Authors: Otto Binder
“All it did was clean dirt off the metal,” said Iron Man, shaking his head.
“What kind of superalloy is that?” growled Hawkeye, stunned. “But we’ve got to get inside and sabotage that jalopy. Here goes with my diamond-drill arrow.”
Down sped a bulky arrow whose whirling diamond point was driven by a tiny transistorized electric motor. It could drill its way through ten inches of armor plate while barely being slowed down.
When it met the hull below, it poised on end, grinding away while upheld by the torque of the spin. But gradually its speed diminished. Wobbling like a top that was running down, it finally fell flat.
Hawkeye’s face also fell, while a string of imprecations came from his lips. His fury was not lightened by the mocking, amplified voice of Karzz from his plastic bubble: “Why waste your ingenious arrows, bow-twanger? My machine is coated with a layer of neutronium, a metal made of densely packed neutrons, and ten times harder than mere diamond. Your Stone Age devices are pitiful toys.”
“That clown from the outer cosmos doesn’t know it,” rasped Hawkeye, “but his deadliest weapons are those cornball clichés. If people heard enough of them, the human race would commit mass suicide.”
“My turn,” said Iron Man, jetting them both away from the mighty machine. “See that glacier ahead? Karzz is going to skirt close past one side of it…and I’ve got ideas.”
Before reaching the glacier, Iron Man deposited Hawkeye on a flat snowfield. “I’ll leave you here. This is a one-man job.”
“Give him the works,” Hawkeye called after the flying figure.
The Golden Avenger soared above the gigantic glacier, beside which even Karzz’s great machine was a tiny mite. All the while, Iron Man had been rheostating up his power-units. His finger poised over a push button on his chest controls.
“Here goes,” he muttered. “An ultrasonic sound wave above the range of human hearing, but rated at a million decibels. Nothing crystalline can stand up against it.”
As the invisible vibrations struck the glistening glacier, giant cracks appeared at the top and spread fanwise down the sides. Awesomely, in majestic slow motion, the colossal chunk of ice split with a thunderclap, collapsing into a landslide of pieces bigger than houses.
Countless megatons of the crystalline debris crushed down squarely on top of the Infrared Beamer as it churned past, until it was buried from sight.
Circling in the air, Iron Man held his breath and listened. Not a sound came from under the ice heap. “I think you hit the jackpot,” came Hawkeye’s thin shout from the distance. “You put Karzz on ice—for good!”
The silence was broken by the sound of tractor treads grinding powerfully. Ice chunks were hurled aside as the seventieth-century tank came crawling out from under the broken glacier.
“I—I don’t believe it,” gasped Iron Man, in devastating disappointment. “Not even a dent or a scratch.”
A derisive chuckle, amplified into stentorian volume, came rolling from the machine. “Was there something in my way?”
But now the alien’s voice turned ugly. “I see I’ll have to eliminate you two. You annoy me, like mosquitoes.”
The huge machine suddenly wheeled around and headed straight for a small figure standing unprotected in the snowfield. The treads crunched forward, gathering speed.
“Hawkeye!” screeched Iron Man in horror.
“Great balls o’ fire!” choked Hawkeye, rooted to the spot as the machine loomed closer, like a juggernaut. “Karzz is going to run me down!”
The archer broke from his paralysis of fear and began running, futilely. The churning behemoth behind him gained steadily.
Like a comet, the Golden Avenger was streaking down from the sky, piling on all the jet power he could muster. But he had a longer way to go than the machine, to reach Hawkeye.
Death flew alongside Iron Man. Which of them would reach Hawkeye first?
Meanwhile, Captain America was driving the rocketplane away from the South Pacific. He had left Goliath and the Wasp on a centrally located island, whence their search for the third earth doom would begin.
As the speck disappeared in the blue skies, the Wasp turned to Goliath. “What a search we’ve got ahead of us, High Pockets! There are hundreds of islands, small and large, in this group. On which one is Karzz the Conqueror operating?”
“He’s probably not even here yet,” Goliath answered. “Remember that on our flight here, Cap picked up Iron Man’s radio call, telling how they had found Karzz there with his Infrared Beamer. So he can hardly be here with his Vulcan Machine.”
“Then that means we have to wait for him,” said the girl, happily. “In that case, Big Blue Eyes, why don’t we pitch a little woo?”
