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Mr. Barker introduces the most skewed super hero you will ever meet…




Captain Infinity’s Last Rescue




Lawrence Barker


No sooner had the van stalled than a cold November gust plastered a ragged Foremost City Trumpet to its windshield. ‘Captain Infinity Saves Jumper’, the headline said. Twenty-five letters, Block Dyer counted. Then the wind carried away the newspaper, with its photograph of a caped man catching a falling figure. 

“Holy Mother of God,” Torte whispered. Torte’s dark eyes locked on the carnivorous corpses shambling from the deserted downtown’s shadows. “There’s a hundred of them.” Block followed his brother Torte’s gaze to a housecoated and curlered woman with a hamburger face. A Marine in ragged dress blues followed. Then came a toddler with broken glass porcupining its torso, then more.  

Block frowned. Torte was smarter than Mars Mentor, Foremost City’s super-genius billionaire. Did Mars Mentor have a shoebox housing a little piece of infin-ite, the only thing that hurt Captain Infinity? Well, Torte did. Torte had scavenged the precious mineral from one of the Tarantella family’s failed traps for Captain Infinity. Block patted the box on the seat between them, and the glowing purple infin-ite within made his fingers warm and tingly. Maybe Torte was even as smart as Captain Infinity, who was supposed to have had the world’s best brain. Smart or not, Torte was wrong. “Not a hundred. Just thirteen,” Block said. His hands rested on his rounded middle. 

A one-armed zombie in a Mentor Enterprises jumpsuit fumbled with the van’s door. The sickly sweet zombie stench wafted through the bullet holes in the back, left from Torte’s days with the Tarantellas.

Torte slammed the ‘lock’ button. “Start the engine,” Torte ordered. Perspiration covered Torte’s upper lip. “Do it!” 

Block smiled. Torte used to sweat like that while waiting for the last card. Block’s counting meant that Torte usually got 21, a winner. Torte had sweated anyway. Happy memories.

“What are you waiting for?” Torte gripped his semi-automatic pistol. The magazine held nine shells, his pockets 23. Block had counted. “Start the van!” Torte demanded.

Block nodded and turned the key. The engine growled and died. Block tried again. Same result.

The Marine climbed the van’s roof. The thin metal buckled beneath him.

Block turned to his brother. “You ain’t mad, are you?” Block asked. “I know it’s my fault the others made us go look for more propane.” Images of the four men and three women who shared their unfinished department store lair filled Block’s mind. Block hadn’t meant to leave the tap open, to lose the gas the nice construction workers had left behind. Block needed to know that Torte knew. Block leaned over until Torte’s breath warmed his face. “Say you ain’t mad.” Desperation filled Block’s voice. “Please!”

“Jesus!” Torte snapped. “The crap I put up with!” Housecoat plastered herself across the windshield. Torte closed his eyes as though gathering himself. “We got to make a break,” he grunted. 

“But what about the van?”

“Screw the van.” Torte gestured toward Housecoat. “They get in, it’s over. You understand?” Block nodded. “Good,” Torte answered, gun and infin-ite in hand. His eyes scanned the deserted downtown, wistfully pausing on the distant Mentor Tower -- word was that Mars Mentor had electricity and plumbing, like the old days. It was, supposedly, better than anything on Golden Row, Foremost City’s pre-zombie ritzy district.

Torte’s gaze settled on a board-windowed ex-florist’s shop. Piled concrete blocks made it a fortress. The open door, visible through a break in the blocks, said that the owner was long gone.

“We hole up there.” Torte motioned toward the shop. He brandished his gun. “You packing?” Block waved his six pound hammer. One blow could nail any zombie -- except one. “On the three count,” Torte said. “Just don’t get bit. One,” Torte counted. “Two.” Block counted along. “Three,” Torte said. He burst from the van. Block followed.

Torte planted a bullet in Housecoat’s forehead. The zombie moaned and collapsed. Block’s hammer smashed One-arm’s head. The glass-punctured toddler lunged at Block, and Torte kicked it away. Torte dashed forward, short and fat Block straining to keep up.

They had almost reached safety when a green glowing sideways figure eight descended toward them. “Look, Torte!” Block cried. Torte looked and said a very bad word.

A figure in purple tights and wind-whipped ragged green cape descended. Dried blood and scorch marks blurred the green sideways figure eight on its chest. A tattered mask hung about the figure’s neck. One ear dangled by a thread; the other was missing. The flying figure eight joined the other six that circled the figure’s head, like racecars around a track. The flying man landed atop the concrete blocks and assumed a dramatic pose.

