"I'm telling you, the planet Caloria is going to explode!"
The Science Council of Twelve wasn't the least bit impressed. "Really, Jor Heat, do you expect us to believe that?"
"But it's true! Just look at these calculations!"
Jor Heat produced a rolled-up printout. He released one end of it while holding on to the other, and the paper instantly unrolled and cascaded across the floor. It was full of dot-matrix numbers that signified absolutely nothing.
"We . . . um . . . see your calculations, Jor, and they look . . . er, in order. But the last time we listened to you, we built a thousand-foot dam for a flood that amounted to two quarts. And the time before that, half our crops were turned to Fiberglas because of your 'quick-grow' formula. And the time before that —"
"Oh, never mind! Just don't come running to me when the electron degeneracy decays under YOUR feet!" And with that, Jor Heat stormed out of the Science Council of Twelve building.
The class-A sun shone gloriously down on the flat Calorian landscape, raising the morning to a cool 130 degrees Farenheit. The mountains in the distance soared ten feet overhead. The trees in the nearby park were super-condensed — hundreds of thousands of times denser than any terrestrial counterparts. The flowers, bushes, and squirrels were far denser than water, too. The only thing that didn't have a high density was Calorio Sapiens, the people.
When Jor arrived at his private laboratory, his assistant Mor Pay was standing by the front door. "Forgot your key again, didn't you, Mor?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Just call it a feeling," Jor replied as he opened the door. "Say, have you seen my new . . . uh . . . roommate?"
"No. Who is she?"
"He, actually." He switched on the lights, illuminating a baby that was whimpering in one corner of the room. "Mor Pay, meet Cal."
"Aw," Mor cooed as he picked up the baby in his arms. "Little Cal Heat. In't he cute?"
"Not really. Look again."
"Oh," said Mor, inspecting the baby more closely. "I see what you mean. He is a bit odd-looking for a baby his age. Who's the mother?"
"I'm not sure. I think her name was La Ra, or Law Rox, or something like that. Anyway, I didn't know it when we . . . er . . . 'got together' two years and three months ago, but she and I had the perfect combinations of recessive traits to produce a very interesting child."
"Glad you asked," said Jor, raising an index finger and smiling broadly. "Turn around so that Cal is facing that target over there."
Mor did so, though he couldn't figure why. Jor pushed a button on the counter he was next to, and a piece of black paper flopped down over the center of the target. "Okay, Cal," Jor said in Baby Talk, "Do it! Go to it, show daddy what you can do!"
Cal Heat wrinkled his forehead in concentration. To the awe of Mor Pay, two sizzling, bright red beams bridged the gap between the baby's eyes and the bullseye of the target. The center of the black piece of paper smouldered for a few seconds, and then consumed itself in a momentary burst of flame, leaving Mor flabberghasted.
"Heat vision," Jor replied to his unasked question. "And that's not all. Two days ago, when I put him on the scale, he concentrated like he just did, and his weight went down!"
"No kidding! By how much?"
"Nearly one-and-a-half million pounds."
Mor hefted the baby in his arms a bit. "That means he cut off about three quarters of his weight!"
"Yep. And when he stopped concentrating, his weight jumped right back up to its normal 2,124,305. I think that might've been a little trait our ancestors picked up to help them withstand Caloria's gravity, and his genetic memory of it just surfaced. There is one detrimental genetic effect he inherited, though."
"What's that?" asked Mor Pay.
"Don't EVER expose him to iron oxide."
"Rust? Why not?"
"I guess its the special magnetic field of FeO or something, but ferrous oxide weakens him fatally. He could stop functioning completely or be crushed under his own weight. He isn't affected by ferric oxide, or by a 50-50 alloy of ferrous oxide with any other element, just ferrous oxide."
"A kid that's allergic to rust." Mor wanted to change the subject: "How's he picking up the language?"
"Daddy whacko," Cal Heat said.
"Yep, he's picked up the language perfectly," commented Mor.
Jor grunted at him just as the telescreen lit up. A disembodied voice wafted through the room.
"Oh no, a news report!" Jor Heat panicked. "This old black dwarf is even closer to exploding than I figured on!" He ran to the far side of the room and drew open the drapes. A silvery missile lay perched on a half-cylindrical launching tube.
"What is THAT?" asked a bewildered Mor Pay.
"That," said Jor, now frantic but still his pseudo-intellectual self, "Is a prototype interstellar space capsule. What did you think it was?"
"Well, it looked like a —"
"Never mind! Oh, it's no use, I'll never be able to build an escape rocket for myself in time."
"For YOU?" cried Mor Pay. "What about ME?"
"What ABOUT you?" Jor Heat took baby Cal from Mor's arms and set him inside the rocket. The ship's hull was as thin and flimsy as paper. He reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a little bauble which he placed in the space ship next to Cal.
As Jor went to the side of the room nearest the door, Mor peeked in at what Jor had just placed in there. It was a ring with an adjustable band and a green picture of a lantern on the front.
"What's that ring?" asked Mor Pay.
"It's loaded with carbon. If Cal Heat should ever be confronted by iron oxide, all he has to do is aim the ring at it and spray. It'll make it into carbonated iron oxide, which won't affect him."
'Great,' thought Mor Pay. 'Iron oxide is lethal, but steel oxide is perfectly harmless.' He noticed an inscription on the band of the ring.
"What's on the inscription, Jor?"
"Instructions on how to reload the ring."
"Funny, it looks like it says, 'Manufactured by Cracker Jack'."
Fortunately, Jor Heat found what he'd been looking for, so he could ignore that comment. He waltzed over to the ship for the final time, inserted a tape cartridge into the appropriate slot, closed the hatch, and pushed the "Airlock Closed" button.
"Where are you sending him?" inquired Mor Pay.
"The nearest inhabitable planet. The star system he's targeted for has planets even larger than Caloria, but they're not black dwarfs. I had to aim for a terrestrial planet."
"WHAT? You're stranding him on a zilch-density hunk of rock with no gravitational field?!"
"Practically no gravitational field. Don't worry, he won't float off into space." Jor Heat inspected the launcher one last time.
"What's on that tape cartridge, anyhow?"
"The native language of the world we're sending him to in six easy lessons." Finally, Jor ignited the engines. The capsule thundered into life, quaking the room around them. The din was almost unbearable as the exhaust glowed with an infra-red life all its own, leaving brilliant heat patterns on their retinae.
"WHAT'S THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGE CALLED?" yelled Mor Pay.
The space craft shuddered away from the gravity field a hundred thousand times as strong as Earth's. It transposed itself to hyperlight speed, leaving behind Caloria, a black dwarf star with days that lasted fifty hours and an orbit and geology stable enough to keep it alive for hundreds of millions of years.
The tiny craft dropped out of hyperspace three days later, perfectly targeted on the blue-green third planet of a certain class G2 star. The tape had been going at ultra-high speed, and Cal Heat was about to receive his final warning about his new home from it.
"The inhabitants use a strange system of units called the Metric system. Instead of pounds and feet and degrees Farenheit and all the other standard units you're used to, they use kilograms and meters and degrees Celsius. Due to your genetic strangeness, you look exactly like the other inhabitants of this world; which is lucky, since an average Calorian looks different enough to stand out. But you will still stick out on the planet Lebanon unless you learn their oddball metric system. Good luck, my son. Wear your ring in health."
The tape automatically shut off, thanks to super-advanced Calorian technology, and the space ship plummetted through the class-M terrestrial's Nitrogen-Oxygen atmosphere. The ship's paper-thick skin heated to incandescence, re-radiating most of the heat but unable to keep all of the re-entry heat from getting inside. Which was just as well, because Cal liked the more comfortable raised temperature anyway.
Moments later, the space ship crashed down alongside a dirt road in Infinitessimalville, California. A beat-up old pickup truck was lucky enough to be driving by, driven by a beat-up old man chewing on a beat-up old piece of straw who was with his beat-up old wife. The woman was paying enough attention to the correct side of the road to hear the tremendous crash. "Look, Jonathan!" she shouted. "It's an FTL Calorian space ship with a baby in it!"
"Huh?" Jonathan woke up.
"I say an FTL Calorian space ship with a baby in it just crash-landed off the road there!"
"Martha, ya gotta quit workin' for that thar space bureau."
"No, I mean it! Stop!"
Jonathan Heat cut the ignition, and the pickup lugged to a halt from engine compression alone. He opened the door on the driver's side, lumbered out on worn-out legs, and scraggled over to the crater. The paper-thin hull of the ship was now only half as thick as a piece of paper, but it was still intact. He flipped open the hatch on the top of the craft and was greeted by a 21-pound baby spurting out "Hello!" in perfect Lebanese.
"AAAH!" he yelped, and jumped back a couple of feet. "Martha, it's a monster!"
The baby's forehead wrinkled. This man wasn't speaking Lebanese or Calorian!
"Jonathan Heat," scolded Martha, "You will not speak of this precious little darling in that way!" She scooped him up in her arms, negligent of the possibility of radioactive contamination. "Aw, isn't he cute? Let's adopt him."
"Yes," said Martha deliberately and threateningly. "Adopt him. . . ."
"<Gulp!> Er, okay, we'll adopt him," Jonathan acquiesced. "What should we name him?"
"Well, he landed in California, so let's name him Cal."
The baby's eyes perked up.
"Cal Heat!" Martha was, as usual, overjoyed.
At last, some words this baby could recognize! That was his exact Calorian name. "Hello!" he said in perfect Calorian.
"More baby talk," Jonathan figured.
In order to adopt him, they had to take him down to the alien orphan adoption agency of Infinitessimalville. "Who are his original parents?" the airheaded old bat of a receptionist asked.
"We don't know," replied Martha and Jonathan Heat in chorus.
"Jor Heat," Cal said.
The receptionist was startled, but nevertheless nervously copied down this name. "Does the child have any allergies?"
"Ferrous oxide," Cal Heat said. He was picking up the new language rather well; it didn't even use those awful metric units!
"Okay," the receptionist quavered, "Let's see what he weighs."
She piked him up by the armpits and set him down on a Genuine Patented Infinitessimalville Baby Scale. "Twenty-one pounds," she read.
Cal Heat realized that he was on a scale almost instantly. He knew what to do on scales: he closed his eyes, wrinkled his forehead, and started to concentrate.
"No, wait," the receptionist said, "Nineteen pounds. Er, fifteen pounds."
"Now see here," Jonathan interrupted, "Can't you even read your own goll-darned scale?"
"Five pounds. . . ."
Less than a second later, the baby began drifting up off the scale. "Nothing," the airheaded examinist read. "No weight at all."
She plucked him out of the air and sat him down on a metal table. "Now then," she rambled, taking out a rubber mallet, "Let's test your reflexes."
