A Marvelous Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
Banished to Outer Space!
September 4, 1962
Deep beneath the Earth, the creature dubbed 'the Hulk' raged inside a confined room. The very walls around her shook with each impact of her massive fists, and her deafening scream of rage could be heard past the thick door which was the only thing keeping her inside the small cell.
Nervously watching the door from outside and the steel beam that kept it shut, Rick Jones glanced at his watch. "Only a few more hours till sunrise, only a few more hours," he chanted as he tried to block out the screams and the curses.
The test chamber, which had done a fine job of keeping the Hulk locked up at night, had been built to withstand most kinds of high explosives. Dr. Sterns had increased the strength, but Rick was still apprehensive about it being able to hold the Hulk captive. Forcing himself to stay awake, Rick guzzled the remaining liquid inside an old coffee pot. He blanched at the bitter taste, but it helped him keep his eyes open.
Sterns himself was not present, which was just as well as far as Rick was concerned. The scientist tended to treat Betty like a test subject. When he announced his leaving to meet with some other eggheads about a new kind of bomb, Rick didn't lost any sleep other it. He had plenty of other things to do that for him.
As he leaned back against the vibrating shaft, Rick's thoughts drifted back to dusk (yesterday, he corrected himself, as it was well past midnight). He remembered the frantic drive from the base towards the secret cave as the sun began its descent. The act had almost become second nature to them both by now.
Betty would hurry into the chamber while Rick turned on the press that would seal her inside. The heavy door would slam shut, with the two foot thick ramrod bracing it in place. There had been a concern about the Hulk (and Betty for that matter) getting enough oxygen while trapped inside. "It would better if the Hulk suffocated" Betty once said, although Rick couldn't tell how serious she meant that.
It was now only a two more hours until daybreak. The door was still being buffeted, but it held fast. Rick stumbled away from the beam and collapsed on a small cot that Sterns had set up near his lab. The young man ran his hand over his face, wishing for a mirror. He knew he looked like hell. Staying up the entire night can do that to you, he thought as he tried to keep his eyes open. "Got to stay awake, got to help Betty," he slurred as he struggled to sit up a little straighter. "I have to say awake!" he almost shouted as he forced himself up and off the cot.
A quick glance at his watch told him he had actually passed out and an hour had already passed. "One more hour, need some fresh air" he muttered out loud as he forced himself up the rocky path towards the cool night outside.
Rick lurched out of the cave, and rather unaware of how much had time had passed he stumbled in a daze around the area. "I need to walk it off," he almost shouted as he tried to force himself into a more alert state of awareness.
He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and walked a small distance when he heard the sound of vehicles approaching. Standing still, he looked around in a daze when the sound of the engines stopped. The confusion ended when the headlights came on around the teen, blinding him.
"Rick Jones?" came the question from behind the lights.
"Who's asking?" Rick asked as he tried to see just whom the shadowy shapes belonged to with little luck.
"United States Army kid, and I'd suggest you keep those hands were we can see them". Several armed men came out from behind the jeeps with their weapons drawn. The closet one kept his rifle pointed directly at Rick's head. From his voice, Rick knew he was the one who had spoken to him.
"Kind of late for a stroll, isn't?" the man, who had to raise up on his tiptoes to be as tall as Rick, sniggered as his fellow men surrounded the boy.
"What's it to you Napoleon?" Rick, despite his exhaustion or perhaps because of it, joked. The humor was lost on the soldier.
"Keep it up wiseass and we'll see how funny you are with a bullet in your knee." The man started, but a restraining hand from one of his fellows held him in check. The man, an officer judging from the rank insignia on his sleeve, spoke to Rick and ignored the outburst.
"Easy son, easy. We have our orders, from General Ross himself, to find you and bring you back to base. Now, this can real easy or real difficult. It's all up to you."
Looking around at the men (and their guns), Rick decided that discretion was the better part of valor, bit back his initial reply, and followed the officer into the nearby jeep.
"Hang on Betty, I'll be back before you know it" he silently swore as they drove away from the cave.
The drive was conducted in silence. The few questions Rick had tried to ask got him nothing, so he sat back and nodded off as the cool breeze went across his face. He didn't know how long he was asleep, but the next thing he knew he was face first on the hard ground.
"Ride's over sweetheart" the short soldier sneered as he kicked Rick to his feet.
"That will be quite enough" came a voice that Rick really didn't need to hear at this point.
"Dr. Marks" Rick inwardly groaned as the scientist shooed the soldiers away as they were nothing more than misbehaving school children.
"We'll take it from here men, go back to your posts." Dr. Marks gestured absently. "Come with me Mr. Jones."
Lacking any real alternative, Rick followed the scientist into the hanger. Technicians hurried about, as the single biggest rocket Rick had ever seen was being raised out of the ground and loaded onto a massive platform.
"Ok, what's going on?" Rick shouted over the noise.
Dr. Marks gestured towards a sealed off area. Entering the small office, and noticing how quiet the room was, Rick put his back against the wall. Dr. Marks sat down before he spoke. "Mr. Jones, do you know why you were brought here?"
"No, and where's General Ross?"
Dr. Marks chuckled at his question, something that did little to alleviate Rick's growing concern. "The general had to leave for a emergency staff meeting several hours ago."
"Then, you lied to those men" Rick spat.
Dr. Marks sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Yes. Mr. Jones, think about it, a little more than one hundred years ago, doctors had to bribe men to steal corpses so they could find out how the human body works. Look out into the main bay Mr. Jones, and tell me what you see."
Barely moving his head, Rick saw out of the corner of his eye the rocket being moved into a standing position as it was loaded onto a set of tracks leading out into the desert. "I see something that would make Flash Gordon green. Anything else?"
Dr. Marks chuckled a little louder. "Ah, the callowness of youth." Clearing his throat, he leaned forward in his chair. "That, Mr. Jones, is not some movie prop. It is the first in the next generation of rockets that will help move mankind into the next century. That rocket is simply the first component in Project: H, Mr. Jones, and I need you to bring me the other half."
"What are you talking about?" asked Rick, although he was starting to draw a picture in his mind, and he didn't like where it was going.
"Mr. Jones, this is a delicate time. The Russians are moving ahead by leaps and bounds in their space program, and we need to catch up. Richards tried to blast off on his own, and look where it got him. He and his friends look like the main attraction in a carnival sideshow." Dr. Marks almost laughed at his joke, but he kept going. "That rocket has designed to get the moon, but we need a test subject to fly it. We need to know how the g-forces would affect a pilot, and we need to know if the shielding can protect them from the cosmic rays that surround our planet. We need a pilot that could withstand by of those factors and more. This country needs the Hulk Mr. Jones."
Rick blanched at the words. "Well, it's not like she's in the phonebook" he stammered.
Chuckling, Dr. Marks walked over to Rick and slapped him on the shoulder. The gesture was meant in a good way, but Rick noticed a hardness around the older man's eyes. "You're a lousy actor. Reports have put you in the vicinity of almost all of the Hulk's rampages. The general can't prove you and the Hulk are connected; not yet at any rate, but it simply a matter of time before the truth comes to light. When it does Mr. Jones, I can assure you, you will be dealing with things much harsher than what I am offering." Looking at Rick's skeptic expression, Dr. Marks waved his hand. "Don't worry, it will just be a short flight into the upper atmosphere then a quick landing. The Hulk will be in as much danger as you or I would be taking a taxi."
