At the boundary between atmosphere and exosphere, a star ship skims, carrying the Protector of the Universe, Wendell “Quasar” Vaughn and his new companions, the Squadron Supreme, heroes not of this earth, back to planet Earth after a several day sojourn at the core of the galaxy. Standing atop of the star ship, Wendell gazes down at the planet below and tells himself that is sure is fun riding shotgun like this, and that it never fails to give him gooseflesh seeing Earth from this vantage point. Suddenly, something flashes past the star ship. ‘Holy Shinola - whatever it was, it passed us like we were standing still’ Wendell tells himself, while his Quantum Bands light up, alerting him to the fact that something extra terrestrial has penetrated his Earth surveillance web.
Wendell tries to get a fix on the energy and contacts everyone aboard the ship. ‘Hey, Spectrum - you pick up that thing that just buzzed us?’ Quasar asks Doctor Spectrum who is piloting the vessel. ‘Yeah, what is it?’ Doctor Spectrum replies, while some of his teammates in the Squadron Supreme - the winged Lady Lark, the heroic Power Princess, the mighty Hyperion, the super fast Whizzer and the glamorous Arcanna Jones - turn their attention to him. Accompanying them is the Eternal known as Makkari. Quasar tells Doctor Spectrum that he doesn’t know what it was, and explains that he was looking right at it, but couldn’t tell much, except that it looked vaguely humanoid.
Doctor Spectrum asks Quasar if he wants him to do another orbit while Quasar checks it out, but Wendell tells him not to, for as fast as it was, there is not telling how long it would take him to catch up with it. Suddenly, the energy readings come back, and Quasar announces that there are tachyons galore. ‘Figures’ Wendell remarks, while back inside the vessel, Makkari asks if Quasar said something about some body fast. ‘Yeah, he did. Somebody or something’ Doctor Spectrum replies. Gazing down at Earth, Quasar sees North America ahead of them and suggests that they land back on terra firma. ‘Copy that, Quasar. Initiate landing sequence’ Doctor Spectrum reports back.
As the star ship approaches Project Pegasus, Quasar guides it down, and thinks to himself that this has been the longest he has been off Earth since getting back from Uranus almost a year ago. Wendell hopes that whatever buzzed the ship doesn’t mean trouble. ‘I could use some catch up time’ Wendell thinks, before radioing Doctor Spectrum once more, asking him to contact the boys at Project Pegasus and to tell them that they will be using their parking lot as a landing strip.
Soon, after an uneventful landing and disembarking, a Project Pegasus scientist, several guards, and the remaining Squadron Supreme members - Haywire and the Shape - join everyone on the makeshift landing strip. Quasar, his cape still in tatters from the recent adventure, takes to the air almost immediately, and tells everyone that he hates to land and run, but that he has a whole lot of stuff to attend to, the most pressing of which is checking out the gremlin that dive-bombed them. Doctor Spectrum tells Quasar that when he is done with that, he should see a tailor about a new cape, while Hyperion asks Quasar to let them know the moment he can get hold of Reed Richards or Dr Strange. ‘We’re all quite anxious to get back to our home dimension’ Hyperion points out. ‘Will do! Take it easy, ex-squad!’ Quasar calls out as he flies off, while the Shape exclaims that he is glad his teammates are back.
Suddenly, ‘Wait - for - meeeee!’ Makkari calls out as he rushes after Quasar - even literally running on air. ‘Don’t look now, Mak m’man, but you’re running on air’ Quasar points out. ‘For a couple hundred feet, sure - which ought to be just far enough to get me to the Hudson River!’ Makkari calls out, as le literally runs on water as he and Quasar pass the Hudson River. ‘Pretty smooth, fleet-foot’ Quasar calls out, while Makkari remarks that Quasar has been sounding really upbeat since their little trip to the Stranger’s world. ‘What’s the scam, man?’ he asks. The men are in a gully now, with Makkari running as Quasar flies overhead.
In answer to Makkari’s question, Wendell explains that holding his own against all those cosmic cornballs gave him a large confidence boost. ‘Groovy! So you got a better idea of what that hyper-fast flying object was?’ Makkari enquires. Wendell replies that he doesn’t, before revealing that he has a fix on where it entered the atmosphere, and what its trajectory was, which might help. ‘What’s your big interest?’ Wendell asks his friend. ‘Speed’s my life, man. If there’s something fast happening on this big blue marble of ours, I want to know about it’ Makkari replies. Suddenly, a man seemingly entire gold, wearing only a loincloth appears alongside Makkari. ‘Hi, there, humans! Looking for something?’ the golden man asks. ‘Huh?’ Makkari mutters. ‘Where’d he come from?’ Quasar wonders, surprised.
