On a busy Friday evening, the aisles of the Metropolis Big S grocery store were full of traffic as shoppers hurriedly stocked up for the week to come. Many of them had rushed to the store after leaving work, and they still retained the frantic, rat-race pace of the modern world.
A dark-haired man with glasses mumbled polite apologies as others bumped into him or cut him off with their own shopping carts. He attracted a few stares of recognition as he made his way through the store and carefully filled it with various cans and bags and bottles. This was typical, since Clark Kent was well-known in the Big Apricot from his previous job as TV news reporter and anchorman. Although no one there knew it, he was even more famous in his other identity as the celebrated super-hero Superman.
He glanced around the crowd and peered directly ahead as a girl in designer jeans and a white blouse whispered to her companion. “Man, you’d think a guy who worked on TV wouldn’t be so concerned about checking prices,” she whispered. “The way Clark Kent is staring at those cans of soup, he must be pretty tight with his cash. The big shot is looking for the best bargain!”
Clark smiled slightly as his super-hearing picked up her words, and he thought to himself, I am checking prices, but I’m doing so for some products on the far side of the store, and I’m not watching money for myself but for a friend, he thought. Super-vision can be a big help in a store this size. I can price check items long before I physically come near them. That should enable me to help my former good neighbor Mrs. Goldstein get the most for her limited income. He wheeled his cart around and met an elderly lady who was sitting in a chair near the front of the store.
“Clark, you are such a sweet boy to help me like this!” said the old lady as she reached over and patted Clark’s hand with affection. “And to think you even made a special trip to get me, since you no longer live in our dear old building.”
He smiled at the gray haired lady and said, “My pleasure, Mrs. Goldstein. Our friendship didn’t end when I bought a house in the ‘burbs. When I moved away, I told you I’d always be glad to help you with any chores, and I meant it.”
Clark reflected on how his life had changed since his move from Clinton Street to a house outside the city. (*) He was now a parent who cared for his late cousin’s little girl. He was also involved in a romance with a pretty, red-haired woman named Kristin Wells. She also shared his double life, since she was secretly the heroine called Superwoman.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Babe on the Run, Epilogue: Moving Day.]
He helped Mrs. Goldstein finish shopping and loaded her groceries into his car. They drove back to his old apartment building at 344 Clinton Street, where he carried her groceries upstairs and helped her place them in her neat cabinets and refrigerator. “My, such a tidy young man! Your mother taught you well,” said the admiring old lady.
Clark smiled and said, “Well, my folks ran a grocery store back in Smallville, and I grew up amongst canned goods. I guess I should know a lot about how to stock a cabinet.”
“Now, can you stay for a nice cup of tea?” asked Mrs. Goldstein. “I have oatmeal cookies.”
Clark started to reply when a piercing sound struck his keen ears, and he winced in response. Great Krypton! Some type of ultra-high-frequency signal or alarm is going off! he thought. I can hear it with my super-hearing, but it is beyond the range of ordinary hearing. I have to find it. It’s almost like the sound of Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch. Call it a hunch, but I think somebody is trying to get my attention.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Goldstein, but I have to polish a story for the Planet,” he said. “But I’ll take a rain check on those cookies, if I may.” Clark made a polite but hurried departure from the apartment and then switched into his colorful red and blue costume, storing his Clark Kent clothing and his glasses within a hidden pouch in his red cape’s interior.
As Superman, he flew at super-speed across the skies of his city and used his hearing to track down the piercing noise to its source. Superman frowned as he drew closer to what had once been a modest home. The small structure was now nothing but rubble as twisted wood and metal and shattered glass covered a scene of destruction. The alarm sound originated from one sheltered or reinforced part of the broken house where a bank of machines still stood amidst the rubble.
Superman switched off the alarm device and surveyed the destruction around him. How bizarre! he thought. The house has been almost totally devastated, but there is no sign of any disturbance to the surrounding area. The other homes are fine. I’d suspect this was due to a lab accident, since that wall of advanced machines suggests that this was the home of a scientist or engineer, but the rubble clearly indicates that whatever caused this tragedy came from outside. The windows and one wall have been knocked inward by some outer force!
