Neutro is a property of Dell comics, now known as Valiant comics. Special thanks to Atop The Fourth Wall for bringing this obscure comic to my attention.
John Dodge awoke to another day in the endless succession of days. Dawn leaked through the shuttered windows, as he yawned, stretched and felt his neck muscles crack as they snapped into place.
Having moved out of bed, he walked over to his writing desk, and for what seemed the millionth time, he poured his attention upon the faded historical documents: oral accounts left by the native people of this region of the American southwest. He had first heard the story while studying Archeology in college and having heard the opening line, he had never forgotten it.
The sighting was viewed by more than two hundred eyes, spoken of by more than one hundred tongues, but only one hand wrote a record of the strange event.
He paused in his reading, glancing out the window, imagining the scene.
A day so many centuries into the past...
...the day when the sun came to Earth.
It would have been a day like any other, things were static in the desert; unchanging for centuries.
First there would have been a light in the sky, one that drew closer with each passing second. Not a meteor nor a saucer-shaped craft. Rather a sphere, lit up as bright as day and hovering as gracefully and as silently as a storm cloud.
The sphere would have emitted a subsonic rumble, a burst of strange warbles and banshee shrieks as a section of it opened.
Down the newly revealed ramp came a procession of beings. The accounts varied as to the appearance of the creatures from the sphere; only agreeing that the entities did not resemble anything even remotely human. Perhaps they would have crawled sometimes, and walked upon their forelimbs on other occasions. Some accounts said they had wings, and others said they did not. Some said that their heads changed color, while others said that they had no heads to speak of.
They would have moved slowly, and uncomfortably as the gravity of this new planet unsuitable for beings such as them. They would have worked silently, their actions coordinated with scents and movements, not with sounds, nor words. With their hands, or perhaps with their strange equivalent to earth-movers, they would dig into the sands of the desert, uncovering it, preparing the burial plot. With something akin to reverence, or perhaps something akin to hope, they would have placed the objects in the space they had made, and then covered it over in sand once more, forming a hill, a mound, in which their caskets would be interred.
Their task completed, the beings retreated into the ship, and the story would pass into legend, and in some cases, the story would be seen as a cautionary tale. A death curse to whomever would find the mound.
Dodge would find it. He had to. He would prove it them all wrong, and find the gift from the men from the stars. The world was ready. He was ready. The year was 1967. The time was now.
He took the shovel from the back of the truck, and poised the blade to the dusty soil. Pulling on his work gloves he then brought his foot down, the blade sliced the earth and he lifted the first scoop out and threw it to one side. Then he bent for another.
When he first set out on this project, he had hired day laborers to help him scour the desert sands for the elusive mound, but after weeks of the hot sun with nothing to show for it, they had left him.
Late into the night, and then into the burning day, he labored, sweat streaming from his face, digging faster as his body adapted to the rhythm of the labor. The shovel felt a part of him, and he was no longer a man, merely an engine in which to dig at the earth until he broke.
The day passed again into night, and he hadn't stopped working. It had been many hours since the he had drunk or eaten or enjoyed a normal and restful slumber, and his hands trembled with exertion and fatigue. He ignored it and worked more furiously, straining now, flailing away, spewing dirt over shoulder as he tossed it.
His shovel hit rock, and then broke. His arms took most of the impact and pain shot up his numb arms.
He had reached the end, and there was still nothing, not even an arrowhead or a shard of pottery.
He threw the broken shovel, and cried out to the stars and whatever gods that inhabited these empty spaces.
"Nothing!" He fell to his knees and grasped a handful of sand. He closed his eyes and for a moment wavered as though he were about to faint.
I might as well not leave. Just lie here in this grave I've dug...
Then he heard his shovel make a clang, a resounding sound of metal upon metal.
He turned. The movement awash in palpable exhilaration.
It resembled nothing so much as a mundane box: six sides, cubical, and bright, bright orange.
Here, the box seemed to say. Here. I was right here all this time. And now you have found me.
Now he knew that his life had not been in vain.
He uncovered three other boxes from their tomb of sand. Four boxes in all. His mind was feverish with the possibilities of what the boxes held.
With trembling hands that were aching from the long day and night of digging, he opened the first box, and audibly gasped at what they contained.
The boxes were not coffins.
The first box contained not cadavers, but rather were reliquaries for rolls of metal foil. Inscribed on every inch of the foil were what looked like small drawings and designs.
The second box contained incised plates, like circuit boards, along with gunmetal gray pieces of metal as well as what appeared to be nuts and bolts. Here were all the parts for a machine, and the scrolls were instructions to build it.
The scrolls were written intelligently, thought not an intelligence of this world. The pictographs were simple. Even if he possessed no technical or scientific skill he would know how to assemble the device that the ancient metal foil scrolls instructed. A child could decipher how to to assemble the pieces. But just to be certain, he would enlist the help of a mechanical expert.