“Captain Infinity,” Block cried. Or at least it had been. Then the Infinite Eyes -- the little figure eights that told the Captain what he needed to know -- had located a bomb about to snuff the DA. Captain Infinity had rushed to the rescue. But the Infinite Eyes had missed a detail. The bomb, loaded with infin-ite gas, blew up as the Captain arrived. That was zombie day one -- maybe all that infin-ite gas was what made them rise. Captain Infinity hadn’t gotten pulped like the DA and her staff. The explosion had killed him though, and Captain Infinity became zombie number one.

Captain Infinity’s incoherent moan dragged Block back to the present. The Captain fell behind the concrete blocks, as though he tried to fly but forgot how -- zombies sometimes remembered something of their former lives, sometimes not. Then he burst through and lurched forward.

Torte placed two bullets in Captain Infinity’s forehead. They affected the dead Captain like they would have the live one: not at all. 

“What’ll we do?” Block gulped.

“Pray this works,” Torte answered. He dropped his gun and whipped out the infin-ite.

Captain Infinity’s blackened lips quivered. The Captain slumped, as though a mighty effort had just come to nothing, then lurched forward.

“Run!” Torte commanded. Before Block could refuse to  abandon Torte, Torte shoved the infin-ite into the Captain's face. For an instant, Captain Infinity’s eyes looked almost alive. He vocalized what sounded like ‘knee oar’. Then he flew away.

Torte collapsed to his knees. “I can’t believe it,” he whispered. “We beat Captain Infinity.”

“Torte!” Block cried. Torte turned. The toddler zombie, momentarily forgotten, sank its teeth into Torte’s shoulder. Torte howled in pain.

Block’s hammer pulped the zombie’s head. But a bite meant death. Block moaned in misery.

A diesel engine rumbled from around the corner. The rumble came closer. Block turned and forgot about the unseen vehicle. Ten zombies -- Block counted -- shambled toward them. Could Torte drop them? No, the Marine had Torte’s pistol. Maybe he held the barrel instead of the grip, but the pistol remained unreachable. Block raised his hammer. “I’ll take them,” he muttered.

Torte rose, shoulder dripping blood. “Save yourself.” Torte handed Block the infin-ite and readied himself to lunge. “I’m already dead.” 

Before Block could respond, a half-track, bearing a Mentor Enterprises insignia, rounded the corner. Atop rode a tall man in goggles, an aviator helmet, and a Mentor Enterprises jumpsuit. He leaned on a fixed-piece machine gun.

The machine gun growled. Torte shoved Block down, shielding Block with his own body. The zombies’ heads burst beneath the stings of a swarm of lead hornets. Jumpsuit  pulled up his goggles and squinted, eyes shark cold. “Torte Dyer?” he asked.       

What looked like hope filled Torte’s face. “Lucas Stang! I never thought I’d see you again.”

Block frowned. Mr. Stang had visited Torte often back in pre-zombie days. When Stang appeared, Torte had sent Block away. “The Tarantellas don’t want no retard in their business,” Stang used to say. After Stang’s visits, Torte would vanish and, when he got back, never explain what he had done. Sure, Torte had seen that Block was cared for in his absence. But Torte would be gone for days. Block liked that even less than being called a retard.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Stang told Torte. “After Tony Tarantella zombied out and ate the Don, Foremost City’s wise guy action tanked.” He nodded toward the half-track’s painted emblem. “I hooked up with Mentor,” Stang continued. “Mr. Mentor sealed up his tower snake slick.” Stang gestured toward the tower, perched on the horizon like a vulture ready to pick the ruined city. “Mentor’s got a big deal going. Maybe even get things back on their feet.” 

Three flint-eyed men emerged from the half-track. Stang drew a metal box from his jumpsuit. He turned a dial, four clicks to the right and five to the left. Stang looked back up at Torte.

“Mars Mentor’s little gadget here,” Stang said, with a nod toward the box, “says you got a chunk of infin-ite.” The flint-eyed men leveled guns at Torte. “I’ll be relieving you of it,” Stang continued.

Torte shivered. Block swallowed hard. Zombie bit folks changed fast.

“My brother wouldn’t last a minute by himself,” Torte told Stang. Torte took a step toward the half-track, then shivered again; it looked more like misery than zombie bite. “This is a dying man begging,” Torte said. “A man who didn’t squeal to the feds about ... .” He finished in Italian. Torte had picked up the language fast; more of Torte’s smarts. “Take the infin-ite,” Torte continued, “but watch over my brother.”

Block hung his head. When they were boys, Block was  good for nothing but counting. Eventually, he learned to be good for driving too. But Torte had always looked after him. Could Block never repay him?