"So I take it you want me to bring the Hulk here?" Rick screwed up the courage to speak.
Dr. Marks's tone went back to being friendly. "No my boy, not quite here. We're setting up the rocket over on the launch pad. Just get the Hulk inside the rocket and we'll take it from there."
"Oh, so no real problem then, right?"
Rick moved as fast as he could. Since the meeting, his heart had been working double-time. "There's something fishy about this, but if Dr. Marks keeps digging he might find out the truth, and then we're all sunk." He tried to rationalize his plan as he ran through the desert. The guards had dropped him off almost a mile from the cave. He told them to, but he didn't trust them. Zipping off and around the moonlit desert, he had to make sure he wasn't being followed.
When he was convinced, he made his way towards the cave. "This will work out, I know it will" he tried to psyche himself up as he as approached the entrance of the cave. "The rocket could really help a lot of people. I know Betty would understand that." He tried to reassure himself of that as he began to walk down towards the holding cell. "Still have a few hours before daybreak. I hope the launch doesn't take too long."
Before he knew it, he was before the familiar beam and the cell. The Hulk's poundings had not lessened in his absence. Judging from the dents in the door, the Hulk had gotten madder. "This is nuts. Maybe I should just wait until tomorrow night or something." Rick mentally slapped himself as his fingers danced over the controls.
Dr. Sterns has set things up nicely. Instead of any complicated dials or switches, all a person needed to do was spin the large wheel that he installed in the floor and the door was sealed shut.
Wiping his sweaty palms on the side of his jeans, Rick gripped the wheel and gave a spin. The door barely slid forward before all hell broke loose.
But at the time, things seem to happen in slow motion, causing him to wonder if perhaps the door had been sealed too tightly and the Hulk had asphyxiated, but those fears were replaced by a whole new set when he saw the gray fingers slip out and grip the door edges. Rick's legs suddenly felt like water as he tried to move back, but the sight of the gray fists tearing away at the steel door had him mesmerized.
The door, which could easily withstand most high explosives, was shoved back as if it weighed no more than a piece of wet paper. The ramrod, which was thicker than Rick's entire body, snapped with a report that could rival a cannon as the Hulk tore her way out of the holding cell.
For seconds, the Hulk stared down at Rick. The hate in her eyes gave strength to Rick's limbs. He backpedaled as fast as he could when the Hulk let out an ear splitting roar. "You locked me in there! You betrayed me!" she raged as she grabbed the broken ramrod and lifted over her head. Rick didn't stay around to hear the rest as he dashed out of the lab and into the night.
"I have to get back to the launch pad," he panted as he ran. He heard the Hulk lumbering after him, which drove him on even faster. "I guess she's too weak from being locked up for so long, lucky me!" he mentally wheezed as he tried to remember the correct path to the base. He knew the soldiers had positioned themselves at key points around the area in case the Hulk got out of hand, but he knew their weapons would be no use against the Hulk's gamma fueled strength. He felt as if his heart would burst out of his chest, and his lungs burned with every step, but Rick knew he had to keep running.
He almost wept with relief when he saw the jeep sitting by the road. Marks had been kind enough to have him some transportation ordered, but Rick could risk taking it to the cave, or even driving near the area. Now it called to him like an oasis in the desert. Jumping into the driver's seat, he turned on the ignition and floored it just as the ramrod flew through the air, tearing the rear bumper off as it landed.
Rick's sides were splitting as he drove towards the base. He could almost feel the Hulk's breath on his neck as he barreled past the gates. Seeing the rocket off in the distance gave him some hope as he looked back over his shoulder. The Hulk was still there, only now she seemed to be gaining on him. Her threats were a jumbled mess, but Rick knew what would happen if she got her hands on him, and the thought was enough to keep him driving.
Taking his foot off the gas, Rick let the jeep coast near the massive thrusters before jumping out. He hit the concrete and rolled, although he knew he must have hurt something in the fall. Rushing to his feet and ignoring the pain, he jumped into the elevator and punched the 'up' button.
The cage rattled and started to move up towards the rocket's cockpit. Rick fell to the floor of the cage and tried not to vomit. Down below, through the mesh floor, he could see the Hulk raging down below. Her words reached him even if her fists could not. "Hulk smash!"
"Aw Crud" he muttered when he saw the Hulk stomp over to the overturned jeep, and with one hand lift the vehicle up and hurl it at the cage! Rick stared in disbelief as jeep flew through the air and slammed through the control tower. The cage shook and stopped high above the ground. Rick was pitched forward as the cage dangled over the launch pad. "Come on Jones, you can't die yet" he said through gritted teeth. Gripping the cage, he climbed hand over hand as the Hulk screamed at him from the ground.
Underneath the cage, Rick looked below and saw the Hulk had no intention of staying down. She leaped up and grabbed onto the support tower. "I'll make you pay!" she bellowed.
Rick gulped as he swayed in the wind. "Move it Jones, no time for sightseeing," he muttered as he positioned himself as close as he could get to the rocket. Spying a ladder sticking out on the side, an idea formed in his mind. Swinging back and forth, he built up momentum for a jump. "It used to work on the playground," he thought back to a simpler time. "Of course, the ground was a lot closer back then" he tried to joke as he let go.
Rick felt nothing as he flew through the air. The ladder beckoned to him as he sailed through the air. He reached out to it, and was rewarded with his palms striking the last rung. Rick almost screamed as he closed his hands around the cold metal. His sudden stop was rewarded with two loud popping noises inside his arms. "Almost ripped my arms off!" he grunted as he forced himself to climb. "Got to make it to the cockpit"
Climbing up, he crawled into the cockpit. There were no controls or even a chair, something which did seem a little out of place. "I guess they'll be controlling everything at Mission Control." Rick looked out to see the Hulk climbing up the tower after him as he shouldered painfully out his jacket. "I hope this works," he prayed as he placed the jacket near the open door and dropped it. "The Hulk will see that, and she'll think I'm in here. Of course, how the heck am I going to get out of here?"
As he looked around, Rick saw his salvation. Around the rocket ran a walkway, leading to another tower. "Must be used for fuel," He thought as he jumped out and landed on the walkway. Looking over the side, he saw the Hulk was still climbing up.
So intent was the monster on climbing up, she hadn't even bothered to look up. If she had, she would have seen Rick spiriting across the gangway and ducking into the other tower. She did however see the jacket. In her rage-clouded mind, she saw the jacket fluttering at her in the wind, and everything else was lost as she roared and leapt the remaining distance into the cockpit.
Meanwhile, the preceding events were not going unnoticed.
Dr. Marks grinned like a Cheshire cat as he watched the Hulk climb into the rocket. "The plan is go, launch it!" he ordered. A nervous technician nodded as he began the launch sequence. Through his binoculars, Marks was able to see the door sliding shut, trapping the Hulk inside. "Bring the men in and begin the countdown!" he laughed as he tossed the binoculars away and grabbed a bottle of champagne. "We've done it!"
One of the techs looked up at him from the monitors. "Sir, there was no shielding and no way to restrain the beast. What would happen if the ship were to crash?"