"Uh, I don't think that's such a good idear," Jonathan suggested, making his one intelligent move for the day.
But the baby was too thrilled right now to be involved in their discussion. On Caloria, he couldn't even levitate his own weight; but here, one million five hundred thousand pounds of levitation force could lift over six hundred thousand kilograms of mass. Not that he couldn't lift that much himself.
And now, that self-induced lifting force could make him fly. He decided to take a trip right then. Concentrating once more, he suspended himself a few feet above the floor, looked down the nearest hallway, and tilted his front end down. Then, like a helicopter changing the angle of its rotor, he began to ease forward.
"There, ya see, Martha? I toldja he was a dag-blamed monster!"
"Aw, but he's such a sweet little monster."
And so, the Heats adopted the little Calorian monster — er, baby. As he grew, he worked hard to keep his muscles in shape with the Calorian norm; in fact, they slightly surpassed it. His unique genetic makeup also allowed his hide to harden so greatly that it resisted the cut of a scalpel and the flame of a torch. He had a tendency to stay in the house during winter with the heater on full blast, and loved it when their little town experienced an occasional heat wave.
By the age of eight, he was the only Infinitessimalville boy his age to speak three fluent languages, though he never used Calorian in public. It was about this time when he started reading comic books and indulged himself in the superhero image. He went into Town that same week and ordered a few yards of black and red polyester fabric.
And several hours later, the sky was occupied by a boy wearing a red costume with a black cape and a white outline of the letter "I" on his chest. Cal Heat would be wearing glasses with plain, flat lenses on them the next day, but for now the mysterious stranger that flew over Infinitessimalville was . . . Infra Boy!!
His infrared vision — one of his few abilities that was native to Caloria — soon spotted a sign of trouble. A man was working on his car, an old clunker that had seen better years, and seemed pretty steamed up over some sort of mess. Infraboy swooped down to aid him.
"Can I be of any assistance?" he asked as he landed.
"Goddamn jack broke. . . ." The man didn't notice him much.
Infraboy picked up the two pieces of the jack. It had broken cleanly right in the middle of the lifting rod. He fitted the top piece to the bulk of the jack, stared at it, and flared his untrained heat vision into life.
The two red beams intersected on the crack, warming it up gradually but not heating it to anywhere near a welding temperature. "Oh well," he said, throwing the jack aside, "Guess I'll have to work on that."
"Great. Now what am I gonna do about this flat tire?"
"Tell you what; I'll be your jack."
With one hand, Infra Boy picked up the end of the car that had the flat.
"You just said that. Anyway, get to work."
The man decided this wasn't such a bad idea after all, and started fixing the tire. The kid's super strength bit could wait 'til he got home for his attention.
"Well, thanks," he said when he was through. "Uh, what's your name?"
"You can just call me . . . Infra Boy!" he announced as he flew off into the sunset.
Later that night, his infrared vision became even more useful. He stopped a pair of petty thieves and carried them down to the police station. A stalled automobile engine required little more than a Calorian-strength push to get it going again. He stopped in front of a couple of thugs in a dark alley, asked them what they thought they were doing, and non-chalantly hauled them off to police headquarters when they tried to assault him. And after several hours of careful searching, he even found a cat stranded up a tree that he could rescue.
When his mother found out that Cal Heat was Infra Boy, she was overjoyed (of course). His father was a bit more skeptical.
"WHADAYA MEAN YOU'RE A SUPER HERO?! DON'T YOU KNOW YOU COULD GET HURT????!!!?!?!"
"No, I couldn't get hurt," Cal replied calmly.
"Oh, that's right. Well, in that case, it sounds like a great idea, go get 'em tiger and all that."
"Sure thing, dad. I think I'd better get to bed now; I have to sleep for at least eight hours every two days. Calorian days are 50 hours long, you know. 'Night."
Cal Heat was a strong young boy who grew into a strong young teenage boy; he could lift about five thousand tons by the time he was twelve. Of course, he had to conceal this fact behind his "secret identity," which might not have been more than a psychological game, but when he took off his outer clothes and exposed his Infra Boy suit to the world, he could unleash all the strength and flight and underdeveloped heat vision he wanted.
Normally, wearing the same suit month after month would make a person stink pretty badly, but that's only because normal people sweat. For Infra Boy, it was always too cold to sweat.
Cal Heat had started eighth grade when the first change happened.
He was in the halls before his first class when a voice to one side of him said, "Hi!" He turned to its source, still wondering whether he should change his bulky flat glasses in for some flat contact lenses. There was a girl staring him straight in the eye.
"My name's Jennifer Lang," she said.
Cal began to feel something almost alien at this point, but continued. "No relation to —"
"My name's Cal Heat," he extended his hand, "Pleased to meet you." When she shook his hand, he realized that human beings and Calorians might not be that incompatible after all. She was beautiful! To most outside observers she probably looked about average, but something about her clicked with him. Nervously, he let her hand go, hoping she felt the same way about him.
"You can just call me LL, that's what all my friends call me."
"LL?" Cal inquired. "But your initials are JL."
"You're right, that is a bit confusing. How about if you just call me Jennifer."
"That sounds like a great idea."
"So," she asked, "What kinds of things are you doing here in school?"
"Oh, the usual. Xeno politics, integral calculus, subatomic physics, ancient Lebanese culture — that sort of stuff."
"Ooh, sounds hard. What kind of xeno politics are you taking?"
"Oh, I was just thinking of taking Alpha-Centaurian xeno politics when I get into high school."
"You like xeno politics too?" 'Wow, this girl's a jewel!' he thought.
"Sure. I think alien cultures could show us how to overcome all the mistakes we've made."
The bell rang. "Whoops," she said, patting him on the shoulder. "Gotta go. Bye!"
"Will I see you again?" he asked as she ran away.
"Count on it!" she shouted back, and disappeared down the hallway.
Cal Heat strolled off to his first period class, swelling with hope and vivid sexual fantasies about the new girl. It was too bad he'd have to wait 'til he got home before he could masturbate; only his hardened steel walls could keep his semen from blasting on through like buckshot. Then his father would hear it and say, "When's that kid ever gonna learn the truth about masturbation?" and his mother would ask, "Why don't you go in there and stop him, then?" and his father would answer, "Good point."
Cal Heat and Jennifer Lang were good friends through junior high, and really good friends on into high school. She had often inquired about his ring, which he always told her was his ring from the football team, even though the Infinitessimalville High football team's emblem looked nothing like a green lantern with a light-gray-carbon-ash-covered hole in the center. To validate this claim, he had to try out for the football team year after year, which he would continually fail to enter just so he could conceal his Calorian nationality.
Meanwhile, Infraboy's fame had spread nationwide. The white outline of the letter "I" against a red backdrop was rapidly becoming a symbol recognized by even the relatively uninformed. The only two secrets he kept were his true name — Cal Heat — and the fact that none of his powers worked in the presence of iron oxide. When exposed to rust, his strength was reduced to average, and his flight, heat vision, developing super-agility, and even infrared vision all disappeared. That was why he always wore his carbonation ring fully loaded.
But in his spare time, it was nice for someone as wimpy as Cal Heat to have a girlfriend he could talk to or make love with.
It was inevitable that Jennifer and Infraboy should eventually run into each other. She was walking home from school one bright Thursday afternoon. Cal Heat usually walked home with her, but he had deserted her today for some reason. As it turned out, the local bully, Lecks Badguy, had told Cal to get lost and avoid that particular route home. When Lecks pushed him down, he tried to look hurt as best as he could, but it was pretty hard to keep from laughing.
And now, Lecks was going to give the same treatment to Jennifer, just because she was Cal's girlfriend.
"Hey, Jenny!" he said sarcastically as he caught up with her. "Where's your boy-friend?"
"Please, Lecks." Lecks Badguy always got on her nerves, but this time she had a feeling he'd outdo himself.
"Aw, c'mon, skinny legs! What's got your —" he pushed her shoulder — "shoulders up?"
She felt trapped. Lecks might have been lowest of the low, but he was at least three times her size and mostly muscle. Having Cal there with her wouldn't have made much of a difference, either; the only thing she could do now was make a break for it.
Lecks grabbed her arm just as she started to run. "Oh, no you don't!" He turned her to face him. "You're not going anyplace. . . ."
Half a second later, he was on his back five feet in front of her. Cal Heat couldn't go this way today, but Lecks'd made no provision against Infraboy. "I don't think you're treating this young lady very nicely."
But Lecks was too pig-headed to give up to some old legend. "That's none of your business," he said as he got to his feet and punched the boy in the red tights and black cape right in his gut.
Infraboy's gut made a hollow noise, and Lecks Badguy's fist rebounded off it with bruised knuckles. Infraboy put his fists to his waist and said, "Come on, can't you hit any harder than that?"
Lecks stepped back and kicked Infraboy in the groin. Even through his boot's steel tip, his toes suffered the same fate that his fingers had. Infraboy wasn't entirely unaffected by that blow, either; his full potential toughness had not yet developed, and his black external briefs weren't much protection against a steel toe. Infraboy took a full half second to recover completely.
That made our hero sore, in both ways. He reached over and grabbed the flailing Lecks Badguy by the collar, then hurled him a carefully calculated 157 feet into a grove of bushes. He clapped the dirt from his hands and turned to Jennifer. "Well, miss, I hope I didn't interrupt anything."
"Oh, no, Infraboy, you —"
And then their eyes met. He'd been afraid this might happen for a long time, but now he could only hope that she couldn't see through his super-heroic machoness.
Her forehead crinkled. 'Oh no,' Infraboy thought. 'This is it! She knows Cal Heat better than any sentient being anywhere, and I can feel the vibes going already. . . .'
"You know," she said, "You remind me of my boyfriend."
"Oh, really," he said, completely nervous. "Wh-what's his name? Maybe I know him."
"I doubt it. He's the scientific — uh, geek — around Infy Hi. Kinda keeps to himself, avoids trouble, goes out of his way to look non-muscular. Not like you," she crooned as she felt his muscle.
He swallowed hard. 'This is even worse,' he thought. 'She's been going with Cal Heat for years and now she's ready to give him up to the first muscle-bound Calorian in tights she sees.'
"Of course, he does show an interest in Caloria."
"Oh, really," Infraboy brightened up. "Caloria's my home 'planet,' you know."
"I know, I know, I've read about it hundreds of times. I've even saved all the newspaper clippings and now — wow! Here I am talking with the Boy of Heat himself!"
"Well, I must be off now." 'Before you recognize me.'
"But what about," she indicated the bushes, "Lecks Badguy?"
"Don't worry about him," he said, and flew off to where he'd thrown the unfriendly neighborhood bully. He stood over him awesomely just as he started to get up.
