For actors George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling,
& Brandon Routh, all of whom have brought the Man of Steel to life on
both the big & small screens in their own perspective way.
For Richard Donner, Richard Lester, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, & Bryan
Singer, the producers & directors for coming up with these fascinating
stories of Superman in the movies & on television.
For all the numerous writers & artists at DC Comics who have kept the
Man of Steel alive for a good, solid seventy years—and counting.
For comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who is probably & without a doubt the biggest
Superman fan on Earth, Krypton, or anywhereelse in the known galaxy.
For all the supporting cast members of the Superman films & shows, & all the
other writers, actors, producers, & directors for helping to make the Man of Steel
one of the most recognizable icons of our or any other time.
And finally, to the loving memories of Superman's two creators, Jerry Siegel &
Joe Shuster, the men who gave us the first & best hero we can all look up to.
If not for them, we wouldn't even have a Superman!
WHEN LEGENDS MEET
2006, 2008 by Anthony Ogozalek
It driftedly traveled throughout the vast cold, merciless vacuum of space without a sound as it was with everything that did in the endless void, its course unchanged as it had been for many years ago once it was given its forced trajectory. The object—a rather long slab of a meteorite that measured about the length of two football stadiums & about the same width—sailed through space with nothing in its path to change its course except more empty space & tiny framents of very small pieces of rocks, none of which could even begin to alter its present course as they bounced harmlessly off the oncoming slab; each one that struck it got its own course rearranged, being sent on a brand new one upon contact.
There were two things one would find rather odd about this particular hunk of asteroid, had there been anyone in the near vicinity to bear witness to them. The first was that this traveling space rock, while gray in color, gave off a feint glow around it like it was a light bulb on its last legs of energy before giving out & going inert forever. The second thing was that, while its appearance was nothing other than what it seemed, it certainly didn't travel like one. Any asteroid of that magnitude would more or less tumble through the void of space like clothes through a dryer. This piece of debris sailed through the vacuum with the grace of a well-maintained spacecraft.
Stranger still, the object even looks like one, with a somewhat pointed front end & rear that had a rumpy appearance, but no visible stabilizers, horizontal or vertical. On close inspection, one would suspect the thing of resembling one of the famed Star Destroyers from the original 'Star Wars' trilogy, only being surrounded with a rocky shell. If it actually was a spacecraft soaring through space, one could only wonder how the pilot(s) could even see where they were going, as there were no visible windows at or around the nose, let alone anywhere on its rugged surface: some might believe the thing was piloting itself, with a sentient computer system doing the driving.
Whatever the case may be, the object kept on its original course, unperturbed.
If the laws of physics could be bent for even the slightest of moments, one might be able to hear speech commencing from within the bowels of the craft-like asteroid as a conversation was now taking place from inside.
"Attention! Attention! Targeted destination now within sight of this vessel", said a computerized voice.
"How long until we get in the vicinity?", said a voice that was half normal & half mechanized, as if the individual was speaking into a synthesized microphone.
"Given the speed we are currently traveling, it is estimated that we will reach the planet & its orbiting moon in forty-eight hours of its time, barring any interference this vessel might encounter until then."
"Good. The time is almost upon us to set my plan in motion. We will reside this vessel when we reach the moon, & I will then proceed to the planet myself. As for running into any trouble along the way, I doubt we'll be detected by any of the planet's radar systems, as our cloaking device will make sure we remain invisible to prying eyes. Activate it when the first twenty-four hours have passed, & keep me updated on the status of my troops."
"As you wish, commander."
Communication between computer & leader have ceased, & things become quiet once more, except for a deep, baritone laugh that echoed within the asteroid. Had anyone heard it, they would be chilled to the bone from the eerie sound.
The asteroid continued on its course as planned, never breaking stride or slowing down.
The sun shone bright in the early afternoon sky above a grassy field between Tokyo & Mt. Fuji, with seldomly a cloud in the sky. Temperatures range from 65 to 70 degrees, as comfortable a climate as anone could ever hope for on this or any other day. It was a perfect day for people to go on a picnic & enjoy themselves, which is exactly what a good number of people were doing on this most glorious of days. Several had blankets laid out & rested on them with baskets at their sides, each one filled with food, drinks, utensils, among other things. As some munched on home-made sandwiches & washed them down with their favorite beverage from thermoses, others took in their peaceful surroundings & did some activities: two young boys aged five & six, dressed in shoes, shorts, & T-shirts, ran around with a yarn of string in each of their hands as they attempt to get a kite airborne, running as fast as they can so that the wind can grab their kites & launch them up as high as they can possibly get them to, with their parents urging them on; another mother & father pass a multi-colored ball around with each other & their twin daughters, both aged seven & wearing matching yellow dresses; a teenage couple—a guy dressed in green shorts, lime T-shirt, & shoes that are partly worn, & a girl in a brown dress with sandals on her feet in place of shoes—were playing fetch with the dog that belongs to the family of the girl, using a Frisbee in place of a ball, & that was only a sample of the groups of people who were taking advantage of the day's generous climate for as long as it lasts, which looked to be all day long, & possibly into the night.
All the vehicles the people drove to this peaceful & secluded spot were parked about sixty feet away, a decent distance from where they rested/played at, being merely a stone's throw away, should anyone need something they had left behind or need to take a trip someplace.
One vehicle that differs from the rest is a black/orange SUV with a silver cylinder object perched on its roof. One might think the owner(s) of this sports utlity vehicle were secet agents or scientists of some kind, as no other would possess such an instrument so bizarre atop it.
There was a good reason as to why this particular SUV has such a thing on its roof: laying on a laid-out yellow blanket amidst the rest of the crowd of picnickers were its owners—a man in blue jeans, white sneakers & T-shirt, with a short crop of light brown hair on his head. His companion was a woman dressed in red sweatpants, blue sneakers, & a T-shirt that would be identical to the man's, only it's in an ivory hue, the same kind of color an elephant's tusks would share. She had a head of long, beautiful jet black hair which would make any man swoon with awe when it blew around in the breeze, which it slightly did.
These two individuals were none other than Munakata & Iruma of the Global Unlimited Task Squad, better known as GUTS: Munakata is the field commander of the team, & Iruma is the indisputable leader. For many years, GUTS—a branch of the TPC (the Terrestrial Peacekeeping Commission)—has helped Japan (& the world) maintain a stasis of peace & prosperity for all to enjoy. But ever since the arrival of giant monsters & aliens not too long ago, GUTS has been called to action yet again, this time transforming their roles from philanthropists to soldiers & fend off these beasts/extraterrestrials at any & all costs. It was a sudden switch from their normal routines, but one the team—which also consisted of weapons expert Shinjoh, science whiz Horii, computer genius Yazumi, & ace pilots Rena & Daigo—was equipped to adapt to with scarcely any difficulty. All it took was their years of rigorous training & converting their vehicles with the most advanced weaponry, & it was lock, stock, & barrel.
But even the members of this highly trained team of freedom fighters are required to & need a rest every now & then, & for Iruma & Munakata, neither one could've asked for a better day than today to do so. With a plastic cup of fresh orange juice in their hands, the two leaders of GUTS flawlessly blend in with the group of picnickers all around them, with no one being all the more wiser of their true nature in life, aside from their SUV parked with the other vehicles.
Considering the joy the people are having on this day, it wouldn't really matter to the two leaders if they did know that they're from GUTS.
"Cheers", said Iruma, holding up her cup as Munakata recites & does the same.
A simple clink of plastic & the duo take swigs of their beverage.
"You see, Munakata? You can enjoy a day or two off", Iruma continues. "And since things have been rather quiet for some time, there's no reason as to why you can't."
"I'm not saying I can't, Captain", Munakata says. "I just wish there was someone who could keep an eye on things back at the Citagon while we do so. It just doesn't feel right to me to leave the palace unguarded at any time, even now."
Iruma let out a friendly scoff of a laugh. "First of all, Munakata, you can currently address me as Iruma, not 'captain'. Secondly, the Citagon is not left unguarded: General Sawai is overlooking things in the control room, & will call us to action should the need arise. Above all else, it was he who told us to go out & enjoy ourselves, & who could resist such a generous offer like that?" Her tone suddenly changes from giddy to more pleading. "Munakata, even we need to unwind every once in a while & forget about the pressures our jobs can definitely bring to us. If we don't, then we can't function properly as a formidable team. Am I wrong?"
Her words, more than her tone, told Munakata that she wasn't. With that, his own tone & posture soften. "Of course not, Iruma. Forgive me: it's just that I don't really get to relax like this too often, what with me being an authoritative figure for most of my life, first as a police officer, & now as the field leader of GUTS. I guess you could say it's about as alien to me as the Regulan-Seijin was."
Iruma smiles at Munakata's attempt at humor. "No apologies necessary, Munakata. I'm sure that if you give yourself the chance, you'll find you can have a good time like any of the citizens we're all sworn to protect."
Now it was Munakata's turn to laugh. "Well, if you can come up with an activity for two, I'll give it my all. Deal?"
"Deal. It just so happens that I've brought along with us…whoops!"
Iruma's statement got cut short by a soft thump just three feet where she & Munakata lay as a little boy, one of the two who were trying out their kites, landed on his hands & knees with his yarn of string in one hand & his kite resting on the ground, pouting at his inability to get it flying.
"Ouch! You all right there, son?", asked Munakata, approaching the boy.
"No! I can't get this stupid thing up in the air like my older brother can, no matter how hard I try!", said the boy. "It's hopeless!"
"Come on, that's defeatist talk, something I simply can't stand hearing", Munakata says gently to the boy, helping him to his feet. "What's your name, son?"
"Well, Arashi, you'll never get anywhere in life with that attitude. How about giving it another shot on a beautiful day like this?"
"I don't know. My brother's an ace at this, & he's a year older than I am."
"Age has nothing to do with it, Arashi. In order for you to accomplish anything, you need to keep trying, regardless of the difficulties you'll sustain along the way. Take it from me, I used to be a police officer when I was younger, so I know the hardships of having to work my way to be my personal best. All that training the academy put me through was no picnic like this, I can guarantee you that. But despite the obstacles in my way, I was determined to not quit & achieve what I joined the academy for."
"But that's different from trying to fly a kite", said Arashi. "It should be simple enough to get it up & away."
"No, Arashi, it's no different", Munakata assures him. "Whether you wish to be a police officer or merely get something as simple as a kite in the air, all it takes is a positive attitude & concentration on your goal."
"You mean like 'the sky's the limit'?"
Munakata's smile now flashes his teeth. "There you go! Now, what say you give that kite of yours one more try to make like a bird?"
Arashi nods, giving the field leader a smile of his own.
Iruma has a face like the famed Mona Lisa painting as she witnesses Munakata & Arashi head out into the open field for another attempt at getting the child's kite soaring into the wind. As Arashi keeps his yarn of string in his hands, Munakata holds the kite steady for the young man until he gives him the word to run for all his worth. Once it's given, Arashi takes off like a shot & pulls the string to keep it nice & taut. Munakata then runs up beside him & gives Arashi both encouragement & pointers.
"That's it, Arashi!", he says. "As you're running, don't wobble your legs & keep focused upon the area in front of you! Give the kite enough wind, & before you know it, it'll be soaring high in the sky!"
After nearly one minute, Arashi & Munakata stop in their tracks & rotate to see the former's kite at a pleasurably high altitude. The two exchange high praise from each other as Iruma looks on to see her right-hand man having the time of his life, putting aside his duties as field leader & be a regular person for once. She couldn't be more happy for him if she tried.
See, Munakata?, Iruma says to herself. You can enjoy the finer things in life if you just give it & yourself a chance!
"We did it, mister! We did it!", Arashi praises, seeing his kite high above the ground.
"No, Arashi, you did it!", said Munakata. "It was your determination & willingness that got your kite flying as it is now."
"But it was your advice which inspired me to keep trying until I succeeded, don't forget."
How could he? Munakata was always telling his troops everything he knew to be one's personal best, like his own superiors from both the police academy & the TPC once did, & always with positive results to show for it. Why would this youngster be any different, even if it was simply to launch a kite?
"Tell you what", he says. "Let's call it even, shall we?"
Again, Arashi nods. "Agreed."
That was when someone else called his name.
"Big brother!", he says, as he & Munakata turn to see another young boy heading their way, along with two full-grown adults—a man in blue sweatpants, red T-shirt, & white sneakers, & a woman in a pink dress & sandals—right behind him.
"Goro! Mom! Dad!"
"We see you were able to get your kite up in the air just fine", said Goro.
"I just wanted to be as good at it as you are, big brother, to prove to the other kids in my class at school", said Arashi.
"Arashi, I never claimed to be better than you, even if I am a year older."
"Really. Whatever you might hear from your classmates, don't listen to them. All I want to be is your brother, nothing more."
"I-I had no idea…"
"Arashi, you & Goro are equals, no matter what anybody says or thinks", his mother says. "Your own brother is always telling us this whenever he can."
"He's also constantly telling us how proud he is to be your brother", his father says. "So do us a favor & never think you're anything less than that."
"It's a promise!", said Arashi, turning to Munakata. "And I'll also promise to you, mister, that I'll give my all in whatever goal I have my sights set on!"
"Now that's what I like to hear, Arashi! Good for you!", Munakata praised, turning to the boy's parents. "That's a fine young boy you're raising here, folks—same as his brother."
"Thank you very much", said the mother.
"Same here", the father begins as Goro assists Arashi in keeping his kite airborne. "We all taught Arashi to have confidence in himself, but it never hurts to receive it from other good folks he might run into, especially at a place like this on a day like today."
Munakata nods. "A little push never does, & believe me, I speak from experience. You see, I was explaining to Arashi that…folks, what's wrong?"
The GUTS field leader's mood goes from jolly to worry when he sees the expressions on Arashi's mother & father change somberly in an instant, & that they weren't even looking at him any longer. They were looking past him like he was invisible, having their sights set elsewhere at the moment. He saw that both Arashi & his brother Goro were doing the same, & Munakata turned to see just what it was they were all staring at, followed by the other residents in the area, for a light suddenly materializes out of thin air at a far distance. It began as a hovering glowing ball that slowly but surely starts to swell & expand like an alien balloon, growing to a diameter of about 150 feet all around from the ground up. The picnicking citizens don't seem too shocked at the first sight of this strange phenomenon, even when small, thin lightning strands start flashing from within, like a storm was about to brew. Quite the opposite: they seem rather intrigued by the sphere's abrupt appearance, creating murmurs of fascination & bewilderment.
But while the civilians think the sight is quite the spectacle to behold, Munakata & Iruma believe differently.
I don't like the looks of this one bit, the two GUTS leaders say to themselves.
When he turns back to Arashi & his family, Munakata was all strictly business, acting in a totally different persona from what he was before.
"Folks, I want you all to get as far away from here as you possibly can—now!", he firmly instructs them.
"Look! I see something coming out from the light!", a girl shouted, pointing.
Everyone's eyes were agape when they saw what it was that started coming out of the eerie circle of light, a sight no one thought possible would happen even in their most wildest & frightening nightmares.
What emerged was an armada of dinosaurs!
The first to show themselves were a number of sauropods—blimp-bodied reptiles with four legs like tree trunks, long snakelike tails & necks, & heads like geckos. These overgrown lizards led the pack of ceratopsians (dinosaurs with bony frills protecting their necks & horns on their heads), stegosaurs (dinosaurs with thick plates on their backs & sharp spikes on their tails, preferably at the end), ankylosaurs (dinosaurs that resemble turtles, with a thick, bony shell covering their backs & usually a thick mass of bone at their tail's end), followed by several varieties of carnosaurs (meat-eaters), such as T-Rexes, Allosaurs, & even Velociraptors, the killer reptiles with the sickle claw on their feet that can gut a man with one fatal swipe.
The dinosaurs all roar in a hideous chorus as they step out of the light, which no doubt acted like a portal of some kind, as Munakata & Iruma have already surmised. They start shouting to the people to evacuate the area, but the civilians were already turning tail & running for their lives at the mere sight of the dinosaurs, leaving all their personal belongings behind, screaming in terror.
Keeping her cool even in the most immediate danger, Iruma takes out her octagonal communicator, flips it open, & begins speaking to General Sawai on the mini monitor.
"General, get Rena & the others here at the outskirts of Tokyo on the double!", she urgently says. "We're located between the city & Mt. Fuji, & we're under siege by a volley of…"
A dark shadow suddenly looms above Iruma, cutting her off in mid-sentence. General Sawai calls her name & asks her what's wrong when the GUTS captain looks up to see a blood-chilling sight—a full-grown Tyrannosaurus staring down at her in all its 20-foot-tall & 47-foot-long glory. Time just seemed to stand still for Iruma as she stares at the reptilian monstrosity for what seems to be an eternity before the inevitable happens. Try as she might, Iruma couldn't get her legs to move, for she was at that moment too scared—the first time she's ever really been afraid in all her time as GUTS captain.
The Tyrannosaurus lunges at her.
In the second before Iruma could be consumed by the tyrant lizard, it gets attacked from behind by a charging Triceratops, the largest of the ceratopsians. Whether the ramming was intentional or not didn't matter to the T-Rex, because it has now totally forgotten its smaller morsel & has now given the Trceratops its full attention, attacking it with brutal savagery as only a carnivorous animal can bring.
The momentary distraction gave Iruma the chance she needed to run for her life & head straight for the GUTS Thruster where she & Munakata have stored weapons in, should just such an emergency rear its ugly head.
Munakata had the right idea, for he was at their specially-made SUV first & began digging into it for their custom firearms.
"Here!", he says, emerging from the rear of the vehicle & tosses two white futuristic-looking guns to Iruma, who snatches them out of the air in each hand.
"Got them!", she says, pointing her weapons at the prehistoric stampede, aiming them at the creatures who seemed the most likely to cause the deaths of innocent people. Her first target is at one of the sauropods who is a foot or two away from trampling a young couple to death underneath its thick legs. A beam of green energy shoots out from each of Iruma's guns, the beams hitting the sauropod at the base of the neck & near its small head at the end of it. The animal roars in defiance & pain, but it was more than enough for the thing to get the message & trample away, giving the couple time to reach their vehicle & drive off before their luck changes.
Munakata grabs for something with a lot more punch, & pulls out an object resembling a cross between an M-16 rifle & a bazooka. Hefting the thing in his right hand & keeping it level with his left, the field leader aims his first shot at a squadron of raptors about to tear Arashi & his family asunder, all of whom fell in their quest to flee the mayhem. Knowing they'll never escape in time, Arashi's family all huddle together, waiting for their lives to come to an end.
Several of the raptors take a leap at the helpless family.
No you don't, you butt-ugly lizards! You're not getting Arashi or his family!, Munakata says to himself & squeezes the trigger of his weapon. Like Iruma's guns, it fires a green beam of energy from the mouth, but wider & packing more of a punch. Case in point: the beam hits the leaping raptors dead-on & knock them away from Arashi & his family. When the raptors hit the ground, all that remained of them were corpses with their midsections showing nothing but bones that became charred & smoking.
Arashi's family got up & resumed running even before the raptors hit the ground, careful to avoid any other run-ins with the prehistoric terrors like everyone else if it can be helped.
"Did you get in touch with General Sawai or the other members yet, captain?", Munakata asked, shouting over another release of powerful energy from his weapon & hitting a rampaging Stegosaurus, searing its scaly hide & causing it to roar in agony.
"I did, but we were cut off abruptly!", Iruma shouted back, firing her twin weapons, their hits striking an Ankylosaurus in the face, resulting in the same pain the stegosaur received. "All we can do is that Sawai contacts the rest of the team & they get here ASAP! Until then, you & I are on our own, so let's keep the pressure up!"
With no other options, Munakata keeps up his barrage of firepower with his weapon as Iruma does the same, shooting at anything that should be nothing but preserved skeletons & put on display at a museum instead of rampaging around in present-day Tokyo. Each of their shots either puts the dinosaurs in a state of confusion, causes great damage to their own person, or kills them completely as roars/shrieks of defiance echo throughout the once-peaceful terrain that is the outskirts of Japan's capital city. But as valiantly as they fight, & no matter how many of the rampaging reptiles they defeat with their guns, the swarm of dinosaurs just keep on coming with no end in sight since the portal opened & unloaded its 'contents'.
"There's no end to this!", Munakata growled, firing another volley from his gun. "The others better get here soon before we become overrun by these living fossils!"
"Munakata! To your left!", Iruma shouted.
The field leader turned left just in time to see a pair of raptors swiftly racing up to him at an amazing speed. Aiming his weapon, Munakata pulls the trigger, but not before one of the raptors knocks it loose from his grip with its powerful head. The impact sends him down to the ground & his weapon gets sent crashing into Iruma with enough force to send her hitting the dirt. Before either soldier can get up, the two raptors stand over their fallen attackers in triumph, eyeing their soon-to-be prey with a glare that was as cold-blooded as they were.
Munakata & Iruma can feel the animal's hot, sweltering breath come down on their faces & hear their growling in their throats as they are a mere second away from becoming dinner to an animal which, by all rights, shouldn't even be alive in this day & age, & yet here they are in all their glory.
That was when they hear another sound aside from the raptor's growls, one that was totally alien to them, but a familiar one to the two GUTS leaders (& just as welcome!). Both raptors look up into the sky just in time to see twin futuristic-looking jets in yellow, red, gray, & black swoop down & fire twin beams of green energy just close enough to convince them to step off their intended victims & flee. Neither Munakata nor Iruma had received a scratch from either the raptors or the twin beams which had been fired at them.
Both GUTS members rise to their feet as GUTS Wing 1 & GUTS Wing 2 fly overhead at a low enough altitude as they make another pass, when a familiar voice comes on over the SUV's radio.
"Hey, captain! We didn't arrive too late, did we?"
The voice was Shinjoh's.
Iruma heads to the front passenger of the Thruster & grabs a spare communicator to replace the one she'd lost before & flips it open.
"Shinjoh!", she says.
"That's me!", he replies. "I'm in GUTS Wing 2 with Horii as my co-pilot, while Rena's in GUTS Wing 1 with Yazumi as hers!"
"Munakata & I are relieved to see you all got here quite fast!"
"We got General Sawai's warning", said Rena in GUTS Wing 1. "It was quite fortunate we were all flying leisurely in the GUTS Wings when we received it!"
"What about Daigo? Anyone know where he is?"
"Daigo's on his way here in the GUTS Runner", said Yazumi. "He's making his way through the city as we speak!"
"Good! He'd better get here soon, for we're gonna need all the help we can get with this!"
Munakata takes the communicator out of Iruma's hand. "Rena! Shinjoh! See if you two can persuade these dinosaurs to re-enter that portal that brought them here! Once we do that, it should dissipate & close up automatically, & do it quick! They're not going to stay in this secluded spot for much longer!"
"We're on it!", Rena & Shinjoh respond in unison.
Now it was Horii who speaks. "Leader, if I may, I have the perfect weapon that can help us accomplish this feat!"
"Don't be shy about it, Horii! What is it?", Munakata demanded.
"I call it the Sonic Bellower, & it's been installed in both wings. All we need to do is press the blue button on the left of our consoles, & small adjustable speakers from underneath the wings will send out supersonic waves that can disrupt the nervous systems of any living animal. Once they get hit with these waves, it should be more than enough to convince them to retreat & most likely head back into the portal whence they came."
"What about us & the fleeing civilians?"
"You needn't worry about that, Leader. I've designed it so that the waves are harmless to human beings. Rest assured, it will only affect the dinosaurs & not us."
"I like the sound of that. Get started!"
"Roger!", said Rena.
"Roger!", said Shinjoh.
Both GUTS Wings fly directly overhead of the dinosaur herd, all of whom are staring up at the hovering ships & are seemingly more interested in them than they are at attacking each other or even heading to Tokyo itself. It was as if the GUTS Wings were hypnotizing the dinosaurs, & were wondering what they would do next. Being the literally primitive animals they were, they could not comprehend the gesture of the hovering ships, but to the GUTS team, it was a perfect opportunity—one they couldn't have asked better for.
"This is excellent!", Shinjoh says. "The dinosaurs are so intrigued by our GUTS Wings, they have no idea what's in store for them! No offense, but they really are as stupid as I've heard!"
"Don't get overconfident, Shinjoh", Yazumi warned. "What they may lack in intelligence, they more than atone for in sheer power & ferocity, & they've got that in spades."
"Let's concentrate on the task at hand here", Rena says.
"Rena's right", Munakata said. "If we're gonna do this, now's the time before they do get wise to the plan. Hit it!"
"Roger!", Rena & Shinjoh say, pressing the aforementioned blue button to their left. From beneath the GUTS Wings, a pair of miniature speakers not unlike those found on radios begin emitting a plethora of white rings that grow in size as they descend to the ground & disappear once they reach earth. The rings encircle the dinosaur herd & begin to roar out in defiance & pain as the sound, while just a pleasant hum to Iruma, Munakata, & the fleeing civilians, becomes a surge of anguish for the great reptiles of the Mesozoic Era. Their heads feel like something is putting great pressure from all sides, with no relief in sight.
"Excellent, people! It's working—keep it up!", Munakata orders, satisfied by the results of Horii's invention.
"Munakata", Iruma begins, "let's you & I get inside the GUTS Thruster & set up the Dellam cannon, just in case any of those dinosaurs thinks to become too rebellious."
Nodding, he & Iruma head in the SUV with Iruma in the passenger side & Munakata at the driver's side, flicking switches once he seats himself. From atop the vehicle, a round metal cylinder comes to life by rising & rotating to one side, aiming straight at the dinosaur herd.
"Dellam cannon primed & ready, captain", Munakata said. "Just say the word."
"Hold your fire unless absolutely necessary", Iruma instructs him. "We'll use the cannon, but only as a very last resort."
Through the windshield, the GUTS leaders can see several of the dinosaurs heading back to the portal in a rush, eager to escape the unrelenting waves which cause them the immense pain on their person. The herbivorous animals—the sauropods, ceratopsians, stegosaurs, & ankylosaurs—are all the first to retreat to what they believe to be their safe haven. One by one, the dinosaurs hit the portal & disappear on sight, leaving no trace of them being here, sans the footprints they leave behind in the ground.
"So far, so good", said Iruma, getting on her communicator again. "Rena. Shinjoh. Only the carnivores remain. See if you can amplify the waves up a notch or two to get them moving & join the others through the portal. If they happen to resist, fire a couple warning shots to urge them."
"Copy", both GUTS flyers reply.
With a turn of a knob as instructed by Horii, the humming of the waves rises & the flesh-eater's pain rises with it, becoming an almost unbearable throbbing in their heads. Ear-splitting bellows fill the air as the carnivores begin trashing about wildly, trying to get their bearings.
About the only thing they're not doing is heading for the portal like the herbivores have done, & that gives the members of GUTS more than a little cause for concern.
"Something's wrong", Yazumi noted. "The meat-eaters aren't retreating, despite the great pain they're all in."
"They're just being stubborn, Yazumi", Munakata assures him. "Keep the waves concentrated on them. I've got just the thing that'll make sure they get the message & leave."
"Aim for the center of the herd, Munakata", Iruma commands. "A single blast there should break up this melee & say they aren't welcome here."
"Roger. Firing cannon in 3…2…1…wait. What are those two Allosaurs up to?"
In the thrashing reptilian bodies, the GUTS leaders can see the duo of aforementioned meat-eaters hunch down to the ground by bending their powerful hind legs, looking somewhat like tigers about to pounce. A sudden chill races up their spines when the gesture is made clear: the two dinosaurs are about to pounce, & for the whole time they have their sights set on one, or rather, two objects—the GUTS Wings hovering overhead!
"Oh, no", Munakata says in a chilling whisper, while Iruma currently couldn't speak at all.
In a heartbeat, the crouching Allosaurs leap up in the air like overgrown kangaroos, opening their toothy maws. Before Rena or anyone else could even begin to acknowledge what happened, both GUTS Wing 1 & GUTS Wing 2 are grabbed by the nose in the jaws of the Allosaurs as the aircrafts get plucked from the sky by the twin 'near lizards' as scientists have classified them & plummet down to earth, dropping like stones in a lake or stream. Released from their mouths, the two meat-eaters begin tearing at the downed GUTS Wings with their jaws, tearing off pieces of metal like it was tin foil. Upon contact, the Allosaurs shorted out all the electronics on both crafts, ceasing the infernal noise which gave them such a literally giant headache. With the waves no longer a threat to them, the meat-eaters now focus their attention elsewhere.
And it's to the downed GUTS Wings with Rena, Yazumi, Shinjoh, & Horii all trapped within instead of the portal which brought them here to the 21st Century.
Finally, Iruma finds her voice.
"Munakata, do something before they get swallowed whole!", she barked.
"I intend to!", he quickly says, re-aiming the Thruster's Dellam cannon at the first of the two Allosaurs tearing away at GUTS Wing 1. He & Iruma both had the gut feeling that the carnivorous dinosaurs would be more bothersome than their herbivorous relatives & not retreat to the portal as easily as they had, but they didn't count on them being this much trouble. Then again, this isn't the only bit of dinosaur trouble they've encountered: a race of aliens known as the Naga had visited Earth during the Mesozoic & have abducted several dinosaurs, turning them into living cyborgs called Weaponizers. Each was equipped with conventional weaponry, along with a neutron bomb implanted in their chests. Their goal was to eradicate humankind once the bombs went off & re-populate the planet with the long-extinct it not been for the giant being known as Ultraman Tiga, they would've succeeded in that goal.
Now it looks like the Naga, or someone/something else has the same modus operandi, only no perpetrator is in sight, & the dinosaurs themselves don't count—they're exactly what they are, & nothing more.
But that didn't prevent Iruma from coming up with an obvious conclusion.
Have the Naga come back to Earth & opened that portal to bring the dinosaurs back & reclaim the planet anew?, she wondered to herself.
It was all she had time for,because the next thing that happened was a sight that even made battle-hardened Munakata freeze, as he, too, bears witness to the next few seconds.
Two Tyrannosaurs running towards them at full speed!
"Holy sh…!", was all the field leader could get out before the first T-Rex rams the GUTS Thruster with its head, crushing the front of the vehicle & flipping it over three times before resting on its roof, shattering all its windows & showering the grass & inside the SUV with broken glass.
Turning onto a solitary street in the GUTS Runner (a sports car in the same color pattern as the GUTS Wings, also with modifications on its roof & rear), Daigo can see the open field straight ahead just in time to see two Allosaurs jump up & grab both aircraft & send them crashing down to earth & tear them open with their jaws. Screeching to a stop, Daigo opens the door to witness a second horrible sight only seconds later when two T-Rexes charge the Thruster & one of them crashes headfirst into the SUV & sends it in a tumble like a cheap, broken toy with Captain Iruma & Munakata trapped inside.
Daigo fears for his teammates & friends like never before, wishing he could've arrived in one of the GUTS Wings instead of the Runner, & there was no time to head back to the Citagon to obtain a spare set of wings: before the emergency came, Daigo spent his day off in the Runner, cruising casually around Tokyo for a pleasant drive, much like Rena & Shinjoh had done in the GUTS Wings, with Horii & Yazumi as their co-pilots & back-seat drivers.
But Daigo knew this was no time to be crying over spilled milk, & had to help his friends in any way he can with what he has.
Fortunately, he has just the thing which can do so.
Hold tight, everybody! Help is on its way!, he says to himself, reaching into his vehicle to the passenger seat. When he re-emerges, Daigo holds a Y-shaped silver stick in his right hand with yellow stripes alongside the top. In the middle is a golden hexagon that encircles all around. It is Daigo's Spark Lens—a literally foreign device which enables him to summon (& become) a being of great power that has helped save the world many times in the past.
And now, he is needed once again.
Spark Lens in hand, Daigo raises it over his head & the top part splits open.
A bright flash of light engulfs Daigo completely. When it disappears, so does Daigo.
Like the Allosaurs with the GUTS Wings, the two T-Rexes began tearing at the overturned GUTS Thruster with their jaws of six-inch teeth & their powerful hind legs, causing sparks & oil to leak out. Iruma & Munakata are caught between a rock & a hard place: if they don't get eaten by the dinosaurs wrecking their vehicle, they'll more than likely get blown to smithereens, should one spark so much as touch the leaking oil, & that same terrible fate awaits those trapped in the heavily damaged GUTS Wings.
It will definitely take nothing short of a miracle to pull their asses out of the fire on this mission, & as far as the GUTS team knows, reinforcements are non-existent at present.
One of the T-Rexes roars its satisfaction & attempts to take another chunk off the upside-down Thruster when a bright flash of light suddenly appears ten feet in front of them & retreat a few feet away from the damaged vehicle, not knowing what kind of threat it may represent. The Allosaurs do the same thing, & suddenly all the meat-eaters turn their attention to the bright light which shows up unexpectedly. When the light fades, a giant humanoid figure,measuring about 53 meters tall, stands in its place. The figure is in an array of red, silver, & lavender colors with thin yellow stripes placed across its chest, shoulders, & upper back. In the center of its chest is a baby blue light, & its face was silver & robot-like, with twin flashing ovals that serve as its eyes.
While the carnivorous dinosaurs were frightened by the giant's sudden appearance, it was a most welcome sight for the helpless GUTS team.
"Ultraman Tiga!", Rena happily announced.
"And his timing is impeccable, just like always!", Shinjoh chimed in.
From inside their wrecked SUV, Iruma & Munakata can see the Tyrannosaurs that attacked them backing away & quickly but carefully start to crawl out from the wreckage, wondering why they ceased their assault & what that bright flash of light was all about.
"Tiga!", Iruma says, seeing their giant savior arrive in the nick of time.
"Always good to see you, Tiga!", Munakata says, relieved.
Looking at the members of GUTS & seeing they were all right for the most part (& hearing Munakata's praise), Tiga nods in gratitude before turning his full attention to the carnivorous dinosaurs, all of whom stare at him in both curiosity & trepidation. They completely ignore Rena & the others, even when they abandon their wrecked & useless wings & run to Iruma & Munakata, both of which have completely emerged out of the ruined Thruster.
"Captain! Leader!", Yazumi says upon approach. "Thank heaven you're both all right!"
"Right back at you, Yazumi!", Iruma said. "Like us, we thought you all would be goners for sure!"
"That would've been true, were it not for Tiga here!", Horii says.
The team turn their attention to their would-be killers, staring at Tiga still like they were all frozen in ice.
"Huh. Look at them", said Shinjoh. "I guess they're not so tough when they're confronted by something that's bigger than they are!"
"They're not really evil, Shinjoh", Yazumi explains. "Like all other animals, these dinosaurs were just following their true nature, like sharks or crocodiles."
"Nevertheless, there's no place for them here in the 21st Century", Horii says. "We need to send them back into that portal, & with our GUTS Wings totaled…"
"Wait. What's Tiga doing?", said Rena, looking up at their giant protector, followed by the rest of the team. Stretching his hands out in front of him, Tiga makes his palms glow a yellow light & shoots forth goblets like giant raindrops down at the dinosaurs. Sensing trouble, they finally get the nerve to start moving again & disperse in different directions as quick as they can. But as fast as they were, the goblets of yellow energy were even faster. In mere moments, each goblet had struck every fleeing dinosaur & encases it in a bubble, putting them in a curled-up position not unlike a sleeping cat once caught. Soon, each 'terrible lizard' was rounded up like runaway cattle, with Ultraman Tiga acting like the head buckaroo. Encased & floating thirty feet in the air like giant balloons, the last of the invading dinosaurs were a threat no more.
First came the round-up, & now comes getting them back into the portal, but Tiga also has that well in hand: with a gesture by his hands, Tiga first gathers the captured dinosaurs into one pile before a shove mentally pushes them all into the portal, two or three at a time. In no time, the carnivores all disappear from sight, joining the herbivores.
"Success!", praised Shinjoh. "Ultraman Tiga does it again!"
"Looks like he knew all along the dinosaurs came from that portal & took matters into his own hands to sending them back", said Yazumi.
"But that thing still needs to be closed, or we could be faced with this nightmare yet again", Rena cautions everyone.
"I'm sure Tiga's well aware of that fact, Rena", says Horii, pointing up. "Take a look."
When Rena does, she sees Tiga holding his right forearm bent at the elbow in a vertical position while having his left in a horizontal spot, his left hand on his right elbow. This gesture enables him to unleash one of his signature weapons, in which a beam of powerful white energy gets shot from his right forearm & vaporize anything foolish enough to be in its path when unleashed, something Tiga is about to do.
That was when a baby blue beam erupts from right next to the portal out of thin air & hits Ultraman Tiga in the solar plexus with enough force to drive him off his feet & backwards to about 50 yards, landing on his left side & causing a small ditch in the grass & dirt.
"Where did that come from?", asked a surprised Shinjoh.
"From alongside the portal!", said Yazumi. "But there's nothing there, so how could…"
"No, there is something there! Look!", said Iruma.
The GUTS members take a good, hard look at where the beam originated from. At first all anyone could see was just the landscape & a portion of Mt. Fuji behind it, but they are quick to learn that Iruma was right in her assumption: with sharper eyes, the team can make out a large distortion in the air that immediately begins to turn visible & take a form. In moments, an enormous creature in the form of a dinosaur in a scaly, dark-green hide appears, standing an upright height of 54 meters tall, a tad taller than Tiga himself. The creature had familiar but unusual features: its head had elongated jaws with sharp teeth & was beaked at the end with a singular horn above its nose, & had a bony frill with half a dozen spikes sticking out. On its back rested a thick, bony shell which sprouted thick spikes from the sides, & its arms were elongated with four-fingered, clawed hands. The legs were built like tree trunks like a sauropod's, but instead of blunt toes, it had four pointed claws, with one of them resembling that of a Velociraptor's. Last but not least, the tail measured slightly more than its body, & sprouted diamond-shaped plates on the top end, followed by a thick lump of bone where it ended, complete with a pair of Stegosaurus spikes protruding from the mass. The creature lets out a contemptable growl & its yellow, reptilian eyes stare a fiery gaze at Ultraman Tiga, who is now back on his feet & looks in the direction of the new, unwelcome arrival.
Without moving its maw, the thing begins speaking aloud.
"So…you are Ultraman Tiga, the one who dares to send my 'children' back to their place & time of origin, with the assistance of these pathetic, worthless things called humans! Why do you help preserve this planet for them, when you know damn well they'll only destroy it & themselves eventually?"
Ultraman Tiga stands defiant, folding his arms across his chest & says nothing.
This made the creature mad, & growls its own defiance.
"You would give your life for the destroyers of this once-great Earth? So be it! Once I've gotten rid of you, I shall send my children through the portal once more, & the humans will be powerless to prevent it! I, Dinogon, vow this!"
Over my dead body you will, Dinogon!, Ultraman Tiga says to himself, bracing for an attack by his dinosaurian foe as the GUTS members—without vehicles or equipment—retreat to a safer distance. Dinogon wastes no time: in a move that would be impossible for anything of his size, the reptilian beast charges at Tiga at high speed with his head down, running like a two-legged rhino, attempting to impale Earth's champion in the chest or stomach. Tiga barely gets out of Dinogon's path by leaping over him & grabs his frill horns in the process. Upon landing, Tiga raises his right hand & brings it down in a hard karate chop, cutting off the horns on the right side of Dinogon's frill. Enraged, the beast raises his tail & whips it around to smack Ultraman in the side. With the force of a plummeting boulder, Tiga receives the full force of the blow, & it sends him staggering back a good distance, but otherwise ready to fight. As Dinogon turns to face his enemy, Tiga crosses his arms over his head & swiftly swings them downward. In that motion, the lavender portion of his body gets replaced by red, & his molecules become more dense, greatly increasing his strength. When Dinogon charges again, Tiga grabs his left arm &, with his heightened strength, flips his prehistoric adversary head over heels in a jujitsu maneuver. The champion of Earth brings his foe down with earth-shaking results, the ground feeling like a quake is about to take place. Landing on his bony shell, Dinogon creates a crater impression in the grass & dirt of about one-&-a-half the depth of a public swimming pool. His enemy literally grounded, Tiga begins pummeling Dinogon in the chest, & with his increased strength, each punch felt like a boulder coming down with pile driver force. The dino-monster doesn't know how much longer he can take this kind of punishment, & unless he does something & fast, he'll become just as extinct as any of his 'children' he tried to bring to this time.
Thinking fast, Dinogon lashes out again with his clubbed tail, but this time Tiga was ready for such a maneuver: with a powerful left fist, the heroic giant smashes the bony knob at the end into smaller rocks, shattering it like it was made of nothing more than glass. It was a loss for the dinosaur-beast & it did hurt him, but it was a sacrifice Dinogon had been willing to make. In fact, unbeknownst to Tiga, it's exactly what the creature had wanted & expected him to do. His distraction with his tail gave Dinogon the chance to counterstrike: after his club got shattered, the dino-creature unleashes a blast of baby blue energy from his toothy maw, the same kind of beam Tiga had been hit with before when he tried to fire upon the open portal. The hit caught Ultraman Tiga off-guard in the chest & throws him back several ten yards, & to make matters worse, the light on his chest changes its color from blue to red that blinks & flashes each second. In the Earth's atmosphere, Tiga's biology is not very compatible to it, & can only last a rather short time.
He needs to finish this fight, & he needs to do it now!
This is easier said than done, because Dinogon—now back on his feet—strikes at Tiga with his blue ray repeatedly, & each hit becomes more deadlier than the last.
"Ultraman Tiga's in it deep!", said Yazumi, stating the obvious. "Isn't there anything we can do to assist him?"
Iruma turns to him. "With our vehicles & weapons smashed, what can we do?"
"Captain, that's defeatist's talk, & you know it!", Horii said firmly. "As long as we have so much as a pistol in hand, we can always be of assistance to Tiga when he needs it!"
"Horii's right, Captain!", said Shinjoh. "Tiga's always pulling our asses out of the fire when we require it, even when he has only the tiniest spark of life from within! We can do no less for him!"
"And I have an idea of how to do it!", said Rena, holding up her pistol, followed by Shinjoh & the others.
Seeing as to how their team is still slightly armed & willing to go the distance, Munakata & Iruma smile at one another, happy to see that they are ready to do what they were all trained for, in spite of the dire circumstance.
"That's what we like to see!", Munakata says, remembering what Arashi said to him just before all the trouble started in a similar fashion. "So, Rena, what do you have in mind?"
"If we can blind Dinogon for even the briefest of moments, Tiga might be able to take the offensive & defeat him!", she explains.
"A perfect ploy!", said Iruma. "Do it!"
"Right!", the quartet said altogether.
As one, Rena, Horii, Shinjoh, & Yazumi all point their weapons at Dinogon's dinosaurian face, who just now unleashes another shot of his blue ray at Ultraman Tiga, hitting him in the chest where his red light continues to blink.
"Don't fire until you see the whites of his eyes!", said Shinjoh before he says to himself, I've always wanted to say that!
With careful aim, the quartet have their sights on the dino-monster's ugly mug, & their target is in sight as Rena gives the word.
In unison, all four fire their guns, shooting four beams of green energy & head straight for Dinogon's right side. Their shots hit him just above the eye, doing not too much damage, but it was more than enough to distract him as he roars in pain & the skin above his right eye is split & red blood begins flowing from the wound & into his pupil, causing the vision in it to go all blurry & forces him to close it shut with his eyelid. Shaking his head to throw off the pain, Dinogon uses his remaining good eye to spot the GUTS team & lets out a furious roar to express his disdain.
"You filthy little worms!", he spat. "Do you really think your puny & pathetic weapons can have a chance in Hell of defeating me when your giant friend cannot? I have thought of obliterating you after I finish off Tiga, but now you all can be the first humans to die by my hand!"
The hell they will, monster!, Ultraman Tiga says to himself as Dinogon fires off another shot of his deadly ray, this time heading straight for the GUTS team. Once it makes contact, the entire squadron—Iruma, Munakata, Rena, Horii, Shinjoh, & Yazumi—will be lucky enough to be ashes, & it looks like that dreadful image might become a reality.
And it would have, were it not for Tiga, as he dives into the beam's path, putting himself between GUTS & Dinogon's beam. Before it makes contact with anything, Tiga conjures up a yellow circular force field in front of him that is level with his chest & face. When the beam makes contact, not only does Tiga's shield block the blast, it also sends it on a collision course back to Dinogon himself, totally unprepared for the shocking turn of events. Having no time to dodge his own weapon, the dinosaur beast takes the full brunt of the blast in the chest, the intense heat searing his reptilian flesh as he unleashes a howl of anguish & blood begins to drip & spill in places.
Ha! Not so good on the receiving end, is it, Dinogon?, Ultraman Tiga said to himself, getting back on his feet & extends his arms out to his sides. The air around him starts to get ionized & Tiga draws in energy & brings his hands closer to his chest. When he does, a ball of red energy gets formed & Tiga draws his right hand back, the ball following suit. Like an ace baseball pitcher, he swings his whole arm forward & throws the red ball with all his might. Unable to dodge in time, Dinogon opens his good left eye all the way in shock, seeing his life flash before him. Contact with Tiga's oncoming projectile causes Dinogon's entire body to sparkle & solidify into a stone statue.
He detonates a second or two later, raining inert rocks in all directions.
A second or two after that, the portal that brought the dinosaurs to the 21st Century closes & disappears completely into thin air.
"How do you like that? He kills two birds with one stone!", Yazumi says, regarding the immediate closure of the portal once Dinogon was destroyed.
"I suppose we all should've surmised that Dinogon was responsible for opening the portal which allowed his ancient brethren to come into this time", said Horii.
"In any case, he did it again! Thank you, Tiga!", Rena called out to the heroic giant as he looks at the members of GUTS, nods, & gives them a literally big 'thumbs up'.
His task finished, Ultraman Tiga looks skyward & takes to the air & heads in the direction of Tokyo, disappearing from sight in moments.
After Tiga's departure, the members of GUTS began taking a long stroll back to the city, what with their transportation demolished by the invading dinosaurs. And without any communicators on their person, it will be quite a while before they can get in touch with the Citagon for a lift. While they were currently up the creek without a paddle, the GUTS members can all agree on the crucial fact that it could've ended up a whole lot worse, like losing a teammate instead of any of their vehicles.
