Authors: Otto Binder
Iron Man was just chatting to allow Hawkeye to regain his shattered composure. It was not easy for a man to be snatched from the jaws of death by a split hairline of time. But then he saw the bowman’s lip curling in his usual devil-may-care smirk.
“Thanks for the assist, Rusty Joints,” Hawkeye said.
“I’ll let you hand me my arrows some time when I’m firing with my unfailing skill.” A black frown swept over his face. “Which reminds me, I’m going to get that outer-space thug right now. Ever hear of the old soft underbelly deal?”
“Yeah. While I was being hounded by that coffee grinder, I looked back and saw that where the driveshaft for the treads extends up inside to the engines, there’s a hole with an inch clearance. An inch is all an arrow needs to get through.”
“But if you stand below in front of the machine again,” said Iron Man, “he’ll grind you into human hamburger.”
“He won’t see me,” said Hawkeye mysteriously. “Just fly me a mile away and you’ll see.”
When Iron Man put the archer down, a mile off, Hawkeye first pulled something from his belt and attached it to his bow.
“My telescopic sights,” he said.
Then he withdrew a thick-shafted arrow and notched it. Carefully he squinted through his sights until the crosshairs were on that hole he had seen, which was visible from any ground-level position.
When Hawkeye let fly, Iron Man was startled to see the back end of the arrow burst forth with fire. He had never taken stock of Hawkeye’s full repertory of amazing arrows.
“My rocket arrow,” crowed the archer, as it sped at ever-increasing speed through the ice-cold air.
Watching through his telescopic sights, Hawkeye suddenly exclaimed: “Bull’s-eye! But then, aren’t all my shots? There it goes up into the soft underbelly of the machine, up into the inner works, where—”
There was a muffled boom from the distant machine and smoke squirted from its seams.
“I gave Karzz a hot tip,” said Hawkeye, grinning. “An arrow tip armed with superthermite that makes steel burn like paper. He’s probably yelling for the fire department right now. Let’s go watch the fun.”
No less eager than Hawkeye to see the results, Iron Man hauled his companion through the air for a mile, to land near the Infrared Beamer. It now ground to a stop and started wheeling crazily in a circle. Muffled explosions sounded inside, and a hole melted in the hull, from the inside out. From the hole shot a lurid red glow, as of a dozen forest fires burning fiercely.
“It looks as if my thermite arrow was like a fuse, setting off various flammables,” chortled the bowman. “And here comes the cornered rat himself out of his tinder box.”
Soot-streaked, Karzz came scuttling out of a hatchway down a ladder that suddenly burned off at the top, tumbling him the rest of the way into the snow. He stood up dazedly, staggering away from the huge pyre that his machine had now become.
But then he shrugged, facing the two men with his usual aplomb.
“You think you’ve won, eh? But before you destroyed my Infrared Beamer, I shot a boring rocket down through the ice, to come to rest a mile below. In that rocket is the heat-current radiator I told you of.”
He leered at them.
“In nine days, its temperature charge will have built up to where the entire Antarctic ice cap melts, flooding the world. It will happen the same day that the giant comet arrives from space, to deal earth another shattering blow. Two of my earth dooms have been launched, and no power on earth can stop them.”
It was true, Iron Man knew. No digging machine on earth had the capability of penetrating the massive ice sheet covering Antarctica, to reach and destroy the deadly device buried a mile down.
Karzz had won round two, after all.
“But at least you’ll die,” pronounced Iron Man, bringing up his right-hand gauntlet, “from a blast of my kill-ray.”
“Je suis sans souci,”
said Karzz evenly. At Hawkeye’s blank look, he translated: “I am without worry. Iron Man fails to remember that all his puny rays were stopped before by an invisible force-shield, which surrounds me now.”
“But since then,” hissed the Golden Avenger, remembering those hours in Anthony Stark’s superbly equipped lab, “I analyzed your force-shield’s likely structure and devised a way to break through it with this Z-ray….”
And, as a poisonous blue ray sprang from Iron Man’s transistorized finger projector, there was a puff of smoke. Then…nothing.
“Holy Jumping Hannah!” shrieked Hawkeye, eyes wide in disbelief. “I thought you were kidding. But you did it…you destroyed Karzz!” His elation died quickly and a haunted look came into his eyes. “Of course, we still have two earth dooms to face, but maybe a team of the world’s best scientists can prevent them. Anyway, we won’t have two other earth dooms to contend with….”
came a familiar voice.
