Lightningman Strikes!

Diet Another Day!

a.k.a. "Genocide as a Method of Insider Trading"

A 13-chapter Superhero Saga!

"Royal" Richard K. Lyon

About the author
"Diet Another Day" is the third Lightningman story.  The first two,  "The Secret Identity Diet" and "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Conspiracy”, are available on request from the author at

PREVIOUSLY: Desperate to find some clue to the kidnapping of FBI Director James Edgar, Charles Kent, aka "Lightningman", examines a billboard advertising a detective agency run by Olga Karpov, a retired KGB agent. With an infrared camera he discovers a secret message intended for Lightingman's eyes alone...

Episode Five:

Danger on the Phone

SLOWLY THE FALSE COLOR IMAGE began to show glowing red letters immerging from darkness: "Lightningman: check JPC, 38, 1220 (1978), NYT 12/31/1996 D4, O&GJ, 55, 1/15/1997 p46 and 57, 3/15/1998 p238, and SS&T 9,299‑302, 1986. Urgent that you call me at 5551938."

Jackpot! One phone call and --

The sign continued to cool and more lines of writing became visible. "Take all appropriate precautions. Need 15 minutes to tell you what I know. Our mutual enemy, the Deadman, has great supernormal powers and is likely to attack. If, as the news media claim, you also have such powers perhaps you can prevail against him. Otherwise it would probably be better if you ignored this message."

Oops! What was I getting myself into? Ms. Karpov seemed a sensibly skeptical person. Why would she believe in an evil being with vast unnatural powers? What evidence had convinced her?

I'd have to make that phone call very carefully. The 15 minutes was a problem. Even without being supernatural, you could nail someone who makes a phone call longer than 5 minutes.

The solution to that was finding the right phone booth. Several years ago NY Bell realized that pay phones in some locations constantly had to be relocated. To save money it started making them free standing, without any hard wire connection to the phone lines. I could buy a cordless answering machine, hide it near a cordless pay phone, enter Ms. Karpov's number, and peddle rapidly away. In less than two minutes I could be hidden in a safe place from which I could observe the phone booth.

That was a good plan, a safe plan ... or at least that's what I told myself as I went to buy a cordless answering machine.

I didn't start to get really scared until I paid for the answering machine. Out of habit I reached for one of my credit cards, a potentially fatal error. No matter how carefully I hid the machine there was still a good chance the enemy would find it. If I used a credit card, the machine could lead them straight to me.

While I realized this in time to pay cash, it was worrisome. Was there something else that I hadn't thought of? I'd an uncomfortable feeling that there was, but I couldn't think what.

Only at the last minute, after I'd hidden the answering machine and was about to start dialing did I see the danger. Like many older models, this phone had a camera/viewscreen and a handset that you held to your mouth and ear to speak and listen. If my enemies had any brains, they'd see that handset dangling down and realize the incoming call was going to an answering machine. They'd know that I'd have to come get the message. Maybe they'd decide to wait and shoot me when I came, or maybe they'd plant a bomb.

Fortunately I had a spool of very fine black thread in my bicycle pack. I suspended the phone's handset from a low tree branch so that it would look as if an invisible man were holding it.

Doing that only took a minute or two. I was now ready to call Ms. Karpov. I still had a horrible feeling that I'd neglected something important, but after hesitating for a moment, I decided I was as ready as I'd ever be. I tapped in Ms. Karpov's number and peddled furiously away.

In less than 90 seconds I was 500 meters away from the phone and well hidden behind some bushes. Whipping out my binoculars I looked back at the phone booth. Now that it was too late for second thoughts, I was having lots of them. Would the trick I was playing actually fool anybody? Even a small child knows that when an object seems to float you should look for a hard-to-see thread rather than an invisible man. If --

A black Mercedes Benz, its lights out, was coming down the road, moving as slowly as a stalking cat. Scarcely breathing I watched the dark shapes in that car. Abruptly they started shooting at the pay phone, spraying it with fire from two machine guns and what were those other weapons? Catapults!?

