The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker (2 page)

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
9.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Next an updraft flung him like a cork, straight up for a mile, way beyond the tip of Everest. He fought his way down from the numbingly cold heights, agilely aiming for the summit. When a vicious whirlwind of air mixed with snow spun him around in a relentless grip, Iron Man turned himself broadside and maneuvered into the quiet “eye,” then safely sped out of one side of the whirlpool.

The next instant, something yanked him downward again, with staggering force. How many tricks did the mighty mountain have to try against puny man?

“Wait, there’s something
different
about this,” he said to himself. “It’s not a downdraft at all. It feels more like…
Magnetism?”
The last questioning thought brought a gasp of startled surprise from his lips.

Since when did Everest display magnetic force? It had never been reported by the various expeditions who had reached the top and conducted scientific experiments there. Iron Man poured more jet power into his boot propulsors, but the powerful force kept pulling him downward.

“I can’t break out of it,” he thought, and panic crept into his mind. “If my downward speed keeps increasing at this rate, I’ll smash into the peak at a thousand miles an hour!” He didn’t dare finish the thought that even his intricate, super-reinforced steel suit could never survive that frightful impact.

As his golden form hurtled downward, in the grip of an incredible magnetic force, he suddenly spied something at the tip of Mount Everest. There, in a flat stretch of bare wind-swept rock, was something unbelievable.

“Am I having hallucinations from oxygen starvation?” he thought wildly. “I see a gigantic machine! It must be a powerful
electromagnet!”

More details came out as he spun lower and closer. Banks of huge horseshoe magnets ran side by side, on top of a framework support, below which lay a bulging sphere of riveted steel, obviously the power plant. A violet purling glow surrounded the sphere, the telltale sign of a nuclear dynamo. But it must be of enormous power to feed the electromagnets and create enough magnetism to pull Iron Man down from a mile high.

Iron Man read his multiple-data wrist gauge and his eyes grew wide.

“One billion gauss?” Even his thoughts babbled now. “Why, that’s thousands of times stronger than any magnet ever produced in a research lab! That’s enough magnetic pull to tow all the cars on earth after it, or to pull apart a skyscraper beam by beam. It could lift twenty-five ocean liners like the
Queen Mary
a hundred miles high into orbit. It could, if aimed at the moon, even begin to pull it steadily out of orbit.”

Anthony Stark was not imagining wild things. He was a scientist. He knew exactly what this unprecedented magnetic force could do—the unthinkable.

Now Iron Man’s amazed thoughts turned to other burning questions. How had this supermagnet come here? Who was behind it? What was its purpose?

All this lanced through his mind in lightning rapidity as he fell like a stone, straight down toward that inescapable giant magnet. He noticed several meteorites whizzing past him, also attracted to the huge horseshoe device. They were meteors that had been sailing past earth and were simply yanked out of their age-old space trajectory!

Iron Man saw that arriving meteors did not wreck the supermagnet. Ten feet above the device, they met an invisible cushion and bounced away harmlessly. What sort of superscientific “force field” protected the magnet?

Iron Man rolled up his eyes, breathing a last prayer, as he plummeted down the final hundred feet at meteoric velocity.

Across the world at Avenger headquarters, Captain America glanced at the clock with a slight frown. “What’s with Iron Man?” he thought worriedly. “Why isn’t he here yet?”

He then turned to look into the TV camera, and spoke for the benefit of their vast unseen audience. “This is a special event in the Avengers’ annals. We decided to hold this Memorial Meet in honor of former members of the group in past years, those who are now engaged elsewhere in their own solo activities. But they will never be forgotten for the great services they performed as Avengers in past years.”

The star-spangled Avenger paused to stab his finger at a stud on the podium’s control board. The lights dimmed in the great hall. Then an automatic spotlight swung down to limelight a huge statue standing in an arched niche in the wall.

Neon letters blazed forth—THOR, GOD OF THUNDER!

No doubt a vast cheer went up from millions of homes. But the Avengers sat silently, honoring a former Avenger with an unvoiced accolade. Captain America then spoke their official eulogistic tribute:

“Mighty Thor, the immortal god who journeyed from Valhalla to earth to join the Avengers when we needed him most. Who will forget his mighty hammer, with which he could shatter steel or stone? Or the thunder-and-lightning storms he created to confound our enemies? Or his magnificent courage battling villainous foes who wielded awesome dark powers that even nullified Thor’s magic? Or….”

