Lightningman Strikes!
  in...


Diet Another Day!

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

A 13-chapter Superhero Saga!
(Basically.)

By
"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 Lyonheart@cableone.net


PREVIOUSLY: Knowing that a plot is underway to kill millions of people in Southeast Asia, Charles Kent, also known as Lightningman, heads for Terminus, a gas production platform in the middle of the South China Sea. The last leg of this trip is by helicopter through a typhoon. Kent's pilot for the dangerous journey is Sister Elaine Smith, better known as Suicide Smith, holder of the Guinness Book of World Records for most air travel safety rules violated. The trick that allows her to fly safely through the storm's violence is to play Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and pretend she's a Valkyrie riding her stallion across the sky to rescue heroes...




Episode Nine:

Dead Men at Dinner


ABRUPTLY WE BURST OUT OF THE HOWLING DARKNESS into bright sunlight. "Terminus dead ahead. We made better time than I thought," Sister Elaine announced, triumphantly pointing at a complex network of steel pipes and girders that rose from a glass-smooth sapphire sea.

I started pulling off my vomit-covered clothes. If Sister Elaine was surprised to see that I was wearing the Lightningman costume under my suit, she didn't show it.

As she landed the chopper, she said with appalling cheerfulness, " I'm thinking, Mr. Kent, that we're after needing a new plan. You've spent this flight using up all my vomit bags and not hearing a word I told you about the situation here on Terminus. Your face is a fine shade of green and hiding it in that helmet won't help any. Even if you were healthy, that silly costume won't fool anybody in their right bloody mind."

As I put on my helmet, I put what strength I could into my voice and said, "There may be danger. You'd better stay here."

"If there's danger," she replied in a tone suitable for lecturing a slow child, "I can manage it a great deal better than you. I've black belts in judo and karate and ‑‑ DEAR GOD! WHAT'S THAT?"

A small round hole suddenly appeared in one of the chopper's plexiglass windows and something thudded into my chest. Shouting "GET DOWN!' to Sister Elaine, I popped open the door and sprang out onto the helicopter pad. The wind from the rotors hit me like a waterfall and it was all I could do to keep from falling to my knees. Despite the thundering wind I stood upright in the middle of the landing pad, making myself a perfect target, the lightning stroke emblem on my chest the natural target for the gunman.

The helicopter pad lay at the edge of a jungle of pipes, valves, gauges and steel tanks, all of it covered by a thin layer of greasy black. Three walkways led off the pad into Terminus. Somewhere in that plumber's maze a man was aiming at me. I was gambling that he was a good marksman who would put all his shots in my chest where I was protected by kevlar and my titanium plate. Of course, if the gunman aimed for the one‑way plastic visor that covered my eyes ‑‑

BANG‑BANG‑BANG‑BANGGGGG‑‑‑‑

It felt like heavy hail, a stream of small steel slugs pelting me in the chest and reflecting in a dozen different directions. I couldn't hear anything over the thunderous rotors, but my enemy had blundered by hiding in deep shadow, making his gun's muzzle flashes easy to spot.

I hit the middle walkway at a dead run. As I plunged into Terminus, the roar of the chopper was swiftly drowned by a host of other sounds, liquids rushing headlong through kilometers of pipe, turbines whining, pumps chugging, and an army of control valves snapping on and off. Through that maze I could see the place from which my enemy had fired. Would he be able to just slip away or did I have him trapped in a dead end? If he ‑‑

Suddenly a small dark figure sprang out of the left hand walkway, a small caliber pistol in his hand; nothing heavy enough to hurt me seriously. With a sense of triumph, I ran toward at him, but he dropped the pistol, grabbed at his belt, and pulled out something that looked more like a cannon than a handgun. I was too far away. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion. As I ran as if I were in honey, the gun came level and there was nothing I could do. No way to close the distance or dodge ‑‑

BBAANNGG!

He'd fired his weapon without even aiming at me! He was running, but I could no longer see him clearly. A cloud of gas was boiling out of a pipe severed by his wild shot. Or had the shot been wild?

I stopped and sniffed. I'd nearly rushed into a jet of hydrogen sulfide! A gas more poisonous than cyanide! One breath could do me in and the nauseating stuff was drifting toward me! I was already in the fringes of it! As I staggered backwards, my empty stomach heaved as waves of the vile stench swept over me. I tried to hold my breath but I'd been running. How many more seconds before I'd be dead? I couldn't let that happen. Not when my death meant the same horrible fate for a host of innocent people.

I staggered, searching desperately and suddenly I saw an orange cabinet labeled: "For Emergencies". Inside were dozens of things I didn't need and the one thing I did: an oxygen pack. Tearing off my helmet, I put the mask on, and for several moments I just breathed. Why hadn't my opponent just shot and killed me? Had he thought I really was Lightningman, invulnerable to bullets but possibly vulnerable to poison gas? Maybe, and for sure if I were going to play Lightningman, I had to look the part. Getting my helmet back on over an oxygen mask proved a little awkward and uncomfortable, but doable.

Despite my still unstable stomach, I dogtrotted down the walkway, speeding through the jetting cloud of hydrogen sulfide. At each intersection there was no choice but to guess which way my enemy had gone.

With each turn it became harder to remember the way I'd come. My mental map of Terminus was rapidly dissolving in confusion and contradiction. That panel of gauges and instruments on my right, had I seen one just like it or had I walked in a circle? Three turns later I had the same problem with a large turbine.

