by Dan Swanson
As soon as he saw the figure in front of the safe, Night Sentry silently removed two items from his utility belt. One looked like a painter’s respirator mask made of nomex attached to a small cylinder, a CO2 cartridge for a BB gun which he’d filled with compressed air; the other was a similar cylinder filled with sleeping gas. He donned the mask and twisted a valve to deliver air, then twisted the end of the other cylinder, and as it started hissing, he threw the second cylinder over Heat Lightning’s shoulder into the safe.
Heat Lightning gasped involuntarily as she saw this small device fly past her shoulder, and she breathed in a small amount of Night Sentry’s sleeping gas, though her full-face mask and super-fast reflexes partially protected her. She spun in place and managed to fire a burst of lightning at Night Sentry as the gas started to affect her, but he was able to deflect it with his new shield. As he dodged, she pulled her other pistol and fired a burst of flame. Sentry pulled back out through the door, and the flame splashed on the opposite corridor wall and started dripping to the concrete.
As soon as the stream of flame died again, he raced back through the door, ready to attack. Heat Lightning was blasting an exterior wall with a blast of lightning, and he rushed at her, planning to slam her against the desk in the room. She spun out of the way, and he fell onto the desk, sending papers, office tools, and framed pictures flying. He grabbed the edge of the desk to stop himself on top the desk, spun around, and planted both feet against the nearby wall, then released his boot springs. This launched him back across the room like a human missile, one fist aimed at her chin. The gas had made her a little groggy and slow to react, but she was able to roll backward with the punch, and she managed a shaky backflip, staggering as she landed but successfully remaining on her feet.
By now the fire in the corridor had activated the heat-sensing fire sprinkler, and water started to rain into the room and in the corridor outside. As the hero was struggling back to his feet, Heat Lightning brought up her lightning pistol and fired… and nothing happened. Night Sentry used her startled hesitation to step in and slam a powerful punch to her midsection, where he hit the heavy napalm tank concealed under the padding in her costume. This knocked her backward against the wall, and she slid down into a seated position. She aimed her flame pistol at the hero.
“Who the hell are you?” she rasped at him, disguising her voice. “Whoever, don’t come any closer, or I’ll blast you!”
“I’m Night Sentry, Benington’s protector. I hope you enjoyed what you saw of my city, because the next thing you’re going to see is the inside of a jail cell!”
She laughed rudely. “You don’t think real people actually talk like that, do you?” she snarled back at him, astonished that he sounded so much like the Rush, who had been her arch-nemesis on the other-dimensional world of her birth. (*) “You’re too corny to ever stop Heat Lightning!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See America’s Greatest: Times Past, 1959: Fun Times Four in Chicago, Chapter 4: Zing the Queen of Quick.]
Instead of standing still, he moved his hand toward his belt. She picked up a glass paperweight and threw it at him; he barely had time to bring the shield up to intercept the small projectile. It shattered, and he brought his other hand up to shield his face. While he was shielding himself, she flamed the desk, and even the water raining from the sprinkler was not enough to put out that much hot-burning napalm. The wall behind the desk started to char, and the room started to fill with dirty steam. She picked up her duffel bag, which she had managed to stuff with some cash and some bags of gold and silver dust, and backed toward the door while still covering him. “You going to let this whole place go up in smoke, protector of Benington?” she mocked him.
Suddenly he was moving much faster than a normal human could. Unknown to Heat Lightning, he’d managed to activate the powerful motors in his boots, and they drove him forward his boot wheels.
“You’ll never escape me!” he vowed as he crashed into her before she could react. “I won’t stop until you’re captured!” he vowed.
She was driven backward, and smashed through the smoldering wall behind her. As the wall gave way, and she started to fall through, she fired the flame pistol again, and a stream of flame roared at Night Sentry. Although he was able to deflect much of the stream with his shield, it spattered onto his costume. Napalm stuck, and it burned hot enough to melt nomex, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he was horribly burned. He reached back to grab his fire extinguisher, and while he was blasting the flames on his costume, and then dealing with the fire in the accounting office, Heat Lightning once again made her escape, richer by several thousand dollars and several bags of silver and gold ore.
