by Dan Swanson
Tom Atomic slammed into the side of the monster they’d nicknamed Balor at high speed, and the impact was as bad as he had feared. The impact knocked him unconscious, and he fell into the lake. The breathing gear slid into place, protecting him from drowning. Tomas had deliberately designed the costumes to have a slight negative buoyancy, with the feet being heavier than the head, so he slipped under the water in an upright position.
The spine driven into his shoulder seemed to bother Balor, and it turned its head in that direction. Its range of motion was limited, and it could not actually see the wound, as Tom Atomic had planned. But it did see Atomic floating in the water, and decided it could use another snack. It turned slowly, its mouth open, when a weak blast of oily fire hit him from the other side. It turned back toward Terry the Turtle, an opponent it had clearly already dismissed.
Red Rocket had recovered consciousness to find himself lying on Terry’s shell. The turtle must have dived beneath the waters and surfaced right under Rocket. What an incredible stroke of luck. He saw Terry belch a small gout of flame at Balor, and Balor turned around and roared, then moved in to finish his weakened, slow-moving rival.
Rocket immediately blasted straight up into the sky at the topmost speed he could manage. Balor approached Terry, ignoring his feeble flames and his uncoordinated attempts to bite and slash. Red Rocket was sure that, within a few minutes, Terry would be dead, and there would only be one monster left to deal with. Strangely, he realized he couldn’t let that happen.
He did a barrel roll, face and stomach to the sky and back to the water, and when he rolled out of it, he was behind Balor. A tiny fraction of his mind took pleasure in the graceful maneuver — he absolutely loved to fly. He then dived on the beast, planning to land on its unprotected neck. But even his plans sometimes had to be adjusted on the fly, as it were. Balor once again grabbed Terry by the throat and started shaking its head like a shark, trying to rip open its rival’s throat and once and for all prove its supremacy as king of the monsters.
Red Rocket couldn’t land on its shaking head and neck, so he did something more dangerous — he flew as close to the back of Balor’s head as possible, ignited his disintegrator, and swept his arm in a circle, cutting out a cone-shaped section of Balor’s incredibly tough hide. Of course, this enraged Balor, who turned toward Red Rocket. As soon as it could see Red Rocket, it breathed flame at him and also launched a barrage of quill-missiles.
Just as Terry had been discombobulated, Balor also seemed to be slowing and showing uncertainty in its actions. As Rocket dropped into the lake, both the missiles and the fire missed him. He then launched himself out of the water and blasted the hole in Balor’s neck with the full force of his plasma-thrower. Balor died abruptly as its brain was instantly crisped. Its body thrashed in reaction for about half a minute, and then all movement stopped.
Red Rocket’s immediate reaction was to frantically search for Tom Atomic. He dropped his visor vision into the infrared, but other than Balor’s body, he saw no hot spots. “Wait! Where is the other one?” With Terry the Turtle missing, Rocket’s search for his partner became even more urgent. He had to find him before the monster did.
He was about to plunge into the lake when suddenly Terry’s head rose slowly from the water. Tom Atomic’s body was draped over Terry’s head. Red Rocket couldn’t attack the monster without putting his friend in danger. But even in the heat of battle, he couldn’t help wondering about the incredible coincidences of Terry accidentally surfacing beneath him and then Tom Atomic.
Red Rocket remembered how Terry had blocked Balor from plucking him from the water, and how it had attacked Balor just in time to save Tom Atomic from becoming a snack. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence after all?
It looked as if the point would be moot. There was blood leaking from the wound in Terry’s neck, and Red Rocket couldn’t think of any way to stop it. It looked like Terry the Super-Turtle was going to bleed to death. Suddenly, he recalled Atomic’s plan to encase the monster in ice. It could still work, if they could put things together in time. He swooped own, picked up Tom Atomic, and headed toward Michigan at top speed. Along the way, he was able to awaken Tom Atomic.
“Man, do I have a headache! Did it work?” were Atomic’s first words.
“I don’t know what your plan was, but Balor is dead right now, and Terry saved our lives several times. We’re on our way to get those cables we talked about before — we’re going to freeze him and save his life in return!”