Stang’s eyes narrowed. He produced a cell phone and muttered into it.

Block pursed his lips. Cell phones had conked out long ago. Could Mr. Mentor make them work? Block shook his head. Torte couldn’t, so no one could. Stang was just fooling them. That’s all. 

“Your sure?” Stang said into the phone. After the inaudible answer, Stang replaced the phone. “I do what you ask,” he told Torte, “and the debt between us is paid.”

“Paid,” Torte replied. He turned to Block. “Give him the infin-ite.”

“But Torte ... .”

“No questions. Go.”

Block cast his eyes down. Torte knew best. Block’s fingers went limp. His hammer clattered on the pavement. He climbed the half-track and handed Stang the infin-ite.

Stang grabbed the purple stone and pointed the metal box. “Exactly what Mr. Mentor needs,” he muttered, and pocketed the stone. “You want to be one of them?” he asked Torte, nodding toward the shattered zombies.

“Do it,” Torte answered.

Stang nodded. The flint-eyed men’s guns spoke. Block opened his mouth to scream, but nothing emerged. He couldn’t even count shots. Torte fell.

Had Torte’s head shattered, so he wouldn’t rise? Not that Block recalled. It had to have, though. Why else would Stang have had him shot? But there had to have been another way. Torte would have figured one out. Filled with an ache worse than miscounting eleven as thirteen, Block rode the half-track toward the Mentor Tower.

Block barely remembered being admitted to Mentor’s fortified compound. Once, he would have clapped in wonder at the glowing electric lights and whirring computers. He would have stared in amazement at the women’s clean and styled hair. He would have danced with glee at a shower and clean clothes. Now, he didn’t even notice the glowing-helmeted zombies who provided Mentor Tower’s labor. 

Block soon found himself, along with Stang, seated at a long wooden table in a room with polished floors. A door on the room’s far side slid open, and a three-piece suited figure appeared. Block could not fail to recognize the famed black widow’s peak and steel-blue eyes, the equally well-known lanky frame -- Mars Mentor himself. Block was so flustered that he barely noticed the female zombie with Mr. Mentor, or her tight Mentor Enterprises jumpsuit and helmet covered with flashing lights.

Block sat up straight. Three buttons on Mr. Mentor’s jacket. Six stripes on his tie. Eight lights on the zombie’s helmet. Two rings on her left hand, one on the right. If Block tried, he could stop thinking about Torte

-- for a minute or two.

“Good day, Mr. Dyer.” False warmth filled Mentor’s voice. The door slid shut behind him. “I trust our accommodations are satisfactory.”

“It’s OK,” Block answered.

“I’ll get to the point,” Mentor continued. “Would you like to see the zombie problem solved?”

Block frowned. “How?”

Mars Mentor chuckled. “You get to the point too. I like that.” He nodded toward the zombie. “As you have surely noticed, I have tamed the beast.” He produced a scalpel and handed it to the zombie. “Slice off your  hand,” he commanded.

With no hesitation besides a pained expression, the zombie struck. The blade bit her left wrist, stopping at the bone.

“That’s enough,” Mentor ordered. The zombie halted.  “Obedient, and they pose no risk,” he assured Block. “Bite me,” he ordered the zombie. Block gasped. The zombie took one step toward Mentor and collapsed, spasming. “Any attempt to harm a human, and the machine that controls them,” Mars Mentor said, tapping the helmet with his foot, “overwhelms their nervous systems.” Mentor bent over the zombie. “Rise,” he ordered. The zombie stopped twitching, and got back to her feet.

“How’s that fix things?” Block asked.

Mentor flashed a barracuda’s smile. “Very perceptive of you. I explored, and rejected, taming half the zombies and sending them to battle the rest.” He came a bit closer. “One properly chosen zombie will suffice.”

Block tugged at his collar. Had the room gotten warmer? “Captain Infinity?”

Mars Mentor nodded. “That’s why I need all of Foremost City’s infin-ite, yours included.”

“To defeat Captain Infinity?”

“To power a machine the likes of which the world has never seen,” Mars Mentor said. “The ranged zombie control device, or ZCD, will make Captain Infinity join my cause.” His eyes glittered. “Once I recast the infin-ite into a gaseous state, all will be ready.”

Block’s eyes narrowed. “I only heard of infin-ite gas once.” His fingers drummed the table. “You made the bomb that killed the Captain?”

“With Captain Infinity behind us,” Mentor said, ignoring the question, “Foremost City’s free zombies will soon be history. My circle of control -- er, I mean, the zombie-free zone -- will widen over the continent, maybe beyond.”

Block noticed the slip, but said nothing. Sometimes he wasn’t as stupid as people thought. “How you going to get Captain Infinity here?”

