by Dan Swanson
Lily DeLuna remembered immediately that, months ago, Xenon had plunged Opal City instantly into darkness when he had stolen the entire output of Opal’s power station in order to charge his power scepter. (*) She instantly changed directions and flew toward the power plant, which was located on the riverfront at the south edge of town. Doris swooped to follow her, maintaining their formation perfectly.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Times Past, 1949: Vic Valor, Invincible, Chapter 8: The Fight of His Life.]
“I hope this is the reason the lamp was flashing!” Lily said, sounding worried. If the police had a real emergency elsewhere, and they were headed for the power station because a fuse had blown or something like that, why, that wouldn’t be very heroic or helpful.
“Well, I’m not sure. But I think we are needed up ahead — take a look!” Doris Knight replied.
Through the windows of the power station, they could see bright flashes of incredibly intense, blue-white light, almost like a trapped lightning bolt trying to escape. A few late-shift workers were already out of the building and running like crazy. As the two women continued to approach at top speed, the building suddenly exploded with a blinding flash.
When Lily’s vision cleared, she could see something moving in the middle of the pile of rubble that had just stopped providing Opal City with virtually all of its electrical power: a humanoid figure, outlined in an aura of electric blue, which was growing while looking like a column of solid lightning. On the ground, appearing like the dark region in the center of a candle flame, the human figure stood motionless. The blue column of solid electricity began to shrink, and the two heroines realized the figure was absorbing that electricity.
Before they took flight, the two women had agreed to call each other by their chosen heroic names if any real heroic action was needed. Lily would be called by the fanciful-sounding name of Moonflower, while Doris would be referred to by the equally fanciful Moonglory. Thus it was as Moonflower that Lily was in the lead, and she took action, firing a powerful energy blast at the figure, hoping to disrupt the electrical energy absorption process.
“‘Flower, wait! We don’t know who that is or what’s going on here!” yelled Doris, or Moonglory, but it was too late. The blast had already struck. It seemed to have virtually no effect, except that the figure took notice of the fast-approaching heroines. It turned to face them, and Moonglory was shaken to recognize her.
“Holy spit, Moonflower, that’s Mekanique! A while ago she fought the whole All-Star Squadron to a standstill! (*) I think we just found big trouble!” To her surprise, Mekanique didn’t immediately wipe them from the sky.
[(*) Editor’s note: For a foreshadowing of this untold battle, see The Legion of Justice: Saving the Past, Prologue: Time Out of Joint.]
“Humans! I warn you not to interfere with me, or many will die this night!”
“We’re not interfering, honey. We’re just stopping you cold!” Moonflower responded in a cold and determined tone. “And nobody else is going to die, either.”
Well, no one could ever say that she lacked courage. Or, more likely, she didn’t know what Mekanique was capable of. Looking around then at the flattened building, Moonglory realized that the generators had all been untouched by the earlier explosion, and that Mekanique was still drawing power from those generators. It was an amazing diorama demonstrating not only deadly power but also incredible finesse in the application of that power. They were going to need teamwork, not bravado, to live through this night. Well, she knew more than a little something about that.
“‘Flower, break left!” she ordered, as she herself rolled and blasted down and right. It was a maneuver they had practiced before. Moonglory wasn’t sure her friend would follow her lead, so she put all the snap she could muster into her voice. Even so, she was surprised at the tone of command she produced. And Moonflower smoothly broke down and left, just as Mekanique loosed an energy bolt that tore through the spot in the sky that the two of them had just vacated. In spite of the dire situation, Moonglory grinned tightly to herself.
Earlier in the evening, Doris had managed to divert Lily and Ted Williams from baseball talk by mentioning the Navy’s star flying team, the Blue Angels. During the enthusiastic conversation that followed, they had all learned that one of the pilots was a Marine, and Ted Williams had been his first flight instructor. This drew ex-Marine Fred into the conversation as well, as Doris had intended. Of course, the talk had been about the incredible precision flying of the Blue Angels. Well, she and Moonflower were doing some precision flying of their own.
“‘Flower, you keep her attention while I look for survivors. Evasive, move fast; don’t repeat your maneuvers!” Once again she was amazed at the tone of command she was projecting.
Ted Knight was constantly improving the gravity rod, even though he had now, finally, retired as Starman. Moonglory used one of the new features to create a special-purpose gravity lens between herself and the ground. This lens blue-shifted infrared light into the visible range, allowing Moonglory to see heat. She circled the blast site, looking for hot spots that could indicate people trapped in the rubble. Meanwhile, Moonflower was using the acrobatics she had demonstrated earlier to avoid Mekanique’s attacks, while the robot herself stood in one place, allowing Moonflower to blast her, and continued to absorb power from the generators.
Mekanique had already tapped into their radio. “Human fools! You waste your time and energy. There are no survivors buried in the debris. I gave them warning, and they cleared the building before I began my delicious feast! I say again, break off your attack. I will not warn you again!”