Aleny Huong was still conflicted as she headed to Wayland Steele’s shop the next morning. He had told her that her car was ready, and he wanted her to take a test drive to be sure she was happy with the repairs. She saw her beautiful, fire engine-red Studebaker Commander, parked outside the shop, and she was thrilled to see that the front left wheel was restored, and as she got closer, she realized that the scratches in the side had been fixed as well. She ran to the car and circled around it, checking it all out. The bodywork and painting were impeccable; she couldn’t even tell it had been repainted. The trunk latch had been fixed, the car had been washed and waxed, and when she looked inside, the inside has been cleaned as well. It looked just like a brand-new car fresh off the showroom floor.
She was bubbling with joy as she ran into Wayland’s office, and when she found him, she jumped on him, wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a big, happy kiss. Right then and there, her conflict resolved itself; she instantly decided she was going to settle down here in Benington and explore this relationship to the fullest, even if she did have to keep her false Lee Han identity to do so.
She spoke excitedly when she broke the kiss, “What a wonderful surprise! You’re such a great guy!” She pulled back to look at him, and was stunned to see him grimacing in great pain. He gently pulled her away from himself and set her on the ground. “What’s wrong?!” she asked him in great concern.
“I’m sorry, Lee. I was doing some welding this morning, and I have some bad burns. Incredibly stupid of me!” he said, his voice rough. “I’m heading over to Doc Donovan’s office right now. Sorry to give you such a rough reception.” He took a deep breath and stood up straighter. “I’m really glad you like your car! It was fun working on it.”
“You burned yourself that badly? That’s awful!” she exclaimed in dismay. “Are you sure you’re OK? Can I help?”
“I’ll be OK. I learned enough first aid in the Navy to disinfect and put sterile pads over the worst blisters,” he responded as he walked slowly and painfully toward the door. “I don’t think there’s anything dangerous, as long as I get to the Doc pretty quick. I expect to be back in a couple’a hours. You can stay here and drive the car — or you could walk over to the Doc’s with me. If I had somebody t’ talk to, I wouldn’t think about the pain so much.”
“Can I drive you?” she asked quickly. “You don’t look like you can walk very far.”
“I couldn’t get in my pickup right now, much less your car. It’s less than a quarter mile.” He set off, plodding doggedly down the street. She hurried to keep up.
But she wasn’t very good company on the short walk. Could it be just a coincidence that he was badly burned this morning, after she had left Night Sentry surrounded by flames last night? She took another look at Wayland, and she wondered why it hadn’t occurred to her earlier that he might be Night Sentry. Each was about the same height, broad in the shoulders, and built like a wedge. She was mortified to think that she may have badly injured the man she might be falling in love with, and left him alone in a burning building, with no thought other than escaping with her loot. She had to find out for sure.
They entered the side door in the doctor’s house that led to his home office. Donovan immediately saw him into the examining room, and a few minutes later, his nurse came back to talk to her. “The doctor says Wayland will be fine, Miss Han, but he may have some scars. We have a small recovery room with a bed here. Dr. Donovan gave Wayland a sedative, and he’ll be asleep for several hours. Why don’t you come back around noon, and you can see him then?”
“Thanks, I’ll be back then,” Aleny said. She walked back to Mrs. Marmion’s, then vibrated out of the house and ran at invisible speed back to Wayland’s shop. She vibrated through the door, made sure she was alone, and then began a super-speed search of the place. In a short time she found the concealed entrance to the basement of the machine shop, and in the basement she found Night Sentry’s secret sanctum. The costume, complete with holes melted through the tough nomex material, and all the gadgets scattered around, proved to her that Wayland Steele, blacksmith and mechanic, was also Night Sentry, the protector of Benington.