As suddenly as the attack began they stopped, the black Mercedes speeding away into the night. For some totally weird reason the gunmen were throwing firecrackers out behind them. Did they think they were being pursued by an invisible Lightningman? If so, why were they throwing firecrackers instead of grenades?

They were nearly out of sight when they came to a very sharp curve in the road. Central Park is not a good place for driving at high speed, even in a car that corners well. I couldn't see exactly what happened. Suddenly one tree was missing a lot of bark on one side and there was a tremendous splash.

Had they gone into the lake? Whatever had happened, all the noise was sure to bring the police. Since I didn't want to have to answer their questions I had to get my answering machine and get gone PDQ.

As I approached the ruins of the pay phone I saw a really strange assortment of projectiles littering the ground all around it. Hopping off my bicycle I bent down and picked up three of the distorted slugs the machine guns had fired. Two were silver and one was gold. What kind of gun could have fired foot-long sharpened wooden stakes was a puzzle, but there were lots of them stuck here and there. Presumably the catapults had fired all those bunches of strange hood-shaped purple‑blue flowers and the cloves of garlic, the glowing green crystals, and ‑‑ well those wet spots with the broken balloons had to have been water balloons, didn't they?

Weird but right now I had to get my answering machine out of the trash can. With the sirens of approaching police cars screaming from just over the next hill, I leapt on my bicycle and sped away.

When I was safely back in our apartment, I made a pot of coffee and settled down to think things out. Apparently the guys in the black Mercedes hadn't known what to make of Lightningman and were trying to cover all possible bets. New York has con men who cheerfully sell "kryptonite" to people who are afraid of Lightningman. The purple‑blue flowers were wolfsbane, a traditional weapon against vampires, as were wooden stakes and garlic. Silver bullets for werewolves. Holy water balloons for the Devil. The gold bullets were a puzzle but I seemed to remember that all the Green Lanterns had been vulnerable to yellow weapons.

No matter. Whatever the details, the important thing was that regarding Lightningman my mysterious enemies didn't have a clue. That was more than good. It was necessary if I was going to stay alive.

Of course, with enough time, they were bound to figure it out. Before that happened, I had to unmask them. Hopefully the tape in my answering machine would help me to do that.

Pouring a cup of coffee, I settled into my favorite chair and pushed the machine's play button. Nothing happened. After checking the batteries and finding they were okay, I checked the fuse. It was blown and when I installed a fresh fuse, it promptly blew. My new answering machine was dead.

I could still pull the tape and play it in my old answering machine ... unless there was also something wrong with the tape. As I soon found, there was: both the message I'd recorded at the start of the tape and whatever message Olga Karpov might have sent were gone, replaced with the striated static pattern that was characteristic of an electromagnetic pulse weapon. Why had the guys in the black Mercedes used an EMP weapon? Did they think that Lightningman might really be Robotman?

Maybe. Maybe a lot of things. What was for sure was that telephoning Olga Karpov was the kind of dangerous job I should leave to the FBI. They, not I, were the professionals. Lightningman was an accident, something that wouldn't have happened if circumstances had given me any choice. The thing to do was to just get the references Ms. Karpov had given me, and send them to Marge. When she passed them on to the FBI she could say they were from Lightningman and therefore to be taken seriously.

All Ms. Karpov's references were available online. The first page printout our home computer produced was a Times article describing the plans of Double X Oil Company to develop the Terminus gas fields. A single giant platform, literally a village in the middle of the ocean, would serve to collect the raw gas from a dozen wells, fractionate it, and pipeline the refined gas to shore. Environmentalists were concerned because the field was sour gas, more than 50% H2S. Double X planned to remove the H2S before pipelining it and burn it, some 500 million cubic feet per day, in a giant flare. This, the environmentalists angrily objected, would create the largest single source of acid rain in the world.