"If I ever catch you pestering people like that again," Infraboy threatened, "I'm gonna use THIS." He stared at the leaves of the bush next to him, and loosed his heat vision. The leaves got warm and gave off a little smoke. "Guess I'll have to work on that. Oh well, I can always use THIS."
He conveniently broke off a branch from a convenient tree within arms reach, and conveniently turned it to powder. Lecks Badguy conveniently fainted.
'Well, that was easy,' he thought, took a flying leap, and flew off into the afternoon sunset.
Cal Heat stared at the temperature resistant titanium target in his bedroom. Beams of heat vision sprang from his eyes and struck the bullseye as usual, but they hardly changed its infrared image. "I've been working on that for weeks now," he mused, "And I still haven't been able to get my heat vision up to the point where it really makes a difference."
He had posted a sign below the target on yellow construction paper. Crayoned in purple on the sign was, "Once you can burn a hole through the target, your will have mastered your heat vision." He didn't know if there was an upper limit to his heat vision's potential power, but he currently felt like he'd already reached it. What good was a biological ability if it was too weak to use?
"Ah well," he gave in, "Enough of that. Think I'll go out on patrol again. It helps me relax and forget my problems."
He grabbed both sides of his button front shirt and pulled them apart, revealing the characteristic "I" outline on the red background. One quick-change later, he was out the window and gaining altitude high above the small town.
Anyone below who saw him pointed, of course, but he couldn't be sure if it was because he was Infraboy or because he wore black shorts on the outside of his red tights. Ah, that was Jennifer down there on Nowhere Lane. He decided to drop down and say hi.
"Hi," he said as he dropped down.
"Infra Boy," she said, her expression melting to a smile. "I've been thinking about you ever since you first showed up." She slid her hands onto his shoulders. "You're really something else."
"Uh, yeah," he replied. 'Poor Cal Heat,' he thought. 'Now she has eyes for Infraboy, too. Oh well, maybe two boys for one girl isn't such a bad setup anyway. Especially if the two are crammed in the same tights.' "Say, what are you doing tonight?"
"Hopefully going to bed with a Calorian," she said as she squeezed him.
'Wow, she's really coming on strong! She never acted that way around Cal Heat — or anyone, for that matter! She acts like she's known me for weeks.' "I hope you realize that my Calorian muscles can do serious damage to you if they get out of control."
"I'll take that chance. Come on, let's go to my place." She grabbed his hand and headed off.
And that night, without her even guessing it, Jennifer Lang fell in love with the same person for the second time.
Cal Heat glanced distractedly at his watch. 'Where is she?' he wondered. 'Jennifer was supposed to meet me by the old warehouse at noon. Wonder what she wants here, anyway.'
He was distracted when he saw two rather burly men come from around opposite corners of the old building. They wore plaid flannel shirts and looked like thay hadn't shaved in a week. The one with the wool cap and axe approached Cal and said, with a thick French accent, "Where do you think you are going?"
"No place," Cal replied. "I'm just standing here."
"Where do you think you are going?" This jack had probably only been taught how to say that one line.
"Kukamonga," Cal sneered.
The other lumberjack picked him up by his collar and belched, with another heavy French accent, "You are not going anywhere, misseur!"
That shake-up had thrown off Cal's glasses, but these foreign inbecils probably wouldn't recognize Infraboy anyway. "Hey," Cal commented, trying to act scared, "Take it easy! Wh-whadaya want?"
The two lugs didn't answer his wimpish plea, but grabbed both his arms and pinned him up against the wall of the warehouse instead. "Honest," Cal whimpered, "I didn't even TOUCH your daughter!"
Then he heard the muffled cry: "Help!" It came from the far corner of the warehouse; and he recognized the voice.
"Jennifer!" he yelled. Then louder: "Jennifer!!"
No time to waste, or to think. He flung the two hulks off his back and onto two separate groups of metal drums about fifty feet away. He couldn't afford wasting time to change to his Infraboy clothes; raising his fists above his head, he rammed them into the warehouse wall, crumbling it into neatly stacked plywood.
The whole interior of the warehouse, save a room at the far corner, displayed itself before him. But he wasn't alone; whoever had set him up had also planned for "just such an emergency," and six men wearing hit man clothes and carrying nickel-plated revolvers stepped out from behind various crates. "There he is, boys! GET HIM!!"
A hail of bullets clouded Cal Heat's speedy entry. One or two of these actually hit him, and got as far as making holes in his shirt and polyester undergarments before flattening against his skin. They caused him momentary annoyance, at best; he was more worried about getting to Jennifer in time.
He dashed through the crates at full speed — over thirty miles per hour — constantly looking for openings to shorten the trip. Occasionally, the fastest route was right through a crate, and he took it. The rain of bullets slowed to a trickle as the hit men realized how futile it was, but the few that impacted slowed him down enough to make this rescue less than likely. When he was fully two-thirds of the way across the giant room, a scream — Jennifer's — issued from his destination.
"Jennifer!!" he yelled. He wouldn't get there in time; the only thing he could hope to do now was burn a hole in the door to distract Jennifer's assailants. He squinted at the center of the door, and spat out two red eye beams which converged on a single point and did little more than sizzle and make the door give off a little smoke.
Five seconds later, he gave up heat visioning. "Guess I'll have to work on that," he said, and charged through the door.
"Jennifer!?" he inquired, but there was no one there. Half the furniture in the small office was demolished, and there was a big hole in the ceiling, but there was no Jennifer. He fell to his knees, tears streaming out of his eyes, bent his head down and cried, "Jennifer!!!" He looked up to the hole in the ceiling. Her last scream resounded in his thoughts. "JENNIFEEEEEEEER!!!!!"
He got to his feet, shaking with rage. Spinning half way around, he smashed down the entire wall separating the office from the rest of the warehouse. Cringing, the hit men cowered into a far corner. Cal stomped out through the wreckage and clawed onto the biggest crate he could find. "I'll kill you," he mumbled.
He raised the crate high above his head. It weighed several tons, but that was nothing to a Calorian. "I'LL KILL ALL OF YOU!"
There wasn't anything the hit men could do. They simply clustered closer together and backed farther into the corner.
Cal Heat looked at their quivering, frightened faces, wrinkled his forehead, and dropped the crate in disgust. He just couldn't bring himself to kill those people, no matter how much he wanted to. He buried his face in his hands and cried "Jennifer!" once more, before her presence left his life for good.
Infraboy soon gave way to Inframan, his powers maturing with his name. Despite all his training in Calorian politics, calculus, subatomics, and Lebanese, Cal Heat became a struggling reporter working for the Daily Planetary Bugle, a big-time newspaper run by Perry W. Jameson. He had some oddball idea that working on a newspaper would keep him better informed of events that Inframan could help out on, but all it really did was change his lifestyle from so-so to lousy. Reporters never earned large payrolls. He hadn't even seen Lecks Badguy around since his days as Infraboy.
His strength had increased since his youth; he could lift ten thousand tons if he tried, and was probably capable of lifting even more. His speed and agility also increased to the point where he could run forty-five miles per hour and react three times faster than most people. His top flight speed had also increased to 2000 miles per hour (although he had severe problems breathing if he went supersonic), during which he could now carry as much as he could normally lift. His skin even became tougher and harder to pierce. Of course, none of these changes came without his working on them like crazy.
But the thing he worked his hardest at, more than all of his other efforts combined, was his heat vision. He owed the loss of Jennifer to his faulty heat vision, and felt obliged to keep that circumstance from ever happening again.
Jennifer's memory left a big gap in his life. He was never sure what happened to her, though she was probably dead. He'd thought about joining the French foreign legion, but easy work would only intensify the loss.
There was one more change in him, though it was far from personal. The I on his chest was sensitive to when he was under strain — like a mood ring — and shimmered (sometimes shined) as brightly as he exerted himself.
On the other side of the void between Earth and Caloria, though, things weren't as progressive.
Lecks Badguy lay suspended in a gravitational field only twice as strong as Earth's. He needed the excercise a high-gravity environment would give him, but direct exposure to Caloria's gravity would flatten him into a bloody pulp. Jennifer Lang lay in the Null Gravity part of his Calorian Travelling Contraption, held in a kind of dreamy waking state by Lecks' own Animation Suspending Gas.
For years he'd been roaming the planet's surface in search of SOMEONE who was renegade enough to want to take over Earth, either because or in spite of Jor Heat's son. The Science Council of Twelve, his first contact, wanted to buy the plans for the ship he was roaming Caloria in but had no interest in taking over other worlds or getting even for what Jor Heat had done to — er, for them. He tried to capture Jor Heat and Make Him Talk, but that proved an abysmal failure because he'd underestimated the physical strength of someone who'd lived in a hundred thousand Gs all his life (even though Jor was relatively a weakling). He went to Jor's lab assistant, Mor Pay, and to Jor's lover, Law Rox, but both were now multi-million credit ultradense-oil refinery owners and didn't care about Jor Heat or his abandoned son.
He even went to Joe's Bar and Blast Furnace to ask around, but all he got there was funny looks because his Calorian rover was thirty feet wide, and beer at room temperature. And room temperature on Caloria was 140 degrees.
He was about to give up looking for subordinates for his world conquest plans when he happened upon the Calorian Penetentiary for Ex-Science-Council-of-Twelve-Members-Hating Criminals Who Want to Take Over Other Planets. This was just what he was looking for; maybe someday the Calorians would have insight enough to invent the yellow pages. He disguised his ten-metric-ton 30-foot-long Caloria Rover as a terrestrial laundry truck and easily infiltrated the complex.
"Terrestrial laundry," he said to the guard.
"Pass," the guard replied, and let him in.
Once inside, he ducked around a corner, shucked his vehicle's ingenious disguise, and barrelled on inward toward the Maximum Security Wing for Ex-Science-Council-of-Twelve-Members-Hating Criminals Who Really Really Want to Take Over Other Planets but Need an Intellectual Leader With a Space Ship That Can Achieve Calorian Escape Velocity. Only one of the guards in his path thought this would be a good time to sound the alarm, but she got run over before she could reach it and ended up looking like the aftermath of a steamroller scene out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.
Most of the cells he passed contained single occupants, although a few of the maximum security prisoners had their pets in with them. It was when he reached a cell occupied by THREE prisoners, one of whom was chlorophyll-colored, that he slammed on the brakes.
Five seconds later, the massive craft screeched to a halt and backed up to the triple-occupant cell it had passed.
Lecks leaned his head out the window (while keeping it inside, of course, which was not easy). "Pardon me," his autotranslator said in perfect Calorian, "But could you help out a fellow American who's down on his luck?"
"Hit the road!" one of them replied.