"I don't mind saying, this isn't how I wanted to spend my day off, fighting dinosaurs & losing our rides back home", Shinjoh says, not disguising his disappointment.
"Me neither, Shinjoh, but it couldn't be helped", says Munakata. "An emergency came up, & we had no choice but to answer the call. Besides which, it's our job. You & the rest all knew what you were heading into the day you signed on to be members of GUTS."
"Yeah, we know."
"Look on the bright side, Shinjoh", Rena chimes in. "The danger's passed, we're all still here, & we're getting plenty of fresh air on this little hike which will do us all a ton of good."
"No argument there", said Yazumi. "Although, in Shinjoh's defense, what I wouldn't do to see a GUTS Wing right now or even a—GUTS Runner?"
In reference to Yazumi, a yellow, gray, red, & black sports car was approaching rapidly from where the team stood.
"Is that—Daigo?", Horii asks, though the answer was pretty obvious.
When the sports car—clearly the GUTS Runner—came within 5 yards of the team, sure enough, Daigo opens the driver's side door & steps out in full view of his comrades.
"Hey everyone! Sorry I'm late!", he says as honest as he could.
"Daigo! Didn't you receive General Sawai's message like we did? What happened?", asked Iruma.
"Here we go", Rena whispered to Shinjoh in a cheery tone.
"Yeah, this oughta be good", Shinjoh whispered back, but in a more serious matter.
"First of all, I did receive the message from Sawai", Daigo explains, "but at that time I was literally on the other side of Tokyo. I raced here as fast as I could, but by the time I got close enough in the vicinity, I caught a glimpse of Ultraman Tiga taking off in the sky going in the opposite direction. Again, my sincerest apologies to you all for not getting here sooner. You know too well I would not deliberately be late for a mission."
The group fell silent for a while as Daigo's words sink in each member. Since his arrival as one of the top pilots of GUTS (alongside Rena), the crew view Daigo as a brash & sometimes even hardheaded individual, almost as much as Munakata himself can be. But in the weeks that followed, they also see Daigo as not only courageous in battle, but also kind, scrupulous, & above all else, he possesses a good conscience.
But most of all, he's one of the most honest people they've met.
Pondering all that, the team lightens up as Iruma speaks with a smile.
"It's all right, Daigo. Your lateness isn't your fault, so please don't feel the need to blame yourself."
Relieved, Daigo nods.
"Next time, I'll be sure to be in one of the GUTS Wings instead, even on a day off", he jokes.
That made everyone smile & let out a laugh.
"On the plus side, Ultraman Tiga showed up before anyone—including us—ended up as a dinosaur dinner", replied Horii.
"Don't remind us, Horii", said Yazumi.
"Dinosaur dinner?", Daigo asked, flawlessly hiding the fact that he knows more than he lets on. "What do you mean?"
"We'll give you the details on the way back to base, Daigo", said Iruma.
"Yeah—ifwe ever get there!", said Shinjoh, resulting in another round of laughter.
Just then, a vehicle horn blares from a near distance, & the group all turns to see a tan SUV pull up near the GUTS Runner. The left front & rear windows slide down to see a man's head in the driver's seat & a child's in the back passenger seat—and they were familiar to Munakata!
"Arashi!", he says with a smile.
"Hi, mister!", Arashi said. "Good to see you & your friends alive & well!"
Same with you & your family, little buddy!, Munakata said to himself.
"Hey, people!", Arashi's father says. "Could you all use a lift into town?"
"And how!", a happy & relieved Shinjoh says.
"Then hop aboard! There's plenty of room in the back!"
Iruma turns to Daigo. "Daigo, I'll accompany you in the GUTS Runner, while the rest take up on…" She turns to Arashi's father. "I'm sorry, what's your name, sir?"
"Akihiko Tamashi at your service, ma'am", he answered.
"Thank you, & please, call me Iruma."
"Then it's settled", said Munakata. "Rena, Horii, Shinjoh, Yazumi, into the back of Mr. Tamashi's vehicle with me."
"Right!", they all say together & begin piling in Akihiko's SUV through the rear door, while Iruma & Daigo climb into the GUTS Runner, with Daigo once again in the driver's seat. Once everyone was seated & comfortable, the two vehicles took off on the grassy terrain & headed back into the city of Tokyo.
It was declared 'mission accomplished' for the GUTS team.
Both vehicles drove through the city for half an hour together, until the SUV that Akihiko was driving broke off from tailing the GUTS Runner upon request from Munakata, careful not to let any civilians know of the secret locations that connect the underground/undersea tunnels that link the country to the Citagon, the headquarters of the GUTS team located in the Sea of Japan. In order to maintain the secrecy of these tunnels, Munakata had asked Akihiko to drop them off at a deserted alleyway while the GUTS Runner heads off on its own with no civilians being none the wiser. After Munakata & his group exit Akihiko's vehicle, he gave the man a big thank you for the lift & done the same to Arashi & his older brother Goro with a firm but still gentle handshake, telling the boys that there are always room for more good men in GUTS when they become old enough. He gave the boys a last-minute reminder about giving it their all no matter what venue they wish to take their lives to, whether it be future GUTS members or not. Neither Akihiko, his wife, or either of the boys let on about why they wanted to be dropped off at such a dismal place, or they probably did & kept quiet about it, something they can fully understand & respect: it wouldn't be right for citizens in Tokyo or anywhere in Japan to learn about any secret entrances/tunnels that lead to their main HQ.
In any case, Arashi & his family had no problem with that. Just to have met the GUTS team & even offer them a lift was more than an honor for the Tamashi family, & how many people can say that they did?
On the way back to the Citagon, Iruma used Daigo's functioning communicator (having lost hers in the scuffle) & called base for transportation for Munakata & his group at a location she secretly whispered in his ear just before departure.
Two hours later, everyone was back in the Citagon in the comfort of their control room, where a relieved General Sawai, dressed in his standard lavender suit with thin yellow stripes, was waiting.
"General", said Iruma as she & the rest entered.
"Captain", said Sawai. "I'm glad to see that you & your team are all alive & well. Wth all of those rampaging dinosaus on the outskirts of Tokyo where you & Munakata were, I feared the worst would happen."
"I'd be lying to you if I said that it almost didn't, General."
"I'll say", Yazumi steps in. "After today, I doubt I'll be in any museums for quite a while, along with several other people."
Everyone had to laugh at Yazumi's statement, which could very well be true.
"Nevertheless, we can all enjoy the rest of our little vacation you've given us, General". said Shinjoh.
"Actually, while I hate to, I'm afraid I'll have to cut it short, Shinjoh", Sawai says apologetically, sending Shinjoh's jolly mood into a tailspin.
"Why, General? Is something wrong?", asks Munakata.
"You can say that. I'm sure you're all aware of the Solar Satellite project that went out to the moon just last month?"
"I do", says Horii. "It was in all the papers around the world. It's a project the Scientific & Technological Advanced Research Laboratories—also known as S.T.A.R. Labs—have funded & prepared for a few years now. Their idea is to set up a powerful new satellite on the moon in order to scan further out into the far regions of space, even more than the ones here on Earth could do. It will also prove useful in detecting any oncoming vessels which might be malevolent entities with conquering the planet in mind. The satellite, when finished, will give us an early warning if that is the case."
"You're right, Horii. The only problem is, it's not going to be finished."
"Why not, General? Did S.T.A.R. Labs cut the funding?", asked Daigo.
"No, Daigo. The station on the moon which was setting up the satellite got destroyed—completely. From what S.T.A.R. Labs tell us, there were no survivors."
Deep gasps of utter shock occurred with every member of GUTS when the news hit their ears.
"How did this happen, General?", asked Rena.
"Kitty Faulkner from S.T.A.R. tells me that she & the rest of her scientists are just as baffled as any of us are", Sawai continues. "She also requested that GUTS head down there to help investigate exactly what went wrong."
"She wants us?"
Sawai nodded. "I forgot to mention that we at the TPC also funded the project, so it's as much our problem as it is theirs."
"I understand the situation, General", Daigo says, "& of course we'll investigate the matter, but to get to S.T.A.R. Labs, we'd have to get to the city of…"
"That's correct, Daigo", Sawai cut him off. "Everyone, go pack a suitcase. You're all going to take a trip to Metropolis in America!"
Some call it 'The Big Apricot', similar as to calling New York City 'The Big Apple' or Los Angeles 'The Big Orange'. Some even call it 'The City of Tomorrow', which is an even more appropriate name, especially when the futuristic villain known as Brainiac 13 had renovated & re-made the entire city with an alien virus, upgrading everything electrical/mechanical in every area, from S.T.A.R. Labs right on down to the crime-infested Suicide Slum. It was pretty ironic that such a terrorist from the future whose goal was to reshape not just Metropolis in his image, but the whole Earth, including the criminal known as John Corben, a.k.a. Metallo, who found a kinship with the futuristic foe of Earth. But Metropolis became a city that truly lived up to one of its nicknames in ways which no one could've ever imagined. The mechanized menace was disposed of during the terrible Imperiex War when Brainiac 13 (after fusing itself with the planet known as Warworld, once ruled by the late yellow-skinned tyrant Mongul), fused with Imperiex himself, was thrown into a time warp conjured by the team of Darkseid (ruler of Apokolips), Tempest (loyal sidekick to Aquaman), & Amazon sisters Princess Diana & Donna Troy (Wonder Woman & Troia, respectively) by the Man of Steel himself, Superman. The Last Son of Krypton (temporarily fused with the being known as Strange Visitor who wore Superman's one-time blue containment suit) sent the Brainiac-controlled Warworld through the warp to the beginning of time of time, or as some would call it 'The Dawn of Creation' as Darwin did, creating a second 'Big Bang' & shattering both his consciousness & remains across the universe at about 60 trillion light-years through space & time.
As mentioned, it's ironic, but then again, the world does work in mysterious ways.
Despite the menial upgrade of the city, Metropolis is still riddled with crime & corruption from all parts, including the area of Suicide Slum, where crime is second nature to most of the local inhabitants. As if that weren't enough, Metropolis gets attacked & pummeled by constant alien invasions & super-villains, more so than any other major city.
In Metropolis, crime is as happening as a daily routine of getting up for work in the morning & coming home to a nice, home-cooked meal in the evening.
It can happen anywhere & at any given time when one least expects it.
This morning at 8:00 a.m. on a clear day, it happens at City Hall, where Inspector Daniel Turpin of S.C.U. (The Special Crimes Unit) awaits outside the building's front entrance with a squadron of officers, some suited up in metal armor—hulking mechanisms called Leviathans that are designed by John Henry Irons, the man once known as the hero called Steel, & are modeled after Superman's Krytonian Warsuit. Chewing on a lit cigar in his mouth & a brown derby on top of his noggin, the bulky but rocky officer keeps his troops at bay until his superior shows up.
He does not wait long: stepping through the melee of armed officers comes Captain Maggie Sawyer, an iron-willed woman with short, blond hair &, like Turpin himself, is dressed in a dark blue suit with a yellow rectangular patch on the arms with their logo on them. Both Inspector & Captain are armed with a rifle slung around their shoulders which seemed capable of punching through all but the very toughest armor plating.
Removing her sunglasses & unslinging her weapon, she walks up to Turpin, who does the same but keeps his trademark derby atop his head.
"So what's the story, Dan? Hostage situation?", Maggie asked.
"Something like that, Maggie", Turpin explains. "A couple of yahoos dressed in fine tailored suits calmly went in & are holding the Mayor & his staff prisoner. They did it all smooth as clockwork, & no one knew any better."
"If that's so, then what tipped you off exactly?"
"According to witnesses, a red beam punched its way out from within & went through the roof of the building straight up into the sky."
"Any of them say what they wanted, Dan? Any demands?"
"Nothing of the kind, Maggie. All they said was that they'd start killing hostages if we tried to make our way in. Two seconds later, we heard a shot go off. We fear they may have already murdered one hostage just to get their point across."
"You did the right thing in waiting for me, Dan. Even with our troops dressed in Leviathan suits, we shouldn't risk making a forced entry. The scum in there may have all the hostages at arm's reach, & at the first sight of any of us, each one of them—including the Mayor himself—will no doubt be executed on the spot."
"So what do we do, Maggie? We can't just sit out here & twiddle our thumbs with the Mayor & his people in the clutches of these high-demeanored guerrillas!"
"Easy, Turpin. You know that's not the plan. Let me try to negotiate with these people first before we do any rescue attempt." Maggie looks around the armada of officers. "Who's got a bullhorn for me to use?"
"Right here, Captain!", said a middle-aged officer with partially-graying hair, holding up a black bullhorn & approaches Sawyer. "Good luck with these people—you'll need it!"
"Thank you. I think I will, considering what I've learned", said Maggie, taking the bullhorn & placing it in front of her mouth in City Hall's direction. When she speaks, her voice gets amplified a great deal. "Attention inside! This Captain Maggie Sawyer of the Special Crimes Unit! I'm willing to negotiate with you in order to end this peacefully, providing you don't kill any more of the hostages! We're willing to listen if you just give us the chance!"
A moment or two passes before a voice through a solitary speaker at the front doors of the building responds to Maggie's request by the leader of the group: a big, barrel-waisted individual with arms & legs like thick lead pipes, wearing a black suit & shoes. His hair was also black, & slicked backwards like one of those gangsters from the 1930s, & has a face that looked like it had been carved from solid stone. Like the rest of his men (five in all), he is armed with a large metal rifle that has a round-mouthed opening, about the size of a cereal bowl. On the floor of the lobby in a corner lays a male dressed in a gray suit lying in a puddle of his own blood, having been shot by a conventional gun the leader keeps in his jacket. In the center of the room is a brown suitcase which has been placed upon a lone stool.
With a microphone connected to the speaker in hs free hand, the leader speaks, his voice as firm as his physique. "You're willing to listen, you say? Good! By now you know one of the hostages has bought the farm, & that's what will happen to the others—the Mayor included—if any of you flatfoots try anything heroic! It may also interest you that my men & I have snuck a bomb in City Hall, & if you & your donut-stuffing buddies aren't cleared out of here in five minutes, the thing goes off in a giant holocaust, & your forensics team will spend months trying to locate all the pieces of our captives! Comprende, compadres?"
Maggie takes the bullhorn away from her lips & turns to Turpin, none too pleased & she makes it perfectly clear to him. "A bomb, Dan? Nobody knew anything about a bomb in their possession?"
"Easy, Maggie!", Turpin pleaded. "This is just as big a shock to us as it is to you! We never knew they had an overgrown firecracker in their filthy mitts until they'd just announced it! You oughta know darn well I'd never withhold any info from ya!"
No, he wouldn't. Ever since Daniel Turpin came to S.C.U., he & Maggie have always been more or less two peas in a pod. Sure, they may have had differences to how they handle situations, for Turpin was mainly a man of action, while Maggie prefers to think things through before considering taking any action as any good captain would. But through it all, Daniel Turpin has always been honest with her, & that's a loyalty you simply can't buy.
Forcing herself to, Maggie calms down. "I'm sorry, Dan. You're right. It seems these creeps have planned this to a 'T', like you mentioned before!"
"If you ask me, Maggie, I have a hunch that these bozos plan on detonating that little toy of theirs no matter what we do!", Turpin says. "It's real risky, but we may have to attempt a rescue before they can perform their kamikaze mission!"
Maggie Sawyer looks up into the sky to give Turpin's idea some thought. He could be right: before & since 9/11, there are fanatics who would forfeit their lives for their own sick, twisted ideals, & if these terrorists have snuck a bomb into someplace like City Hall, more likely than not they'll set it off to kill everyone in the building & deliver their message, something they cannot let come to fruition.
That's when her eyes went wide as an idea has just struck her.
"Let's not charge in just yet, Dan", she says, turning back to him. "Let me try once more to get through to these fanatics." Sawyer puts the bullhorn to her lips again. "Please listen to me! There's no need in prolonging this madness! We don't want anyone else ending up in a body bag! If you just surrender yourselves immediately, we will be lenient! All you have to do is be willing to talk to us about this!"
From inside the lobby, the leader speaks into his microphone. "Forget it, Captain! There's nothing more to say except you now have only three minutes left before our bomb detonates! The time for talk is over!"
A sudden rumble in the building caught the attention of the leader & his men, as debris from the hole in the roof one of the men made before fell to the floor, forcing two of the men to take cover & huddle into a group, weapons drawn. From the opening emerged a man with a height of six-foot-three stood—or hovered—in mid-air, wearing a skin-tight blue outfit, complete with red boots & yellow metal belt around his waist. A red cape was draped on his back, & his chest showed an insignia in the shape of a baseball game's home plate with a yellow field & red 'S' upon it. His hair was cut short & jet black, & his eyes had a blue hue in them, although he was more or less seeing red due to the current predicament.
"You got that right! I think we're all through talking!", said the hovering man.
"S-Superman!", said one of the men.
"That's my name, fella! Don't wear it out!"
"Don't worry about that, Superman!", said the leader, aiming his own weapon at the Man of Steel. "Why would we bother wearing out your name, when we can simply rub you out of existence instead? Let 'im have it, boys!"
In the blink of an eye, the men (including the leader) fire their weapons at Superman simultaneously & hit the Man of Steel square in the chest. Upon contact, Superman felt a surge of pain wash all over him as he yells, feeling like his abilities suddenly were given the old heave-ho. Barely able to stand, he hits the floor & collapses to his hands & knees.
What kind of weapons are those?, he says to himself, his vision seeing white flashes. I feel like I went another ten rounds with the Parasite!
The leader laughs maniacally. "Surprised, Superman? These aren't your typical brand of fire-arms! Each shot fired from them gives off a surge of power found equivalently in a red sun, & from what I've learned about you, prolonged exposure to one makes you as vulnerable as anyone else! You want to know something else? That blast you were bathed in was only a fraction of the power we yield! Here's another dose—at full power!"
Adjusting a knob on the side of their guns, the men fire off another round at Superman, sending him back into & through the wall with sledgehammer force. The blast sends him outside of the building, covered in rubble & bruises as people start to scatter in numerous directions to avoid getting hit by any flying debris.
"Ha! That got him!", said one man.
"You said it! No way he's still alive after two direct hits from these babies!", said another.
"Still, we'd better make sure of that!", said the leader. "Johnny, Tommy, go follow him & see to it that he bought it like that poor schmoe in the corner! If there's even the tiniest bit of life within him, you know what to do!"
"Gotcha, boss!", Johnny & Tommy said together, heading in the direction where Superman went after blasting him the second time. When they exit the building through the holes in the walls, they see the Man of Steel in their sights & aim their weapons.
Fingers on the triggers, they squeeze & ring out two powerful shots, grinning widely.
Thirty seconds have passed since the leader & his men heard the shots from Johnny & Tommy's guns. A wide, toothy grin spread across the faces of each man, giving the impression that the task of eliminating Metropolis' defender is fulfilled.
Ha! Rest in peace—again, Superman!, the leader said to himself. "All right, boys", he says orally. "Superman has bitten the dust once more, & now we…"
"You know, if I had a penny for every time someone said that about me, I'd make high rollers like Bruce Wayne & Lex Luthor look like beggers on the street!", said a voice.
It was neither Johnny's nor Tommy's, but it was still very familiar—too familiar.
"I-It's impossible!", said the disbelieving leader. "You can't sill be alive—not after two direct hits!"
That's when Superman flew in through the holes in the walls & comes in full view of the criminals.
"A word of advice, fellas!", Superman states. "The next time you want to hit me with a weapon that can take away my powers, do it either at night or on a really cloudy day!"
"What did you do with Johnny & Tommy?", asked the leader sternly. "Good help is quite hard to find these days!"
"Don't worry about them! After I took care of their weapons, they took a one-way trip to the police precinct downtown! All that remains is to have the rest of you join them! Now, are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way?"
His answer comes instantly when the leader & the rest of his men aim their weapons at him again with itchy trigger fingers. But this time, Superman was more than ready for them: moving in a red-&-blue blur, he snatches up all the guns from the men's grasp & bends them in his bare hands. Useless, the guns get tossed aside like tin foil in an empty corner.
Why must they always want to do it the hard way?, Superman says to himself, reciting a line from a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Wile E. Coyote tries to make a meal out of the wascawwy wabbit.
"Now gentlemen, let's go through this again", he says aloud, floating in the air with his arms across his chest. Staring dumbfounded, the men peel out of the lobby & into the street moments later—right into the waiting arms of Maggie Sawyer & the police, who have all the men in handcuffs before they realize what happened.
The only one who remained inside is the leader of the group, who stands defiant in spite of losing both his weapons & his men. Superman faces him & locks eyes with the man who shows no sign of fear in his gut whatsoever.
"You know, you remind me a lot of someone", Superman says.
"What are you babbling about?", said the leader. "I'm positive you've never seen me before in your life!"
"Guess again. You hugely resemble a man by the name of Mason Riddle, who was a racketeer gangster in Gotham City. But here's the catch: I learned from a valuable source that Mason had been hunted by rival gangs & cornered in one of his out-of-town shacks, where he goes to until the heat cools down. His enemies burned the place down, but here's the real shocker: his body was found only two days ago in the forest, buried under a dirt pile with not one burn on him, but his neck snapped. Now answer me this, 'Mason'—how is it you can still be here among the living, when you've been confirmed deceased two days ago? Hmmm, either you've got an identical twin brother, which I seriously doubt, or you must be the ultimate master of disguise, someone who can, say, change shape at will? Does that sound familiar to you—Basil Karlo, or should I just call you 'Clayface'?"
'Mason' flashed & gritted his teeth in anger as Superman deduced his true identity. "So, you fancy yourself a detective now, Superman?", he says as his physical form morphs & shifts into a large, grotesque humanoid figure of living dark-lime clay, measuring a whopping nine feet tall. His arms & legs were beefy, & his fingers had pointed ends, resembling claws. His face has two yellow dots for eyes, no nose, & a mouth full of overgrown teeth, some of which were sharp at the end.
"You think you're a real smart alec, like that pointy-eared freak, the Batman?", Clayface growled, his right hand morphing into a slab of bricks & becoming just as hard. With a push, he literally extends his arm in Superman's direction with surprising speed. The Man of Steel barely dodges to one side & avoids the impact, but was unprepared for the second charge with Clayface's left. When contact is made, Karlo's left arm turns fluid & engulfs Superman in his bodily substance in an attempt to suffocate him. Superman can feel his nose & mouth being closed off by his inhuman enemy as he gets covered completely.
Clayface laughs a satisfying grunt. "You may be able to do just about anything, Superman", he gloats, "but I'm betting you still need to breathe air like everybody else!"
He's right!, Superman says to himself. He's cutting off my breathing passages & trying to suffocate me! I need to get loose—now!
The living mound of clay continues to laugh triumphantly, keeping the Man of Steel covered in a cocoon. He can feel him trying to push his way through, but for Superman, it was like trying to get out of a vat of thick taffy. Karlo feels his victory assured, but now he feels something else—a burning sensation in the man-made cocoon. At first it was a minor sting before it erupts into a mini-inferno, searing his clayish skin. Then twin red beams of intense heat burst through & hit Karlo smack-dab in the face, splitting it in two. This causes Clayface to temporarily lose his concentration & his cocoon which encased Superman breaks down & dissolves off his person. As Superman gulps in fresh air into his lungs, Clayface reshapes himself like he did before, ready to square off against the Man of Steel anew.
He's incredible!, Clayface says to himself. He's every bit as tough an opponent as the Batman himself! But I still have the upper hand! I just need to keep him busy a bit longer!
"Ready to throw in the towel & get shipped back to Gotham, Karlo?", Superman asks. "Or do you want to keep on being stupid?"
His answer came with another attack by Clayface's hands, this time morphed as giant knives which Karlo thrusts with one arm & swings with the other, hoping to either pierce the Man of Steel through his Kryptonian skin or drive a blade into his side. Even though Superman knew too well that Clayface could never hope to penetrate his skin with nothing short of magic or kryptonite (pieces of his home planet that is fatal to him in prolonged exposure), he wasn't going to allow his shape-shifting enemy another chance to make contact with him. He had other things on his mind than squaring off against a monster of clay.
Like the suitcase they brought inside that got knocked to the floor when Superman moved at super-speed to disarm Karlo & his men, which he more than knows about, thanks to his super-hearing which can hear ants marching at a picnic.
While dodging Clayface's sharp & deadly projectiles, he swoops on down to where the suitcase landed on the floor & grabs it in his left hand. Clayface ceases his assault on Superman as he has found the cat in the bag.
"This bomb you brought in—it wouldn't happen to be this thing, would it?", the Man of Steel asks, staring at it intently.
Clayface scoffs. "If you're trying to see into it with your x-ray vision, forget it! The thing is lead-lined, the only substance that can block it! You'll have no idea how much time you have left before the bomb goes off!"
Superman smirks. "You mean only thirty seconds left?"
Clayface's eyes & mouth go agape. "H-How did you know…?"
"I guess you forgot about my super-sensitive ears, Karlo! I've heard the moment you mentioned when the bomb will go off in five minutes! I kept precise track of the time until it does, & on that note…"
"Clever, Superman, but if you think I'll just let you take it out of here…"
"That's precisely what I'm gonna do, so just chill out, Karlo!"
As Clayface lunges at Superman, the Last Son of Krypton takes a quick deep breath, inhaling as much as he can before exhaling it all again at his enemy. The breath turns super-cold & hits Clayface all over, encasing him in a thick coating of ice. With his foe making like a statue, Superman rushes up & out of City Hall through the makeshift hole in the ceiling/roof & heads up higher & higher until he reaches the cold, frigid vacuum of space in seconds, bomb in hand. Holding his breath, he hurls the suitcase out in front of him with all his might, just to be sure it gets as far away from the planet as possible. It disappears in only one second but takes five before the thing detonates at a saf distance. Bright as the explosion is, there was no sound at all coming from it, due to the airless void. The light only lasted for three seconds before Superman sees a crystalline substance emerge afterwards. Using his telescopic & x-ray visions, he sees the crystals as being very similar to Clayface's own body structure before it goes inert in the vacuum. He had quite a couple questions for Basil Karlo, but he can worry about them after he gets back to the planet & to City Hall to make sure the mayor & the rest of his staff are all right.
He arrives back at City Hall about as fast as he did when he briefly left it to toss Karlo's bomb out into space. When he gets there, he finds Clayface still in his icy tomb, along with Maggie Sawyer, Daniel Turpin, & a group of officers who were already inside & have found & were untying the Mayor & his staff, all of whom were held captive in one of the rooms right outside. One of those captives was a young man with short red hair & blue eyes, standing between 5-6 feet tall. It was a person Superman knew all too well.
"Jimmy Olsen!", he said.
"Superman! Glad you made it in time!", Jimmy says. "I would've used the signal watch I devised to summon you, but I got, uh…"
"Tied up at the moment?", Superman finishes for him with a smile.
Jimmy nodded, bashfully.
"Don't worry", he continued. "It's kinda hard to miss something like a bright red beam of energy bursting through the roof of City Hall. "He turns to the deceased man in the corner, & his mood turns somber. "I only wished I came here sooner to save that poor man."
"Please try not to let it worry you too much, Superman", said the Mayor, walking up to him. "While Stan's death was tragic, there was nothing anyone could've done to prevent it from happening—not even you."
Superman let the Mayor's words sink in. He's right: in spite of his awe-inspiring abilities, the Man of Steel can't be there for everyone when in danger of losing their life/lives. Such was the case one time when Robert DuBois—better known as the psychotic villain Bloodsport—opened fire on a bunch of civilians at a local café, killing an estimated twenty-five people. Another example was during the Imperiex War when Topeka, Kansas got struck by one of Imperiex's deadly probes, wiping out the entire city & most of its inhabitants, or even when General Sam Lane—father of Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane—died in preventing another probe from reaching the White House when Lex Luthor was President by setting off his tank's nuclear engine. Much as he loathes to admit it, it is something he'll have to accept. The fact is that he'll never be able to pluck every living soul out of harm's way, no matter how much he wants to or tries.
It may be cruel sometimes, but it's life.
Superman softly sighs. "You're right, Mayor. See what you can do for Stan's next of kin."
"I'll alert his family of what happened, then give him a proper burial in two-three days", the Mayor says. "You have enough to worry about, what with always saving the rest of us from criminals & super-villains alike."
That put Superman in a better mood. "I guess I can't argue with that, Mayor. And on that little note…"
The Man of Steel stares at the frozen form of Clayface.
It took the Special Crimes Unit half an hour to summon a cylindrical containment unit to place Clayface inside, but only seconds for Superman to actually get him in it: using his super-speed, he spins round & round like a living tornado while hovering right over his frozen foe. While drilling a hole at the top, he acts like a vacuum cleaner & begins to drain (or even suck out) Clayface out of the block of ice & transport him into the containment unit, making sure he drains out every piece/drop of Karlo's pliable body. After he makes sure no piece of him is left behind, two S.C.U. officers shut the lid, trapping Basil inside. On the sidelines, a squadron of newspeople, reporters, & photographers (including Jimmy Olsen) were busy taking pictures & giving interviews to Sawyer, Turpin, & the Mayor himself.
That was when he regains consciousness, & Superman can finally ask him the questions he had on his mind.
"So, why come here to Metropolis, Karlo? Getting tired of Gotham?", he asks with a smirk.
Clayface gave no answer, sans a gritting of his teeth & a fist to the unbreakable glass of the cylinder in anger.
Superman didn't flinch in the slightest, but he did continue with his questioning, & his smirk disappeared, becoming all business. "That bomb you brought with you, Karlo—I saw a substance in it which uncannily resembles your own body structure a second before the frigidness of space crystallized it. What was that? A mutagen of some kind?"
This time, Clayface did answer The Man of Steel properly. "Something like that. Once that bomb detonated, the mutagen which transformed me into one of the Clayfaces would've spread all across Metropolis, turning everyone into a Clayface, just like myself!"
"And then you would've absorbed them all & grow in size, becoming a creature that would make even King Kong wet his pants", Superman finishes.
"That's right! I would've become unbeatable, even to you, had I succeeded!"
Superman's tone now becomes playful. "I'm sure you meant, 'And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling Boy Scout', right?"
Clayface responds by banging both his fists against the glass of his cylindrical prison, just as Maggie Sawyer, Daniel Turpin, the Mayor, & Jimmy Olsen arrive.
"Touchy cuss, ain't he?", Turpin jokes with a smirk on his own face.
"Quite", said Superman, turning to Sawyer. "He's all ready for shipping back to Gotham City, Maggie, so whenever you're ready…"
"We're ready now, Superman, thanks", replied Sawyer. "The sooner we get him out of here, the better I'll feel. Just the mere sight of him gives me the willies!"
"Ain't it the truth, Maggie!", Turpin chimed in. "Why can't these whackos from Gotham City ever stay there & leave us the hell alone for God's sakes?"
"Come on, Dan", Maggie said in a firm but soft tone. She & Turpin, along with a group of officers pushed the cylinder containing Clayface over to a waiting armored transport truck with open doors. Due to the floating mechanism at the cylinder's bottom, moving it was almost a breeze for even the most unathletic officer. While Turpin meant it as a joke, he did raise a valid point nonetheless: Clayface isn't the only villain from Gotham City to cause mayhem in The Big Apricot. The Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker, has shown up more than once, most notably when he had tried to make the entire world into a twisted image of his own reflection after he conned the interdimensional imp—Mr. Mxyzptlk—into giving him 99.9 percent of his 5th-Dimension powers. The villainess named Pamela Isley (a.k.a. Poison Ivy) showed up twice, once on a solo mission & another with her kindred companion Harleen Quinzel (a.k.a. Harley Quinn), The Joker's on-&-off girlfriend. Even when he wasn't in Metropolis, Superman has dealt with some of the Batman's oldest & deadliest foes, such as Victor Fries (a.k.a. Mr. Freeze), Prof. Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. The Scarecrow), & the undead gorilla known as Solomon Grundy. He even had a scuffle or two with Ra's al Ghul, the immortal eco-terrorist who would commit global genocide to achieve his own ends.
Therefore, Clayface is yet another from Gotham's rogues gallery to attack Metropolis, & Superman can probably bet the rent that he won't be the last to do so.
But that's what happens when you're friends with Playboy Millionaire Bruce Wayne's alter ego, secretly known as The Batman.
Wanting to get his thoughts elsewhere, the Man of Steel faces Jimmy Olsen with a question for him. "So how did you get into this mess, Jimmy?", he asks.
"I guess dumb luck as always, big guy", Jimmy replied. "Perry White had given me the assignment of covering the story of the Mayor's generous donation to the citizens of Suicide Slum to help make it more hospitable for them, rather than letting them live mostly in poverty. The Mayor called a meeting at 7:30 this morning to give his speech. Shortly before eight, those creeps calmly strode in City Hall…& the rest you know, I'm sure."
"That I do, Jimmy. All too well", Superman said, turning to the Mayor. "What will you do now, Mayor? Aside from arranging Stan's funeral, that is?"
"I guess I'll take care of that first, Superman", said the Mayor. "As for my donation to Suicide Slum, I'm afraid it'll have to be postponed for now, until a later time. But try to look at it this way, Superman: had you not showed up in time, this predicament would've been much worse than what it was, so on behalf of me, my staff, & this entire city, I thank you once again for stopping this morning's madness."
"Thank you, mayor", Superman says, taking the Mayor's hand & shaking it. "I'd say that should count for something, especially coming from you. I'll stop by the funeral for Stan to pay my respects. With any luck, my hands won't be full by then."
"I'd like that, Superman, & if young Jimmy Olsen here wishes to attend as well…"
"Nothing I'd like better, Mr. Mayor", Olsen says, looking at his watch. "Oops! I gotta go, sir. I'm due at the Daily Planet at 9, so I'd better get a move-on! See you later,guys!"
"See you soon, Olsen!", said the Mayor even as Jimmy was already taking off to catch the nearest taxi.
"I suppose I should get going myself, Mayor. There's somewhere else I need to be at this time", Superman says aloud before speaking to himself, Or rather, where Clark Kent needs to be, & that's also at the Daily Planet, same as Jimmy. I can get in touch Bruce later & thank him for his information on Karlo.
"I understand, Superman", the Mayor said as the Man of Steel lifts up & away. "Farewell, & thanks again!"
He doesn't answer orally, but Superman does it in his mind. Anytime, Mayor, & thank you for helping to alleviate the guilt I have for poor Stan's death., he says to himself as he flies in the opposite direction Jimmy Olsen is going to prevent any suspicions one from City Hall might have, never knowing that he needs to join young Jimmy at the faster than the eye can follow, Superman double-backs between buildings & heads straight for the Daily Planet building, with its holographic, iconic globe shining on its roof, which is exactly where the Man of Steel heads for.
And he isn't alone, either: standing at the entrance to the roof is a tall 5-foot-6 woman with long, jet black hair, dressed in a red tailored suit & shoes. Superman isn't worried at all about the intrusion, mainly because this woman is his soulmate who have shared many adventures together, from her first staged 'accident' to the Man of Steel's fatal clash with the infamous monster Doomsday, the Imperiex War & more.
She is Lois Joanne Lane, ace reporter & occasional army brat.
What's more, she's married to Metropolis' hero, but only a handful of individuals are privy to that information: her marriage to his alter ego, however, is more publicly known.
"You know, I have to ask you this", she starts to say as Superman lands gingerly on the roof only one foot away from her. "Is it just me, or does my husband not want to enjoy his breakfast with his wife anymore, especially when she slaves over a hot stove to make him the best pancakes he could ever have?"
"Sorry about that, Lois", Superman says, a split second before he changes from his traditional blue tights, red boots & cape to dress in his own blue tailored suit & black shoes. In the wink of an eye, his demeanor converts from Superman to that of Clark Kent, complete with his spectacles & his black hair slicked back. "It's just next to impossible to simply ignore a red beam that abruptly erupts from City Hall's rooftop."
"I suppose that goes without saying, doesn't it?"
"Don't worry, Lois. Next time at breakfast, I'll do the slaving so you can take the load off. Deal?"
Lois stares at Clark with a mockery look on her face. It's times like these that make her wish she had come from the planet Krypton & gifted with all the superpowers her husband possesses after prolonged exposure to Earth's yellow sun. Since the day Perry White introduced him to Lois, she's had the feeling that there was much more to Clark Kent than meets the eye, being the first one to nab the exclusive on Superman (being on himself), beating her to the punch. Lois never would've guessed in a million years that Superman & Clark Kent were one & the same, a fact that would remain hidden from her had Clark not revealed his secret to her when she had proposed to him in marriage. Through it all, Clark has been nothing but a saint to her, no matter what persona he was in. It's that trait alone which Lois deeply admires about him, & makes her proud & happy to be his wife, even if he really is an alien from another planet.
"Okay, Smallville", Lois says, opening the roof's entrance & she & Clark start heading into the building together. "It's a deal. Starting next week, you're the one who prepares breakfast."
"Got it", said Clark.
"And it comes first thing in the morning before anything—and I do mean anything—else."
"I read you loud & clear, Lois."
"And I want it served to me in bed with my husband by my side."
"Done & done, Lois. You deserve it."
"You're the best! I love you!"
"I know. I love you too."
Taking the elevator, Lois & Clark head down to their workstations & Clark, explaining the morning's situation to Lois, begins typing on his computer. Typing as normally as possible without using his super-speed, Clark puts in a good fifteen minutes worth of his story when the elevator bell rings & the double doors open, revealing Jimmy Olsen with his camera hung around his neck. Stepping out of the elevator, Jimmy walks into the room when he spots two welcoming & familiar faces.
"Lois! Clark!", he calls out.
"Jimmy!", the two call back in unison as Lois joins her husband from her cubicle to his.
"I heard about what happened at City Hall!", said Lois. "Are you all right?"
"For the most part", said Jimmy. "Some nutjobs entered the building & took the Mayor, his staff, & myself hostage. Their leader—who turned out to be Basil Karlo, a.k.a. Clayface—smuggled in a bomb that would've turned everyone into a Clayface like he is, & absorb us all to make himself a giant & trample the city! If not for Superman, it would've happened already!"
"You're right, Jimmy", said Clark. "Lois & I got in only fifteen minutes ago to type that very story out for Perry."
Jimmy had a slightly surprised look on his face. "You were there, Clark?I didn't even see you in the crowd!"
"That's probably why you didn't, Jimmy", Clark says with a little smile. "The crowd was packed tighter than a package of feezed-dried coffee, but despite the commotion, I overheard the situation & headed back here to begin my report. Now I need to get in as much as possible before Perry comes calling."
"I'm surprised he hasn't done that already, Clark."
"Probably because he hasn't finished his morning coffee yet", a sarcastic Lois says. "But don't worry, Jimmy. If I know Perry—and I do—he'll come busting through the door & request, or rather demand, his three top aces to…"
Just then, the glass-screened door of Perry White's office suddenly swings open & reveals the man himself—a moderately-built individual in his traditional brown pants/shoes, white dress shirt, black sleeveless vest, three-colored striped tie, blue eyes & brown hair with white streaks on the sides—appears in the door's frame, standing like a monolith in all his glory (& at the Daily Planet, it's hard not to see him as one, because he practically is!).
"Kent! Lane! Olsen! In my office! Now!", White barked before turning about-face & heads back inside, closing the door behind him.
Everyone except the aforementioned trio turned back to their own assignments once the boss disappeared from view.
"Yep. Right on cue!", said Lois, looking at her wristwatch.
The three of them share a smile.
Clark Kent, Lois Lane, & Jimmy Olsen enter Perry White's office in ten seconds after his announcement, & in that order. As Jimmy closes the door behind him since he was last, he becomes the first to speak, removing the camera from around his neck & presents it to Perry, who stood behind his desk & eyed his three top newspeople.
"Here, chief", he says. "I've got some great pictures of the City Hall attack's aftermath, along with some shots of Superman together with the Mayor. Should make a good front page cover, wouldn't you say?"
"And I've been typing the story on my computer, Perry", Clark adds. "I should have it finished in time for the paper's evening edition."
Perry White stood like a golem at the trio, eyeing each one, making Jimmy rather nervous & Lois & Clark rather suspicious.
"Perry? Is everything all right?", asked Lois.
That was when Perry began to speak. "First, people, let me just say this. Olsen?"
Jimmy stood at attention, trying desperately to hide his nervousness from his boss. "Y-Yes, chief?"
"I'm glad to see you're still among us after that vicious attack at City Hall this morning. I was afraid I'd lose one of my best photographers when I saw it on the television."
Jimmy releases his pent-up nerves & relaxes. For all his sternness & firm demeanor & attitude, Perry White is a caring person & humanitary, even if he doesn't show it much. The strongest display he showed is when the Man of Steel had actually died in battle, protecting Metropolis from the infamous creature known as Doomsday. This morning, he gives a fair portion of that same emotion to Jimmy Olsen, kmowing that it was easy not to have him standing here at this very moment.
"Thanks, chief. I'd be lying to you if I said that I didn't feel the same way", Jimmy said, wanting to take advantage of his boss' kindness while it lasts.
"Don't mention it, Olsen. You're too modest to do that", Perry said, turning to Clark Kent & assuming his role as editor-in-chief & publisher. "Kent, while I loathe to have you drop a genuine story which you've been working on, I've just received word on another story that's just as genuine. No doubt you all know about the Solar Satellite project which S.T.A.R. Labs has worked on for years in secret until one month ago, am I right?"
All three nodded, but it was Lois Lane who answered. "Who hasn't, Perry? They say this project will revoltionize astronomy beyond anything we've currently achieved so far. Among its functions are exploring other regions & perhaps even galaxies beyond our own solar system. This piece of news was secluded in secrecy for security reasons."
"Very good, Lois. You're definitely on the right track with this."
"Are you saying you want us to go to S.T.A.R. Labs & interview the people involved in the project, Perry?", asked Clark.
"Something like that, Kent. They didn't give any details to me over the phone, but they said it was of the utmost importance. That's why I want you three to go down there & get the scoop on this. Olsen, give the City Hall pictures to the developer & get a fresh roll of film. Kent, as I mentioned, I'm sorry to make you drop the article you worked so hard on before, but…"
"No problem, Perry", said Clark. "See if Ron Troupe can take it from there."
"I was thinking the same thing, Kent. Like yourself, he was on scene there, so I'll get Ron on it right away if he isn't already."
"Then that settles it", said Lois. "Time to pay a visit to S.T.A.R. Labs, gang. We're the Three Musketeers on this assignment."
"All for one, Lois", said Jimmy. "Let me just exchange film really quick, & we're off."
Jimmy Olsen was off & out of Perry White's office before either Lois or Clark can say a word. While Lois is anxious to discover more about the Solar Satellite project like she did before when S.T.A.R. Labs announced its existence for the first time, Clark could not help but have suspicions of it. While keeping it secret from the general public for a time was quite understandable (for fear of falling into the wrong hands like Lex Luthor or a real psycho like Mark Mardon, a.k.a. the Weather Wizard, for instance), Clark doesn't like the fact that details wouldn't (or possibly couldn't) be told over the phone, even though Perry White is one of a handful of people which S.T.A.R. Labs trusts without question.
A predicament like that usually means something could be wrong, & probably is.
Even if Perry White hadn't given him, Lois, and/or Jimmy the assignment, Clark is pretty adamant in figuring out their story.
And perhaps not as Clark Kent.
Jimmy Olsen's task of getting a fresh roll of film for his camera only took about a minute or two before Lois & Clark rejoined him in the main lobby. Right away, Lois Lane made the statement that they were all going in her car, hands down. With Lois at the wheel, they will undoubtedly get there in no time, especially since she, like Clark & Jimmy themselves, knows the quickest way in getting to their destination. Clark, of course, could've gotten there much faster as Superman while carrying Lois in her arms & have Jimmy either ride his cycle or taken a cab, but for the moment, it was better this was. It got him to be Clark Kent—himself—for a time. In fact, it was necessary for him. Three years after Clark had made the city of Metropolis his home, one day changed his life forever: Metropolis was celebrating its two hundred & fiftieth birthday. Topping it off was a test flight of the experimental space plane called the Constitution to land at the city's airport, an event in which Clark wanted to personally see for himself. Suddenly & without warning, a regular civilian aircraft trespassed in the no-fly zone & crashed into the Constitution, damaging its left rear wing. As the craft plummeted to Earth, Clark (dressed in brown pants, jacket, black T-shirt underneath it, & beige shoes) propelled himself skyward & helped to bring the space plane down in a smooth, safe landing. That was when he met Lois for the first time, covering the story from within, naturally. But that was also, to Clark's dismay, when the mob rushed in at him. Each spectator had acted like an uncontrollable animal, clawing & tearing away at him with no end in sight. Unable to handle the pressure, Clark took off & headed for his parent's house in Smallville, Kansas, where Jonathan & Martha Kent had found him as a baby & raised him as their own. Knowing for a fact that people will be searching for him, Clark had to find some way of continuing to use his amazing abilities to help those in need but without having spectators attacking him each time. All seemed to be lost for him until his parents each came up with the answer to his problem. Martha had sewn together an outfit that comprised of blue tights, red boots & cape, & a yellow metal belt he can store items in. Jonathan came up with two ideas: the first was the 'S' symbol Clark wears on both his chest & cape when he's Superman, a symbol that dates back to his parent's ancestors, Nathaniel & Mary Glenowen-Kent from an Iroquis haling blanket they once concocted. The second was a simple but very effective disguise he uses when he's not Superman—a pair of his father's spectacles over his eyes & putting his hair back in a completely different style. The disguise has flawlessly provided Clark the chance to be like regular people every now & then. On top of it all, he not only wants to be Clark Kent, he needs to be: if he had to be on-call 24/7, he would undoubtedly go insane. Shunning his Clark Kent identity is never an option for him. Batman would be able to do that to his secret identity of Bruce Wayne (as he once briefly did), but needless to say, Clark Kent is not Bruce Wayne, in more ways than one.