The mirth left Dr. Marks's face in an instant. "Then its rage would be immeasurable, and I doubt we could ever get another chance to capture it again." The grin returned just as quickly. "But why worry about it? The monster is locked up and on its way to deep space." He tried to joke, but there was a tinge of fear of his eyes as he looked back towards the launch pad.
Rick collapsed into a heap as he heard an electronic voice starting to countdown from 10. "This can't be good," muttered Rick. Looking around, he saw the control panel for the elevator (a good stroke of luck to find himself in one, the logic of it being there was not something he was going to question). Slapping the buttons, he was rewarded with the sound of the metal box descending.
Looking out over the edge, he saw dozens of armed men rushing towards various parked vehicles. "Hey, wait up!" he shouted.
Gripping the still, he forced himself to his feet as the elevator descended. Seeing the ground rushing up to him, Rick jumped as soon as he was close enough. Landing with a thud, Rick tried to move, but found his strength gone. The fatigue had overtaken him as he tried to crawl towards the bunker.
"Hey, there's that kid!" he heard a voice shout.
"Come on, we can't just leave him, he'll be cooked!" another voice added. Rick was vaguely aware of hands grabbing him and hauling away. The last thing he saw before passing out was the sun slowly starting to rise as the rocket shot up through the sky and into the atmosphere.
"Betty" he muttered as sleep overtook him.
Meanwhile, inside the rocket
The Hulk was angry; that is of itself was not unusual, but the dim thoughts in her mind refused to give her peace. She was aware that she had been tricked into the strange place she now found herself in, but she had no idea of where she was or even what the strange devices around her were for.
She knew the constant beeping and buzzing noises that came from the machines were annoying her though, and she resolved to end that particular problem at once.
Had the Hulk been aware of her surroundings, she would have seen that no amount of pounding could stop the rocket from blasting its way through the stratosphere and towards the deep reaches of outer space.
As the rocket pushed out into the void, the Hulk once again underwent the most starling metamorphosis on the planet. As daylight bathed the ship, the Hulk collapsed. "Tired, again, why?" she mumbled as she felt dizzy. The floor of the ship wavered before her as her vision grew cloudy. Her muscles started to shrink, as the gamma spawned strength faded away. The gray skin slowly faded back to a healthy pink as the sharp muscles gave way to the smooth skin of Betty Ross.
"Where am I? What happened?" she groggily asked as she looked around. Before she could further question her new surroundings, there was another change about to occur.
As the rocket pushed upwards, it went through the very same belt of radiation that encircles the planet that Reed Richards and his crew encountered not long ago. Dr. Marks, besides lying about the purpose of the rocket, was also dishonest about the nature of the shielding.
There wasn't any.
Radiation poured through the ship, reeking havoc with every system. Betty screamed in agony as the strange energy poured into her. The exposure was only a few seconds, but those scant moments felt like an eternity. Falling to the floor, Betty moaned in pained as the rocket's engines began to falter…
Back on Earth
"To success!" Dr. Marks toasted as the men celebrated. "The Hulk has a one way ticket to infinity, and we proved my rocket design can be used in the space program." He chuckled. "I wonder if I should keep Sterns around after this. I think I could use someone to polish my awards".
Lost in his daydreams, He was unaware of the now fully awake Rick Jones standing behind him. "You lied to me"
Dr. Marks, the grin still plastered on his face, turned around and looked at the teen. "Oh, don't be like that Mr. Jones. True, some rules were bent, but we got rid of the Hulk, didn't we? We saved the Earth; even that old warhorse Ross and that fool Sterns have to see that."
A cold fury swept over Rick as he stared at the man. "You lying son of a bitch!" screamed Rick as he threw himself at the scientist. His hands gripped the taller man's neck like a vice as he slammed his knee into the man's gut.
"Get him off of me!" Marks wailed as he dropped his glass and tried to fend off the infuriated teenager.
Rick screamed in fury as he pummeled the doctor, sending the man crashing into the control panel. He was aware of the men around him shouting, of Marks's frantic attacks, even aware of his own blood spilling as Marks's manicured nails slashed against his face, but he ignored all of it.
Dr. Marks was hysterical as Rick slammed him into the control panel. Sparks shot up and a high-pitched whine came out of the machine. "Sir, the rocket is losing power!" one of the techs shouted as he looked over at his station.
"It's going to crash!" another one yelled. Rick stopped his attack and dashed outside, leaving Marks to cough feebly on the floor. He ran past the guards and hopped into a nearby jeep. He put his foot to the pedal as more soldiers arrived. He didn't even bother to look at them as he drove off.
General Ross looked around inside the bunker at the chaos left in Jones's wake. The room was totally silent as he lit up a cigar. "Problems gentlemen?"
Dr. Marks raised himself off the floor and coughed nervously. "General Ross, sir, did you see that manic?"
"No, but I did hear about some orders being issued by myself involving the Hulk." Ross glowered at the scientist. "Gentlemen" began Ross as armed troops entered the bunker, "stand down. Nobody does anything until I find out what has been going on in my absence."
Meanwhile, out in the desert
Rick stopped the jeep. He had seen the rocket blazing through the sky towards the Earth, but he didn't have a clue what he was going to do next. He saw the top of it fly off and the parachute engage as the capsule tumbled away from the main body. Rick squinted through the morning haze as he witnessed the capsule's parachute becoming engulfed in flame.
"No!" Rick screamed as he slammed on the gas once again. He had to get there before the army did, although he little idea what to do once he got there. It was daylight, and he knew Betty couldn't survive a crash.
The capsule streaked towards the ground and impacted with a deafening crash. Debris and flame arched into the morning sky as the capsule skidded across the dirt. Rick slowed down and got out of the jeep. The flames were still burning, and the heat made it impossible for him to approach.
Getting as close as he could, Rick felt cold despite the heat. "I killed her."
Falling to his knees, Rick couldn't even lift his head as he screamed. "I killed her!" He started to cry. The tears ran down his face and splattered against the sand as he sat there. The only person who treated him kindly was dead, and it was all his fault. Everything, from the driving onto the test range to this, was a result of his actions. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, repeating over and over like a chant as he cried. "I'm so sorry"
There was nothing else he could say at this point. He sat there, staring at the burning rubble, offering apologies to a woman who could no longer hear him. As he sat there in the dirt, he heard a faint moving coming from within the wreckage. "Betty?" he shouted, scrambling to his feet and getting closer to the still hot metal.
As he drew closer, the wreckage before him shifted. Rumbling, like some monster of old being hatched, made him stop. "No, it's daytime" he tried to rationalize what he was seeing. The sun was clearly up, so Betty must have turned back to normal, right?
As the massive (had they grown bigger?) gray fingers ripped apart the sturdy metal, Rick's mind responded with a astounding no. The Hulk ripped her way out of the capsule and let out a roar that made Rick's ears throb. The Hulk walked out of the fiery trap with nary a scratch on her body. Walking out, she stopped short and looked up at the sun. "She's never seen it before." Thought Rick as he tried to force himself to stand, but his legs refused to respond.
The Hulk, her face free of rage, squinted at the strange object she saw in the sky. Walking forward, she raised her arms high, as of to try and touch the very sun. The moment was almost serene, at least until she looked down and spotted Rick.
