“I loved it,” Ryan Chase continued, fondly recalling the Colonel Future suit he had borrowed from Edmond Hamilton. “It was nowhere near as bulky as my old getup. It was faster, and it had other offensive and defensive features, like a force-field. I figured I could take it from his lab and try it out and return it all before he ever woke up.”
“Was his security that lax?” asked Meg Tempest.
“Nope,” replied Ryan. “I was just able to bypass it. After all, he trusted us. The agency had worked for him for years. I started flying, and it brought back old times as the Human Cannonball with a real rush, though by that time I’d already decided to shorten the name to Cannonball. It just rolls off the tongue a bit more nicely, don’t you think? Anyway, as I was flying through the air, I noticed that the suit had a preset flight pattern! I found myself heading toward D.C.!”
“Colonel Future had preprogrammed the suit to take him to the summit!” gasped Meg.
“Right!” he said. “Beautiful and smart! Well, I arrived and couldn’t really alter the course. I just enjoyed the ride. I figured I was up the creek, as they say! I saw the whole scene that is so famous now. Ron — he tells me to call him Ron — Gorby, and Red Star, all lined up along with security and Superman.
“Well, Superman suddenly jumped forward for Red Star and clocked him. He was out cold in a blink of an eye,” continued Ryan Chase. “Before the security teams could respond, Superman grabbed Reagan! It was just as Future’s vision had depicted it, or so I imagined! I was able to alter my flight path, now that I had reached the desired locale.”
Ryan Chase frowned as he saw the Man of Steel go berserk. It wasn’t the kind of sight he could imagine. Superman had always been in control. How else could someone with his level of power live among less-powerful beings? Still, there was no mistaking the anger in Superman’s voice and face as he gripped the president of the United States of America.
“You two play your political games while your citizens suffer,” Superman shouted. “I’m ending your tyranny and your lives!”
Cannonball slammed into him and drove him away from the two world leaders. “Not while I’m around!” he said, activating the force-field and smiling as Superman’s right hook bounced off the shield.
“Cool! Maybe I can show the big blue that I’m not the kind of guy he can muscle around!” said Cannonball, firing an energy beam from the suit’s gloves, causing the Kryptonian to stagger. Red-looking energy! he mused. Must weaken him or something!
Superman spun around and created a whirlwind that rocked the flying Cannonball in its wake.
Seeing the security teams rush the politicians inside, he caught his breath. I don’t know how much energy this force-field takes, he thought. It might drain me dry and leave me helpless!
“Superman!” he shouted. “You’ve always been the hero everybody looks up to! What’s gotten into you?”
Cannonball reeled as Superman connected with a left hook. Weird! My goggles show a strange energy pattern, he mused. Supes is irradiated in it, and it even shows up across town!
Aloud he said, “Here goes nothing!” Pulling Superman’s cape, he zoomed off toward the odd energy reading. Superman reached up and grabbed Cannonball’s arm. They continued their struggle, and the media began to notice as they hurled each other through the air.
Cannonball ignored the crowds for once, as it took all his attention to merely stay alive. “You know,” he said, “I never did see what Lois saw in you! You’re stuffy!” He frowned as Superman backhanded him through a building.
Groaning, he sat up slowly. This is the place the weird radiation came from! he thought. Got what I wanted — to get Supes here. Now the trick is to survive my success!
Cannonball spotted a laboratory and a group of uniformed goons around one laughing, inhuman figure. Some kind of robot! he mused. That red radiance that Supes seemed bathed in is coming from his chest!
“You have succeeded already?” laughed Metallo. “By killing Reagan and Gorbachev, you’ve pushed the world to possible war and ruined your own life. All thanks to the mind-warping influence of the red kryptonite within my chest!”
“You may have caused me to feel like I do, but I don’t like you any better than I do the politicians!” said Superman.
“Kryptonite heart?” said Cannonball. “That’s what’s causing him to act so berserk! I’ve heard Lois speak of how those alien rocks can play games with Superman.”
Ripping a hunk of metal off a machine, he blocked the glow of the red stone in Metallo’s chest cavity from Superman.
Metallo laughed. “Doesn’t work that way, punk. Red K hits him, and its power doesn’t fade except in time. Shielding it with lead after he’s already been exposed doesn’t do a thing.”
Cannonball frowned. “OK, I get the 4-1-1. Now, what do I do about it? Last time I wore a hero suit, I almost cost some people their lives. How can I do better now?”
Ryan Chase shook his head. There was no crowd. There were no reporters around. He could just fly off, and no one would know. He moved for the hole by which he had entered the lab, thinking to himself, Those punks in the uniforms can’t prevent me from splitting.
Then the man calling himself Cannonball stopped and turned around. “I got to try. I have to help if I can. That’s what Green Arrow would do. That’s what the man I wanted to be would do!”
Cannonball activated a ray on the armored suit, and Superman staggered backward. “This solar beam weakens him — maybe just enough for me to do this!” he gasped as he fed all the energy in the suit into his strength.
