Nobody heard the whistling in the city sky until it was all over. This was business.
There were three gliders still in formation, heading in a wedge over midtown. Nine more were at a standstill fifteen to twenty feet over the roofs of nine major banks, each hovering under the power of a trio of small rotors on the points of the triangular kites. Waves of infra-sound beat downward from little plastic boxes on the pilots' legs. The one-man craft were masterpieces of simple design and fuel conservation. There was only one technician in the world with the talent and resources to design and build a squad of them. The pilots of the vehicles wore heavily padded outfits along with helmets that had a small monopole antenna over the left ear. Police helicopters—four of them—beat onto the scene with loudspeakers blasting.
"Attention—land your craft on the roof of the nearest building—" The three pilots in the three gliders still soaring toward their respective destinations laughed. They were the Queen's clipper ships against the Spanish Armada. They rode stallions while the police chased on the backs of dinosaurs.
"No charges will be pressed if you debark immediately—"
One of the three glider pilots banked left toward the Banco Internacionale building. His vehicle vanished and he found himself hanging eighty feet over the sidewalk, and he told himself he was going to die.
"If you do not cease unauthorized activity within ten seconds—"
The doomed pilot looked at the spinning sky and saw that the pilots of the two other gliders in his formation were following him down and their gliders were nowhere in sight. He looked down and in the time since he last saw the ground a huge red cloth had been stretched over the street with two corners tied around two lampposts.
"You will be fired upon—"
The pilot fell on the red cloth, and the two others followed. He was alive. The cloth gave way like a trampoline. He rolled across a red valley, felt himself bump into one of the other pilots, and tried to get to his knees. He felt nauseated.
"You have ten seconds—"
He saw the far ends of the cloth and what was holding onto the corners there. The man in blue. He felt the surface below him give way like a beach blanket as he was thrown by an irresistible wave against the sky and several times the pressure of normal gravity mashed his face in.
Superman calculated that the force with which he flung the three men into the air put their initial velocity at 160 feet per second. They would rise 400 feet into the sky and it would take them five seconds going up and five dropping back down. These thoughts flew through his head as he untied the corners of his red cape from the lampposts and fastened the clips inside his shirt as the cloth snapped back to its normal size. And the helicopter loudspeakers filled the air.
Superman directed a narrow blast of air between his two front teeth. A block away one of the three rotors keeping the glider stable began to spin too fast. The front end of the craft nosed down, dropping the pilot out. A red-and-blue streak drew a parabolic curve under the glider as Superman snatched the falling criminal from his fall.
As he swooped through the sky, the last son of Krypton threw a glance in the direction of a glider hovering over another bank building less than a block away. Banks were thicker in midtown than Cadillacs in Teheran. It was more than a glance that Superman shot at that glider. Its pilot felt unsteady; he looked up and saw his fiberglass kite crackling with intense heat over his head. It was bubbling, becoming disfigured into little globules of molten silicon that could not hold the wind, much less the pilot. As the craft began sailing into the nearest street the pilot made a whirling leap at the bank roof, hoping to land on a particularly padded part of his suit. He didn't land at all.
The flying man carried his two charges by their padded trousers up toward a high ledge of the Galaxy Building and set them down. The ledge was at the level of the building's air conditioning system, so the only way off was by air. On the way down Superman went into a 300-foot power dive at his new targets, his arms flung behind him like the wings of a falcon.
He swept between two gliders over two adjacent buildings at a speed just under mach one. The reduced air pressure in his wake dragged the two of them together before they could think. A blast of heat vision Superman tossed back over his shoulder fused the roof doors of the adjoining buildings closed. These two would have nowhere to escape.
The lunchtime crowds on the streets hadn't yet figured out what was going on overhead. And an irresistible force came barreling out of the sky at the thronged plaza faster than any eye could possibly follow. He banked toward a scrawny tree standing on the sidewalk in a four-foot round concrete flower pot. Arcing upward, he snatched the plant with him pot and all. By the time he was six stories above the ground he was moving slowly enough so that the pilot of the glider above could see him coming.
Seven down out of the dozen. The eighth knew what was coming and couldn't get out of the way. His kite was about to get caught in a tree. Superman pronged his prize like a jouster and continued upward to drop the pilot with the other two on the Galaxy Building ledge.
X-ray vision beamed at the earpiece of one pilot filled his head with hellish static. An ultrasonic squeal at the highest D-flat Superman could reach was the right pitch to vibrate another pilot's footrests and handlebars out of his grip. Once the two realized that they were disoriented they would fall to the roofs fifteen feet below them.
One of the last two pilots was a few blocks away. He could hear the police loudspeakers playing town crier and feel the diminishing of the vibrations his friends were sending at their assigned bank buildings. He had reached one hand down to a boot holster and was taking aim at the nearest police helicopter.
Superman caught the three .22 shells in his mouth like jellybeans and spat them out at the three guy lines connecting the pilot to his kite.
The pilot was unconscious on his back.
Superman quickly inspected the earphone attachments on the pilots with telescopic and x-ray vision. He had to be sure it was Luthor behind this. He threw his voice, disguised as Luthor's the way it would sound through a radio, at the left ear of the last remaining pilot. "Scrub the mission. Surrender to the police according to our contingency plan," said Luthor's voice.
Swinging over the city for the benefit of those on the ground who were finally catching on to what was taking place, the Man of Steel caught one at a time the three pilots tossed into the air ten seconds ago. They were mercifully unconscious.
And when the police in the four helicopters went to open fire they found, to their surprise, that there wasn't a glider left in the sky. They would collect three suspects from a ledge of the Galaxy Building, three unconscious under a potted tree on the plaza, two in a pile of crashed fiberglass on one roof, and so forth, each armed with a .22-caliber pistol whose firing pin was melted like grilled cheese.
Janet Terry, the new girl in the newsroom, had the presence of mind to get a camera at the window to catch the tail of Superman's performance. Someone always did. By the time Clark Kent walked into the newsroom with a detailed account, the place was a volcano of activity.
Lombard was in the corner of the room with his feet on the desk smiling as somebody frantically answered the phone and somebody bit a pencil in half as a bulletin came over the newswire and somebody pounded out new copy and somebody demanded that at least one phone line be kept free. Steve had nothing to do until his interview subject showed up.
"Steve, will you talk to me?" Clark asked.
"I'll tell you anything you want to hear."
"What's going on here?"
"Jimmy called up from Princeton and everybody went bazonkas."
"Why? Did you get Superman on film?"
"Sure sure sure. Hey, do you have any idea why he always manages to pick the emergency that's going on near a TV camera?"
"Will you stop it? What did Jimmy say?"
"Well, y'see, it seems there's a big joke on Superman."
"Yeah. While Luthor's guys were keeping him busy playing tag the boss was down in Princeton stealing the papers from Albert Einstein's vault. Pretty funny, huh?"
"Stole the papers from Einstein. You don't hear too good, do you, Clarkie?"
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