The golden being introduces himself as the Runner, and explains that he is one of the Elders of the Universe. ‘If you know who they are’ he adds, explaining that like all his spiritual brethren, he has devoted his life to a single pursuit - in his case, the thrill of the body in motion. He reveals that for eons he has traversed the universe seeking out the fastest entities he could find and challenging them to a race, such is his passion, and his purpose. ‘I hear tell your world has a handful of pretty fast movers. Any idea where I can find them?’ the Runner enquires. ‘You’re looking at the fastest, golden boy’ Makkari boasts. ‘Am I now? How interesting!’ the Runner replies, before telling Makkari that he cannot just take his word for it. ‘Deeds are what count, not words, wouldn’t you say?’ he asks, before enquiring as to whether Makkari would like to put his legs on the line and running a little race. ‘Any time, any place…’ Makkari replies.
‘Good! Good!’ the Runner exclaims. ‘But not now, not here. There are several others of this world’s denizens I wish to contact as well’ the Runner declares, informing Makkari that he will be in touch with him as to the particulars. He tells Makkari that it has been nice running with him, before veering off in another direction at an incredible speed. ‘Great Zuras!’ Makkari gasps, as he comes to a halt, astonished at the Runner’s speed. Suddenly, Quasar encases he and Makkari in a floating quantum globe: ‘Earth to Makkari! You can’t expect to keep skimming across the water when you suddenly slow down like that’ Wendell points out as he ensures that his friend doesn’t fall into the water.
‘Fast…he went so fast…’ Makkari mutters, before Quasar offers to give him a lift back to the city. Encased in the quantum globe, both men soar back towarda the city, while Quasar remarks that the Runner called Makkari by name, even though Makkari never introduced himself to him. ‘Either your reputation precedes you, or he’s telepathic’ Quasar suggests. ‘Man, do I ever want to win that race!’ Makkari exclaims, while Quasar tells him to be careful, as there may be more to it than just a race. ‘A few of my fellow Avengers had run-ins - no pun intended - with these so called Elders’ Wendell reveals, adding that they are a treacherous lot with all sorts of ulterior motives. ‘If I were you, I’d think twice before consenting to -’ Wendell begins, but Makkari frowns and declares that5 he has got to prove that he is the fastest man on Earth, no matter what.
‘You keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn’t pull a fast one…all I want to worry about is running rings around that yellow yahoo!’ Makkari exclaims. Wendell tells Makkari that he can see how much this means to him, and agrees to watch his back for him. Wendell suggests they stick together until this race comes off, and informs Makkari that he can stay with him at his dad’s house, as there is a guest bedroom. ‘What do you say?’ Wendell asks. ‘Fine’ mutters Makkari. Quasar decides that with everything the two of them have been through in the past few days, he thinks he can trust Makkari with his civilian identity.
Soon, it is night time in Fairfield, Connecticut. A blinding light signals the arrival of Quasar and Makkari, and Wendell informs Makkari that relations with his father have been somewhat strained lately, but that his dad is basically a real good person. Entering the house, Wendell tells Makkari that he is sure his father will like him. ‘The more bizarre my friends are the more he likes them’ Wendell adds, but gets no response, so he quickly tells Makkari he was joking. There are no lights on, so Wendell supposes that his father has gone to bed. He switches the kitchen light on, and sees his father, sitting at the kitchen table. ‘What are you doing sitting here in the dark?’ Wendell asks his father, who replies that he couldn’t rest. Quasar ignores the comment and introduces his father to Makkari, explaining that he is an Eternal, an evolutionary spin-off from humanity. ‘He’s the…fastest man on Earth’ Wendell adds, before informing Makkari that his father is an astrophysicist.
