by Dan Swanson
This was just too much for Mekanique. These pests were keeping her from her mission — a mission to save lives. Well, it was a mission to save one life, but she had to save many to save that one. She slammed a fist down on a fallen brick wall, shattering it, and started throwing chunks of rubble at Lily DeLuna. Lily’s energy-shield flared as each chunk struck, and she was forced backward with each impact. Unable to advance, she tried to deny Mekanique access to the rubble she was using as ammunition. A wide-angle heat-beam melted the rubble around the robot into a pool of lava.
Granted a second of relief, Doris Knight returned to the air. Adapting one of Starman’s favorite tricks, she increased the gravitational attraction of both Mekanique’s body and the melted rubble around her. The lava engulfed her, momentarily blinding her.
Without warning, the ground Mekanique had been standing on vanished in an energy blast from Lily’s power rod, and she fell into a deep pit. Lily continued to blast her as she fell, keeping her off balance. When she hit bottom, Doris used the gravity rod to drop the damaged generator on top of her. Both heroines switched to heat beams and blasted the generator, melting it almost instantly.
The molten metal surrounding her didn’t harm Mekanique, but she found it difficult to move. Robot bodies weren’t exactly made for swimming, and this wasn’t exactly water. So she tuned her energy absorber for heat energy rather than electricity, and sucked all the heat from the molten puddle, causing it to solidify.
Heat was a much less-efficient source of energy than electricity. As hot as the puddle had been, absorbing its heat didn’t provide her with very much useful power, but that hadn’t been her purpose. As soon as the hot metal had solidified, she began to vibrate her body at super-speed. In less than a second, the vibrations turned the metal encasing her into dust. She leaped out of the hole, shedding metallic dust as she flashed through the air.
Lily dived like a stooping hawk and smashed into Mekanique from behind, just before she landed. Mekanique couldn’t actually fly, so she had no way of resisting the force of Lily’s attack. Lily expanded her force-shield violently just before she hit, greatly amplifying the force of her dive, and Mekanique was slammed face-first into the dirt. Doris used the gravity rod to increase the force of gravity around her, and Mekanique was pulled into the ground by the tremendous gravity forces.
As she sunk deeper, the earth beneath her compacted and fused into rock. She finally stopped sinking when she reached bedrock. Lily was hovering directly over the new pit that Mekanique created as she was dragged down into the earth, and she saw the robot vanish.
“Doris, she’s gone! She just disappeared. Did you disintegrate her?”
“Not me! Be careful, it must be a trick of some kind.” Doris allowed gravity to return to normal, and advanced cautiously until she, too, could see that the robot was no longer pinned in this new pit.
It required a tremendous amount of power to travel very far through time, so Mekanique had displaced herself only about a minute into the future. As soon as she rematerialized, she shifted into a squatting position and leaped skyward out of the pit, crashing into the surprised heroines above her like a rocket. Even though both were protected by energy-shields, they were knocked away with stunning force. Before she landed again, Mekanique took stock of her condition. She had used up too much energy, and there was no longer enough time to recharge.
This fight had just become irrelevant. In a few minutes, she and everyone in and around Opal City would be dead. She stopped fighting and remained stationary, enduring the attacks of the heroines, waiting for them to notice that she was no longer fighting back.
Doris and Lily were hitting Mekanique with their strongest power blasts, but Lily quickly realized that Mekanique had stopped fighting. Her martial arts training taught her never to attack an unresisting opponent, so she quickly went between Doris and the robot.
“Doris, stop! She’s not fighting back any more!” Doris stopped blasting, mostly to avoid hitting her friend. But when Mekanique didn’t take advantage of this lull, Doris also realized the fight was over. The two heroines landed and cautiously approached the robot.
“What is going on here?” Lily demanded. “If this is a trick of some kind, you’ll end up being sorry!”
“I’ve told you repeatedly that I was here to save lives, not to harm anyone,” the robot retorted. “A major catastrophe is about to destroy Opal City, and I was attempting to avert this catastrophe when you attacked me. It is now too late. You have depleted my powers, and I no longer have the strength to destroy or deflect the approaching menace. We will all of us die, and many thousands of others as well.”
“Hold on there, sister! You may have given up, but we humans don’t quit so easily. Tell us what is going to happen, and Doris and I will take care of it!” A large part of being successful was self-confidence, and Lily had confidence in spades.
Mekanique held her hands out, slightly below shoulder height, shoulder width apart, fingers pointing skyward, with her palms facing each other. “Watch, listen, and learn.”
The space between her palms darkened, and then was filled with moving sparks of light.
“You are watching a war in space, a war that happened millions of years ago, when the ancestors of all things human still had tails and lived in trees.”
The scene split in two, with the space battle continuing on one side as a group of monkey-like creatures foraged for food in a dense forest on the other. A couple of seconds later, it changed again.
“A war between two species, each very like humans, who evolved on planets circling first generation stars.”
The picture now showed two individuals. They were hardly very like humans visually, but they were more familiar than many of the strange beings Ted had encountered with the Justice Society of America. Perhaps, from the point of view of a robot, the differences between species of living beings were irrelevant.
“When they met, these two species with so much in common, they immediately became locked in a mortal war. Both species had abused the environments of their homeworlds, and each was forced to find new planets to live on — but both species coveted the same planets. Perhaps, by combining their considerable powers and knowledge, they might have been able to find a mutually acceptable solution and save both species, but we will never know. It was a fight to extinction, and they both lost.”
