by Dan Swanson
Late summer, 1961:
Sunday evening was Aleny Huong’s favorite time to watch television. She didn’t know if they did it deliberately, but the four Chicago TV stations staggered their local news just enough so that whenever her alter ego, Zing the Queen of Quick, made the news, she got to watch it four times. (*) The independent station WGN usually gave local news first.
[(*) Editor’s note: Zing the Queen of Quick was introduced in America’s Greatest: Times Past, 1959: Fun Times Four in Chicago.]
Zing had pulled off a big heist at a bank in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook yesterday. The newly created Chicago Police Super-Villain Apprehension Team (SVAT), working with Chicago’s resident super-heroes Lady Victory, Red Rocket, and Tom Atomic, was making it more difficult for her to operate in the city itself, but fortunately, the nearby suburban police forces hadn’t gotten the message yet. WBN led off with the Zing story.
Aleny’s power normally automatically altered the speed of her perceptions to match her current activity. When she was moving at super-speed, she needed to react at super-speed as well. But when she was talking to another person or watching television, it would be tedious to be reacting hundreds of times faster than normal, waiting subjective hours between words of a conversation, or watching the TV screen being slowly drawn line by line, dot by dot. In fact, it was worse than useless to her to watch TV in super-speed mode; yet for some reason, after a few minutes of watching the local news, her perception slipped into super-speed mode.
And she was stunned at what she saw. There was a message displayed on her TV screen, flashing by so fast that a normal human would never see it, but which was clearly visible to her super-speed reflexes.
Zing — call Ambassador 3-5324 for a valuable business opportunity!
Somehow, someone was sending a message over a commercial TV channel, literally in view of over a million people, and yet it was a secret message that was directed at one specific person — and she was the only one of that million who could receive that message. It was an astounding feat of technology.
She made the call from a pay phone.
“You’ll pay me two million dollars for a single robbery?” Zing was incredulous. “You want me to rip off Fort Knox or something? Or are you just crazy?”
“I assure you, Zing, I am not crazy.” He didn’t sound crazy, but how could you tell over the phone? “I want something very much, and I can’t think of a better way to get it.”
“So why don’t you steal it yourself?” she wanted to know.
“What I want is guarded well against theft by normal humans, but you should have no problems,” he answered matter-of-factly. “Are you interested?”
“Tell me more!”
In February earlier this year, after a group of super-heroes had foiled an alien invasion of Earth and then joined together to form the Super Squad, built-in self-destruct mechanisms had destroyed almost all of the alien technology. (*) However, one of the robots that Red Rocket had disabled in his battle at the University of Chicago campus had failed to self-destruct. This robot had been recovered by the military and was now being studied at a top-secret military research facility not far from the city. Most of the technology, though advanced beyond that of current Earth standards, was understandable, but so far the power supply had refused to reveal any secrets. Except that it delivered a seeming endless stream of power from a package about the size of a deck of cards.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Super Squad: Times Past, 1961: The Origin of the Super Squad.]
“I want that power supply!” The anonymous voice was strident with determination.
“I want that two million dollars!” Zing agreed. “I think we have a deal.”
“Colonel Albright, the IRT screen shows something out on the lake approaching at about the speed of sound!” the Air Force radarman told his new commanding officer. “It seems to be man-sized. I’ve never seen anything move that fast over water!”
Of course, until a couple of weeks ago, when Colonel Jim “Red” Albright had come out of retirement to take command of this secret underground research station, disguised under a fully functional Nike missile base on Chicago’s lakefront, the technician had never seen anything like Albright’s IRT (integrated radar technology) detector, either. Albright had told him that it used a combination of pulsed Doppler radar, continuous wave radar, and frequency modulated radar, each operating on a different frequency range, then used special analog signal-integration techniques to produce a detection device that was an order of magnitude more sensitive than standard military radar, though the range was limited to around fifteen miles. It was an advanced variation of an electronic detector the colonel had invented during World War II.
“If it’s coming here, it will be here in a minute at that speed!” Albright exclaimed. He slapped a switch; alarms went off, and armored doors started rumbling closed throughout the underground base.
