The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker (4 page)

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
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At the name “Bucky,” Cap’s eyes had gone bleak with painful memories.

“Unfortunately,” added the Wasp, and her tone went down sympathetically, “Bucky one day gave his life to stop a Nazi plot involving high-flying planes. Cap seemingly fell to his death too, landing at sea and sinking, never to come up again. They finally gave up the search and pronounced Captain America dead.”

The Wasp paused dramatically.

“They were
dead wrong.
By an amazing twist of fate, Cap sank and was frozen in suspended animation for twenty years. A block of ice holding his preserved body finally drifted ashore and was worshiped by Eskimos as some kind of ‘ice god.’ But one day the ice block was broken, probably during a violent storm. Later, as the ice melted, others found a figure in a spangled costume coming to life. Captain America lived again!”

Cap looked bewildered, in memory of that utterly unbelievable moment when he had opened his eyes to find out he had not met his end…but faced a whole new life ahead.

“Amazingly,” continued the Wasp, “a physical examination showed that despite his twenty-year frozen sleep, Captain America retained his full physical powers and his same youthful vigors. He had not aged a day in those twenty years. Time had stood still for him. So, although he was an ‘old-timer’ chronologically, he soon proved he was far from an ‘old man’ ready to be retired. He froze at sea at the peak of his fighting career—and he was revived at the peak of his powers to resume his fighting career. After a ‘rude interruption’ of twenty years, we might say.”

Everybody smiled, except Cap himself. The Wasp intuitively knew what he was thinking.

“But don’t think it was all glory for the two-time hero. Behind him, lost forever, lay the world and the times he knew…the people he loved…and Bucky. He was in a new and strange world, almost terrifyingly different at first. And though Captain America was invited into the Avengers and quickly gave ample proof that his fighting prowess was undiminished, there at times came nagging thoughts—would his age suddenly catch up with him? Would he slip sometime and endanger all the Avengers during a crucial moment? Could a man from the past really live up to his role as the world’s greatest fighting man…
twice in a row?
Yes, doubts gnawed at him constantly.”

Cap tried to smile, or at least to look blank before the pitiless TV camera’s eye, but he knew that his eyes were haunted from those inner agonies he had gone through.

The Wasp drew herself up and her voice rang out once more.

“But all that is by the board now. If Captain America was a has-been who could never make the grade, why did we Avengers unanimously elect him our leader? Here’s why—for his great
experience,
double that of any of us, due to his two careers. For his unquenchable
courage,
undimmed by a twenty-year hibernation. For his
cool level head,
and his ability to weigh and judge matters of life and death in battling cunning enemies, and last…But let us demonstrate this final quality. Cap, go to it.”

The spotlight broadened to take in a machine gun that came out of a recess in the wall, with the dummy of an old-time Nazi behind it.

“That machine gun will be fired by automatic devices. The dummy is just window dressing, to bring back a scene of the past when Captain America faced such dangers and had to smash through. Watch!”

Crouching like a track star ready for the hundred-yard dash, Captain America waited until the loud staccato of the gun crashed through the silence. At almost the same second he leaped forward, his shield in front of him, as if deflecting a hail of death.

Like a tiger he sprang forward, leaping in great bounds, powered by the strongest leg muscles on earth. He had spent countless hours in the toughest training camp ever known—the rugged Commandos of World War II. And today he spent more endless hours between duties in the Avengers’ superb gym, practicing the gymnastics that made his body a smooth human machine with speed, power, and quickness of reflexes never achieved before by any human being on earth.

Where Goliath could rely on his giant form, Hawkeye on his amazing arrows, and Iron Man on his steel suit, Captain America had nothing to depend on except his own original self—plus his shield.

Running straight into the barrage of hot lead, warding it off with his shield, the
 
spangled fighter then made an incredible flying leap the rest of the way—a leap that would have broken the world’s Olympic record. While landing head foremost, his mighty rock-hard fist swung against the dummy’s chin, knocking his enemy twenty feet away. The machine gun was stilled and Captain America stood up, a momentary triumph lighting his face as if he were reliving an actual episode in the long-gone past.