“Or,” muttered Hawkeye, fidgeting in his seat, “Thor’s pompous attitude and the lingo he used, half flowery and all square?”

“A philologist,” observed the Wasp in defense of Thor, from Goliath’s shoulder, “you are not, Archerman. Look it up in the dictionary….”

“I know,” growled Hawkeye. “Under Ph, not F. You mean Thor has word-skill, eh? That’s funny—under F, not Ph.”

“Does his ability make you Thor?” whispered the Wasp. “Under S, not Th.”

Hawkeye silently threw up his hands in surrender. Captain America was saying, “In conclusion, we can all cry Well done, Thor! At present, he has returned to his abode in Valhalla.”

Cap pressed another stud and the searchlight shifted to a statue titled QUICKSILVER, a man in a light green one-piece uniform. His silvery hair stuck out at the sides as winglike tufts.

“Like his name,” said Captain America, “Quicksilver moved with fantastic speed, which came from his being a mutant variety of human being. Back in his Balkan homeland, Quicksilver’s everyday name was Pietro. He guarded his secret abilities well, but often used them as an Avenger.”

Cap’s eyes misted a bit as if looking into the past. “Quicksilver was a blur of motion, able to outspeed cars, trains, or planes as if they were stuck in mud. He could run circles around any Olympic track star. He won every grim race of life and death against Father Time himself.”

“Is Cap for real?” snorted Hawkeye in a low tone. “Methuselah there is giving us cornball jazz that went out with Ben Hur’s chariot. When will he catch up with the jet age? Can’t he dig plain
English?”

“Shush!” spat out the Wasp. “Cap came from an earlier generation than ours. You can’t blame him if his speech is behind the times. But when it comes to a fight, he speaks absolutely modern clobberese with his fists, right? So we can forgive him being a bit of a square.”

“Square?” choked Hawkeye. “He’s a cube…
cubed.
Why, I…
Ulk!”

Hawkeye’s whisper choked off, for the simple reason that Goliath’s huge forefinger and thumb around his throat had given a tiny squeeze…enough to make Hawkeye turn purple, unable to catch his breath, let alone talk for the next few moments.

Cap swung the spotlight to a third statue. Another girl like the Wasp was portrayed, but in a witch-like scarlet costume as befitted her emblazoned name that lighted up—THE SCARLET WITCH.

“Pietro’s sister, Wanda,” explained Captain America for the benefit of the TV audience, “was also a mutant, but her special ability lay in witch-like supernatural powers. For a while, both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were pawns in the hands of Magneto, an unscrupulous mastermind. And originally, they were thus the enemies of the law and fought against a famed band called the X-Men, while carrying out Magneto’s sinister schemes. They voluntarily joined the Avengers later, to make up for their former misdeeds under duress.”

“So?” muttered Hawkeye. “I was also an anti-Avenger at one time, or at least I battled Iron Man time and again. Then, on my own, I reformed and became a good guy. So who pats me on the back? If you ask me….”

“We aren’t asking you a thing, William Tell-it-all,” came from the Wasp icily. “Besides, we current members of the Avengers all get a run-down later, addressed to the TV viewers. Wait your turn, Bow Twanger.” Hawkeye glared at the Wasp. Goliath glared at Hawkeye. Hawkeye decided to glare elsewhere.

The lights came on again and Captain America snapped erect. “In conclusion, let us salute the former Avengers for their deeds, always to be remembered as long as Avengers keep assembling.”

As they started to rise to their feet, a tiny voice buzzed in Goliath’s ear. “Careful, High Pockets…the ceiling, you know.”

Barely in time, Goliath bent his neck and stood half bowed as they all saluted the three statues and said in chorus, “Hail to Thor, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch!”

Captain America now smiled for the cameras, relaxing. But inside he was wondering, “When is Iron Man going to show up? What’s keeping him? Did he run into something unusual?”

chapter 3

Karzz, the Conqueror

Captain America could hardly guess how unusual was the “something” that Iron Man had run into and how deadly. He was plummeting like a stone toward the mammoth electromagnet on the peak of Mount Everest, pulled downward by superpowerful forces.

But he had not given up all hope. Through his swirling mind a desperate plan had formed. Rapidly, his gloved hand grasped a dial on his chest and rheostated the total power of his suit to its highest output. Ten megawatts of energy sizzled through his circuits and fed into his antimagnetic unit.

