by Dan Swanson
Todd Drake set the case on a table next to the bed. As Tomas Thomas watched, Todd pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, opened it, and searched through the various folds until he found a small key. He had been carrying this key since he was twelve, and it had survived at least four wallet changes.
He unlocked the case, opened it, and started pulling things out. First was a folded red costume, and Tomas realized this must be Todd’s old Bulletboy costume. Next came an oddly shaped piece of metal. Todd manipulated it, and suddenly it opened into the shape of a very large bullet, with an opening in the base just the right size for a boy’s head. Finally, he pulled out what appeared to be a jar of some kind of white preserves, tightly sealed.
Todd flipped the lever that broke the seal, then reached into the jar and started pulling stuff out. Tomas realized it was cotton. Quickly, Todd found what he was looking for: a small bundle of black cloth electrical tape. He stripped away the tape, revealing a small bottle of dark brown glass, the type of bottle that often came with an eyedropper instead of a regular cap. There was no eyedropper here, though. He held up the bottle.
“Tomas, this is a dose of the drug that gave Bulletman and Bulletgirl their super-powers. Bulletman gave it to me when my folks moved us out of New York City, and told me not to use it until I was eighteen. I had sort of forgotten about it until today. I discovered I really don’t want to be a super-hero. It occurred to me that this drug might be able to save you, so I talked to Bulletman about it. He’s not sure if it will help or not, but he agreed that it was worth trying. But I have to tell you about the side-effects before you use it.”
Tomas tried to protest — if the choice was dying in agonizing pain or unknown side-effects from a super drug, that was no choice at all. But he was still worn out from his last efforts, and Todd didn’t realize he was trying to agree, so Todd went on talking.
“Bulletman thought he was inventing an anti-crime drug. But when he tried it on himself, it gave him super-powers instead. (*) A year later, the same drug gave the same super-powers to Bulletgirl. (*) As far as they could tell, then, there were no side-effects. But that was thirteen years ago. Today they are aware of two very serious side-effects.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Bulletman, Nickel Comics #1 (May 17, 1940) and Bulletman, Master Comics #13 (April, 1941).]
“The first one sounds great. Their aging has slowed down. Bulletman figures they are aging maybe one year for every three or four that pass. So they’re going to be young for a long time.
“Now for the bad news. The anti-crime drug made them both sterile. They’ve seen the best doctors in the world, and nobody has been able to help them.
“Just so you have all the facts, Bulletman claimed that the drug made him smarter, too. But he was already a genius before he took the drug, and sometimes he doesn’t act very smart at all, so I don’t know if that’s true. So there you have it. What do you think?”
Before Tomas could respond, Todd added, “Oh, yeah, it also doesn’t work immediately. Bulletman didn’t see the results until the next day. If the doctors are right, you don’t have any time to worry about the decision. I assumed you would want to try it, so that’s why I brought it with me. All you gotta do is say yes, or nod, or something, so I know it’s what you want.”
Actually, even if Tomas said no, Todd was planning to dose him with the drug in his sleep, anyway. But Tomas gathered all his strength and whispered, “Yes!”
“I knew you were still fighting! Good luck, buddy!” He brought the bottle to Tomas’ cracked and bleeding lips, and slowly poured it into his mouth, making sure that none was lost. He saw that the effort of drinking had finally exhausted his friend’s fading strength, and he was closing his eyes to sleep. “It’s in the hands of God now, pal! I’ll be praying for you!”
Todd turned and left. The Bullets were going to stay in town at least until tomorrow to see what effect the drug would have on Tomas. He was going to meet them for dinner. They had a lot of things to talk about, but he was sure it was going to be one of the longest nights of his life, anyway.
Nobody enjoyed dinner very much. There was a minor sense of accomplishment in capturing the guys who had put Tomas into the hospital, but that was tempered by the condition of Todd’s best friend. Todd finally told his mentors about giving the anti-crime drug to Tomas. Jim Barr stopped talking when he heard that, and his attention left them as he stared at the ceiling for several minutes. Just about the time that Todd wondered if something was wrong, he smiled.
“Great going, Todd! I predict that Tomas will make a full recovery and be ready to check himself out of the hospital by midnight or so! Boy, won’t that cause a ruckus! Aside from the side-effects, did you tell him what else to expect?”
This announcement cheered everyone up considerably. Todd was intrigued by the question, however.
“I told him that this was the drug that gave Bulletman and Bulletgirl their super-powers. So I assume he expects to get super-strength and super-agility like you guys got. What else is there?”
Jim smiled. “There seems to be some kind of random effect that may alter the physical appearance of the one who takes the drug. Overnight I grew several inches and gained more than forty pounds. But Sue’s appearance didn’t change at all. I’ve never quite figured out why it affected us differently. Of course, our circumstances were a little different. I was scrawny and out of shape when I took the drug. But she was already a superb athlete in tip-top physical condition before she actually used the drug herself and became my partner as Bulletgirl.”
Susan Barr had been leaning forward, listening carefully. She sat back with a smile, snapped her fingers, and announced, “I’ve got it!”