Mentor nodded to the zombie. She produced a metal cylinder with sideways figure eights on it.

Block’s eyes widened. “The Infinity Signal,” he gasped -- the device the Mayor had once used to summon Captain Infinity. “How’d you get it?”

Mentor’s lips closed in a tight grin. “One push of the button,” he said, again ignoring a question, “will bring our Captain. Given an appropriately endangered innocent, his old instincts will reawaken. He’ll come to the rescue, bringing him within ZCD range.” He leaned over, hands resting on the table. Mr. Mentor’s aftershave smelled of juniper and leather. “That’s where you come in. A truck will be parked atop the tower, with you in it. When the Captain appears, you drive toward the tower’s edge.”

Block pushed himself back. “Eighty seven stories is a long way down.”

“Toward, not over,” Mentor soothed. “Even if you fell, Captain Infinity would save you.” 

Block nodded. At the florist’s shop, had the Captain been trying to rescue him and his brother before his hunger took over?

“You needn’t fear him turning on you,” Mentor continued. “My ZCD, powered by the largest amount of infin-ite gas ever assembled, will render him docile.” Mentor’s eyes were dots of polished coal. “You are in?”

“Why me?”

“Who knows what memories a mind as powerful as Captain Infinity’s might retain? The Captain and I had certain ... differences.”

“You mean you were a bad guy.”

Mentor shrugged. “If you so choose. You are the only innocent here that he would be certain to rescue. Your driving skills might facilitate pretending to drive onto empty space.” 

Block shook his head. He gestured toward Stang. “He killed Torte, and he’s with you. I won’t help.”

Mentor stood back and crossed his arms. “I thought you might feel that way.” He nodded. The door opened again. A helmeted zombie, chest stitched with gunfire, staggered in.

“Torte,” Block whispered. The leather strap on Torte’s helmet bit the flesh so deeply that Block cringed at the sight of it.  

Mentor’s fingers curled into claws. “Although they rarely show it, I assure you that the dead feel pain.” He nodded at Stang. “My associates know much about inflicting pain.”

Block closed his eyes. He counted to one hundred. He opened his eyes. “I’ll do as you say,” he whispered.

“Excellent,” Mentor replied.

The next few moments were a whirl. Block was taken to the Mentor Tower’s roof, shown the ZCD and its cylinders of infin-ite gas. He witnessed zombie workers put finishing touches on what resembled a giant upward-facing flashlight, ready to light the evening sky. He was shown more infin-ite gas in the back of a panel truck -- to weaken Captain Infinity so the ZCD would work, Mentor said. Then he was plopped in the truck’s cab.

“Remember,” Mentor warned Block. “Your brother pays if you fail.” Mentor stationed Torte where Block could see him, as a reminder, then disappeared into the Mentor Tower.

Block’s unfocused eyes stared out over the city. A crescent moon, the color of spoiled salmon, lit the empty streets and burned out blocks. “Ready to begin,” Mentor’s voice crackled over the speaker.

“Ready,” Block echoed, voice without tone. He fastened the seatbelt.

“Engaging the Infinity Signal now,” Mentor replied. A beam of white light shot from the flashlight into the darkening sky. Block felt as though he had an instant sunburn; too close to the Infinity Signal, he guessed. 

A flying figure, outlined against the moon, zipped by. Block glanced at Torte and turned the key. The ignition roared to life. Block swallowed hard and nudged the gas pedal. The truck jerked as though Block had floored it. Burning rubber filled the air.

Was the truck rigged to run at top speed no matter what Block did? Block slammed the brake pedal without effect. The tires caught and the truck rocketed into empty space. Block bounced forward, seatbelt barely holding. For an awful moment, he hung over nearly a thousand feet of emptiness. Then he stopped falling.

Captain Infinity’s dead face stared through the window. The Captain had caught the truck. Without apparent effort, he flew toward the rooftop.

The truck’s automated controls clicked to life, spraying infin-ite gas. Block’s eyes locked on the Captain’s. Captain Infinity’s lips opened. A moan that sounded like ‘knee oar’ emerged. The Captain had said that before. What did it mean?

Falling back on old habits, Block counted. Four buttons on his shirt. Five lights on Torte’s helmet. Six Infinite Eyes. Block’s hands clenched tight. Where was the missing seventh Infinite Eye?

A purple glow formed around the ZCD, as though it were about to fire. The glow grew brighter.

The missing Infinite Eye appeared before Block. An electric current ran through him. Understanding -- maybe from the Infinite Eye, maybe from within -- struck Block with near physical force. Captain Infinity was trying to communicate. ‘Knee oar’ was ‘need more’.