He moved rapidly as his x-ray vision detected a human form trapped beneath the wood and metal. He tossed the debris aside with ease and gently examined the injured man. He wore a white lab coat and had dark hair and a mustache. Superman frowned as he recognized the victim. “T.O. Morrow! That former criminal genius had supposedly reformed, but even if he has slipped back into lawless ways, I hate to see him or anyone suffer like this.”
Morrow moaned and tried to speak as Superman gently supported his head. “Morrow, keep still,” said the Man of Steel. “I’ll get you to a hospital. You’ve suffered broken bones, but I think you’ll be fine with proper care and treatment.”
Groaning, Morrow said, “He did this! I tried to warn you! You came too late to stop him!”
“I never received any warning until I detected your signal,” said Superman. “Who did this to you?”
“The Red Tornado!” gasped Morrow. “He finally tried to kill me for the way I used him in the past!” He slumped back into unconsciousness as Superman waved over approaching police cars and an ambulance.
While the artificial tornado winds Reddy can generate could do exactly this to a house, I know better than to believe Morrow’s wild claim, he thought. Still, he apparently tried to get my help, so this is a definite job for Superman!
Meanwhile, the Red Tornado himself was dressed in formal wear in his other identity of John Smith. He moved elegantly across the dance floor, whirling Kathy Sutton in a graceful spin. Kathy was a pretty blonde woman in a demure pink dress and high heels. She laughed as John drew her back out of the spin into an embrace. “John, this has been a delightful evening,” she said. “The meal, the dancing, and the view across the harbor have been like something from a dream. I feel like a princess!”
John smiled and said, “You are and ever have been the ruler of my heart.”
“You always know just what to say,” said Kathy. “You dance like Gene Kelly. Is there anything you can’t do, John?”
“In point of fact, my dancing is an exact recreation of the movements of Mr. Fred Astaire from his film entitled Easter Parade,” said John. “While I have naturally allowed for variation based upon the slight differences in the beat of the music, the space allotted, and other factors, in other ways I have duplicated his precise movements as only one with a computerized recall could do.”
“I was just teasing you, dear,” said Kathy.
“I was joking as well,” said John. “I find my delivery leaves something to be desired. Perhaps I should study Bob Newhart less and watch more Letterman.”
Kathy nodded as John took her hand and led her back to their table. She was in love with John Smith, and in some ways she had been ever since he first walked into her employment agency with that halting and slightly helpless manner of his. She had found him work, and she had found love as she had grown to care for the wonderful artificial man who was so needy for human contact and acceptance.
John Smith was an android. He had been created by a scientist named T.O. Morrow, and his basic essence had in turn originated with an alien force of nature known as the Tornado Champion. In any case, experience, personal growth, and a fight to assert his own self-will had eventually led John to embrace a persona that was uniquely his own. He now cherished his independence and humanity, which had been upheld by a court when he adopted the orphan girl Traya. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Tornado: More Human Than Human.]
He was developing certain personality quirks or nuances like those found in any person born of flesh and blood, and in both his heroic role as the JLA hero the costumed Red Tornado or as bald and unassuming John Smith, he was happy with the way his life had turned out.
John said, “Kathy, I fear we must end this night all too soon. I have class tomorrow, and I wish to review a few cases.”
Kathy nodded understandingly. She was proud of the way John balanced fatherhood, heroism, temporary jobs, and the grind of being a student. He was taking courses in order to become a paralegal; the field was perfect for someone with his computerized memory and attention to detail. He also liked the idea of serving the cause of justice in his Smith identity as well as in his Tornado one.
They emerged on the dock that overlooked the harbor, and John stiffened suddenly as his sensors detected the activation of his JLA signal alert. He scanned the frequency and nodded slightly as he realized the signal was a direct communication from Superman. “John, I need to talk to you. Please meet me at Metropolis Mercy General,” said the Kryptonian champion.
John replied via an electronic link and then turned to Kathy, “I must meet Superman on League business. I am sorry for the sudden end to our evening.” Scooping up Kathy into his arms, he then carried her skyward as his lower body became a swirling nimbus that lifted them into the air without disturbing anything around them. Red Tornado’s control of his winds was so precise that he could direct those powerful winds with the finesse of a surgeon.