“Karzz?” choked Hawkeye, aghast. “But—but—if he’s dead…?”
They looked up. Floating down in thin air was an image of Karzz, shimmering as if cast from a distance. The image spoke: “All you destroyed was my android double.”
“Android double?” echoed Iron Man.
“Namely, a biological robot made of synthetic flesh and blood. Naturally, I could not set off three earth dooms simultaneously by myself. So I called for teleportation of my waiting android doubles from my aides in the future.”
Hawkeye still thought it was a bad dream. “You mean that android could think, talk, and act like you?”
“Down to the last tiny item,” gloated the Karzz-image.
“As for me, I’m somewhere else on earth, utterly safe. I’m projecting my long-distance image and voice electronically to you from thousands of miles away.”
“Then you’re either in the South Seas or in the Sahara,” conjectured Iron Man.
“Brilliant,” mocked Karzz. “Now that you two have failed to halt earth doom number two, may I turn my full attention to the other two dooms,
s’il vous plait?”
“That guy burns me,” exploded Hawkeye, “with his foreign phrase-dropping! If he’d only talk straight Americanese.”
“All right,” leered the image, fading out slowly like the Cheshire Cat with a last grin. “You Avengers are called champs. Is that spelled c-h-u-m-p-s?”
Almost foaming at the mouth in fury, Hawkeye ripped an arrow from his quiver and shot straight at the image just as it blinked out.
“Wait’ll we meet next time!” he raged. “I’ll crown him
chump if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Simmer down, Hawkeye,” admonished Iron Man. “Your shouts are scaring half the penguins in Antarctica. Come on, I’ll fly you back to Avenger headquarters. I just hope Goliath and the Wasp have their situation well in hand in the South Seas.”
Down in the cavern on a South Seas island, at sight of Karzz and his rumbling Vulcan Machine, Goliath shot himself up to his ten-foot stature, while the Wasp swiftly shrank to insect size-their fighting forms.
As the tiny winged girl flitted near his face, Goliath rapidly whispered a plan to her. “Got it,” she murmured, darting away.
Stealthily, Goliath picked up a huge boulder amongseveral that lay scattered about. Karzz still stood before a huge control board next to the machine, as if oblivious.
Flexing all his muscles in one mighty heave, Goliath flung the boulder at the control board.
Karzz turned smilingly. “Rather futile gesture, Tall One,” he said, touching a stud on his belt. A hissing dis-ray accurately struck the boulder in mid-flight, and all that was seen of it was vagrant smoke.
“I knew you were here all the time,” came the mocking tones of the alien. “You and your female companion were monitored the moment you entered the caves. What now, Big Oaf?”
Goliath was already rushing forward with another huge boulder, sprinting at a speed surprising for his hulk. When Karzz shot forth his dis-ray, Goliath dodged with trigger-tense agility.
Then he was upon Karzz, the boulder upraised in his hands, bringing it down with shattering force on his head.
Goliath was startled. He had expected Karzz to have his personal force-shield around him protectively, yet the boulder did not bounce away. Goliath was even more stunned to see the body of Karzz turn transparent under the blow and then fade from sight.
“That was amusing,” chortled a voice behind Goliath. Whirling, he saw Karzz, alive and unharmed, coming around the corner of the giant machine. “It was a little game I purposely played, planting my three-dimensional image out in the open, exposed. It quickly exposed your presence, eh, big one with the little brain?”
Goliath lunged and drove his fist at the second Karzz, but this time his blow bounced back from an invisible shell.
“Naturally, I’m protected,” gloated Karzz. “Now listen to another amusing story, of how Iron Man and Hawkeye killed me down in Antarctica.”
Karzz related the details of that episode. “And so you see,” he finished, “it was only my android double they destroyed.”
Goliath squinted his eyes, looking Karzz over from bead to foot. “What about you now? Are you another android—or the real thing?”
leered Karzz. “We’ll leave that as a tantalizing mystery. I enjoy feeling like the proverbial cat playing with the mouse—a gigantic mouse named Goliath.”
“All right, the joke’s on me,” growled Goliath, exasperated at these ingenious tricks.