"You!" she roared again, although by this point Rick's hearing was so damaged all he heard was a loud ringing. Of course, he didn't need to hear to understand what the Hulk was getting at. "You betrayed me, locked me up!"
As stomped towards him, Rick noticed a faint green tinge to her skin. What had happened up in space? He would have to wait, as the sight of the Hulk's watermelon sized fists gave movement to his legs and speed to his feet. The Hulk let out another scream of rage before picking up a bent support beam from the capsule and tossing it like a spear. The jagged piece of metal missed Rick by inches, but it hit the jeep dead center. The beam pierced the engine and went all the way through to the tailpipe. The impact sent the ruined jeep flying backwards into the dirt and sand.
"Hulk smash!" echoed through the desert as Rick stumbled up a small hill. Falling to the ground, Rick rolled over in time to see the Hulk looming over him. Her skin was still gray, although now the green aspects of her skin were now much more pronounced. Her rage contorted face and had a sadistic glee about it as she raised her fists high over overhead.
"Stop, please!" Rick pleaded. He shut his eyes and waited for the end.
As the seconds stretched into minutes, Rick slowly opened his eyes and looked up. The Hulk was still looming over him. The only thing that had changed was her expression. Instead of the rage filled beast, she now had a blank look about her.
Screwing up the courage to move, Rick slowly slid past the behemoth beauty. "Hulk?" he asked. There was no response. The truth slowly began to dawn on Rick as he walked around her. "Hulk, lower your arms." He asked. He almost gasped when the Hulk did exactly that. "Hulk, turn around."
The Hulk slowly turned around. Her expression was still perfectly blank. "I don't believe this!" shouted Rick as he looked around. There were no official vehicles in sight, but he knew that would change. Looking back to the Hulk, a thought went through his mind. "Hulk, kneel down."
The Hulk bent over. Her back was almost three times as wide as Rick's, which was just enough room for what he had in mind. Using her bent legs as a ladder, Rick climbed up and wrapped his arms around her neck. "Ok Hulk, let's go!"
The Hulk rose, and then squatted down. Before Rick could question, the Hulk jumped up. The force of the leap almost made him lose his grip, but he clung to her back like a barnacle on a ship. The air whizzed past him as they 'flew'. Rick couldn't speak as he slammed against the Hulk's back as she landed.
As soon as her bare feet hit the sand she was up and bounding against the desert sky. "Hulk!" he wheezed, hoping to get her attention, "Slow down!"
On the next landing, the Hulk did just that. Falling into a canyon, the Hulk dropped past outcroppings of rock and hit the sand hard enough to send it flying up in a mini sandstorm. Coughing and nearly blind, Rick let go and tumbled back. "Ok, change of plans" he announced as he stood up. The stress of the last 24 hours had started to catch up with him. Moving towards a shady spot near a cliff wall, Rick dropped down and rolled over. "Hulk, stand over here" he asked, pointing to a spot near the canyon wall.
The Hulk marched slowly to the spot and stood perfectly still. Rick stretched his feet out in the convenient shade created by the Hulk's form. Closing his eyes, he was already asleep before he could give any more commands.
Rick woke with a start. He had no idea how long he had been out. The sun still blazed overhead as he looked around the canyon floor. A panic set in when he didn't see the Hulk.
Getting to his feet, Rick looked around in vain as he tried to spot where she went. "She's a giant gray lady, she won't blend in" he tried to remind himself. Seeing the massive footprints in the sand gave him some hope. "Well, it doesn't take a genius" he started to mutter to himself as he went off in the direction of the tracks.
Walking through the hot sands, Rick moaned when the footprints stopped at a road. "Great, which way did she go?" he asked aloud. He had no answer, although to be fair he wasn't expecting one. Turning to the right, he started walking down the road.
Several hours later
Rick was still walking, although by this point it was more of a stagger than a walk. Seeing something simmering off in the distance gave him some hope. The closer he walked, the more convinced he began that he gone the right way.
Before he was a telephone pole. It (and several others like it) were scattered about in the road, their wires dancing across the hot pavement. Seeing how the wooden posts were snapped off and tossed around, Rick figured she had been this way. Hearing a roar coming from down the road confirmed this.
Moving past the sparking lines, Rick spied a gas station off in the distance. Hearing the sound of glass being broken and metal being bent, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Ok, somehow I can control the Hulk, but only when I'm awake. I'll just go up to her and tell her to stop," thought Rick. "Easy as pie."
Moving as fast he could, Rick stopped when the gas station went up a gigantic fireball. Through the flame and the falling debris, Rick saw the large outline of the Hulk as she waded through the destruction unharmed.
"I'm only going to get one shot at this." Rick thought as he ran towards the towering woman.
"Hulk, stop!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. The Hulk turned towards him, her expression changing from raging to blank. She was still standing in the flaming remains of the station, making Rick skirt around the edges as he tried to think of what he should do next.
"Hulk, walk towards me!" Rick ordered. The Hulk, her expression neutral, stomped her way out of the fire and stood in front of him. Rick looked around; the gas station looked like it had been closed, which didn't exactly alleviate his mind about its destruction, although did save him some worry.
"Ok Hulk, we need to go back to the cave. Take me there" Rick tried to sound commanding, but the sheer size of the Hulk made his voice quiver. The Hulk, not even blinking, reached out and grabbed Rick. Pressing him tight to her bare chest (something Rick couldn't decide if it was a bad idea or a good one to comment), the gray giantess took a running start and jumped.
"We're flying" Rick tried to say as he felt the wind leave his lungs. Soaring over the desert, Rick looked down in awe as they continued to soar, over a small town, and past the sprawling blacktop roads. Going farther then any human before them, the Hulk was silent as she soared through the air towards the Gamma Base.
Landing on the outskirts, Rick fell from her embrace and almost kissed the ground. "Hulk, follow me" Rick said at length as he got his breath back. The Hulk nodded once and walked ahead towards the now welcome sight of the cave.
The Hulk continued to walk in a straight line as they descended down into the Earth. Rick looked desperately for some signs that Dr. Stern or General Ross had been there, but he saw nothing.
Stepping towards the small cell, Rick ordered the Hulk to stop. Seeing the broken ramrod, Rick paled at the thought of what he might have to do with an almost uncontrollable beast on his hands. "Hulk, wait right there" ordered Rick.
"I hope Doc Sterns keeps some spare parts," he prayed as he wondered off into the deeper parts of the cave. Going past spare circuit boards, tools of various shapes and sizes, Rick was almost ready to give up when he saw the object to his quest sitting upright like the sword Excalibur.
A spare ramrod!
"Bingo!" Rick shouted. Running back, he ordered the Hulk to take the rod and bring it back. As he surveyed the damage, he was relieved to see the original was the only thing damaged. "Not too bad, just replace the broken one with the new one" he thought as he ordered the Hulk to do so.
After the work had been completed. Rick gave a low whistle at the sheer strength of the Hulk. She had removed the broken twenty foot long, ten ton beam and tossed it aside as if it were a toothpick. Standing before Rick, she looked down with a blank expression as Rick tired to plan his next move. "Ok Hulk, go inside that room and wait," he pointed to the small cell. The Hulk, her expression never changing, turned and marched into the cell. Rick manned the control panel and sent the heavy door back into place. Slowly, ponderously, the heavy door slid into place, locking the beast that was formerly Betty Ross within its drab walls.