‘Pleased to meet you, Sir’ Makkari announces, extending his hand to shake Mr Vaughn’s, but Wendell’s father just sits there. ‘Yes’ he replies. Wendell smiles and shakes his head, thinking that his father seems out of it. ‘Is he still miffed at me, or what?’ Wendell wonders, before telling his father that if he doesn’t mind, Makkari will stay in the guest room for a few days. Mr Vaughn replies that he doesn’t mind. ‘Great!’ Wendell exclaims. ‘Wait’ll I tell you what I’ve been up to, Dad. You’re going to want to get out your xenological notebook, that’s for sure’ Wendell declares, before deciding to call it a night. ‘See you in the morning, Dad’ Wendell calls out as he leads Makkari out of the kitchen. ‘Good night, Sir’ Makkari says. ‘Yes…good night…’ Mr Vaughn replies, never moving from his position seated at the kitchen table. What Quasar didn’t see however, was two alien tentacles connected to his father….
The next morning, after a commute into New York City, inside Four Freedom’s Plaza, Wendell, dressed in a suit, informs Makkari, dressed in shorts and a casual shirt, that this is where he works during the day, as he runs his own company, a security consultants firm. He tells Makkari that he will introduce him to his employees, but asks him not to mention that he is Quasar, as they don’t know. ‘I dig’ Makkari replies as they enter the office. ‘Hi, people!’ Wendell calls out. ‘Mr Vaughn, where have you been the past few days - I’ve been going out of my mind trying to reach you!’ Kayla Ballantine exclaims urgently. Wendell just replies that he was called away on unexpected business. ‘You know, the usual!’ he adds. Ken Tanaka informs Wendell that they have been swamped, and informs him that Miss Steckley seems to have taken a powder.
‘She has?’ Wendell asks, before introducing Kayla and Ken to Makkari. Wendell claims that he is a new buddy of his and that his name is Mike Karhy. ‘Put it there, Mike’ Ken calls out, extending his hand to shake Makkari’s. Kayla smiles, and thinks to herself ‘Mmm. He’s almost as cute as Mr Vaughn’, before Wendell asks what is going on with Miss Steckley. Ken explains that two days ago, they returned from lunch, and Miss Steckley was simply gone, and they have not heard from her since. ‘That’s odd. She seemed so conscientious’ Wendell remarks, before Ken informs Wendell that while he was away, Miss Steckley insisted on working in his office. ‘I tried to stop her, but -’ Ken adds, while Wendell exclaims ‘My…office!’, and excuses himself from everyone as he enters his office, claiming that he needs to use the facilities. ‘Again? You just went’ Makkari remarks.
Wendell closes his office door behind him and opens the passageway into Eon’s star chamber, hoping that Miss Steckley didn’t find the passageway that resides behind a bookcase. Wendell wonders if Miss Steckley was the cosmic assassin who came to kill his mentor, and realizes that he has not checked in with eon in over 24 hours. ‘I assumed he’d contact me if something was wrong. What if -’ Wendell begins, but as he enters the star chamber, he discovers that Eon has vanished. ‘EON!’ Wendell booms. Suddenly, ‘Yes, my protector?’ the alien being asks as it materializes before Wendell. ‘Whew! You nearly gave me a heart attack. What were you doing so small?’ Wendell inquires.
‘All size is relative’ Eon replies matter-of-factly. ‘I guess so’ Wendell replies, before asking if everything is cool on the home front. ‘Yes. “Cool”’ Eon replies. ‘Great’ Wendell replies, before informing Eon that he has just returned from the Stranger’s world. ‘And man, you should have seen what happened there’ Wendell adds. ‘You are referring to your saving the lives of a billion Watchers, I would imagine’ Eon states. ‘Yeah! How’d you know?’ Wendell asks. ‘I believe I mentioned to you that I keep abreast of the activities of cosmic class entities’ Eon reminds Wendell. ‘Oh, yeah. Well, I just wanted to tell you that I feel really good with that victory under my belt’ Wendell exclaims, adding that he finally feels like he is up to being protector.
As he heads for the door back to his office, he asks Eon what he knows about an Elder named the Runner. Eon reveals that the Runner is one of the more harmless of the thousand or so Elders that he is aware of. ‘That’s good to know’ Wendell replies, before excusing himself, as he has people waiting for him. ‘See you later’ he tells Eon, as Eon’s large yellow eye examines a high-heeled shoe that floats past him. A tentacle then grabs the shoe, and Eon shoves it into his mouth.