"No, wait!" their leader whispered. He huddled them all into a corner and spoke to them almost inaudibly: "This guy's got a machine that could mean our escape from this electron-degeneracyball. If we could trick him out into the open, we could —"
"You'll trick no one!" Lecks Badguy said, after having monitored their conversation with his Rover's built-in hear-a-rama.
"H-how could you hear us?"
"I'm from Earth! I have super hearing," he lied.
"Earth? That zilch-density dirt node that our arch enemy Jor Heat once mistakenly named 'Lebanon?'"
"That's the one!" Lecks responded. "And since you hate Jor Heat, I have a little surprise waiting if you help me conquer the Earth."
"What's that?" the green one asked.
"Remember 20-some years ago when Jor Heat sent his son to 'Lebanon?' Well, Cal Heat is still alive."
All three of them grabbed the bars. "The son of Jor Heat? Alive?"
"That's what I just said, isn't it?!"
"Great!" their leader said. "When do we escape?"
"Right now, if you'd like. Just rip those bars apart. Go ahead, I'm watching you."
The leader rolled his eyes back. "Stupid terran, look at your bond structure analyzer! These bars are made of Calorium, the strongest alloy known to Caloriakind."
"Hmmm . . ." Lecks hmmmed as he studied his bond structure analyzer's display. "You're right, you could never bend these, even with a hundred thousand times Earth normal strength. However, there's one flaw you failed to notice; your Calorium seems to have a rather low melting point."
He swung his Lecks Badguy High-Efficiency Infrared Laser (patent applied for) into place, and fired. The beam traced the bottom of the cell, sheared the bars at their bases, and then went back and cut the bars off again from the top. The front of the cell fell away.
The green one was ecstatic. The third one wasn't doing a very good job of containing himself either. The leader smiled and said, "I think I could get to like you, . . . uh . . . what did you say your name was?"
"I didn't say what my name was," Lecks answered.
"Well, then what is it?"
"Peter Pan," Lecks replied out of instinct. "But you can just call me Lecks Badguy. Hop in."
Fortunately, Lecks had built the Calorian Rover to withstand sudden changes in the forces directed at it; however, he sternly warned the Calorian criminals never to literally hop into his craft again after they created 6.5 quakes on their way to the 140-Farenheit high-gravity section.
"Now that you know my name," he said to the Calorians as he caused the artificial G-forces on the craft's superstructure to increase from -100,000 to -100,002, "Let's hear yours." He glanced smilingly at the suspension chamber in which Jennifer was stored. She scowled as well as she could manage through her grog.
"I'm called Leader One," the leader said.
"Wasn't he on the GoB . . . aw, never mind."
"My name's extra," the other non-green one said.
"Extra?" Lecks asked.
"Yeah," put in Leader One, "He's just a minor character."
"Hm. And who are you, O chlorophillous one?"
"Rrrrgh," he said, working what amounted to his vocal chords into order. "Don't have a name, really. They just call me Plant."
"All right," Lecks said, "Leader One, Extra, and Plant. The one we're after is Infra Boy, more commonly known to you as Cal Heat."
Jennifer Lang snapped to attention.
"Cal Heat . . ." Lecks pondered. "Seems I remember that name from someone els— oh yes! The wimp at Infinitessimalville High. I wonder if they could be the same . . . nah."
The craft finished leaving the atmosphere and began to lengthen; Lecks was engaging the Space Warper. At full power, the distance from Caloria to Sol/Earth would be a couple of light-days from the craft's point of view, a journey it could easily make in a week. Of course, the planets and stars to either side of him would look really squished, but that didn't matter because his Cray-improved-by-Lecks tactical/nav computer took that into account.
"Nobody move!" shouted the twenty-foot-tall mannish being in the front. He would have said "Take me to your leader" if it wouldn't have caused a logical contradiction with his current order. The five other twenty-foot-tall mannish beings behind him scanned five nasty looking non-terrestrial pistols across the crowd, waiting eagerly for someone to move so that they could shoot him.
Someone did move. He was a psychotic standing about eighteen feet back from the aliens and their ship, and he was moving toward a phone booth. He thought he was a Kryptonian, but it wouldn't have mattered if he was; the yellow-lightning-bolt-looking zap beam that sent him into magenta non-existence turned out to be powered by Red Solar Radiation anyway.
Infra Man would try to make that the only casualty. He'd caught sight of the distant energy streak and was now finishing thundering onto the scene as fast as his self-induced antigrav control (flight) could manage. Twenty-foot-tall aliens coming out of a huge, saucer-shaped air/space vehicle, the last report had said. Fine then. Anti-twenty-foot-tall-alien tactics it would be. 'This looks like a job for Infra Man,' his thought bubble read.
One of the aliens caught sight of HIM before he arrived, though. "Calorian at ten o'clock!"
The Alien In Front smiled, said, "Calorians like heat. I think I'll oblige," set his sights on the incoming humanoid, and fired.
The yellow bolt struck the incoming Calorian and arced around his body, subsiding to leave him only momentarily weakened. Infra Man quickly regained his composure and resumed closing. He'd been unprepared for that first blast; he wouldn't let it happen again.
"What?!?" gawked the Alien In Front in disbelief. "He's still coming! OPEN FIRE!!"
Lightning-shaped bolts of lightning-colored raygun rays flashed out from six hand-held pistols toward the red-and-black polyester dynamo at the ends of their sights. Now, however, Infra Man was ready and the gunmen weren't taking time to aim accurately, so slithering between the shots was not only possible but easy.
Before the aliens realized that shooting blindly at IM was futile and that they should put Emergency Backup Escape Plan B into action, the man with the now-softly-glowing white outline of an "I" on his chest stopped right next to the Alien In Front and punched with his full strength into its light body armor, sending him flying into the side of its ship, unconscious. This little bit of boxing practice caused his "I" to momentarily increase its glow, but only momentarily.
One of the aliens tried to grab him between its hands. IM saw the attempt, slipped through the alien's rapidly closing fingers, swooped up to their eye level, grabbed both the alien that had just tried to grab him and the one next to it that was trying to shoot him again, and bashed their heads together. They fell down side-by-side with dopey, glazed smiles on their faces and little purple stars dancing around their heads.
SUDDENLY, the Man of Heat felt a clapping pressure from either side and, seeing darkness, realized that alien number four had actually managed to grab him in its hands. The muffled cheer of, "Now I gotcha! TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER!" confirmed this fact. Unfortunately, this alien had forgotten the first rule about dealing with beings that were born on black dwarf stars, which is to never pit your strength against theirs. A rumbling and a burst, and two seconds later a fists-outstretched Infra Man was floating in midair in front of his would-be captor and giving it a punch in the mouth. Since that punch in the mouth had the impact strength of Comet Kohoutek, this twenty-foot-tall being that looked almost like a human would probably have a pretty fat lip when it woke up back at its own planet the next morning.
"Hold it, star child!" one of the remaining two said, waving his gun at the crowd. "Make one false move and several of these homo sapiens that you apparently love to protect will be vaporized."
"Aaaaah!" yelped the crowd.
<Gulp!> swallowed Infra Man.
For a moment, nothing happened. Two millimoments later, nothing continued to happen. Things continued not happening like this for the next two-and-a-half moments, until alien number five blurted out, "TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER!"
"But if I take you to my leader," IM goaded, "Then I'll have to move."
"Yes, but that wouldn't be a false move!" alien number five replied.
'Aha!' Infra Man figured. 'Maybe I can overcome them with logic!'
"I never tell the truth," the Man of Heat declared.
Alien number five thought this over for a few seconds, then said, "You're lying."
Inframan snapped his fingers. 'Darn! He's too stupid for his own good.' But maybe this was the angle he'd been looking for. . . .
"Hey, look!" Infra Man cried. "Over there!"
"You don't thing I'm going to fall for THAT old — UUUUNGH!!"
Yes, both alien number five and alien number six were knocked down and out by the force of the explosion. Infra Man would have had to shield the crowd from the blast as well had the blast not been shielded well enough by the aliens' bodies. Infra Man gazed up to Over There and waved a hello to the squadron of F-22s. His reverse psychological diversion had worked.
Four hours later, after the United States government had disassembled the space craft and put it back together, the aliens were coralled up into their little flying saucer and escorted back off to their home planet.
"Krakafonians," Infra Man said to the reporters and television cameras. "I learned about them in my high school xeno politics class. Seems that every fourteen-and-a-half years, the economic and social pressures on Krakafon inevitably cause about five or six of them to comendier a space craft, fly to a nearby star system, and terrorize one of its inhabited planets with shouts of 'Take me to your leader!' Dreadful psychological illness, but if treated in time they can live as normal Krakafonians again. Don't worry, the justice system on Krakafon can handle them."
"Mister Man —"
"Call me Infra."
"— can you explain the fact that they spoke our language and looked like twenty-foot-high replicas of British human beings?"
Infra Man searched his memory. "The fact that their language is almost exactly like our English is just an accident. You figure that if there are some five or six quintillion cultures in the universe, some of them must accidentally hit on languages which sound similar. Krakafonian, in fact, is a headache to statisticians all over the western arm because it differs from English by only one word."
"And which word is that?" the gum-chewing girl reporter asked.
"Our word 'No.' Their word for no is 'yes'."
"Wouldn't that cause a lot of confusion?"
"It sure does. Why do you think that every fourteen-and-a-half years, five or six of them become obsessed with being taken to your leaders?"
Infra Man looked worriedly at the miles of tape recorders in front of him, the toys of the modern news industry. 'Don't worry,' he tried to tell himself, 'Magnetic tape is ferric oxide, Fe2O3, not ferrous oxide.' Just the same, he glanced down at his shoulders. They were the same width, which meant his powers were still up and there was no power-draining FeO in the vicinity.
"Now then, Infra, how do you explain their human-like appearence?"
"Well, that relates back to a theory held by a lot of xeno biologists. After watching all 79 episodes of Star Trek and reading both Marvel and D.C. comics, the conclusion was reached that all aliens who achieve the technological prowess we label 'civilization' must have two arms, two legs, a head with the usual human features, an abdomen, a humanoid skeleton, and all other surface features of homo sapiens except maybe for skin color or ear shape. Oh, and the internal organs can be scrambled all over the place, too; but they must look and act precisely as human beings."
"And that's all?"
"Yep, that's the rule."
"Well thank you Infra Man, you've thoroughly enlightened us all."
"Yaaaaay!" cheered the crowd.
Inframan bathed in his own glory, and thought: 'Now all I have to do is fly over to the Daily Planetary Bugle building, change into Cal Heat, and write up this story before anybody else does. It'll sound like I was right up there with Infra Man himself!' He flexed a few of his Calorian muscles.
"HOORAY, INFRA . . . man. . . ."
The crowd's cheer dwindled as they cast their eyes skyward. Infra Man, worried that he'd somehow lost popularity, looked up too. And his mouth dropped open.
