
“No problem, Tomas! I’m always happy to aid a fellow champion for the cause of truth and justice!”
Tomas looked worried, though. “Are you sure you’ll have time to appear as Tom Atomic for a while longer?”
Master Man smiled. “I never sleep, you know. Sometimes it gets pretty boring when there’s no Master Man emergencies around. I’ll be you for six months or so, and nobody will ever know the difference — and I’ll still have plenty of time for my own career as well.”
The four talked for hours. Tom Atomic’s friends had been worried that he would be depressed by his injury, but he seemed to be fine with it. “It will give me time to catch up on my reading!” He subscribed to virtually every scientific journal available, but most of them went unread. “And I have some ideas for turning our super-being tables into a new game, even better than SuperYou! I’ll be OK.”