Aleny was devastated. What was she doing to do? She needed to think this over. Fortunately, she could think very fast, and get a lot of thinking done in what to normal humans was a very short time.
Had she really been willing to give up the money and lifestyle, and yes, being a super-villain, to settle down with Wayland? She didn’t know exactly why she’d become a super-villain. She’d never stolen anything, or broken any laws, or even disobeyed her parents before she’d received her powers. But it had simply seemed natural to use her powers to get whatever she wanted, in the quickest way possible. And she’d quickly come to love the notoriety that she gained as the infamous Zing, the Queen of Quick. Of course, she’d come close to being caught, so she planned to operate in secret from now on, but she’d figured to replace the notoriety her notoriety gave her with the thrill of winning big in Las Vegas by using her powers in secret, and knowing she was outwitting everyone who tried to catch or stop her. Could she honestly say that she was willing to forego this thrill for love? Just a few hours ago, she had been sure. Now, not so much.
Why did knowing Wayland was a mystery-man make a difference? She had decided to give up her criminal activities for Wayland, anyway, but she knew several other super-heroes personally — the Rush, Tom Atomic, Red Rocket, and Lady Victory — and when any of them made a vow like, “I won’t stop until you’re captured!” she knew it was the truth. Even if she gave up her villainous identities, Night Sentry would find some way to track her down. And when he found out who Heat Lightning really was, it would destroy both their lives. And there was the fact that she had left him injured in a burning building; even if she could pretend that had never happened, what would he do when he found out?
She’d hoped that with a few seconds of super-speed reflection, she might find some way to ease her mind, but instead she was in greater turmoil than before. She couldn’t see any way to remain here with Wayland, but it was tearing her apart to think of leaving.
Abruptly, she decided what she had to do. It would be the hardest thing she had ever had to do, and she knew she would regret it for the rest of her life, but there was no use waiting around.
At invisible super-speed, she ran back to room first and picked up a few items, then ran through the Five and Dime and stole some transistor radios. Back at Wayland’s shop, she took the radios apart, used some tools to cut the identifying marks from two the printed circuit boards, and then smashed the anonymous circuit boards and her lightning gun to pieces with a hammer. She similarly smashed the flame gun and the sprayer. She gently removed the padding from the Heat Lightning costume and wrapped it around the smashed guns, making sure to spatter it with the remains of the napalm. She then ran to the high school, thrust the bundle into the trash bin, made sure it was surrounded with stuff that would produce a lot of smoke, and started a fire in the trash bin. Yesterday had been the last day of the convention; she hoped this bit of misdirection would keep Wayland and the police of being suspicious of her.
Then she ran back to her room, gathered up all her personal belongings, and headed once more back to Wayland’s shop. Once she’d packed the car, she made one more trip, and came back with some cash from her riverside stash. She went through his records and found her invoice. The price was way too low — he hadn’t marked up the parts, and she estimated he was only charging for half the hours he’d actually spent, and he wasn’t charging at all for the bodywork. This tore her apart again; he was truly a wonderful guy, and she was sure she was starting to fall in love, but it wasn’t fated to be. She’d just have to find a way to live with the pain. She made a more realistic estimate on the hours, based on her own experience, marked up the parts fifteen percent, and left him cash for the adjusted amount. She also left a note.
I’m sorry to do such a mean thing to you, but I’ve realized I can’t stay here with you. Something awful happened to me earlier in my life, and whenever I get too close to a guy, memories of the past overwhelm me, and I get so afraid I have to run away. Please don’t look for me. I hope you find a wonderful girl — you really deserve it!
When she finished the note, she clipped it to the cash and the invoice. She hadn’t heard fire alarms yet, so she called the fire department and warned them about a fire at the high school. Then she headed out to the highway, loaded her hidden cash stash into the trunk, and headed on up the road toward Denver. She was crying as she drove, but it was in the privacy of her car, and nobody else would ever know just how much pain her actions caused her.
To Be Continued in Zing the Queen of Quick: Times Past, 1961: Las Vegas Card Shark