He knew just the person. His old friend Banyan worked at a military base not far from here, and he knew that he could trust him to keep this a secret.
Banyan was the only one he had left, Dodge realized.
Banyan was short, potbellied, and gray haired and balding, with blue eyes behind round spectacles.
John Dodge exited his vehicle and shook Banyan's extended hand.
"What have you got for me today?" Banyan asked.
"Gift-wrapped packages from Pluto," Dodge said and unloaded one of the orange boxes for Banyan's inspection.
Banyan raised his eyebrows at the phrase.
"Does this have anything do with that old Indian legend you've been studying?" Banyan asked.
"You could say that," Dodge answered.
"Then maybe we better not touch them," Banyan said. "Maybe there's a curse."
"Maybe it would have been better if we never discovered the atomic bomb, but you can't hold back progress."
"Should we tell someone about this?" Banyan asked.
"No," Dodge answered. "If word got out about this, we would be killed, one bullet for each of us in the brain-pan, and buried in the desert for the coyotes to find."
Doctor Banyan seemed to have forgotten any previous apprehension as he set to the task of laying out the necessary parts, selecting the tools he would need and looking over the metal plans. He spent the afternoon deciphering the symbols and writing up new blueprints and diagrams.
"We don't know what we're building..." said Banyan. "Or do we?"
"We're building a man." John Dodge said, showing him a diagram of a humanoid figure spread out on the metal foil.
"If we're building a man, then we should name him."
Everything needs a name.
"What about 'Neutro.' " Banyan offered.
He pointed to some empty boxes. One of the boxes was labeled with the words Neutro-Wash. It was a brand of salt and chloride neutralizer to combat corrosion in machine parts.
"Alright," Dodge said. " 'Neutro', it is."
Dodge left Banyan for a moment to use the restroom, and was momentarily shocked at the appearance of the bearded man with the sunken eyes and sun-burned skin that looked back at him from the mirror; a face gaunt and filthy with the sweat and dirt of his labors.
How long have I had a beard?
With that thought came others. Now that he had been proved correct, he wondered how he would return to society, or even if he should. He wasn't sure if his superiors at the university knew of his whereabouts.
Through finding the boxes he had pulled himself from the brink of despair. He should have felt relief, had thought to feel savage joy at this recent development, but instead he felt only emptiness, a strange void that yawned in his soul like a vessel that could never be filled. The hollow in his soul, which he had dreamed of filling with triumph, was still there.
He closed his eyes, and listened to the drip of the faucet and the rattle of Banyan moving parts and preparing tools for the task ahead of them.
Dodge walked away, leaving his despair in the room behind him.
The two men continued the process of assembling the pieces. Though a thousand years old, the wafer-thin circuit boards and plates were pristine, as though forged only yesterday.
Once Banyan commented the subject of metallurgy, saying "This material is the strangest I've seen. It's so hard that I haven't been able to file off any samples for analysis, and yet it's as light as tinfoil."
They worked in shifts. Dodge's presence kept a relative secret at the base. When Banyan was called away to perform other tasks, Dodge would work, and then sleep when Banyan returned.
Piece by piece was completed and slotted into place like puzzle-fragments, a whole emerging from the parts. When the work was finished, the construct stood before them in the lights of the workshop.
Wherever it came from, whoever constructed its intricate systems, whatever its reasons for being, these and countless other questions were forgotten as Dodge and Banyan viewed the incredible machine they had fabricated.
It stood about eight feet high. Its proportions were surprisingly human: two arms, two legs, a stocky torso, and a head. Even the head of the robot was human-like. Its elbows, shoulders and knees were scalloped and pointed. His feet had five flexible metal toes each. His long fingers had two joints, and his thumbs one. His limbs appeared to bulge with musculature; his belly was flat and corded. Its face was that of a gargoyle, with two hornlike fins to either side of its head. It had no apparent mouth. Instead there were a series of vertical slits running down the lower portion of its 'face', down to the end of its jaw. Its eyes were sunken sockets, with small sensor points in their centers; which, when turned on, wiggled and jittered with forks of electricity.
My god, Dodge thought. He's beautiful.
Deciding that the robot looked dull, Banyan insisted that he receive a paint-job, and so he spray-painted Neutro's feet, hands and collar red, while the rest of his body was painted royal blue.
The next morning John Dodge stared into the robot's eyes while John Banyan made tightened some bolts in Neutro's midsection.
"I don't see any intelligence in those eyes, but I could be wrong."
"Neutro has a distributed network of axons and sensors, but nothing centralized." Banyan explained. "He receives all his instructions from an external source, but has nothing to 'think' with."
"You mean that Neutro has no brain?"