“Great, Winghead!” yelled Hawkeye, leaping to his feet, as all the TV audience must be doing. “Anybody says we ought to send you to the old man’s home will get my arrows zinging at his heels, the whole quiver full!”

“Why, Hawkeye!” rumbled Goliath, half accusingly. “You said something
good
about Cap for once.”

Hawkeye flushed guiltily.

“Amazing!” muttered Goliath, shaking his head as if to clear it. “Don’t let it happen again, Hawkeye, or we’ll begin to think that down underneath it all you’re a right guy.”

The Wasp had a shock—two shocks—for the audience. “That dummy wasn’t stuffed with light straw. It weighed two hundred and fifty pounds. And those bullets he waded into—they were
real.
Captain America insisted on it—he doesn’t believe in fakery.

All over America this brought down the house, figuratively speaking. They hardly had to be told the conclusion spoken by the Wasp: “And so, the primary quality that won this peerless battler our Avenger leadership is his
one-man-army fighting ability!”

The red-white-and-blue champion was flattered…but also worried. It would have been the turn next of Iron Man, the missing member. His absence was now definitely alarming.

Across the world on Mount Everest, Iron Man tried a new tactic against Karzz the Conqueror. From the index finger of his right glove, fed by transistorized power, shot a laser-beam, a thin ray of intense light that ate down into rock as if it were cheese. A tunnel swiftly formed into which Iron Man plunged, disintegrating rock ahead of him at the rate of twenty feet a second.

In essence, he was “diving” through the solid stone. Hidden from his enemy’s eyes, Iron Man tunneled down, then arched upward, finally popping up right behind Karzz, who was taken by surprise.

An iron fist lashed out and caught the alien in the small of the back, sending him sprawling ignominiously.

“I thought so,” grated Iron Man. “Your force-shield only protects you from the front, not from the back. It’s not a curving shield all around you but a flat barrier that can protect you only on one side.”

“Clever deduction, earthling,” snarled Karzz, leaping to his feet. “But it will gain you nothing. And now let us see if you can withstand the lightning-blast ray.”

He touched another stud on his belt and a lightning flash sprang forth to strike Iron Man. It had such staggering power that it hurled him back a dozen feet as dazzling sparks flew off his armor. But Stark had felt none of the unbelievable voltage inside his metallic shell, and quickly recovered his balance.

“No good playing Zeus,” mocked Iron Man. “I’m fully insulated against all electrical forces. And now….” Iron Man’s jets propelled him into the air in a blurswift arch, to come down directly behind Karzz. An iron leg swung before the alien could turn.

“Owwww!’ It was a very human-sounding yelp from Karzz as an iron boot connected with the proper part of his anatomy in back.

“A kick in the pants is only the first of the punishment you’re going to take,” Iron Man vowed grimly, darting away as the infuriated alien whirled and shot forth another ray, which missed.

A strange duel began then. Again and again, Iron Man twisted through the air in swift flight, circling to come up behind Karzz and deliver blows at his unprotected back. Angrily, Karzz shot forth a variety of rays, all of which spanged off Iron Man’s armor without doing any harm. “You’ll be a mass of bruises from the back of your head down to your heels,” promised Iron Man relentlessly, delivering another blow from the rear.

“Donnervetter!”
cursed Karzz. Iron Man was startled at the German word, until he realized the space mastermind was a world linguist knowing all tongues. “It is not you,” said the alien, “but your iron suit that I am fighting.”

He suddenly touched another stud on his belt. The ray that struck Iron Man seemed to do nothing at all. He felt no blow, no force. But with a gasp he noticed the trail of red dust left in the air as he jetted in a loop.

“Yes, iron oxide,” gloated Karzz. “That was the Rust-ray, with the ability to oxidize iron instantly. Keep coming until I can turn your whole suit into crumbling dust.”

Iron Man tried to twist and loop in the air, but Karzz made an adjustment on his belt and the rust-ray expanded into a wide cone constantly bathing its target. Stark could sense his iron suit crumbling away, layer by layer.

It was a losing game. If all his protective armor turned into rust, he would not be Iron Man any more. Then only frail Anthony Stark would face Karzz and his frightful superscience weaponry.