Pressing his back against the door , he allowed himself to slide down it slowly. Rick leaned his head back. He didn't know how long the cell could hold the Hulk, and he didn't how to change her back. Dr. Sterns could fix her, but he wasn't there.
Rick forced his eyes open as he tried to fight off the events of the day. "I must stay awake." he repeated to himself. But how long could he go without sleep? And what could he do if the Hulk managed to escape before Dr. Sterns showed up?
The empty lab around him gave him no answer.
To be Continued
Trapped by the Ringmaster!
September 4, 1962
In the northern portion of New Mexico, a car speed through the night. While a teenager inside a cave was wondering what he was going to do with the most powerful living weapon on Earth, two men sat silent and grim faced as they approached their destination.
The sign on their right read 'Welcome to Plainsville'; the driver, a serious looking man dressed in a suit, simply grunted as applied more force to the gas peddle. His companion, an equally serious looking man, glanced over and looked at the nighttime scenery whizzing by them.
"I tell you Mike, this case just gets weirder and weirder." He said, not even bothering to look at the driver.
"I know Lee, but maybe this time we…" Mike began as they entered the town. His words were lost as he slammed on the brake.
"We're too late" Lee cursed.
Around them was the town. It had been exactly like all the other small towns they had been to. It was like an army had marched through it. Windows smashed in, cars overturned; it could have been site of a major disaster.
Except that the disaster wasn't a result of Mother Nature gone amuck.
"Same as all the others" Mike grumbled as he kicked over an empty beer can. It flew down the darkened street and clattered against something. "The entire town looted, and we won't find a single fingerprint."
Lee nodded his head sadly in agreement. "Of course the townspeople can't remember anything…except" he trailed off as a large fluttering piece of paper caught his eye. Running over to it, he snagged the flyer and held it up. It was an advertisement for a circus, although fairly generic. Large and cheaply printed words exclaimed 'See the Circus' with a stock drawing of an elephant and various other animals all cavorting inside their respective cages.
"Aren't you a little old for that Lee?" Mike tried to joke as he got out a flashlight and looked inside a nearby bank. Ignoring his partner's find, Mike stepped past the swinging doors. Stepping inside the darkened room, Mike raised his flashlight and scanned the area. Bits of paper and a few stray bills floated around inside from the breeze. Mike let out a whistle when he saw the door to the vault wide open and the rows of boxes open. "Just like the others. This place was cleaned out." Mike thought to himself. Moving closer, he suddenly went sprawling as his foot connected with something large and living on the floor…
"Hey Mike, this might be something" he tried to call to his partner. Hearing no answer, he dropped the flyer and drew his gun. "Mike?" he called again. No answer.
Rushing to the wall, Lee Kearns flattened himself against as he cocked his automatic. Inching himself forward, He drew closer to the open door. "Mike?" he asked as he prepared himself for a firefight.
"Yeah, it's ok" Mike shouted back. Lee breathed a sigh of relief as he lowered the hammer and put his weapon back in the holster. "But you'd better come in here."
Lee walked in and stopped in his tracks when he saw what his partner was standing over. "Just like all the others" Mike sighed.
Between them was a bank guard. He was lying perfectly still, like a mannequin, and his face was completely devoid of any kind of expression. His sightless eyes stared straight up at the dark ceiling. "Yeah, I and bet we find the rest of the town the same way." Lee said as he turned around.
"Hey, where are you going?" Lee heard behind him as went back to the car. Without looking back, he picked up the dropped flyer. "Got a hunch Mike, and it's not on my back."
Several hours later
Several ambulances had set up a triage camp of sorts near the center of town. The townspeople, most of them now cured of whatever had left them in a trance, were now angrily shouting with the various members of the hospital and the police.
"You'd think being in the FBI would have more glamour and excitement than listening to some old dame yanking about her missing silverware." Mike groused as he slapped his notebook (which was now full of statements that still gave them no clue) on the trunk of a nearby car. Looking at his partner, his mood didn't change. "Still hung up on that poster?"
Lee didn't even bother to turn around. "Just thinking; the last five towns we've been to have had this same poster."
"Maybe. We need to figure this out and quick before a panic sets in"
The object of the G-men's search was much closer than they could suspect. Several miles away, the Ringmaster Circus was enthralling another small town.
There were the usual attractions; freak-shows along the midway, fortunetellers, wrestlers and the like, but what would be of greater interest to the FBI men was what was happening inside the main tent.
The Ringmaster, a rail thin man dressed in a gaudy green and purple costume complete with a top hat, walked out to the center of the ring after the Flying Gambonno's latest daredevil act had left the audience speechless.
"Ladies and Gentlemen!" he shouted through his megaphone, "We thank you for your coming out tonight to patron our attractions, but before we go, we must ask for your complete attention!" The wiry man grinned as he dropped the megaphone and walked closer to the crowd. "Keep your eyes on me" he ordered as a disk on his top hat began to spin around and around…
"Yes, keep watching" he said in a smooth tone as the audience member's eyes began to take on a glassy look. "Keep watching the Ringmaster"
As he spoke, various circus performers came in and began to make their way through the crowd, taking with them whatever the audience members had on them. There were curses when a pocket reveled nothing, and joyous shouts when a purse or wallet contained money.
"Come on boys, let's pluck this turkey clean!" The Ringmaster ordered as the performers grinned at the order and lined up before him while their brethren picked the audience clean. "Clowns, take the south side" several clowns, their phony grins matching their real ones, nodded and took off.
"Taffy, take the ladies to the west side" Taffy, a woman billed as 'the world's largest woman' bobbed her bulbous head and waddled away with a collection of women of various heights and builds after her.
"Fire-Eater, you and the runners take the east." The Fire-Eater, a bald giant of a man, smacked his bare chest in pride and followed the runners outside.
"The rest of you take the North, and step lively boys! We have a job to do!" The Ringmaster chuckled as the performers began their crime wave. With everyone under the mental control of the Ringmaster, the entire town was at the mercy of the Circus of Crime!
As the larceny minded performers began their pillaging of the town (aided by the mind controlled townspeople), the next day found the last player in the bizarre play undergoing some changes of her own.
Deep beneath the Earth, Rick Jones jumped to his feet when he heard the sound of footsteps coming down the steep incline into the secret lab. "Who's there?" he shouted, grabbing a large chunk of the broken ramrod and holding it like a club.
"Easy son, just me" replied a welcome voice.
"Dr. Sterns!" Rick dropped the metal and almost wept with joy when he saw the scientist entering the lab. Stern stepped into the light and gasped at Rick's appearance.
"Good Lord man, you look like a wreck! General Ross and that fool Marks have been screaming at each other since last night." Looking past Rick, he stared at the broken ramrod and the heavy door. "Did she do all that?"
Rick nodded and before he knew it the events of the past 24 hours spilled out of his mouth. The look on Stern's face went from shock, to disbelief, to horror, and finally some mixture of all three. "That's some story." He said at length.
"Yeah, you can say that again."
"Rick, I think it would be best if you laid low for a week or so. The way Ross is now, he might just have you shot on sight."
"But I can't leave Betty!" Rick protested.