Amen to you, ma & pa, for coming up with both my identities for me. I don't know what I'd do without either of you., Clark says to himself, his mind going back to that time when it all began for him—when the world discovered its true hero.
Lois arrives at S.T.A.R. Labs in just under thirty minutes, even in the morning when the traffic is pretty thick with commuters heading to work or heading home after their 'graveyard shift'. She puts her vehicle in the parking lot right after she checks with the parking attendants with her press badge, along with Clark & Jimmy who do the same. Getting the okay, the trio exit Lois' car & head up to the front door where they're met by a lone female. She wears a white lab coat over a peach-colored skirt & yellow Hawaiian shirt with flower designs all over. On her feet lay a pair of dark brown high-heel shoes, & a pair of round spectacles lay on the bridge of her nose over her blue eyes. Pens rest in her left front pocket, & an ID tag is clipped underneath.
It read Dr. Karen Lou Faulkner, but Lois, Clark, & Jimmy know her by another name.
"Kitty! Good morning!", said Lois as Jimmy Olsen takes a picture or two with his camera.
"Lois! Clark! Jimmy! I'm glad the three of you could make it!", Kitty says. "I'm also glad it was you three in particular that the Daily Planet has sent you, what with your reputations & all."
"You know us, Kitty—we have quite a knack of getting to where the news is in a hurry", Clark Kent says. "Especially if S.T.A.R. Labs requests our company."
"Speaking of which", Lois begins, "Perry told us a little about the Solar Satellite project you people have been slaving over the last few years. Any new developments on that?"
"Yeah, what's the good word, Kitty?", asks Jimmy.
"Jimmy, I believe I speak for everyone here when I say it's simply best to show you the reason you're here", said Kitty. "So if you'll just follow me…"
Kitty turns to face the front entrance & walks toward it with Lois, Clark, & Jimmy following right on her tail without needing to be told. Faulkner leads the trio through the building hallway after hallway, passing numerous labs & offices, all with employees busy with experiments and/or paperwork to contend with. The lab gives the trio many memories in the past, but none more than Clark himself: as Superman, he was sent for treatment for kryptonite poisoning after the villainess Lourdes Lucero, a.k.a. Encantadora, injected him with a kryptonite nanobot which slowly but surely spread throughout his body. Only by performing an inside lobotomy could Superman have been saved from, a feat done by miniaturizing the heroes Steel, Superboy, & Supergirl (a protoplasmic being from an alternate Earth) & injected into the Man of Steel to remove the green tumor before it killed him. Ironically, it was Encantadora herself who revealed what was causing his terminal condition, explaining that it was all just a job for her but never expected things to go as bad as it did. Sly as she is, Encantadora is no murderer, & even helped to undo the damage she caused, including healing a nasty sword wound to Lois Lane caused by master assassin Slade Wilson, a. k. a. Deathstroke the Terminator, who had been hired to permanently silence the teleporting mistress before she can reveal the cause of Superman's critical condition.
It's still unclear as to whether or not Encantadora has forsaken her lifestyle, but that's a situation to deal with for another time, along with other memories of being within the halls of the lab, both good & bad.
Finally, Kitty leads her little band of the press to a locked door with a speaker on its right side, accompanied by a rectangular button below it, followed by a numeric keypad. Pressing the former, she speaks into the receiver.
"Emil, it's me. Our second pair of guests have just arrived, & they're here with me now."
"Splendid, Kitty", Emil's voice said through the intercom. "Send them in & we can all get started."
"Here we come."
Kitty presses numbers on the keypad to unlock the door as Lois asks her a question which is currently on her mind, & is presumably on Clark's & Jimmy's as well.
"What did you mean by 'other guests', Kitty? Who else is here? Another news agency to come share the story with us?"
"No, Lois", Kitty says. "You three are the only press here, I assure you."
"Scientists from around the world, perhaps?", Clark chimed in.
"You're half right, Kent. The first guests to arrive are from another country, but they're not really scientists, although one of their members is. They're really peacekeepers, kind of like, say, a higher form of police or military force."
"Where are they from, exactly?", asked Jimmy.
"Don't worry, Olsen. Once we're inside, you'll get all the details."
One more button was all that Kitty Faulkner had to press to release the lock on the door, & it slides horizontally to disappear into the wall.
"Here we are, folks", she says, gesturing with her hand as Lois, Clark, & Jimmy go through the door first, with Kitty trailing as the entrance closes & locks again behind them. The room was about the size of four average bedrooms combined as one. On the sides were large computers, all lined up in a row & measuring taller than a man in height & just as wide. A few had mini screens on them with keyboards, but most had mainly switches & buttons. The trio surmised that they were used to activate equipment in this or other rooms in the building or get readouts on certain things. At the end was a podium a foot high, with stairs leading up to where a console of monitors were showcasing other areas in the place. The left side had these, while the right had two larger rectangular screens, one on top of another, both of them currently black, indicating they were off. Standing in the room are a group of scientists, most of whom are unknown to the reporter trio except for one: Professor Emil Hamilton, a middle-aged man with a crop of white hair & a goatee. Like Kitty & his staff, Emil wore a white lab coat & black pants/shoes, but what separates him from them is a mechanical left arm which had been upgraded during the Brainiac 13 virus takeover of Metropolis at the turn of the century. While not actually a full-time member of the place, Emil Hamilton has been an invaluable ally & highly trusted consultant. Once an employee of LexCorp, Emil found refuge with S.T.A.R. Labs after Lex Luthor had taken (illegally) Hamilton's patents for his own ends, such as his machine which can harness magnetic waves & create impenetrable barriers that can be used to defend the country from any outside attacks. Hamilton had even tested it on the Man of Steel himself to prove to the world that it works, resulting in a battle which got Emil imprisoned for a time until Superman intervened & vouched for him, landing him work not just at S.T.A.R. Labs but at John Henry Irons' Steelworks facility, located in Suicide Slum. Through it all, Clark (mostly as Superman) have been close friends & have aided each other in the best & worst of times since their first encounter all those years ago.
About the only thing new to this scenario—other than Emil & Kitty's staff—are the group of seven Japanese people, five men & two women, standing alongside one wall near the podium. Each of these people wore a white battle suit, black gloves, black & red boots, & a patch over their right chests that resemble a cross between baseball's home plate & an arrowhead of sorts. They all wore a utility belt around their waists with numerous gadgets, including a pistol that looks as if it came from the show 'Star Trek' or any other science fiction show/film. To Clark, those belts remind him of the one he wears himself as Superman, or even when his friend Bruce Wayne has when he becomes the Batman.
Similar, except neither he nor Bruce would carry a firearm on them: one thing they share is their utter abhorrence to guns of any kind, but then, Bruce has even more of a reason to loathe guns as much as Clark does. At least he can be comforted by the fact that these seven people from Japan are authoritative figures of sorts, & are trained to know how to handle them.
"Lois Lane, Clark Kent, & young Jimmy Olsen", Emil begins to say. "How wonderful to see you three again. I'm so glad that Mr. White sent you down here particularly."
"You're not the only one, Professor", Lois says, looking at Kitty with a little smile, who returns the gesture.
"Folks, I'd like you three to meet our first group of guests", Emil continued, pointing with his hand the seven Japanese to his left as he steps down from the podium. "These people are the GUTS team from Japan, which is short for the Global Unlimited Task Squad." Emil introduces each member in order as they stand from left to right. "This is Iruma, their Captain & Commander. Then we have Munakata, their field leader, next is weapons expert Shinjoh, scientific & mechanical genius Horii, computer whiz Yazumi, & finally, ace fighter pilots Rena & Daigo." When Clark's gaze turns on Daigo, they lock onto each other for several moments, with both of them feeling something quite unusual about one another. It was like they can stare directly into his opponent & sense a uniqueness from within, as a wave of energy flows through them like a raging river. Whether that's a good thing or not, neither can tell, but both men have their suspicions about the other.
Something about this Daigo character twinges my senses, Clark says to himself. I don't know what that is yet, but I aim to find out—and soon.
I feel a weird aura of some kind from Mr. Clark Kent, Daigo says to himself. I can't seem to place it, but something tells me he's a lot more than what he seems to be.
"Wow! You're the GUTS team, huh?", said Jimmy, snapping photos of them from his camera. "Are you folks really a military organization?"
"In part, Mr. Olsen", Iruma explains. "As Dr. Faulkner may have said to you before, we're peacekeepers, & have been for a good number of years. But we more or less became military when giant monsters & invading aliens began attacking Japan. That basically gave us no choice but to add weapons to our vehicles & take action against these monstrosities whenever the need arose."
"In other words", Lois added, "you people went into the pest-control business, am I right?"
"Quite, Miss Lane", said Munakata. "You are the thoroughly observant one."
"Nothing less from the great Lois Lane, leader", said Shinjoh. "Let us not forget: she's the one who first gave Superman his name shortly after his arrival here in Metropolis. Right, Miss Lane?"
"Gee whiz, it seems my reputation preceeds me, even from across the pond", Lois says, a tad embarrassed.
"And why shouldn't it?", Yazumi added. "Your paper from the Daily Planet is published in many countries, including Japan. That's how we all know of events like Superman's arrival, his death & reappearance, the Brainiac 13 makeover of Metropolis, the Imperiex War, your marriage to Mr. Kent, & so forth."
Lois' face turns a shade redder than it did before, being reminded of the Planet's overseas publications. She is, however, quite impressed by the GUTS team's resourcefulness at remembering stories such as those, some of which gave Lois knots in her stomach, which included the aforementioned death of Superman, something that just by thinking about made her feel like a ton of bricks in body & soul, as she does now. But the mention of her marriage to Clark made her feel like she was inflated with helium & soared high in the sky.
Next thing you know, they're going to ask me for an autograph!, she said to herself, half-joking, although it's something that's not unthinkable for the GUTS team to do. Who in their right mind wouldn't want an autograph from Pulitzer-prize winning Lois Lane?
"So, how long have you people been here to Metropolis?", asked Clark, ending Lois' embarrassment in silent relief.
"We arrived just the other day, & we're staying over at the Grand Hotel", said Rena. "I must say, Mr. Kent, this is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever had the pleasure of seeing, let alone being in!"
"Thank you, Rena. After this is all over, perhaps the three of us can show you & your group around & see the sights."
"Sounds grand, but I'm afraid it's business before pleasure, Mr. Kent", said Daigo.
"Daigo's right", said Iruma." We came here for a reason, so let's get started."
"Indeed", Emil agreed. "As you know, we're all here for information on the Solar Satellite project which we at S.T.A.R. Labs, in collaboration with the TPC—the Terrestrial Peacekeeping Comission—have funded & worked on for a number of years in secret. The news was made public a month ago when it got launched to the moon to be set up. Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong just shortly before its completion."
"What do you mean, Professor?", asked Lois.
"They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so we here at S.T.A.R. Labs feel it best if we just showed you what I mean. Everyone, let's go to the monitor on the lower right & I'll give you the feedback."
"Let me assist you in that, Professor", said Yazumi.
"Thank you, Yazumi."
Emil went up the podium's stairs with Yazumi & the rest following suit. Hamilton sat in the left swivel as Yazumi sat in the right & began pushing buttons/typing keys. Despite being here for the very first time, the young Japanese computer genius took to the controls like a fish to water, astonishing Emil, Kitty, & their staff. That included the reporter trio, never seeing such a feat being accomplished by someone so young. The bottom monitor came to life in seconds, showing nothing but fuzz at first. After several more taps of the keys, the fuzz on the screen was gone & replaced by a scene of the moon's surface which featured a white shuttle with its robotic arm holding a dish in its grip & men dressed in spacesuits assemble a tower with metal plates covering about 7/8 of its surface, leaving the rest showing exposed wiring. Using special welding torches, the astronauts cover up the tower while the robot arm holds the dish in place for a man to attach.
So far, nothing out of the ordinary; just a bunch of astronauts on a daily basis.
"How did you receive this footage, Dr. Faulkner?", asked Lois.
"The camera aboard one of the probes captured everything as it happened, Miss Lane", said Kitty.
"Everything seems pretty routine", said Olsen. "Nothing's going wrong."
Faulkner turns to Olsen. "That's what it shows at first, Olsen. But keep watching—you'll see what Professor Hamilton means by 'something going terribly wrong'."
"And it's about to come up in just seconds", said Emil.
With Hamilton's words, all eyes were glued to the screen & they watched & waited with baited breath. Five seconds go by with no signs of trouble happening anyplace on the moon, even as the scene changes from frame to frame by multiple probes set up on the moon's surface.
Then it happened, & everybody's breath just seemed to escape their lungs on their own, leaving them frozen like statues, their eyes agape. That also went for Emil, Kitty, & their staff, despite seeing the footage once before.
As Perry would say, 'Great Ceaser's Ghost'!, Lois said to herself.
Janet walked down the hallway with a stack of papers tucked under her left arm, going in a hurried manner but did not run. She went past & ignored all those who went by, not even acknowledging their presence when they said 'hi' or anything else. Her face was like that of a Golem: stony & expressionless, despite how lovely she was, with her long brunette hair, red lips, blue eyes & thick black eyelashes that would turn any man's head. More than once, the men have thought of asking Janet out after work, but it was all they did; they knew full well that she was married to Tom Brankow, her chemistry partner-turned-husband, who tied the knot shortly after spending a year in the Chemistry Lab at S.T.A.R. Labs working together, with Tom the chemistry whiz & Janet as his loyal lab assistant. Being ever so faithful, the two clicked instantly & could not wait to be each other's spouse, & continued to do so as one of the best people to ever grace the Chemistry Lab.
And the Chemistry Lab was exactly where Janet was heading for.
Janet gets to the windowless door which only reads 'Chemistry Lab' in black letters & opens it, steps inside & closes it shut, silently locking the door. The room had metal cabinets of many different-colored formulas in glass flasks, test tubes, & other glass containers of numerous shapes & sizes placed at the walls & the middle of the room. Past it sat a man—Tom himself—at a table who turns around in his chair to spot Janet standing behind the rack of chemicals. Even with his view of her blocked off partially, he can tell it was her: there was no mistaking her form whatsoever, with her perfect curves that can easily win a beauty pageant or a 'Miss America' contest.
"Janet!", said Tom. "Do you have those documents I asked for, sweetheart!"
She said nothing, but went around the rack of chemicals to come into full view, her face the same as it was as she headed down with the bundle of papers still in hand.
"Good girl. Thank you, honey", he continues. "What would I do without you?"
He looks at her with a smile on his face, but that fades as he sees the expression on her own, & right away Tom can tell something doesn't seem, let alone feel, right.
"Janet, is everything all right? You seem unhappy about something. Care to tell me what it is, baby?"
Her answer to him comes with the papers at his face, as Janet violently throws them straight at him, with one or two causing a slight paper cut. The papers surprising hurt him as they fall to the floor scattered about.
"Ouch! Dammit, what was that for?", Tom snapped, clearly annoyed. "What's gotten into you today, Janet?"
She remained silent & her face's expression did not change in the slightest.
Tom scowled. "Nice going, Janet!", he said angrily, not bothering to hide his resentment, despite how much he adores his wife. "These papers were in just the right order, & you had to go & purposely mess them all up! Professor Hamilton & Dr. Faulkner are not going to be too happy about this! Dammit, they need them in the correct order, & now it's going to take me most of the day to get them re-organized!"
Tom gets down to the floor & starts picking up sheet after sheet of thrown paper, frustrated. He still cannot believe his wife would do something so callous & unscrupulous, whether at home or even on the job like this; being a stuffed shirt is not in her nature.
He can't worry about it now; getting the papers to Emil Hamilton was top priority right after he checks through each one personally, but because of Janet's minor temper tantrum, he'll need extra time just to get them in the right order. Once he's all done, however, he's going to have a chat with Janet in a conversation she'll never forget.
When Tom picks up his fourth or fifth page, Janet reaches down & grabs her husband by the neck with both hands in a firm grip & lifts him off the floor. Tom's air passage is cut off by her amazingly strong hands, fingers digging into his windpipe. Held in midair with his feet not touching the floor, Tom tries prying her hands loose as his face turns red then purple from lack of oxygen, but to no avail. Her hold on him was like a living vice, & his eyes started to bulge while his tongue hung out of his mouth & dripped drool.
Janet…why…?, Tom started to say to himself, but he never had a chance to finish his question, much less got an answer even if he spoke it aloud. With one twist, Janet snaps his neck by jerking his head back farther than possible in a noise like a branch being broken in two. Tom's body jerks & spasms for a second or two, then goes limp. She drops his body to the floor with a thump, & afterwards Janet gets a dizzy feeling in her head, like someone or something had just inhabited inside it. Closing her eyes, she shakes off the dizzy spell for a moment before regaining her senses.
What the hell just happened to me?, she wondered. One moment I was gathering papers for Tom to go over before bringing them to Emil, & the next I blacked out, like my mind wasn't my own. How long was I out for?
Opening her eyes, she finds herself in the Chemistry Lab, which is her destination, but she doesn't see Tom at the table.
She finds him on the floor right at her feet, & her eyes go wide in terror.
Going down on her knees, tears flow from her eyes as her beloved husband lays on the floor, completely motionless. His face was cold to the touch as Janet tries to comprehend what happened to the man she loved, totally unaware that she herself is the culprit for his demise.
"Tom", she sobs. "My darling. Who did this to you, baby?"
"That would be me!", said a voice behind her, sounding half-mechanized. Janet turns around to see who spoke, but her vision gets obscured immediately as a silver metal claw with inner teeth clasps around her head. She tries to scream, but something prevents her from doing so. Instead, she wriggles & squirms her body in an attempt to get free of the metal monster clasping her head, but all her efforts are in vain: it held Janet firm, just as much as when she held Tom in her own grip by whatever possessed her to. She concludes that this thing which has her now is the reason for her heinous act towards her husband, but couldn't see it in its entirety. All she can see is the metal & teeth that even now dig into her flesh & bone, & swirls of white started swimming around her vision. Pain like she's never known begin in her brain before spreading throughout the rest of her body. It felt like a raging fire within her that couldn't be extinguished, & the pain kept her from screaming for help, for it was the only thing on her mind right now.
"Soon, this Earth & everyone on it will fall before my might!", the voice says.
Janet couldn't make out what it said, as it sunded muffled to her due to the pain she's experiencing in the thing's grip. It wouldn't have mattered much to her anyway: with a sickening crunch, its metal claw closes shut, crushing Janet's head like a ripe melon, decorating the metal in red blood, brains, & bone.
Janet's lifeless/headless body falls to the floor, dropping right on top of Tom, staining both him & the floor beneath them with blood.
The thing chuckles lowly.
"Time now to get started!", it said.
On the lower screen, a display of utter malevolence had occurred: a squadron of astronauts were busily assembling a new satellite upon the moon's surface when out of nowhere a barrage of powerful red beams begin raining down on the site, killing personell & laying waste to the satellite & all the vehicles, including the shuttle that the astronauts arrived on the moon in. Metal debris got scattered everywhere amid clouds of dust, transforming a once peaceful sight into a war zone. The footage lasted several seconds before the screen turned to black & white fuzz again, leaving the three Daily Planet reporters & GUTS team members in a state of shock.
General Sawai was right!, Iruma thought. The station did get destroyed! Whatever it was, it's relentless! I guess this is the reason as to why the TPC & S.T.A.R. Labs wanted that satellite up as soon as possible! How tragic it is to have it destroyed before being completed!
Now I see why Perry sent us down here straight away, & why it was of the 'utmost import-ance', thought Clark, but I guess even he never would've realized it would be this bad, had he been told over the phone! I need to check this out, pronto—on my terms!
Daigo more or less thought the same thing as Clark, but kept them to himself. Instead, he shares one of them orally to Emil.
"Are you certain there were no survivors, Professor Hamilton?", he asks, even though what General Sawai told him the other day was no doubt true, but for Daigo, he prefer to hear it straight from the horse's mouth.
Emil turns around in his swivel chair along with Yazumi, facing Daigo & the rest with the grimmest look on his face.
"I'm afraid that is the case, Daigo", he says somberly. "After several attempts, we were convinced of it. In fact, from what we've seen, those poor men probably didn't even know what had hit them. Even though, we had to try."
"Now I see why Dr. Faulkner requested for us to come down here to S.T.A.R. Labs in Metropolis, professor!", said Munakata.
"Indeed I did, Munakata", said Kitty. "Believe me, I wouldn't have asked you down here all the way from Japan if it was anything less than this!"
"But what was it exactly that attacked the station?", Shinjoh asked. "An invisible ship of some kind? That's what it sure seemed like to me!"
"Whatever it was, Shinjoh, we've got a big problem on our hands", Iruma said firmly, "& we need to get to the bottom of this mystery before it can reach Earth! Our best bet is to get to the moon & try to find it!"
"Captain Iruma, what makes you sure that thing—whatever it is—is still at the moon, or in close proximity of it?", Lois asks.
"Anything that has traveled for miles through space, invisible or not, & destroys a base on our moon from out of the blue is most likely & liable to do the same to Earth. Our task is to either destroy it or drive it away."
"First we need to find it", Horii said, turning to Emil. "Professor, were you able to get a reading on that hostile craft?"
"Unfortunately, no", Emil said. "Whatever it was, its cloaking capabilities are far beyond anything we're currently equipped with. Even the radar systems over at the U.S. Armed Services are unable to locate this thing, & they've been trying ever since the incident."
"Then maybe we should take our GUTS Wings & do a scan around the moon", Rena suggests. "We may have to get in close enough to locate it, rather than trying to find the thing at a far distance."
"That may be too dangerous, Rena", Munakata says. "Without knowing exactly where it is, I fear we may blindly crash into it & lose our lives in the process. Don't forget—we'll be out in the vacuum of space. The tiniest hole anywhere, especially in the cockpit, & we'll be dead in a heartbeat. We can't risk that!"
"You're not suggesting that we just sit here & do nothing, are you?", asked Daigo.
"Of course he doesn't mean that, Daigo", Iruma said before Munakata could speak. "All he means is that we need to be smart if we want to find it."
Rena's suggeston gave Clark an idea. Maybe getting in close enough to the craft would be just what is needed in order to find out what destroyed the station on the moon, along with their new satellite. And Clark (as Superman) can use his x-ray vision precisely for that little chore. In the past, it's helped him locate objects which are well concealed from prying eyes or even the most advanced tracking systems in the world. With his special ability, he should be able to find their invisible enemy in no time.
First he needs to get away & out of sight, a problem Clark can solve quite easily.
He heads for the door when Jimmy Olsen spots him.
"Hey Clark, where are you off to?", he asks.
Clark turns his head. "I think I should head back to the Planet & give Perry what I've learned so far. I'm sure he'll be quite anxious to get these details as soon as possible."
"But we've only begun to get the scoop on this, Clark! Don't you think you should stick around for the rest before heading back to the chief?"
Clark smiles at Jimmy. "Don't worry, Jimmy. You & Lois can take over this round. I'll check back with you both once I give my half of the report."
Clark exits the room before anyone can talk him back. Be careful, Smallville, Lois Lane said to herself, knowing her super-husband will try to find the invisible craft on his own. Before anyone can get too suspicious in case Clark's word isn't good enough for the scientists and/or the GUTS team, Lois cleverly intervenes.
"Don't let it alarm you, folks", she says. "This sort of thing happens all the time with my husband. Once he sets his mind on something, it's downright impossible to tear him away from it."
Her words do the trick; everyone gets put at ease & forgets about Clark Kent's sudden departure in the middle of a story, especially when it's something of dire circumstance. They suspect it's more or less a reporter thing, but only Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, & Clark Kent would know about that: Emil Hamilton & Kitty Faulkner are scientists, & Iruma & her GUTS team are peacekeepers. What would they know about being a reporter?
Of all in the room, only Daigo remained suspicious of Mr. Kent, though he kept quiet of it. He may not have the know-how of the man's job, but he can sense strange behavior when he sees it, probably better than any of his fellow GUTS teammates. It made no sense to Daigo: why would any high-respected reporter just cut out in the middle of a story before getting all the details first?
That made Daigo more curious of Clark, like the unusual feeling he got from the man when they first locked eyes on one another only minutes before.
But first things first: he needs to break away from the group so that he can look into the current situation in time to stop it from getting worse than it is.
And not as Daigo, either.
His worls gets literally rocked when a nearby explosion shakes the whole building, the vibration felt by everyone & nearly knocking them off their feet. As they all struggle to retain their balance by grabbing something firm, a siren blares & a red light flashes repeatedly. The monitor they were watching goes pitch black & stays that way.
"What in the hell?", Munakata shouted to be heard over the alarm.
"What just hit us?", shouted Lois. "A bomb?"
"Whatever it was, Lois, it came from the Chemistry Lab!", Emil shouted. "We'd better get down there & see if anyone was caught in the blast!"
"Lead the way, Professor Hamilton!", Iruma shouts as she & the other members of her team draw their pistols. "We'll provide backup & protection!"
Emil nods. "Follow me—quickly!", he says. Hamilton shoots himself out of his chair as Dr. Faulkner & their staff trail behind, following immediately by the GUTS team with Iruma in front, & Lois & Jimmy at the rear, dead last. Like a living train, the group of scientists, peacekeepers, & reporters exit the room, turn left & run down the hallway, with Hamilton as the engine & Olsen as the caboose. Such a hurry they were in, no one notices Clark Kent peeking around the corner, for the explosion caught his attention as well.
It looks like finding that spacecraft will have to wait, Clark thought. A more dire emergency here needs my attention—or more precisely, Superman's attention!
Running to the nearest storage closet, Clark makes sure the coast is clear first before entering, not wanting any prying eyes on him. When he's positive he's alone, he heads inside & begins removing his glasses & opens up his shirt, revealing a red 'S' on his chest.
Clark Kent had done his job well, but now it was time for Superman to go to work.
In two minutes, Emil Hamilton & his band reach the Chemistry Lab.
Or what's left of it.
Even before reaching it, the place was filled with smoke that went into the hallway, forcing anyone in close proximity to cover their mouths to prevent inhaling whatever may be in the mist when the place blew. Rubble lay outside as well, blocking the farthermost hallway as the ceiling above it came crashing down, cordoning off the area. Fortunately, people are still able to escape the carnage by going in the direction Emil & the others had come from. The sirens cease blaring as Emil digs into his coat pocket with his regular right hand.
Stopping a few feet away from the lab's entrance, he pulls out a hand-held device that has a miniature Geiger-counter on top & two buttons below it—a red & green one.
"Just a moment, everyone", Emil says, holding the device out in front of him.
"What's the holdup, Professor?", asked Yazumi.
"I need to get a quick reading on the fumes coming from the lab. We shouldn't simply rush in, not knowing if they're really harmful to us or not."
The device's needle barely leaves its zero mark on the gauge, going up just a decibel or two.
After a couple seconds, one of the lights at the bottom flashes on.
It was the green light. Emil sighs in relief.
"It's okay", he says. "Nothing in the fumes will do us any harm. Now, let's check for survivors, if any."
Iruma nods. "Let us go in first, Professor", she said, facing her GUTS team. "All right, team! I want a quick sweep of the area! Any survivors, get them out of here on the double! If you see or find anything unusual, call on me or Munakata first! Got it?"
The team nodded.
"Good. Let's move!"
Pistols raised, the GUTS team storm into the lab, which looks like something out of a war movie. Several of the walls were blown away, revealing neighboring rooms & looking none the better. Furniture was scattered about, some whole, others in burnt & shredded remains. Similar to the hall outside, portions of the ceiling came crashing down & buried several unlucky folks underneath, killing them instantly. Bodies lay in multiple spots across the room; some are whole, while others are missing a limb or two, & one doesn't even have a head on its shoulders. A good portion of the bodies are burnt in places, no doubt caused by whatever resided in the chemicals themselves. The floor amazingly remained intact for the most part, although a hole three feet in diameter was created near the center of the room. Down below, only very little debris had fallen, & it looked as if those working below all made it out to safety.
As the GUTS team, Emil, Kitty, & the other scientists check for survivors, Jimmy snaps pictures with his camera, his face in a display of utter disgust.
"Boy, Lois, I've seen some grisly sights before as a news photographer, but this is one of the worst yet!", Jimmy said.
"I'll say, Jimmy", Lois said matter-of-factly. "No matter how many of these scenes I may discover, I never get used to them."
"You may be right about your bomb theory, Lois: the scientists here at S.T.A.R. Labs are too careful to cause an explosion by mishandling chemicals."
"So even you suspect this was arson?"
"I believe I must concur with young Olsen", said Emil. "The man in charge of the Chemistry Lab & his wife, Tom & Janet Brankow, are much too scrupulous with the chemicals to have an explosion take place. It's why they were put in charge here in the first place."
"So we do have an arsonist here somewhere!", Munakata said sternly.
"And he could still be within the area as we speak!", said Daigo. "We should go find him as soon as we can before he gets away with what he's done here!"
An inhuman chuckle abruptly echoes throughout the ruins of the lab & the adjoining rooms. The sound was half-mechanized, sounding like it was coming through a synthesizer system.
"How right you are, human!", it spoke. "The arsonist is still here in the vicinity, & I'll save you the trouble of finding him!"
The GUTS team search the rooms while pointing their weapons, trying to pinpoint where the voice was coming from.
"Who are you?", Shinjoh barked. "Show yourself!"
"Happy to oblige!"
The voice came within a few feet of Daigo as a figure suddenly materializes in front of the stunned soldier, capturing his attention & everyone else's. The figure was humanoid, standing seven feet tall in height. Half of it was organic, its flesh a golden-yellow hue, while the rest was bionic. Its face & front of its head (a v-shape) was all bionic, sporting a pair of maroon insect-like eyes & something which resembles a fighter pilot's oxygen mask underneath that covers its mouth, with a tube that connects to its chest in the center. The back was covered with a metal plate, but its chest was only partially covered, mostly on its left side. Its right arm was half bionic, being so only from the elbow to the hand. The 'hand' is actually three metal prongs that measure half the length of its arm. Its left arm, unlike the right one, was all mechanical, & this one ended in a giant crab/lobster-like claw with teeth inside, acting like a hand. Blood was smeared on the surface & inside where the teeth lay. Metal boots from the knees down covered its feet.
"Whoa!", Lois & Jimmy said simultaneously as the latter took pictures.
"Good heavens!", Emil said in a combo of fascination & shock.
The GUTS team were only impressed for a split second before instinct took them over. Daigo being the closest fired his weapon first at the monstrosity, but his shot reflected harmlessly off the thing's left claw-arm & hits the wall instead. Before Daigo can fire another round, the thing struck him with its claw in the chest with amazing speed. The hit sent Daigo sailing back to a wall & his gun gets knocked from his grip. Pressing its advantage, it raises its right arm at the fallen GUTS member, & a golden beam from between its trio of prongs shoots forth, heading straight for Daigo. The beam strikes where Daigo was a tenth of a second ago, resulting in a blast that obliterates another piece of the wall—and maybe even Daigo with it!
"Daigo!", Rena shouted, fearing her rival pilot is nothing but a memory.
"Forget about him, woman, & pay more attention to your own fate!", the creature said, aiming its right arm at her, ready to shoot.
"No you don't!", shouted Iruma, ramming herself into its arm & throwing its aim at Rena off before it can shoot again. The only downside to her plan is it left her wide open to harm herself, & with its left metal claw, the creature grabs Iruma by her chest, pinning her arms to the side. She fights to free herself, but it was like trying to get loose from a living vice, which is just what it behaved as.
"Captain!", Munakata shouted, aiming his weapon at the thing, as does the remaining GUTS members.
"Not so fast, humans!", it said. "Either you lower your weapons, or I'll crush this pathetic woman until she's a bloody mess on my claw!"
"It'll kill me anyway! Shoot it!", Iruma barked. She suddenly gets a deep pain in her chest as the creature puts some pressure on her before releasing it, making Iruma gasp for air.
"Silence, insect! Speak again like that & I'll torture you before you die!" It eyes the GUTS members. "Lower your weapons! I won't ask again!"
Reluctantly, Munakata & the others do as the thing tells it to, but the field leader stands defiant still, weaponless or not.
"Who or what in the hell are you, creature?", he growls.
"I am Mecha-Baltan", it says, "& I've come here to Earth to pick up some very special cargo which inhabits it, particularly in this city you humans call Metropolis."
"What kind of 'special cargo' are you referring to? I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific than that, Mecha-Baltan!", said Emil, standing in front of Kitty Faulkner in case the half-bionic alien attempts to do them harm.
"Simple—Emil Hamilton, is it? Yes, you should be well aware of what I mean, for you have rather 'close relations' with what—or rather who—I seek to find."
It puzzled Emil as to what Mecha-Baltan was speaking of. What kind of 'close relations' could he be talking about? And how can he refer to it as special cargo? The Earth doesn't have any such thing in which Hamilton can think of in his mind. Unless…
Then it hits him. With the few clues Mecha-Baltan leaves him, Emil Hamilton comes up with the indisputable conclusion of who the bionic alien has arrived on Earth to find.
"Superman", Emil says. "You're here for Superman, aren't you?"
"Ahh, I had the feeling you'd deduced it sooner or later, Professor", said Mecha-Baltan. "Yes. I'm here to collect the so-called 'Man of Steel' you humans sometimes call him!"
Good lord!, Lois thought. This thing traveled through space to abduct my husband? Whatever its reasons, it surely can't be for a good cause, especially since it's willing to kill to achieve its goal! Maybe I can try to pry the answer out of him!
"What do you want Superman for, alien?", Lois speaks firmly. "Why is he so important to you, anyway?"
"That, my dear, is not your concern!", Mecha-Baltan snapped. "What should concern you & your friends is how much longer I shall let you all live until my primary target gets here!"
"Ask & you shall receive, monster!", said a new voice, one that was new to the GUTS team & Mecha-Baltan, but more than familiar to Emil Hamilton, Kitty Faulkner, their staff, Jimmy Olsen, & last but definitely not least, Lois Lane herself.
Your timing is impeccable as always, Clark!, Lois says to herself, just as a blurry streak of red & blue whooshes past her & into the debris-strewn & strikes Mecha-Baltan in his robotic, inhuman face. Unprepared for the sudden attack, the cybernetic alien releases Iruma from his claw & gets slammed into a wall, dropping to his feet & temporarily out of action.
Gasping for air from the time she was held captive in Mecha-Baltan's grip, Iruma tries to get to her feet, but with difficulty. Luckily, the red-&-blue blur—now in plain focus—reaches down with his right hand & literally lifts Iruma off her feet, but gently. Like the other members of GUTS, Iruma stares wide-eyed at her savior, unable to move or speak under her own power. Their savior wore blue tights, red boots & cape, a yellow metal utility belt around his waist, & a red 'S' upon his chest in a yellow pentagonal shape. His hair was short & jet black with a stream of it hanging down above his eyes, also in an 'S' pattern of sort, & he had the bluest eyes they've ever seen on anyone, & his smile was genuine & warm.
"Are you all right, Captain Iruma?", her savior asked, but she still couldn't respond. She was frozen too much, awestruck by his appearance. Like everyone else, Iruma's heard so much about this man over the years, accomplishing feats like no other, but that was nothing as to actually seeing & meeting him in person.
Even though the GUTS team were paralyzed with astonishment, they could think as each of them had their own thoughts running through their heads.
Wow! It's really him!, thought Shinjoh. Just wait'll I tell Mayumi & even Shinichi about this! They're gonna go nuts!
Dad's never going to believe this, not in a million years!, thought Rena. Hell, even I don't believe this, & here he is—in the flesh!
Now that was a rescue!, thought Munakata. If only he was a member of GUTS…!
I gotta get his autograph!, thought Yazumi & Horii together.
Wait until my son Tomoki hears about who I met!, thought Iruma, finally getting the strength to speak orally.
"Superman!", she says, albeit weakly. Clearing her throat, she now speaks in a more firm manner. "Yes, I'll live, but that bionic alien killed one of our teammates, Daigo! He was…"
"Don't worry about him, Captain", Superman cut in. "I found Daigo lying on the floor, but he's alive. Out of commission for the time being, but he'll live as much as you will."
The news gave the GUTS team a sigh of relief.
"I would've gotten here sooner", Superman continues, "but I wanted to get the people here at S.T.A.R. out of the building & away from here, just in case."
"Glad to hear it, Superman, & it was sound advice", said Emil.
Superman looks at his long-time friend & nods with a smile, just before he turns to the bionic alien still on the floor, struggling to get up.
:If you folks would excuse me for a moment…", said the Man of Steel, approaching Mecha-Baltan, grabs him by the base of his tube at the chest & hauls him up above eye level.
"All right, wise guy", he firmly says, "you wanted me to appear, so here I am! But let's take this outside where no one else gets hurt & we can have some words, shall we?"
"Yes, Superman. Let's!", said Mecha-Baltan, raising his right arm to his enemy's chest & strikes with a blast of his yellow beam. This time, Superman was unprepared for the bionic alien's assault as it was vice-versa before. The strength of the blast throws Krypton's Last Son through a number of walls with sledgehammer force, which takes him out of the building & into the now-deserted parking lot, part of which the Man of Steel had a hand in, sans a couple of empty automobiles. Landing on the pavement, he creates a crater five feet deep.
That actually hurt!, Superman says to himself, soaring up & out of the crater. I'll have to stay clear of that from now on! Even under the yellow sun, another blast like that can really do me some damage!
At that moment, Mecha-Baltan flew out of the hole his enemy made when he shot him & landed twelve feet from the Man of Steel, both combatants ready for battle.
"Nice move, Mecha-Baltan! I really felt that!", said Superman. "But you won't catch me off-guard so easily next time!"
"On the contrary, Superman, I already have!", said Mecha-Baltan."Look behind you!"
Superman smirks. "If you think a childish trick is going to fool me, you've got another thing coming to…"
"I'd take his advice if I were you…fool!"
The voice from behind forced Superman to do what Mecha-Baltan suggested. Turning around, he finds two lone figures standing almost side-by-side. They both seemed to be male, considering the clothes they wore: the first had on a brown trenchcoat with shoes & a hat to match & a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. His companion was bearded, & had on a black leather jacket with matching shoes, pants, & his black hair was combed to the sides. He resembled a biker who was partnered up with a detective from days long past, a poor man's Humphrey Bogart & Dennis Hopper.
Superman had only a split second to comprehend this in his mind, & before he can tell these individuals to get to safety, he was clobbered by them both; the trenchcoat gives a mean left, while Mr. Easy Rider unloads with a right. The two blows stagger Superman as he gets hit in the face & flies backwards into the building, creating a fresh hole.
Okay, now I'm mad!, Superman says to himself, making his way out of his latest 'impression' & faces his twin assailants who dare to sucker-punch him.
"Let's try that again, shall we?", he growls.
"Gladly, Super-fool!", said trenchcoat, grabbing his garb by the lapels in the middle, & with one mighty yank, tears it all away from his person, including sunglasses & hat. Revealed underneath is a man in black pants & white T-shirt, though it's been torn at the chest, exposing bare skin. His eyes were brown, & his hair was golden, styled & cut short smoothly on top. At that same moment, the one in the black leather jacket had his outfit, hair, & beard all dissolve away from head to toe, revealing a being entirely in a metal hue of red & black. Its skull was devoid of any flesh, save for a patch of it on the upper-right-hand side, complete with a blue eye, ear, & a crop of black hair that reached the shoulder. Superman stared in shock when he saw the two individuals stripped away of their disguises: one was a man whose brain had been transplanted inside of a robot skull by a demented scientist, & the other is a being made compositely of energy, & has even impersonated the Man of Steel once in deception, resulting in the utter destruction of a Californian city.
Superman couldn't believe who they were, even as they stood in his presence, & yet here they are in all their hideous glory.
"Metallo! The Cyborg!", he said, saying their names like they were curses.
And to Superman, they practically are.
"In the flesh!", said Metallo, relatively speaking.
"I rather figured you'd know my two associates, Kryptonian, considering the history you share with both of them!", said Mecha-Baltan.
"All too well!", said Superman, only half-minding the alien, his focus fully on his two new & familiar foes. "Corben! Henshaw! What's your beef with Mecha-Baltan? Why go through all this trouble just to lure me out? I want answers—and I want them now!"
"Like we'd really tell you, Superman!", said Metallo.
"Yes, our lips—and his—are sealed, hero!", said The Cyborg, transforming his left arm into a cannon. "What we will tell you is to be prepared to dive into a world of hurt, courtesy of us!" The Cyborg aims his arm at the Man of Steel & fires a beam of blue-white energy.
"You'll have to hit me first, Henshaw!", Superman says, dodging the beam to one side as it hits nothing but stone. Krypton's Last Son then launches himself at Henshaw, dodging more rounds from his left cannon-arm. When he gets close enough, Superman wallops his enemy in his metal face with a powerful blow that sends Henshaw sprawling across the parking lot, knocking away cars & digging a crevice in the pavement. Metallo takes the initiative & swings a right fist at Superman, but the Man of Steel anticipated as much from him. Blocking his fist with his arm, he unleashes a barrage of punches at Corben, not giving the machine-man a chance to strike. Each of his punches sounds like thunder from above during a heavy rainstorm, shattering nearby glass windows & raining down to street level. Finally, Metallo gets some distance from his enemy by leaping a good twenty feet away.
"Why, Superman", Corben gloats, "after all the trouble Mecha-Baltan went through to reunite you with two of your best friends, this is the thanks you give in return? Show some courtesy! At least give one of us a hug or something!"
Metallo laughs maniacally as Superman angrily grits his teeth. "First of all, neither of you are friends of mine any more than your new partner, Mecha-Baltan, is!", he growls. "Secondly, instead of a hug, how about a kiss that'll put you in orbit?"
"Ha! I'd like to see you try it!", Metallo teases him, a wide grin on his face.
Have it your way, Corben!, Superman said to himself. Time to wipe that grin off your face, & believe me, this'll hurt you more tha it will me!
Fists clenched, Superman launches at Metallo & throws his right fist, but surprisingly, his enemy clasps his fist, staying his blow. He swings with his left, but the result is the same. Now they play a deadly game of forward tug-of-war, each pushing to gain the upper hand.
"I gotta admit, Metallo, you've gotten even stronger since our last tussle together!", said Superman, straining with his strength.
"You just can't confess that I, after all, am the real 'Man of Steel', even now!", Corben gloats.
"All you are—and ever will be—is a sad pretender to the throne, Corben!"
"But today, I'll sit on that very throne & wear the crown, for that title will belong to me after today!"
"In a pig's eye!"
"No, Superman—in my eye! Both of them!"
As Metallo spoke, both of his pupils turned from brown to green & began to glow. With that little transformation, Superman moaned as he felt like his muscles had been turned to putty & he seems like he's gained a hundred or more pounds in seconds. Unable to stand, he falls to his hands & knees, cursing himself for forgetting as to why Meallo is such a deadly foe to him, other than he can match him blow for blow: John Corben is the very first of Kal-El's many foes to expose him to the substance called kryptonite, glowing green rocks of what was once Superman's birthhome planet Krypton, the only force on Earth aside from magic that can kill him if exposed long enough to it.
Another reason as to why he's so dangerous is that his x-ray vision can't see into his body, giving him no indication or early warning whether he has kryptonite powering his being or not.
"What's wrong, contender? You look a little green around the gills!", said Metallo, laughing. "Not to worry—my friends & I have the perfect remedy for your condition!"
As Superman looks up, he gets a glimpse of Metallo planting an uppercut on his chin, & although it doesn't send him in orbit, it does knock him off his feet & back into another powerful force—into the arms of The Cyborg!
"Now, Henshaw!", said Mecha-Baltan, floating over to him. "While the kryptonite has him in a weakened state!"
"I've got him!", Henshaw assures him, morphing his malleable fingers into living tendrils & wraps them around Superman's arms & legs, constricting them. The Man of Steel struggles valiantly to get loose, but the Cyborg has him dead to rights, even if he wasn't already weakened by kryptonite.
"Give it up, Superman!", said Henshaw. "We're of equality, you & I! No matter how strong you are, you'll never triumph over me!"
"Don't count on it, Henshaw!", Superman says defiantly. "I'll find a way to take you down, along with your two 'friends' here!"
"And I'll kill you, Superman! That's all I've ever wanted to do to you since the day you turned me into a freak! That's all I've ever thought about for all this time since I've become this… this abomination which you've made me!"
"Not just yet, Henshaw", Mecha-Baltan says matter-of-factly. "Superman's death is only after my master plan is complete, & not before! I fully understand your personal feelings toward him, but it's vital to keep him alive—the success of my plan, our plan, depends on it!"
The Cyborg stares daggers at Mecha-Baltan. "How can you know how I feel? Superman had stolen everything from me—my humanity, my wife, everything! Give me one good reason why I should spare him now that he's in my clutches!"
Mecha-Baltan raises his left claw, pointing it at The Cyborg. "Because, Hank Henshaw, you owe me your cooperation after I freed you from the Phantom Zone the Kandorians held you prisoner in, & I can just as easily send you back to it!" The bionic alien turns to Metallo. "That goes for you too, John Corben! For the plan to be successful, Superman must stay alive—for now! Understand?"
The Cyborg & Metallo look at one another for a moment. They have the instinct that their new 'friend' Mecha-Baltan could very much make good on his threat. Henshaw did get released from his Phantom Zone prison after Superman defeated him from destroying the cities of Kandor & Metropolis, after a failed attempt to enlarge the bottled city & drop it on Superman's home. He wishes to stay out & away from it, & Mecha-Baltan has assisted him in doing just that.
He must do as he is told, or his freedom will be all for naught, & judging from the look on Metallo's face, he feels the same way, especially since Mecha-Baltan fitted him with a new metal body, one that's stronger than before, & with his skin repaired, he can mingle with the civilian populace undetected & not be found unless he wished to be. Add the kryptonite in his chest, & he's a new man in more ways than one.
Metallo owes his newfound friend for that, or face Henshaw's fate, something he has no intention of experiencing.
"Very well, Mecha-Baltan", The Cyborg says. "We will spare Superman's life as you wish."
For now!, thought The Cyborg. But once we're done, I'll make you regret of ever having heard of me, 'friend'! No one's going to deny me of my revenge on this accursed Krptonian after what he went & put me through!