Later that day, in the Mid-Atlantic, Makkari speeds across the ocean, telling himself that Quasar did some checking up on the Runner, and that as far as he is concerned, the Runner is harmless. That is fine by Makkari, as he would hate to get his hopes up that he is going to run a fair race with the guy, only to have him cheat. Makkari wonders who the other fast folk the Runner said he was going to contact are, and adds that other than the Squadron’s Whizzer, he is not aware of anybody else in his league. Suddenly, ‘Training for the big race, are we?’ the Runner asks as he speeds up alongside Makkari. The Runner tells Makkari that he has good form, but motioning to his clenched fists, suggests he relax them a bit, as tight fists only diverts energy from where he really needs it. ‘See?’ the Runner asks, demonstrating.
‘Grrr’ Makkari thinks to himself. ‘I’ve had it with this alien doing his superiority number on me’ Makkari decides, feeling that it is time he ditched the Runner and let him eat his spray. ‘But I didn’t come to give you racing tips. I’ve come to - Makkari?’ the Runner calls out as Makkari races off across the ocean. ‘Hmm. A nice burst of speed’ the Runner tells himself, before declaring that nobody runs off when he is addressing them, and he speeds off after the Eternal. The Runner believes that Makkari is trying to lose him, and wonders if Makkari has mistaken this for the actual race. The Runner supposes he should rectify that notion, and reaches the same speed as Makkari, running alongside him, blurs of gold and red respectively, the Runner tells Makkari to slow down. ‘How am I supposed to tell you the particulars of the big race if you keep running faster than the sound of my voice?’ the Runner asks.
‘Doing my darnedest - and golden boy keeps up with me - effortlessly, it looks like!’ Makkari tells himself, before allowing himself to listen to the Runner, who announces that the big race will begin at 1.25 planetary rotations from now. The Runner reveals that he has contacted six other individuals besides Makkari, and provides the Eternal with the coordinates fore the meeting point: latitude 37 degrees north, longitude 116 degrees. The Runner adds that, incidentally, the winner will be given the greatest prize in all the galaxy. ‘Any questions?’ the Runner asks. ‘No’ Makkari replies. ‘Good’ the Runner calls back, before veering off in another direction and suggesting to Makkari that he doesn’t overdo the training, as he will want to be fresh for the race. ‘Bye!’ the Runner calls out. ‘Huh? Where -’ Makarri mutters to himself as Runner vanishes from view. Makkari soon approaches a small deserted island and decides to take a breather. Resting, he rubs his left calf, which feels a little tender. ‘Oh, please don’t tell me I pulled a muscle!’ Makkari thinks to himself.
In New York, an hour later, Wendell is on the phone to Doctor Spectrum, informing him that he finally got hold of Dr Richards, and made an appointment to use his space-time machine this Saturday at 10:00 am. ‘Great! That means the Whizzer will still have time to participate in the big race. He’s very keen on testing his mettle against your world’s speedsters’ Doctor Spectrum replies. ‘Oh, so he’s been contacted too, huh? Figures’ Wendell declares.
A day and a half later, in the American southwest, Quasar descends upon the coordinates of the race starting point. He hasn’t seen Makkkari since he told him what Eon had said about the Runner. Wendell hopes that Makkari hasn’t been out practicing all this time. Wendell sees Doctor Spectrum flying toward the meeting point, carrying Whizzer on his spectrum beam. More super beings soon come into view, as Wendell sees Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff stepping out of a Quinjet, as Quicksilver is currently affiliated with the West Coast Avengers. Wendell observes Monica Rambeau a.k.a. Captain Marvel, speaking with the Runner. Nearby, three others whom Wendell does not recognize are stretching their muscles - Super Sabre from Freedom Force, Speed Demon and Black Racer.
The Runner informs Monica that this is not a contest of flight speed, and tells her that if she fails to touch her feet to the surface once every fifty meters or so, she will be disqualified. ‘I’ll try, but it’s not my natural way to travel!’ Monica responds, before she is greeted by Quasar. Monica smiles, and asks Quasar whether the gilded alien has talked him into running the marathon also. Wendell explains that he is just an observer, as a buddy of his is competing, although he doesn’t see him here yet. Quicksilver’s twin sister, Wanda a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch steps out from the Quinjet behind her brother, while Wendell asks the Runner where he intends to hold this race, as he wants to make sure that no innocent bystanders are endangered by the high-speed hi-jinks. The Runner assures Wendell that there will be no bystanders where they are running. ‘How can you be sure?’ Wendell asks. ‘Because the race is not on Earth’ the Runner responds.