"Your courage is admirable son, but you can't do any more right now. Look at yourself, you're almost dead on your feet." Before Rick could protest, Sterns held up his hand. "I know, but don't worry about the Hulk. With that door sealed tight, she can't escape. Right now Rick, you need to worry about yourself. Get out of the state; bum around Mexico for a week or so. Just give me some time to fix everything." Sterns ushered Rick out of the lab while shoving a thin wad of bills into his hand. "This should hold you over for a while. Good luck, and leave my jeep here. The guards might be suspicious if I walked back to the base."
And just like that, Rick was outside the cave and looking up and the setting sun. "Well, I guess I'm walking." He said as he started hoofing it through the desert. Rick had little idea of where he was going or what he would do once he got there.
Several hours later, a Greyhound bus stopped in a slightly run down bus depot near Bisbee, Arizona. A somewhat cleaner Rick stepped off of the bus as the driver slammed the door behind him. Rick stifled a cough as the bus tore off through the desert highway, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.
"Ok, now what?" thought Rick as he looked around. He didn't have any problems getting a ticket, (although he had to get a change of clothes in the process) but it had eaten most of his cash. Did he walk into Bisbee or take his chance on the open road?
"Wait a minute, I remember this place!" Rick suddenly spoke aloud as the name of the town sparked off an old memory.
Thinking back to when he was just a child, he remembered a face. A kind old face that hovered over him as he played inside during rainy days, the face of the first adult to treat him with kindness and not like he was some piece of lost luggage.
"Aunt Polly" he remembered the name. She wasn't his real aunt of course; she was simply the cook at the orphanage. He remembered the way she smiled, the way she cooked, and most of all, he remembered the stack of old comic books she gave one chilly Christmas morning. She left shortly after that, but he recalled where she said she was going.
"I hope that address is still good," he prayed as he started walking towards the bright lights of the mining town. "I'm not sure I can walk to another town."
Not much after that, Rick was nervously pacing in front of the darkened house. He hoped he got the address right. As he uneasily opened the swing gate, he made his way up the walk to the screened-in porch.
Rubbing his sweaty palms dry on his pants, he knocked once. A light went on upstairs, followed by the sounds of someone approaching. Rick gulped as he saw a light come on from within the hallway, and the outline of an old stooped shouldered woman filled the doorway.
"Rick? Rick Jones, is that you?" he heard from the shadowy doorway. One click of the light switch later and he was looking into the face of Polly Smith. "Land sakes boy, where have you been up to?" she chided as she unlatched the screen door and ushered him inside.
"Busy Aunt Polly, busy" Rick answered as he stood inside the small house. Everything looked clean, which was a slight shock compared to where he was not twenty-four hours ago.
Aunt Polly raised an eyebrow at his response. "Busy enough that you couldn't even call me? Or just busy enough to get into trouble?"
Panic broke out in Rick's mind. Would she turn him in? He gulped, but before he could protest his innocence, she smiled.
"I'm just joshing you boy. What ever brings you to my doorstep, I'm sure you'll tell me when you're ready." Changing the subject, she flipped on a few more lights in the house. "You can sleep in Jimmy's old room."
Rick, for once, kept his mouth shut and gave thanks for his good fortune.
The next day
After having showered and changed, Rick sat at the kitchen table fiddling with the radio. He hadn't heard anything about his wanted status, or anything about the Hulk. He wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one as Aunt Polly filled up his plate with bacon and eggs. "Eat up boy, you look skinnier than a skeleton!" she chided as she went back to fixing herself some coffee.
"Thanks for letting me stay the night Aunt" Rick said in-between bites and slips of orange juice.
"No bother Rick, no bother at all." She smiled as she sat down across from him with her own plate. "But, why exactly did you come all the way out here? I know it wasn't to visit this old woman."
Rick sighed as put down his fork and knife. "I guess I just needed a change of pace. I'm looking for a job, and I thought if I headed west I might find something."
Polly looked skeptical at his reason, but she didn't comment on it. "Well, you can stay here as long as you're looking for a job. I'll ask around town and see if anyone is hiring."
Rick smiled at the older woman, but inside he still felt like a bum for lying to her face.
And so a week passed. Rick still had heard nothing dealing with the Hulk or Doc Stern, or anything else for that matter. His search for a job, being a ruse, was unimportant to him, but he still needed to keep the act up for Aunt Polly. He could tell she was starting to suspect something. How could he keep the act up before she found out?
He knew something was up the next day when she came into the kitchen. Polly smiled as she held up a small stub in her hand. "Look what I got at the church raffle!" she smiled as she placed the ticket stub on the counter. Rick pecked at it, but the confusion was readable on his face. "It's a free pass to that circus that just came to town."
"Oh wow, a circus! It's been a long time since I've seen one of those" said Rick. Maybe I can get out of town with their help, he thought. "When's the show start?"
"Tonight, provided you help me with the garden." Polly folded her arms. Her tone left no room for argument. Rick had a wry grin on his face as he rolled up his sleeves.
"Lead the way" he joked as he followed her out back. Tolling in the hot sun would be worth it if he got the chance to get out of town. If the circus would take him that is
Later that night
Rick smiled as he walked past the parked cars and saw the marquee. "Talbot's Traveling Tour of the Americas' it proclaimed with various acts spelled out below. "I always wanted to be a lion tamer" Rick smiled at the old memory. "I wonder if they're hiring?"
Rick pushed those thoughts aside as he entered the main tent and took his seat. "I hope Betty is alright. I wonder if Dr. Stern cured her?"
Many miles away, back in New Mexico
Dr. Sterns winced as he popped his back. "I don't suppose you can play chess like that, can you?" He asked the Hulk. She had been silent and as unmoving as a statue ever since Rick left. "Are you following orders? Or can you no longer hear him?" the scientist wondered as he shone a light into the Amazon's eyes. There was no movement.
Just he as turned around and started to jot notes down for further research, The Hulk blinked and stared down at the scientist…
Back in Arizona
Rick's mind was no longer on the fate of Betty Ross. He had been so enraptured by the amazing acrobats; he was unaware of the amount of time that had passed since he first entered. Looking around, he didn't see Aunt Polly or any one he recognized. "They must have spilt".
He was so lost in thought he had failed to notice the ringmaster enter the tent and stand before the audience.
"Ladies and gentlemen" the rail thin man spoke as he twirled his even thinner mustache around one finger, "it pleases me to see so many of you that still enjoy the circus."
As he spoke, Rick couldn't but wonder why the shiny disk on the ringmaster's top hat started to spin. The man's words started to sound distorted as he continued to speak. Rick tried to focus on the tent behind the man, but he had to turn his head when he thought he saw the stripes spinning around.
"Why am I so tired?" Rick thought as he felt his limbs growing heavier. Looking around, he saw the other people in the audience having the same symptoms. Men stared wide- eyed as they sat rigid in their seats, while the women sat open mouthed and their purses unattended at their feet. "I feel like I've been drugged, what's going on?" Rick tried to move, but found he could not even twitch his toes as the ringmaster continued to speak and the disk continued to spin. "I've got to do something!"
Rick started to panic. What could he do? He tired to think of a plan, but it was like swimming against the current with weights tied to his feet. Desperately, he closed his eyes and concentrated. "Hulk, help me!"