"As long as Henshaw & I get to kill this meddler once the job—whatever it is—gets done, Mecha-Baltan!", said Metallo.
"He will be all yours, gentlemen, when the time comes—and it will, I assure you", says the bionic alien. "But now that we have him, it's time to head back to my ship to begin phase two. Metallo, keep Superman under wraps with your kryptonite until we're there!"
"Gladly!", says Corben, his eyes glowing green again. Superman, struggling for all this time to free himself from The Cyborg's clutch, feels a new wave of nausea as the kryptonite rays from Metallo's eyes rain down on him.
"Careful with the kryptonite, Corben!", said The Cyborg, feeling a little weak-kneed himself. "Don't forget: I'm just as susceptible to the substance as he is!"
"Relax, Henshaw! I know what I'm doing!", Metallo assures him.
Aside from the kryptonite showering over him, Superman fights to escape Henshaw's grip, but it was like trying to fight his way out of an exploding mine field. Still, he refuses to yield or give up, especially to these two.
"How persistent you are, Superman!", said Henshaw. "Even hit with kryptonite, you still believe you can triumph over us!"
"Just one of his idiotic traits, Henshaw!", said Corben. "This fool doesn't know when to throw in the towel!"
"It matters not, gentlemen", said Mecha-Baltan. "I've set my ship's computer to teleport us in two minutes. By then, us three & Superman will be aboard, & stage two will commence."
"You three aren't taking Superman anywhere!", shouted Iruma, showing up with the rest of her GUTS team (sans Daigo), pointing & firing their weapons before the terrible trio can acknowledge their sudden presence. Laser fire bombard the three cybernetic fiends, none of which hit the Man of Steel but come close.
From within S.T.A.R. Labs, Daigo lay on a bed in what appears to be a medical room. He wakes up with a slight dizziness in his head, but aside from it, he seems to be in top shape, though he is somewhat puzzled as to how he got to this room, with its other beds & tiled floor. Last thing he recalls is firing upon this half-bionic figure before seeing it shoot back at him, taking out a portion of the lab which got blown by it.
Now he's here in the building's medical room.
He doesn't have any time as to how he ended up in this room:he can hear the sound of laser fire right outside, signaling his teammates are in it deep again.
His right hand reaches into his uniform. When he pulls it out, he takes out his Spark Lens with it & holds it above his head.
Pressing a hidden button, the top opens up & shines a bright light that engulfs the room.
"Annoying, ignorant gnats!", The Cyborg barked, shooting beams from his eyes that head straight for the GUTS team. Iruma, Munakata, & the others had just enough time to scatter in all directions to avoid being struck by The Cyborg's version of Superman's heat vision. The door behind them wasn't so fortunate—it got disintegrated, along with a piece of the wall. Smoke filled the space as the GUTS team regroup for another assault. "Stupid fools!", Henshaw continued. "If even Superman himself cannot stop me, what chance do you pathetic humans have?"
"They're just as arrogant as their big, blue friend here, Henshaw!", said Metallo. "They'll soon share the same fate as him!"
"Forget about them for now, gentlemen", Mecha-Baltan insists. "They cannot prevent us from retreating with Superman, & it's now just a minute & a half until…ungh!"
Mecha-Baltan is suddenly struck in the chest by a beam of unknown origin & gets thrown into a plethora of empty cars, turning them into scrap metal. The Cyborg & Metallo try to pinpoint as to where the beam came from, but they, too were struck with the same powerful force that forces Henshaw to release Superman out of his unbreakable grip, sending both him & Corben sprawling head over heels into the rear of the lot, creating a new crater six or seven feet deep.
Superman struggles to get to his feet, when he suddenly gets assistance from a figure that stands about his own height, & has red, silver, & lavender coloring all over his body. Yellow thin stripes align his chest, shoulders, & upper back. A blue light on his chest shines in the middle, & his robot-like face sports a pair of oval-shaped eyes that shine.
Extending his hand, Superman gladly takes it & is helped up, like he had done to Iruma earlier, impressed by his strength.
"Ultraman Tiga!", Rena says, thrilled to see her hometown hero in Metropolis & standing face-to-face with who is arguably the greatest hero in this or any other time. The moment was enjoyed by the entire GUTS team & also by Lois Lane & Jimmy Olsen, both of whom are keeping safe from around the corner as the latter takes photos with his camera.
"You getting this, Jimmy?", Lois asks.
"Darn straight I am, Lois!", said Jimmy, snapping another shot of the historical meeting. "We got a front-pager for sure! Just wait until the chief gets a hold of this!"
Lois half-heard Jimmy's reply, being too distracted by the sight of her superhero husband & his mystery savior. Ultraman Tiga is a hero she never saw with her own eyes before, having only heard about from gossip at the Daily Planet, among a few other spots in Metropolis. But this is the first time she's actually seeing him for real, & in her hometown to boot.
Superman has the same feeling, staring a his savior & shaking his hand in gratitude.
"Ultraman Tiga, huh?",he says. "I sure do appreciate the save just now. I would've been whisked away to God-knows-where by those three if it weren't for you. Speaking of which…" Superman & Ultraman Tiga turn to where the aforementioned three were thrown when Tiga attacked then with his beam, two of which have risen: The Cyborg & Metallo, the latter of whom holds an abandoned car over his head.
"So! Superman's got himself a new friend, I see!", said The Cyborg. "This ought to make things more interesting!"
"Ultraman Tiga, huh?", says Metallo, his right arm & right side of his face devoid of any of his flesh, revealing the metal beneath. "Nice name! I'll be sure to put it on your tombstone when we send you to an early grave!"
Not if I send you & your two partners there first, Metallo!, thought Tiga. Metallo hurls the car right for the newcomer, but Tiga countermeasures his move by catching it in his own hands & hurls it right back to its original thrower. Although taken by surprise, Metallo jumps out of harm's way as the car hits only pavement, becoming a twisted wreck of metal & glass. His leap pitches him straight for Tiga with his foot extended, attempting to send it into & through his chest. Tiga dodges to one side at the last second, making Corben strike just pavement as the car had. A swift & powerful kick from Tiga's right leg knocks Metallo up & into a flip. The metal menace lands facedown on the pavement, his body making a literal impression.
While Tiga handles Metallo, Superman was free to handle The Cyborg & Mecha-Baltan, the latter of whom throws cars like they were toys. Henshaw readjusts his right arm into a cannon & fires at Superman, hoping to weaken him without the use of Metallo's kryptonite heart, as he is currently busy with Kal-El's new friend.
"Your blasts are powerful, Henshaw", Superman says, dodging each beam as he rushes towards his cybernetic enemy, "but you really need to improve your aim!"
"Hold still & it won't be a problem, Superman!", Henshaw snaps, firing frantically at the Man of Steel & having no better luck than before. Behind Kal-El, the GUTS team dodge the blasts that missed Superman & strike the S.T.A.R. Labs building, leaving smoking holes & turning the side into swiss cheese. No one knows how much more punishment the building can take, but they do know that a couple more of The Cyborg's blasts can no doubt cause it to come crumbling down into a heap of rubble. Even Superman knows this to be true, aside from his attention being diverted to Henshaw in front.
This he needs to end now before S.T.A.R. Labs becomes a casualty.
The Cyborg prepares to fire another blast from his cannon arm, but Superman deflects his shot by grabbing his arm & pushing it in another direction away from the building & GUTS team.
Its new course is straight for Mecha-Baltan!
It happens so fast that the bionic alien has no time to avoid Henshaw's deadly projectile; the cybernetic fiend cries out in pain as the blast hits him square in the chest, scorching flesh & metal, leaving a scarred patch. His shot re-directed, The Cyborg gets a wallop in the face by Superman & sends him flying right for Mecha-Baltan & crashes into him, followed by Metallo after getting a hard right foot to his own chest from Japan's hometown hero. The terrible trio rise to their feet, as both Henshaw & Corben ready themselves to attack anew, determined not to let the white hats be victorious.
"Nice maneuvers, Tiga!", said Metallo. "I was going to kill you quick, but now that selfish act only brings you a slow & torturous death!"
"Same with you, Superman!", The Cyborg cursed. "No matter how much you hurt me, I will always return, ready to drive you to the grave once you suffer unimaginably!"
"Do your worst, boys!", Superman spat as Ultraman Tiga stands beside him, as ready for more combat as he is.
Mecha-Baltan places what passes for hands on Henshaw's & Corben's shoulder. "While I loathe to deprive either of you of attempting to defeat your common foe & his companions, I'm afraid I must suggest a withdraw—for now."
"Are you saying we should retreat? From them?", The Cyborg protested. "They are nothing more than insects, & we can crush them as such!"
"That may be true, Henshaw", Mecha-Baltan informs him, "but none of us had counted on the intervention of Ultraman Tiga. His presence was totally unexpected, & we are unaware of the extent of his power. To stay & fight without that vital knowledge in our arsenal is to be inviting a swift & possibly permenant defeat, & that would be a foolish ploy on our behalf. Our only option at this moment is to retreat, as you've said."
They loathe to admit it, but Hank Henshaw & John Corben knew that Mecha-Baltan raise a rather valid point. While they can easily kill the GUTS team & even Superman himself (after long enough exposure to the kryptonite in Corben's chest), they are totally in the dark about Ultraman Tiga, what with The Cyborg being in the Phantom Zone & Metallo being in a similar state as a lone metal skull until the bionic alien rescued them both from their prisons. With no telling what Ultraman Tiga is capable of, they could be facing an inevitable defeat, & with their newfound freedom, it's an experience they'd prefer not to look forward to.
"What's wrong, fellas? Afraid of a fair fight?", Superman asks.
"This fight is far from over, Superman!", The Cyborg promises. "The next time we meet, you & your friends won't be so lucky!"
"And your newfound friends—including that fool Tiga—will share a horrible fate if they dare to interfere when next we do!", Metallo adds, turming to Mecha-Baltan. "Let's be scarce!"
The bionic alien checks a built-in timer on his left arm. "Teleportation will commence in 10 …9…8…7…"
"Forget it, fellas!", Munakata barked. "If any of you think you're going to just be whisked away after all the death & destruction you've caused…!"
"Actually, human…we do!", Mecha-Baltan says, when three cylinders of light appear & cover the terrible trio for a second before disappearing all at once faster than even Superman can stop their getaway. All the Man of Steel managed to swoop into was open air where his three foes had been a moment ago.
It was just as well; the blue light on Tiga's chest began to change to red & flashed with a blinking sound. Superman saw this & started to ask about it to his new friend, but Tiga didn't answer—not that he couldn't, but now wasn't the best of times to get into it. Instead, he & Superman stare at each other for a moment or two in the highest respect, having banded together against two of the worst villains Kal-El has ever faced, along with a brand-new foe who seems to be the mastermind behind it all from what he overheard. Ultraman Tiga then looked skyward & took off for it, disappearing in two seconds as he headed north. It was an impressive display of speed for the Man of Steel, as it almost rivaled his own & that of his fellow Justice Leaguer Wally West, better known as The Flash, a title once held by the late Barry Allen.
"Is everyone all right?", Lois Lane asks as she & Jimmy Olsen run up to the GUTS team—a bit bruised, but otherwise looking fine.
"I guess you can say we're just peachy, Miss Lane", said Shinjoh. "Aside from the few scrapes, that is."
"All things considered, Shinjoh, it could've been much worse", Rena said. "Right now, though, we should try to find Daigo, if he's even still in the building."
"Somebody call my name?"
The GUTS team, Lois & Jimmy, & Superman turn to see Daigo slightly stumble out into the parking lot to rejoin his teammates.
"Daigo!", they shouted, running up to him. Superman flew in closer & stopped five feet away, wanting to give the man his space after the ordeal he went through before.
"How are you feeling, Daigo?", asked Superman.
"A little woozy, but nothing I can't handle", Daigo answers. "So you were the one who sent me to medical, weren't you?"
The Man of Steel smirks. "Guilty as charged."
"I guess I owe you one." Something I was happy to do in return when those three had you at their mercy, Superman, Daigo thought.
"No need, Daigo. It's what I do", Superman says.
"Be that as it may, it's good to see you're still among us, even though Superman told the truth about getting you to safety", said Yazumi.
"Guess you wanted to see living proof, huh?", Daigo asked.
"More or less", said Iruma with a little smile.
"What happened to that half-bionic creature? Did you defeat him?"
"Unfortunately, no", said Munakata. "That thing—called Mecha-Baltan—teleported to safety, along with the villains called The Cyborg & Metallo."
"Hank Henshaw & John Corben?"
"The same", said Iruma. "You've heard of them, Daigo?"
"You'd be quite surprised of that, Captain!"
Again, Superman gets a strange feeling from Daigo like he did when he was Clark Kent earlier. He wonders how he could know of The Cyborg's identity of Hank Henshaw & Metallo's as John Corben. Then again, the latter's is pretty well known to the general populace, while very few know of the former's. How Daigo has obtained such knowledge makes Superman all the more curious of the man. And how is it that he shows up only seconds after Ultraman Tiga vanishes from sight?
As Jervis Tetch, a.k.a. The Mad Hatter would say, 'curiouser & couriouser', Superman thought.
"It still doesn't make any sense, this attack here at S.T.A.R. Labs!", said Horii, breaking Kal-El's current train of thought. "Why would they want to capture Superman instead of killing him? From what I know of Henshaw & Corben, they both have a real mad-on for him, & want nothing short of seeing him dead!"
"Horii, I think it's safe to say that the attack here was to draw Superman out into the open", Rena says. "That much is for certain."
"But still, why the sudden urge to capture the big guy rather than finish him off at first sight?", Jimmy asks. "It's perplexing!"
You bet it is, Jimmy, Superman thought. These are questions I intend to get answers for!
The Man of Steel turns to the spot where he last saw the terrible trio.
His eyes become a menacing scowl.
Superman decided to remain at S.T.A.R. Labs, even after the arrival of the fire & rescue crew, news reporters (aside from Lois & Jimmy), & Maggie Sawyer & her Special Crimes Unit. The GUTS team also stay behind to give the authorities the details of what had transcribed at the lab, as does Professor Emil Hamilton & Dr. Karen Lou 'Kitty' Faulkner, from learning about what happened to the Solar Satellite being constructed on the moon to the explosion that occurred in the Chemical Lab—a blast that killed a good number of people, including the husband & wife team of Tom & Janet Brankow, both of whom would've been on their first vacation to Hawaii only next month since they started working at S.T.A.R. Labs as rookies five years ago: only now, they'll be taking a permenant one—one which will have them buried over in the Bakerline borough, where they had been born & grew up at.
Lois, meanwhile, has asked Jimmy to head back to the Daily Planet & report to Perry White about the incident at the lab with his photos of the whole shebang—the blast's aftermath, the sudden appearance of Mecha-Baltan, The Cyborg, & Metallo, the battle between them & Superman, Ultraman Tiga's arrival & assistance to the Man of Steel, & so on. Camera in tow, Olsen hailed the closest taxi he could find & headed off for the Planet. Jimmy wondered if he'd run into Clark Kent over there, but neither Lois nor Superman as worried: with his super-speed, he could get over to the Planet in the blink of an eye, change into Kent, & present his half of the story to Perry without anyone being none the wiser. Or, if Jimmy doesn't see Clark there & arrives later, he can always say that he stayed behind in the crowd to get all the details of the attack at S.T.A.R. Labs as Lois & Jimmy themselves had.
Either way, his story was in the bag without his identity even coming close to being compromised.
Aboard Mecha-Baltan's ship, The Cyborg paces around in anger as Metallo stares in discomfort. The room they occupy was circular, with walls three times their height, & a ceiling that was just as smooth as its floor—a steel top & bottom that are as cold as its two current habitants. A circular podium hugging the wall rose three feet, which is accessible by four pairs of steel steps, each one parallel to the other. On most part of the sixty-foot round, cylinder room, computers of all shapes & sizes were embedded within the walls, each with a metallic chair that had no padding placed upon it: obviously, Mecha-Baltan—if he is the designer—didn't have organic beings in mind during its construction, even if he's half-organic himself. On one side up on the podium's level stood a cylindrical room bathed in light that was fifteen feet wide; it is the teleporter which had brought them up to the ship when making their withdrawl from Earth. But the most important piece of equipment in the room was that of a large, twelve-foot monitor placed in front of where Metallo was standing at presstime. Underneath the monitor lay a keyboard, buttons of various colors, & a large joystick. Henshaw & Corben doubted it was there for playing video games.
"Would you please quit pacing aound like that, Henshaw?", Metallo says. "You're making me nervous!"
The Cyborg, amazingly, does stop pacing & stands still facing Metallo, being only six feet away from his partner-in-crime.
"You? Nervous? I find that hard to believe, Corben!", said The Cyborg.
"Well, it does! Besides, this isn't like you to pace like a taxpayer deciding on how to return his dues on the deadline!"
"And why not? Doesn't it strike you as odd, Corben, as to how Mecha-Baltan suddenly arrives out of nowhere, frees us both from our prisons, & demands that we capture that infernal Superman rather than kill him outright? Something isn't right about all this!"
"Are you by chance suspicious of our new 'ally', Henshaw?"
"Aren't you, Corben?"
"You should be grateful to him, Henshaw! If not for Mecha-Baltan, you'd sill be in the Phantom Zone & I'd still be nothing more than a head in solitary confinement! Because of him, I've received a new body that's about as strong as the day I first did battle with Superman at the Commerce Bank in Metropolis all those years ago!"
"And I've gotten a new lease on life, yes! I do admit, I'm in his debt for that, but I still don't fully trust him, Corben! Something about Mecha-Baltan makes my circuits twitch—and that's a feeling I don't get often!"
"So what are you saying exactly? That we shouldn't associate with Mecha-Baltan at all, despite what he's done for us—setting us free, upgrading one of us better for a fight…"
"I'm saying we should watch him closely, Corben! Just because someone breaks us out of prison doesn't always mean his intentions are that of a saint! Remember—the Devil himself can act like an angel, if it gets him what he wants!"
"His attack at S.T.A.R. Labs isn't proof enough of his intentions, Henshaw? It's hardly any different than what you or I would do, especially to get Superman's attention, if not more!"
"Perhaps so. And speaking of that insufferable Superman, why in the outer regions of space would our new 'friend' want to capture the boy scout instead of destroying him like we would in a heartbeat? No mater how many times I've asked him, Mecha-Baltan has only told me that 'he would serve our purpose better alive than dead'! Don't you see, Corben? He won't even tell the two beings on Earth or anywhere else who loathe & abhor the Man of Steel more than anyone ever has what that purpose is! Is that cause to trust Mecha-Baltan any farther than we can throw him?"
"Henshaw, what you've relayed to me does make sense, I'll gladly grant you that. But we do owe it to Mecha-Baltan for what he's done for us so far. And he did say that he assures us that Superman will die by our hands when the time comes! After all, Henshaw, you & I are more similar in nature than you may think: we were both normal people before becoming the metal monstrosities we are now. What's more, neither of us asked to be, but were made into these against our own God-given free will. That gives us more than enough reason to hate Superman above anyone else who does!"
"While I concur with you there, Corben, there is a slight difference between us—you were goaded by Professor Emmett Vale into destroying Superman, believing he was an invader from Krypton who came to Earth to conquer us all. As for me, I lost my humanity & everything else because of that infernal Kryptonian! He callously abandoned me into the vast vacuum of space & left me for dead! When my wife Terri saw what I became, the shock drove her to her grave! Now, I mean to destroy the Man of Steel as he destroyed me! So, in comparison, I have more reason to see him dead than you do, Corben! No offense."
Metallo releases a slight scruff of a laugh. "None taken, Henshaw. But don't rule out Mecha-Baltan so soon. Who knows? His master plan—whatever that is—might be quite good for us, especially if it means bringing an end to Superman once & for all!"
"Maybe. But we should keep a watchful eye on him nevertheless, & not put our trust fully to a total stranger. You & I are smarter than that, Corben."
Before Metallo can comment any further, a portion of the wall not covered by machinery slides open horizontally & reveals the very being the two cybernetic companions were referring to.
"Enjoying your quality time together, gentlemen?", Mecha-Baltan says with a slight guffaw. He heads down the steps from the circular podium to meet The Cyborg & Metallo on their level, neither of whom share the alien's little joke. "My apologies for taking this long", he continues, tapping his clawed left hand to his chest, indicating as to where he was hit by Ultraman Tiga during their scuffle, now showing it fully repaired. "Ultraman Tiga's damage to my chest took longer to fix than I first realized."
"He's another thorn in my side I crave to be rid of as much as the Man of Steel himself!", Metallo says.
"But we need the information on that meddler before we can dispense our vengeance upon him!", said The Cyborg, raising his right fist in contempt. "Then afterwards, you can spill the beans on your 'master plan' which involves our most hated enemy, Mecha-Baltan! We've been in the dark about it long enough!"
"Your impatience is understandable, Henshaw", Mecha-Baltan says. "But you & Corben can rest assured that after our next attempt to capture Superman, all shall be revealed to you both in all details. Right now, as you mentioned, it's time to gather the information the three of us crave." Mecha-Baltan turns to his big twelve-inch monitor, pointing his right arm at it." Computer, display any & all information on the being known as Ultraman Tiga—origin, strengths, weaknesses, the works!"
"Running", said a mechanized voice as the monitor springs to life, rapidly displaying numerous articles faster than the eye can follow—even for those of The Cyborg & Metallo, which was a rarity for either individual.
In thirty seconds, the screen stays still & shows a picture of Ultraman Tiga.
"Data on Ultraman Tiga found", the computer said.
If Mecha-Baltan or The Cyborg had lips, they'd be grinning from ear to ear.
Emil Hamilton informs Superman that he, Kitty Faulkner, & their staff will continue searching for the invisible craft that destroyed the Solar Satellite project on the moon with their equipment, even if their technology is primitive to its standards. Yazumi, the youngest member of the GUTS team & their computer genius, mentions to Emil that he could be able to locate the craft by hooking up some of the technology available from the Citagon (the GUTS base in the Sea of Japan) to that of S.T.A.R. Labs, & that by combining both parties of high tech, finding the craft may be as easy as finding a lost contact lense.
Thrilled by the idea, Emil gives Yazumi all access to the still-working computers that were not affected by the blast in the building. GUTS will remain behind to accomplish the task, but not Lois Lane or even Superman himself. The Man of Steel tells Emil that ne needs to be off, but not before telling him to try out Yazumi's idea first, & that if it still doesn't accomplish its feat, their final resort would be to use his x-ray vision. It was something Superman was fixing to do anyway, but is more than willing to let S.T.A.R. Labs get another crack at it, with GUTS lending their firm assistance.
It was fine for Kal-El all the same, because like Lois herself, Superman needs to currently be elsewhere.
But not as Superman.
Gathering Lois in an alley, Superman literally sweeps her off her feet & takes her to the roof of the Daily Planet, their secret rendezvous, arriving their in under twenty seconds. Krypton's Last Son again switches into Clark Kent in a heartbeat, still wearing his blue tailored suit & black shoes he wore this morning.
Once he & Lois reached their workstations, Perry White called them to his office, where an anxious Jimmy Olsen was waiting along with the 'chief'.
"Looks like I beat you to the punch, Clark!", Jimmy said.
"So you did, Jimmy", Clark says with a smile. "But I had to stick around after that explosion occurred at S.T.A.R. Labs to hopefully find out what caused it."
"Were you successful in that, Kent?", Perry demanded.
"And how, Perry!"
"What Clark means", Lois steps in, "is we discovered that the explosion there was intentional—an alien arsonist blew up the Chemistry Lab there in order to lure Superman to him."
"Alien arsonist, Lois?", asked Perry.
"That's right. A half-bionic creature named Mecha-Baltan, & he wasn't alone: he was partnered by both The Cyborg & Metallo. For reasons unknown, they planned to take Superman to the creature's ship. If not for the being called Ultraman Tiga, they would've succeeded."
"Whoa, slow down a little bit, Lois!", Perry said, holding his hand out. "What kind of ship, & who the hell is Ultraman Tiga?"
This time it was Jimmy Olsen who filled Perry in. "When we spoke to Emil & his staff at S.T.A.R. Labs, we were shown footage of what happened to the Solar Satellite project, & it was revealed to be an invisible craft of some kind—possibly the same one that brought Mecha-Baltan here to Earth. As for who Ultraman Tiga is, well, let's just say that he's a superhero just like our own Man of Steel is!" Jimmy holds up his camera in front of him. "And I got some awesome pictures of the battle that took place there too, chief! It also includes the GUTS team from Japan, of whom were present there!"
The editor-in-chief thought hard for a minute. "GUTS, huh? I think I may have heard of them, Olsen. They're from Japan, you say?"
"That's right, chief. They're a band of peacekeepers & freedom fighters of sorts, & their employers—the Terrestrial Peacekeeping Commision, or TPC for short—helped to fund the Solar Satellite project along with S.T.A.R. Labs, so they came here to investigate what went wrong."
Perry nodded. "Good work, son! Head down to the developing room & get those pictures made pronto! While you're there, see if those City Hall photos are done yet! We'll get that story, along with the S.T.A.R. Labs fiasco, printed for tonight's evening edition! Lois, Kent, I want all the details of this morning's second top story ready & waiting for me by then!"
"Give us two or three hours, Perry, & it'll be ready for you, guaranteed!", said Clark.
"Then don't waste time talking to me, Kent! Get moving! Chop-chop!"
"We're gone, chief!", said Jimmy, exiting Perry's office with Lois & Clark close behind.
"And don't call me 'chief'!", Perry barked, but the door was already closed shut by the time he was halfway through his statement.
"You'd think he'd get used to that by now!", Jimmy said in a soft volume to Lois & Clark when he was certain they were out of earshot by their boss.
All the married couple could do was smile, flashing their teeth, fighting not to laugh out loud.
Working together, Lois & Clark finished their report on the S.T.A.R. Labs incident in two-&-a-half hours, keeping the promised deadline Clark had made to Perry before. Jimmy also had all the photos of both morning's incidents—City Hall and S.T.A.R. Labs—at around that time, presenting them to Perry White & placing them on his desk. When Perry became satisfied with their results, Lois tells the editor-in-chief that the three are headed back to S.T.A.R. Labs in case there were any new developments of them & the GUTS team in finding the ship that blew up the Solar Satellite on the moon, which everyone is dead certain belonged to Mecha-Baltan. Agreeing with Lois' suggestion, Perry urges the trio to head back over for more fresh tidbits.
First, after a rigorously exhausting morning & early to mid-afternoon, they so desperately needed a well-deserved bite to eat. The trio headed over to Hobb's Bay Grille by taxi (Lois' car was one of the unfortunate casualties during the battle with Mecha-Baltan & his two 'friends'), where Lois consumes a scrumptious & fresh salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, & olives topped with Italian dressing for extra flavor, & crisp, clean water to wash it down. Jimmy chows down on a well-done hamburger with bacon, lettuce, & tomato with ketchup for good measure, with juice on the side. As for Clark, he receives a plate of his favorite—two peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, along with a glass of milk, just like his mother Martha Kent used to serve him when he was a boy. For a quick dessert, they each had a piece of cherry pie with a dab of whipped cream on top.
Once Clark pays the bill, they headed off in another cab for their destination.
The sun had nearly set by the time Lois, Jimmy, & Clark arrived at S.T.A.R. Labs as the latter two headed inside when Clark abruptly excuses himself, saying he has another task he needs to get done, & that Lois can handle the chore of getting down any new developments in the invisible spaceship scenario on her own.
Reluctantly, Jimmy agrees, & he & Lois enter the building, minus Clark Kent.
Ironically, Clark does need to get those latest developments as much as Lois & Jimmy do, but he needs to do so as Superman, especially since it's he who's the main attraction in this whole thing—not just with the spaceship, but with its bionic alien pilot & his two 'partners', two of the deadliest enemies he's ever squared off against in the past. When he was certain no one was watching him, Clark used his super-speed to make the quick change from mild-mannered reporter to Earth's greatest champion—all in the wink of an eye.
Dressed for the occasion, Superman heads inside the S.T.A.R. Labs building through the door on the side.
Using his x-ray vision, he finds the GUTS team at a computer console with Yazumi typing on the keyboards in a room with several cubicles, & was for the most part unaffected by the blast in the morning hours. From the top floors, Superman can see repairmen already attending to the damage—spackling, supporting loose ceilings, etc.. Finding Lois & Jimmy, Superman sees them being led by Emil Hamilton & Kitty Faulkner to where Iruma & the others are.
Looks like the gang's all here again, Superman thought. Good. Time to rejoin them myself.
All eyes turned to him as the Man of Steel entered the room, his presence still awe-inspiring to all, especially for the GUTS team, having him in the same place he is & twice in the same day to boot.
"Hello everyone", he says. "Any luck since I've been gone?"
"You could say that, Superman", said Horii. "Like we told Miss Lane & Mr. Olsen here, the hook-up to our Citagon headquarters has been successful, although a slight repair job had to be attended to first, since the explosion messed up some of the wiring. But for the most part, we are hot, & even as we speak, General Sawai over in Japan has his top men using the now-advanced equipment to get a stronger surge of power to try & find that craft, just as Professor Hamilton & Dr. Faulkner's people are doing here. With the extra boost of energy, we should be able to locate it in no time, & we'll be notified immediately once they do."
"Sounds great, Horii. Let's all hope it's not too long before they do find it."
"We hear you on that, Superman", said Munakata. "Right now, however, we've asked Professor Hamilton to give us any & all information regarding The Cyborg & Metallo. As you can see, Yazumi's been searching for their files on the computer. We'll need it in case we have the misfortune of running into them again, which I'm quite positive we will. We hope you don't mind."
"Not at all, Munakata, & it's a very sound tactic. In fact, I was going to suggest the same thing, for I've no doubt you people will be meeting them again—both of them!"
"Got them!", Yazumi announced, causing everyone to gather around the young computer whiz.
"Are these the files on The Cyborg & Metallo, Yazumi?", asked Iruma.
"That's right, Captain", Yazumi confirms. The screen displays a photo each of the aforementioned culprits, with The Cyborg's picture on the left, & Metallo's on the right. Yazumi uses the mouse to move the cursor to Metallo's photo & clicks it, revealing a profile & more photos.
"First on the roster is Metallo", he begins. "Real name: John Corben. Even before he became a metal monstrosity, Corben began his criminal career as a petty thief in Gotham City, moving to Metropolis shortly after. One day, he was involved in a near-fatal car crash that would've killed him, if not for scientist Emmett Vale. From what the files say, Vale mistakenly believed Superman here to be the leader of an invasion force for Earth from his home planet Krypton which exploded many years ago. To try & put an end to him, Professor Vale had John Corben's brain transferred into a robotic body, powered by a piece of the alien rock Vale called kryptonite—pieces of Superman's homeworld which can unfortunately kill him if exposed to it for too long a time. That's one of the reasons why he's such a dangerous foe to our friend here. Another is that, after selling his soul to the demon Neron, he gained more power & the ability to merge with any mechanical device as an extension of his own robotic form. He also gained a kinship with the Brainiac 13 virus which transformed Metropolis into a true 'city of tomorrow', even growing to monster-sized proportions before reducing himself to a more human scale. One of the most recent discoveries about John Corben/Metallo is that he is believed to be the murderer of Thomas & Martha Wayne, the parents of Gotham City's playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately, there's no solid evidence in proving that."
Try telling Batman that, Yazumi, thought Superman, going back in his mind when he found evidence of John Corben's possible link to the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents when he was a boy. Even with no indefinite proof, Bruce won't stop until he finds out for sure that Corben did kill his parents, whether it exists or not.
"Is there anything else on Metallo that we should know about, Yazumi?", asked Munakata.
"Other than newspaper clippings & video footage of his clashes with Superman throughout the years, not much else, I'm afraid", said Yazumi.
Iruma nodded. "All right, Yazumi. Let's get on with The Cyborg's files, then."
"On it", he says, using the mouse pad to go back a ways, before finding The Cyborg's photo & clicking it. "Here we go—The Cyborg. Real name: Hank Henshaw. His story, for starters, is a mix of tragedy & horror: Hank Henshaw was an astronaut on a routine space flight aboard the shuttle Excalibur with his wife Terri & two other members. Unfortunately, the craft got hit by lethal cosmic radiation which killed Henshaw & his crew, his wife included. Little did anyone know that Henshaw's consciousness survived, & found refuge within computer circuitry. Unable to bear as to what he became, he downloaded himself into Superman's birthing matrix—the very same mini rocket that brought him here to Earth—and left our solar system, wandering space. According to Superman, Henshaw went to a planet called Peroton 5, where he met the disposed tyrant known as Mongul—forced to leave his home Warworld after Superman defeated him in his own gladiatorial games which he held there."
"Wait! I remember!", Horii spoke up. "Mongul was the one who came to Earth & obliterated Coast City in California, wasn't he?"
"Yes! I remember that, too!", said Rena. "It was shortly after the arrival of four Superman 'pretenders' that showed up when the world thought the real one died battling the creature called Doomsday! Henshaw was one of them, being a cybernetic impostor! He was the real mastermind behind Coast City's destruction!"
"You got that right, Rena!", said Lois. "Henshaw fooled the world in thinking he was the real Superman come back to life—the President of the United States, S.T.A.R. Labs, the public, even I fell for his deception! But his real goal was to turn Earth into a new Warworld, building an Engine City out of Coast City's remains! Metropolis would've been next, were it not for the one called Superboy, the youngest of the four pretenders! Thanks to The Eradicator, Steel, & Superman himself, Mongul & The Cyborg were defeated, & Earth was spared a grisly fate—had those two rogues succeeded in turning the planet into a new Warworld, all life on Earth would cease to exist!"
"And Earth wasn't the only place I've dealt with The Cyborg!", Superman says. "Although I shattered his body after his defeat in Engine City, he reappeared on the slave planet known as Apokolips, ruled by the tyrant Darkseid. He tried to make that place into a new Warworld after his failure here on Earth. We also clashed on a world where a group of aliens called the Tribunals had me put on trial for a crime I've never committed—the destruction of my homeworld Krypton. Not long after that, I battled The Cyborg in the city of Kandor, a miniature city I keep in my Fortress of Solitude. Henshaw wanted to enlarge it over Metropolis, destroying them both. Luckily, I was there to prevent that, & finally he was thrown into the Phantom Zone—an interdimensional prison for super-criminals. That's where he's been all this time since, & only I & a few trusted individuals have the key to letting him out."
"Meaning that, once you're thrown into this 'Phantom Zone', there's no way you can get out of it?", asked Daigo.
"Exactly, Daigo, unless my associates & I say otherwise. As for how he escaped, I can only guess that Mecha-Baltan had a hand in that. I suspect he also arranged Metallo's release from right under all our noses, same as what he did for Henshaw."
"And neither of them can be defeated indefinitely, from what we've learned here?", asked Shinjoh.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that, Shinjoh. Metallo has one crucial weakness—separate his head from his body, & he's as helpless as a baby."
"Is that all? Can we do the same for The Cyborg?", asked Munakata, sounding hopeful.
Superman shook his head, causing Munakata's hopes to plummet. "Not a chance. What you may not know about Henshaw is that when he downloaded himself into my birthing matrix, he acquired my Kryptonian DNA, making him just as invulnerable as I myself am. However, since he does possess Kryptonian genes, Henshaw is susceptible to kryptonite like I am, & you people may be able to use that against him."
Emil thought about that for a moment before answering. "I believe we may have special weaponry enabling you to deal with The Cyborg, Captain Iruma. We got them stashed in a vault in our sub-levels, just in case Henshaw ever became a dire threat on Earth again. We would've used them on him sooner during this morning's brawl, but his appearance caught us all by surprise, giving us no time."
"It's no one's fault, Professor", Iruma said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "How many of these weapons are currently in your possession?"
"So far, we've been able to construct eight, but…"
"We'll take them all, Professor. Thank you."
Emil was about to say more, but he can see Iruma's choice was final. So he nods. "I'll have Dr. Faulkner retrieve them for you & your GUTS team, & she can show you all their functions."
"That will be a great asset, Professor. Again, thank you very much."
"Don't mention it, Captain."
"Then it's off for a little target practice, & then comes the waiting game", Munakata says.
"More or less", Iruma says. "After testing out our new toys, we should head on back to our rooms at the Grand Hotel to rest up. We're all pretty ragged enough as it is, & we'll need to be in top physical shape when we make our move. "Iruma faces Kitty Faulkner. "If you would be so kind as to…"
"Say no more, Captain", Kitty said. "Follow me, everyone."
"One more thing", Iruma said, halting everyone in their tracks as she approaches the Man of Steel. "Superman, due to your unwavering bravery in the face of immediate danger, I, Captain Iruma of the GUTS team, would like to make you an honorary member!"
"Does that mean you're deputizing me, Captain?", he asks,smirking.
"It does! Welcome to the team, Superman!", she says with a smile, followed by the rest.
Superman does the same, shaking Iruma's hand. "Thanks, Captain. As always, I'll give it my all to put an end to the combined threat of The Cyborg, Metallo, & Mecha-Baltan!"
"I expected no less from you!", she concludes, turning to Faulkner, who nods & resumes to lead the GUTS team & even Jimmy Olsen to the sub-level area of the building, leaving Lois & Superman alone briefly.
"You always did get into the best clubs, Smallville", Lois jokes.
"Just another one of my traits, Lois", Superman jokes back.
Lois approaches Superman & wraps her arms around his neck, planting her lips on his own. He knew she was right: he does get into a lot of fine organizations, with S.T.A.R. Labs being only one of them. His greatest induction, however, is becoming a member of the famed Justice League of America, a gathering of the Earth's greatest super-heroes that include Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Batman, The Flash, & Martian Manhunter, the man from Mars who founded the league to begin with in order to combat threats to Earth which were too big for one single hero to deal with. After the attack this morning, Superman had briefly considered calling in reinforcements from the league, since he was dealing with two foes who are deemed indestructible for the most part & teamed up with an alien Kal-El has never encountered before, knowing basically nothing about it, other than the facts that he's a malevolent entity from another world, & that he will not hesitate to kill if it suits his own ends—something he shares with both The Cyborg & Metallo.
But while some super-powered assistance would be essential, Superman does have the utmost faith in Captain Iruma & her GUTS squadron, seeing how brave the team acted during this morning's scuffle, even against rogues like Henshaw & Corben. In that perspective, Superman will have only them by his side in dealing with the terrible trio. It also means having the one called Ultraman Tiga by his side, of whom he feels he will run into again before too long.
In fact, he might be able to see him sooner than he thinks.
For now, it will be just him, GUTS, & Tiga on this mission. If some Justice League assistance is required, that's when he'll step in & ask.
"See you later, Smallville", Lois says, pulling gently away from her super-husband. "I'm gonna check out those new toys S.T.A.R. Labs has for the GUTS team with Jimmy!"
"I thought you would, but you'd better hurry", Superman says, jerking his thumb. "The others have a pretty good head start on you."
"I'll catch up. It's me!"
Lois exits the room in a flash, racing to join Jimmy & the rest before they leave her behind.
Kal-El shakes his smiling head. You're quite the woman, Lois, he thought. Is it any wonder why I married you in the first place?
Kitty Faulkner's demonstration of their new weapons didn't take too long at all, extending onto a period of about fifteen to twenty minutes, tops. The GUTS team took to them like fish to water, being the fast learners that they are. When their weapons training was complete, Iruma addresses the team to return to the Grand Hotel to get their much-needed recouperation, but not before instructing to & Professor Hamilton to get in touch with her the moment they receive any information on the invisible ship, whether it's found by S.T.A.R. Labs or the Citagon in Japan. Iruma's one problem was getting in touch with Superman himself, but Jimmy Olsen solves it quickly by letting her in on the signal watch he wears on his wrist—a watch which sends out a hypersonic transmitter he has made that only Superman himself can hear, much in the same manner that only dogs can hear a dog whistle. Intrigued & impressed by Olsen's know-how of electronics, Iruma asks for Jimmy's home phone number to give him a ring & contact Superman once she gets confirmation on the ship's location which she prays is very soon.
Getting to their assigned rooms at the Grand Hotel, the GUTS team all change into more formal wear in fine tailored clothing & stylish dresses to mingle better with the civilians in the building & not arouse too much suspicion. They head down to the hotel's finest restaurant & enjoy its many delicatessens it had to offer. Iruma, Munakata, & company find it hard to believe that only this morning a terrible battle took place at S.T.A.R. Labs which left many people dead, caused by an alien who wanted to subjugate Superman with assistance from two of his worst enemies, & now they're enjoying fine meals & sharing a laugh or two with one another. Part of them felt a pinch of guilt over it, but it went away, because anyone who knew them like General Sawai for example would tell them it was far from their fault, & shouldn't allow it to weigh heavy on their conscience much.
As Superman learned this morning, you can't help everyone everytime—even if you're the most powerful man in the world.
Instead, the GUTS team offered a toast to those who died during the battle—it was the least any of them can do.
Having filled their stomachs with food that turned out to be quite scrumptious, the GUTS squadron headed to their rooms & switched into their sleepwear. They all need to be as refreshed as possible & able to leap up & out of bed at the first sign of the ship being discovered, a possibility that can happen at any given time, whether it be in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn.
Everyone was having a peaceful sleep except Daigo. No matter how hard he tries, he simply cannot fall asleep as the other GUTS members have. His mind had a lot of things running through it. For one thing, the ace reporter named Clark Kent gave him a most peculiar feeling when their eyes locked onto one another during their introduction at S.T.A.R. Labs. Why was that? What is it about Mr. Kent that makes Daigo feel that way? Is it one of his personalities/traits? Daigo has heard of Kent from the Japanese-language version of the Daily Planet as much as he's heard about his wife Lois Lane, but he still can't understand why he got that feeling when they met in the flesh this morning.
After all, he's just a regular guy with quite the day job like anyone else.
If that wasn't enough as to why he can't sleep, Daigo now hears a tapping at his window, & getting on his nerves with each passing second.
Probably just a dumb bird, Daigo thought, throwing the covers off his bed & getting to his feet, dressed in blue sleepwear. Annoyed, he pushes the blinds aside with one of his slippers in his hand, ready to open the window & swat the possible bird with it for disturbing his rest more than it already is.
Daigo froze like a statue when he opened the blinds, because what he saw right outside his room window wasn't a bird tapping on it.
It was Superman!
The Man of Steel hovered right outside in all his red & blue glory, wearing a smile across his face. Dropping his slipper, Daigo opens the window.
"Superman!", he says excitedly but softly.
"Evening, Daigo", Superman says, extending his hand. "Got some time to spare?"
Daigo couldn't believe his ears. What would the world-famous Superman possibly want with me?, Daigo thought, a little nervous as opposed to being excited.
"Give me a minute or two to change", he said, after a moment of mental lockjaw.
Superman just nodded.
Daigo dressed in regular civilian clothing—a pair of black dress pants, shoes, & white dress shirt—before Superman took him from the windowsill & took him up onto the hotel's rooftop, wanting as much privacy as possible. What he needs to talk to Daigo about is for their ears only.
"First, let me apologize for requesting to talk at this late hour", Superman says. "I know it's just after midnight, but…"
"That's all right, Superman", Daigo said. "I couldn't sleep a wink anyway. So, what's on your mind?"
"I'd like to start by giving you my thanks for rescuing me from the clutches of the terrible trio we faced today. Were it not for you, I'd be at their mercy to whatever horrible fate Mecha-Baltan has in store for me right now."
Daigo feigns ignorance by putting a perplexing look on his face. "What do you mean, Superman? From what I understand, it was Ultraman Tiga who saved you from their clutches, not me."
Superman put his hands up to his chest. "You don't have to pretend anymore, Daigo. Trust me—I know that you're Ultraman Tiga."
This news gave Daigo a tingling feel throughout his body, feeling like he overdosed on novocaine & leaving his body numb. He knew the jig was up, & no amount of ignorance could disguise the truth.
"I guess the cat's out of the bag, huh?", he says, sounding defeated. "Let me guess—you used your x-ray vision to see it was me, right?"
Superman smiled. "I didn't need to, Daigo. I deduced your identity when you 'suddenly' appeared only moments after Tiga left."
Daigo was impressed, his facial expression saying it all. "Wow! I see there's much more to you than just your brute strength!"
"You'd be surprised as to how many of my enemies believe that of me. They believe I only think with my fists & muscles, & underestimate my intelligence."
"I suppose that's why they always lose to you, huh?"
Not all of them, Daigo, Superman said to himself. With some of my enemies, brute strength is really all they need to get the better of me. Foes like Bizarro, Massacre, Mongul, Darkseid, The Cyborg, & Doomsday are all examples of that.
He shakes the thought out of his head & brings up a new topic. "So tell me—how did you manage to harness the power of Ultraman Tiga, anyway?"
"Well, for starters", Daigo explains, "we obtained a meteorite of some kind at Mt. Tiga, which was actually a capsule that's been buried for thirty million years when an ancient civilization lived in peace & harmony until the day it was besieged by giant monsters. The Earth seemed doomed to extinction, but from the stars came the Ultramen, giant warriors charged with protecting Earth when the need arised. The monsters were all eventually defeated, & the Ultramen were turned to stone statues & remained that way for all that time. When we activated the capsule, it showed the projection of a woman named Yazure, & her message—more like a warning—was that the monsters who attacked Earth long ago have returned. The first two were a dinosaur-like creature named Golza, who came out of Mongolia, & Melba, a winged reptile that erupted out of Easter Island. They were both on a course to what Yazure called the land of Tiga, where we found the capsule. She revealed to us that only the power of Ultraman Tiga can defeat them, & needed to be awakened. Arriving in our GUTS Wings, we found an ancient pyramid & the stone statue forms of Tiga & two other Ultramen residing inside. When Golza & Melba arrived, they destroyed two of the Ultramen, but I managed to revive the third one just in time. Using the awesome power of Ultraman in my possession, I was able to defeat Melba & drive off Golza, the latter of whom managed to escape. Since then, as Tiga, I went up against multiple enemies both from on the Earth & off it, ranging from monsters who can turn anything to stone to aliens from space who shrink humans down to size & bring them back to their world to be used as slaves."