The second printout was an article from the Oil and Gas Journal. In deference to the environmentalists' concerns, Double X had changed its plans. Instead of flaring the H2S, they now planned to build a giant sparger, a tubular concrete ring 10 kilometers in diameter, sitting on the ocean floor. The H2S would be pumped down into the enormous ring and bubbled into the ocean via holes all along its circumference. Since H2S dissolves readily in water it wouldn't cause an air pollution problem.

The environmentalists, however, were not happy with the plan. Putting the H2S into the ocean, they claimed, would kill all marine life in a vast area, creating a dead sea.

The third item, also from Oil and Gas Journal, reported that the environmentalists had been proven wrong. Except for a small area very close to the sparger, damage to marine life had proven minimal. The environmentalists were, however, perversely dissatisfied, their complaint being that since the fish weren't dying as expected, then large amounts of H2S were unaccounted for and might pose some unknown undefined threat.

The fourth item was old, a 1978 engineering paper from Industrial and Engineering Chemistry by Professor Prausnitz, "Dissociation Pressures of Gas Hydrates". Now, what did that have to do with anything?

After I'd read some of the Prausnitz paper I understood that a gas hydrate was an odd hollow form of ice, water that froze in a pattern of cages like a honeycomb, each cage holding some guest molecule. Just how easily this strange kind of ice formed depended on what gas one used as the guest molecules. H2S, for example, formed a hydrate particularly easily.

Was that why the H2S hadn't caused the expected damage to marine life? The temperature of deep ocean waters throughout the world is 4oC. The Double X sparger was on the bottom of the ocean floor at a depth of 647 meters which meant the gas it discharged was at 62.6 atmospheres pressure. For those conditions H2S hydrate is stable, and, being heavier than sea water, could just accumulate on the sea floor.

The last article was from Speculations in Science and Technology and was entitled "The Possible Role of H2S Hydrates in the Lake Nios Disaster". Back in 1986, at Lake Nios in Cameroon an entire village, more than 1700 people, had been killed suddenly by a mysterious disaster. The author speculated that natural processes had caused H2S hydrate to form and accumulate at the bottom of Lake Nios. Eventually something disturbed it, causing a strong convection current which carried some of the hydrate toward the surface. Decreasing the pressure on this small amount of hydrate caused it to decompose to H2S gas. The gas, being much lighter than water, rose rapidly, strengthening the convection current, allowing it to lift more hydrate which decomposed. The net result was a kind of physical explosion called a rollover. The rollover itself was a relatively gentle process, but it released massive quantities of H2S. This extremely poisonous gas killed everyone.

Oh Dear God! Was this what it was all about? Could anything so horrible be happening?

At 500 million cubic feet per day ‑‑ I punched numbers into my calculator ‑‑ the total accumulation of H2S could be as much as 27,000 tons. A rollover could release 47 billion cubic meters of gas. H2S is much heavier than air. The released would spread over the surface of the water like a giant pancake. How thick? Maybe 10 meters? That would make the pancake 70 kilometers in diameter! Much wider than the kill zone of an H bomb!

No, that was wrong, because an H bomb is done when it goes bang. Killing people wouldn't use up the pancake of H2S gas. It would move with the wind and just go on and on killing until, finally, it would become too dilute to be lethal. The lethal concentration of H2S is only 0.06%. Punching more numbers into my calculator I discovered to my horror that before it became a vile stench that sickened without killing, the toxic cloud will reach a height of 400 meters, and a mean diameter of 440 kilometers. Before that happened, the death cloud would sweep across thousands of kilometers, killing everyone!

Terminus was in a part of the South Seas in which the prevailing winds were western. These winds would create a corridor of death stretching across Vietnam, Laos, Burma, passing over the Bay of Bengal to destroy the middle of India, continuing across the Arabian Sea to slay Oman, Yemen, and most of Ethiopia.

Hundreds of millions of people dead and somehow, someone was planning to make money from this cataclysm!

Back to Episode 4....Secret Message on a Billboard

On to Episode 6....Death Sentence For Half the World!

Back to Pulp and Dagger

Back to Diet Another Day!

"Diet Another Day!" and the character of "Lightningman" are copyright by Richard K. Lyon. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)