From out of the sun descended a thirty-foot-long air/space/land craft, definitely terrestrial in design, shaking the air with a bass that almost overshadowed the dramatic music playing in the background.
The crowd panicked. Infra Man expected that, because crowds normally did that kind of thing.
"Infra Boy," boomed Lecks' voice. "At last we meet again."
"Infra MAN to you," the Calorian said in that impressive tone of voice all alien super-heroes with incredible strength have to master. His "I" flared up slightly.
"So, you've finally grown up, have you? Hey, I like the mood-sensitive insignia; it's a nice touch."
"All right, Lecks, what are you doing back here?"
"You KNOW this guy?" asked the Gum-Chewing Girl Reporter.
"Sure do. That's Lecks Badguy, superintellingent bully of Infinitessimalville High. If I, yours truly, Infra Boy —" he pointed to himself "— hadn't been there, he probably would have taken over the town."
"I came back," Lecks finally answered, "To take over the world, what else? I knew I couldn't do it with a Calorian in my way, so I brought back THREE Calorians to fight on my side!"
As soon as he said "side!," the bomb-bay doors on the bottom of the craft opened up and dropped two black-and-white striped clothed native Calorians and one green autotrophic genetically-engineered Calorian onto the scene. The first Calorian gracefully flipped and landed on his feet, ready to fight. The second Calorian gracefully flipped and landed on his left foot and his right knee, scrambling up ready to fight a few microseconds later. The Calorian chlorophyl-humanoid landed on his feet with so much weight that it caused a minor earthquake.
"Aaaaah!" the people panicked, and tried to flee.
Infra Man studied the faces from his home. They had the characteristic beauty marks of his race: the bony ridge across the forehead, the extended cranium (without the extended brain — they just looked intelligent), and above all, the red irises, compared to which Inframan's own baby blue eyes looked wimpy indeed. He recognized one of the faces from his early education on Caloria and on the trip to Lebabon — er, Earth. He easily recognized the stray genetic experiment.
"Leader One!" IM exclaimed, using the Calorian equivalents of the English equivalents of their names. "And the Plant. . . . And . . ."
"His name's Extra," Leader One said in perfect Calorian as he pointed out the other Calorian in the prison suit. "He's just a minor character.
"All right, son of Jor Heat!" Leader One continued. "You obviously know about us because your father told you about us because he was the scumhill that sent us to the Calorian Prison for Ex-Science-Council-of-Twelve Members Hating Criminals! Now, he's passed on his legacy of interference by putting his son here to be the only thing standing between us and total control of this zilch-density dirtball."
"Under my supervision," interjected Lecks in his translator as he reset the controls to land his Rover.
"Yeah, right, uh . . . boss," Leader One relented. "Well, if you want to stand in our way, I suppose it's too late to warn you! KYEAAAGH!"
And with that kyeaaagh, Leader One, Extra, and Plant all charged the guy in the polyester tights with the neon insignia. (Actually, neon is an inaccurate image, because neon glows red-orange. Since IM's "I" is a scintillating white, it would be more accurate to use xenon as a metaphor of its color.) These guys were slow, not used to the low gravity, and it didn't take much for the Man of Heat to leap over their heads and land behind them, facing them in one of the schmaltzy kung-fu movie stances.
The three stood puzzled, and just as Extra was thinking about turning around to see if Inframan had landed behind him, Inframan said, "Yoo hoo! Over here!" in Calorian from behind them.
They turned, all grunted some alien kiai, and charged him again. He leapt again. This time, though, Leader One and Extra leapt to follow, since they'd expected him to try the leap again. Neither of them expected him to alter his course in mid-leap so that he continued straight up and turned to face them when he was fifty feet in the air.
"All right, so you can fly," Leader One said to the guy in tights after he'd landed. "Well then, fly with THIS!" He picked up a 1985 red Volkswagen convertible and heaved it at him.
No problem, thought IM, counting down the milliseconds before the car reached him. He clasped both hands together for better leverage, pulled them back, and swung at precisely the right moment when the car came into range. A thundrous "whump" put a wide dent in the VW's right side and sent it screaming straight back toward Leader One.
"Ulp!" Leader One ulped, and jumped out of the way in the nick of time. In fact, he had panicked so much that he kept on jumping out of the way even after the car hit the ground some thirty feet below.
'Damn low gravity,' Leader One thought (in Calorian, of course). 'It takes forever to come back down!'
Which was just the opening Infra Man needed. He flew up behind the hurtling zebra-suited Calorian criminal and Let Him Have It. That punch helped him right back onto the ground — or rather into the ground — unconscious. "Score one for me!" Inframan exclaimed, drawing an imaginary tally mark in the air.
"Yaaaaaay!" shouted the crowd (in between panics, of course).
"One . . ." the Man of Heat heard the Plant grunt out of the corner of his ear. He ignored it and reveled in his audience.
"Two . . ." All right, he couldn't ignore it forever. He turned do its source on the ground below.
"Three!" The Plant, having been taking aim all this time, threw Extra at him like a spear. Extra's right arm was cocked back to the side and capped with a fist. Infra Man wafted out of his path, swung his cape around in front of the incoming Calorian, and said, "Hah, toro!" as he passed by. Of course, Extra would never understand this reference since it was in Spanish and they didn't have bulls on Caloria anyway.
Extra would complete his parabolic arc and whump down in a couple of seconds; this gave Infra Man the opportunity to start flying off toward where he remembered Lecks Badguy's ship was descending. That now-prematurely-bald superintellingent master criminal would pose more of a threat to him than three normal, unadapted Calorian petty crooks would. He looked down at the still-not-quite-completely-fled-yet crowd as he accelerated; Lecks Badguy would pose more of a threat to them, too, at least until the Calorian criminals got the idea to threaten the population.
Hmmm . . . he thought he'd remebered Lecks Badguy's ship landing in Middle Park, yet there was no sign of it. A ship that huge should stick out like a sore casaba melon in a park that thin; it just didn't figure.
Infra Man's eyes opened wide when he'd realized what Lecks had done; it had figured quite well, in fact. Lecks was smart enough to figure out how to make a craft like that completely transparent (or at least apparently so) to visible light. Well, he could hide the space ship, but he couldn't hide the heat emissions of its exhaust. It left an infrared pattern on Infra Man's eyes the size of a small office building.
'Oh, dhalburgers!' Lecks Badguy cursed to himself when he realized that Inframan had spotted him. 'I shoulda figured those Calorians can see into the infrared spectrum.' From outside the Rover, He picked up the invisible hose extending out of his invisible space craft, aimed it at the incoming Man of Heat, and yelled, "You won't have any problems seeing THIS!"
And the instant he said, "THIS!," he pressed an invisible trigger on the invisible hose connected to the invisible space ship which caused the hose to spit out a quite visible narrow cone of buzzing energy. The gunned-out energy pattern was ladened with blue arrows all pointing at Infra Man and labelled with the letters, "ma." The cone caught the polyester clad crusader in its grip and pushed him back so hard he had to shield his face with his arms.
"Hah," gloated Lecks, "My new Force Beam worked perfectly!"
The arrows trickled out of the invisible hose and finally stopped; the force beam's power source had been drained and would take several long minutes to build up another charge. The weapon had done its job, though, as Infra Man now tumbled backward, confused and out of control, toward the eagerly awaiting Calorian criminals.
The Calorian good guy recovered just in time to land right in front of Leader One, who had also just recovered. "Aha!" Leader One exclaimed. "Now we'll see how well you hold up under Caloria's strength!"
The zebra-striped fugitive ran up, ready to swing a lethally strong fist at our hero. Fortunately, he wasn't nearly as fast as the Calorian pseudo-mutant in the red-and-black tights. Infra Man regained his footing and punched Leader One just as he arrived, chanting, "Take this, enemy of justice!"
Or at least, he would have punched him had the blow landed. Leader One had seen Infra Man recover and had readied his non-punching-arm just in case Inframan should get off a punch before he did. When he saw Inframan's flying right hook, he swept his left arm up across its path and blocked it. He smiled and rammed his right fist into Infra Man's gut with all his might.
His fist made a resounding "clank" against skin as tough as adamantite. Leader One withdrew his aching fist in disbelief. He was in such disbelief, in fact, that he didn't even try to block Infra Man's power-packed return punch, and was airborn (and quite unconscious) once again.
Extra lunged straight at the Man of Heat with his hands outstretched and ready to grapple. All right, I.M. figured, this time I'm not fooling around. The instant Extra's rending hands reached his shoulders, so Infra Man's hands reached Extra's shoulders and began pushing the minor criminal back in the same manner as he was pushing Inframan.
Extra grumbled, sweated, strained. Inframan's "I" shone more fiercely. When Extra finally opened his tightly-squeezed eyes, he was looking back at the ground he was about to be pushed down on, quite worriedly. Infra Man tossed him twenty feet back into a row of trash cans, brushed the non-existent dirt from his hands, and declared, "I'm the strongest one there is."
But now, Plant had the same idea Extra did. With a resounding "Uuuuuhh!," the green-skinned chlorophyll wonder thundered over toward Infra Man.
"You too?" Inframan said rhetorically, waited for the precise moment when Plant was about to run into him, braced himself, and fought back with all his terrestrially allowed might.
His "I" glew brightly. "I'm the strongest . . ."
For the first time on Earth, he began to sweat. ". . . one . . ."
His teeth were gritted, his eyes clamped shut. His outlined "I" was becoming too bright to look at without sunglasses.
". . . there is!!"
Inframan fell onto his back, pinned down under the Plant's crushing weight. "Okay," he condescended, "So I'm the second strongest one there is."
Plant drew back a fist and readied to pound his face into Calorian hamburger. 'Tch tch,' Inframan thought. 'Telegraphing your blows is a big mistake when you not half as fast as your opponent!'
Infra Man doubled over and easily ducked the green, superdense fist; Plant's blow only annihilated some asphalt. Now that Inframan had better leverage, he did the only thing he could to this behemoth: he tried to lift it off the ground.
The strain was incredible. This was the full crushing weight his strength could press. "Grrumph!" he grrumphed, desperately trying to get the rock-like Plant into a position where he could down him onto the pavement. "Need a lift?" he added. His "I" was shining like mad.
"Infra-MAN!" played the music in the background. "Da dah da dah, Infra MAN! Da dah, dit da da da dah; Infra-MAN! Da dah, dit daaaaaah!"
He had done it; he'd elevated Plant to shoulder height. Now it was only a simple matter of adding his strength to this criminal's weight to smash him into the ground.
More imaginary dirt brushed from the hands. One more imaginary tally mark in the air. Another "Yaaay!" from what was left of the eagerly watching panciked crowd.