"That's some story, Daigo", Superman said, totally intrigued. "I never knew there was an advanced civilization like that thirty million years ago here on Earth."
"You're not alone, Superman. For the most part, history says that the human race existed for only about five million years, tops. No doubt the survivors of that period in time—if there were any to begin with—kept what happened a guarded secret, & for good reason."
"Who could blame them? Power such as what Tiga & the other Ultramen possessed would undoubtedly be disastrous if it ever fell into the wrong hands. And on that note, how come it was you that came into possession of it?"
"That's a question I'm still trying to find the answer to. But if I were to give a false statement, I'd say that I felt drawn, or rather compelled, to harness Tiga's power, almost like I was destined to. Sounds silly, right?"
Superman places a hand on Daigo's shoulder. "Not at all, Daigo. In fact, from what I learned on the internet a few hours ago of your alter-ego, I don't think there's anyone better to be in possession of that power than you."
A toothy grin was plastered on Daigo's face. "Thanks, Superman. Coming from you, that means everything! In any case, I'm pretty much glad to have the power of Ultraman Tiga, no matter what the reason may be."
"Well, to put it bluntly, it gives me the chance to be just like you."
Superman's eyebrows rise. "Like me?"
"That's right!", an excited Daigo says, looking the Man of Steel square in the eye. "Ever since I was a kid when I first discovered you, I always admired you & everything you stood for, including what you refer to as 'Truth, Justice, & the American Way'! Whenever I came home from school, I would put a red towel on my back & pretended I was you—pretending to fly, catching the bad guys, able to bend solid steel in your own two hands, traveling faster than the speed of light, having bullets bounce off your chest like they were ping-pong balls, all that stuff you can do & more made me wish I could do it myself! How thrilling that must be for you, Superman!"
Kal-El didn't know what to say about this. Next to 'Bibbo' Bibbowski, the former heavyweight champion boxer who owns the Ace O' Clubs tavern in Suicide Slum, Daigo seems to be the biggest fan he has. That also goes for Jerry Seinfeld, the stand-up comedian whose self-titled sitcom about nothing made a lot of waves on television in the 1990s. Such a huge fan Seinfeld is of him, Superman even stopped by the studio once where his show was being taped at & gave him an autographed photo of himself & thanked him for bringing him up occasionally in episodes of his sitcom.
With Daigo, Superman didn't expect to have a fan of his to be someone who is a super hero himself, much less from one who resided half a world away with the power to totally obliterate a giant monster/alien with ease.
"I gotta admit, I'm…quite flattered", was all Superman can say at the moment.
"You should be!", said Daigo. "You're the ideal hero of this day & age, the true definition of the word! Even other super heroes look up to you! And now, with the power of Tiga in my grip, I can finally live up to my dream & be as you are!"
Part of what Daigo said is true: a good portion of the heroes on Earth do look up to Superman as the heroic entity he is. The ideals he possesses such as doing what is necessary to right wrongs & save lives no matter what the personal risks are get soaked up by countless others. John Henry Irons is one of them: while working as a construction worker, he fell off one of the top girders & plummeted to what would've been his death if not for Superman. That save changed the man's life forever; after Superman allegedly died, Irons forged himself a suit of high-tech armor & went by the name of Steel. One of his first tasks was to rid his neighborhood (& all Metropolis) of the BG-60 assault rifles which Irons dubbed 'The Toastmasters'—weapons he had created himself. Since the time he partnered up with Supergirl, Superboy, & The Eradicator to abolish The Cyborg & Mongul from turning Earth into a new Warworld, Superman & Steel have been the best of friends, even as Irons passed his Steel persona & armor to his younger niece, Natasha.
"Daigo, if you'll come with me, I'd like to show you something", Superman says.
"Where to?", asks Daigo.
Silently, the Man of Steel quickly but gently scooped up the GUTS member in his arms & flew off into the sky, heading north. While airborne, Daigo gets a spectacular view of the literally entitled 'City of Tomorrow'. Even with the wind in his face, he can see all the views from his vantage point—Queensland Park, Bakerline, Park Ridge, & even a fraction of both 's Island & Hell's Gate, despite the distance. For Daigo, seeing & being in Metropolis was like being on another world, due to its futuristic look. Even its size was a wonder to behold—for a city residing on an island, it was massive, rivaling even that of Tokyo in square miles. Along the way, Superman asked Daigo what the business was with the flashing light on his chest whenever he became Ultraman Tiga, & why it turns from blue to red. Daigo explains that, because of the Ultramen's alien biology being incompatible with the atmosphere of Earth, he can only remain as Tiga for a very limited time. He also tells Superman that if the red light should ever stop blinking, both he & Tiga will expire. The last piece of info he shares with Krypton's Last Son is that Tiga draws his power from light particles, since he's a being of light to begin with.
In five minutes, Superman takes Daigo to his destination: Centennial Park. The area was blessedly empty, with hardly anyone in the immediate vicinity, sans a few people on the other side. It suited Kal-El perfectly; like on the hotel roof, he wanted the privacy. He descends to the concrete walk where a statue made entirely of bronze stood proud with its left arm extended & had a bald eagle statue perched on it, its wings spread out. The statue was that of Superman himself, & it rested on a cement block 10-12 feet tall. On the top of the block layed an urn that had a small fire burning inside of it, illuminating the two figures.
"Here we are, Daigo", said Superman.
"Wow!", said the GUTS member, staring in awe at the statue. "I remember this—this was placed here by Lex Luthor II when the world thought you died battling the monster the press called Doomsday!"
"Very good. You're right—this statue previously acted as my tomb after my fatal bout with the creature."
"I'll never forget that day, Superman. I was in high school when I heard about your death; after I returned home, my parents told me about what happened to you, & I cried my eyes out like a baby. I was so torn by the news, I couldn't go back to school for almost a month, ignoring my friends & family, isolating myself in my room—I nearly gave up on life right then & there."
Whoa!, Superman thought, hearing Daigo's tale. I thought Lois had a hard time coping with life after I died! Then again, my death did hit a lot of people hard, & not just in Metropolis! From what Daigo just told me, his sorrow almost makes Lois' look like a day at the beach!
"What stopped you from doing that?", he asked.
The GUTS member turned to him. "I silently & mentally prayed that you would one day come back to us, faint as that hope was at the time. I got more than I bargained for when I heard of the quartet of 'pretenders' that showed up shortly after. But when Miss Lane announced that you actually did come back to life, that's when I felt like I could face the world again. Your resuscitation was the main reason why I went & joined GUTS in the first place to do good & become a hero, but I never would've guessed I would be a superhero! Ironic, huh?"
"Life can be like that sometimes, Daigo", Superman said. "Do you want to know the real reason as to why this statue was placed here?"
"The 'real' reason?"
"Yes. It was to commemorate my exceptional bravery in the face of unrelenting danger. Yes, I have these phenomenal powers & abilities like you do as Ultraman Tiga, but that's not what makes a person a hero, Daigo. It's what you do with them that counts. I've gone up against a number of beings that had even more power than I possess, but unlike me, they used them for their own personal, misguided deeds—sometimes for murder, mayhem, or both. Even if I didn't have these powers, I'd do whatever it took to get the job done. Take Gotham City's Batman, for instance—he's just an regular guy with not even a pinch of superpowers to call his own. But he does have a mind & body that's honed to the pinnacle of human achievement—in addition to having mastered all fighting skills known to man, his mind is like a steel trap. He uses his keen intellect & intuition to solve crimes & stop the bad guys from getting away with their misdeeds. You can also say the same for his young protégés—Robin, Batgirl, & Nightwing."
"So to make a long story short, 'Super-powers do not a hero make', am I right?", Daigo asks.
The Man of Steel gently pats him on the back. "See? That's the work of a steel trap-mind! Now you get it, Daigo. To quote Sean Connery, 'Year End of the Lesson'."
"James Bond himself?"
"The same. Come on—I'll take you back to your hotel room. I'm sure you'll need your rest when we make our move against that ship."
Daigo nodded, & Superman again took the man in his arms before taking off skyward. Even if this is the first time he's met him, Kal-El feels a strong kinship with the GUTS member about as much as he does with John Henry Irons, or maybe even his cousin Kara Zor-El, better known as Supergirl.
Despite it being past midnight, Daigo will now be able to get a good night's sleep after all.
And a lesson he can never reveal to anyone.
It was at the crack of dawn when Iruma, her GUTS team, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, & Superman himself were all dressed & heading out. Sans Kal-El, they were dressed & ready to go in five minutes (wheras the Man of Steel took only the blink of an eye to be ready). He was contacted by Jimmy's signal watch right after Captain Iruma gave him the word to get in touch with his 'pal'. It was the moment they all waited for. Snatching only a bite to eat on the go (a bagel, donut, etc.) for breakfast, the GUTS team & company were on their way to Metropolis Airport in the GUTS Runner & Thruster, which were transported to the city by cargo plane from Japan. Daigo was at the wheel of the Runner, with Superman riding shotgun in the passenger seat & Lois & Jimmy in the back. Munakata drove the Thruster with Iruma up front & Shinjoh, Horii, Yazumi, & Rena all in the back. With Daigo taking lead, the two vehicles reach the airport in fifteen minutes, & by that time, the sun was fully visible in the dawn sky, reaching just above the horizon, albeit a tad hazy.
Everyone was fully rested & alert for their task, including Daigo, in spite of his secret rendezvous with Superman to Centennial Park.
"So they actually found the invisible craft finally?", asked Lois, speaking into a mini headset given to everyone by Iruma.
"Shortly before the sun came up, Miss Lane", said Horii. "Professor Hamilton says he & his staff only saw the outline of it for a couple of moments, but it was more than enough to get a reading on it. And as the Captain suspected, it's still in close proximity of the moon—about 95 to 100 dekameters from its surface. And it's huge!"
This is one of those times I wished I was wrong, thought Iruma. "Try not to let it intimidate you too much, Horii. We have to make sure it doesn't reach the planet. Got that, everyone?"
"Got it!", the GUTS members said together as one.
"Forgive me for asking, Superman", Shinjoh says, "but why hitch a ride in the GUTS Runner when you can simply fly & scout ahead for us?"
Superman speaks into his headset. "I thought of that at first, but knowing who we're going up against, I'll need to reserve every ounce of strength I got in order to be in top physical form to defeating those three. As you all saw, none of them are pushovers."
"Sound advice, big blue", said Munakata. "Luckily, neither are we—we've now got the perfect weapons for dealing with those three freaks, assuming we do meet them again!"
"Knowing Henshaw & Corben—and I do—I've no doubt of that, Munakata. Neither one is likely to pass up the opportunity for another crack at me. They'll tear the whole planet asunder for the chance. That's why I'm saving my vitality until I really need to use it."
"And with your superhuman eyesight, you'll be able to locate any or all of them just in case they're waiting to ambush us", said Yazumi.
Kal-El smirks. "That's why I'm riding shotgun up front, Yazumi. If they are hiding in the shadows, I'll be able to spot them a mile away. So far, nothing." And that worries me, he thought.
"More sound advice, Superman", said Iruma. "But I must say, I pretty much object to the idea of bringing Miss Lane & Mr Olsen along with us. They may be the Daily Planet's top reporter & photographer, but they're still civilians."
"Hey, I resent that!", said Jimmy unhappily.
"As do I!", Lois added. "Listen, 'Captain', Jimmy & I have been on more dangerous assisgnments than the one you're about to embark on! I think it's fair to tell you all that we were both at Superman's side when he gave his last breath ending Doomsday's rampage throughout Metropolis!"
And when he died in my arms as well, Lois thought, momentarily lost in that heart-wrenching memory when Superman (Clark) had gone limp & expired. If Clark sitting up front is feeling the same, he isn't showing it directly, & Lois probably knows why.
She shook her head to clear it & continued. "Anyway, it's important for this to be revealed to everyone. They have a right to know just how dangerous this thing is!"
"And that's the reason as to why you & Olsen are staying here at the airport", Iruma stated.
"Ha! As if!"
"Yeah, right! It appears they've forgotten this is America, 'The Land of the Free', & all that jazz!", said Jimmy.
"Which includes Freedom of Speech, including the Press!", Lois punctuated.
"Lois, Jimmy", Superman begins, "I'm an avid believer in those rights, & then some. But I'm afraid I must concur with Captain Iruma on this."
Lois & Jimmy's jaws dropped & their eyes went wide, unable to speak, let alone comprehend what they just heard, coming from the man they love & respect most.
"What? Et-tu, Superman?", Lois exclaims.
The Man of Steel turns to face his reporter friends. "We don't know what we expect to find up there, Lois. Considering how dangerous this ship is, we'll be too busy driving it away from the Earth to look out for your well-being. That goes for you too, Jimmy."
"Come on, big guy, that's not fair!", Jimmy pouts.
"Sorry, Jimmy, but that's how it's gonna be for both of you."
Superman faces front while Lois & Jimmy put on sour faces, with moods to match as they fold their arms across their chests. As Jimmy said, that's not fair, Clark!, thought Lois. Everytime it's a mission in space, you get to play Neil Armstrong while I get left behind! Between you & me, democracy is unfair to your wife! You owe me big time, 'Superman'!
"Don't take it too personal, Miss Lane", said Rena in her headset. "He's obviously worried about that you & Mr. Olsen will get sucked out into the vast vacuum of space or worse if something does go wrong up there. It's no big secret that he cares about you both a lot, like your husband Clark Kent does."
Rena's words melts away a good portion of the reporter's sour moods, & a small smile gets a flash on their faces.
"She's got us there, Lois", Jimmy says.
"I suppose so, Jimmy", Lois says back. "And let us not forget, I am the one who gave Superman his name!"
That you did, Lois, Superman thought. I've couldn't have come up with a better one if I had a dictionary or a thesaurus in my possession!
"And one of the very first—if not the first—to interview him, yes?", asked Yazumi.
"The second, to be exact", answered Lois, looking at Superman in the back of his head.
"Second?", Horii wondered. "Then who's the lucky joe to have beaten you to the punch on it, Miss Lane?"
Lois laughed a little. "Would you believe it was my then-rival-later-turned-husband Clark Kent?"
The GUTS team were silent for a few moments, letting the information sink in. They laughed themselves a tad as Shinjoh states the obvious. "Imagine: marrying the man who beat you to the story of the century. How poetic is that?"
How, indeed!, Lois thought. When she first met Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent, she was furious when she had been beaten to the punch, as Horii called it, on the exclusive story of interviewing Superman, never realizing that Superman & Clark Kent were one & the same. If the GUTS team were privy to that information, they'd practically beg the man to quit the Daily Planet & join their ranks, knowing his extraordinary abilities would benefit them beyond anything they can imagine. But this is exactly why Superman's true identity must stay confidential, & no doubt as to why Daigo presumably hasn't told even his fellow teammates that he's Ultraman Tiga for the same reasons as Clark Kent/Superman. Of everyone here, only Superman is aware of the double life Daigo leads, & he's sworn to keep it as secret as his own dual identity.
"Speaking of Clark", Jimmy wondered, "how come he isn't here with us?"
Lois came up with a swift answer. "My husband is sparing some time to work on a new novel he's been planning for a while. That's why he's 'playing hookey' today."
Good move, Lois, Superman thought. It was a half-truth: he has been thinking of writing a new novel, but hasn't come up with anything yet that he can put to paper. When this ordeal was over, he might do one of the hazards of space exploration, & maybe even talk to the scientists about improving the technology in order to prevent them from happening in the future.
Lord knows, he's seen more than enough space tragedy whether as Kent or Kal-El.
The GUTS Runner & Thruster reach the airport's tarmac & head over to one of the hangars where the GUTS Wings have been taken to. Halfway across, a beam of blue-white energy strikes the Runner at the front, hitting the pavement & kicking up enough gravel & force to send the armored sports car up in the air, flipping repeatedly like a metal flapjack before crashing down on its roof, shattering the windows & making the room inside smaller by a couple inches. The sports car's wheels were facing the dawn sky & still spinning, like it was traveling on an invisible road. Fire erupted on the underside, & the GUTS team feared the worst for Lois, Jimmy, & Daigo.
The attack happened so fast, Munakata scarcely had time to skid & turn to avoid the GUTS Runner as it went up & down by the unknown assailant. Swerving the GUTS Thruster to the right, Iruma, Munakata, & the rest of the team bolted out of the SUV, their guns at the ready.
"Help them out of there quickly before the gas tank goes up!", Iruma ordered.
"Thanks, but that won't be necessary, Captain", said Superman, using his feet to push the vehicle's bottom half off the roof & send it up & away from the trapped occupants, sending the burning underside into the water before an explosion can occur.
Getting to his feet, Superman assists Lois, Jimmy, & Daigo to theirs. Using his x-ray vision, he does a quick skeletal scan of his three passengers to make sure nothing's been broken. Seeing no broken bones, Superman is relieved mentally.
"Lois, Jimmy, seek cover immediately! No arguments!", he says. Lois & Jimmy do as they're being told, seeing how firm Superman was about his demand.
Daigo readies his weapon. "Where'd that come from? I thought you said would be able to spot them from afar!"
So did I!, Superman thought. Mecha-Baltan & his band must've hid behind lead, the only substance that's opaque to my x-ray vision!
"Keep your eyes open,everyone!", Iruma ordered. "If they can get the drop on Superman like that…"
"I'm about to, lady—literally!"
The voice came from above the Man of Steel. He looks up to see Metallo fall down on top of his head with both feet, the force of his drop sending Superman into the ground, burying him like a hammer would a nail with one blow completely. Having no time to avoid, Kal-El disappears from sight as Metallo stands in his place, facing a stunned Daigo. Corben had his damaged skin repaired, although his shirt & pants were torn in spots as it was the other day, leaving the right side exposed.
"So, you survived Mecha-Baltan's assault, I see!", Metallo says with a B-movie villain smile.
Daigo pointed his gun at Corben, but the one-time petty thief knocks it out of his hand & out of reach. He then grabs the GUTS member by the throat & lifts him off his feet, holding him above his head.
"Daigo!", Rena shouts, as she, Shinjoh, Horii, & Yazumi point their weapons at Metallo.
"Don't shoot! You might hit him by accident!", Munakata says.
"Oh, is this yours?", Metallo gloats. "Here—let me give him back to you!"
With a powerful swing of his arm, Metallo throws Daigo like an ace baseball pitcher throwing a fast ball to strike out the batter. Iruma & the GUTS squadron watch helplessly as Daigo soars through the air like a human missile on a direct course for the water, close to where the remains of the GUTS Runner landed. The GUTS member makes a hard landing in the drink, diving feetfirst.
He was out of sight in a split second.
"Daigo!", Rena shouted again.
"Oops! Guess I don't know my own strength!", Metallo said, unleashing a loud maniacal guffaw.
"ANIMAL!", Munakata shouted, holstering his gun & unhooking his steel baton at his side. In a blind rage, the field leader runs up at Metallo, weapon in hand. Iruma shouts his name, but Munakata ignores her & swings his baton, connecting with Metallo's face so hard, it results in a loud clang & his head actually gets thrown to one side.
With no damage to his skin, Corben turns his head back to Munakata, who looks on, stunned.
"Nice try, fella! I almost felt that!", Corben says, putting his right fist back. "But I guarantee you're gonna feel this!"
Before Corben can drive his fist forward, he gets thrown himself as Superman erupts from his burial & launches Metallo skyward seventy feet in the air. Doing a fast loop, he pile drives his foe using both fists square in the chest before he can even think of using the kryptonite which powers him & weaken the Man of Tomorrow. The momentum of Superman's attack sends Corben into the tarmac, driving him ten feet under, kicking up a plume of dirt & gravel.
See how you like it, Corben!, Superman thought, retaliating for his enemy's surprise attack on him before. At that time, Superman is attacked himself again by Mecha-Baltan, who launches at him like a rocket & grabs his right arm with his left claw.
"Superman!", Shinjoh shouts.
"Never mind him, worm! You people have your own problems—namely me!"
The Cyborg burst from his hiding place—a lead container—and landed on the tarmac with the grace of a professional gymnast. As one, the remaining GUTS members, including Munakata, drew their firearms as The Cyborg aims his left cannon arm back at them.
"When are you pathetic humans going to learn?", said Henshaw. "There's no weapon on this mudball of a planet that can possibly hope to harm me!"
"That was true until now, Cyborg!", said Horii. "These guns have been specifically modified to deal with you personally!"
"Ha! Do your worst!"
"You heard him, gang! Fire!", Iruma ordered. On her cue, a half-dozen beams of green energy are shot from the guns the GUTS team are in possession of. As one, they hit The Cyborg dead center in the chest. Upon contact, Henshaw grunts loudly in pain as the beams make him feel like he gained excess weight in seconds, causing him to drop to his hands & knees.
"Kr-kryptonite?", he says, clealy shocked.
"Got it on the first try!", said Horii. "Since you possess Kryptonian genes, you can be weakened by kryptonite as much as Superman himself!"
"You can thank S.T.A.R. Labs for this little miracle, Cyborg!", said Yazumi.
"And we're gonna make you pay for what you did to Coast City all those years ago!", said Munakata. "With interest!"
"D-damn you all to Hell!", The Cyborg tried to shout, but in his weakened state, he could only protest it sluggishly.
Viewing the turn of events from his high vantage point, Superman feels the utmost joy of seeing one of his greatest enemies writhing in pain he's seen Henshaw in since Darkseid attacked him with his deadly Omega Beams—twin magenta beams he can fire from his eyes to eliminate a foe, send him through time & space, or resurrect anyone who was previously destroyed by it—on Apokolips, when he & Doomsday had arrived there.
"Take a look, Mecha-Baltan!", Superman says, struggling with the bionic alien. "Your 'partner' Henshaw is at the mercy of my friends, & once I dispose of you & Metallo, I'll finish the job for them! Your scheme is done!"
"Not likely, Superman!", Mecha-Baltan protests, aiming his right arm at the Man of Steel." It will be us who shall triumph this day, once I get you to my ship—and get you there I shall!"
"Well, I'm afraid you're going to come up empty, chief, because I'm not interested!"
In a display of aerodynamics, Superman flips Mecha-Baltan over his head & throws him in a similar fashion to what he did to Metallo, but the cyber-alien counteracts by pulling out of his dive & rising up after the Man of Steel, firing a volley of yellow beams from his three-pronged right arm.
Using all his strength, Metallo digs himself out of the manmade crypt his hated enemy had put him in. The right side if his face & entire right arm were once again stripped of his flesh, just as it had been the other day during the battle at S.T.A.R. Labs. He emerges just in time to see the S-man & Mecha-Baltan in an aerial assault, along with the GUTS team showering his companion The Cyborg with green beams, disbelieving what he was witnessing: Henshaw being defeated by lowly humans.
It was time for Corben to take the initiative.
Daigo didn't know how long he had been out when he awoke, but he does remember being literally pitched into the water by Metallo, & his lungs were burning like a fire in his stomach that won't be extinguished unless he gets air in his lungs. His vision blurry underwater, he can still see well enough to find which way is up &, digging into his suit, he pulls out his Spark Lens & raises it above his head.
It was time for Daigo to get out of his watery tomb.
A flash of light engulfs him.
The Cyborg's vision was going dark by the kryptonite being fired upon him, unable to see anything but shadows. Despite the rage flowing through him, it wasn't enough to resist the green death. It…it can't end like this!, Henshaw thought, fighting to stay conscious. I must make Superman pay for what he did to me! I can't be beaten by these pitiful humans!
Henshaw falls flat on his face.
"He's down, Captain!", Shinjoh says.
"Let's keep the pressure up!", Iruma said. "Keep firing until we make sure he's finished!"
"I copy that! He's too dangerous for us to take chances with!", said Yazumi.
"Sorry, gang, but if anyone's going to be wielding any kryptonite around…"
Metallo lands smack dab in the middle of the GUTS team, scattering them like ants at a picnic, his landing causing a mini-earthquake that also makes them tumble & fall.
"It's going to be me!", he finishes upon landing.
Watching the turn of events from the air, Superman is caught off-guard & takes a buffeting metal claw to the face. Mecha-Baltan then clamps his head in a vice-like grip, & even the Man of Steel can feel the pressure of it against his cheeks & whole head.
"You should learn to pay less attention to others & more to your own person during battle, Superman!", Mecha-Baltan chides, throwing his foe down to the ground, landing with an earth-shattering crash ten feet from Henshaw, who gets helped to his feet by Corben.
"Well, well, well! Isn't this an opportune moment!", said Metallo.
"Yes! Some fools just don't know when to die!", Henshaw scoffs, in spite of his weak condition.
"Yeah! Take you two, for instance!", Superman said. In a flash, the Man of Tomorrow fires his heat vision at his two foes, hitting them in the solar plexus & driving them back past the GUTS members. The momentum creates a pair of ditches across the tarmac, giving the GUTS team to get back on their feet. They didn't have time to thank their savior, though: from the air, Mecha-Baltan fires a rain of beams from his right arm. Superman does the same by shooting his heat vision in streams upwards at the cybernetic alien, who dodges his every shot.
"Spread out! Don't give him any easy targets!", Superman calls out to GUTS. Taking his advice, Iruma & company go in all directions & adjust their weapons before launching another assault. In unison, they shoot an armada of red energy beams. Mecha-Baltan dodges these just as easily as he did Superman's heat vision.
"You cannot hope to defeat us, Superman!", said Mecha-Baltan. "Against three super-powered individuals, you can only accept defeat!"
Superman catches movement at the left corner of his eye without having to look that way, wanting to give his foe as little warning as possible.
"Then maybe it's time to up the ante in our favor!", he says with a smirk.
Appearing almost like magic, Ultraman Tiga slams into Mecha-Baltan, ceasing his barrage of firepower & taking him away from his companions.
"Ultraman Tiga!", Shinjoh announced.
Good timing, Daigo!, Superman thought. With Tiga handling Mecha-Baltan, Superman & the GUTS team can focus on The Cyborg & Metallo, both of whom rise & charge their hated foes.
"Incoming!", Yazumi announced.
"Die!", Henshaw yelled, firing his cannon arm.
Seperated from the others, Tiga & Mecha-Baltan engage in a fistfight fifty feet away from the others. The bionic alien tries to snatch Tiga in his metal claw, but Japan's hero avoids it as he dives to the ground & knocks his opponent off his feet with one swipe of his right leg. It didn't slow the cyber-alien down: he jumps back up & takes a swing using his right arm, but Tiga jumps back a few feet to keep his distance. Ionizing the air around him, Tiga spreads his arms out to his sides & draws them in, collecting energy with the gesture. Shooting his arm forward, Tiga shoots a beam of bright, white energy directly at Mecha-Baltan. The alien has no time to dodge what's coming his way, but he doesn't need to: from his chest erupts a square yellow shield that measures a fair three feet in length, covering his chest & head. The beam hits the shield & dissipates on contact, startling a surprised Tiga.
He has a shield, similar to mine! Tiga says to himself. I should be lucky it didn't reflect my beam back at me, or I would've been in real trouble!
"Amazed, Tiga?", asked Mecha-Baltan. "I've dug up what I could about you from what is called the internet here on Earth! You draw power from light particles, which I've modified myself protection from, rendering them useless to me! As long as I stay in top physical form, your light weapons cannot hurt me!"
Mecha-Baltan laughs gleefully, his immunity from Tiga's arsenal assured. Let's see if I can give you a couple bruises to change all that, Mecha-Baltan!, Tiga thought, rushing at the bionic alien for a little hands-on battle.
But when Tiga gets within striking range of his enemy, Mecha-Baltan vanishes from sight before a single punch can be dealt. Only the alien's eerie & maniacal laugh was all that remains of his ever being there, echoing around him.
There was utter silence afterwards, aside from the sounds of battle: punches finding their marks, lasers being fired, & orders being shouted. Ultraman Tiga knows that Mecha-Baltan wasn't dealt with permanently, but he has to ignore him for now.
Superman & the GUTS team need his help.
Metallo throws the GUTS Runner at Iruma & Munakata with all his strength, throwing it as if it weighed no more than a bicycle. The two leaders dive in opposite directions as their SUV crashes in the spot they were at only a second ago. Returning fire, their beams hit their mark, but it doesn't do any damage to his person, let alone slow him down.
"Enough of this small potatoes stuff!", Metallo says, opening the panel in his chest & exposing the kryptonite & walks toward Superman. "Time to claim our prize & blow this joint!"
"Superman! Metallo's heading your way with exposed kryptonite!", Shinjoh warns, avoiding The Cyborg's deadly blast, as does Horii, Yazumi, & Rena.
"I see him!", Superman says, rushing up to Henshaw & grabbing him from behind.
"What?", Henshaw begun, before getting his hands grabbed from the rear as the Man of Steel holds his wrists tightly & places him in front between him & Corben.
"Stay where you are, Metallo!", Superman barks with Henshaw in tow. "If you plan on stopping me with that kryptonite, you'll affect Henshaw with it as well, & I doubt he's willing to go through that ordeal again!"
The Cyborg laughed wickedly. "Don't tell me you think you can win this way, Super-fool! Even if you hit me with a bazooka full of the stuff, I'll still rise to finish you & your friends off!"
"Like you did before, Henshaw?", Kal-El snapped. "Now shut up!"
Henshaw does (but not because his enemy told him to), & Metallo stopped in his tracks, as do the GUTS team, remaining where they were. The whole situation results in the ultimate stand-off, with all players unsure of what to do.
"Shouldn't we do something to help him?", Shinjoh asks in his headset.
"No, not just yet", Munakata replied. "Let's try to keep the property damage to a minimum. Besides, it looks like Superman has things well in hand."
"But this is The Cyborg & Metallo we're talking about here!", said Horii. "They're likely to do something drastic to hurt big blue!"
"I'm most aware of that, Horii", said Iruma. "But Munakata's right. Even though police have cleared the airport, we shouldn't cause any unnecessary destruction if it can be helped. Let's see what Henshaw & Corben do first. Until then, no one does anything. Understand?"
"Understood", the team replied as one.
Good, Iruma thought, proud of their answer. We trained you people well.
"It's your call, Corben!", Superman barked. "You take me down with that kryptonite, Henshaw joins me! What's it going to be?"
Metallo stares at his most hated enemy defiantly before glancing at the incapacitated Cyborg, who nods his head back.
That was when Corben finally makes his choice.
"All right, Superman, you win!", he says, closing his chest & covering up the kryptonite.
"Wisest choice you've made all day, Corben!", said Kal-El.
"But not yours!", said The Cyborg, rotating his head a full 180 degrees, facing Superman. The maneuver was so quick that the Man of Steel didn't have enough time to react. As soon as his head was rotated, Henshaw fired his own heat vision into his enemy's face, blinding him temporarily & causing him to release his 'hostage'.
"Did you really think I of all people could be taken captive, even by you?", Henshaw scolded. "You're such a fool!"
"So are you, Cyborg!", shouted Shinjoh. "Let him have it again, folks!"
The GUTS team were about to fire their own kryptonite weapons at Henshaw once more, but the cybernetic menace was ready for it this time. Spreading his fingers, he converts them into a laser gun & shoots a beam straight for each member. The beams all strike & destroy every one of their kryp-guns, blowing them all into smithereens all in unison.
"Not this time, worms!", he scoffed.
"Don't ever turn your back on me, Henshaw!", Superman said from behind. When The Cyborg turned, he gets clobbered in the face by his hated foe with such force that the ground shook. His trip took him straight for & into Metallo, sending them both into a tumble of metal. Getting untangled, Henshaw & Corben look up to see Superman & the GUTS team standing over them, followed by Ultraman Tiga in his Power Mode, the lavender portion of his being replaced by red. His arm transformed into a cannon, The Cyborg aims it at Superman, but Tiga grabs it before he can fire a shot & starts crushing it like it was tin foil. Henshaw cries in pain in a maneuver that surprises not just him, but the rest.
Incredible!, Superman thought. I heard Tiga was strong, but I didn't think he was that powerful, enough to crush Kryptonian technology, including Henshaw himself!
Astonishing or not, Superman uses the opportunity, not looking a gift horse in the mouth.
"Feel that, Henshaw?", he barks. "It'll only get worse from here on! Now tell us—where's your friend Mecha-Baltan?"
"Why, Superman, I've been here this whole time!"
Kal-El, Tiga, & the GUTS team turn to where they heard the bionic alien's voice, standing only eight yards away.
And he's not alone—in his left claw, he holds a woman in his mechanical grip, & it isn't just any woman either.
It was Lois Lane!
Superman was about to make a move toward Mecha-Baltan to rescue her from the cyber-alien, but he gets the jump on him by raising his right arm & fires a three-green-balled bola at the Man of Steel which wrap around him in the blink of an eye, pinning his arms to his sides. He gets pushed back sixteen feet & falls to the ground, suddenly feeling dizzy & nauseous as his strength ebbs away slowly but surely.
It becomes apparent as to why he feels that way.
"The balls on the bolas are kryptonite!", Yazumi shouted.
"Get them off of him—now!", Iruma barks.
"Oh no you don't, humans!", snapped Mecha-Baltan, firing three more pairs of regular bolas, all of them heading straight for the GUTS members: Iruma & Rena get caught together & fall to the floor; Yazumi & Horii are snagged in the second pair, while Munakata & Shinjoh are wrapped up in the third & final. Unlike the ladies, the men get slammed against a steel trailer & hit their heads, rendering them unconscious & sink to the ground. Despite being conscious, neither Iruma nor Rena can get out of their binds, let alone break them any more than the weakened Superman.
"No help from the peanut gallery!", Metallo gloats & chuckles.
"Speaking of which…", said The Cyborg, referring to Ultraman Tiga. Before Japan's hero can do anything, Henshaw uses his right leg as a battering ram & bashes Tiga in his chest, sending him flying before landing on his back twenty-four feet away. Up on his feet in no time, Tiga sees that The Cyborg & Metallo have done the same, the former's damaged arm fully repaired & recruited with Mecha-Baltan, holding a helpless Lois Lane in his metal claw, unable to free herself no matter what she does.
"As if dealing with Superman wasn't bad enough!", Metallo barked. "Now we have this meddler in our midst!"
"And just as persistent as he is!", The Cyborg growled. "That's twice you've meddled in our affairs, Tiga! You won't get three!"
"Wait, Henshaw! There's a more fitting way to end this!", said Mecha-Baltan, stopping his ally before he can do anything. "Ultraman Tiga! It would be wise for you to cease your assault upon us, for you have more pressing & immediate concerns! Aside from Superman's kryptonite binds, do you see what is attached to the bolas I've wrapped around your human friends?"
Mecha-Baltan uses his free arm to point to the three pairs of captive GUTS members. Using extreme caution, Ultraman Tiga looks to where his cybernetic foe points to. With extraordinary vision of his own, he is taken aback by what he sees, & curses himself mentally for it: his friends from GUTS have a blinking box with a red light that beeps attached to each of their binds.
Tiga recognizes devices like those anywhere—time bombs! His team is wired wih detonators waiting to explode!
Tiga turns back to the terrible trio, just when the blue light on his chest turns red itself & blinks. "Yes, I can see that you do! Those boxes are fitted with enough explosives to bring down an oil tanker! You now have less than one minute before they go off, & the GUTS team will literally live up to their name, & in his weakened condition, I doubt even Superman can survive the blast to come! Plus, your bionic sensor tells you that your own time is running short, so you have a crucial choice to make, Tiga—either come after us & try to save Miss Lane here, or save the Man of Steel & the rest of those pathetic humans!"
The bionic alien takes to the air with Lois Lane in tow, followed by The Cyborg as he fires his foot rockets & grabs Metallo by the shoulders, since Corben can't fly on his own power.
"So long, saps!", Metallo shouts, laughing maniacally as the trio disappear out of sight in seconds. Watching them take off was tough for Tiga to do, as he knew that Superman has strong feelings for Miss Lane since their first of many encounters together. But he also knew he had to let them go for now, for there were more dire circumstances to deal with.
Crossing his arms over his head, Tiga brings them down swiftly & changes his red coloring to lavender, changing into his 'Sky Type' mode. In this format, Tiga's particles are looser than usual, & while he loses some of his great strength, his velocity is greatly increased. It's the mode he needs to be in, as it's possibly the only way he'll be able to save Superman & the others, now that the beeping on the chargers is now at its fastest.
They're about to explode!, Tiga thought. If I'm going to do this, it has to be now!
Moving faster than even Superman can follow, Tiga rushes for everyone's binds.
Only one second later, they all detonate with a loud, powerful blast.
The blast that occurred was both seen & felt by many in the immediate area, including those from across the water at Queensland Park & even Stryker's Island, where some of the most notorious felons are being held. A massive fireball of red & orange fire rose into the air & expands like an enormous balloon, changing to thick gray smoke after a couple moments. Metallo, The Cyborg, Mecha-Baltan, & the captive Lois Lane were among the many who witness its devestation from an area just south from where they left Superman, the GUTS team, & Ultraman Tiga to what two of them had really hoped was their untimely & grisly fates. Like Lois, Mecha-Baltan felt a pinch of pity in his half-bionic stomach for having to destroy Superman like he did, but not out of compassion like the Planet's top reporter has. No, he regrets it because Krypton's Last Son was all but vital to his plans; he didn't take too much pleasure in his death like Henshaw & Corben do.
Henshaw laughs gleefully. "One thing I most adore about explosions like that is, the bigger the blast, the more destruction they cause!"
"Yes, & who would know that better than you, Henshaw?", Metallo replied, remembering the destruction which The Cyborg had caused to California's Coast City with the alien tyrant known as Mongul.
Henshaw had to give out a proud laugh from that. "Ah yes, Coast City. That's a cherished memory I would gladly relive if ever given the chance for."
"Consider this a little sense of deja-vu then. To make it more special, why don't you & I go back & view what's left of our one-time enemies—if there is anything left of them!"
Had The Cyborg any lips, he'd smile a wide grin on his face. "Sounds good, Corben. The one thing I love more than destruction are deceased bodies lying motionless everywhere!"
"Gentlemen", Mecha-Baltan stepped in, "while I loathe to deprive you both of such a pleasure, we have more pressing matters to attend. Our task is still not done, & you both are just as essential to it as Superman is—or rather, was."
"No, I'd take their advice if I were you, Mecha-Baltan!", Lois snapped. "Maybe you should go check to see if they're dead, because if they aren't, you three'll be in a world of trouble!"
"Shut your trap, Miss Lane, or you'll be added to the day's casualties!", Metallo snaps, raising his hand as if to strike her.
"Stay your hand, Corben!", Mecha-Baltan says. "Miss Lane may have a point: if Superman by chance did survive the blast, even in his condition, she'll provide the perfect bait to lure him to us. All our plans may not be for naught after all. Now come—there is still much to be done!"
Corben & Henshaw eye each other. Neither liked the tone of voice Mecha-Baltan used on them just now, as it sounded like a direct order, something they don't take very kindly to at all in the slightest. They also don't like being anyone's dog on a leash—that's something they'd much prefer in the other way around, such as when The Cyborg had Mongul on before he turned insubordinate. Yes, they're both grateful to the bionic alien for setting them free from their separate prisons, but just because he's done them a great justice, it still doesn't mean that they'll jump through hoops for him the rest of their days—a point The Cyborg & Metallo want to make perfectly clear to their alien 'ally'.
They face Mecha-Baltan as Corben speaks. "Well, 'partner', we'd hate to disappoint you, but Henshaw & myself have other plans of our own to carry out! So if you don't mind…!"
The cybernetic figures turn their backs on Mecha-Baltan, who raises his right arm at his retreating companions.
"Actually, gentlemen…", he says, just before his three prongs open up like a metal flower & unleashes a cone-shaped beam of black energy that strikes the unsuspecting Cyborg & Metallo. Both super-villains yell out in pain as the beam attacks their insides, feeling like they've been dropped in an active volcano if they weren't cybernetic. The pain was unlike anything they've experienced before, & their minds see bright white before seeing pitch black, & The Cyborg & Metallo see or hear nothing else as they fall to the ground like buildings knocked over by a giant creature. Because of the unconscious state they were in, neither one knows they've crashed with a hard thud. A stunned Lois watches both hardcore villains go down in a simple attack that would've taken more firepower than what Mecha-Baltan used to defeat them.
"I rather do mind!", the bionic alien finishes.
"I…I thought they were in league with you!", Lois says, turning to the bionic alien.
"They still are, Miss Lane. You see, I need Henshaw & Corben about as much as I do Superman himself. If the Man of Steel is still alive, he'll come to your rescue like he always does, since you & he share a kinship with one another. That's one thing I've learned about him."
"Oh yeah? And what if he really is dead? What will you do with me then?"
"Then, my dear Miss Lane, you shall have the pleasure of becoming the first human from the Earth to serve as one of my many guinea pigs!"
Mecha-Baltan emits a deep & mechanical baritone laugh which chills Lois to the bone, along with what the alien has in store for her. It was ironic: Lois wanted to head up in space to get a bird's-eye view of the invisible ship which Mecha-Baltan no doubt owns.
Only now, she's going to get more than she bargained for; Lois Joanne Lane is heading up to the ship—whether she likes it or not!
Her whole body turns cold with fear.
For Superman, Iruma, & Rena, the world was a rapid blur as one moment they were at Metropolis Airport, & the next they lay on a strip of pavement which was right on the outskirts of the airport. A portion of the fence had been melted off in a clean circle, wide enough for a group of people to go through, which is no doubt the pourpose it served. Iruma & Rena saw things at a normal pace, & once they did an explosion the size of an entire city block go off in the middle of the airport's tarmac. A huge fireball rose skyward in red & orange, & the two GUTS females felt the scorching heat of it even from a distance. That also went for Superman, as the searing heat had brought him out of his nausea from the kryptonite bolas Mecha-Baltan ensnared him with. Awoken, he finds himself free of the deadly weapon, along with the rest of the GUTS team & even Jimmy Olsen, most of whom are lying on the cement, unconscious. Only Iruma & Rena are awake like he is, & their savior in silver & lavender stood two feet away, the red light on his chest blinking fast.
"Ultraman Tiga!", the ladies call his name.
Tiga nods, happy that mostly everyone is safe & accounted for, sans Lois, who Tiga had no time to come to her aide in order to rescue the others. He regrets it, but there wasn't anything he can do about it now. With his red light blinking rapidly, he has no choice but to cut his losses & go. Looking up, he takes to the air & rushes off, disappearing from sight.
"Superman!", Rena calls, rushing to him.
"I'll be all right, now that I'm kryptonite-free", he says, getting to his feet almost instantly. "How are the others doing?"
She & Iruma check their teammates. "I fear they're unconscious, including your pal Jimmy Olsen", Rena says solemnly. "Probably when Mecha-Baltan took Miss Lane captive, he must've knocked him out during the attempt, & most likely unaware."
Superman nods, also solemnly. Even as he was binded by the kryptonite bolas, he saw Lois in the bionic alien's grasp, feeling utterly helpless to rescue her. Presumably, his companion Ultraman Tiga couldn't help her either, due to the dire trouble he & the GUTS team were in. If not for Tiga, they & Olsen would be decorating the tarmac with their pieces scattered all over it. Kal-El himself might also have joined them, being weakened by the kryptonite & all.
Not that he's blaming Tiga, but he wished there was a way to have saved Lois from Mecha-Baltan along with everyone else. On the plus side, he has a very good idea of where he, Henshaw, & Corben have taken her to—and it was somewhere he was on his way to anyhow.
He'll attempt the rescue of his fair maiden soon as he can, but there was something he has to do first.
"Let's get Jimmy & your teammates to Metropolis General Hospital", Superman said.
The ladies nodded, both wishing Daigo was among the pile, but was thrown by Metallo into the water, & has presumably drowned by now.
The GUTS ladies & Superman turn to see Daigo running up the concrete to rejoin with his comrades, his GUTS uniform still dripping wet from his rough dunk in the water by Metallo.
"Daigo!", the ladies shouted, seeing an impossible-but-still-welcome sight of the teammate who by all means should be sharing space at the bottom with Davy Jones.
Superman, of course, wasn't surprised to see him alive again, but pretended to in order to keep his double-life persona of Ultraman Tiga confidential from his friends, something he would want Daigo to do for him had he learned his secret.
"I don't believe it!", said Rena. "We saw Metallo throw you into the water minutes ago! You should've drowned by now!"
"You mean you're not happy to see me? I'm crushed, Rena!", Daigo jokes.
His pilot rival gives him a look of mockery, half scowling.
"What Rena means, Daigo", Iruma steps in, "is that we didn't think you'd survive your bout with Metallo after he threw you into the drink before."
"Well, I started swimming just as soon as I made my big splash", Daigo explains, "& by the time I reached shore, I saw this big explosion & feared the worst. Then I witnessed Ultraman Tiga pulling everyone out at blinding speed just before the blast & he took off afterwards—and the rest you know. How is everyone, by the way? Are they…"
"They're all right, Daigo. They've just been knocked out, that's all. I'm afraid Miss Lane, however, has been abducted by Mecha-Baltan & his 'crew'."
"I'm…sorry to hear that", he said, looking directly at Superman with an expression that no doubt said, 'It's my fault, big guy. I should've done something to prevent that'.
"Don't worry, Daigo", Superman says. "We'll find her—and them. But right now, your friends & Jimmy need to get medical attention. I can get them to the hospital the fastest. Meet me at…"
"Metropolis General", Iruma cut in. "I remember. The three of us will see you there."
The Man of Steel nods, & in a blur he rushes off by himself into the airport & returns a second or two later with a large metal sheet. A pair of thick ropes were attached to the corners tied to makeshift holes that have been burned through & cooled swiftly, making arches to be pulled on. Superman then loads the unconscious Jimmy Olsen & GUTS members onto the sheet, doing so carefully to avoid making their condition any worse than it is.
His passengers boarded, Superman gets airborne & takes the ropes, pulling up the metal sheet with him.
"Take a cab to the hospital, & tell the driver which one", he says, heading in the general direction of his destination. "He or she will get you there in no time."