“Be careful, John,” said Kathy. “I’ll stay with Traya. There’s no need for us to keep the sitter any longer.”
John nodded as he carried his beloved to his own apartment in record time. “Thank you, Kathy. Please be certain that Traya does not stay up past her bedtime. Also, tell her I have located the Poet Smurf she wants for her collection. It is at a Kansas store, and I will order it tomorrow. I found it via an electronic inventory search of several dozen toy shops.”
Kathy kissed him as he lowered her to the ground in front of his building. He flew off, and she sighed as her gaze lingered on his trail and she prayed silently for his safe return.
Later, a grim Superman conferred with the red, blue, and gold-costumed Red Tornado as they stood on the roof of the hospital. “Morrow will recover in time, and the doctors assure me that he will pull through,” Superman explained. “He still isn’t talking, though, since he’s on heavy sedation. However, when he did talk back at the wrecked lab, in addition to his claim that you attacked him, he said he had tried to reach me before, but that I came too late. That sounds as if he expected to be attacked.”
Red Tornado stood silently for a moment and then said, “My apologies for my delay in responding, Superman. I was running a systems analysis on the JLA signal devices we use via remote link. It appears as if Professor Morrow did indeed attempt to override the system in order to contact you directly through your JLA signal device. The improvements we have made to that system since our encounters with entities like the Construct prevented him for doing so, but I was able to detect his efforts to do so when I made a deliberate search for such evidence.”
Superman nodded in approval. “When that failed, he activated that crude but effective alarm in the hopes that my super-senses would detect it in time. He’s fortunate that it survived the destruction of his lab, or I might never have gone there at all.”
Red Tornado said, “Superman, I must assure you that while Professor Morrow’s past manipulation of me has left me with a certain natural concern for his future deeds, I do not wish him any harm, nor am I responsible for this attack.”
Superman smiled and placed one hand on Red Tornado’s shoulder. “Reddy, it’s me,” he said. “I’m your friend. You don’t have to explain or convince me that you are not guilty. I never suspected you. I just wanted your help.”
The Red Tornado nodded and said, “For someone possessing a computerized mind and total recall, I do appear to require to necessarily learn the same lessons about friendship again and again. You and my other friends in the League honor me with your trust and understanding. I have grown to accept this as a fact, but at times I am still oddly moved by the sensation.”
“Reddy, do you have any idea why Morrow would subject himself to such risk?” asked Superman. “I can’t see this as any scheme on his part to frame you, in spite of the similarity of your powers to the type of damage his lab experienced.”
“I concur,” said the Red Tornado. “Professor Morrow is fearless only in his pursuit of science. He would not endanger himself even out of malice for me. He and I reached something of an understanding when last we met. I think he was truly a victim in this case. We must seek an unknown party to find the one behind this. I believe he merely assumed I was the one threatening him. His kind can be paranoid at times!”
Superman raised one eyebrow and said, “His kind? You mean humans?”
The Tornado shook his head. “No. I mean former criminals often see only the bad in human nature. They expect the worst from their fellow man. Do not fear, Superman, the days in which I wrongly saw myself as one apart from mankind have ended. I have grown since then.”
“From looking through the wreckage in his lab, I did determine that he had recreated his old machine that allowed him to view the future,” said Superman. “Perhaps he used it and saw his fate. He saw himself buried in wreckage from tornado force winds or power and jumped to the conclusion that you were coming to attack him. That would be reasonable for someone who only knew of your history and your power but did not know the kind of person you are!”
“That is logical, based on what little evidence we have,” said Red Tornado. “However, I have made a search of phone transaction records for Professor Morrow’s lab, and he was in contact with the following individuals or companies in the recent past. If he has wronged someone, and they have sought revenge in such a way, then perhaps one of these names could hold the secret we seek.” He held out a piece of paper, and Superman studied it for a moment.
“You tapped into phone company records to get this!” said Superman. “Clever and justified under the circumstances. I think the name near the bottom may just hold the key to the puzzle. Will you join me on a trip to the wilds of New Jersey?”
Red Tornado agreed readily, and they flew off in search of their quarry.