"What's the matter, Plant," Infra Man asked. "Can't photosynthesize under a class G2 star? . . . Hope I didn't . . . bruise your fruit!"
"Hold it right there, Calorian hero!" Lecks yelled from off to one side. Infra Man turned. Lecks Badguy was holding a .95 calibre machine pistol to a girl's head. "Make one false move, and your girlfriend here gets it!"
"Infra Boy!" the girl cried.
"Infra MAN," the Man of Heat corrected. Then, he almost had a stroke. The black hair, the face behind the fear — it looked like . . . naw, it couldn't be . . . yes, it could! Could she be Jennifer Lang?!!?!
"Yes, she could!" replied Lecks Badguy to Inframan's unspoken thoughts. Infra Man was frozen in place by five different flavors of emotion. The Calorian criminals were returning to their freeer's side. Lecks motioned to Leader One and said, "Get the cage" into his English-to-Calorian translator.
"All right," Lecks addressed the guy in the polyester tights, "You no-account, slime-dripping, high-temperature, muscle-bound, do-gooding, poor excuse for an unsanitary old Calorian snake in the grass!"
"Unsanitary?!" IM blurted instinctively.
"SHUT UP! I would've taken over Infinitessimalville, and maybe the world, if not for the dislikes of you! Now, you're not going to stand in my way any longer!"
"What're you going to do with Jennifer?" Inframan worried.
Leader One had returned with The Cage. Lecks told him to put that red-and-black wimp in it.
Leader One stamped on the ground real hard, and after the shockwave'd sent Inframan a few feet up in the air, Leader One whooshed the entry door of The Cage over our hero and shut the door in a fraction-of-a-second motion, followed by setting The Cage down in the exact spot IM had been standing.
"What am I going to do with Jennifer? Don't worry, I'm only going to deposit her a mile away and take away all her hairpins so she can't pick the lock on The Cage. Goo'bye! See you when the world is mine!"
Lecks took Jennifer and the three Calorian crooks into his craft and took off. 'This is no problem,' Infra Man thought. 'I'll just bend the bars on this 8 foot by 8 foot by 8 foot jail-type solid-on-the-top, solid-on-the-bottom cage and escape.'
"In case you were thinking about bending the bars," Lecks' voice said over a loudspeaker, "Forget it! That cage is made of something I picked up on Caloria called 'Calorium.' It's designed to resist the strength a Calorian can dish out."
'Okay, so much for that idea,' Inframan's thought bubble read. 'But I can still fly from inside this Cage and carry it along with me!'
There was a resounding click.
"That resounding click was the graviton generator in the cage being activated, Infraboy."
". . . You are now under the gravitational constraints of your home planet and are, I believe, incapable of flying. Ta ta!"
Lecks' spacecraft shot off under non-Newtonian drive. And Infra Man could indeed not fly.
Okay, then, he'd try the bars. Maybe they weren't really Calorium. Maybe Calorium didn't work as well in Earth gravity or under a yellow sun or something.
The bars didn't even rattle in their sockets. The only sound was the doppler-shifted receding rumble of Lecks' non-Newtonian drive.
And even that thunder in the air soon died away; just as did the thunder in Infra Man's heart. Jennifer was alive — she was here — and he would never get to see her again while the world was still free.
He dropped to his knees, slowly, and brought his right fist up to his forehead, sulking. It was over, it was all over, and he had lost. "Damn it," he murmured, "Why didn't I just kill that bully when I had the chance? Why'd I let him get this far?!"
A crowd was gathering around The Cage.
"AW WHADA YOU WANT?" Inframan turned up and yelled.
The crowd backed away from The Cage.
'You're giving up,' he thought. 'You're finally giving up. I never thought I'd see it . . .'
No! There must be something he could do, some way he could get out of this cage. A memory flashed back across his consciousness; it was a memory of being in a paper-thin space craft. He was remembering his journey to Lebanon — er, Earth, and the education being played to him on cassette tape.
A voice had filled his ears — Jor Heat's voice, the voice of his not dead father, speaking Lebanese because he was at the speak-the-new-vernacular-or-perish point in his learning. "Today's lesson," began the voice, "Is basic Calorian metallurgy. Scientists on Caloria had for years been trying to make an alloy as strong as the electron degeneracy beneath their feet without the density and problems associated with smithing black dwarf matter. The metal they came up with was Calorium — strong, unbendable, great for making prisons for all the Calorian criminals we have to house in case we need to make sequels, and easy to mold because of its low melting point."
'Low melting point?' thought Cal Heat.
"That's it!" the Man of Heat snapped, coming to his feet. He grasped the Calorium bars in front of him and stared intently at one of the bars' top sides. He closed his eyes, and squeezed them tight. The "I" on his chest began to shine.
His eyes edged ominously open, brilliant red rays seeping through the cracks like encroaching daylight. Finally, he snapped his eyelids full open, and fired two massive beams of heat vision at the top of the bar he'd been staring at.
The air shook, sizzled. The crackling heat surged mercilessly through the bar's substance, heating it to incandescence, and at last cutting clear through it with all the might of a cutting torch.
It was a simple matter to redirect his heat vision at the bottom of this bar and sear it off completely. The bar fell into his hands, and as he stepped through the gap, he panted, "Glad I had to work on that."
Now out of The Cage and it's graviton-generator's sphere of influence, he dropped the bar and leapt into the sky following the infrared trace of Lecks' trail with a vengeance.
His fists were straight out in front of him. The passers below waved their greetings, but he didn't see them. He had eyes only for his target One Mile Away. He would have made a sonic boom had he been going faster than the speed of sound, which he wasn't since then he wouldn't be able to breathe.
Lecks peered down at his radar display. An anomaly was approaching from eight o'clock, and fast. "It can't be!"
He peered out a window. It was.
Inframan stopped less than a meter away from the glass. He put his fists to his waist. "Would you care to step outside, Lecks?"
"No," came the loudspeaker voice, "But they would!"
Three Calorians shot out of the port torpedo tubes. They all missed, except Leader One, who received the haymaker of his life before he disabled the torpedo tube he'd just come out of with his flying body.
Plant got to his feet and screamed curses. Inframan let him have it with a full-strength blast of heat vision, which gave him nothing but a sauna bath.
"All right," Lecks Badguy's voice said, "So you have heat vision. Well, I still have Jennifer!"
"But you said you were going to set her down! You lied!"
Lecks paused, then replied, "I exaggerated."
Infra Man looked over the ship. 'If I were a superintellingent pompous criminal from Earth,' he thought, "Where would I hold my token female captive?' He scanned for heat traces with his infrared vision, a trick he'd first seen done on Blue Thunder. There was a great big heat source covering most of the bottom of the craft. 'No, Jennifer's a little smaller than that. It might be the engines.' (Which he could've discovered anyway if he'd paid any attention to the maneuvers the craft was currently making, like hovering.)
There was another heat source, in the front, where Lecks Badguy was sitting. That was probably Lecks Badguy. More heat sources lay scattered throughout the ship; most of them were doubtlessly power systems, but one of them had to be Jennifer. Which one? Which one??
All right, back to basics. If you were a human and were going to build a Calorian rover, where would you put the holding bay for your human captive? Answer: near the gravity nullifier. Where's the gravity nullifier? On the bridge, where the human pilot sits. And what was that heat source about fifteen feet behind Lecks Badguy? . . .
Inframan smiled as instantaneously as he could manage and plowed fists-first into the hull where Jennifer's supposed heat trace was.
"Huh?" huhed a confused Lecks Badguy.
There was a rumbling behind Lecks Badguy. He turned. Involuntarily, he gasped as a brilliant red-black figure erupted out of the floor not ten inches away from his captive.
Jennifer jumped to her senses. "Infra Man!" she embraced him.
"Jennifer," Inframan cooed at last. Then, he pointed to the walls and said, "Lecks Badguy's space craft." Turning his pointing finger to the hole he'd made, he added, "Exit. Let's go."
He covered her in his cape, which did absolutely nothing, and leapt with her out through the hole in the floor.
After he'd rushed her to the City Limits (which was just a big white line beyond which were barren plains), said, "You'll be safe here," kissed her on a randomly selected part of her body, and flown back, he was ready to face them on his own terms.
'All right,' he thought, 'Now I'm ready to face them on my own terms.'
Lecks Badguy's craft was still airborn, well out of reach of the Calorians. 'Good,' Inframan figured, 'I can do more damage this way.' He raced toward it, intending to penetrate its hull and remove its solitary human pilot. Without Lecks, any air support and/or intellect support the Calorians might have had would be lost.
Just as he was about to ram into it, though, it shuddered and dropped twenty-five feet, leaving Inframan soaring clumsily through its old location. Infra Man put on his airbrakes in disgust, and reoriented himself toward the craft. It was less than twenty feet off the ground. "You can't dodge me forever, Lecks!" the Man of Heat expoused, and dove headlong into the airship once more.
This time, the craft jerked twenty-five feet to one side. Now, instead of heading into empty air, Infra Man plummeted straight for the ground; the ground where he suddenly realized that the Calorian criminals were waiting for him. He concentrated against his midair momentum again, but ended up landing on his feet not two yards in front of the Plant.
Plant lumbered toward him as well as any monomaniacal specific-gravity-over-a-hundred-thousand autotroph could do, which was pretty well. The time for planning was past. Plant swung his right arm; Infra Man ducked. The kinetic energy of that miss sent Plant doubling over in front of our hero, so that when Inframan regained his stature Plant was at a serious disadvantage. In fact, the only part of Plant facing the Man of Heat was his back. Infra Man coupled both fists together, drew up his arms, said, "Take THIS, enemy of justice!," and ka-WHUMP!ed the Plant prone.
That blow succeeded in fazing the superdense Calorian crook for the time. Inframan looked up and involuntarily gasped when he caught sight of a rather badly bruised Leader One charging toward him. Leader One would be upon him in less than a second. As quickly and smoothly as he could manage, Infra Man wrinkled his forehead and blasted Leader One with full strength heat vision. Leader One was thrown back into the side of a building, the nasty singes on his lower chest visible because his prison outfit had been burned away there.
'Heat vision with knockback?' Lecks Badguy wondered.
Inframan took to the air. Glancing around twice, he relocated what he'd been searching for. "There you are, Badguy!" he declared as he pointed at the craft. "I toldja you couldn't avoid me forever!" He shot toward it.
"Hey, hero!" came a shout from below. Inframan glanced down to see Leader One finish his wind-up and hurl a madly tumbling Extra at him. Okay, Inframan figured, so Lecks'll still have to wait.
He turned to face his incoming adversary. "The old fastball special again, eh?" he grimaced. "Haven't these people figured out that that doesn't work yet?!"