"Got it", Iruma said, turning to her two ace pilots. "Let's get moving."
Rena & Daigo simply nod, & the trio were off & running.
Superman hurried to Metropolis General but did so carefully, not wanting to have his passengers fall off the sheet & plunge to their deaths, even at an altitude of about thirty feet. He reaches the hospital in five minutes & sets the sheet down at the building's front entrance, where a trove of doctors & nurses resided at. Superman quickly explained their condition, & they immediately placed Jimmy & the GUTS team on wheeled stretchers & cartered them inside, with Superman following. Rena, Daigo, & Iruma arrived ten minutes after the Man of Steel's, & learning which room their friends were placed in, hurried to join them. It was on the thirtieth floor in room 3013 where the trio met Superman watching over Jimmy Olsen, Munakata, Yazumi, Horii, & Shinjoh, all lying in separate beds, dressed in hospital gowns & having clear plastic tubes under their noses for easier breathing. Pouches of fresh plasma hung on metal poles with hooks on top.
"Superman", Rena said softly.
"Hello, gang", he returned in the same tone.
"No change in their condition, I take it?", asked Iruma.
Superman shook his head. "They're no worse than they were before at the airport, but they aren't any better, either."
"The doctors said nothing to you about it?", Daigo wondered.
"Nothing we didn't already know, except for being unsure as to whether or not they'll regain consciousness. It could be hours, days, weeks—any amount of time could be their guess at this moment. Sorry: I wish I—and they—had better news to tell you."
"No apologies necessary, Superman", Iruma said. "We should be fortunate enough just knowing they're still alive, at least."
But for how long?, they all wondered to themselves. Iruma slowly approached Munakata at his bed, while Daigo went to Shinjoh's, Rena at Horii's, & Superman at Yazumi's, then Jimmy's. Each wanted to do nothing more than go into a blind, screaming rage & blast/punch away the first thing they see. Having their friends in this condition was too much for any of them to bear, even for the cool-headed Iruma. Seeing Yazumi, the GUTS team's youngest member, like this made Superman the angriest of all. His state was caused by two villains who don't give a damn about human life in the slightest, which is the truest for Henshaw. When he obliterated Coast City, not only were adults vaporized in the blast, but children were as well. Life means less than dirt to them, & Superman can barely keep his rage in check. He's coming awfully close to seeing both Henshaw's & Corben's faces anywhere he looks just so he can punch the life out of them.
Luckily, he knows better than that, so he fights to keep his composure before it ruins him.
"Folks, I know this a somber moment for us", Superman says, "but we shouldn't forget what our task is. We still need to get to that ship & take care of it."
His words drew the remaining GUTS members out of their depressed stage.
"We haven't forgotten, Superman", said Iruma. "I'm quite positive that's where they took Miss Lane when they retreated."
"I don't doubt it, Captain", said Rena. "Let's get to the GUTS Wings, & hope they're still intact for the flight out in space if the terrible trio haven't damaged them already."
"I'm sure Munakata & the others will be under strict watch by security personell, Captain", Daigo said. "We should get going now."
"Not'we', Daigo", said Iruma, confusing the three. "Superman, Rena, & myself are going. Not you."
"What?", Daigo said, a little louder than intended. "What do you mean, Captain? You need me on this! You need all of us who aren't lying in a hospital bed right now!"
"Settle down, Daigo! I'm not counting you out out of spite or anything like that. The reason you need to stay behind is because I need you to keep a close watch, along with security, on everyone here, just in case God forbid there's another attempt on their lives."
"Against those three? I barely lived through my ordeal with Metallo before! Besides, they all think we're dead, so there shouldn't even be another attempt!"
"I'm sorry, Daigo, but this isn't open for discussion! My decision is final—you're staying here with our troops & young Jimmy Olsen! That's an order!"
Daigo silently cursed to himself, knowing that any further debating with Iruma would be fruitless: once she makes something final, there's no force anywhere that can make her alter her decision. He doubts even Superman can do it, despite his awesome strength which can move a mountain, & then some.
"Rena, Superman, time's wasting", she says. "Let's move."
"Before we head off, Captain", Superman says, "I need to make a quick but equally important phone call first. When I'm done, I'll fly you & Rena to the airport where your GUTS Wings are waiting."
Kal-El is out of the room in a blur before a word can be spoken by the GUTS Captain or anyone else. He returns in the same way after a minute & a half. Iruma allows herself a small smile: it amuses her beyond words as to how he can move around like that. She couldn't help but be jealous of the man for it, & she assumes that Rena & Daigo must feel the same.
"Done", he says. "As you stated before, let's move."
Approaching the window, Superman opens it up & wraps an arm around the waist of the two ladies, keeping a firm hold on each. He takes a look at Daigo & gives him a smirk & wink, indicating that things will turn around pretty soon.
Then the Man of Steel flies out the window with Iruma & Rena in tow, leaving Daigo alone with his incapacitated team & Jimmy Olsen.
But if all goes well, he won't have to worry about it for much longer.
For Daigo, it can't come fast enough.
The Cyborg was still seeing stars in his vision when he regained consciousness, & his head ached worse than anything he's ever dealt with as a living machine. It felt like someone was crushing it with a vice that just keeps getting tighter & tighter, with no end. Aside from the pain, he can still recall what happened before blacking out; he & Metallo had broken pack with their alien ally, Mecha-Baltan, only to have him literally stab them in the back.
Filthy alien rat!, thought Henshaw scornfully as he tries to move his limbs, but quickly discovers that he can't—he isn't even able to twiddle his fingers. About the only thing he can move is his head, & he uses it to look around his own self to find out why his mobility is extremely limited: he's been attached to the wall in a wide, curved hallway, his legs bound together & his arms spread up & out in a 'Y' position, all held in place by thick metal cuffs. On the opposite wall was a large sliding door that had no window, but a panel with arrow buttons that point up & down, no doubt used to control the door.
When he looks to his left, he sees a somewhat comfortable sight, though still gloomy in appearance, & in the same position he was in.
"Corben!", The Cyborg called out.
"Hello again, Henshaw", said Metallo, looking at his cybernetic companion.
"I assume you remember what happened to you as I have?"
"I only wish I hadn't! That sniveling worm! How dare he attack us from the rear when we were caught off-guard like that!"
"Well, Corben, I did warn you about putting too much trust into Mecha-Baltan, & now look where it got us!"
"Looks like I owe you an apology, Henshaw! But I'll accept the blame for it all later, if only we can escape from our predicament & make…wait! We can escape!"
It hit The Cyborg immediately. "Of course! You & I have the ability to merge with any form of machinery, take it over, & make it do as we please!"
"Bingo!", said Metallo. "And once we become his ship, we'll make Mecha-Baltan pay with interest for double-crossing & deceiving us!"
"And with the utmost pleasure! Let's do it, Corben!"
As one, The Cyborg & Metallo concentrate on rearranging their bio-genetic parts in their fingers & arms to connect themselves with the circuitry in the metal wall behnd them. But just as even the slightest contact is made as they try to merge, a potent & powerful electrical shock similar to the one they received by Mecha-Baltan before hits them like an angry god. The intense pain covers every square inch of their cyber-bodies, causing them to unleash a banshee-like scream of pain, feeling as if they were being roasted alive.
While the pain was high intensity & felt like all eternity, it actually was for only a few seconds. In that time, neither Henshaw nor Corben noticed the metal door sliding up & open in front of them, revealing the one their abhorrence is currently directed at.
"I wouldn't attempt that again if I were either of you, gentlemen", he says, entering the hallway as the door slides down once he's on the other side. "The next shock you get will be your last, as the ship's been programmed to should you try to merge with it."
"You!", The Cyborg & Metallo said simultaneously, their hides still smoking in places.
"Hello again, boys", replied Mecha-Baltan. "I'm glad to see you're still among us."
"You won't be so glad too see us once Corben & I get free of our bonds, you traitor!", Henshaw spat at his former ally.
"That will not happen, Henshaw, not unless I permit it, which won't be anytime soon. You & Corben have already experienced the excrutiating anguish of trying once. Do either of you wish to go through it again, this time with more…permanent results?"
Not likely. Right now, there was no way to get loose of their bonds without paying the ultimate price for it, & now was definitely not the time for either of them to cash in their chips just yet: they wish to see their 'ally' pay dearly for his betrayal, even if Henshaw suspected as much in the beginning, while Corben wasn't so privy of it. When the time is right, they'll deliver extreme prejudice to Mecha-Baltan, with a loathing for the bionic alien more than they have for even Superman himself, & for Henshaw & Corben, that's saying a lot.
But for the moment, there was nothing they could do but wait & hope for that one opportunity to be presented.
"Why, Mecha-Baltan?", Metallo demanded. "Why go through all of this—freeing Henshaw & myself, aligning with us, only to betray us later? And why, for pete's sake, do you wish to capture Superman rather than see him dead?"
"Yes, alien maggot! What's the friggin' point to it all?", spat The Cyborg.
Despite their ravenous behavior & attitude, Mecha-Baltan remains calm & speaks in the same manner. "Yes, I believe the time has come to reveal my master plan, as I have promised to do so before. The point, gentlemen, is to make my kind as powerful as possible."
"When you said 'your kind', you mean to say there's more than one of you?", Metallo asks.
Mecha-Baltan laughs. "Of course! Within my vessel, there are more than five hundred other Mecha-Baltans, all of whom are resting comfortably in their chambers, awaiting the transference."
"Transference?", The Cyborg repeated, not liking where the conversation was going. "Transference of what?"
Mecha-Baltan pointed at Henshaw & Corben with his robotic claw. "Your physiology, gentlemen. You, Hank Henshaw, when you downloaded your consciousness into Superman's birthing matrix & recreated yourself after your original body was destroyed by cosmic radiation, you gained his Kryptonian genes & DNA, making you practically as invulnerable as him. As for you, John Corben, while Professor Emmett Vale has given you your metallic body after rescuing you from a near-fatal car crash, it wasn't until you struck a deal with the demon known as Neron that you had garnered the ability to merge with any mechanical appliance, from toasters & cars to airliners & aircraft carriers—an ability you share with Henshaw. The plan is to extract your DNA & genetics & transfer them to my army, thus making them virtually indestructible to any physical or even mental harm."
"So that's what you needed Superman—and us—for!", Metallo said.
"And all so we can be part of your little science project!", The Cyborg growled.
"You are both correct", Mecha-Baltan praised. "Superman himself would be here to accompany you now, were it not for that meddlesome friend of his, Ultraman Tiga. However disappointing that may be to me, I have the perfect 'substitute' to take his place, should I be unsuccessful in capturing Krypton's Last Son. Therefore, I can still continue my plan nevertheless, & when all the genetics are mine, my army & I will reign supreme! Not even the combined might of Superman & Ultraman Tiga, or any of Earth's mightiest heroes will be able to stop us—if Superman is still alive, that is!"
"So your plan was to conquer the Eath all along, using our abilities & invulnerability?", The Cyborg deduced.
"Not just to conquer it, Henshaw—but to destroy it, & all its inhabitants,both good & evil!", Mecha-Baltan said.
"Again—why, Mecha-Baltan?", Metallo asks.
"The answer is very simple, Corben—it's what we do. In our travels through space, we have destroyed countless worlds, one after another, right after we collect any & all useful information which could further improve our cause. Once we obtain your genetics, that chore will become all the more easier & pleasureable for us. And on that note, gentlemen—the process shall begin shortly, so I bid you both adieu."
Mecha-Baltan heads for the door which he entered from. The Cyborg & Metallo struggle to bust free from the binds that hold them securely with all their strength, but to no avail: their one-time partner made them so even they wouldn't be able to break them, let alone escape.
"Wait! You can't just leave us here like this!", The Cyborg protested.
"I should say not! What's going to happen to the both of us afterwards?", Metallo demands.
The bionic alien presses the arrow pointing up to open the door, revealing another curved corridor. But he does turn to address his 'captive audience'. "During the transference as your DNA & genetics are extracted from your bodies, your consciousness will then slip into & enter a very highly dormant & comatose state. In other words, gentlemen… "Mecha-Baltan lets out a low, baritone chuckle before providing his answer. "…wherever deleted programs go."
The cybernetic alien disappears as the door drops & recluses, leaving Henshaw & Corben alone in the hallway once again, looking at one another. If either of them had a beating heart within their chest, it would be palpitating like crazy right now with real trepidation (probably the very first time they're experiencing it at a real high ratio in their cybernetic lives) as it races through them at a swift velocity. It disgusts them to feel that way, letting fear creep into them like that, but they have good reason for it: Mecha-Baltan will fade them both out of existence permanently once he begins his extraction process, being sent straight into oblivion with no way out of it.
And they can do positively nothing to prevent it from happening when it starts; they cannot rip free of their binds, & if they dare to merge with the machinery of the ship, they will receive a shock which will be fatal to & roast them from head to toe.
It seems ironic, but their only hope might rest with a certain red & blue clad flying hero, & they believe him to be no more, dashing their hopes of escape.
More ironically, they are the same ones responsible for just that.
Lois Lane has been banging on the glass of her cylindrical prison, which stood about eleven feet tall, & placed in a room that looked like a science biology class, with cabinets full of jars that contain substances she couldn't even begin to describe. Numerous metal tables rested on the floor, each one stained with blood—some green, some other colors, but mostly with red blood. To Lois, it was as if she had been placed into a chamber of terror in a scenario from a modern-day horror movie, where there was a mad scientist/serial killer who performed dissections/decapitations of their victims, like that movie where a lunatic chains people down in a warehouse & forces them to perform the most sickest & wisted deeds in order to win their freedom—or die.
In the deep regions of her mind, Lois remembers the movie by the name of 'Saw'.
Whether or not she was designated next in performing a sick, twisted deed to earn her freedom or be part of a dissection class for Mecha-Baltan, Lois had no intention of waiting for it.
She kept banging on her prison when the bionic alien shows himself when the door to Lois' left opens up.
"It'd be wise of you to quit pounding, Miss Lane", he says, approaching her. "You'll break your hands long before you break that glass."
Lois stares hard at her alien captor, scowling. "The Devil will be wearing a heavy coat & shivering madly before I ever become any one of your specimens, Mecha-Baltan!"
The cyber-alien chuckles. "Pretty brave talk, for someone trapped on the inside of one of my containment cylinders. I'm sure to have a ton of amusement from you, Miss Lane."
"Don't count your guinea pigs before they escape, you half-metal freak! I've been in worse situations than this!"
"Ah yes. In each one of those 'situations', you've always had Superman to help pull you out of them. It's what I'm counting on, as I mentioned before to you. And when he does—if he's still among the living—I'll have a nice 'warm welcome' ready for him, one of which he'll have no chance of resisting."
"No matter what you've got planned for him, Mecha-Baltan, you can't triumph against Superman! He thinks with more than just his muscles, like many of his past enemies have believed!"
"Did you think I'd plan my welcome for the Man of Steel if I wasn't aware of his unique intelligence, Miss Lane? Believe me when I tell you that once Superman gets aboard my ship, he will not be escaping from it any more than Henshaw or Corben will. Now, if you'll excuse me, my dear, I have an extraction process to perform & oversee."
Turning his back on her, Mecha-Baltan heads for the door, opens & exits through it, leaving Lois alone again. It was the chance she had been waited for: knowing the cyber-alien would check up on her since her capture, Lois held back on attempting an escape with a little device she kept in her pocket. Now that she's by herself, her time to act was now. Digging into her right pocket, she finds & takes out what looks like a small butterknife, only three inches long.
Thank you, Professor Hamilton!, Lois says to herself with a smile.
Putting the object to the glass, Lois begins cutting through.
Superman flew Iruma & Rena back to the airport, where it was swarmed with firefighters & police personell, including Maggie Sawyer, Dan Turpin, & the rest of S.C.U. in full combat gear. Upon arrival, the Man of Steel gives Maggie a quick rundown of the events which occurred there before having to carry the wounded GUTS members (& Jimmy Olsen) to Metropolis General. He handles the preliminaries like a pro in record time before heading over to the hangar & seeing the GUTS Wings resting on the concrete, looking as if they've been untouched by the battle. Using his x-ray vision, Superman does a quick scan of GUTS Wings 1 & 2, just to make sure everything is in perfect working order. Seeing no defects in circuitry or mechanics, Kal-El informs Iruma & Rena everything is shipshape & all set to go. As the ladies enter the cockpit of the second GUTS Wing, Superman entered the first. Iruma & Rena place a helmet specially designed for space flight & advises Superman to do the same, but he assures them that he has his own breathing apparatus, should he need it. After a brief lesson in handling the controls by Rena over their radios, Superman took off in GUTS Wing 1, with the ladies immediately following in GUTS Wing 2.
Their takeoff from Metropolis Airport was an hour ago.
Now they were all in deep space, high above & away from the Earth. Superman still took the lead in GUTS Wing 1, with GUTS Wing 2 piloted by Rena & Iruma close behind by about a hundred yards. The lessons given to Superman by the ladies helped the Man of Tomorrow handle the craft in a smooth manner, with no signs of sluggish maneuvers whatsoever. His skill impressed both females of the GUTS squadron.
"Simply fabulous, Superman!", said Rena in her mini headset. "You handle our GUTS Wing about as well as Daigo or I do!"
Superman smiles. "I told you girls I was a fast learner", he says. "Just show me the basics, & I'll take to them like a fish to water."
Now it was the ladies' turn to grin. "So we see", said Iruma. "It's such a shame we can't nominate you as a permanent member of GUTS, Superman!"
"No can do, Captain. Metropolis is my home, & let's not forget about my duties with the Justice League of America."
"Now that's a group of people I'd like to meet someday, when both our teams aren't burdened with duties to keep us tied!", said Rena.
"I think that can be arranged, Rena."
"First things first, Rena", said Iruma, being all business now. "We've been given the coordinates of Mecha-Baltan's ship by Professor Hamilton, so let's use them & head our GUTS Wings over there."
"Let me stay in the lead", Superman said. "Once we find that craft, it might start firing upon us at first sight. If that does happen, I'll take the brunt of the blasts while you two find an entrance leading inside it."
"Copy that, Superman. You be the living shield in case we…wait. Look there!"
"I see it too, Captain!"
Superman, Iruma, & Rena watch in silence as the invisible craft suddenly shows itself to the trio of do-gooders, its cloak disabling & revealing its rocky surface all over. To anyone else, it resembled nothing more than a large asteroid just hovering over the moon's surface at 95 to 100 dekameters as Horii said earlier.
But the trio knew it was their destination.
Horii was right. The damn thing is huge!, thought Rena, a feeling shared by Iruma, & even though she told her scientific genius not to let it intimidate him, that's exactly how she feels about it, not practicing what she preaches. It had a gloomy shine to its gray covering, a shine not nearly enough to behave like a star.
Then again, they weren't here to admire its scientific value or anything else: somewhere inside was a half-bionic alien from a distant, far-off world that has aligned itself with two extremely malevolent & dangerous beings Superman has encountered many times before. What's more, the person he cares most about—Lois Joanne Lane—is aboard the enormous vessel after being taken by its captain & pilot. Not knowing whether or not she's still alive gnaws at Superman's gut.
Hang in there, Lois!, he says to himself. I'll get you out of this no matter what it takes, like I always do! This I vow to you!
"I've scanned the ship with my x-ray vision, hoping to find anything that resembles an opening", Superman says after staring at the craft for long moments.
"Any luck with that?", asked Iruma.
"Negative, Captain. Although I can see past the rocky formation surrounding it, the metal of it can block my x-ray vision. It must be lined with lead."
"Do you think it's a coincidence, or does Mecha-Baltan know it's the one substance your x-ray vision can't penetrate?", asked Rena.
"I don't think so, Rena. If he's familiar with my vulnerability to kryptonite, & that Metallo & The Cyborg are two of my most deadliest enemies, I'm sure he planned to have his ship lined with lead to prevent me from taking a peep inside."
"So we'll have to do this the hard way, then?"
"More precisely, I'll need to. I'll put GUTS Wing 1 on autopilot, apply my breathing apparatus, & go down to pry an opening for us to get in."
"Hold it, Superman. Look!"
The trio look out of their cockpit windows at the craft, where a chunk of rock fades away & a flat metal panel slides open on both sides in a horizontal manner. From the ship's left side, what appears to be a landing dock is in plain sight of the GUTS Wings & their pilots, with more than enough space for them to fly into. For Iruma & Rena, it was the opportunity they've been waiting for; for Superman, however, it made him suspicious. Why would an opening just present itself out of the blue like it did? And how come it doesn't attack like it did on the moon when it wiped out the Solar Satellite just days ago?
Does Mecha-Baltan know I'm still alive somehow?, Superman wondered. Is that why he's allowing us easy access into his interstellar stronghold?
"Be cautious, ladies", he warns Iruma & Rena. "This seems almost too easy."
"Could be that Mecha-Baltan is expecting us to arrive", Iruma said.
"Or like he expects me to, Captain. Don't forget—I'm the reason he came here to Earth in the first place."
"So how do you want to do this, Superman? You know this could very well be a trap."
"Trap or not, we don't have any choice. Mecha-Baltan is a dire threat to Earth, & I intend to put him & his partners out of commission for good, once I rescue Lois! You girls ready?"
"Yes!", the ladies responded immediately.
"Glad to hear it! Inside we go then!"
The GUTS females & Superman guide their crafts into the waiting opening that's prepared for them. As soon as they enter, the doors which split open to allow access into the ship's interior closes shut with a metal clang, sealing them in but good. Both GUTS Wings land on the smooth platform without any hitches or problems, much less any nasty surprises waiting in the wings for them, like automated guns ready to start shooting or even Mecha-Baltan himself appearing. Superman was first to exit from his GUTS Wing, followed by Iruma & Rena once the Man of Steel signals it was safe to come out, making sure it was to begin with. When their feet touch the steel floor, the ladies draw their pistols—the same ones they used in dealing with The Cyborg which are armed with a deadly kryptonite beam, among another beam that packs a better punch than their standard firearms do. Should they use the kryptonite beam, the girls need to be careful to hit The Cyborg only & not Superman with it.
The trio survey their surroundings when they regroup. It was a really large room, with a height of about forty feet & a width/length measuring an even hundred feet. Large, fluorescent lights shine overhead & illuminate the place, giving only light & no warmth. At the walls, excluding the entrance from hence they've flown into, eight steel doors ten feet high & wide are closed tight. It felt like the trio were in some kind of TV game show where they need to choose a door in order to pick a prize.
Even though this wasn't a game they were playing, they do need to pick a door in order to find & save Lois from their adversary's grip.
"So now that we're here, where do we even start?", Rena asks. "This place is just as enormous inside as it is outside!"
"Good question, Rena. I wish I had an answer to give you", said Iruma.
"Wherever we go", Superman states, "it's vital that we stay together from this point on. No one goes anywhere by themselves, especially since we have absolutely no layout of this ship. Plus, if either of you finds anything strange before I do, let me check it out first. We're on Mecha-Baltan's turf, so anything unexpected can & probably will happen. Agreed?"
"Indefinitely", Iruma replied.
"Can't argue with logic like that", Rena said. "Can you see through the walls now that we're past the lead plating that covers the ship?"
The Man of Steel shakes his head. "No dice, Rena. The interior is also lined with lead. I very much loathe to admit it, but it seems Mecha-Baltan did his homework & designed this ship well. We'll have to search every corridor as swiftly as possible."
"Superman, that could take days! I don't think our enemies will even give us that amount of time to go over this craft, big as it is! Isn't there some other way to do this?"
"I only wish there was, Rena. And like I mentoned before, splitting up is definitely out of the question. We'll just have to…huh?"
A sound of doors opening all at once fills the room for several seconds, unveiling a plethora of wide corridors all lit with the same lights that shine in the landing dock. Superman gets into an attack stance, as Iruma & Rena aim their weapons in all directons, ready to fire at the first sight of Mecha-Baltan, The Cyborg,and/or Metallo or any other threat. When the corridors were all they see, they relax but still stay on alert.
That's when Superman hears a noise, picked up by his super-hearing.
He places a hand to his ear to hear it better, blocking it out from the other few noises which intermingle with the one that catches his attention the most.
"Superman…what is it?", Iruma asked,noticing.
Kal-El held up his free hand, urging her to keep silent. Concentrating, Superman hones in on the sound: from a distance, he can hear the sound of men struggling, probably trying to get free of binds or even a prison cell that they're trapped in.
"I can hear people trapped", he finally says. "They could be other hostages that Mecha-Baltan has taken!"
"Do you know if any of them is Miss Lane?", Rena asked.
"I don't think so, but we still need to rescue them regardless!"
"Let's get to them!", Iruma said. "They don't deserve to be held captive any more than Miss Lane does!"
"You got that right, Captain! Hold on tight, both of you!"
Scooping each female underneath his arms, the Man of Steel entered one of the doors on the right-hand side of the wall. Using his extraordinary hearing to keep honing in on the sound of the captives, Superman soars down the hallway like a bald eagle in the wilderness, looking for food to snatch up in its claws & eat. The hallway went straight for the first seventy feet, then curved left like a railroad track. Numerous doors leading to unknown rooms pass by like streetlights, giving no mind to Krypton's Last Son or the two GUTS females; all their minds were on was finding Lois Lane & the other captives & transport them back safely to Earth before Mecha-Baltan & his companions can do anything horrible to them.
Wth the sounds of struggle getting louder, Superman assumes they were now very close to where the hostages resided at. It sounded like only two men who were trapped, & not a whole armada. It mattered not to Superman: whether it was two or two hundred, he was determined to find & set them free.
Finally, the trio reach their destination, & Superman gently released the ladies out of his unbreakable grip & make contact with the floor again. It was a sight they thought they never expected to find within Mecha-Baltan's vessel: it was The Cyborg & Metallo fighting to bust out of the binds which held them firmly. Even with the strength they each possess, neither cybernetic being is successful—it was like Frankenstein's monster attempting to get loose from the table which he came to life on after a jolt of electrical voltage that has done so.
They couldn't believe it—Hank Henshaw & John Corben were the hostages!
"Well, well, isn't this a pretty sight!", Superman said, crossing his arms at his chest. Iruma & Rena do the same.
The Cyborg & Metallo turn to their right & see the Man of Steel & the two GUTS females, all of whom are doubtlessly enjoying their dire predicament.
"Superman!", Henshaw & Corben said together.
"So the blast didn't finish you off, along with your GUTS friends, as Mecha-Baltan had thought!", said Corben. "Thank God!"
The trio's eyebrows rose in surprise. "'Thank God', Corben?", Superman asked. "What does that mean, exactly? Last I recall, you were laughing gleefully when leaving us to our proposed deaths before!"
"You actually heard that?"
"The kryptonite attached to those bolas may have given me a pretty bad case of the flu, but my hearing was still functioning then!"
"In any case", Iruma steps in, "you make it seem like your 'friend' Mecha-Baltan is the real villain in this whole scenario, & that you two have been diagnosed as the victims!"
"Contrary to your supposed disbelief, 'Captain', that's exactly the predicament here!", said The Cyborg. "It's much worse than any of you realize!"
"Oh, get off it!", snapped Rena. "You tried to blow up a kryptonite-weakened Superman along with the rest of my GUTS team, kidnap Miss Lane, & now you attempt to proclaim innocent with us? Just how stupid do you think we really are, anyway?"
The two captive villains see & sense only contempt in Superman & the ladies, realizing they disbelieve their claims. It was a natural reaction from them, of course, but knowing what they do, they still need to try.
Henshaw turns to Kal-El. "You believe me, don't you, Superman?"
Superman's stance didn't change or waver. "I can't seem to detect a heartbeat within you at all, Henshaw! Give me one good reason why I should!"
Defeated (in more ways than one), it was Metallo who spills the beans. "All right, Superman, you got us! Here's the scoop: Mecha-Baltan wanted to capture you for the same reason he's done so to us! He plans on extracting all of our genetics & DNA—Henshaw, myself, & you—and fixate it altogether in order to download it into his army of over five hundred copies of himself! If he succeeds, not even you or your new friend Ultraman Tiga will be able to stop their rampage & utter destruction of the Earth!"
The news hit Superman like a blast of solid kryptonite to the gut, & even Iruma & Rena had been struck with the dire information for the most part. So that's why Mecha-Baltan wanted to capture me with their help!, Superman thought. I knew he was a malevolent entity, but I never would've guessed that he had something like this up his metal sleeve!
"And there's even more to it!", said The Cyborg.
"Meaning what, Henshaw?", Superman asked.
"He didn't say who, but Mecha-Baltan mentioned he had a substitute all ready for extraction, should he fail in taking you captive! We can only guess it must be a powerful being like yourself & us! Please, Superman! We told you all we know! Help us out of these binds!"
The Man of Steel, Iruma, & Rena look at one another with anger, suspicion, & worry all gnawing inside, silent & unsure of what to say at the moment. Here are mass murderer Hank Henshaw & petty thief/killer John Corben in a helpless predicament, follies of teaming up with an alien life form they've never encountered just to get at Superman, believing him to be the cause of their ruined previous lives. The ladies have a rather tough time swallowing their story in spite of their evidence of being binded to the wall as they are. How do they know this isn't some ruse to try to capture or kill Superman—and them? Or if Mecha-Baltan himself isn't disguised somewhere to do the chore? There were so many scenarios that could come up with in their minds, & the ladies didn't like any of them.
"Come on, people!", Metallo barked. "Every second we waste here is in Mecha-Baltan's favor! Will you let us assist you three or what?"
"Assist us?", Iruma barked back. "After what you both tried to do? "She turns to Superman. "Don't buy into this tripe, Superman! It's obviously a ploy for them to save their own metal skins, or put us all into the ground once they're loose!"
"If we don't, then Mecha-Baltan most certainly will, once hs army is prepared!", The Cyborg says. "Can any of you really take that risk?"
Superman looks at the two GUTS females. "I understand your uneasiness about those two, believe you me. But something tells me they're speaking the truth about all this. I can't explain it, but they are. Their current predicament is all the proof I need: you'd have to be extremely sneaky and/or powerful to put either of those two into comfinement like this. Like it or not, we're going to need them."
"You're really going to free them?", Rena says, her own ears refusing to collect what she had just heard.
"I'm afraid so, Rena. Between these two & Mecha-Baltan, the latter is the greater threat to the Earth, & we'll need every edge we can against him, even if that help comes from a most unusual source."
"'Keep your friends close & your enemies closer'?"
"Precisely." Superman faces the two meta-criminals. "So, gentlemen, are we in agreement? If I set you free, you'll both aide us in finding Lois & taking Mecha-Baltan down once she's safe?"
It was Metallo who answers. "Indeed, Superman! Henshaw & I have as much reason to abhor him as you or the girls do! Get us loose, & we'll rip his circuits out, one by one!"
"After we find Lois!"
"Then stand still & don't move—either of you!"
Signaling with his hand to tell the ladies to step back, Superman's eyes glow a deep, fierce red & emits twin beams. They first strike the bind which holds The Cyborg's right arm in place at the forearm & hand. Henshaw can feel the intense heat of Superman's eye beams as his bind smokes & bubbles, melting it away in a puddle of molten metal that drips to the floor in silver drops. Finally, Henshaw can rip his right arm free by yanking it away. Now loose of his bind, he morphs his fingers into a multitude of powerful lasers, all of which begin firing at his other binds, along with Metallo's own. With Superman's help, the two cyber-criminals are out & back on their two feet in moments.
"Just don't try anything funny, boys!", Iruma warned, holding her gun along with Rena. "Remember, these guns pack quite the punch for even you two!"
"At ease, 'Captain'!", Henshaw says. "Corben & I know where we stand!"
"You'd better!", Superman warns. "Now we find Lois & do it fast!"
That was when a familiar voice echoes down the wide hallway.
"Lois? Is that you?"
"Miss Lane?", Iruma & Rena called out.
Rapid clacking of shoes filled the area from the opposite side of the hallway in which Superman & the girls came. They got louder & louder until the person occupying them appears in full view of the group, consisting of a great hero from another planet, two ladies from a peacekeeping organization in Japan, & two cybernetic meta-criminals, both of whom were once human.
As Superman & the GUTS females had hoped, it is who's voice they thought it was.
"The one & only!", Lois said.
"It's good to see you're safe, Miss Lane!", Rena said. "When we saw you in Mecha-Baltan's grip, we feared the worst!"
"How did you manage to escape his clutches, by the way?", Iruma wondered.
"I guess I should be lucky that cyber-alien has never heard of a glass cutter!", Lois says, holding the three-inch object in her hand. "A present, courtesy of S.T.A.R. Labs!"
Thank you, Professor Hamilton!, Superman thought, becoming the second person in one day to have that thought enter one's mind.
So joyful was Lois to be reunited with the Man of Tomorrow & the GUTS females, that she failed to acknowledge the presence of the company they were keeping, & her eyes went wide.
"Metallo! The Cyborg!", she blurted, stepping back.
Superman rushed to her, taking her arm. "It's all right, Lois. I know how this looks, but for the time being, they're our temporary allies."
Lois' eyes went even wider. "Allies? Them? Are you mad?"
"Nice to see you too, Miss Lane!", Metallo says, a smirk coming from what remained of his face.
Superman ignored Corben's sarcasm. "It's a long story, Lois, one we haven't got time to get into right now. Mecha-Baltan's no doubt learned of my arrival & their escape by now, & we need to get you out of here before it all hits the fan!"
"I can take her back to the GUTS Wings & get her to Earth, Superman!", said Rena.
"Good thinkng, Rena!", he replied. "Get her there, & the rest of us will…"
A violent explosion rocks the ship, & is felt by Superman & the others, even if it occurred at a distance. The blast almost knocked the ladies off their feet & onto the floor.
"What in the hell was that?", Lois barked. "Are we being attacked from outside?"
"No! That blast came from the landing dock where we entered!", Superman said, the realization hitting him, Iruma,& Rena.
"The GUTS Wings!", the latter two said. Just as things couldn't get any worse, a thick metal sheet slides horizontally from left to right, closing off the way back to the dock, along with the door which Mecha-Baltan used after Henshaw & Corben's imprisonment. Superman flew straight for the newly installed wall with his fists past his head, intending to bust a hole into it.
But the moment he makes contact, the Man of Steel gets clobbered by an electrical jolt, unlike any kind he's been hit with before. The current races through his person as he cries in pain, with the equivalence of a mystical force. The group cover their eyes to shield them from the brightness of the surge as Superman falls on his hands & knees, his hide smoking in spots. Neither Rena nor Iruma, let alone Metallo or The Cyborg, bother using their own weapons to try blasting a hole into: if the Kryptonian couldn't, what chance will they have?
Damn that bionic alien!, Lois said to herself, angry at Mecha-Baltan's resourcefulness.
"Wonderful rescue you have here, people!", Metallo mocks.
"Keep your sarcasm to yourself, Corben!", Superman growls, getting to his feet. "This is really bad!"
"You think?", The Cyborg snaps. "I'd feel more secure if the Joker had come to spring us! At least he always had a contingency plan somewhere up his purple sleeve!"
An idea suddenly comes to Superman, something he wished he thought of before. "Henshaw, you & Corben didn't need ships to get to Earth, did you?", he stated.
It hit The Cyborg. "No, we didn't! We were teleported there in an instant by…ah, I see what you mean, Superman! Why bother with measley ships when we can simply teleport ourselves out of this inferior place?"
"Now you're thinking, Cyborg!", said Iruma. "Where is the teleporter unit?"
"In Mecha-Baltan's main control room", Metallo said. "What's more, Henshaw & I know how to get there, so if you all wish to live, you'll follow us!"
"Then you & Henshaw get going, Corben!", Superman firmly said. "To quote you from before, 'every second we waste here…'"
"Yes, yes! I don't need a reprimand, Superman! Least of all from you!"
Not wanting another viewpoint from the Kryptonian, Metallo runs in the only direction now open to him, with The Cyborg sharing the lead. Superman follows closely behind, as Iruma, Rena, & Lois take up the rear. The hallway twists & turns as the group runs/soars down, racing for the room that will ensure safe passage to Earth, now that the GUTS Wings are all but kaput by an explosion they all know was caused by Mecha-Baltan himself. While it was his choice to make, Superman wasn't too thrilled in even the slightest of having to release Metallo & The Cyborg from their inescapable binds. They're no more faithful allies to him than Darkseid himself, & they'll sooner turn on them at the drop of a hat the first chance they get. Hank Henshaw & John Corben are far from being saints, but in comparison, Mecha-Baltan makes them both look like either Bugs Bunny or even Mickey Mouse.
It's not a choice he's proud of, but Superman knows where he stood in situations like this. It was part of being a hero, he knew: tough decisions naturally come with the job when you're trying to save a group of people or a whole planetful of them. One of the reasons he's called Superman is not only because of his extraordinary abilities most people can only dream of having, but because he also has the courage to face the consequences of certain choices he has made in the past. One of which is allowing his first & arguably his greatest enemy, Lex Luthor, to allow him to become President of the United States. He could've addressed the people of the Land of the Free to not vote for him to make sure he never sets foot in the White House. But then, he realized, what kind of person would that make him, to use his popularity—his reputation—to ruin Luthor's campaign? No, the choice he lived to regret at that point was putting his faith in the people of America to make the right choice.
To Superman, they failed. It was similar to the situation in Gotham City when Congress refused to help rebuild Batman's city, even with the Caped Crusader (as Bruce Wayne) at the hearing, trying in vain to get the assistance Gotham needed. Lex Luthor did what Bruce Wayne could not: get Gotham rebuilt, gaining the people's confidence & blinding them to the truth about the man, who only reconstructed the city for his own personal greed.
It's a decision he still gets haunted by. Even though he toppled Luthor out of his presidential position with Batman's assistance, Superman knew that Lex should never have received that highest honor, in spite of his 'noble' intentions during Gotham's No Man's Land, along with the whole Brainiac 13 virus that converted Metropolis at the turn of the new millennium.
Now he's paired with two cybernetic madmen who will go to great lengths to see him dead, just to put an end to an alien that's half-bionic like the other Cyborg, the Teen Titan Victor Stone.
But if the Earth is to keep existing, this hard decision must be made.
Getting fifty-four yards from their departure point, Metallo & The Cyborg come to a halt, forcing the rest to do likewise. Two doors parallel to each other on the left & right reside where they stop at, but something at the one on the left catches Henshaw's cybernetic eyes.
"Hey, what gives with stopping short like that?", Iruma said, clearly annoyed.
"Superman, look there", said The Cyborg, ignoring her & pointing. "Do you realize what that is on the wall next to this door?"
Superman studied a panel on the door's left side. It had a number of rectangular black bars going across it—three in all—with vertical green lines & a red line moving from left to right all in the same fashion, jumping up at the top when they reach the end of their run before starting all over again. A couple of buttons lay underneath, including arrow keys that point left & right instead of up & down: presumably how to open the door.
"I do", he says. "They're life readings. I'd know them anywhere."
"Life readings?", Rena repeated. "Do you all suppose ths is where…"
"Mecha-Baltan has his extractor substitute for Superman?", Metallo finishes. "Let's find out, little lady, shall we?"
The Cyborg presses the button that points right, hoping it's the one which opens the door. It does, to his surprise, & the door disappears into the wall, revealing another pair of constraining binds like the ones which held him & Corben.
Only these binds were on a much larger, thicker scale, & for damn good reason.
The one in those binds was a large, walking nightmare which made everybody gasp in fright, including Henshaw & Corben themselves upon seeing it, their eyes going as wide as they can go. The thing measured a whopping seven feet tall from head to toe, & was muscular in every part of its being. Its flesh was gray, & it would be naked were it not for the green pair of torn pants which is actually leftovers from a lead-lined suit that once covered it completely. Pointed stubs of bone protruded from the thing's shoulders, forearms, knuckles, legs, & toes, all of which were merely extensions of its own skeleton piercing through the skin in those areas. On its face just above its red eyes & upon the forehead rested a curved, flat piece of bone that may have served as its eyebrows, partly positioned in a 'V'. Its lower jaw had a thick curved ridge of bone from cheek to cheek. A set of sharp teeth inhabited its mouth, & in the back of its head was a couple of strands of long white hair that was braided. Although currently immobile, just the mere sight of it gave the group of heroes & villains a case of the willies.
Some know it as an unstoppable force.
Some call it the 'Armageddon Creature'.
But undoubtedly, it will be remembered chiefly as the creature that once killed Superman.
"Doomsday!", Lois said in a chilling whisper.
A flood of memories swarm the Man of Steel upon seeing the thing which once claimed his life. He sees flashes in his mind of his many encounters with Doomsday like a movie played on fast-forward: his rampage across America, battling with & dispatching the Justice League at that time (Maxima, Ice, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, & Bloodwynd) before making his way into Metropolis, where Superman lost his life for a brief time; his battle on Apokolips, where he had also battled The Cyborg, grudgingly assisting Darkseid; the siege with the creature while on his way to the Medi-Life Institute in order to save the life of the baby his longtime frinds Pete Ross & Lana Lang had, while assisting his allies in an updated version of the JLA (Orion, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Plastic Man, Huntress, & Martian Manhunter) when another of Superman's rogues—Brainiac—temporarily took over the creature's physical form; his brief alliance with the beast when he was needed to dispatch the probes of the claimed 'Destroyer of Worlds', Imperiex, who slew Doomsday with a blast of cosmic rays from his hand into a smoldering skeleton; the attack at the White House when Doomsday came after then-President Lex Luthor for getting him killed by sending him after Imperiex during the war, finally becoming a sentient being. His final encounter with the beast (or beasts) was when Darkseid, after being given Doomsday by Luthor as an exchange for assistance in the war, unleashed an army of cloned monsters to attack Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman & her Amazons on Themyscira in a scheme to kidnap Kal-El's cousin, Kara Zor-El, the newest Supergirl, & convert her into one of his deadly Female Furies.
Laying eyes upon Doomsday again gives Superman a pit of fear in his stomach, an emotion he has to fight whenever he sees the Armageddon Creature, even if he is heaily restrained like he is now. But even he has a hard time in dealing with it, because as he told Doomsday himself during their encounter at the White House, 'once you have felt pain, it changes you—forever. And you'll begin to understand something new—fear.'
Right now, Kal-El is practicing what he preached to him then. He cannot let it consume him, even now. If he does, Earth has no future.
"I should have known who Mecha-Baltan meant before about the 'perfect substitute' for his extraction ploy!", said The Cyborg. "You could not find a better candidate than Doomsday!"
"How would you know for sure, Henshaw?", asked Iruma.
"Because, woman, he would've been my first choice, were this my scheme!"
"And why wouldn't he be, Henshaw?"
At once, the group was on their guard, knowing that the voice was none other than Mecha-Baltan's. The Cyborg turns his hand into the muzzle of a gun, all ready to fire once the bionic alien showed himself. Iruma & Rena do the same with their own weapons, & Superman keeps Lois close to his side to shield her from any harm. Even Metallo gets poised for action, despite having no firepower at his disposal. It was fine by him—he'd rather prefer the 'hands-on' approach with his former ally, tearing him asunder after the others soften him up first.
Mecha-Baltan shows up in the hallway to Doomsday's left.
"YOU!", The Cyborg spat, aiming his gun hand at his foe & firing first before anyone else. His shot of white energy heads right for the cyber-alien, who has no time to dodge. It seems his sceme for destruction of Earth has ended here & now.
Mecha-Baltan doesn't even twitch. The beam goes right through him & explodes a piece of the wall behind him.
"Hologram?", Metallo cursed.
"Typical", it said. "Did you really think I'd show myself & not be prepared for what I knew you would do once you saw me, Henshaw?"
"You're a coward then!", The Cyborg growled.
"Hardly. I'm just biding my time."
"You planned to extract Doomsday's genetics all along, weren't you?", Superman stated.
"Whether I captured you or not, yes", the hologram says. "Magnificent, isn't he? The alien scientist called Bertron has created the perfect being some 250,000 years ago on Krypton. Using cloning techniques, he began the creature's life as nothing more than a baby which he repeatedly ejected into the harsh environment of the planet's surface as the wildlife from that era kept killing & killing him. Finally, after 30 years or so, he has succeeded in making Doomsday the ultimate being, able to survive in any environment he happens to stumble upon, even in the vast, cold, merciless vacuum of space. Although he turned on & killed his 'father' for all the deaths he suffered during his creation, Doomsday had been given regenerative capabilities, enabling him to cheat death itself, & grow an immunity from whatever had caused his last death, should he be killed by anything stronger than he. As Henshaw mentioned, I could not find anyone better than what Earth has named him 'The Armageddon Creature', & once I extract his genetics, me & my army will know no weaknesses & Earth, along with the whole universe, will belong to us!"
"That's not going to happen, Mecha-Baltan!", Superman snapped. "Not if I have anything to say about it!"
"I beg to differ, Kryptonian! It will!"
The hologram of Mecha-Baltan vanishes before another word can be said or any action can be taken. As before, a thick, solid wall of steel closes off the way the group came from on both sides of it, sealing them within a confined space with the shackled Doomsday. Thinking fast, Superman presses the button next to the door right across from Doomsday, opening it up.
"Everybody in here! Quickly!", he shouted. Iruma, Rena, & Lois were the first to escape into the next room, followed by Metallo & The Cyborg, with Superman himself exiting last. The room they enter in was vast, like a school gymnasium but larger. The only other way out of it was a door on the far opposite side, a good ninety feet.
Mecha-Baltan's baritone laugh echoed the room. "You're only delaying the inevitable!", he gloats. "I will recapture you three for my crucial plans of wiping out the Earth into asteroids as Krypton had been when it exploded! Think of it: my army with the abilities of merging with any form of machinery & becoming utterly indestructible to even the most powerful of life forms, along with being equipped by heat vision, breath that can freeze its targets, move faster than the speed of light & conquer death—all at our fingertips to do with as we please!"
"I told you before—it's not happening!", Superman reiterated. "Not while I live & breathe!"
"Enough tomfoolery, Mecha-Baltan!", The Cyborg barked. "Show yourself & let's end this!"