Her arms encircled him and her lips drew close to his, temptingly. But his lips began to move upward, out of reach.
“Oh, you spoiler!” she pouted. “Why did you shoot up to your ten-foot size and frustrate me?”
“Because this isn’t the time or place for the Romeo and Juliet bit,” retorted the giant. “After all, we’re on Avenger business.”
“Oh, fine!” said the disappointed girl. “You and your sense of duty! Here we are alone on a desert isle—well, a tropical isle—and what’s on your mind? Anything but romantic thought. Sometimes I could kick you, Henry Pym.”
“You couldn’t reach that high,” said Goliath with a grin. Then he became serious. “Listen, Wasp. It’s possible that Karzz came here first, before going to Antarctica, and left the Vulcan Machine operating under automatic or remote controls. So our hunt should begin immediately. That’s why there’s no time for moonlight and roses.”
“Okay,” sighed the girl. “What’s the plan?”
Goliath was now shrinking back to human size, but he didn’t stop there. “Shrink down with me, Wasp,” he called from her knee. “In insect size, we can visit the islands one by one and find out what’s cooking in the alien’s pot.”
Willing herself to reduce, the girl also began shrinking until both of them stood in a towering forest—of grass.
Almost immediately, a lumbering tiger-beetle charged them from under a rock.
“Look out!” yelled the Wasp.
The tiny Ant-Man, with the strength of a Goliath, met the charge with a swinging fist that cracked the beetle on its snout. It paused dizzily. This gave the Ant-Man time to grasp its hard shell at one side and heave mightily. The beetle flipped over on its back, helplessly waving its legs in the air.
“Have fun working your way upright,” said the miniature Goliath. He turned to the Wasp-girl. “You can shoot out wings at will and fly, but I need a flying steed of the insect world, like the Flying Ant I once used.”
He pointed upward. “And why not a classy type like the one up on that flower?”
Above them, a butterfly drank of the blossom’s nectar, its gauzy wings slowly opening and closing, oblivious to the world in its ecstasy of feasting. Putting a finger to his lips, Ant-Man began climbing the stalk of a nearby flower that towered higher than where his quarry perched.
When he reached the topmost blossom, he stood on the petals and leaped, straight down onto the butterfly’s back. Like a bucking bronco, the startled butterfly flapped into the air, twisting and darting wildly.
“You won’t shake me off,” sang out the Ant-Man, his legs straddling its thorax and his hands holding onto the edge of its carapace. After the butterfly had exhausted itself, the micro-man reached and seized its two feathery antennae at the base, letting them slide through his hands until he gripped the ends tightly.
“My reins,” he called down. “The butterfly will be sensitive to the slightest pull right or left and turn that way.”
He demonstrated, making the butterfly turn gracefully into an immelmann turn and then zig-zag gently on even keel.
The Wasp now came flying alongside under her own power.
“If it were a horsefly,” she said in a tinkling voice, “you’d be a horseman. What are you on a butterfly—a butterman?”
The Ant-Man smiled wanly. “Nice try, Wasp. But I can’t be cheered up. There’s too much at stake here. Now, let’s go. There’s nothing suspicious on this island, so it’s on to the next one.”
Guiding his gaily colored mount upward, the Ant-Man headed for a nearby island, with the Wasp pacing him. A prevailing breeze increased their speed and blew them swiftly across the intervening waters.
They circled over the small atoll, finding it barren of any human habitation or any man-made structure.
“We drew a blank here,” said the Ant-Man. “On to the next island…and the next….”
They lost count of the tropical isles they visited, some inhabited by natives, some thriving with modem industry, but none of them harboring the slightest sign of an alien machine at work.
They had no survival kits along, for they could not have reduced those to tiny size. But they drank of flower nectars, sweet and satisfying. And when tired, they slept for a short time snugly in tulip-like blossoms, cushioned with soft pollen. All the Avengers had trained themselves to do without sleep for longer stretches of time than other people could endure.
Feeding his butterfly mount at a lily-like “drinking trough,” the Ant-Man felt discouraged. “Are we on a wild-goose chase trying to locate our alien friend?”
Flying over the next island, they looked down into a crater. “Many of these islands are volcanic in origin,” he pointed out. “Very few are live volcanoes, however. This one is deader than a doornail….”