‘Behold!’ the Runner shouts as he taps his foot on the ground, and instantly a golden dome surrounds the competitors, Quasar, the Scarlet Witch, Doctor Spectrum and the Runner. ‘What the -?’ Wendell gasps, as a golden platform extends in the form of an seemingly endless tunnel, directed upwards towards the moon. ‘You - made that?’ Wendell asks. The Runner explains that he activated it, but that his fellow Elder, the Architect, constructed it to his specifications. Wendell realizes that it is some sort of energy construct, like his Quantum Bands make. ‘Where’s it terminate?’ Wendell enquires. As Quicksilver, Captain Marvel and the Whizzer begin their stretches, the Runner reveals that it terminates on this planet’s moon, 384,392 kilometers from here, but that along the way, it takes a detour through warpspace. ‘We must take in account the motions of the Heavenly Bodies’ the Runner adds, before excusing himself from Quasar.
The Runner calls out to the racers, motioning to their marks, he asks them to line-up so he can explain the rules. ‘Makkari still hasn’t showed up. What in the world could be keeping him?’ Wendell wonders about his friend, while the six present speedsters take their starting points. The Runner tells them that this is a marathon to the moon, and that whoever makes it first to the finish line wins. The Runner explains that in the event none of them completes the course, the contestant who has gone the farthest when everyone else has quit will be declared the winner. The Runner declares that this is a contest of speed, endurance, strategy and will, and announces that cheating will not be tolerated in any way. He adds that whoever is caught intentionally interfering with the performance of his fellow contestants will be immediately sent back to Earth.
The Runner explains that the raceway environment totally simulates conditions here on Earth at sea level, and that there are comfort stations every 107 kilometers for those who need nutritional replenishment or waste management. ‘Any questions?’ the Runner asks. Black Racer stands with her hands on her hips, while Speed Demon adjusts his goggles and frowns. Super Sabre tightens his gloves, while Quicksilver frowns and the Whizzer stares straight ahead. Captain Marvel pushes her hair back and asks ‘Yes. Why did I ever agree to this silly thing?’ ‘Possibly for the same reason I did. To put your body to the ultimate test’ Quicksilver suggests. ‘Okay, if there are no more questions, contestants -’ the Runner begins, before Quasar notices Makkari banging on the dome. ‘Wait a minute, Runner. Somebody wants in your dome’ Wendell calls out. The Runner opens the dome, and tells Makkari that he didn’t think he would make it. ‘You wish’ Makkari mutters as he takes his place at the starting line alongside the others. ‘On your mark…get set…GO!’ the Runner calls out as he fires the starting line gun.
The seven contestants speed off, while Makkari thinks to himself ‘What is this? The Runner’s not running? He’s the one I wanted to test my speed against - not these also-rans’, before the Whizzer informs him that he will wait for him at the finish line. ‘Ha!’ Makkari just laughs.
At ten kilometers, Super Sabre, Speed Demon and Black Racer have taken the three leading positions, while Whizzer, Quicksilver and Captain Marvel follow them, and Makkari brings up the rear. ‘Who are those racers who’ve taken the lead? I don’t recognize anyone’ Makkari tells himself.
By one hundred kilometers, however, the positions have changed, as Quicksilver takes the lead, followed by the Whizzer, Captain Marvel and Black Racer, while Makkari has taken fifth place, leaving Speed Demon and Super Sabre behind. ‘The two I’ve passed are going to burn out early, I can tell’ Makkari decides.
At one thousand kilometers, Makkari reminds himself that he is energized by cosmic energy, and thinks that surely none of the others has such an efficient power source. By this time, Black Racer has fallen behind, while Speed Demon and Super Sabre have passed Makkari.
At ten thousand kilometers, ‘Yes! I’ve taken the lead - now I need only maintain it for…the rest of the course, however long it may be’. With Super Sabre and Speed Demon hot on his heels, Makkari wishes that he could read the sign posts marking distances, then he would know how much farther there is to go.
And, as the miles melt beneath their feet, the seven runners lost themselves in thought, as Black Racer decides that this is insane. ‘I am a sprinter, not a marathon runner. What was I thinking?’ while Speed Demon is annoyed, and wonders how their can be so many persons faster than he. ‘All my prison stays must have ruined my conditioning’ he decides. The aged Super Sabre wishes this race was held when he was in his prime, but knows that he will still outlast some of these young whipper snappers. Quicksilver regrets that the years he spent living on the moon with its 1/6 Earth gravity may be his undoing, as his muscle mass and stamina are all diminished. Captain Marvel is getting the hang of the race now, and although she is not able to go to light speed anymore, her endurance is second to none. The Whizzer is having fun, for on his earth, he never had anyone to pit himself against. ‘Makkari, look out!’ he thinks to himself. However, Makkari’s calf is starting to feel sore again, and urges himself to blank it out and keep on running.