Dr. Sterns sipped his coffee as he poured over his notes. "Ms. Ross, you are truly a remarkable specimen," he said to the Hulk, who had still never spoken a word since Rick left. If it wasn't for her deep breaths, he might have sworn he was in the company of a statue. "It's almost a shame I'll be curing you of this. I'd like to get a chance to study you some more."
As he toiled away at his research, Dr. Sterns suddenly felt a chill go down his spine. Passing it off as dampness due to the nature of the cave, Sterns tried to go back to work. Placing his mug down, he noticed the liquid in the mug was…vibrating?
The shock waves started to increase, nearly knocking him to the ground. "An earthquake? Here?" he wondered as he turned to see the cause for the upheaval.
The Hulk, stepping out past the open door (Stern never bothered lock her back up, thinking Rick's mental control was still dominant over her beast like mind), made her past the shocked scientist and up towards the mouth of the cave.
"Boy need help" she grunted, her eyes still unfocused and dim. Sterns marveled at the display before him. Even with Rick (presumably) some distance away, the Hulk still heard orders.
"Amazing, absolutely amazing." Sterns thought. Slowly slinking behind the Hulk (not wanting to draw any unwanted attention to himself in case Rick's control wasn't as strong as previously thought), Sterns watched in rapt attention as the Hulk stepped outside into the night and with a standing jump took to the skies.
Sterns watched as her leap carried far over the horizon towards the west. "Incredible"
Back at the Ringmaster's circus
Rick was trying to keep his eyes away from the spinning disk, but it was a losing battle. He saw the performers rushing out from the back and rifling through the audience members' pockets. He started to grow dizzy just as a heard a loud crash outside…
The Ringmaster smiled broadly as he worked the crowd. "Forget, forget! You were never at the circus, you never saw any of us before" he lulled the crowd to sleep. "You can not recall anything of what happened here to" a thunderous explosion that shook the tent interrupted him. Falling on his back, he scrambled back up as his control over the crowd began to slacken. "Forget the chump change" he growled at the crew who were still busy picking the fast awakening crowd's pockets. "Go see what they was!"
The Ringmaster didn't have to wait long for an answer. The curtain was pushed aside to revel the cause of the disturbance.
The Ringmaster, the crowd totally forgotten, stared in dumbstruck horror as the beast entered the main ring. It was tall, skin as gray as an elephant, and judging by the growling coming from its throat, it wasn't in a good mood. "Help boy!" it roared.
"S-s-stop it!" the Ringmaster shrieked. Turning his face back to the crowd, he adjusted the controls in the hat. "I have to wipe everything clean. If even one of these rubes remembers what happened, we're sunk!" he tried to calm himself down as the other members of the circus swarmed the ring.
The Hulk didn't know where she was, and frankly she didn't care. Around her were a strangle bunch of people. She didn't care about them; all she knew was that she had to be there for a reason, and these people were in her way.
"Hulk smash!" she roared as she slammed her fists into the sawdust. The shockwave knocked down almost everyone in the tent and nearly caused the stands to collapse.
"Hey Bobby, light me up!" The Human Cannonball ordered as he grabbed a nearby mallet and climbed into his oversized cannon. "I'll show these broad who the boss is here!"
Climbing into the muzzle, he held the mallet out before him as his assistant readied the cannon. "Fire!" the order was shouted and the fuse lit. The members of the circus not already down cleared the area as the cannon fired.
The Hulk stared at the preceding event with little more than a smirk. The Human Cannonball soared through the air at her with enough speed, that if she were a normal human, she might have sustained some serious injury had he collided with her.
Unfortunately for the Human Cannonball, the Hulk was about as far from the norm as one could be. The Hulk stared on the oncoming projectile with the same contempt she would hold for a buzzing insect. As for the Human Cannonball, he held his mallet out in front of him like some kind of thunder god as he soared through the air. The divine comparisons ended scant seconds later as the Hulk simply swatted him out of her way.
Sadly for him, she swatted him upwards. With his momentum, he flew right up through the roof of the tent, where he learned a valuable lesson in force and motion.
It would be almost a year before he could walk again.
Back inside, the Hulk continued on her way towards Rick. Roustabouts and the other performers rushed the ring and dog piled on the Hulk, trying to slow her down. The Hulk bellowed in anger as she started grabbing whatever was in reach and using it to clear a path. One of those unlucky few was Taffy the fat lady, whose weight was well over the 500-pound mark.
As the Hulk was clearing her way towards the stands, she suddenly grew sleepy. Rick, like the rest of the audience, was now held fast in the control of the Ringmaster. He was no longer aware of his surroundings as his eyes grew glassy. The Hulk, for reasons unknown to the member of the Circus of Crime, started to slow down the closer she got to the stands.
"She's weakening! Fetch the power hose, no force alive can withstand its pressure!" the Ringmaster ordered as he concentrated on the audience. Sampson the strong man pushed aside the roustabouts and gripped the house in his mighty hands.
"Stand aside wimps! This overgrown broad is gong to pay for what she did to Jack! Crank her up!" the bald muscular man growled as he aimed the hose.
A powerful stream of water, strong enough to punch a hole in a windshield (as it once had to do), shot out of the nozzle and hit the Hulk square in the head. The behemoth beauty sank underneath the water and flopped over in the soggy sawdust.
"Cut it!" ordered the Ringmaster as he stepped away from the crowd. Poking the Hulk in the head as the hose was turned off, his grin could barely be contained. Turning to the performers, he started giving orders. "We break tonight. Forget the chicken feed boys, we've hit it big! With this beauty, we can sell out the entire tent!" he cackled as the thought of profit danced in his head.
"But, what about the crowd?" a clown asked.
"Forget about these hicks!" the Ringmaster cried. "They'll stay under my spell for another hour at least, giving us enough time to cross the state line, with our prize!"
"I say we put this thing down!" shouted a man dressed in a gaudy cowboy outfit.
"No! We'll bill her as 'the Monster Bride'. The rubes will pay top dollar to see her!" The Ringmaster argued. "Get her dressed first though. Can't have some two bit morality squad protesting our show." Turning to the rest of the workers, he started shouting orders. "Let's get a move on! Take whatever you can from these fools, but leave nothing of ours behind!"
And within the hour, the strange caravan made its way through the desert, everyone in it totally unaware of the dangerous cargo they now had.
The next night, several miles outside of Silver City, New Mexico, there was a large crowd gathering at the Baum Traveling Show of Wonders. The Ringmaster smiled as he waited in the shadows. Giving the circus a new name was a great way to avoid drawing any unwanted attention. As the acrobats and the clowns finished their set, he gave the order, and stepped out into the spotlight.
"Ladies and gentlemen" he began, feeling the crowd's excitement. Even if he was going to rob them blind, he wanted them to be entertained first. A showman to the last, he raised his hands in a dramatic gesture as Sampson the strong man (and a few extra hands hidden under the platform) wheeled out a large tarp covered cage. "Before you stands one of nature's greatest mysteries! A woman, yet a beast at the same! A creature of terrific beauty, and horrible strength! I give to you, the Monster Bride!" he ended with a dramatic flourish as he yanked the tarp away to revel their latest 'star'.