Clashing forces flung him back a bit, as his antimagnetic radiation fought the supermagnetic pull below. But inexorably, he was drawn down again, his antimagnetic unit whining uselessly. It was like trying to paddle a canoe up Niagara Falls.

Still, his antimagnetic “brake” had slowed his fall considerably. Was it enough to save his steel suit from cracking open like an eggshell against the force-field cushion?

Fifty feet…25…10…5…WHAM!

A shriek tore from Anthony Stark’s lips, inside, as his outer iron hulk slammed into the force-field like a car smashing into a brick wall at two hundred fifty miles an hour.

But his steel suit held up without cracking, and his built-in molecular-foam padding protected his fragile human body from absorbing too much of the bruising impact against the armored linings. With no more than his wind knocked out, Iron Man bounced a hundred feet high from the force-field barrier, then fell off to the side toward bare hard rock.

Shaking off reeling dizziness, Iron Man managed to shoot out a retro-braking burst of jets in time, so that he landed on his feet with no more of a jar than that of a man jumping down ten feet.

He swayed on his feet a moment, almost collapsing, but then his spirit-level adjustors and gyros automatically straightened him up. His blurred eyes cleared up and focused—on a man in a strange costume.

Iron Man stared in wonder. The man was dressed in clothing that resembled no style ever seen on earth before. His height and figure were average, but his face had a saturnine cast. Strangest of all was the malevolent expression in his frosty blue eyes, infinitely cold and hostile.

“An intruder,” came his harsh voice, as if he owned Mount Everest. “But you are different from the other earth-people in my world monitor screen. You are encased in protective armor. Who are you?”

“My real name is unimportant,” answered Stark. “They call me Iron Man, the Avenger.” He waved at the humming machine, still awed. “And just who are you? Did you build this supermagnet? And why?”

The stranger drew himself up regally, and spoke in lofty tones. “I am Karzz, the Conqueror!”

“I imagine I’m supposed to tremble at the name,” said Iron Man sarcastically, “but you might as well have said Joe Smirch, for all the name means to me. Where do you do your so-called conquering?”

“All over the universe, my mocking friend. World after world among the stars has fallen before my invincible legion of space warcraft. I am not a native of earth. I am from a far-off world of superscience beyond your imagination.”

Iron Man would have put him down for a harmless crackpot, except for one thing—the supermagnet. You couldn’t laugh
that
off. And after all, it was a well-accepted theory that the universe was full of other habitable worlds, many of which might be further advanced than earth, to the point of having achieved interstellar spaceflight.

“All right, you’re a denizen of another distant solar system,” agreed Iron Man. “I see that evolution on your world produced the same human species as earth did.”

“You are mistaken,” denied Karzz. A faint smile played about his lips. “Prepare for a shock, earthling. We control metabolic transformation of our body tissues at will. Watch…this is how I
really
look.”

Before Iron Man’s eyes, the human form began to subtly and steadily alter, like a man melting down and changing into something else. The face and other human attributes faded into an amorphous mass, over which a new face and form began to superimpose themselves.

Iron Man’s eyes kept widening at what he saw materializing, portion by portion, until there stood before him a shocking monstrosity. He was in general still semi-manlike, and not changed in general size. But all else was utter madness…

A face with blotched purple skin…ghastly green lips…hair of a poisonous blue…and eyes that were fiery red like hot coals. The arms had changed into boneless tentacles with ten slender “fingers’ that writhed. The two gnarled legs ended in hooves instead of feet.

It was a surrealistic creature beyond the imagination of a Dali…a nightmare beyond the wildest phantasmagorias of the human mind. Iron Man recoiled as if from a loathsome monster—yet there was intelligence in the creature’s face. Superintelligence, in fact; and clammy fear clutched at Stark’s ailing heart. Earthmen could expect no mercy or pity from such coldly inhuman intellects.

“Appalled, earthling?” mocked the alien. “But let me hasten to inform you that nausea strikes me when I gaze upon your horridly repulsive human form.” Letting that sink in, the alien began reversing the process, his monstrous form slowly metamorphosizing back to the human “disguise” he had worn before.

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
9.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Insatiable by Carew, Opal
What the River Knows by Katherine Pritchett
Life Is Not an Accident by Jay Williams
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
That Night with You by Alexandrea Weis
Requiem by Jamie McGuire
A Flower for Angela by Sandra Leesmith