"He's right!", Metallo added. "We're tired of this game of hide-&-seek, so be a man & face your fate like one!"
"As you wish, gentlemen!"
Hank Henshaw & John Corben's demands were met almost immediately with definite results. It made the two cybernetic super-villains regret it: as one, the cyber-alien appeared out of thin air in front of the group eleven fet away. The Cyborg was about to fire his weapon again, but now another Mecha-Baltan appears with the first one.
Followed by another. And another. And another still.
One after another, multiple copies of Mecha-Baltan show up in the room, each one a flawless imitation of the original in every perspective way, down to the littlest detail. In no time, the room was nearly completely cluttered with Mecha-Baltans with barely any empty, free space. As with Doomsday himself, the sight was enough to shake even Metallo & The Cyborg.
"Henshaw, Corben, why so surprised?", Mecha-Baltan says, chuckling. "You both demanded that I show myself to you, & I have—about two hundred & fifty of me!" The real bionic alien laughs a maniacal guffaw before pointing his left metal claw to Superman & the others. "Troops! Kill the three human females if you wish, but remember—I want Superman, The Cyborg, & Metallo all subdued & reshackled for extraction! Go!"
Two things happen at once: the real Mecha-Baltan disappears from sight, as Superman shoves Iruma, Rena, & Lois back into the hallway & closes the door behind them, sealing them inside with Doomsday, the thick walls of steel at both ends still there. The place now looks like a cramped room rather than a hallway with the walls in place. Even if thee's no window on the door to see into, the ladies can hear the sound of laser fire, punching, kicking, & yelling as the battle between Superman, Metallo, & The Cyborg kicks into high gear. Iruma presses the button to reopen the door, but nothing happened.
When she saw smoke rise from the panel, she stated the obvious.
"Dammit! Superman must've burned out the controls once the door shut!"
"And for good reason, Captain!", said Lois. "We don't have the firepower to go up against all those Mecha-Baltans!"
"We need to do something, Miss Lane!", said Rena. "Powerful as they are, those three in there will sooner or later fall prey to those bionic nightmares! Afterwards, they'll hunt down & kill us! We need an edge on our side!"
"But Rena, even with your special guns, we're no match for all those creatures!"
"But he is!", Iruma said, staring at Doomsday as Lois & Rena do the same.
The GUTS captain heads over to the control panel next to the Armageddon Creature when Lois grabs her arm, dreading the plan she has in mind.
"Captain, you're not seriously thinking about letting him loose, are you?", Lois asks fearfully.
Iruma gently yanks her arm free. "And why not?"
"Think about what you're doing! Doomsday is an unstoppable animal! He'll do anything—go through anyone—to get to Superman! And don't ever forget: this is the very same creature…"
"That once killed Superman! I know that, Miss Lane—Rena & myself are just as aware of it as you are! But listen to…"
No, you listen, Captain!", Lois says, tears forming in her eyes. "I was there when Superman fought Domsday in Metropolis to a standstill! He was in my arms when he died! I couldn't bear to see it happen again!"
"Miss Lane", Iruma says firmly but gently, placing her arms on Lois' shoulders. "I relate to what it is you're saying, I really do. Even I was shaken when the news of Superman's death reached Japan, & I'm pretty sure Rena here was, too. But we have to look at our situation—God forbid, should Mecha-Baltan achieve in extracting his genetics & DNA, along with Superman's, The Cyborg's and Metallo's to combine them all into himself & his army, then not only are we screwed, but so will the Earth be if we don't act now!"
"I very much loathe to admit it myself, Miss Lane", Rena stepped in, "but Captain Iruma has a point. With a mixture of all those different genetics/DNA injected into Mecha-Baltan & his army, I doubt it if even kryptonite can halt their rampage on the planet. Like Superman & our temporary allies, we have to stop him before he even has the slightest chance of carrying out his plan, & like it or not, Doomsday here could very well give us the power we need to accomplish that!"
"Rena's right. Miss Lane, I'm asking you—will you trust me with my decision?"
Lois stared at Iruma. Like her husband, she's had to make some pretty hard decisions in her life, like whether or not to still marry Clark after Superman had refused to kill the Joker even when her life was endangered by the Clown Prince of Crime, resulting in a break-up between the two. Another was when presidential candidate Lex Luthor had asked Lois to kill one of her own stories from the Daily Planet in return for having her job back there. It was tough, but in the end, she & Clark tied the knot, becoming husband & wife, & she got to reveal the truth about the arrival of Imperiex, the story she reluctantly agreed to kill, learning that Luthor knew beforehand of its arrival, undoubtedly by Mongul II, who became Superman's brief ally in order to vanquish the destroyer of worlds.
Now she's back in the thick of it with another tough choice: should she give in to her feelings & refuse to let GUTS captain Iruma set the monster which once murdered her husband? Or use common sense & agree to her decision to let the Armageddon Creature out of his shackles?
Her mind made up, Lois lets Iruma know the bottom line.
The walls were stained with multiple blast marks & dents from Superman, The Cyborg, & Metallo firing their heat visions, laser shots, & good old-fashioned bare fists in order to repel the swarm of Mecha-Baltans they are now contending with. The Cyborg fires blast after blast from his hand cannon; Metallo punches, kicks, & throws one alien after another with his titanic strength; Superman uses his heat vision to drive back many invaders, & even uses his freeze breath to trap several of them in blocks of ice.
But their antics do them no good: they break out of their icy tombs & attack anew, & for each Mecha-Baltan that goes down, two more take their place & pick up where they leave off.
"There's just no end to this!", Metallo scoffs. "We might as well be trying to stop a tidal wave from drowning a shoreline!"
"Don't give up, Corben!", Superman said. "There must be a way to take them all down in a clean sweep, rather than one at a time!"
"If you have any good ideas on that, now's not the time to be shy about it!", said The Cyborg.
One of the Mecha-Baltans laughs. "You cannot defeat all of us! You can only hope to surrender yourselves & give in to the fates that are in store for all of you! If you give up willingly, we shall be…lenient!"
"Never!", Superman barked.
"For once, I agree with him!", The Cyborg growled. "It'll be a cold day in Hell before any of us become your guinea pigs!"
"That's right, meddlers!", Metallo snaps. "If you want us for your master's science project, you'll have to put us down & kill us first!"
"That can easily be arranged!", said another Mecha-Baltan. The ones who were closest to Superman, Henshaw, & Corben unleashed a pair of red beams from their insectoid eyes, striking the three with such force that compels them to painfully cry out. Others join in the foray, hitting the trio with their own eye beams. So powerful they were, Superman & his two reluctant companions go down on their hands & knees & are kept at bay there.
Those beams pack quite the punch!, Superman said to himself. They're not draining me of my powers, but they hurt just the same! If this keeps up, they could very well kill us like they promised, & it seems as if Henshaw & Corben aren't faring any better than me!
He was right: Metallo & The Cyborg aren't doing any greater than the Man of Steel. Even with their high stamina & endurance, both meta-criminals are feeling the stinging, burning pain of the Mecha-Baltan's lasers showering their mechanical persons. Pinned down by the power, they fight to rise, but they have no more success at beating the odds than Superman is.
That was when the room shook with tremendous force.
All the Mecha-Baltans in the room ceased their attack on their targets & turned to the door, which now received a sizeable, round dent in it. It received another & so on, as each new dent was accompanied by the same thunderous boom as before. The door buckled under the beatings it was taking, bending in the the trio watch this unusual turn of events, they surmise that the door was being pounded by a powerful force which must be literally…punching its way in.
Oh god…NO!, Superman thought, fearing the worst. They couldn't…they didn't…!
"Those foolish girls!", said The Cyborg, comprehending the same—and only—conclusion as to why the door was giving in like that.
"They're mad!", said Metallo. "As insane as we are!"
Finally, after a few more pounding punches, the door gets free of its moorings & flies into the Mecha-Baltan swarm in a straight line, slamming into several of the bionic aliens like a snowplow at work clearing a street of the fallen flakes in winter. The door crashes into the door on the opposite side & tears it free of its anchorage as well, revealing a new hallway & splattering the area with body parts & thick, yellow fluids.
Sure enough, what the trio feared has come true.
Doomsday stood at the entrance of the room!
"Mecha-Baltans!", he bellows, his voice an angry growl & his eyes glowing as red as blood.
"Stop & subdue him immediately!", one of the aliens cried.
Doomsday lets out a blaring, primal roar that stung the ears of even Superman & the two cyber-criminals. The Mecha-Baltans fire their powerful eye beams at the Armageddon Creature, ignoring their previous targets, but to their surprise, their blasts bounce & reflect off the beast's tough gray hide, doing no noticeable damage. Doomsday rushes at the alien horde & literally tears into the swarm like a tornado through a trailer park. Swinging his mighty fists, Doomsday rips off numerous limbs of his many immediate foes. Legs, arms, torsos, & even decapitated heads litter the room everywhere Superman, The Cyborg, & Metallo look, yellow alien blood adding to the grisly décor. Henshaw knew of Doomsday's destructive capabilities (as he had first-hand experience of it when he was reborn on Apokolips), but even he was stunned by the creature's utter & relentless savagery, tearing the bionic aliens apart like they were toys. As was Metallo, for this is the very first time he was seeing Doomsday up close & personal, despite all he had heard about him, including the part of when he killed Superman during their first encounter—a feat he, like so many others, wanted to perform personally. He wasn't sure if he can survive a direct conflict with him, & he wasn't all that anxious to find out. Henshaw would no doubt tell him that it's better to have Doomsday as your ally than your enemy.
Currently, John Corben couldn't dispute that fact!
"Which one of you is the REAL one?", Doomsday roared, pressing his assault. "You planned on driving me to extinction? I'll send you to it FIRST!"
Through it all, Doomsday defeated & shredded the last of the Mecha-Baltan army, paying no mind to Metallo, The Cyborg, or even his greatest enemy Superman.
Doomsday stares at the unlikely team-up of the world's greatest hero & two of society's greatest menaces (a title Doomsday himself holds, if not proudly), as they stare back at him, staying absolutely still & keeping silent, unsure of what he'll say—or do. Will he start attacking them, now that he's dispensed of the Mecha-Baltans? Or will he leave them be & hunt down the real thing, somehow knowing it was he who plans to erase him out of existence—permanently? Was that even possible to accomplish that with Doomsday, who can defy the laws of death?
The Armageddon Creature chooses.
"I am going to find Mecha-Baltan—the REAL one—and make him pay for daring to use me as a lab rat!", he stated. "If any of you attempts to get in my way or even stop me from exacting my vengeance upon him, you will wind up like his foot soldiers! Understand? He is MINE!"
Facing the opposite exit, Doomsday racesout of the room & disappears from sight.
Like hell we will, monster!, thought The Cyborg. Corben & I have as much right to see our former ally pay for the same reason, so like it or not, we're going after him too!
"Superman?", Lois says as she, Iruma, & Rena appear in the room, viewing the slewed bodies of dead aliens & body parts all stained with yellow blood.
"Enjoying your handiwork, ladies?", Metallo says sarcastically.
"Lois!", Superman says, rushing up to her. "Lois! Thank God you three are all right! When we saw Doomsday, I thought he…"
"Don't worry", Lois assures him. "Once we set him loose, the three of us dived for cover, & he did the rest on his own. He even recalls that Mecha-Baltan is responsible for his predicament."
"Lois, what were you ladies thinking of, setting him free like that? You three could've been killed by him!"
"Please don't blame Miss Lane, Superman", Iruma said in her defense. "Setting Doomsday loose was all my idea, not hers. Truth be told, she didn't want this any more than you do."
"But we were desperate, Superman, & you three needed the extra pair of hands in order for you to defeat Mecha-Baltan's army", Rena said. "Surely you understand?"
"Understand? Understand?", The Cyborg barked at her. "Little fleshbag, we could've been slaughtered by that monstrosity due to your irrational act! Superman's right: what were you thinking?"
"That's enough, Henshaw!", Superman said in a stony voice, getting in The Cyborg's face. "Desperate times called for desperate measures, & these ladies made the only choice that seemed as the right one, no matter how you, Corben, or myself may have felt about it! As a friend of mine once said, 'In times of war, circumstances dictate action'! Now you & Metallo have a choice: you both can stay here & point fingers, or get to the control room & get off this boat! Which will it be, gentlemen? We don't have all day!"
Staring hard at his hated foe, The Cyborg lets out a dissatisfying grunt. He could easily knock him into next week (or even next year) for daring to speak to him in that tone of voice, among ruining his previous life & turning him into the metal monstrosity he is now.
But for all the hate he has for the man, his abhorrence for Mecha-Baltan is greater than that.
For the time being.
"Metallo & I swore to make Mecha-Baltan pay for his betrayal of us, & we aim to keep that vow!", Henshaw says.
"Then what are we doing standing around here for?", Metallo says. "Knowing that big brute, he'll trash the teleporter unit along with that infernal alien—and our ride home!"
"For once, Corben, I agree!", Superman said. "Let's catch up to Doomsday before he catches up to Mecha-Baltan or the main control room!"
The ladies nod, as the ladies follow the Man of Steel out of the room where Doomsday had exited, with Corben & Henshaw trailing behind but closely. They're still a team at this point, but once the real threat has been dealt with, both cybernetic fugitives will exact their vengeance on another alien they loathe with every fiber of their being—Superman.
It won't be long now!, Henshaw thought. When Mecha-Baltan is no more, you'll be joining him very shortly after, Superman! You'll wish Doomsday had taken your life just now—again!
The sounds of Doomsday's rampage echoed the hallway.
It did not take too long at all for Superman & the rest to catch up with Doomsday. He has made so much noise trashing doors, walls, & anything else in his sight that even one who was deaf and/or blind would have no trouble locating him. He was like a pauper dropping his loot from the garbage can he had been rummaging through for whatever passed as a decent meal. They caught up to him in another large open area, only circular in appearance & slightly smaller than the room where they faced all those Mecha-Baltans in. It was like a miniature version of New York City's Madison Square Garden, at a height of twenty feet high & twice that amount in circumference. A door in two other spots to the north & west of their position were the only exits.
Doomsday turned to the group of heroes & villains with disdain.
"I TOLD you pathetic people NOT to try & stop me from finding Mecha-Baltan, unless you all wish to DIE like him!", the Armageddon Creature growled, raising his fist & ready for a fight.
Superman helps defuse the situation quickly before it got out of hand. "Easy, Doomsday!", he says."None of us here are going to do that! Truth be told, we're all going to help you find him! We have as much riding on this as you do!"
"I don't NEED your help finding him, let alone WANT it, Kryptonian! I"LL locate that alien roach if I have to tear this boat apart with my own two hands!"
Looks like Metallo was right all along, much as I loathe to admit it!, Lois said to herself. He will tear this ship asunder just to get revenge! Then again, that feeling can be quite strong, even if you're not Kryptonian like Clark & Doomsday are!
"Not even for another crack at me, Doomsday?", Superman said, as all eyes turn to him in surprise.
Doomsday eyes his Kryptonian rival. "Another one-on-one between you & me? No interference from your puny little peanut gallery?"
Superman stood defiant. "Just the two of us."
Doomsday's toothy grin widened. "All right, Superman, you're on!" He eyes The Cyborg & Metallo with a pointed finger. "I know of you two! Your loathing for Superman knows no boundaries, but hear this! If either of you DARES to rob me of my shot at the Kryptonian in any way, I will rip your heads off & wear them on my belt as trophies! Got that?"
"I wouldn't dream of getting in your way, monster!", Metallo said, crossing his arms.
The Cyborg does the same. "Corben & myself may be murderous & maniacal, but we're not stupid, Doomsday! You want him when this is done, he's yours!"
"A wise decision on your part, gentlemen!", Doomsday says, turning to the Man of Steel. "I'll see you on the battlefield later, Superman!"
"I'll be there!", Superman says, his demeanor unwavered.
As will I, Superman!, Henshaw says to himself. You're my kill, not some creature grown in a test tube on your homeworld centuries ago! And if Doomsday does try to claim my head, I'll show him what indestructible really means!
Clark, what in the world are you thinking of?, thought Lois. Do you know how painful it was to have you die in my arms once? How could you…
Her thoughts were cut short by an unwelcome arrival, appearing at the portion of the room which has no door,materializing out of nowhere in a flash & dissipation of light.
"Mecha-Baltan!", Iruma & Renabark, saying his name like it was poison & point their guns.
"So THERE you are, insect!", Doomsday roars. "The one who kidnaps me & wishes to perform experiments on! Let's see how YOU like it instead!"
"Wait, Doomsday!", The Cyborg protested. "That may very well be another one of his holograms! He has the ability to project images of himself to throw enemies off-balance!"
"Forget it, Mecha-Baltan!", Metallo snapped. "We're not going to be fooled by that trick a second time!"
"Really?", the bionic alien said. "Henshaw, Corben, if I am a hologram like you claim me to be, would I be able to do…this?"
Mecha-Baltan fires his twin red eye beams at Metallo & The Cyborg, striking them with the same intensity as his foot soldiers. Both meta-criminals get slammed into the wall, denting it with their persons. Iruma & Rena fire their guns at the cyber-alien, who dodges the blasts with ease.
"THERE'S your answer, boys!", Doomsday says, running after his kidnapper. "Now we do it MY way!"
At a high velocity, Doomsday rushes at Mecha-Baltan like a speeding bullet train from Japan. Once in reach, he puts everything he has into his right fist & aims for the alien's head, wanting to smash his enemy's head to bits like an overripe fruit. One swing will be all he needs to make it happen.
Unfortunately for Doomsday, all he strikes is open air as Mecha-Baltan dissipates out of sight before the monster's fist can do any irreparable damage to the bionic alien.
"Damn him!", Doomsday cursed, being cheated of his vengeance. He then hears a beeping noise in front of him, one that catches the attention of the rest. On the wall, a black box with a red flashing light that made the beeping was embedded into it, accompanied by a timer next to it.
It was obvious as to what Mecha-Baltan had placed there, doing so literally behind his own back & everyone else's.
"Bomb!", Lois shouted.
In a swift move, Superman covers Lois, Iruma, & Rena & huddles them together in a tight bear hug, using his body as a living shield. He, Henshaw, Corben, & Doomsday would be able to withstand the explosion, but not the ladies. Superman couldn't have shielded the ladies sooner: the bomb detonated with a very powerful blast that was even strong enough to go knock Doomsday himself backwards, hitting the wall as Metallo & The Cyborg have.
The planted bomb was only one of the surprises that awaited them. Although Superman, the ladies, Henshaw, Corben, & Doomsday expected the blast to follow, they didn't expect what came next to happen: the blast took out a huge chunk of the wall where Doomsday was, & a second or two later, all the air in the room & adjoining open hallway was being sucked out into the vast vacuum of space beyond the torn wall. The pull of the vacuum was so strong, it even caught Superman & company in its grip. Only Doomsday managed to remain inside by digging his powerful hands into the floor & hold on for dear life, while everyone else—Superman, the ladies, Metallo, & The Cyborg—got whooshed out into the cold, merciless vacuum, tumbling far & away.
Unperturbed by the vacuum's pull or the loss of Superman & company, Doomsday continued on with his search for Mecha-Baltan.
As soon as their bodies entered the cold vacuum with no air surrounding them, the body temperatures of Lois, Iruma, & Rena began to rapidly plummet down to dangerously low levels as the frigidness overtook them in less than a full second. The ladies immediately covered their mouths & noses with their hands, but it only brought them a few more seconds of life. The air in their lungs was quickly seeping out, & pretty soon they'll decompress, expand & burst like living balloons, & their insides will crystallize as solid as ice in a gruesome display of the human anatomy. Superman—taking in a lungful of air before hitting the vacuum—rush over to the ladies & hurry to get them back inside the ship before the horrible can come to fruition. But being thrown at so far a distance, he doubts if even he can get them back their in time.
Hold on, ladies!, Superman said to himself. Don't go out on me!
Lois', Iruma's, & Rena's visions start going dark.
Suddenly, their visions were awash with bright, yellow light all over, & a warm rush of pure oxygen hits them in a feeling like they've just stepped out of the shower. Their consciousness, which started slipping away, came back to each of them, albeit groggily at first. They gulped in huge lungfuls of fresh air to clear all the cobwebs in their minds, & their visions returned to normal.
Not only were they breathing again, they were all alive.
"Superman!", Rena said. "What happened? How are we able to breathe out here in the cold vacuum of space?"
"That's what I was about to ask!", Iruma said.
"Why not just ask him?", Superman said, pointing behind the ladies & smiling.
Lois, Iruma, & Rena all turn around & find a most unbelievable but welcome sight: it was Ultraman Tiga in all his 53-meter-tall Sky Type glory, forming a translucent yellow sphere around with his hands, positioning them like he was holding a giant basketball, which also contained The Cyborg & Metallo as extra baggage.
"Tiga!", Iruma & Rena call his name happily.
"Whoa, nelly!", Lois called out, having never seen her husband's new friend at his full size, despite hearing about it through all the gossip she's heard.
The same goes for The Cyborg & Metallo themselves, never realizing that Tiga had this extraordinary ability to grow to a size of 53 meters. Even they were stunned & awe-inspired by his appearance as a giant instead of when he was only about their hated enemy's height, or even their own.
"That's Ultraman Tiga?", the two meta-criminals say in undisguised astonishment.
"In all of his glory, gentlemen!", Iruma says.
"But then, you guys never knew he could do this, did you, what with being in confinement & all that?", Rena gloated.
"Ultraman Tiga, if ever there was a time we needed you the most, this is it!", Lois says gleefully, grinning from ear to ear.
Glad I made it here in time, Miss Lane, Tiga thought. With some 'special help' watching over Munakata & the others, I'm able to assist Superman, Rena, & Captain Iruma in repelling Mecha-Baltan. As for The Cyborg & Metallo, I can leave them to the authorities, for they have ways of dealing with them both, despite their malevolence. But first things first…
What was on Tiga's mind is the same as to what Superman has on his. "Speaking of which", he starts, pointing to the ship they were rudely ejected from, "Mecha-Baltan plans on teleporting an army of himself to Earth! You need to stop that ship & make sure he doesn't get the chance!"
Tiga didn't know of Mecha-Baltan's army, being too busy reaching the ship itself to worry about any further details of his diabolical scheme, aside from the bionic alien wanting to capture Superman with The Cyborg & Metallo's help.
But that's not important right now. Stopping that alien rock of a ship is, so Ultraman Tiga pitches his yellow sphere towards the Earth, hurling Superman, Iruma, Rena, Lois Lane, Metallo, & The Cyborg straight for the planet with oxygen to breathe & a shield that will protect them (the ladies in particular) from re-entry. Inside the sphere, the view of Mecha-Baltan's craft shrinks in size as the group of heroes & villains head for Earth, via Ultraman Tiga express. No words need be said about his action, sans a few kind words.
"Looks like Tiga doesn't want us in any more danger than what we were exposed to", Lois said.
"It's no less than what I would've done, Lois", Superman said honestly.
"I guess you & Tiga are not much different from one another, are you, Superman?", asked a smiling Rena.
The Man of Tomorrow returns the gesture. "I suppose not, Rena."
A volley of bright lights catch everyone's attention as Tiga fends off a round of laser guns from the ship's hull. Even at this distance, they can still see the events take place, & most wish the giant champion the best of luck.
Be careful, Daigo, Superman thought. If Mecha-Baltan can give even Henshaw & Corben a good amount of trouble, who knows what he'll have in store for you!
Their yellow, translucent ride back to Earth eads onwards.
The ship's multiple laser cannons continue firing upon Tiga relentlessly, giving the giant hero scarcely any time to dodge, much less fend them all off. As swift as he is in his Sky Type mode, he'd get hit by one of the beams in only a matter of time.
And he does.
Ultraman Tiga takes a stray shot in the chest, sending him spiraling backwards through space. It was at this distance when the firing dissipates a tad, but it was all that Tiga needed to take the initiative. Stopping his tumble & righting himself, Tiga races back to Mecha-Baltan's craft & fires lasers of his own from his right hand. His first blast takes out one of the cannons & a piece of the ship with it, expunging more of its oxygen. The remaining cannons resume fire on their giant target, but this round was different. Before, Tiga was caught off-guard by the weapons' sudden appearance, making him an easy hit. Now that he expects to be fired upon, Tiga can avoid the barrage more skillfully. Moving with the grace of Superman himself, Tiga flies in no particular direction, keeping the cannon's targeting systems guessing & confused. With each pass, he shoots white energy from his right hand, taking out every cannon he gets within range of. Soon their numbers dwindle, & now there are only a few more to destroy before Ultraman Tiga can go for the bigger prize.
The ship itself.
The last of the cannons get obliterated by Tiga's light beams into heaps of scrap metal, leaving the craft defenseless. Facing his target, Ultraman Tiga spreads his arms & absorbs energy around him, drawing his arms in. Collecting power into his chest, Tiga lashes out with his right hand & sends a super-charged beam of white energy directly at the ship's center. The beam punches through the rock/metal hull of the craft with ease, setting off a chain reaction of explosions everywhere.
Unable to handle the overload, the ship suddenly detonates into a ball of red, orange, & white light, blowing pieces of glowing rock & metal in all directions.
The massive explosion was even seen from Superman's point of view, shared by Lois, Iruma, Rena, The Cyborg & Metallo, all of whom are still on course for Earth, their trip unhindered & unhalted.
"That explosion! Tiga must've caused it!", Rena said.
"Then he's destroyed Mecha-Baltan's ship!", Iruma added.
"And hopefully Mecha-Baltan with it!", Lois chimed in.
"What about Doomsday?", Iruma wondered. "If he's as indestructible as everyone claims him to be, then…"
"With any luck, Captain, he'll wander throughout space forever, far away from Earth", Superman says orally before having a thought to himself. And with a spot of bad luck, he'll either be thrown to the planet or picked up by another malevolent alien race as a weapon for conquest. Whichever it is, I can't worry about it now. Once we're all back to Earth, Henshaw & Corben will need to be…
"Look what's coming!", Lois shouted, breaking his thoughts. Through the translucent yellow wall of Tiga's oxygenated sphere, the group see many tiny glitters in space heading right for them.
It was a shower of asteroids & pieces of metal coming their way, growing in size the closer they get!
"Everyone brace yourselves!", Superman shouted.
The sphere shook like an airplane caught in a sudden grip of turbulence, rocking its passengers within, getting tossed around like clothes in a dryer. Superman wants to escape the sphere & deal with the debris hitting their ticket home, but he fears that if he tries, he could cause it to disappear the second its surface gets breached & kill the ladies immediately. He's also reluctant to fire his heat vision from within, which could result in the same disastrous conclusion. All he—or anyone inside—can do is tough it out, & hope that the sphere can keep deflecting the debris off its exterior as it's been doing, bouncing it off into directions away from the planet.
Suddenly, their bunpy ride ended as soon as it began, but not because it stopped raining debris down upon them, which it still did in abundance.
It was because of Ultraman Tiga, who blocked the remainder of the debris with his back & held the sphere for the rest of the trip to Earth, blasting away as much debris with one hand as he can to keep it from doing any damage to the planet.
Maggie Sawyer, Dan Turpin, & other S.C.U. personell were busy sifting through the rubble at Metropolis Airport where the battle between Superman, the GUTS team, The Cyborg, Metallo, & the alien called Mecha-Baltan took place at. Superman assured Captain Sawyer that there were no dead bodies in or around the airport when the bombs which were attached to the GUTS squadron went off, but Maggie wanted to make sure of it: there was always the chance of spectators being in the immediate area who have come to watch a battle which involved the Man of Steel, for they basically draw a crowd, whether it was wanted or not. So far, after all the sarching she & her people did, they are relieved not to find a single corpse amid the destruction on the tarmac, unlike the other day at S.T.A.R. Labs, where many bodies had been removed from the building during the heroes' first encounter with the cyber-alien & his two cohorts. One thing Maggie Sawyer learned from Superman's battles, which are relatively similar to riots in the street: when it's over, there's always a mess!
Not that she blames Superman, though: he's pulled through for her & the whole city of Metropolis more times than she or anyone else in the city even care to remember, let alone count. He's never hesitated to put himself in harm's way if it meant saving the life of even that of a feline if it came to it, always thinking of the innocent first before himself. Maggie simply can't thank the man enough for it, & although the property damage to the city can undoubtedly be staggering at times, if even one life can be saved from any battle with a monster, alien, or super-villain of any kind, it was worth it.
Maggie Sawyer can't remember the last time she's wanted a cigarette so badly, but she'd given up on those long ago, similar to Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White, who gave up smoking his trademark cigars after a bout with lung cancer.
That's when Dan Turpin walks up to her.
"Anything, Dan?", asked Maggie.
"Maggie", he began, "I'm happy to say that our people found not one corpse anywhere here at the airport, & we've just finished our sweep of it, searching every nook & cranny."
Maggie nods. "That's a relief, Turpin. Thank you for bringing me that piece of good news. Now, what about the conditions of the GUTS team members? Any new developments?"
"I wish I had good news about that, Maggie. They're still out of it, last I heard, & the doctors & nurses have no idea if or when they'll come to. The only bit of comfort is they're no worse than they were before when big blue transported them to Metropolis General. That Cyborg & Metallo creep really did quite a number on them, as much as I abhor to tell you, Maggie."
Captain Sawyer nodded her head somberly. "You know you don't ever have to sugarcoat it to me, Dan. Thanks for keeping me updated. All we can do is hope for the best & see if we get better news soon."
"I'll keep 'em crossed, Maggie", Turpin finishes, crossing his index & middle fingers on both of his hands.
That actually made Captain Sawyer smile.
"Hey! What's that up there in the sky?", a man shouted. Everyone looked up at the clear blue sky to where the man who shouted was pointing at. Shielding their eyes from the brighness, Maggie, Dan, & the rest of their S.C.U. operatives squint to get a better look at an object that was on fire—a burning husk of unknown material that grew larger & larger in view.
And it was heading straight for their position!
Maggie's eyes widened when the realization hit her.
"Everyone clear out! Now!", she shouted. The agents—including Sawyer & Turpin—raced out of the object's way, scattering like ants in a raining downpour. Five to ten seconds later, the thing crashed in the heart of the tarmac, sending a shockwave throughout the airport, causing damage to the terminal, the grounded planes & vehicles, & knocking personell off their feet. Even those wearing their Leviathan battlesuits felt the impact & fell to the ground. The wave ended almost as suddenly as it started, & everyone rose to their feet, turning to where the object landed.
"Mamma mia!", was all that Dan Turpin could say.
His passengers in tow, Ultraman Tiga hits Earth's atmosphere & starts burning up during re-entry, the friction of doing so swarming over him like a tidal wave. It stung him like a sunburn, but he adjusts to the situation by using one arm to place it over his head & swing it down, keeping his other for steadying the yellow sphere which Superman, Iruma, Rena, Lois, Metallo, & The Cyborg reside inside of. Tiga's lavender coloring changes to red, putting him in Power Type mode, making his body tougher to withstand the heat of re-entry with little or no difficulty.
With the threat of Mecha-Baltan no more, Ultraman Tiga can take his time touching ground. He doesn't even have to worry about his extra cargo of Henshaw or Corben: unless they're twice as stupid as they look, neither meta-criminal would dare attack Superman or any of the ladies inside his sphere, as they would be met with harsh penalties—Tiga-style—which will offer them no clemency.
Once he enters the clouds in the sky, the friction of re-entry passes, & Tiga switches back to his Multi-Type mode, showing his red, silver, & lavender colors.
Getting past the few clouds, he can see his destination down below clear as day.
Whatever crashed in the tarmac at the arport, it left a crater over a dozen feet wide & an unestimated amount of feet deep. The pit of the crater was still blazing hot all around, with snaky streams of smoke rising upwards. Even inside was steaming, preventing anyone from looking into it.
At Maggie Sawyer's word, a perimeter was set up around the crater, measuring fifty-six feet. It was cordoned off by a ring of plastic barricades, the ones chiefly used when a parade or funeral march is taking place on a public street. With Dan Turpin & a pair of personell in battlesuits for backup, Maggie gets within six feet of the smoking crater with Dan at her side.
"Talk about making an impression, Maggie!", Turpin says sarcastically.
"Not the kind I want anywhere in Metropolis, Dan", Maggie replied. "Have our team in their battlesuit gear get cracking in removing whatever it is that made this overgrown rabbit hole before anything else happens."
Turpin turns to the twin suits behind him & Captain Sawyer. "You heard the lady, boys! Get busy here! Chop-chop!", he says, clapping his hands twice.
"Wait, inspector!", one of the suits said. "I see something else falling down to our position from above! And it's huge!"
The man in the battlesuit points up, making Maggie, Dan, & the rest look to the skies again. He wasn't fibbing: there was another object rocketing toward them, but unlike the previous object, it was actually slowing its descent toward the ground instead of picking up speed. As it gets closer & closer, the S.C.U. team can see what looks like a giant humanoid of some kind with a robot-like face, & holding a yellow glowing ball of some kind. The man in the battlesuit was also telling the truth about it being huge: even before it rights itself as it descends, it was large in height, about fifty-three meters tall from head to foot, from what Maggie can see. She & her troops clear the way again as the giant lands softly on the airport grounds, placing the ball in its hands on the tarmac & it dissipates, revealing a very-much alive Man of Steel, Captain Iruma & pilot Rena of the GUTS team, Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, & meta-criminals Hank Henshaw & John Corben.
"Superman!", Maggie & Dan call out, running up to their super ally & friend.
"Good to see you both again!", Superman says. "I was worried I wouldn't have after today's events!"
"Same here!", Maggie went on. "And it's a relief to see Lois & the two GUTS females in the same condition as you are!"
"You can really thank our giant friend here for that, Captain Sawyer!", Lois said, pointing with her hand to the gargantuan form of Ultraman Tiga behind her. Maggie, Dan, & the rest of the S.C.U. look up at their giant savior with nothing short of wondrous fascination in just his size alone. Maggie & Dan have to admit that, while Metropolis has had more than its fair share of unusual sightings, this one definitely takes the cake.
"Um…about your giant friend here", Maggie says, "does he have a name?"
"He goes by Ultraman Tiga", said Rena. "If not for him, Captain Iruma, Miss Lane, myself, & probably even Superman would now be frozen splotches of blood & organs out in space right now."
Ouch!, thought Turpin. Good thing I had my breakfast hours ago, or I'd be showing everyone what was on my plate this morning!
"Ultraman Tiga, huh? Nice. I like it", said Maggie.
"Yep", said Iruma. "You might say he's our Superman—but from Japan!"
"The 'Superman from Japan', huh?", Turpin thought aloud. "Has quite a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
Dan Turpin's phrase gets a smile from everyone around. "I never quite thought of him like that", Rena says, "but considering how similar he is to your hometown hero right here, I suppose no other phrase would suit him!"
Superman couldn't argue with that notion any more than the rest. Rena raised a good point: both he & Ultraman Tiga are similar to each other. For starters, both are from faraway, distant worlds light years from Earth, with Kal-El's destroyed when he was just a baby. Both possess extraordinary abilities beyond those of regular people & have chosen to use them for the greater good of mankind. Another factor is that they have secret identities as regular people in order to act as & move around/mingle with them. Superman has his as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, while Ultraman Tiga has his of Daigo Madoka of Japan's GUTS team. The third is that as their hidden identities, they have people who are very special to them in their lives—Clark Kent has his wife Lois Lane, his adoptive parents Jonathan & Martha Kent from Kansas' town of Smallville where he grew up at, his co-worker Jimmy Olsen, his boss Perry White, & even Bibbo Bibbowski, owner of the Ace O' Clubs tavern in Suicide Slum (where his wedding party was held at). Daigo has his squadron mostly, & feelings that are more than a little strong for his co-pilot Rena.
If those aren't similarities between two legendary heores of the Earth, Superman doesn't know what is.
"Can't disagree with logic like that, Rena", the Man of Tomorrow says, turning to Captain Sawyer. "Oh, before I forget, Maggie, we've got two super-criminals here for transport back to their perspective holding cells. Care to take them off of Tiga's hands?"
"The Cyborg & Metallo?", she says. "Sure thing, Superman. John Henry Irons should be here soon to take Henshaw back to the Phantom Zone, while we can take Metallo to his own fortress of solitude—at S.C.U. headquarters!"
Both meta-criminals stand & stare at the group of heroes with contempt.
"This isn't over between us, Superman!", Henshaw spat. "Even if it takes a millennium from now, I won't rest until I've seen you eliminated by my hands!"
"Same goes for me, hero!", Metallo barks. "I'd sooner burn in Hell before I ever let you or anyone else put me in solidary confinement again!"
"Sorry to disappoint you boys", Superman says, "but it's not like we're giving either of you much choice in the matter! So Corben, I hope you've got an asbestos suit with you! And Henshaw, you're going to have an awfully long wait before you lay eyes upon me again!"
"Unless of course, you two wish to endure the wrath of Tiga, as he metes out his own brand of justice on you!", Iruma says defiantly. "I doubt even you guys can survive a blast from one of his deadly beams!"
Henshaw & Corben stare up at the enormous form of Ultraman Tiga, who in turn looks down upon them. Even though his face shows no human expressions, the two cyber-criminals can guess he has a loathing for them like they do for the Man of Steel, & after the demonstration of how he dispatched Mecha-Baltan's ship & the alien with it, neither wishes to be on the receiving end of the blasts Tiga is capable of unleashing. Captain Iruma may be correct: they may not be able to live through one of those deadly projectiles, should they be released upon them.
Defeated, they face Superman & the others with even more disdain & loathing.
"Damn you all to Hell!", The Cyborg spat.
"Save it & sit tight, Charlton Heston!", Turpin said firmly. "Once Professor Irons gets here, you'll be able to recite your 'Planet of the Apes' speeches in…what in the name of the Holy Ghost is that?"
A show of light particles shows up on the outskirts of Metropolis Airport, grabbing everyone's attention. The particles began taking form at the bottom & worked its way up. When the display was over with & done in seconds, the revelation was enough to send a chill up the spines of even Metallo & The Cyborg themselves.
"Impossible!", they screamed, their robotic eyes agape like everyone else's.
"It can't be!", said Lois.
But it is: standing at the outer perimeter of the airport was none other than Mecha-Baltan himself, only this time he stood at a height of fifty meters tall!
Even Ultraman Tiga was stunned to see the bionic alien still alive, & at a height almost exactly his own. Dammit, he survived the explosion! Tiga thought with disgust. I should've made sure he bought it out there! I didn't want him setting foot on the Earh again, especially at that size!
"Maggie, get everyone out of here—NOW!", Superman ordered with no hint of kindness in his tone. Rarely does he get that strict with her or anyone else, but when he does, even she knows better than to disobey, tough as she is.
"You heard the man!", she shouted. "Everyone fall back! Fall back! Do it now!", Maggie shouted to Turpin, her other troops, Lois, & the two GUTS female members. The latter three knew not to press their luck on something this gargantuan, & in a literal sense. Even if they had their GUTS Wings with them, Iruma & Rena would be as useful to Superman & Ultraman Tiga as water is to electricity.
Retreating with S.C.U., Iruma mentally wished both heroes the best of luck.
"We thought you were destroyed along with your ship, Mecha-Baltan!", Superman surmised. "How is it possible you're here now?"
"By the same manner you & your group wanted to escape from it, Superman!", the bionic alien answered. "My teleportation consoles! I barely managed to reach them in time before Tiga blew up my vessel, & now, because of his meddling & yours, I've lost all my troops, unable to fit them with your genetics & DNA, along with Henshaw's, Corben's, or Doomsday's even if I were set on recapturing the whole lot of you! It matters not—I alone will be more than enough to destroy this pathetic planet & all its worthless inhabitants!"
"Over our dead bodies!"
"That, Superman, is now my new objective! Prepare to die—all of you!"
Mecha-Baltan raises his right pronged arm & fires a high-intensity yellow beam from it, striking Tiga in the stomach & sending him crashing on his back with ground-shaking results. If that weren't enough, the blue light on his chest turns to red & begins to blink. He couldn't worry about it now: he still needs to help Superman put Mecha-Baltan down for the count with what little energy he's got left, & if he should expire on this day, he'll make sure he takes down the cybernetic alien with him.
He knows it's what the Man of Steel himself would do, like he did during his very first encounter with Doomsday.
Ultraman Tiga—Daigo—could do no less.
"Nice beam, Mecha-Baltan!", Superman said, his eyes burning a bright red. "Try mine!"
He unleashes his heat vision at full intensity, not holding back in the slightest. His beams merge as one, spreading in width as they do. It hits the bionic alien squarely in the solar plexus & knocks him off his feet, crashing to the ground & kicking up a cloud of dust in the air. He rose up almost immediately, the area where he was hit scorched & even melted a bit.
"That…actually…hurt!", he growled.
"If you like that, you're gonna love this!", said a combo of two mechanical voices. Mecha-Baltan, Superman, & Ultraman Tiga turn to see a giant robot standing forty-eight meters tall, with a body made mostly entirely of airplane parts fused as one. Its head was morphed & shaped as two familiar faces combined,grinning wickedly.
"Corben? Henshaw?", Superman says, astounded.
"Thought you'd forgotten about us, didn't you?", said The Cyborg/Metallo monstrosity, their voices mixing into one another. With a move of his right arm, Cyborg/Metallo launches a red beam like Superman's own heat vision at Mecha-Baltan at high velocity. Ultraman Tiga does the same with his left hand, shooting a white beam at the cyber-alien. Both deadly projectiles reach their enemy, but Mecha-Baltan disappears from sight before contact can be made. All the beams hit was open air where their foe had been.
He suddenly appears in front of Cyborg/Metallo, who was caught by surprise & had no time to avoid getting grabbed by Mecha-Baltan's right pronged claw by the throat.
"It will take much more than you poor excuses for cybernetic warriors to be able to bring me down!", he says, aiming his free robot claw at Ultraman Tiga, who was rushing after the alien menace when he had been distracted.
"Oh no you don't, Tiga!", he barks, shooting his claw at the giant hero, which lashed out at him on a thick cable line that ejected out from his left arm. The metal appendage snags Tiga at his waist & clamps down hard. With his great strength dwindling, Tiga has no chance of prying himself free, no matter how hard he tries.
Gotta take the initiative!, thought Superman, rushing at Mecha-Baltan from behind. With his back to me, perhaps a sneak attack from the rear will catch him off guard like he did to Henshaw & Corben, thus freeing them & Tiga! Afterwards, maybe we all can…
Superman's thoughts were interrupted by a bizarre sight: a panel on Mecha-Baltan's back opens up & unleashes a powerful yellow beam that strikes him in his torso. He crashes into the pavement in a shower of rocks & dirt, his consciousness fading temporarily.
Blast!, he cursed himself. I forgot he could do that! If he can plant an explosive charge behind his back like he did before, why shouldn't he be able to fire lasers from it as well?
He groggily lifts his head & his eye catches something glowing not three feet away from where he lays.
What in the…could it be?, he wondered as his vision clears.
Cyborg/Metallo beat & bashed his oversized fists on Mecha-Baltan's right, three-pronged hand, but he was just as powerless to break free as Ultraman Tiga was. For all the power that John Corben & Hank Henshaw possess, the cyber-alien had bested them in every perspective, whether big or small.
"It's a pity that I now have to destroy the both of you, along with this world!", Mecha-Baltan says. "I've actually grown quite fond of you two, that I almost regret it—almost!"
"If only we could say the same to you, backstabber!", Cyborg/Metallo barks. "What you will regret is trying to send us into oblivion! Now it is we who will send you there instead!"
At both ends of his arms, Mecha-Baltan unleashes a discharge of extremely high voltage, shocking both Cyborg/Metallo & Ultraman Tiga. Both combatants writhe & cry out in agony unlike anything they've felt in the past. To make matters worse for them both, they feel their strength ebbing away at a fast rate, making Cyborg/Metallo fall to his knees & Tiga's energy gauge on his chest blink faster than before.
Soon, his energy will be completely depleted, & Ultraman Tiga will be finished.
Like a giant whip, Mecha-Baltan sends Tiga airborne with his left claw hand before sending him down to earth again, throwing him away like an unwanted toy. Ultraman Tiga lands closely to where Superman did when he was caught in a sneak attack by his half-bionic enemy, crashing on his back & creating a small quake as the ground shook upon impact. The glowing object he found where the Man of Steel landed was now in his hands.
Tiga!, Superman said to himself. He's on his last legs, as his bionic sensor shows his red light blinking at its fastest rate! Daigo told me that if it stops, he'll die for certain! I can't let that happen! If he ever needs a boost of strength, this piece of stone could be his only salvation! I'd better get cracking if we're going to win this day, & pray it'll be enough!
The glowing stone in hand, Superman tosses it up above Tiga's chest & fires his eye beams, detonating it & keeping his fingers crossed.
Mecha-Baltan retracts his left metal claw in & bodyslams Cyborg/Metallo to the pavement hard, causing a crater from the impact. The cyber-alien stood over the fallen monstrosity in utter triumph. But even in his weakened condition, Cyborg/Metallo refuses to give in to the alien who once partnered itself up with them as he struggles to rise.
"We're…not…beaten…yet…Mecha-Baltan!", Cyborg/Metallo says in defiance.
"Oh yes you are!", Mecha-Baltan said, opening his right pronged hand like a flower. The inside begins to glisten with pitch black energy. "Last time, you two only received a fraction of this power I used to subdue you before! Now, you shall be the first beings on Earth to feel the full magnitude of it! Farewell, Hank Henshaw & John Corben!"
Cyborg/Metallo raised both his arms to repel their foe's blast & counterstrike before he can, but the cyber-alien had drained too much of his strength to function properly. His attempt was feeble at best; in his current state, he could be taken out of the equation by someone such as Bugs Bunny.
Mecha-Baltan fires his black,destructive energy at his spent enemy in a beam as wide as his arm. Cyborg/Metallo can only scream in terror as the beam strikes him in the midsection. He feels absolutely no pain for a second before feeling a world of hurt as he gets blown apart in an explosion of a black ball which quickly turns white moments later. The blast was massive & so hot, it scorches the pavement below into a pool of thich black tar & vaporizes the debris of what was once the Cyborg/Metallo monstrosity. When the fireball dies down & vanishes, all that remained were dust particles of rusted metal that fell like snow.