Zing raced across the surface of Lake Michigan. She was regretting her choice of approach. The choppy waves prevented her from reaching her top speed, and she was throwing up a trail of frothy mist behind her that was forty feet tall and could be seen from a mile away. But even at this reduced speed, it would only take her about six seconds to cover that mile. So she was going in anyway.
A couple of soldiers stationed at the base managed to fire rifles at her as she rushed ashore, but there was no organized attempt to stop her. She came to a stop on top of one of the silos, vibrated her body until she fell through the solid cap, then slowed her fall by stomping her feet at super-speed, building up a cushion of air below her. She spun around and located the elevator door, vibrated through it, and dropped farther down the shaft. At the bottom she vibrated out of the shaft, and she found herself in the entrance room for the secret military research facility.
It was a small room. The upper half of the left wall was a glass window, with a guard sitting in a security booth on the other side, while one wall was the door to the elevator, and another wall was an armored door that could only be opened by the guard. Green vapors were jetting into the room from small nozzles set in the ceiling.
“If you put all your dates to sleep like this, I’ll bet you aren’t very popular!” Zing laughed at the guard in the booth.
She laid her palm against the bulletproof window and tapped it with her fingers at super-speed, setting up conflicting hypersonic vibrations within the thick glass sheet and shattering it almost instantly. She touched the guard gently on the temple, and he fell unconscious. The steel door to the guard booth was locked from the outside, but she easily vibrated through it. Down the hall and around the corner, avoiding a handful of bullets and knocking out the three soldiers in her way, and she came to the bulkhead door to the lab section of the facility. She tried to vibrate through it, and was thrown violently backward by the electric charge running through the iron door. She was knocked back against the wall, where she slid to the floor, stunned.
The door slid open, and a red-costumed figure strode through. “You’ll come no farther, young lady. I suggest you surrender now and save us both some trouble.”
“You can’t be the real Captain Twilight! He’s only a comic-book!” she barely managed to gasp in surprise.
“I’m Captain Midnight, and I assure you, I’m not a comic-book character,” he said.
He was holding a strange-looking pistol, but instead of using it, he released a thin line of highly flexible metal with a hook on the end. With a practiced flip of his wrist, the line wrapped once around Zing’s ankles and hooked onto itself.
“I’d advise you not to struggle too much. The swing-spring will automatically tighten if you do. It won’t constrict enough to cause damage, but it might become painful,” the tall, athletically trim hero warned the still-woozy Queen of Quick. He pulled a set of handcuffs from his utility belt and strode confidently forward.
“So sweet of you to worry about me. But don’t think this thing will hold me!” She started kicking her feet, as if she were trying to do the flutter kick; even though she couldn’t move her feet very far, she moved them at super-speed, and the swing-spring broke almost instantly. Zing whipped her hand up and around, catching America’s ace with a backhand across the chin. Even though he saw it coming, she was too fast; he was unable to dodge, and he spun around backward and slammed into the wall. As he slumped to the floor, she jumped to her feet and zoomed through the door.
The next room also ended in a bulkhead door. Zing wasn’t going to get zapped again. Just before she reached the door, she dived forward and vibrated her body through the door, making sure not to touch the walls on either side. She passed through safely, changed direction, and counted doors along this corridor; the third door on the right was the electronics lab. It, too, was blocked by an electrified bulkhead, and she dived through that bulkhead as well. Now she was in the electronics lab, which was where she ought to find the power supply.
It was a big room full of equipment. She realized that big row of cabinets with reels of magnetic tape on the front, the lower half covered in switches and blinking lights, must be a computer. There were carts with boxes on them, with screens that looked like 1940s TV sets, and the bench tops were covered with metal chasses supporting vacuum tubes, wires, and other components. There were tools, coils of wire, and boxes of components everywhere. It wasn’t going to be easy to find what she was looking for.
She did a quick search of the room and saw several devices that resembled the description she had been given — a shiny box about the size of a deck of cards with several terminals for attaching cables. They all had cables attached, and she wasn’t about to touch something else that would give her an electric shock and knock her on her butt. She found some heavy rubber gloves, picked up a wire cutter, and started cutting these boxes loose; she would take them all with her just to be sure she got the right one.