Banyan hesitated, and said, "if you like." Banyan pointed to an altar-like shape that was under construction in a corner of the workroom. "Our friends from the stars thought of that as well. Through trial and error I found that Neutro responded to electromagnetic pulses sent to him through the use of this control panel I built from designs that were included in the plans."
"What about his power source?" Dodge asked. "I mean does he have something like an engine or a reactor?"
"Like the brain, nothing is centralized," Banyan explained. "All his parts appear to be drawing power from his surroundings: heat, light, gravity too I suspect."
"Is he ready?"
Banyan smiled, "Yes, I do believe that he is."
Banyan keyed in the commands, and Neutro walked with them to the back of the pick-up trunk. To conceal his massive form, they covered him in empty, brown cardboard boxes.
Dodge's pickup approached the front gate of the base where a guard stopped them. As Banyan showed the guard his identification, the guard asked "So you're transporting Neutro?"
"What?" John said, startled.
"Neutro," the guard pointed at the boxes in the back of the truck, the ones concealing their secret. "It's good for getting rust out, I know."
"Yes." John breathed, relieved. "It's Neutro. We're transporting Neutro."
Dodge and Banyan drove to a remote stretch of desert, a place far from any settlement or highway, and utilizing the control console, Neutro was put through his paces.
First, the two men tested Neutro's strength. They placed a steel girder in front of him, and keyed in the correct sequence of keys on the console.
The robot responded by picking up the steel girder and then, with a shriek of stressed metal, he bent the steel beam into a pretzel shape. They then ordered Neutro to rip one of the boulders from the earth, and then hurl the object upward dozens of feet. When it crashed to the ground it splintered to pebbles.
Next the two men tested Neutro's speed. Again they keyed in the instructions, and Neutro sped off, performing laps around the circumstance of the desert. Using a stopwatch, they clocked his running speed at over ninety miles per hour, and maintained an impossible pace.
After that, they tested his flight. They found that Neutro could fly at least Mach two, though it was too fast for the stopwatch for a proper reading. His flight was also without visible propulsion, and with no sonic boom.
But most shocking of all were Neutro's weapons. From his eyes and fingers, Neutro could project a type of energy never seen before. Like the boxes that his parts had come in, the ray's color was bright orange that seared afterimages upon Dodge's vision, and it could easily turn a desert boulder molten with just a single application.
Dodge's mouth open in silent astonishment. It seemed so strange that the energy, fiery and blazing, was silent. So blinding, it should have been deafening as well, but the only sound were that of the boulder sizzling as it liquified.
While Banyan speculated that everything Neutro did was a warping of physical laws, and he moved and manipulated gravity for such things as flight and his strength.
Banyan added, "I tested the potential energy in his circuits. It hadn't gone down. Instead it's gone up. Once he's been activated, he'll continue to get stronger, the more energy he's exposed to. And that's not the half of it. Think, man! If we found out how he does it..."
Banyan spent the rest of the drive back to the workshop talking excitedly of new technology that could be developed: new materials that absorbed energy, new ways of super-sonic flight, gauntlets that could increase the strength of the arm.
But Dodge was lost in his own speculation about what the two men had just witnessed and so kept silent as Banyan talked, his mind frozen with the shock.
How powerful was Neutro? What more could he do?
As he lay in bed, he could not stop thinking about the four crates. There had been four. Idly, he wondered if perhaps there was some significance to the number.
To the Japanese, the number four meant death.
That night John dreamed.
He dreamed of Neutro.
He dreamed about the end of the world.
Neutro walked out of the desert military base during a moonlit night.
The alarm was sounded, and soldiers in green uniforms fired upon him with army rifles, with tanks, with grenades, and mortars.
To no avail.
Neutro didn't even flinch when struck, as though he was a man walking through a light rain. He walked slowly forward, one foot in front of the other, metal fences and barbed wire barricades could not hinder him. Bullets continued to fly, singing nosily as they ricocheted off the impervious surface of Neutro's hide.
In response, Neutro unleashed his terrible main weapon, and a dozen men died in an instant.
Neutro flew across the sky, eventually he arriving at Washington D.C., the White House specifically. Neutro raised his hand, though the word "raised" was too slow a word to describe it. One moment, his arm was down, the next he was pointing at the White House, a massive bolt issued forth, and the building was reduced to charred cinders.
Next Neutro was at the bottom of the Atlantic, his every ponderous step unleashing clouds of silt. With two hands he grasped the transatlantic cable and pulled the steel wiring apart with a silent snap. The world would be without communications when he came for it. The submarines that had come to stop him were battered aside, and the whales and giant squid and mighty leviathans of the deep were nothing before his wrath.