Rheostating full power into his jets, Iron Man spun away from the peak of Mount Everest as fast as he could. “Round one goes to you, Karzz,” he called back. “But I’ll return…with the other Avengers.”

“You will be doing me a favor,” came back the challenge. “I want to prove how futile it is for any earthlings to match wits and weapons with me. Nothing can stop me from fu1filling my mission—earth’s destruction.
N’est ce pas?”

That incongruous French phrase, coming from the lips of the non-earthly being, made his threat all the more horrifying. It was a sign of the multiple-IQ mind they were pitted against.

chapter 5

A Job for the Avengers

Another “iron man” charged his opponent, back in America at Avenger headquarters. Captain America, head lowered and shield up, was charging Hawkeye, who was pulling his great bow to its utmost.

The Avenger “Gladiator Games” were on, a planned aftermath of the Memorial Meet. Millions of TV viewers thrilled to see these modern gladiators battling one another to sharpen their fighting skills.

It was not, of course, a battle to the death. The rules were that the male Avengers would pair off, round robin, and each try to gain a point over his adversary, while the Wasp kept score.

It would be a point for Hawkeye if one of his arrows could send Cap’s shield spinning out of his hands involuntarily. A point would be made for the star-spangled stalwart if he got close enough to Hawkeye to wrest away his bow.

Hawkeye’s bowstring twanged, releasing his invisible plastic arrow. If Cap didn’t see it in time, the arrow’s deflecting blow would knock his shield away by sheer force.

But Cap’s keen ears caught the whistle of the shaft through the air and in a split second he used trigger-trained muscles to dodge and let the unseen arrow whine over his head.

Hawkeye’s right arm became a blur of motion as he reached back into his quiver for arrow after arrow, releasing them with the rapidity of a machine gun. A smoke arrow made Cap cough, but a whirling sweep of his shield quickly cleared the air.

An electric arrow touched the shield and sent a 500-volt jolt through it—only Cap wasn’t holding it. He had quickly dropped it to the floor, letting it bounce up neatly back into his hand, receiving none of the shock meanwhile.

The bolo arrow with its weighted cords swung through the air and caught Cap around the ankles, pitching him forward for a tumble, during which he might—Hawkeye hoped—lose the grip on his shield. But Cap rolled with his fall, turned a complete somersault while kicking off the entwining cords, and came back on his feet still charging forward.

But the outcome of this contest was never to be known.

“Hold it, you two!” rang out a voice, as a golden form smashed its way in through a window. “Save your fighting for Karzz the Conqueror.”

Landing neatly on his feet near the TV cameraman, Iron Man waved. “The show’s over. Sign off and clear out, all of you. The Avengers have a job to do.”

“But listen,” protested the TV producer, running forward angrily. “We were promised a full hour’s show. Think of our disappointed audience—’

“I’m thinking of them, all right,” retorted Iron Man, “and of everyone else on earth. There won’t be any TV shows again…ever…unless the Avengers handle a certain emergency without delay. Now, don’t ask for details. We don’t want to alarm the public. Just clear out…pronto.”

Cap placated the producer by promising to resume the show some other time; then he told the viewers that the “second half” of their program would be shown at a later date.

When outsiders were gone, Cap faced Iron Man. “Out with it, Avenger. This must be a top priority emergency.”

Iron Man extended an arm and brushed some red dust off. “It’s top priority, double in spades,” he said, then explained the situation. The other Avengers listened with widening eyes.

“And so,” finished Iron Man, “we’ve got to defeat Karzz the Conqueror and—well, corny or not—save the world.”

“Hmm,” said Cap. “You told us he refused to tell why he wanted to destroy earth. But just
how
is he going to do it? Any idea?”

“That superelectromagnet of his must have something to do with it,” Iron Man answered. “But just how it could wreck the world is anybody’s guess.”

“Baloneyville!” snorted Hawkeye. “That’s all it is. That kook from outer space hasn’t the power to smash a whole planet. He’s pulling a way-out bluff.”

The phone rang at that moment. Captain America picked it up.

“I’m Dr. Thomas Polton of Mount Palomar Observatory,” said the voice at the other end. “I thought you Avengers should hear this before I released it to authorities or to the public. An amazing celestial phenomenon has occurred….”

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
2.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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