“Code six, ‘Flower!” Once again, Doris realized how smart Ted was. He had anticipated someone compromising his secure radio communication system and had developed two simple code systems as well. Code six was one of these. Given long enough exposure, Mekanique would undoubtedly figure it out, but she could then switch to Code Sunshine. Hopefully, the battle would be over soon, because they didn’t yet have a third code worked out.
“Mekky, you don’t mind if I don’t take your word on the safety of the workers, do you?” Moonglory asked sweetly. If the robot deigned to answer the question, the answer was lost to history as Moonflower unleashed a tremendous power blast. As far as the heroines could tell, the only effect of that blast was a burst of static that hurt their ears.
“No!” Moonglory gasped as she realized that Mekanique had not merely ignored Moonflower’s blast, but had actually absorbed it. “‘Flower, she wants us to attack her directly! Your blast just made her stronger. Blast the generators instead!” There was no secret code needed here.
Destroying the generators might seriously inconvenience the whole city for weeks to come, she realized. But a fully powered Mekanique was more dangerous than any power outage. She began firing blasts from the gravity rod at some of the generators. Moonflower followed her lead.
Mekanique’s patience had worn out. “It was not my purpose tonight to bring harm to anyone; quite the opposite, in fact. Yet, if I need to remove you in order to accomplish my task, so be it. You will soon realize that you brought your defeat upon yourself, Doris Knight and Lily DeLuna!”
The new heroines were shocked at Mekanique’s use of their real names. Had they known much more about the android from the future, they would have known that Mekanique’s advanced electronic senses had already pierced the masks of the heroines, and her computer brain had already matched their faces with historical records in her memory banks.
Before Lily and Doris was an eerie scene. The main room of the power plant had been larger than the infield of a baseball diamond, housing six giant hydroelectric generators arranged in a half-circle around a bank of control and monitoring stations. The building had been flattened, but the generators were untouched, and Mekanique stood in middle of the half-circle.
Each gigantic generator was surrounded by a flickering blue aura, and electrical arcs, much like the arcs on a high voltage traveling arc, but millions of times larger, stretched out from each generator and bathed Mekanique in electrical current. All this electricity combined to produce an intense, stark blue-white glare, brighter than the brightest spotlight, so bright that the heroines were forced to shield their eyes. And it flickered constantly as the arcs wavered.
Doris could actually taste the ozone in the air, which scared her; she knew that electrical discharges of this magnitude would easily produce deadly concentrations of ozone. Almost as an afterthought, she realized that the Geiger counter built into the gravity rod was clattering wildly. She knew that the gravity rod would protect her, but she didn’t know if Lily’s power rod-generated force-shield could block radiation.
Her radio was useless, hopelessly drowned in static, so she altered her flight path and tried to lead Lily away from this disaster scene. Lily didn’t seem to notice her. Instead, she continued flying directly at Mekanique, and blasted away at one of the generators.
Lily was suddenly, incredibly sick. The flickering light bothered her eyes, and she could almost feel it boring along her optical path, searing a charred path directly into her brain. She was unable to control the energy blast she had been preparing to fire, and it lanced out and instantly disintegrated the top third of one of the generators. Her hands shook so hard she dropped the power rod, which stopped blasting, thank heaven, but she was falling. Somehow, some weird part of her mind recalled a story she had once written about flickering lights and seizures. And then a hard shoulder rammed into her stomach, and she was folded almost double around Doris, who was rocketing her away from the scene at top speed.
Closing her eyes, Lily felt much better, although better was a relative term. She still had no control over her limbs, and she was retching violently. Fortunately, they were flying very fast, and fortunately Doris’ back was protected by her cape.
And also fortunately for us, Lily thought, the flickering lights didn’t cause a seizure for Doris, too. Her head was flopping flaccidly from side to side, and she caught a glimpse of her power rod in Doris’ left hand. I hope I recover soon enough to be helpful! She hoped her martial arts training would help with that; despite her acute discomfort and the uncomfortable position she was in, she began concentrating on overcoming her nausea.
Behind them, for a brief instant, all hell had broken loose. The armature in the damaged generator weighed several tons, and it been spinning at high RPMs, when it was suddenly no longer confined. Breaking free, it tore the giant machine to shreds, filling the air with shrapnel, which bounced harmlessly off of the energy-shield Doris was maintaining and the armored form of Mekanique.
Mekanique did something that Lily couldn’t see, and the electrical arcs vanished. She didn’t want the other generators to be damaged before she could destroy these pests. As soon as the massive electrical current stopped cascading into Mekanique’s form, the Geiger counter stopped clicking. As the stark blue light vanished, it didn’t become dark; instead, virtually every surface in the area glowed with a strange, soft cream-colored light, much as phosphorescence glows in the dark after being exposed to light.
The robot from the future launched a bolt of her own at the heroines. Doris was unable to dodge while carrying Lily, so she zoomed over and behind one of the still-undamaged generators. Quickly propping Lily in a sitting position, Doris dropped the power rod into her lap, then took to the air.
