Friday, December 31, 2010

Earth-349: The Last Story, Part 2

By Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Hawkman and Yellowjacket both flew with artificial wings. Beyond that,
they had almost nothing in common. They had volunteered for this mission
because each of them, in his own way, loved the Atom very much, but that was
one of the ways they differed most of all.

Hawkman had arrived at Lilliput in so much of a hurry that he had not
had time to contact their pest control service and get their clearance to
land. One of Lilliput’s biggest purchases from the outside world in the 20th
Century had been shotguns which they could adapt to discourage raptor birds
that made their way through the gravitational anomaly that prevented most
intrusions from outside. Fortunately for him, the gunners recognized him and
waved when he approached, and he was easily able to retrieve Yellowjacket from
the electrical power substation where he was working off part of his sentence.

Hawkman had scooped up the tiny figure and tucked him into the center of his
wing harness, behind his chest emblem. He was accustomed to carrying a small
body there, from all the times the Atom had hitched a ride that way, but Henry
Pym was not used to riding that way, with a man’s sweaty bare chest against his
back and a stiff wind in his face, so he had a tendency to fidget. That was
especially uncomfortable since Pym’s work boots were a good deal harder than
the ones the Atom wore with her costume.

Hawkman briefed Yellowjacket as they flew from the South Pacific toward
Califia. According to what Jonni Thunder had told them, Johnny Thunder had
empowered a member of his gang, Alfred Kurtzberger, to be a counterpart of the
Atom, and Kurtzberger had said he needed access to a nuclear reactor. There’d
been a report of a costumed person calling himself Cyclotron seizing the Santa
Teresa Nuclear Plant, so that was where they were headed first.

While still over the Pacific, Hawkman’s hyper-acute distance vision spotted a
column of tanks and troop trucks moving along the Coast Highway. He swooped
down towards a Jeep that was flying a Brigadier’s flag, paused while he was
recognized and then clung to the running board to confer with the General.

“The state police have the neighborhood around the plant evacuated already,”
the General said briskly. “There have been civilian injuries but no deaths,
but only by chance – this guy is in Superwoman’s class, or close to it, and
he’s a lot less careful how he uses it. The guards at the facility shot him to
no effect, then evacuated. The police haven’t engaged him, just cleared
everyone away and set up a cordon. Their spotters say he’s tearing the plant
apart, so he has to be stopped right away. I have no objection if you want to
get there ahead of us, do whatever you can.”

Hawkman nodded once and took off. He knew it was a serious concession for the
General to authorize him to go ahead of them, possibly to have the situation be
already in hand by the time they arrived, and wanted to spare him needless

As they flew over the police cordon and the park-like grounds of the facility,
Hawkman saw first the tall spire of the tetrahedral cooling tower, like a
pyramid elongated into an obelisk, and then the white dome of the reactor’s
containment shell. He also saw the wreckage of damaged buildings around the
reactor. He saw the raw gashes made by carelessly-tossed fragments of building
and furniture and equipment. The site bore the marks of gigantic strength,
carelessly used by an inexperienced hand. And in all probability, strength was
the least dangerous power this “Cyclotron” possessed.

He had already demolished several outbuildings, and built a long helical
incline around the containment structure. He was now working with frantic
speed and energy, using the strength in his bulging bare arms to crush and
shape more pipe and sheet metal into a long straight shape along the ground at
the end of the incline.

He wore a short-sleeved yellow shirt and blue shorts but was still
sweating under his blue half-cowl. Then Hawkman realized that the fin on his
cowl was not red, but glowing cherry-red. It was a radiator, shedding waste
heat from some powerful device, presumably the heavy pack on his back.

“It won’t work,” Hawkman called out from overhead as he swept down. He
had calculated his approach so that the words would coincide with his winged
shadow passing over him. The maneuver served as well to startle the prey of a
Hawkman as of a hawk.

The villain looked up, showing an expression that was likewise
reminiscent of a fieldmouse flinching at the cry of a stooping hawk, before he
straightened himself and put on a look of arrogant self-assurance.

“You don’t even know what I’m doing here, so how could you know whether
it will work?”

“We tried something like that on Laputa almost a hundred years ago,”
Hawkman replied as he came in for a landing before Cyclotron. “You want to
create a volume where the physical constants can be altered, and do something
within it that can’t be done in the normal universe. But the volume this
construction will create will be too big – it will be dangerously large, and
you’d need more power than even a commercial nuclear reactor can provide.”

“I don’t need the reactor to provide power, only materials. The
affected volume needs to be big enough that I can stand inside it—“

Hawkman turned pale when the madman said that.

“—and as for a power source, you’re looking at it. I didn’t pick the
name ‘Cyclotron’ out of a hat.”

“There are several reasons why I can’t let you do that, fellow,”
Hawkman began, bracing himself for a leap that he hoped he wouldn’t have to
make. He suspected that colliding with this small but burly man with
superhuman strength would be a lot like flying into a concrete wall, but a
literal flying tackle was still probably his best move.

But then the man began to shrink visibly, his bulging arms and thighs
going back to more normal proportions. He strained to stay upright, staggering
under the weight of the device on his back, then collapsed and lay flat on the
ground, his limbs moving uselessly for a few seconds, and then he appeared to
lose consciousness.

Yellowjacket flew up from the backpack, growing to visible size, while
Hawkman tried to turn Cyclotron over before he suffocated. He wound up having
to use his harness’s antigravity effect to lift the thing – it weighed about as
much as a small car.

“Okay, this fellow is out of action. We can turn him over to the Army
when they arrive. Our next priority is to locate the Atom – not to steal
contraband technology!”

He said that last with emphasis, as the normal-sized Yellowjacket pried
at a hatch on Cyclotron’s backpack.

“I just might have an idea on that subject, Hawkman,” Yellowjacket said
acidly as he worked. “Think about that name ‘Cyclotron’. What’s the slang
term for cyclotron?”

“A cyclotron isn’t the sort of thing that you think of as having a slang name,
unless you mean…”

Pym flipped open the hatch. Nestled among the tightly-packed cables
and pipes was a tiny figure that might have been mistaken for a doll.


Pym got the Atom free from the machine, with some help from Hawkman.
At last, the hero held his friend in his hand, unconscious but seemingly
healthy. He was about to tuck her carefully into her usual place behind his
harness when the first Army vehicles arrived. He handed her over to a medic
while a Corporal approached with a walkie-talkie.

“There’s a call for you, Hawkman,” she explained. “Justice Association
business, apparently.”

He took the phone with a nod in place of a salute.

“Hawkman? Batgirl here. Congratulations on rescuing the Atom. If
Yellowjacket hasn’t flown off yet, remind him that he is still serving his
sentence in Lilliput until such time as the Atom or the King pardons him. Good
news from Gotham: Wonder Warrior and Blockbuster have rescued Batwoman from
Nighthawk. If you are up for it, your presence is requested in Metropolis to
confront the male Johnny Thunder.”

When he hung up, Hawkman headed for the tent marked with a red cross and was
surprised to find Yellowjacket helping the medic with the Atom. She was
conscious already, and seemed to be well.

He left them alone and stepped from the tent. Without ceremony, he rose into
the sky, his mouth wide open as though screaming while he accelerated upward.
A pair of tiny, almost invisible flaps rather like gill slits opened just under
his ribs, allowing air to flow through his lungs and out again without his
needing to exhale. The minute or so it would take him to pass through the
troposphere would charge his blood with enough oxygen to sustain him while he
flew, wrapped in his wings, on a suborbital trajectory across the continent.

[To Be Continued]

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