With a mighty swing of his fist, Cannonball flattened Superman, who was already greatly weakened under the influence of the red sun rays.
Metallo cursed. “You knocked him cold. I needed him awake to become my assassin. The red K will wear off before he wakes up. I’ll need a new sample, and no two rocks have the same effect on him!” Turning to his hired thugs, he shouted, “Kill him!”
The goons charged Cannonball, who flew higher and then slammed into them like tenpins. “Strike!” he said. “Now, another thing right up my alley is taking you apart, you green-faced reject from G.E.!”
“Bah!” said Metallo. “My robotic strength is enough to rend that fancy flying suit off your corpse!”
“I like it,” said Cannonball. “That dialogue just sings. You oughta be in pictures — wanted pictures!” he said, dodging Metallo’s charging attack, then tripping him.
But then he received a glancing blow and reeled backward. “Uh-oh! The field’s down!” he gulped.
“The 1000 paid me plenty to let ’em implant the red stuff and make Superman our killer,” Metallo roared. “I’ll have to kill you first, then take down the bigwigs myself!”
Cannonball reached down and grabbed his leg. Zooming skyward, he carried the struggling Metallo across the city. “Hope you can swim!” he said as he released him over the Potomac.
As Metallo dropped into the waters, he said, “My body can’t stay afloat! I’m too heavy!”
Cannonball grinned. “See? That’s the whole point!” He waited a minute, then zoomed down to break through the waters to where his foe struggled.
After gripping his enemy, he gasped as Metallo’s metal fingers closed over his throat. “I’ll teach ya to mess with me!” hissed the villain.
Cannonball choked and fought for his life. Metal dude! he thought. Polarity! Got to reverse polarity on this thing. The helmet says it’s an option!
Hitting a switch, he smiled as Metallo was repelled out of the river with stunning force.
Moments later, Cannonball stood over the super-villain as reporters flashed photos.
Superman swooped down from the sky and said, “Cannonball, I owe you a big debt of thanks. Metallo traditionally uses green kryptonite to power his robotic form. Those goons from the 1000 altered him by adding synthetic red kryptonite. This variety made me hate all authority. The exact effect varies from one piece to another, and this synthetic piece only lasted for a couple of hours. If you had not delayed me until it wore off, I might have done something I’d never forgive myself for!”
“Won’t being near this creep make you go ape again?” asked Cannonball.
Superman grinned. “Nope. It only works once.”
Soon, at a special press conference, President Reagan, Premier Gorbachev, and a sullen Red Star stood around Superman and a smiling Cannonball.
“This brave young American came through for us all,” said the president. “He preserved our lives and stopped a great national danger. I think we should all be appreciative of his courage and his heart!”
Grinning, Cannonball said, “Please, sir, don’t say heart!”
Superman and the others laughed mildly.
In the present, Cannonball turned to Meg Tempest. “So, while you knew I saved them all and became a media darling, got my TV show, and launched my Cannonball Industries, you now know the rest of the story.”
Meg nodded. “But the suit? What happened with Colonel Future?”
Ryan put his arm around her and said, “I’ll tell you over dinner?” It was good to be Cannonball.
That evening found a fashionable Meg Tempest and a dapper Ryan Chase in one of the best dining establishments in the city. The vivacious young reporter had agreed to accompany the hero in order to learn more of his story. She was also motivated out of simple curiosity about how the celebrity super-hero interacted with his public. She had to admit that he handled himself very well. He was polite, patient, and even charming to every fan, and disarmed his critics with a boyish wit that won over most of his more critical listeners. Meg nodded with interest as he continued his tale.
“So, Meg, I returned to Hamilton’s home, and he greeted me with enthusiasm,” said Ryan. “He had watched the whole adventure, like most of America, and he had recognized his armored suit. He offered to let me continue to use it, having been impressed with how the Cannonball handled himself, and who could blame him?”
Meg smiled. “So why did he trust you? I mean, it is an amazing piece of technology.”
Ryan grinned. “No offense taken. He had flubbed up all the times that he tried to use the gear himself, and when we talked a bit, he was won over by my enthusiasm for a chance to redeem myself for past mistakes. He even used his connections to set me up with some big shots who, in turn, modified the suit and so on, until it became the streamlined beauty America knows and loves so well!”
“I see,” said Meg. “Hamilton saw more to you than your shallow exterior. He saw what I’m beginning to see. You really care about helping people, too.”
Ryan smiled. “Sure. Just don’t spread that around. My agent would throw a fit. Anyhow, Stephanie Edge approached me, and she pitched the idea for a reality show built around my heroics. The network immediately picked up Hero For Hire as a mid-season replacement, it took off like a speeding bullet, and the rest is TV history! Stephanie is old Morgan’s niece. She is a bit of a wunderkind!”
Meg nodded. “So are you, Mr. Chase. So are you!”