Extra's arms and legs flailed around him like a demon out of the id. Ho hum. Inframan caught him, took hold of his right arm, and drew it up above his right thigh. He twisted the elbow downward so that it would snap when he brought the arm down. The audience for this adventure returned to his mind, he said, "Nah," and instead threw Extra straight back at Leader One.
Direct hit. The leader didn't have a chance. If he ever got out from under Extra there probably wouldn't be a spot on his body that wasn't black-and-blue; even Calorians had iron-based metabolism. Our overconfident hero brushed more imaginary dirt from his hands, and turned back toward the craft.
Lecks' craft wasn't there anymore. Not surprising. He glanced to all sides, at last glimpsed the gleam of permaheatshields directly behind him, turned, and began bridging the five hundred feet between himself and it.
Just to be safe, he looked back down. All three Calorians stood side by side, holding things in their cocked back pitching arms. It was amazing the recovery rate Calorians had in low gravity, and even more amazing that they could recover this quickly in freezing 80-degree weather. Inframan privately cursed, figured he'd never get to Lecks, and returned his attention to the stubborn Calorian criminals.
Extra threw a floorboard from a building he'd literally walked into. Inframan put his fists to his waist and let the board hit him. The board shattered into half a zillion splinters which clotted up his polyester suit and made him think that maybe that wasn't such a wise move.
Leader One, now very bruised, picked up an I-beam conveniently lying on the ground beside him and chucked it at Our Hero. Inframan waited until it was about twenty feet away, then sideslipped, held out his cape, and said, "Hah, toro!" as the I-beam left an I-shaped hole in the fabric. On well, at least it was the same shape as his insignia.
Plant hurled a stainless steel cannon ball. Where he'd gotten that from, Inframan could only speculate. Infra Man smiled, assumed a boxer's stance (which was pointless in midair), and guarded his upper body with his fists. The instant the cannon ball came within his reach, which was about a second-and-a-half later, he jabbed it with his right fist and turned it into iron filings. Contented, he danced around like a boxer and thumbed his left nostril with a "snort."
Leader One's mouth sagged open in worried fear. Nothing seemed able to stop this mutant-of-his-own-species! He reached down into a barrel beside him with some arcane markings that read "nails," pulled out a handful of long, narrow, pointed metal fasteners, and threw them at the hopefully-not-indestructable polyester demigod.
Inframan non-chalantly stood his ground . . . until the nails were twenty feet away. His chest started to narrow, his hovering ceased and he started to fall, his infrared vision faded, and worst of all, his skin became as soft and penetrable as a normal human's. No doubt about it, one of those nails was rusty.
He almost panicked. As quickly as his now-all-too-human speed could manage, while he was falling and in even more involuntary fear, he whipped up the ring on his left ring finger, pointed it at the nails, and sprayed carbon into the whole batch as they closed to within five feet.
Whicever one of the nails had been rusty was now coated with carbonated iron oxide. His ploy had worked. The nails reached him just as he regained his mutant-Calorian superpowers, and bent themselves into uselessness against his epidermis. Inframan folded his arms and smiled.
Lecks Badguy'd been watching his monitor. He stared in confused confusion as the Man of Heat panicked, lost his wide chest, sprayed the nails, and regained his impressiveness. "Huh?" he asked himself. Something in those nails had scared him; something made him not such an impossible adversary after all.
He zoomed one of his camera/sensors in on the crumpled heap of what were once nails. The infrared scan reported only ordinary temperatures. There were no strange germs, alive or dead, on them. Just a layer of carbonation, and one lone nail with a layer of carbonized ferrous oxide.
"Rust?" Lecks asked himself. "Naw. . . ."
He turned the picture taker to Inframan, who was at this moment getting various pieces of furniture unsuccessfully hurled at him. The infrascanner reported a body temperature of about 150 degrees Farenheit, but that was expected. The germ-and-virus detecter came up empty as well.
The DNA analyzer had a few more results. His Calorian genetic makeup was the paragon of parallel evolution. Considering that Caloria was anything but a parallel environment, this was quite remarkable. Of course, a lot of the similarities Cal Heat showed to humanity had the earmarks of recessive traits, but Lecks wasn't worried there; he was no statistician, at least not primarily. There was the ability to see into the infrared sepctrum (chromosome pair # 18, gene # 46), the incredible potential for strength, and the more unusual traits such as heat vision and hardened skin and gravity-freeing-by-mind. There was one other thing which showed up, as well: a weakness. The genetic structure of this individual had a magnetic tenuosity to it, a flimsiness which could be over come by . . . exactly the kind of magnetic field ferrous oxide posessed.
Lecks smiled wide in excitement. He grabbed the microphone, pushed the "talk" button, flipped a switch labelled, "English to Calorian converter," and uttered: "Rust is the key! Defeat him with rust!"
"FERROUS OXIDE IS THE UNLOCKING UNIT!" blared the ship's loudspeaker in Calorian. "DEFEAT HIM WITH FERROUS OXIDE!"
Infra Man froze in fear. 'So he knows. . . .'
A battered Leader One spied a place in the building he was next to where the concrete had eroded away and several rusted minor support beams lay exposed. Perfect. He yanked one out and chucked it just as Plant started ripping the fender off of a '62 turquoise VW bug.
"Huuuh!" Infra Man gasped, and ascended so that the object would pass at least twenty feet beneath him. The little rusty rod arced by below and landed in a tree, breaking half of its branches.
Plant launched his fender just as IM was wiping the non-existent sweat from his brow. Inframan turned, saw the fender, panicked, tried to fly above its 20 ft. radius-of-effect, failed, lost his wide chest and his powers, yelled a "Yaaah!," and plummeted on a path that missed the fender by thirty-seven-and-three-fourths inches. Once the fender was more than twenty feet away, though, his chest and powers returned, so he was easily able to stop falling and regain his original altitude.
Leader One was trying to figure out what to throw at him next when he saw a brunette lady passing by. She was in her fourties and uptight about whatever routine thing it was she decided to get uptight about, and thus quite oblivious to the peril she was in. The red color on her face, Leader One figured, had a 91% chance of being rust based. He smiled, grabbed the lady (who started screaming), and threw her at IM.
"Great Caloria!" our hero cried. "That lady Leader One threw at me is wearing iron oxide based make-up! Got to act fast. . . ."
The lady was screaming and whirling out of control, her lethal face in his direction once per revolution. Infra Man established her rotary rhythm internally, waited for the right instant, and fired a blast of carbonation directly into her face just before she entered his twenty foot zone.
He caught her easily. Her eyes were tightly closed, and she was spitting out microparticles of ash. Her face looked like it had just been fleapowdered. He looked at her left hand; she wasn't wearing a ring. Good. He could say it, then.
"Easy, miss," he said. "I've got you."
"Excellent," Lecks said as he watched Inframan carry the lady to safety. "Just the distraction I need. These guys might impress me yet!" He set the craft to descend and picked up the microphone, still in Calorian mode. "Gather C3 code near-infrared plan B-11."
Inframan had no idea what that meant as he set the lady down and tried to explain how the ferrous oxide in her make-up would've neutralized his powers had he not fired ashes into her face. He felt, though, that Lecks' jargon meant no good.
Actually, it didn't mean anything. On the way over, he'd told the Calorian criminals that whenever they heard a sentence in Calorian that was total jibberish, it meant for them to gather at Lecks' ship and receive further orders there.
'Now,' Inframan's thought bubble read, 'Got to stop those lawbreakers before they rust up any more trouble!'
He wasn't a hundred yards from Lecks' craft when he realized what was going on. All three Calorians were carefully balancing a steel block the size of an office building on some get-up of Lecks'. He heard the faint cry of Lecks' voice saying, "There he is!," then the Calorian criminals took their places on the far side of the block with Lecks. Infra Man had no idea of what was happening until the block leapt skyward, straight at him, and exposed the Calorian criminals and Lecks' active force beam hose completing the process of giving the block a good push.
Infra Man did some quick mental calculations. Considering the density of steel and the size of that block, it had to weigh nearly forty thousand tons. That was quadruple his lifting capacity; the only way out of this was up.
That is, it would have been up had the side facing Infra Man not been plated with rust. Infra Man gasped as his shoulders narrowed and his flight gave out. The block would impact with him any instant and send him to the ground; somehow, sometime before that instant, he had to spray the entire back side of the block with carbonation. No time to spare. He jerked his arm into place and turned on his ring, fanning square yard after square yard of decayed iron. Half covered . . . three quarters covered . . . he should have felt his strength returning by now; what was wrong?! Frantically, he tried to spray any thin areas he might have missed, but the block of steel was heading far too fast for him to —
It crashed into him. Three seconds later, the mass crashed Calorian-side-down into the asphalt.
Lecks looked onto the scene with his arms folded and a smile on his face. The other three Calorians were smiling and had their arms folded, too, but they could never fathom the sense of avengedness Lecks Badguy was feeling at that moment. "Bwa ha ha ha ha!" he chortled in English — this victory gloat belonged to him. "No one could POSSIBLY survive that!"
And as if on cue, the downed steel block started to shake.
"Huh?" said the three Calorian criminals and Lecks Badguy in unison.
The Bottom of the block edged over the top of the crater it had made. Off-white light poured from beneath it as it continued to rise. Through the haze and rumbling, Lecks almost thought he heard a man straining against an impossible force.
"Impossible!" he cried. "That block weighs forty thousand tons! No one could possibly be doing that!"
The block rose high enough to expose the source of the light. It was blinding to look at; Lecks and his three lackeys had to shield their eyes. Through the glare as the block finished its ascent, though, a single and distinct shape resolved itself through the light:
The light's source was in the shape of a capital "I."
"Impossible?!" boomed Inframan's voice from beneath the block. The block tilted to the right, the voice said "aargh," and the steel slab toppled onto its side with a "THOOM!."
Inframan's "I" toned itself down to normal; he brushed the real, genuine, carbonated dirt from his hands, and said, "I don't think so. Not as long as there's truth, justice, and the Calorian way!"
He flew up to the top of the block, centered himself, raised his right hand heel-first, and chopped down. The block cracked and split in half.
"You want to throw giant steel blocks?" he asked rhetorically. He chopped again, cutting the block into quarters. "You got it!"
Lecks Badguy came out of his stupor. "Get him, you fools! GET HIM!"
'Hah,' Infra Man thought. He lowered himself to the ground, picked up one of the smaller quarterblocks, and started flying toward the oncoming Calorians; 10,000 tons was as much as he could carry in flight. Plant and an in-bad-shape Leader One scrambled around underneath him; he hovered over them, got extra in his sights, and threw the steel block right down on top of him. Licking his right index finger, he put another tally mark in the air.
'Why did he attack Extra first?' Lecks wondered.