Captain Midnight moaned as he sat up. I must be getting old, he thought sadly. She telegraphed it, I saw it coming, and I still couldn’t dodge. Even with her speed, fifteen years ago I know I could have dodged in time. How was he going to stop this super-fast villainess? He was pretty sure a couple of dry ice pellets from his gas-pellet gun could freeze her into a block of ice, but he’d already decided not to use the freeze pellets; encasing her in a block of ice would almost certainly cause major damage to her exposed arms and legs via either ice burns or frostbite. The swing-spring had been ineffective; he’d never seen it snapped that way before. She’d been stopped by an electrical shock — maybe he could make use of that. And maybe the swing-spring could be effective after all.
He examined the swing-spring — the break was clean. He picked up the grapple hook and touched a hidden release button, and the short piece of wire still attached dropped away. He inserted the end of the unbroken line into the hook, touched the release again, and the swing-spring was as good as new again, though a couple of feet shorter. He reached under his cap and pulled the alien power supply from a pouch on his belt, adjusted a dial on the box, and wrapped the close end of the swing-spring around one of the terminals. Now whatever he touched with the hook would receive a nasty, but not fatal shock. Then he headed for the electronics lab.
Zing was moving very cautiously, though still faster than a normal human. A couple of times when she’d reached into an apparatus to cut wires, there had been sparks arcing among the components, startling her, but the gloves had protected her. She was just about to cut the last box out, when the table in front of her flashed and glowed in the shape of a clock face — with the hands pointing to midnight. Captain Midnight was using his famous doom-beam torch. She whirled and blazed into a super-speed attack, and came to a halt almost instantly when the entire room was plunged into darkness by a blackout bomb. She didn’t dare run through the crowded room at super-speed when she couldn’t see, and she couldn’t take the risk of vibrating as she ran — the underground facility had been carved out of bedrock, and she didn’t want to blindly run through a wall and into the bedrock. She couldn’t see when she was vibrating through solid matter, and she wouldn’t know which way to go.
Before she could react again, the hooked end of the swing-spring hit her just below the neck and discharged an electric shock. Captain Midnight had calibrated the current so that it should knock her off her feet, at least, but she felt it less than a spark she would generate by scuffing her feet on a thick carpet on a dry summer day. She grabbed the line with both hands and gave it a super-speed yank, and Captain Midnight stumbled into her. She tapped him on the side of the head.
“Stay knocked out this time!” she admonished him sharply, though he couldn’t hear. She waved her arms at super-speed and blew the blackout vapor out of the room. She quickly searched the American ace’s body and found the real power supply, then headed back out of the facility using the emergency stairways instead of the elevator shaft. By now, the other soldiers on the base had been alerted to an intruder, but they had little chance of stopping Zing, who ran past them at invisible super-speed. By the time they realized she was coming at them, she was almost a mile away.
She got it — two-million dollars in one-hundred dollar bills — and what an incredible pain in the ass it had turned out to be.
“I’ll call you tomorrow and give you a location. When you get there, you’ll pick up an envelope with directions to another location, where I’ll meet you to make the exchange,” she told the mysterious voice on the phone.
“Such melodrama,” he’d replied with amusement. “This will be simpler if you let me–“
“I don’t trust you,” she’d said, cutting him off. “We’ll do it my way!”
“Of course, my dear. But we will need to work together to make this swap. I suggest you make the meeting place close to home, and…”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” She hung up on him. Since she could get home in seconds from anywhere, there was no way she was going to set up a rendezvous close to where she was living; she wasn’t going to give away any clues about her life to anyone.
She had no plans for a double cross, but she still wasn’t sure whether this whole deal was an elaborate plot to capture her. She figured she would invisibly follow his car as it followed her directions, so she could be sure that nobody was following them or would be waiting for them at their destination, and when he reached the meeting point, she would zoom in, drop off the power supply, stuff the cash into her knapsack, and zoom away. She’d run to a safe place and count the cash to make sure she hadn’t been cheated, and if she had been, well, she’d be back before he had time to get away.
But she’d never stopped to think just how large a package of two-million dollars would be.
She couldn’t know it, but her mysterious contact wasn’t planning on a double-cross, either, and was rather amused at her precautions. This power supply was an important part of his future plans, and he figured that in his anticipated future career, he might encounter Zing again. He’d help her out a little bit now, even though she didn’t know she needed help, and he threw in some precautions of his own.