He saw the mushroom cloud of man's greatest weapon unleashed upon its greatest enemy, and Neutro strolled through its nimbus of the sudden onslaught like a man enjoying a cool spring shower. The blast had only made him stronger. It fed him the heat and light that Neutro needed to sustain his power, and the robot fired back the energy a vengeance, to use it incinerate more lives and destroy more of the works of man.
Having absorbed the total energy output of the atomic blast, Neutro was now a massive, imperious giant; silhouetted in the flames of a burning city. Phantom jets attacked him then. In a gesture that was almost causal, Neutro lifted a gargantuan hand. Beams of orange energy blasted forth from the thumb and pinkie finger turning the jets into streaks of flame as their fuel tanks ignited.
Neutro destroyed New York. Neutro destroyed Moscow. He turned Peking into an inferno, and London, Paris and Rome to powder. He destroyed large cities and small villages. Sometimes he deigned to blast his victims with energy, other times he crushed them underfoot or snatched handfuls of them to squeeze between his metal fingers or fling like rag dolls into the air.
In another vision, he saw Neutro stand upon the burning remains of an aircraft carrier, and from its deck he aimed his rays upon entire flotillas of ships from all nations, east and west of the Iron Curtain. All men were now brothers in suffering, all people united against the common threat of Neutro. But in unity they were as nothing compared to this product of alien science.
John now saw Cape Canaveral, and a hastily assembled space-ark upon a launchpad, where masses of hopeful survivors attempted to board the shuttle to flee the Earth to escape from Neutro's omnipresent wrath. Such was not to be, as the robot showed himself on the launchpad. Soon the shuttle went up in flames, its fuel igniting in a glorious fireball and Neutro turned his blasts upon the thousands of helpless refugees gathered there in the faint hope of escape. But now there was no hope. There was nothing, only black ash and the promise of death. The weapons of man could not drive him away from the task Neutro had come to perform, and its science could not devise a way to escape him. Neutro was power incarnate and power unopposable.
He saw Neutro crack open the oil wells of the Middle East, and with a single blast from his eyes, the robot ignited them, and a third of the world became a lake of eternal fire.
He saw Neutro walking across the African veld, having annihilated all of humanity; now he destroyed plant and animal life. He saw Neutro incinerate a herd of elephants into a mountain of charred flesh. He was then set upon by a pride of lions who futilely attempted to maul the giant robot. They lasted a few seconds before joining the elephants in death. Where he passed trees, they writhed and slumped, their cells dying, bursting and liquifying under an aura of deadly energy the robot emitted.
He saw Neutro tunneling into the Earth, traveling through the crust of the mantle, effortlessly drilling through crushing pressures and swimming through oceans of magma to lay claim to the molten core. He glowed white-hot, like iron brought out of a forge. His body shone blindingly bright.
Finally Neutro walked across the sterile, ashen wastes of a cold and lifeless Earth, the last thing that walked, flew or crawled. He would continue to exist, even when everything else was empty, bleak and dead, unchanging and eternal.
Once he was finished exterminating all life, Neutro now turned his head to the stars and issued a thunderous roar, a call to the robot's makers from beyond the moon, who came down and shattered the planet's protective mantle of gases, letting the rays of solar radiation through, and burning what was left so that no life would have ever spring forth again.
Unlike Victor Frankenstein, who feared that his name would be cursed by future generations for what he had unleashed upon the world, no generations would live to rue the day that Dodge found Neutro in the desert, as there would be no one left alive to remember.
Dodge woke from that vision of apocalypse, blinking in the darkness. He sat up and walked to the canteen where Banyan was already awake and making coffee.
"You look like you had a rough night," Banyan said "Did you dream of Neutro?"
Dodge said nothing, allowing Banyan to speak further.
"I dreamed that he was on a whale."
"What?" Dodge asked.
"Yeah," Banyan continued. "He was riding it, riding it like a horse, and he looked like he was
enjoying himself. He was also racing with cheetahs across some African plains, and defending us from the Reds. He also built us some dams to help power our cities, and he was just exploring the world: climbing the highest mountains and walking along the seafloor. You?"
"Yes. I had a dream about Neutro."
Dodge began again, saying "Paul," he began. "Maybe you were right. Maybe we shouldn't have assembled Neutro. He shouldn't exist. Neutro is a power greater than any power now on Earth, but it's a power that simply destroys."
"But you said that we can't hold back progress-"
"I know what I said." Dodge interrupted, shifting his feet. "I realize now that Neutro is far more than just a robot. He's the most powerful thing that the world has ever seen…far more destructive than any atomic bomb. If he fell into the wrong hands...if he went amok..."
John paused and choked out the words, "...he could kill everything on Earth."
Banyan said nothing, and Dodge continued.
There was a moment of silence. Banyan didn't reply, but he didn't need to. The older man shrugged, and picked up a large wrench and a small pair of pliers.
The two men walked back together to the workroom where they had left the robot standing there the night before.
Neutro was gone.