At that moment, with a deafening blast, the supposedly dead volcano split open and erupted flame and smoke.
“Quick!” gasped the Ant-Man. “Fly higher.”
Gaining altitude, they escaped the molten lava discharge that now scorched through the air and showered the surrounding waters with fiery sparks.
The Ant-Man jerked his winged steed around as another blast sounded to the north. “Another volcano erupting,” he said, and then stared incredulously. One after another, a string of volcanic islands stretching into the distance blew their tops.
“Great heavens!” cried the Wasp. “It’s as if a string of firecrackers were being set off.”
“Right,” yelled back the Ant-Man above the thunderous din. “And set off by…Karzz, the Conqueror!”
“The other three dooms, he said, would involve water, air, and fire. Well, if this isn’t ‘fire’ I’ll eat it.” He snapped his fingers. “Idiots, that’s what we are. The clue was right in front of our noses all the time. Wasp, where does the name Vulcan come from?”
“Why, the ancient legend in Greek mythology of an underground god…Ah, I get what you’re driving at. Karzz and his Vulcan Machine must be
“Right,” said Ant-Man again. “And that first volcanic island that erupted may mark where he’s operating. Let’s go. We’ve got to take a chance and run through the fiery hail of the eruption, down to the island itself.”
As they flew downward, great globs of molten lava sailed by, along with a blast of heated air.
“We’ll be cooked alive by the time we get there,” gasped the Wasp, her skin red from heat. “Maybe we haven’t got a chance.”
“Keep going!” snapped the Ant-Man. “Our small size is our salvation. It’s like insects flitting through a hail of shells and bullets, with little chance of a direct hit.” And so, somewhat the worse for wear, they gained the sanctuary of the island’s jungle, at a spot where no forest fire had yet started, and where no rivers of molten lava had flowed.
“Down there,” pointed the Ant-Man, “is a cave. It all adds up that Karzz is here, underground. In we go….”
They were thankful for the dim coolness of the cave; and the outside thunders of the volcanic barrage were muted as they went in deeper. When the outside sounds were nearly inaudible, the Wasp stopped to hover in the air with a hand to her ear…. The Ant-Man heard it too.
Ahead of them sounded a deep low rumble. “It sounds like a machine all right, a big one,” said the Ant-Man excitedly. “Time now to switch to human size and explore the cave system further.”
Moments later, in their normal stature, Henry Pym waved farewell to the butterfly he had been riding before. Then he took the Wasp’s hand and trotted along the winding passageways that linked a maze of natural caves under this island.
The rumble grew louder, and became a low roar. The tunnels widened out now, and they eventually stepped into a huge central cavern from which the sound reverberated. At first, in the dim underground lighting, they could see nothing except a vague hulking shape.
Then it took form as a pattern of machined parts—huge pipes, an enormous piston pump, a bulging chamber that glowed with nuclear fires, and what looked like an electronic computer system controlling it all.
“The Vulcan Machine,” breathed the Wasp. She clutched Pym’s arm in sudden alarm. “Look…handling the master push buttons….”
“Karzz?” muttered Pym. “This is mighty peculiar. How could Iron Man report him in Antarctica, if he’s here?”
Yet Karzz was still in Antarctica! And still driving his monstrous tractor tank at the fleeing figure of Hawkeye, dashing madly but hopelessly across the smooth snowfields with no slightest haven in sight.
And the Golden Avenger, diving at meteoric speed, had no chance to reach his doomed companion—at least not in person.
But from his right arm’s hollow metal sleeve shot forth a steel spring that uncoiled to its full length of a hundred feet. At its end was a hook that caught expertly in Hawkeye’s belt. The archer was yanked upward just as an enormous spiked tread rolled crunchingly over the spot he had vacated.
Reeling the steel spring, Iron Man said, “My timer shows that was just three-tenths of a second before contact between you and the treads.”
“A closer shave,” said Hawkeye, only the slightest tremor in his voice betraying how shaken up he was, “was never claimed even by a TV razor advertiser.” He took a deep breath. “Sorry, Iron Head, for gypping you out of collecting my insurance.”
“What insurance?” retorted the Golden Avenger. “You know quite well no insurance company would be idiotic enough to insure any of us. The Avengers live the most dangerous lives on earth. Even Lloyds of London reneged.”