"Because he's a minor character!" Infra Man replied to Lecks' unspoken thoughts.
He flew back, picked up another steel block, returned, and landed to challenge the Plant. Plant swung at his midsection, he bent to one side and avoided the blow, and twenty million pounds of steel crashed down on twenty million pounds of Calorian plant cells. Plant was tough; a ten thousand ton steel block would probably only distract him. Taking this into account, Infra Man picked up the block and smashed Plant with it seven more times before he dropped it on top of him, brushed the imaginary dirt from his hands, and drew yet another imaginary tally mark on his imaginary slate.
One more trip to the steel pile. Leader One was looking worried. "Now for Leader One," Infra Man said, hefting up the third block and making Leader One more worried, even though he was over a hundred feet away.
Leader One knew what was coming and started to run; however, he wasn't at all used to the reduced gravity and could run no faster than the average biped on the street. Inframan, on the other hand, could fly faster than sound even with a ten kiloton steel block on his back.
The gap between Calorian criminal and Calorian superhero narrowed. Leader One looked over his shoulder, terrified. As the heat-based legend-in-his-own-time landed in front of his quarry, he could see just what his beating had been doing to Leader One. His black-and-white form-fitting suit was a mound of rags. Battle scars adorned the bruises that riddled his flesh. There were fist-shaped dents in the places his skeleton didn't protect; the places his skeleton did protect weren't so lucky. He looked up to the steel resting above his head, looked back at his helpless target, and exhaled in disagreement.
Looking up and moving his hands under the block just right, he bent the metal into an arch, a ring, and finally a dome. He threw this down on top of Leader One.
Leader One cowered beneath crossed arms, but was quite surprised whan the "Thoom!" of the steel wasn't followed by the "Crunch!" of his bones. He took his arms away and saw cool darkness, punctuated only by light eeking in through imperfections between the asphalt street and the steel dome. He slumped down against one side of the dome, relaxed and contented. He was alive, he was still alive, and it looked like the son of Jor Heat intended for him to stay that way.
There was only one more steel block left, and Lecks Badguy knew who it was for. Infra Man streaked back to it, hefted it on his shoulders, and with his "I" glowing said, "Lecks, . . . this blood's for you."
"Not if I can reach my Calorian Rover first!" Lecks shouted back as he ran toawrd his craft.
'So that's a Calorian Rover,' Inframan thought. "Not if I can reach your Calorian Rover first!" he replied, and proceeded to pour on the horsepower.
Lecks Badguy sprinted with every ounce of his doubled-gravity training. Unfortunately for him, Infra Man had been born in a hundred thousand gravities and was not only able to overtake him carrying the 10,000-ton steel slab, but was able to come around in front of him and snap-kick him into a nearby alley. Though, in all fairness, it was a light snap-kick, as Infra Man had time-and-again discovered that homo sapiens tended to be quite fragile.
Lecks skidded onto the ground, tumbled head-over-foot, got to his feet, and started running away down the alley in one smooth motion. 'Good move, Lecks,' IM chuckled, 'But I think you'd better look where you're going.'
Unfrotunately, Lecks hadn't the foresight to read our hero's thought bubble this time, and smashed into a wall; the alley was a dead end. He turned around and saw the silhouette of encroaching doom obscuring the brilliant setting sun. He turned around, felt futilely around the wall, ran to the corner, and cowered in fear.
That was the second time any human(s) had cowered in fear from him in a corner; but this time he wasn't going to flake off throwing his load. Lecks involuntarily screamed as ten billion grams of steel rushed toward him.
The steel impacted at a 45-degree angle with the concrete of the corner. There was a little prism-shaped space behind it in which Lecks Badguy was still shivering. Lecks said, "Huh," took his arms away from his face, saw that he wasn't dead yet, heard a whooshing sound, and shook his head in disbelief at his predicament.
Ten seconds later, he heard another whooshing sound and looked up at the opening four meters above him. Infra Man stood on the ledge with his fists on his waist. His "I" glittered a threatening off-white.
"You'll never learn, will you, Lecks?"
He reached in with his right hand, yanked him up by his collar, and jumped down to the outer side of the steel block. With his left hand, he picked up the calorium cage with the one missing bar that he'd been trapped in and had destroyed the gravity intensifier on. "Let's see how YOU like being cooped up," he declared, thrusted Lecks (gently) through the missing bar, and slammed the whole kit-and-kabooby up against one wall.
He brushed the imaginary dirt from his hands. "That'll teach you to mess around with . . . INFRA MAN!"
Lecks was totally unimpressed. "But I already know how to mess around with you."
And speaking of messing around, he had several years of catching up to do with Jennifer. He took off.
"Infra Man!" she said when she caught sight of him. "Oh, Infra Man," she purred when he was in her arms.
They looked into each others' eyes with sweet smiles. Inframan's "I" glittered a passionate off-white. The moment was perfect.
The Man of Heat glanced off to one side, catching glimpses of Leader One's prison, Extra's and Plant's movement inhibitors, and Lecks Badguy's Calorian Rover. "There's one thing I have to do first," he said, and broke off from her.
"Aw, rat puppies!" she cursed.
He marched out away from the scene of battle. Crowds were beginning to gather.
"Yaaaay!" the crowds began to cheer.
Infra Man grinned and shook his clasped hands above his head. He continued to do this as he walked by, but this wasn't what he had to do.
He went into a glass-walled phone booth and closed the door. The "Yaaaaay!" snapped into dead silence. "Hmm, good soundproofing," he commented.
He picked up the receiver and tapped the phone in just the right spot with a tenth of his full Calorian strength. The dial tone gave its click of recognition. Seven digits and one-and-a-half rings later, he was up and talking:
"Perry W. Jameson? This is Cal Heat, you're friendly neighborhood mild-mannered reporter. I'm going to take my two-week vacation, effective immediately. . . . Because I want to. . . . On Caloria, all right? . . . Tough. . . . Well, same to you." >Click<
He opnend the phone booth. "YAAAAAAAAAY!" ('The crowd's grown some,' he figured.)
He took three steps and leapt into the air like a diver. He flew to the dome, lifted it up, retrieved a peaceful (but bruised) Leader One, went on to Extra and Plant, got their unconscious bodies out from under their bludgeons, and flew the whole group over to Lecks Badguy's Calorian Rover. From there, it was simplicity itself to figure out the airlock, the suspended-animation chambers, the gravity control, the thermostat that he reset to 140 Farenheit (which he had to convert from 60 Celsius), and the twenty feet of unmarked navigation instruments.
First came the thunder and the retreating spectators. Then came the rush of escape gravity. Finally, the craft soared above the atmosphere, lined itself up with Caloria, and started the long build-up of acceleration and space warping.
About half way through the flight, the hypospace communications screen turned itself on. Lecks Badguy's nasty face was on the monitor, and his villainous voice wafted through the cabin:
"I just wanted you to know that I escaped from your little prison there. I used my Lecks Badguy cutting torch pen to cut through the calorium bars and my patented Lecks Badguy invisibility hologram projector wedding ring to slip past the crowds. My invisibility wore off in the subway, but no one paid any attention to me there anyway. See you on Earth, hero. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!"
The screen went dead.
"Hmmmph," Cal Heat commented. "Evil mastermind who could take over the world, and he used one to many 'ha's in that last chortle."
Days later, Caloria was close enough for him to turn off the spacewarp and see it in real light (both visible and infra-red real light). There hung the beautiful black dwarf of his birth, whose days fit the fifty-hour pattern of his psyche and whose blackbody frequency was at a spot in the infra-red range that made his eyes melt with happiness. Down there was the Science Council of Twelve, the Calorian Jail for ex-Science-Council-of-Twelve members hating criminals, his unknown mother, and his father whom he had not seen since he was less than a year old.
He descended through the atmosphere, feeling his true, crushing weight under him at last. Twenty million pounds. The weight his legs had been meant to carry all his life. Extra and Plant looked a little relieved at this familiar sign, but Leader One merely groaned as his new weight aggravated his still-healing battle scars.
He touched down right outside the prison gate and unloaded his three-crook cargo. "I believe you'll find these three have been missing for some time," he said in Calorian to the mob that'd come outside to watch the landing, converted the rover to automotive mode, and drove on toward the Science Council of Twelve building.
These was a group of about twenty protesters marching in front of the Science Council of Twelve building. They were holding signs with pictures of "S"es in triangles with red circles around them and lines through them, and chanting, "Hell no, we won't regurgitate." Their accents struck Infra Man as being a little odd; it was amazing how much a language could change in one generation.
He parked the rover in a red zone (red zones were designated parking areas) and got out. Stretching contentedly, he bathed his face in the class A2 sun that was Caloria's. Beautiful, simply beautiful. He wondered what capital S's with triangles around them had to do with regurgitation, then just shrugged it off as another one of the Council's projects and looked keenly at the old coot leading the march.
The old coot looked at him, stopped chanting, and dropped his sign.
Inframan's "I" glowed brightly enough to be almost visible. The old coot was Jor Heat.
"Son!" Jor Heat shouted, and rushed over to him.
"Dad!" Cal Heat shouted, and rushed to greet him.
The instant they embraced, Cal Lifted his old man off the ground to prove that he still had some strength despite being on a zilch-density dirtball all his life.
"Hey hey," his father said when he realized his strength, "What have YOU been doing all my life?"
"Me? Why, lifting a forty thousand ton weight."
"Eighty million pounds? Wow. I can barely lift twelve million."
"Well," Cal said, lowering him, "I'm sure that if you had to, you could probably lift four times that."
Jor decided to get back on the track. "Son, there's a lifetime that's gone by here while you were gone. I thought for sure that this planet was going to explode, but the only thing that came close to that prediction was when all the dogs rebelled against their owners fifteen years ago."
"Oh yeah. The boxer rebellion. Heard about that in my xeno politics class. Yeah, a whole lot's gone on on Earth since we were last together, too. It's a real neat place, what with Jennifer and all."
"Ah, we have plenty of time to talk about that," Jor hoped.
"Not really. In between space warps from here to Sol I have about two days left for my vacation."
"Hmmm. How about if you take me to Earth with you? I haven't been on the Council since —"
"Naw, you wouldn't like it on Earth. Way too cold."
"So, tell me more about Jennifer."
"Well . . . Jennifer's just this gal, you know?"
Jor Winked at him. "Sure, sure. Hey, I was going to go into the Calorian capitol today after I got done mar—"
"Great!" Cal cut him off. "Let's go right now! I'm dying to see the heart of my home culture." He started walking.
Jor put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Uh, I think you'd best not visit it."
"Because, my son, the whole place is adorned in the new official symbol of Caloria."
"NEW official symbol? To replace liquid helium?"
"What's Caloria's new symbol?" Infra Man asked.