Though I'd begun in hot pursuit, I was now lost and wandering. Terminus was a maze of repeating patterns of identical machinery, all equally dirty and all so closely-packed one could never see far in any direction.

I needed a compass and, with the typhoon due to strike in minutes, I needed one fast. Suppose I took off my oxygen mask and sniffed very carefully. A horrific rotten egg odor would mean I was downwind of the H2S discharge. If the odor were merely intense, that would mean I was upwind.

The air, however, was clean and sweet. Did that mean a safety valve had turned off the H2S discharge and the wind had blown it all away? If so, I was still without a compass. I couldn't smell a thing ... or rather I couldn't smell anything bad. What I could smell was the incredibly appetizing aroma of FRESHLY BAKED BREAD! AND FRESHLY GROUND COFFEE! I WAS DOWNWIND OF THE KITCHEN!

Instantly my stomach shifted gears and demanded filling. As swiftly as if the heavenly scent were Ariadne's golden thread, I headed toward the kitchen.

What I found there was much more than just bread and coffee. A serving counter divided the room into cooking and eating areas. Seated at that counter were five of the six technicians who ran Terminus. None of them were breathing. Since they'd all been eating dinner, it was a safe guess that they'd been poisoned.

Apparently the poison had taken them all at more or less the same time at different stages of the meal. The poor wretch on the far right had died after eating a salad of finely shredded spinach leaves topped with bacon bits and vinigrette dressing. Sadly, he'd only started on the just baked roll in his hand.

The man next to him had fared somewhat better: after eating the salad, the roll and a French onion soup that had been topped with croutons and cheese and baked in a crock, he had expired while helping himself to appetizers on a large silver tray, a tray filled with large succulent shrimp, pieces of red beef seared on the outside, raw inside, touched with a Hollandaise sauce, Scallops Mornay and Parisienne, several tiny slices of liver wrapped in bacon, smeared with honey, and snails broiled in garlic butter, all beautifully arranged in concentric circles.

The poisoner's third victim had done even better. He'd had the good fortune to finish his salad, soup, appetizers and then begin the main course before passing on. On his plate were half-eaten portions of lobster in cream sauce, roast goose with orange glaze, crepes stuffed with chicken in Hong Kong lemon sauce, and wild duck pot roast with sour cream.

Great as his good fortune had been the last two men had done even better. Their empty dinner plates and half-full desert plates showed that after they'd enjoyed generous portions of all these magnificent courses, they'd dug into desert with gusto. The incredibly lucky bastards had been gorging themselves with baklava, dripping with honey, red raspberries in heavy cream, sliced apples, bananas, almonds and pecans cooked in honey, and a German Black Forest torte with alternating layers of whipped cream and chocolate cake topped with large shavings of milk chocolate!

Would the murderer really have been so totally inhumane as to poison all this food? Could anybody be that evil? Even somebody who was part of a plot to commit genocide? Wouldn't someone that monstrous still have the decency to just poison the wine and leave the food alone?

Unfortunately there was no wine bottle, poisoned or otherwise, to be seen. The poison had to be in the food and there was no way I could guess which dishes contained it.
DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!
If it were just my own life, maybe I could take a chance, but not with the lives of so many millions of people depending on me. With an effort of will greater than that of any comic-book superhero, I turned away from the grand and deadly feast.

Exiting the kitchen I found myself in a long corridor that doubled as a storeroom for paper goods, computer supplies, electronic components, and absolutely nothing edible. Despite my stomach's frantic demands, I needed to think more than I needed to eat. Ever since I'd arrived at Terminus, my adversary had been two steps ahead of me. To have any chance of winning I had to start anticipating his next moves.

A crew of six was enough for Terminus because nearly all of the work was done by a computer controlled system. Logically then I should expect that my opponent had already programmed the computer to release the hydrate at some predetermined time. I was facing a time bomb that was already fused and ticking, and the only man who could stop it was the one who'd started it. While that definitely complicated things, I still had the advantage that the enemy thought I was Lightningman. Maybe I could ‑‑

Abruptly, the heavenly aroma of great food I'd been struggling to ignore changed into the stench of burned meat. The wind had shifted. The new odor was coming from the door at the far end of this storeroom.

Moving very quietly, I approached the door. The burned meat stench was intense.
When someone might be waiting to shoot you on the other side of a door, the prudent way to go through it is fast and leaping to one side or the other. Unfortunately I couldn't do that. To be Lightningman, I had to act like Lightningman.

Pushing the door open, I boldly stepped through and saw that I'd been mistaken. I'd assumed that the person who'd shot at me and poisoned those five men had been a man. Not so. She was lying on the floor, gun in her limp hand, quite dead. She was a shocking sight because her head was gone, burned off as though it were as combustible as straw.

What were they putting in women's hair spray these days? I didn't know, but for sure it wasn't anything you should use if you were going to wear an oxygen mask.

Sister Elaine was standing at the far end of the room, a flare gun in her hand, and her face quite pale. "It's a terrible thing I did," she said, her eyes not quite focusing. "Helen Mary was a beautiful woman but she shouldn't have tried to shoot me."

Sister Elaine could not have known how truly terrible what she had just done was. A time bomb that would kill millions upon millions was ticking rapidly toward an apocalyptic catastrophe and she had killed the only person who knew how to defuse it!
 

Back to Episode 8....Into the Storm

On to Episode 10....Zen and the Art of Bomb Defusing


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!)