At thirty-two thousand kilometers, the Runner speeds up alongside Monica and tells her that she is not touching the ground often enough to qualify as running. ‘Really? I…I guess I wasn’t concentrating enough’ Monica replies, but the Runner tells her that she must go back to Earth.
At twenty-five thousand kilometers, Quasar and Doctor Spectrum fly over the tunnel. Doctor Spectrum asks Quasar if he sees any of the runners, to which Wendell replies ‘Not yet’, before quickly announcing that he has to run, and he speeds off through space. Doctor Spectrum sees that Quasar turned back towards Earth, and wonders why. Soaring back down towards Earth, Wendell’s Quantum Bands have picked up something penetrating his surveillance web around Earth. ‘As much as I’d like to spectate, I’ve got a job to do’ Wendell tells himself.
Back at the twenty thousand kilometer mark, lightning crackles and a mysterious cloud forms in the tunnel. Thunder booms, and a figure forms amongst the cloud. ‘I…I have form again! Where am I? This is not my space…I’m somewhere else’ the mysterious, blond-haired man wearing only red shorts and yellow boots tells himself. He stands up and wonders what has happened, and why he is here, for the last thing he remembers is running. ‘Wait a minute…I don’t even remember who I am!’ he tells himself. All he knows is that there is a ball of energy - like lightning - inside him, filling him with the need to move. ‘Need…to…run’ he tells himself, as he speed off along the track, just as Quasar arrives from quantum-space.
‘Hey! What happened?’ Wendell wonders as he sees the flash of something run past him. ‘The thing I detected should have been right below’ he realizes. Checking his Quantum Bands, Wendell realizes that whatever it was, was indeed here, moments ago, judging by the freshness of his trail. Wendell deduces that the mysterious being is now heading down the raceway, away from Earth, same as everyone else. Shockingly, the tachyon discharge Wendell detects rivals that of the Runner. Quasar decides that he should warp after the mysterious energy, as he could mean trouble for the other racers.
At forty-nine thousand kilometers, Black Racer has stopped at the refreshment stand for some water. ‘Don’t know if I can go another step’ she tells herself, before being knocked aside as the mysterious speedster races past her. At sixty-seven thousand kilometers, Super Sabre has stopped for a rest, he is huffing, trying to get his breath back, but looks up when the speedster zooms past him. At eighty-one thousand kilometers, Speed Demon has a stitch in his side, from three stations back. It is killing him, but he knows he has to run through it. ’What was that…?’ Speed Demon wonders as the mysterious speedster speeds past.
At one hundred and twenty one thousand kilometers, Pietro continues to run, however every step is torture. But the brash mutant is not a quitter, and tells himself that he will run until he collapses, and then he will crawl. ’What in -?’ Pietro wonders as the mysterious being races past him. At that moment, Wendell materializes on the outside of the tunnel, ‘Blast it! Just missed him again! Not that I could do anything to stop him from out here without breaching the gateway’ Wendell realizes, before seeing that his quarry passed Quicksilver, and probably some of the others, without doing anything to them. ‘Maybe he’s no more dangerous than the Runner is’ Wendell decides, before telling himself that he may not be able to catch up to the mystery runner, but he can head him off at the destination. ‘Time to leap to the finish line and wait for you there’ Wendell exclaims, as he enters Quantum space once more.
Meantime, at one hundred and ninety-nine thousand kilometers, ‘Oh, for the love of Zuras! The Whizzer just passed me! I knew my bum calf was slowing me down - I just didn’t realize how much’ Makkari tells himself. He urges himself to dig in, deciding that he didn’t hold the lead all this way just to have that alternate earther steal his thunder. ‘Longer strides…ignore the pain…don’t let him gain another inch’ Makkari tells himself. The Whizzer is still in view, as Makkari curses himself for overtraining. ‘What a chump I was! Should’ve taken it easier’ Makkari tells himself, before realizing that he is gaining on the Whizzer. ‘Maintain the gap for a few more thousand kilometers’ Makkari urges. ‘Then creep up his exhaust pipe…uh! I’m hitting the wall - the outer limit of my speed - I can’t go a hair faster!’ Makkari realizes as he is just inches away from the Whizzer. ‘Can’t close the Zuras-cursed gap’ he tells himself.