From the sidelines, Lois Lane, Iruma, Rena, & Maggie Sawyer, along with her S.C.U. troops could hardly believe what just happened: Mecha-Baltan had obliterated two of Superman's foes with ease, like they were made of a flimsy anatomy.
The Cyborg, Hank Henshaw, & Meallo, John Corben, were gone.
Even Superman couldn't believe it!
"Alas poor Hank Henshaw & John Corben! I knew them well!", Mecha-Baltan says in a mockery of one of William Shakespear's most famous phrases before allowing himself a blaring guffaw, the sound echoing quite a distance.
"You'll pay for doing that, monster!", Superman bellowed.
"I sincerely doubt that, Superman!", the cyber-alien said, turning to face his alien adversary. "In fact, you're next on the list to be…what?"
Mecha-Baltan could not believe what he was witnessing as he turned around. It was Ultraman Tiga, standing proudly on his own two feet, his fists at his sides, looking like a statue come to life. The light on his chest was no longer blinking, let alone red in color, but a bright glowing blue, & his eyes did the same in white.
"Impossible!", the bionic alien blurts. "Ultraman Tiga was on his last legs!"
"'Was' is right!", Superman partially agreed.
"How could this even be? I drained Tiga of most of his dwindling energy! He shouldn't be here now! What did you do to him, Kryptonian?"
"It's what you did, Mecha-Baltan! I guess you didn't know that a piece of your ship crashed down here! With the energy it possessed, I had a feeling it would revitalize my giant friend here! Lo & behold, it seems I was proven right! Ironic, isn't it? As deadly as your ship was, it helped give him the power he needs to assist me in finishing you off!"
For all his strategic planning long before he got to Earth & even learning about Ultraman Tiga & his nature, Mecha-Baltan never considered the scenario of having Tiga absorb a portion of his spacecraft's energy, which can power a city for decades as a sizeable chunk. He cursed himself for not seeing this possibility earlier. He had thought his ship would dispose of Tiga during his battle with him in space, rather that it being vice versa. Even though that had come true, he figured the remains would burn all up in the planet's atmosphere, leaving not a spec of it anywhere, much less a piece of rock fragment that still had energy stirring within it.
That infernal Kryptonian!, Mecha-Baltan said to himself. I shall make certain his death be a slow & torturous one, same as Ultraman Tiga's!
"I am far from finished, Superman, as you & Tiga are about to discover!", he bellows, firing his red eye beams & black ray from his right pronged hand, unleashing a barrage. Superman dives to one side, whle Tiga dives to the other. The Man of Steel speeds toward Mecha-Baltan & smashes into his right hand, denting one of his three prongs. Using his Herculean strength, Superman bends the alien's bent prong over the muzzle where he shoots his black or yellow beams from in a curve of metal. Once he's done, he fires his heat vision at full intensity to fuse the bent prong on the metal portion of his forearm.
All this was accomplished in a timespan of five to ten seconds.
"Insignificant gnat!", the alien bellowed, swiping at Superman like the annoying insect he accuses him of being, only to miss him at every strike.
That's when Ultraman Tiga steps in: switching to Power Type, he rushes at Mecha-Baltan to continue what Kal-El had started on his right hand, extending to the rest of him. Grabbing the bionic alien by the head, Tiga flips him a reverse head over heels & slams him flat on his face, making another crater in the pavement. Mecha-Baltan lifts himself up by his arms, only to get a giant kick in the face by Tiga from a swift left foot, sending the cyber-alien tumbling in mid-air. The space cicada halts & rights himself before he tumbles too far away, but gets a shove forward from behind by Superman with all his might, pushing his gargantuan enemy back towards the airport.
"Get back here, Mecha-Baltan!", Superman demanded. "We're not finished with you yet!"
"Nor am I with either of you!", said the cyber-alien.
In the next instant, Mecha-Baltan abruptly disappears from sight, bewildering both heroes. Superman heads back to the airport, as he & Ultraman Tiga search frantically for their invisible enemy, using their unique visions.
Both come up empty.
"Where are you? Show yourself & fight, alien!", Superman called out.
"You've got some gall calling me an alien, Kryptonian!", Mecha-Baltan's voice erupts. "You, Ultraman Tiga, & myself are all of the same nature!"
"Don't preach to me about my nature, monster—or Tiga's! Not all aliens are the same as you! Now, are you going to come out of hiding & face us fair & square, or stay hidden like the coward that you really are?"
Mecha-Baltan's baritone laugh echoed the airport as he integrates not thirty-five feet away from the two heroes. Before either could do anything, another Mecha-Baltan appears out of the blue.
Followed by another. And another, & so forth.
Finally, twenty flawless copies of the bionic alien surround the heroes in a living circle, who get thrown in a state of comfusion.
How can this be?, Superman thought. I thought Mecha-Baltan said that all his troops were destroyed along with his ship when Tiga blasted it to pieces! Could he have been lying about it? Have some of them survived the assault?
"Confused, gentlemen?", the Mecha-Baltans all said & laughed maniacally in unison, creating an eerie chorus. "How soon can you heroes think to find the real me…before your impending doom is cast upon you?"
Another chorus of hideous baritone laughter erupts from the circle of bionic aliens, sending a chill up Superman's spine & everyone within earshot. Kal-El brushes it off & concentrates on his task, using his x-ray vision to rapidly scan the Mecha-Baltan horde around them before the real McCoy can cause harm to Tiga or himself. Scouting the images, he sees nothing out of the ordinary except for the structure of the terminal, along with the skeletal forms of Lois & the others at the outer rim of the place.
Then he sees him: a grotesque combination of bone, organs, & mechanics dwelling within.
He's found the real Mecha-Baltan. But at the worst position.
"Tiga! Behind you!", Superman shouted.
His warning couldn't help him. As Tiga turned to face the cyber-alien, the latter lashed out with his left claw & again clamps itself around Tiga, sending him up in the air on the cable that snakes out from Mecha-Baltan's left arm. This time, the grip on Tiga was tighter than it had been before, & even with his rejuvenated vigor from the slab of glowing rock, Ultraman Tiga couldn't pry himself loose.
"I should confess", Mecha-Baltan starts to say, "you are a rather fascinating specimen, Ultraman Tiga! Perhaps I'll be able to steal your physiology & genetics once I reduce this planet to nothing but asteroids!"
"Fat chance, fella!", Superman yelled, thrusting himself at the bionic alien. The space cicada tries to hinder Kal-El's progress by firing his red eye beams, but the Man of Tomorrow evades each shot. When he gets within range, Superman unleashes his own eye beams & spreads them out as a cone-shaped projectile. The scorching heat hits Mecha-Baltan square in both of his eyes, causing him to yell out in anguish as they blister & smoke. Flying away at a distance from his foe, Superman races at him again at a more intense speed. Placing his fists out in front of him, Kal-El aims for the left side of Mecha-Baltan's chest, where the arm is joined at. Like a bullet freshly fired from a gun, Superman bashes into his enemy's chest & exits out through the back portion. The impact sprayed machinery & wires from within at both sides, & the bionic alien started to spark both inside & out.
"Aaaarrrgh!", Mecha-Baltan cried out, his strength ebbing away due to the wound Superman caused. The iron grip he had on Tiga loosened, enabling him to rip himself free just as the claw began reeling itself back in like a fishing line. Descending to the ground, Tiga spots Superman a couple of yards away & gives the hero a giant 'thumbs up'.
The Man of Steel smiles warmly at the kind gesture & addresses his giant friend. "Appreciate the sentiment, Tiga! What say we draw the final curtain & put this fella in his place once & for all?"
Ultraman Tiga nods enthustiastically. It'll be a pleasure, Superman!, he thought. Still in his Power Type mode, Tiga clenches his hands into fists & charges at the internal damaged Mecha-Baltan as Superman does a fast loop & joins his friend. The cyber-alien had no defense against the combined might of Superman & Ultraman Tiga, both of whom clobber their alien foe with a force that shook the ground. Tiga landed a right hook in Mecha-Baltan's face as Superman struck the fiend in the undamaged portion of his chest. The bionic alien was sent skyward & unable to stop himself, due to the severe injury Kal-El had given him.
Ultraman Tiga crosses his arms above his head & swings them down, transforming back to his default Multi Type mode, where the red, silver, & lavender colors all show. Superman watches as Tiga places his left hand underneath his right elbow, his right arm in an L-shaped stance with the forearm reaching up. From it, a vertical beam of white energy shoots forth, aiming right for the helpless Mecha-Baltan, who can only watch as the deadly projectile heads his way. It strikes the cybernetic alien on the left side of his chest where his wound was. Once it enters his body, the beam did even more irreparable damage to him, eating at his insides like a bacteria or a cancer. He has only a second or two to holler out in agony before Mecha-Baltan was blown & shattered into a million pieces, each disintegrating into ashes.
"Whoa!", Superman says, a pinch repulsed by Tiga's method of exposing his foes. Still, he doesn't tell him that he, for the most part, disapproves. It's pretty much understandable: Ultraman Tiga fights a far more different breed of enemies than Superman himself does, ones that require you to take the kid gloves off & definitely give it all your worth. Nevertheless, Kal-El could never go that far a distance to defeat an enemy, no matter how vile & evil that someone is. It's a vow in which Superman has taken very seriously since being raised by Jonathan & Martha Kent, his adoptive parents who made him the man he is today. But one day, he was forced to abandon his humanitary ethics temporarily when he encountered three Kryptonians from a pocket universe—an alternate version of Earth with a benevolent Lex Luthor, totally unlike the one he knows—who have laid waste to it, killing an estimated five billion lives. As the only correspondent for justice left on that world, Superman exposed the three rogue Kryptonians—General Zod, Faora, & Quex-Ul—to their native kryptonite, thus killing them. It was a tough choice for him to make: the three rogues, although stripped of ther powers, swore vengeance upon Superman & do the same to his Earth what they did to their own. Superman knew for sure that they meant what they said, & were dead set on making good on their threat. It gave him no recourse but to execute the trio in order to prevent them from carrying out another global genocide.
While most would feel that it was the only alternative to such a heinous act of violence, the Man of Steel says otherwise. He had been scarred deeply to the invulnerable core of his being, & as punishment, he exiled himself from Earth, believing he was way too dangerous to remain, also fearing what might happen should he lose control & go on a rampage, like he did during an encounter with the living computer known as Brainiac. For weeks he wandered the endless regions of space, searching for a new home to call his own. Soon, he was picked up by a slave-gathering craft which belonged to the planet called Warworld, once ruled by the tyrant named Mongul. He pits only the strongest warriors against each other in deadly gladitoral games. Superman had fought several opponents, including Mongul's champion Draaga, but refused to kill any of them. This had made Mongul mad, & faced the Kryptonian himself, eventually leading to the tyrant's defeat. On one of the planet's detention asteroids, he met a being known as the Cleric & revealed the story of his reason for exiling himself from Earth. It was then that Superman found out that the Cleric has had guilt placed upon his own conscience enev greater than that of Kal-El's: centuries ago, the Cl-eric visited Krypton & has given a group of eager people a chance to live in peace & harmony on another world, far away from all the fighting & turmoil Krypton was engaged in. He had placed all those willing to go aboard his ship & took off for the paradise he promised them, Unfortunately, shortly after takeoff, all the Kryptonians aboard started dying around him, dropping like flies. Despite his efforts, the Cleric could not save their lives. Then, he had no knowledge of the genetic link all Kryptonians have to their planet, meaning instant death for those who tried to leave. With an unbearable guilt on his shoulders, the Cleric banished himself, as Superman had done, for eons. He lifted Superman's own guilt by telling him that his exile has deprived Earth of a great hero & champion, seeing the heart & soul of a hero unlike any other, & not to repeat the mistake the Cleric had made for all those years.
Taking his words to heart, Superman returned to Earth, voing never again to be faced with the dilemma of having to take a life. The killings of General Zod, Faora, & Quex-Ul would be the first & last time Superman would commit such an act of violence, & intends to live up to that promise to his dying breath. For him, the taking of any kind of life is abhorrent, & it's a principle he shall keep.
So even if he doesn't fully approve of Ultraman Tiga's method of vaporizing his opponents, he still counts him as a being he is proud beyond words to have seved with, & would do so again in a heartbeat if ever the need should arise in a time of a crisis.
Superman turns to Tiga, who does the same. "We did it, friend!", was all Kal-El could think of saying to him at the moment, but does it with a smile.
Ultraman Tiga nods again. If he had lips, he'd be smiling too, & Superman knows it.
The Man of Steel soars down to where Maggie Sawyer & the others were, all of them happy with the results of the day's battle.
"Now that was quite the show, Superman!", Dan Turpin says proudly.
"He's right! You & Ultraman Tiga were utterly fantastic!", Maggie said. "It's not every day we get to see a battle as spectacular as that, even here in Metropolis!"
"It's even more scarce to see two heroes like you & Tiga partner up against a threat like the one we faced today!", said Rena.
"Superman, we were all proud to have served at your side in averting this disaster!", Iruma says. "We cannot think of anyone else we'd rather have to be with!"
"Aside from your own hometown hero, right, Captain?", asked Lois, getting chuckles from the group.
That included Superman himself. "Thank you, everyone", he says. "I'm just glad this adventure didn't turn out any worse than it did, what with the deaths at S.T.A.R. Labs the other day, among other things."
"Don't let it be a heavy burden on your conscience, Superman", said Maggie. "Some things you just can't help—even if you are the most powerful man in the world."
Superman nods. Maggie's statement was all too similar to The Mayor's own the other day when he didn't arrive in time to save one of his staff members, killed in cold blood by a disguised Clayface & his men. The Mayor asked him not to let the man's death worry him too much, if at all, & therefore he won't, despite his feelings deep down.
Same goes for now.
Then the ground beneath everyone's feet began to shake.
"W-What's going on here? An earthquake?", Turpin asked.
The S.C.U. agent's answer erupts out from beneath the pavement in a shower of rocks & dirt, & it was at the exact same place where the first object which fell from the sky had crash-landed. It shot up into the sky at a height of one hundred feet before plummeting down & landed on a stretch of pavement previously untouched, creating a crater more than a foot deep.
Everyone's eyes went wide.
What—or who—came out from the ground was none other than Doomsday!
I don't believe it!, Maggie Sawyer said to herself. The thing that crashed down here before—was Doomsday?
Dammit!, Superman cursed to himself. In the battle against Mecha-Baltan, I'd totally forgot about Doomsday! It seems he didn't get blown out & away from our solar system, as I thought! No matter: he needs to be dealt with now, before we have any more casualties today!
"Everyone, stay back!", Superman ordered. "This is my problem!"
No one argued the matter. Lois, Maggie, & all the rest gave Superman the room he needs in dealing with the creature who once claimed his life. Backing to a distance of forty to fifty feet, it was another round between two of the most powerful beings ever seen by human eyes.
"I see you haven't forgotten about our little mano-a-mano after the alien slug Mecha-Baltan has been dealt with, Superman!", said Doomsday.
I did, actually, but I'm not going to tell you that!, Superman thought. "Just like I promised you before, Doomsday!", he says orally. "No help from either the two ladies from GUTS or The Cyborg or Metallo, & the latter two aren't even here! Let's do this!"
"Yes, Kryptonian, let's!" Doomsday raises his fists, his pointed knuckles facing up. "How I relish this chance to put you into the ground again as I've once managed to! And THIS time, I'll make CERTAIN that you stay there for good, with no chance of…"
Doomsday cuts himself short of his own statement when he sees a large shadow looming overhead of him. Looking up, he notices what resembles a giant silver fist heading straight down on him, coming too fast for even he to evade.
The Armageddon Creature's eyes widen in surprise, cursing himself for not even noticing who else was here with his sworn enemy, being too intent on beating him to death to do so.
"Oh SHI…!", was all Doomsday could get out before the giant silver fist comes crashing down on top of him, slamming into him like an asteroid the size of a space shuttle. The ground shook violently for a second or three from the tremendous impact which Ultraman Tiga—who changed back to Power Type mode—created to give Doomsday the ultimate knockout punch which would make boxers such as Muhammad Ali & Mike Tyson green with envy. Lois, Iruma, Rena, & everyone else just stood there with eyes & mouths agape, the latter of which nearly fell to the floor. That included Superman: for all the trouble he went through with Doomsday since their very first battle all those years until his last real encounter with him at the White House when Lex Luthor was President, Ultraman Tiga puts him down with only one blow.
It made Superman feel green with envy himself, a feeling he couldn't help.
I've always wanted to do that to you, Doomsday, ever since you murdered Superman!, thought Tiga as he withdrew his fist, leaving the Armageddon Creature lying flat on his back, unmoving.
"Ouch!", said Turpin. "That's gotta hurt—even for him!"
Maggie snaps out of her trance. "Never mind that, Dan!", she says firmly. "Get restraints on him for transport back to the Pentagon now!"
Turpin passes Maggie's orders to the rst of the S.C.U. agents, while Captain Sawyer turns to the Man of Steel & his female companions.
"Quite a partner Ultraman Tiga can be, huh, Superman?", she says with a smirk.
"Just one of the many advantages of being fifty-three meters tall, Captain!", Superman said with a grin, looking at Tiga. Thanks, Daigo, he thought. Truth be told, I wasn't really in the mood for a battle with Doomsday, let alone right after our bout with Mecha-Baltan. I owe you for this, & I know just how to do it.
"Only one thing remains", said Iruma. "What about The Cyborg & Metallo? Do you believe they're gone for good? Or did they somehow survive miraculously after being blown to pieces by Mecha-Baltan?"
"I can't really say, Captain", said Lois. "From what Superman told me of them, they've cheated death before. But after a blast like that, who knows?"
"I do", said Superman in a serious one. "Somewhere out there, I'm pretty sure they're still alive, waiting. When they do return, they better know that I'll be watching for them!"
While he distinctly believes The Cyborg to be still alive, little does Superman know that he is still at the airport, watching his hated enemy & his friends from a distance behind a hangar. He stares at them with all the loathing & disdain one being could possess.
I just barely escaped oblivion from Mecha-Baltan's black death ray!, he thought. Sadly, I don't think the same could be said for Metallo. I searched the compounds for his metal skull, but came up empty. A pity—I pretty much liked Corben. He & I had similarities I don't basically share with anyone else, other than our abhorrence for that accursed Superman. And as much as I'd love to attack that overgrown Boy Scout right now, I don't think I'll have any success, what with Ultraman Tiga present. If he can obliterate Mecha-Baltan like he did, I doubt even I would be able to withstand an attack like that, much less survive it! No matter—the cybernetic alien gave me the freedom I richly craved, & I promise you, Superman, when next we meet, you won't be so fortunate! Until then, enjoy your lease on life while it…
The Cyborg gave out a yelp of pain when a pink beam strikes him from behind, immobilizing him all over. Even though he can't move, he can see a pink shade in his vision before it turns all black. The beam shrinks in size & basically crumples Henshaw up like a piece of worthless paper, & gets sucked back into the device where the beam originated from: a white, nine-inch-long rod as wide as a stick of butter. It was held in the hand of a black man, dressed in a white lab coat & undershirt, black pants & shoes. His head was bald, & he had a very light, thin goatee, with a pair of round spectacles over his eyes. In his opposite hand, he carries a lead-lined bag with a semi-round object inside. The man is Professor John Henry Irons, once known to the world as the hero named Steel.
Looks like I got here just in the nick of time, Irons thought. The Cyborg was about to take off to who-knew-where, & I would've been too late to scoop him up in my new invention: my Contractor. Not only can it trap its targets with its beam, it can shrink them down into their tiniest molecules & pull them into the rod itself. This will be Henshaw's temporary home until I can get him back to the Phantom Zone, but not before I present Maggie Sawyer with Metallo's head in this bag lined with lead.
He stares at the gigantic form of Ultraman Tiga. So that's Tiga. I've heard about his adventures in Japan. He's made quite a name for himself there, like Superman had done upon his first arrival here in Metropolis. Too bad I couldn't watch the entire battle, but both Superman & Tiga made such a fine team, especially as to how they took care of that Mecha-Baltan creep! Who knows? Maybe one day Tiga could…huh?
Ultraman Tiga suddenly took off into the sky, seeing as to how things are well in hand with Superman, Maggie Sawyer, & the others in mopping up after the battle. The giant hero heads into the city & disappears from sight in the glaring sun shining overhead.
"Not one to stick around, is he?", Maggie asks to no one in particular.
You can say the same for Batman, Maggie, Superman thought, of how his cape & cowled friend can appear & disappear at the drop of a dime. Or even myself.
"Maybe he's got friends of his own he needs to see", Turpin jokes.
"So do we, now that you mentioned it, Mr. Turpin", Rena said.
"You're right, Rena", Iruma agrees, the thought just hitting her. "The three of us should head back to Meropolis General to see how the rest of my team & young Jimmy Olsen are doing."
"Count me in as well", Lois said. "I need to know myself how Jimmy is after Mecha-Baltan knocked him out just before kidnapping me."
"Last we heard, they're in stable condition, Miss Lane", said Maggie. "Aside from that, no one knows anything."
"Then it's high time we head over there & check for ourselves", Superman says, staring at the ladies, all of whom nod. "We'll leave Doomsday in your capable hands, Maggie."
"You can count on us, Superman", she says. "Let's hope we hear better news on Jimmy Olsen & the others."
Same here, Superman thought, nodding. Lois gets behind the Man of Steel & wraps her arms around his neck, & Iruma & Rena both get an arm around their waist.
His passengers in tow, Superman takes to the air, heading into Metropolis.
That's when John Henry Irons steps out from hiding & into the foray.
"Captain Sawyer!", he says, approaching her.
"Professor Irons! What a surprise!", she replied. "What brings you out of the office?"
"Got a present for you inside my bag. Care to take a look?"
"Don't mind if I do."
Taking the bag from Irons, Maggie opens it up & looks inside. What she finds is a pleasing sight—Metallo's head. What's left of the metal man stares at Sawyer (as if he really has a choice).
"Oh, crap!", he says before Maggie closes the bag.
"Now that's an early Christmas gift if I ever did see one!", she said. "Thanks—Santa."
"Ho-ho-ho, Captain!", Irons replied.
The two grin from ear to ear.
Superman took the ladies to Metropolis General in faster time than he did before, in only three minutes, not having to worry about having anyone falling off any makeshift platform. When he touched down, the quartet headed back up to room 3013, where Jimmy Olsen, Munakata, & the others were lying in their beds. Lois opens the door to their room & froze, along with Iruma & Rena. In the room was a most astonishing sight: not only were Olsen & the GUTS team fully awake & sitting up in their beds with Daigo watching over them, he had the most unexpected kind of company to boot. Three individuals—a man & two women—stood near the window. The man stood six feet, two inches tall, clad in a red outfit that had a golden-yellow design shaped like a lightning bolt on his chest. His boots were the same color as the bolt, as was the metal braceles that covered his forearms. Like Superman, his eyes were blue & hair was short & black, but unlike the Man of Steel, his cape was short & white. The first of the two females was a solid six feet tall, & wore a garb not unlike a swimsuit but is worn for battle instead of a day at the beach/pool. It was colored in red, yellow, & blue, with the latter color being decorated with white stars. Her boots were red & sported a vertical white stripe, going from top to bottom to her toes. Silver bracelets covered her forearms, & a golden tiara with a red star in the middle rested upon her forehead. Red stars dangled from her earlobes, her eyes were blue, & her hair was long & jet black. A golden lasso hung from her waist, & she had the reddest lips anyone woman have. The second female was younger & smaller, standing only five feet, five inches tall. She was dressed in an outfit similar to Superman's own, only it was a tank-top shirt with long sleeves, exposing her bare stomach. She had on a mini-skirt & yellow belt around her waist, & both her boots & cape were red. She, too, possessed blue eyes like the other two, but her long hair was blonde instead of black, & had pretty baby pink lips.
None of this came as a surprise to Superman himself, unlike Lois, Iruma, & Rena, for it was he who had arranged for them to be here.
Seeing the group enter, Horii was the first to speak.
"Hey, Captain! Look who showed up at our door!", he exclaims happily, smiling like everyone else.
The ladies couldn't believe who it was—Captain Marvel (sometimes known as Shazam, but rarely), Wonder Woman (Diana to her friends), & Supergirl (Kara Zor-El, Kal-El's cousin)!
"You two must be Captain Iruma & Rena", Wonder Woman said. "Daigo here has told us a lot about you & your GUTS team. What bold warriors you all are."
"And what a pleasure it is to meet you", Supergirl said. "It's just a shame it had to be here in the hospital after your team suffered rather bad injuries."
"That's why Superman got in touch with us", said Captain Marvel. "He gave us a quick run-down on what happened, & as soon as we were free, we headed on down here to help Daigo keep an eye on & protect them, should The Cyborg, Metallo, and/or that Mecha-Baltan alien decide to come & finish off your friends for good."
Iruma turned to Superman. "Then that phone call you made before…"
"Was to them, Captain, yes", Superman finished for her.
Iruma turns back to Daigo, who lets her know the bottom line. "You said you wanted to keep a close watch on our teammates & young Jimmy Olsen here, & you simply can't ask for better bodyguards than these three, can you?"
"I-I suppose not, Daigo!", Rena says, completely at a loss for words.
"Oh, for the record, Captain", Supergirl begins, "I did an x-ray scan of your teammates & of Jimmy Olsen, & I'm happy to say that I've found no broken bones whatsoever on anyone."
"We're just as happy to hear that, Supergirl", Iruma proudly says, turning to her team. "How is everyone feeling otherwise?"
"Captain, I think I speak for us all when I say I've got one hell of a headache!", Munakata answers, causing a ripple of chuckles from everyone.
"Then again, it could've been much worse", said Yazumi.
"How so?", asked Shinjoh.
"Our brains could now be decorating a portion of the airport right about now, had Mecha-Baltan applied any more force when he ensnared us in those bolas."
"Gee, thanks, Yazumi! Now I won't be able to eat a good, hearty meal after hearing that bit of information!", Jimmy Olsen pouts, creating even more guffaws.
"Don't take it literally, Mr. Olsen", Rena said to him. "Yazumi always likes to be precise in his deductions—a little too much."
"No kidding!", Jimmy says, rubbing the back of his head.
"Try not to worry about it too much, Jimmy", Lois says. "They told us that the doctors will be here shortly to check you all over, & I'm sure the prognosis is gonna be good. In the meantime, have we got a story to tell!"
"Let me guess—you've found the black hats & kicked their asses?", Shinjoh asked with sarcasm.
"You might say that", Superman says, smiling. "Why not let the ladies & myself give you all the details?"
"We're all ears, Superman!", said Horii.
With the door closed, Kal-El & the ladies took a seat & began spilling their guts of their incredible (& at times, frightening) adventure.
Wait'll the chief hears about this one!, thought Jimmy, knowing the story they're about to hear will be nothing short of fantastic.
Reciting their story made Jimmy Olsen, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, & the GUTS team both excited & relieved. During the tale being told, Superman was contacted by John Henry Irons, who informs him of The Cyborg's & Metallo's apprehensions—the former being placed back into the Phantom Zone, & the latter in custody again by the Special Crimes Unit. Irons also explained to his longtime friend that Mecha-Baltan must've sprung both meta-criminals by tapping into their prisons by some kind of warp, enabling the cyber-alien to nab his two accomplices from right under Kandor's & Maggie Sawyer's noses. The Man of Tomorrow was assured by Irons that he would be working on a security measure to ensure that such a thing would not be possible again by any force on or off the Earth.
Hearing this piece of vital information, the GUTS team needn't worry about an assassination attempt on their lives while they recuperate in the hospital. The same went for Supergirl, Wonder Woman, & Captain Marvel, all of whom needed to attend other duties upon their 'busy schedules', but not before having their photo taken with the heroes, Superman included, for a souvenir to bring home to Japan, along with their autographs—a definite must for the group, especially for Shinjoh!
Munakata & the rest did have to remain in the hospital under doctor's orders, being in the condition they were in. That was the bad news. The good news was, their injuries weren't life-threatening, & are free to go in about a day or two, but not to go rushing off to fight anytime soon.
It was a consequence they could all definitely live with: after taking on a half-bionic alien & two of Superman's toughest & deadliest enemies, the GUTS team had no arguments with it.
Between the times of their awakening & release from Metropolis General, Lois presented the story of Superman & Ultraman Tiga's battle with Mecha-Baltan, The Cyborg, & Metallo that all led up to their defeat & apprehension to Perry White, who published the ground-breaking story the next morning, accompanied by photos taken by Jimmy Olsen right before Mecha-Baltan had gotten the drop on him. Photos of the latter battle—including the brief but chilling face-off with Doomsday—were taken by other available photographers from the Daily Planet. The story undoubtedly became a front-pager, featuring the Man of Steel & Ultraman Tiga embracing it. It was surely another Pulitzer for Lois, having been the one to present the story, especially since she had been caught within it, almost losing her life when she, Iruma, Rena, Superman, The Cyborg, & Metallo were sucked out into the cold, merciless vacuum of space. In a twist of fate, she & the others had been saved by Tiga instead of Superman, something she has quite the habit of since their first encounter after he saved the Constitution shuttle years ago.
Asked how he would feel about getting the drop on him with this headlining story, Clark Kent had no objections. He knows the love of his life deserves it more than he does, especially considering she almost died when she got sucked out into space, with him unable to get her or the two GUTS females back inside the ship before they decompressed & burst. If not for Ultraman Tiga's timely arrival, that would've happened.
As for Clark himself, he had other matters to worry about, & not all of them consisted of him with Clark Kent: when he got word from The Mayor on Stan's funeral—the unfortunate staff member at City Hall who was shot & killed by Basil Karlo & his crew—Clark (as Superman) had flown in to pay his respects to the man like he promised, giving his most sincerest condolences to his family & friends. Asked as to why Jimmy Olsen hadn't arrived, Superman explained to The Mayor of his accident at the airport while covering a story, getting him hospitalized at Metropolis General. Giving his own sympathies, The Mayor tells the Man of Steel that he will be paying the young photographer a visit when he's able to, once the ceromonies for Stan's funeral are done. He has even agreed to take care of pay for Jimmy's treatment, along with the GUTS members' own, saying it was the least he could do for a group of hard-working & courageous people.
Now that the GUTS team has received a clean bill of health, they were released in two days after regaining consciousness. Their hotel rooms were left untouched when they had left them, including their personal belongings being all accounted for. After a scrumptious meal of their choice, Iruma & the other GUTS members headed back to their rooms for a nice, well-deserved rest in a night that was crisp & clear with no clouds hovering above, but stars that twinkled like tiny diamonds.
Daigo was in his pajamas & checked his clock radio. It read 10:30 p.m.. In the morning, Jimmy Olsen & Lois Lane have invited him & the other GUTS members down to the Ace O' Clubs for breakfast at 9:00 a.m., but with the way Daigo feels, he might as well take a rain check on their invitation & stay in bed until it was time to go home to Japan, which will be on Monday morning.
Giving out a quiet yawn, Daigo pulls the covers off his bed to climb in & tuck himself underneath, when he suddenly hears a deep, eerie voice coming from his bathroom.
Acting on instinct, Daigo ignores his droopy vigor & grabs his pistol from off his desk next to his clock radio & aims it to where the voice originated.
"Who's there?", he demanded softly but firmly. "Whoever you are, you'd better come out now or I'll shoot! This is your only warning!"
Daigo suddenly saw movement from the darkness of his private lavatory. What emerged was seemed like a living shadow of a man shrouded in black, standing a frightening six feet, two inches. The only indications of the shadow being a man at all that Daigo could see was the bit of flesh which made out his chin & mouth. His eyes were white with no pupils in sight, & on the top of his head stod a pair of pointed ears, like a bat's.
Daigo couldn't believe who it was who seemed to magically appear in his room.
"Batman?", he says,astonished, lowering his gun. "Why are you here?"
"I have a friend here who wishes to see you", Batman replied.
Daigo lets out an exhausting & somewhat irritating sigh. "Can't it wait until morning? I feel like a lead weight needing to be dropped!"
"Sorry, but it can't. He insisted on it right away. I think you'll find this worthwhile."
Daigo was going to refuse the man's request, but he's heard so much about the Batman like he has about Superman, & one thing anyone should know of the Dark Knight is that when he makes a request, he's not one to take 'no' for an answer, no matter how much one tries to deny him of it, whether it's a piece of vital information or even a favor.
Armed with that knowledge, Daigo gives in.
"Who is it?", he asks, curious deep down.
Batman turns his head left as his 'friend' makes himself known by stepping out into the light as the Caped Crusader had done. He had on a tidy blue business suit, black shoes, white shirt, & a pair of reading glasses over his eyes.
Daigo recognized him right away.
"Mr. Kent?", he says.
"Please, Daigo, call me Clark", he replied.
"All right, 'Clark'. Tell me—what's so important for you & Batman to visit me at this hour that it couldn't wait until tomorrow morning for you to do so?"
"Daigo, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I think it's simply best to just show you my reason for being here. It's something I should've done the other night."
The other night?, Daigo wondered. What's he talking about?
Before Daigo can ponder it any further, Clark Kent makes his move & removes his glasses, followed by pulling his suit apart at his chest.
When the GUTS soldier saw what was behind his stylish demeanor, his eyes went wide & his vitality rose like a helium balloon.
So much for sleep!, thought Daigo, who was now too excited to doze off like the dead.
Saturday morning came as one could hope for: a bright, sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky above, merely a continuation of the night before. With the weekend going in full swing, it was the perfect chance for the GUTS team (in civilian garb) to enjoy themselves & unwind like most folks with Monday-Friday, nine-to-five jobs are able to. Lois & Jimmy take them down to the Ace O' Clubs restaurant/bar for breakfast as they promised, & at 9 a.m.. Walking inside, the eatery pub was occupied by a couple patrons: some at the bar, others at the dining tables, either eating their breakfast meals or waiting on them. Lois, Jimmy, & the GUTS folks were greeted by a hefty man of a staggering six feet, three inches tall, with a physique that would put Popeye the Sailor or even Hollywood tough guys like Sylvester Stallone to shame. He had on a pair of blue jeans, white sneakers,& wore an apron over his white T-shirt. His eyes were gray, as was his hair, which got covered by a red cap resting upon his head.
"Well, well, if'n it isn't two a' me most fav'rit people in da world!", said the man, extending his arms out, giving Lois & Jimmy a hug in each of his strong arms. "Miss Lois Lane & lil' Jimmy Olsen! Welcome back to da 'Ace'!"
"Uh, good to see you again, too, Bibbo", Jimmy said, unable to move in Bibbo's solid grip. "It has been awhile."
"And we've, uh, brought some guests here to join us for breakfast this morning", Lois added as Bibbo relents & releases his hold on her & Olsen. The Ace O' Clubs owner takes notice of the GUTS team & walks up to Munakata, Shinjoh, Horii, Yazumi, Rena, & Iruma, greeting the Captain in as gentlemanly a manner as he can. "Welcome, friends, to da Ace O' Clubs", says Bibbo, taking Iruma's hand gently into his own. "Da name's Bibbo, & I'll be servin' youse folks a good & wholeheartedly breakfast as only I's could."
"That's fabulous, Bibbo", Iruma says, "because we're all starving for something that'll fill us right up. Got anything in mind?"
"Da perfect t'ing! Youse folks from Japan're in fer a real treat! Today's special is a servings of choc'lit chip pancakes witwhipped cream an' cherry on top! If'n youse jus' take your seats, ol' Bibbo here'll fix 'em up fer ya!"
"Now that's a breakfast only a fool would turn down!", Horii said. "We're much obliged to you, Bibbo!"
"Anyt'ing fer friends o' Lois & Jimmy here."
Along with serving his other patrons, Bibbo had the pancakes ready for Lois, Jimmy, & the GUTS members in just over a half an hour. The group enjoyed every last bite of the man's breakfast, each with a glass of milk to wash it all down. Afterwards, Bibbo served them a dish of refreshing ice cream in a flavor of their choice, having just enough room for it.
"So, after our morning dessert", Yazumi says, taking another spoonful of vanilla ice cream, "where shall we head to next, now that we've visited & seen Suicide Slum?"
"Good question, Yazumi", said Horii. "This city's so damned big, it's more or less difficult to choose where to go next. It's no wonder this town is called Metropolis."
Jimmy Olsen surpressed a laugh, but smiled instead. "Then let me make it easier for you by suggesting Centennial Park. You folks can enjoy countless activities there—horseback riding, boating, golfing, & that's only a tip of the iceberg."
Iruma & the rest of her team look at each other with smiles & nods of approval from young Olsen's suggestion, making it clear that it was one worth trying out.
"Sounds wonderful, Jimmy", replied Munakata. "I've not played any golf in years, & it would be nice to go work on my swing again."
"And I'd certainly love to go horseback riding", Rena says happily. "I have such an affinity & affection for animals, so I'll be happy to try that out."
"As for me", Iruma says, "I'd prefer a nice, quiet boat ride in the water. It's settled, then: next stop is Centennial Park."
"If we're lucky, we'll catch up to & meet Daigo & Mr. Kent there or even along the way to it", Shinjoh added.
"Speaking of whom", Horii cut in, "why would they go off on their own without us?"
"Forgive my husband again, Horii", Lois says. "He told me he wanted to show your friend the sights himself. Clark was very…insistent about it."
Munakata chuckles. "He highly reminds me of myself", he says. "Once my mind's made up, no force can get me to change it."
"Be that as it may, Munakata, they deserve to", Iruma points out. "We'll head to Centennial Park just as soon as we pay the bill here."
"You can just leave that to me, Iruma."
The GUTS Captain & everyone else turn to who had addressed her. At the entrance stood a man just over six feet in height, dressed in a black tailored suit & shoes, & a white shirt underneath, complete with tie. His hair was short & black, & his blue eyes were fixated on Iruma, who was staring in surprise at the man.
It wasn't because he was one of the most handsomest men she ever laid eyes on.
It was because, like everyone else in the tavern, she knew who this man is.
"Bruce Wayne?", she says excitedly.
"M-Mista' Wayne?", Bibbo said, popping up from behind the bar.
"Greetings & good morning to you, Mr. Bibbowski, everyone", said Bruce.
"Da same! Please, make yaself comfy, Mista' Wayne!"
"Thank you, Mr. Bibbowski. I shall", Bruce says, heading over to where Iruma & her group were sitting at, taking a seat himself. "Hello, Lois. Nice to see you & Jimmy here again."
"T-Thanks, Mr. Wayne", Jimmy said, as all eyes turn to him & Lois.
"How come you two didn't tell us that you know Playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne?", asks an excited Yazumi.
"Only by reputation, I'm afraid", said Jimmy.
More than you can ever imagine, Yazumi, Lois said to herself, being the only person among the crowd to know of Bruce's 'dark side'. "To use an old cliché, 'you never asked'."
"I suppose not", said a smiling Munakata. "But seriously, what is Gotham City's answer to New York's Donald Trump doing here in Metropolis? Surely it can't be to pay a simple tab for a bunch of foreigners."
"It's no big deal, really", Bruce began. "Actually, I'm here in Metropolis on business. You're all employed by the Terrestrial Peacekeeping Commission, am I right?"
The members of GUTS all nodded.
Bruce went on. "Well, I understand that they & S.T.A.R. Labs were responsible for funding the Solar Satellite project which, unfortunately, got destroyed by an invisible alien craft. Therefore, I'd like to help refund the project with a generous donation. I also have some of the best technicians at WayneTech & Wayne Aerospace who can help speed up the process in its reconstruction, along with security measures to prevent another assault, should a new threat from space suddenly appear out of the blue."
"You'd do that, Mr. Wayne?", asked Iruma.
"I felt terrible upon hearing about that tragedy, Captain. As I've read in the papers, this new satellite system can revolutionize space exploration, & that's something the human race shouldn't be denied a chance at. This could very well be the next best thing for the Earth since the Russians launched their Sputnik into orbit in 1957."
"And go beyond that in the process", said Horii. "I must say, Mr. Wayne, that's quite generous of you."
"Same here", said Rena. "Your parents would be so proud of you right now, were they here."
Bruce nodded, not sure at the moment what to say to that. The news of his parent's brutal deaths on that night many years ago was made public all across the nation, not just in Gotham City where it happened. He shouldn't be too surprised in the least upon discovering thses people from Japan know about the incident. Then again, both his mother & father—Thomas & Martha Wayne—had made contributions not only for Gotham, but for the world over, including the Land of the Rising Sun.
"Rena!", Munakata stated soft but firm. "I think you should be more considerate about Mr. Wayne's feelings about that! Try to remember that he was just a boy when his parents were…"
Bruce gently places a hand on the field leader's shoulder. "It's quite all right, Munakata. I'm not offended in the slightest. For the most part, Rena's right: my parents would be very proud of me right now, & it was really heartwarming of her to say that."
"No kidding, Mr. Wayne?"
Bruce smiled. "No kidding."
Munakata looks back at Rena with apologetic eyes. "Sorry about that, Rena."
The ace pilot giggles. "No hard feelings, leader."
"Hey, Bibbo! Come check out the TV!", a patron at the bar called out. "Your hero's on!"
"Sooperman?", Bibbo says, getting in front of the TV, turning up the volume.
A female announcer was displaying the news, showing a picture of the Man of Steel. "…and on this glorious morning, comes a spectacular sight! Our own hometown hero, Superman, is seen flying in downtown Metropolis by several witnesses in the area of the Daily Planet building, now heading north."
The picture changes to a live feed, showing Superman flying across the trademark structure.
Seeing him always made Bibbo smile.
"Har-har, you're right, Johnny!", he says, patting him on the back. "It is me fav'rit on da TV! He's da toughest guy I ever had da priv'lege of havin' here in ma club! Why, once he…hey! Jus' a minnit here! Who's dat guy wit' im'?"
So happy was Bibbo to see Superman on the television that he failed to notice that he was not flying alone. A second figure in red, silver, & lavender was right beside him. While the second figure was an enigma to Bibbo & his regulars, he was instantly recognizable to Lois, Jimmy, & the GUTS team.
"That, Bibbo, is Ultraman Tiga", Shinjoh says. "He's our 'fav'rit'!"
The weapons specialist's remark got chuckles from the others.
"He's right, Bibbo", says Rena. "Just days ago, he helped Superman in defeating a malevolent alien from taking over Earth & destroyed his ship. He even saved your hero from certain death—three times."
Bibbo stared at Ultraman Tiga on the television in wonder. Then he smiles, holding a mug of beer in his hand. "Ultraman Tiga, huh?Well, if'n he's a friend o' me pal Sooperman, he's a friend o' ol' Bibbo's too." The Ace O' Clubs owner raises his mug over his head, as did several others, including Lois' group. "A toast! To me pal Sooperman & his new friend, Ultraman Tiga, the 'Soo-perman o' Japan'!"
"A toast!", the other patrons called out, drinking their beverages.
Even Bruce Wayne toasted the two heroes with a spare glass of water left by Bibbo. Staring at the television at the live feed of Superman & Ultraman Tiga, he couldn't help but be intrigued by them, flying side-by-side.
A smile grew from his mouth.
I gotta admit, Clark, Bruce thought, you & Daigo do make a pretty good team. Even I was impressed with the way you two dealt with Mecha-Baltan days ago. Just don't bring any of those giant menaces to Gotham City. It's got enough trouble with human-sized criminals as it is. And no need for any thanks on the info with Clayface—you would've done the same for me had a foe from your rogues gallery came into my town. If we're both lucky, all of our rogues gallery will get the message & stay in our perspective cities! If we're unlucky, we'll be consolidating more than we wish to on that subject!
He continued staring at the TV, which still showed both heroes soaring through the sky.
His smile stayed on his face.
Going past the Daily Planet building, Superman & a human-sized Ultraman Tiga looked at one another as Kal-El smiled & Tiga nodded, giving the Man of Tomorrow a thumbs up. With the sun shining over a bright morning sky, the two heroes kept going west over the city: a guided tour for Tiga, chaperoned by Superman himself. Neither could be more proud of being in each other's company if they tried.
They do have their differences, such as dealing with enemies, for example, but for the most part, they're almost identical in every way.
The few differences they have doesn't matter much.
Their legacies do.
And they are proud to live up to them.
It was hot when he had awakened, but unable to move, as his arms, legs, & head have been strapped tightly by thick metal binds, which even he cannot hope to break out of.
In the distance he can hear two separate voices, one more in depth than the other.
"Has the transfer been successful?", the deep voice asked.
"Yes, my lord", said the other voice, his higher in tone but in the same volume. "The replacement we left is flawlessly identical to the original, which we now have back in our possession. As to how the intruder managed to kidnap our most cherished prize from right under us is still a mystery we cannot seem to yet solve."
"Understood. See to it that such treachery is never again performed in our domain."
"Yes, my lord. I shall get set to work on it straight away."
"See that you do. Nobody steals from us, lowly servant. Nobody."
The footfalls of the servant fade as he leaves the chamber, his master alone with the creature called Doomsday. Switched at the Pentagon for an exact duplicate under the noses of the joint chiefs of staff, the Armageddon Creature opens his eyes & stares at the one who stares back. He was a giant of a being in blue & gray, standing at a solid eight feet, nine inches tall, his eyes redder than even the reddest star.
To few, he is known as Uxas, Son of Heggra.
But to most, he is called Darkseid.
In his deepest dungeon on the fiery world of Apokolips, the tyrant flashes an evil grin & his eyes burn bright.
"Welcome home…Doomsday", Darkseid says with pride.
The Armageddon Creature was only half-aware of what Darkseid had said to him; the other half of his thoughts were mainly on Superman, as he vowed to see him dead again, no matter what it took or cost. He also had another on his mind, one whom he loathed & despised just as much as the Kryptonian himself. With each mentioning of his new foe's name, Doomsday's anger grew.
"Tiga!", he growled lowly.
His own eyes burned a bright red.
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