From what she knew of Mekanique, this would be her toughest fight ever. Well, she was pretty sure Mekanique knew less about her. So maybe she could surprise the robot. Maybe Lily would come around soon and be able to help her out. And maybe horses would learn to talk, too, she added glumly.
Her one advantage might be that Ted loved to tinker, and her gravity rod was much more advanced and powerful than the gravity rod Ted had used as Starman. She was probably going to end up taking a lot of hard shots in this fight, but she thought there was a good chance that she would get in some shots of her own. Heck, if being a heroine was easy, anyone could do it. She smiled at herself; was that really confidence, or just bravado? Well, hopefully she’d never have to find out for sure.
Doris blasted Mekanique with modulated gravity waves, warping space-time around the robot. In regions of warped space-time, the natural laws of the universe could vary. Electronic equipment inherently depended on natural laws acting in a specific way, and remaining constant. The more complex an item of electronic equipment was, the more vulnerable it became to unexpected variations in natural laws. Mekanique was certainly the most complex piece of electronic equipment on Earth in 1949, and thus the most vulnerable.
Powerful gravity waves buffeted the robot, smashing her downward and suddenly dragging her skyward, yanking her violently this way and that. Doris thought Mekanique might actually be torn to bits by the gravity waves themselves, and she wouldn’t have to depend on the more subtle effects of the changing natural laws.
But the twenty-third-century scientist Rotwang had built her well; even a solid steel statue would have been ripped to shreds, but the alloys used in Mekanique’s construction were the result of metallurgical technology centuries advanced over mere steel. She also had an internal inertial damper (adapted from an early 1990s Ted Knight invention) that enabled her various components to survive the buffeting. Her body held together.
Mekanique’s nervous system was a different story, as the electronic circuits in her body did prove susceptible. A momentary change in the value of C (the speed of light), and two signals sent from the brain to the body might arrive in the wrong sequence. A change in the permeability constant of empty space, and her semiconductors would temporarily become superconductors or insulators. The overall effect was that every signal from her brain to her body became disrupted, leading to chaos. She froze in place, as her mechanical body was unable to obey all the conflicting signals it was receiving.
Doris wasn’t about to start celebrating yet. She figured that as long as she kept blasting gravity waves at Mekanique, the robot would be helpless. But the gravity-wave generator took almost all the power of the gravity rod, and what would happen when the sun came up and the gravity rod could no longer recharge itself? Her radio still wasn’t working, so right now it was a standoff. She was sure there would be rescue teams arriving shortly, and she could probably get one of them to contact Ted Knight for her. Or maybe Lily had recovered enough to fly for help.
She couldn’t spare the power to fly herself, so she had drifted slowly to the ground. Carefully backing up, making sure she didn’t trip over any debris, she approached the generator behind which she had secreted her friend, keeping Mekanique under observation the whole time.
Quickly, Doris Knight’s hopes and precautions were both proved futile. Rotwang had provided extra inertial dampening for Mekanique’s computer brain, which protected the computer itself from the most extreme effects of the gravity wave bombardment.
Mekanique realized that there was a predictable pattern to the changing gravity waves. It required considerable calculation, but she was able to derive a sequence of commands that would anticipate the effects of the gravity waves, using those effects to change the seemingly random stream of signals into a valid command sequence that would give her back control of her body. It took her almost a minute to calculate, and then another minute to implement. Doris was just nudging Lily with her foot when Mekanique exploded into action.
Faster than a normal human could possibly react, Mekanique ran out of the range of Doris’ weapon. As soon as she passed the edge of the beam, she stumbled and fell, because she had to adjust her command sequences again. But she had anticipated this. She smoothly rolled back to her feet, and then, safely back in normal space-time, she turned and launched a new attack.
A brilliant red laser beam stabbed at Doris. It was so powerful that the impact on her weakened energy-shield drove her backward, and she tripped over Lily’s outstretched legs. This dropped her out of the laser, and she used the short break to shut down the gravity-wave generator, then soared into the air, ready to resume the battle. She was disappointed that the gravity-wave trick had not worked. Well, she had been training with the gravity rod for years, so she went back on the attack.
She diverted more power to her energy shield, and dived at Mekanique like a striking missile. Both arms outstretched, wrapped in an invulnerable force-field, she struck the robot like a lightning bolt thrown by an angry god. Mekanique’s own force-shield protected her, but she was driven backward and slammed into a pile of concrete rubble.
The robot reached up and she grabbed each of Doris’ wrists, using the heroines’ momentum to help her execute a backward roll, and then, still holding Doris’ wrist, drove both her feet into Doris’ stomach. Doris was pivoted around by Mekanique’s grip, and she slammed into the ground, flat on her back. Even with the protection of her energy-shield, she was stunned. Mekanigue was quickly on her feet, and was about to kick Doris viciously in the ribs, when she was struck from behind by a powerful energy beam.
Lily DeLuna was back in the fight.