There was an audible gasp from the crowd as the sackcloth fell away to revel a massive woman, clad only in a few spotted strips of clothing, standing motionless inside the cage. Large shackles bound her wrists and ankles. "The Bride will now perform feats of strength the likes of which you will scarcely believe!" The Ringmaster grinned broadly as the disk on his hat started to spin. It had been a simple matter to bring this wild woman under his control, and now they were finally going to hit the big time!
"This is the F.B.I.! We have you surrounded!" shouted a loud voice from outside the tent. Scores of police, as well as suited officials, stormed the main tent.
At the entrance of the bigtop, Lee Kearns smiled as he strode inside. "We got him now!" a tugging at his arm brought him out of daydream. Turning to his companion (and reason for the raid), he looked down at the nervous teenager. "What's the problem? We have all the entrances and exits blocked, and we've already rounded all of the members of Ringmaster's gang that were on the outside. What could go wrong?"
Rick wiped the sweat off his face. He didn't share the G-man's optimism, not when he knew what the Ringmaster had traveling with him. His thoughts were vocalized when he saw the cage in the center of the ring. "He doesn't know he's traveling with living time bomb!"
Perhaps it the sound of Rick's voice; maybe the Ringmaster's control had slipped, but whatever the reason, the Hulk went from a dull-eyed statue into a frenzied dynamo in about a blink of an eye. With a snarl, she snapped her chains and ripped the cage apart as if they were constructed of nothing more than matchsticks.
At this point, the crowd (already scared at the sounds of a raid) went into a full -blown panic. It was complete pandemonium as the crowd tried to escape the tent. "Blast it!" cursed Agent Kearns as he drew his pistol, "That creature just created the perfect escape! We'll never catch the Ringmaster now!"
Leaving Rick, Kearns tried to force his way through the panicking mob, but he was having little success. If he had bothered to stay at the youth's side, he might have better luck.
Rick concentrated as the Hulk began to toss her cage around the tent. Remembering the mental connection, Rick ordered the Hulk to stop, and focus her rage on the one truly deserving of it.
Speaking of that very same person, the Ringmaster was presently sneaking out the back. "I've got to get away!" he thought as he leapt into a horse drawn chariot. "I'll reform the gang, keep it smaller! Change my name, lay low for a while." he tried to calm himself down as he cracked the whip. As the horses broke into a gallop, he managed a chuckle as he rode off into the night. "They'll never catch me now!" he cackled to himself as the tent grew smaller in the distance.
At the same time
"I'll get him!" snarled the Hulk as Rick's mind controlled her actions. Stomping her way towards the center of the tent, she reached out with her massive fist and wrapped her fingers around the main support pole.
"What the hell is she doing?" Agent Kearns shouted as the last of the crowd made their way outside. "She's not human!"
With barely a grunt, the Hulk snapped the pole with one hand and marched outside as the tent started to sag. In the confusion and panic, nobody paid any attention to just where she was going with such an item.
The Ringmaster paled when he saw the big top start to collapse, but that did little to slow his whip. "Faster you glue buckets, faster!" he urged.
Outside the tent, the Hulk gripped the broken pole with one hand and thrust it forwards like a spear. At the tip of it was a large platform (for the acrobats). Its presence gave Rick (and the Hulk) an idea. Keeping it high, the Hulk aimed for the dot that was the Ringmaster and prepared to hook the fleeing man in like a fish.
The Ringmaster Glanced backwards to see the large figure of the Hulk, holding…a large stick? He saw the pole over him, which made him confused. Was she trying to smack him with it? Turning forward, he screamed when he saw the platform hanging before him. The platform was high enough to avoid hitting the horses, but low enough to ensure that he was driven straight into it. The impact knocked the wind out of him as he was thrown backwards into the dirt.
Struggling to find his breath, he groped blindly for his hat. The ground around him was shaking so bad he had to lay flat or risk being knocked over. Hearing a loud 'crunch', he looked over at the sound.
Before him was the Hulk. The ground had stopped moving, although it was too late for his hat (which the Hulk was presently standing on). He looked up into the face of the Hulk. When she was under chains, her face looked like a regular human's. Now it was so contorted with rage he wasn't sure if this was a mortal being or some kind of demon sent to kill him. As she reached down with her massive paws, a damn broke in the Ringmaster's mind.
He screamed as the hand wrapped around his torso…
Not much later
As the last of the crowd was removed from the collapsed tent, Kearns spotted Rick. "Hey!" he shouted as he rushed over. But before he could say anything, Rick had a strange smile on his face as an object off in the distance suddenly started moving towards them.
With a thunderous crash, the Hulk landed near them. In her arms was the Ringmaster, who was half mad with fright. "Don't let her hit me! Don't let her hit me! I give up, I'll tell you anything!" he wailed as he was dropped unceremoniously into the dirt.
As the felon was put in handcuffs, Kearns turned back to look at Rick, who had already walked past him and was busy climbing onto the Hulk' back. "Hey, wait a second kid, what's going on here? What is that?" he questioned as he tried to run in front of them.
"Sorry man, but we have to go" Rick shouted back.
"That wasn't a request junior, now climb down" Kearns's voice was lost as the Hulk took another standing leap without hesitation and flew off into the night sky. Seeing them soar off over the horizon, Kearns sighed. "Duncan's going to have my head over this one" he muttered as he turned back to the rubbernecking crowd and tried to establish order. "One meta loose on American soil. But that boy, Rick Jones, he's connected in this somehow. And I'm going to find out how." Kearns swore to himself as he helped the still gibbering Ringmaster into the back of a waiting police car; the object of his thoughts was equally as busy holding onto the back of the most amazing creature that ever walked the Earth was currently soaring through the air like a rocket.
There would come a reckoning for everything that had happened. Kearns and Rick both knew that; but for now each was content with what they both had. Everything else could wait until later.
Agent Kearns-yes, this is the same Lee Kearns that showed up in Tales to Astonish. He moved stateside after the Ant-Man incident.
Duncan-Fred Duncan, Uncanny X-Men supporting character back in their early days.
This story was based on "Banished to Outer Space" and "Trapped by the Ringmaster" which were both published in The Incredible Hulk #3 (September 1962). Credits are Stan Lee (script) Jack Kirby (pencils) and Dick Ayers (inks).
And now onto the letters:
Hi Cambot, This
is another doozy. And here I thought Lonebeatle had the patent Take care,
for writing really long stories. ;)
But seriously, another great job. I said it last time, but I'll say
it again, I like your characterization. And part of that is the good
dialogue you write as well.
I never actually have read IH #2 but I'd be willing to say this is a
very nice homage. :)
is another doozy. And here I thought Lonebeatle had the patent
Take care yourself milady. Great piece of you did recently too. I thought the diary aspect was nice touch too. And right now I would like to thank a very special guy, Articzen, who was kind enough to edit this and put with my steady stream of emails. Many thanks to you good sir.
Yeah, and speaking of the bug, LB, thanks for the kind words and yes, I do have tons more in store.
Speaking of that, check out my upcoming works (available at finer monitors everywhere)
Tales to Astonish #2-See Ant-Man take on the most dangerous killer alive when he battles Comrade X!
Journey Into Mystery #5-Lady Thor battles Thrud in "For the Honor of My Father!"