Tom Atomic had already had his own suspicions about Terry, as well as about Balor’s quills. He had seen the turtle save Rocket’s life, which he’d supposed was accidental. He was willing to go along with the plan.
It took them some time to find power plant, where they borrowed as much cable as they could carry. Actually, Tom Atomic did most of the carrying. By the time they returned to the lake, the water around Terry the Turtle was red with his blood, and he barely had the strength to keep his head out of the water.
Rocket used his plasma-thrower to join copper cable to steel cable, and then join the other end of the steel cable to yet more copper wire. They draped the cable over Terry so one connection was near the wound, while the other was several hundred feet away in the water.
The two programmed their magnetic controllers to produce high-intensity, oscillating magnetic fields. A changing magnetic field would induce a current in a conductor, which in this case was the cable. This current would flow through the two different kinds of cables, and one junction — the one near the wound — would become very cold, while the other one in the cold lake water, would become so hot that the water nearby would boil.
Within a few minutes, the cooling effect of the heat pump had created ice on and around Terry’s neck. The bleeding had stopped. Terry was now very weak, and had closed its eyes, apparently ready to die. Within a few more minutes, the heroes had encased its head in ice. They hoped this might cause Terry to hibernate rather than kill it.
Within a half-hour, ice had been created around the perimeter of the monster’s body. It would float until the ice melted. They had no way of knowing if it was still alive. It would take several hours to complete the job. The heroes decided to take a break, and they landed on Terry’s shell.
“Well,” said Tom Atomic, “he might still be alive, but when we get him cocooned into an iceberg, what are we going to do with him?”
“I believe I can help with that!” announced a voice they had never heard before, and a third costumed man landed on the broad shell of the turtle. He was tall, well-built, and blond, and he wore a costume that consisted of a blue V-necked top, red pants, yellow gloves, and a belt with a large M on the buckle.
“Who the heck are you?” Red Rocket demanded. “I thought I knew the costumes of everyone capable of flying, but I’ve never seen you before!”
“Why, I’m Master Man! And, from the radio broadcasts I heard on my way here, you guys are Red Rocket and Tom Atomic! You guys did a great job here!”
Pausing, Master Man looked around, then looked back at the other two. “I’d say I’m sorry I was late, but it looks like you guys didn’t need my help, anyway. See, I live on top of Mount Everest, and it took me a while to get here, even at top speed. Looks like all that’s left is cleanup!”
“Master Man, huh? Sorry, never heard of you!” Tom Atomic had some suspicions about Master Man, and he was a little surly. “Fancy name. What can you do?”
“Pretty much anything Captain Marvel could do. I was created to be his backup a long time ago, and while he was here on Earth, there wasn’t all that much for me to do. (*) But now that he’s gone, it’s my job to be Earth’s protector. I was beginning to think I’d be alone on the job. Nice to meet you guys!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Master Man, Master Comics #1 (March, 1940).]
Tom Atomic’s suspicions were correct — if this guy had the same powers as Captain Marvel, Tom Atomic wasn’t the strongest hero in the world, and he never had been. Oh, well, thinking that way had only given him problems anyway, leading to overconfidence.
“So, Master Man, how do you propose we ‘clean up’ this monster we’re standing on? We’ve gone to great lengths to try and keep him alive, and we wouldn’t want to waste all our efforts. But I can’t think of anyplace where he might be safe.” Red Rocket was still concerned about Terry the Turtle.
Tom Atomic had a great idea. “Say, suppose there was some way we could get him to the North Pole! He’d stay in hibernation until we could figure out what to do with him.”
“No sooner said than done!” Master Man said. “I’ll drop him off and then come back for the corpse of the other one. See you later, guys!” He dived into the water, and seconds later, Terry the Turtle flew again, supported by the massive shoulders of Master Man.
The two younger heroes looked at each other, and Tom Atomic shook his head. “Wow, I guess he really can do all the things Captain Marvel can do! Amazing! Say, I’m pretty worn out, and I still have a tremendous headache. What say we head back to my place for that dinner we were talking about before.”
“Well, I don’t feel like cooking, and I’m not eating anything you put together! Maybe there’s some leftovers, or I can fly into town and get Chinese takeout?” Red Rocket was already on his way.