Makkari wonders what the point of all this is anyway? Why is he enduring all of this agony? Is it so he can be hailed the world’s fastest man? Big deal, he decides, as the Runner is probably faster anyway, and even if he is not, surely there is somebody out there. ‘My achievement would be meaningless! This torture pointless!’ Makkari decides. He tells himself that he has to think of a better reason to take another step. What reward can he give himself if he wins - what will make this worth it? ‘A ton of my favorite food? A week of sleep? A room full of women? None of that means anything’ Makkari declares. ‘None of that can justify the pain I’m in’ he decides, before realizing that until a reason comes along, he is going to give it all his strength and heart and soul anyway, and worry about the reasons later. ‘I am…therefore I run. Reason enough!’ Makkari concludes as he speeds closer to the Squadron’s Whizzer.
‘Did I pass him? I think so. Doesn’t matter’ Makkari tells himself as he indeed runs past the Whizzer. ‘I’m not doing this to beat him’ Makkari decides. ‘I’m doing this…to beat me…!’ he realizes as he speeds onwards, until the Whizzer can no longer be seen. Teeth gritted, Makkari tells himself that his flesh, his muscle, his body is the enemy, and that he must beat it into submission. Suddenly, the mysterious scantily clad being appears behind Makkari, who remains unaware of the other’s presence. Makkari tells himself that he must transcend his physical limits and let his spirit run free. The pain has gone, and Makkari doesn’t feel a thing. ‘I am no longer a body running through space. I am running. I am speed. I am light’ Makkari boasts. Suddenly, the mysterious speedster races past the Eternal. ‘No…’ Makkari utters as anguish spreads over his face.
At 384, 392 kilometers from Earth, Quasar’s quantum jump takes him to the moon, and managed to make it inside the terminal without blowing out the atmosphere. Wendell tells himself that all there is left to do is wait. He wonders how long it will take for someone to finish, as it has been over eight hours already. ‘Wish I’d have brought a magazine’ Wendell mutters.
Sooner or later, the Runner materializes alongside Quasar. ‘Come to watch the winner?’ the Runner asks. ‘Not exactly’ Wendell replies, before explaining that some mobile organism entered the race track at its first juncture into warp space, and that it is very fast and is heading this way. Quasar adds that he is here to see if it is hostile. ’Anyone ever tell you that you worry too much, Quasar?’ the Runner asks, before exclaiming ’And here he comes’ as the mysterious, scantily clad racer comes screeching to a halt in front of Quasar and the Runner.
The Runner smiles, and takes the arm of the racer, holding it up, he shouts ‘And the winner of the marathon to the moon is - what’s your name, sir?’ he asks. The mysterious man replies that he is not sure. “Buried Alien” or something like that, he remarks. ‘Well, Buried, how does it feel to be the fastest man alive?’ the Runner asks, smiling. Quasar’s Quantum Bands light up, and Wendell detects that the Buried Alien is an extra-dimensional, perhaps from an alternate earth like the Whizzer. The Runner tells Buried Alien to come, and that he will give him what his heart most desires - a chance to compete in the galactic marathon. ‘But I just want to go home…I think’ Buried Alien replies. ‘Speed is your home, my friend’ the Runner remarks, before turning to Quasar and telling him that they must be off, and asks him to see that the contestants make it back to Earth, adding that the raceway will disintegrate in two Earth rotations.
With that, the Runner and Buried Alien both vanish, as Makkari speeds to the finish arm, collapsing in Quasar’s arms. ‘MAKKARI!’ Wendell calls out to his friend. Tears in his eyes, Makkari asks if he lost. ‘I’m not the fastest man on Earth’ Makkari declares. ‘Sure you are, Mak’ Quasar assures him, explaining that whoever passed him is not from Earth and is now nowhere near Earth. ‘Be glad you ran a close second. If you’d been first, the Runner would have spirited you off to parts unknown and I’d probably never see you again’ Quasar declares, before asking what in the world he would do without a pal like Makkari. Makkari smiles and tells Quasar that he is a good friend, and Quasar smiles back as the two men embrace on the moon.