“And the punch line is that I could ray you down on the spot,” came the grim rejoinder from Karzz, his fingers straying toward his belt.
“Maybe so,” admitted Goliath, fine beads of sweat on his brow. “But tell me one thing first—I’m asking out of curiosity. Did your Vulcan Machine start off that string of eruptions of long-dead volcanoes?”
Android or not, Karzz’s face shone with sudden pride. “Yes, Goliath. And I grant you reprieve until you bear the full story of earth doom number three, being launched here in this cave.”
Perched nearby in a crevice in the wall, the tiny Wasp smiled to herself. It was exactly what she and Goliath had planned, getting Karzz to boast of his accomplishment. It gave him sadistic satisfaction to have his Avenger opponents know, before they died, what coup he had pulled. “The Vulcan Machine,” began Karzz, “is a generator of seismic waves. That is, it creates ground vibrations which travel down through the earth’s crust to the molten magma lying some twenty-five miles below.”
Goliath nodded in understanding. As Henry Pym, scientist, he was well acquainted with geological data about the earth’s structure.
“Now, earthquakes, as you know,” resumed Karzz, almost as if he were lecturing a class, “send forth seismic waves as their calling card. The seismographs of your scientists can pick them up and pinpoint where any earthquake occurs. But what is the cause of earthquakes?” He paused, and Goliath took the cue. “They are caused by deep-seated slips of gigantic masses of rock inside the crust, which in turn are caused by leakage of molten magma through huge cracks.”
nodded Karzz, “earthquakes are often the prelude to volcano eruptions, allowing a stream of molten rock to work its way up through an ancient weakness in the so-called solid ground.”
He waved at his rumbling machine.
“So the Vulcan Machine simply sends down high-powered seismic waves to rupture the crust at key spots. A boiling river of molten lava rushes up from below and snakes its way to the surface, there to erupt into the air violently. I touched off the island chain of dead volcanoes. You saw the result.”
“And your aim,” guessed Goliath grimly, “is to set off more volcanoes, all around earth?”
“It’s just a matter of broadcasting the seismic triggers,” agreed Karzz. “I’m using the shotgun method, scattering the vibratory “fuses’ in all directions, downward through your planet. Eventually,
the volcanoes on earth, dead or alive, will erupt without let-up—a world-wide salvo that will devastate civilization.”
“When?” breathed Goliath, shaken at the mental picture of tens of thousands of Vesuviuses blowing their tops all over the world.
“Nine days from now,” gloated Karzz, “the giant comet my Mount Everest ultramagnet pulled down will smash into earth when the Antarctic floods of the melting ice cap reach their peak. At that time, the world-wide volcano barrage will also open up, and three earth-wrecking holocausts in combination will start to render earth
Karzz turned and poised his finger near his control board. “When I press that final red push button, the seismic broadcast will speed down through the crust, setting off that geological chain reaction. The Vulcan Machine has been warming up to its full ultrasonic power. Now it is ready….
So was the Wasp ready. That was all she was waiting for-to know about those deadly buttons. That was what Goliath had previously whispered to her: “After I inveigle Karzz to spill the beans, keeping his attention on me, you do your stuff as the girl with the swinging stinger.” And now, diving down from her perch like a miniature hawk, the Wasp aimed her sting-ray at the alien’s hand, poised over his fatal push button. But what was Karzz saying…?
“Your petite lady friend thinks I’m unaware of her,” and he looked at what seemed to be a wristwatch on his other hand. “But my wrist-monitor, which magnifies microscopic objects, has been following her all the time. And now she’ll have company.”
Karzz flipped a switch. A panel opened in his control board. Out flew a bug that made a peculiar metallic buzz, which rose in an ominous crescendo.
In mid-air the Wasp came to a halt, startled at what she saw coming. “A
bug,” she gasped.
It was twice her size, and was made of gleaming metal, its wings operating from some tiny internal motor. In shape, it was like no one species of insect, but was a hybrid mixture of all types, with six jointed saw-edged legs. It had two huge mandibles that clanged as they opened and shut, and a long steel stinger like a knight’s lance. It was a formidable machine-powered robot insect against which frail Wasp had no chance.
As the entomological Frankenstein came buzzing toward her like a ferocious praying mantis, the Wasp frantically began twisting and looping in the air, hoping to elude it.