“At bright,” the Captain moaned, as though the Infinite Eye gave him a window into Block’s mind. “Knee oar into night.” 

‘At bright’ was ‘that’s right’. ‘Into night’ was ‘infin-ite’. Captain Infinity needed more infin-ite. “Put the truck down,” Block shouted. The Captain obeyed.

Block steered toward the ZCD, now so bright that Block could barely look at it. “Goodbye, Torte,” Block whispered, hoping his brother wouldn’t suffer too much because of what he was about to do. The truck shot forward, Captain Infinity holding on with limpet-like grip.

The truck slammed into the ready-to-fire ZCD. The ZCD buckled, filling the air with infin-ite gas. The truck telescoped, surrounding Block with more gas. A stabbing pain tore at Block’s chest. He experienced something like he imagined a lightning bolt would feel. Then there was nothing.

When Block regained consciousness, he had no idea how much time had passed. He stood on the roof. Captain Infinity sprawled at his feet. Block prodded him. The Captain did not react.

“This was unexpected,” Mentor’s voice said. “But a development we can still put to use.” Block looked up. There was Mentor, with Stang several paces behind. Stang cradled a gun with a bore the size of a man’s fist.

Block followed Mentor’s gaze to something above Block’s head. Block gasped as he realized that his arms supported, without effort, a ton and a half of wrecked truck. Startled, he felt himself rise. He hovered above the roof, carrying the truck without effort. He sat back down and gingerly placed the truck at his feet.

Block flexed his fingers. The best he could describe how he felt was that he had grown both heavier and lighter.  No, that wasn’t right. Maybe that he weighed more without getting bigger, but carried that weight without effort?  “What’s happened to me?” he asked.

“I don’t yet fully understand,”  Mentor continued, “but the ZCD and the infin-ite gas have somehow transferred what made Captain Infinity special to you, as well as leaving the Captain an ordinary corpse.” Mentor chuckled. “What Captain Infinity once was, Block Dyer now is.”

Block glanced at the purple cloud vanishing in the distance. The wind had carried the infin-ite gas away. Maybe Mentor didn’t understand. He had a feeling that Captain Infinity had, though.

“With guidance,” Mentor continued, “you can do a better job of setting Foremost City back on track than Captain Infinity ever could.” He came closer. “Of course you needn’t work without compensation. The best of everything will be yours, and you will contain the zombie menace.” He reached out a hand. “We have a deal?”

Block frowned. If he had Captain Infinity’s powers, where were the Infinite Eyes? At the thought, the seven  figure eights -- he counted, not because it was all he could do, but because he liked counting -- circled his head.

One Infinite Eye shot away and slid past Mentor. The Eye told Block that Mentor mumbled ‘is he buying it?’ beneath his breath. The Infinite Eye shot past Stang. The Infinite Eye let Block smell Stang’s nervous sweat. Stang stood ready to, at trouble’s first sign, fire that cannon that he carried. The weapon would have shaken the old Captain Infinity. What would it do to him? Block didn’t know, and the Infinite Eye moved on before he could think it through. It stopped before Torte. 

“I can sweeten the deal. Where have you been living?” Mentor added. “The zombie crisis has left Golden Row’s finest mansions unoccupied.” He winked conspiratorially. “Who better to have them all than the new Captain Infinity?”    

Block staggered beneath the blinding pain that the Infinite Eye transmitted. He felt the waves of burning agony that the helmet sent through Torte’s dead frame! Beyond the helmet, lay gnawing, aching zombie hunger.

Block had no choice. He had to act.  

Block could scarcely believe how fast he could move. In a single heartbeat, he had bent Stang’s cannon double.  He yanked Torte’s helmet away and threw it aside.

Now free, Torte tried to bite Block. Block didn’t mind. Zombie Torte didn’t know any better, and couldn’t break Block’s skin anyway. Not now.

Mentor and Stang turned and ran. Block grabbed them both. For an instant, he wondered if this was right. He shook his head. How could it not be?

“Dinner!” Block’s voice rose above Mentor and  Stang’s cries.

Torte shambled forward. His teeth soon silenced Mentor and Stang. As Torte fed, the Infinite Eyes let Block feel Torte’s aching hunger fall back -- not vanish, but simply retreat.

Block shook his head. Keeping that hunger at bay would not be easy. He knew of seven meals for Torte hiding in a department store. After that, Foremost City was Torte’s buffet. Whatever Torte needed.

“I’ll take care of you,” Block soothed. “Always.” Block smiled. Try as he might, he could not count the ways that he could and would repay his brother for his years of care.