Jim kept talking. “Not to mention the mental changes. I had always been very logical and ‘bookish,’ and pretty smart. But afterwards, my logical thinking and deductive abilities had been vastly enhanced. On the other hand, Sue was always very intuitive, and the anti-crime drug seems to have vastly improved her intuition. She is simply amazing at coming up with the right answers without enough information. You would be astounded at the number of our most difficult cases that she has solved right up front, and the rest of the case was simply us looking for enough information so that I could prove she was right.
“I used to think the mental enhancement was somehow gender-linked, but the look in my love’s eyes tells me I’m about to learn something new. So, Sue, you have the floor!”
Sue had a big smile on her face. When her intuition was this strong, she was almost always right, and she loved being able to produce the right answers when Jim was still looking for clues.
“There is much more to the mental aspect than you’ve figured out, dear. In fact, the drug changed both of our appearances. Somehow, the drug changed our bodies into the bodies we had always wished we had. You were always the ninety-eight-pound weakling who wanted to look like Charles Atlas. So you evolved the god-like physique I love so much. On the other hand, I was mostly satisfied with my appearance, so I didn’t change very much. But I did sometimes worry about my physical shortcomings, and once I took your wonder drug, I never needed to worry about that again!”
Jim looked puzzled. “I didn’t notice any changes. You didn’t get taller, you didn’t grow big muscles like I did, your face didn’t change…”
“Later, honey. It’s not something you would have noticed before we were engaged! Anyway, I think the aging thing is part of the same effect. Neither of us wants to get older, so your wonder drug allows us to age slower. It’s not strong enough to totally ward off aging. Or it may be that we actually don’t want to be young forever, somewhere deep in the back of our minds. I don’t have any intuitions on that one, so I’ll leave it for you.”
Jim turned to Todd. “Over the years, I’ve grown to realized that she is almost always right about things like this. I’ve never really investigated the appearance-changing affect of the anti-crime drug, because only two of us have ever used it, and it isn’t good scientific practice to generalize from only two samples. But sometimes Sue makes a generalization from a single sample, and after many hours of research, I can back it up with solid facts and logic.
“It used to bug the hell out of me, but what can you do? If she’s right, she’s right. Although on those very rare occasions when she’s wrong, I have to admit, I used to like to rub it in. Can’t even do that anymore — once I proved her wrong, and two years later, an advance in physics verified her intuition! Still haven’t finished paying for that one — although I think another installment is due tonight!”
Sue only smiled a slow, lazy smile, and winked at Todd. He was still wondering about her prior physical imperfection, which her partner, who saw her in a skintight uniform every day, had failed to notice. She must have been reading his mind, or intuited what he was thinking, because she winked at him again. When he realized where he was staring, he blushed and immediately turned away. Sue took pity on him.
“So, Todd, you know Tomas well. What should we expect to see tomorrow? He’s a pretty big guy already; if he grows like Jim did, he’ll have trouble walking through doors.”
Todd thought it over carefully. He and Tomas worked out together often, and Todd thought he knew the answer. “We do a lot of conditioning and endurance work when we train. We are both of us pretty strong, and we do some strength work, but we are both very careful about putting on bulk. I don’t want to gain weight, because then I’d be in the same weight class as Tomas, and I don’t know if I could beat him. But he really likes the weight he’s at. So my guess is, he’ll look pretty much the same tomorrow as he did last week. Say, he’s going to have to quit the boxing team, though.”
Jim laughed. “That is probably going to be the least disruptive effect on his life, Todd. Think of the uproar at the hospital when a man dying of a terminal dose of radiation is suddenly healed overnight! And as far as his doctors know, it must be spontaneous, because no one knows you gave him the drug. Then, suppose someone finds out he took a wonder drug. Can you imagine the public reaction to a drug that can cure a man in a condition like that? Everyone would want that drug. And if people found out it could change them into physically perfect specimens, and extend their life indefinitely — and then they found out that you were the one who gave him that drug… well, I predict you wouldn’t have any peace for a long time.”
Todd’s face turned white as he started to think about the consequences of his act. He had saved his friend’s life, but what kind of Pandora’s box had he opened? “Jim, you’re not mad at me, are you? What else could I have done? I couldn’t let my friend die.”
“Of course I’m not mad, son. I would have done the same thing. But, now that it’s done, you need to think about the consequences, and how you and Tomas are going to deal with them. Just as a quick example, when you go to the airport tomorrow to pick up Tomas’ parents, how are you going to break the news to them? They’ve been traveling pretty much non-stop for the last thirty-six hours, and they’ve been told that the chances of them arriving before Tomas dies are only about thirty percent. And you’ve never met them! How are they going to react when you tell them that not only is Tomas still alive, but he is totally cured?” Jim shook his head. “Nope, I’m not mad. But your world may be about to change radically, and I think you’d better think about how you are going to deal with it.”
Todd was now looking a little fearful. “What can I do? What should I do?”
Sue looked at him and smiled. “I think you should probably see if you can convince your two best friends to help you make some plans, Todd!”
“Gee, Sue, it would be great to sit up talking with you and Tomas all night. But Tomas isn’t here. Do you think Jim might help us instead?”
Sue laughed out loud at that, and after a couple of seconds, Jim joined in. When she finished laughing, Sue winked at Todd once more, and then turned to her husband. “Lucky you, dearest one. It looks like I’m going to have to wait for some other time to collect your next installment.” And then she reached out to ruffle Todd’s hair. “As long as you keep your sense of humor, Todd, you ought to be able to deal with anything.”