“And why should we care about a battle that happened millions of years ago?” Lily asked. “How does it affect us?”
“Watch and see, impetuous one.”
The picture changed again, and zoomed in on a spaceship that must have been as large as the island of Manhattan. An incredible swarm of missiles was launched from the vessel, a swarm so thick it looked like a heavy fog rolling away from the battleship. Each missile was as large as the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth.
“My Lord, there must be millions of them!” Doris said, her voice plainly reflecting her awe, and her horror.
“This battleship was the doomsday weapon of one of the species. It targeted the homeworld of the other species, and launched roughly two million missiles a second for just over eleven minutes — each missile tipped with an atomic bomb. As you might guess, there was little left of their target. Unfortunately, before they could destroy their enemy’s homeworld, that enemy was able to loose an unstoppable, incurable, fatal disease on their own world. Mutual annihilation followed.”
Doris was amazed to hear sadness in Mekanique’s voice. Could a robot have compassion? Could this robot, so well known as a deadly destroyer, have compassion? She said nothing, and continued to watch.
Many of the billions of missiles missed the target planet and continued to blast farther into space until they ran out of fuel. The view zoomed in and focused on one specific missile, which was sleek, shiny and bright, and very menacing. It remained centered in the display, and the stars behind it moved. It gradually changed appearance, becoming dull and pitted, yet becoming even more menacing, like an unstoppable, ancient juggernaut. Suddenly, a planet appeared in the view — a giant, ringed planet, a planet instantly recognized by the two humans.
“Saturn!” Doris gasped out, as both women suddenly realized the significance of this view. “C’mon, the Earth is moving at something like thirty-six-thousand miles an hour in orbit around the sun, which is also moving, and moving fast. Do you expect me to believe that a missile fired several million years ago, aimed at a planet umpteen billion miles away from Earth, is instead going to score a bull’s-eye hit on Opal City today? No way in hell!”
Somewhere in the back of her head, Doris felt an itch. Her intuition was sifting through all of the things she had learned from Ted over the years. Living with a genius for years had to be worth something. She listened very closely to Mekanique’s answer.
“The probability of such a bull’s-eye, as you term it, is vanishingly small, but not zero. This could be incredibly bad luck. However, I also do not believe this is a coincidence. It is much more likely that the Lords of Chaos are somehow involved, as there are no other powers in the universe that can play such havoc with probability.”
She paused momentarily, then continued. “Still, if I had been unopposed today, I would have bested Chaos. This night, for reasons only Chaos knows, the two of you have acted as unwitting agents of Chaos. Now, observe the future!”
The screen split in two again. Each side showed the giant missile rushing toward Earth.
On one half of the display, a gigantic pale blue bolt of energy lanced upward from the surface and impaled the missile. It exploded high overhead, briefly illuminating the night sky with a light greater than the sun.
On the other, the object flashed to Earth, landing on the northernmost shore of the Chesapeake Bay, unleashing a massive nuclear explosion.
Neither heroine had to ask which was their future.
“How long do we have?” Lily asked. “Maybe we can get some heroes together.” It was a null hope, as most of the heroes of the All-Star Squadron had retired, and both the entire memberships of the Justice Society of America and the Seven Soldiers of Victory had disappeared in a matter of months, and even Ted had no idea where they were. Heck, they probably couldn’t even reach Ted in time.
“It is too late now. There is nothing we can do but perish.”
“Sorry, buster, but I sure don’t plan to perish! Maybe you’re out of power, but my power rod is stronger than ever!” Lily DeLuna rocketed into the sky, straight up. “No more talk!”
“Too little, too late. The missile is just entering the atmosphere. Even were you to destroy it now, the shower of debris would produce devastation over an even wider area.”
“Time travel!” Doris shouted triumphantly. “Mekanique, can you displace it in time? It would only take a day!”
Mekanique was quiet for almost a second as she calculated furiously. “Perhaps. I had never considered that. However, I will need assistance from both of you.”
“Lily, wait!” Doris yelled again. To Mekanique she said, “You got it!”
Mekanique spoke quickly. “Doris, lift me into the path of the missile with the gravity rod.” Doris leaped into the air, picked up Mekanique, and blasted at top speed to catch up with Lily.
When they did catch up, Mekanique continued. “Lily, blast me with the highest power setting you have, for as long as you can maintain the blast. I will absorb your power and channel it into my chronotron field generator. Pray that I can expand the field enough to capture the missile and move it back in time.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “A day would mean a million miles…” To the heroines, it almost sounded as if she were praying, or begging.
They were already a mile high, but Lily had not yet blasted Mekanique. She was afraid of some kind of trick. Doris sensed that Lily was hesitant, and spoke in her best command voice.
“Lily, blast her! Now!”
Reluctantly, Lily complied, rolling the power thumb-wheel to maximum. She kept her beam squarely aimed at the robot. She was amazed; the power she was pouring into Makanique was an order of magnitude stronger than anything she had previously seen from the power rod. It was well for her peace of mind that she couldn’t see inside, as the power metal nugget was shrinking visibly.
There was a gauzy pink aura forming around Mekanique, growing slowly. And now Lily could feel the heat from the approaching meteor. She realized that, if this didn’t work, they would all be dead in seconds. Yet they would have died almost as quickly if they had done nothing. It was better to die fighting.
“Goodbye, sisters. Whether this works or not, I doubt that we will meet again. Please temper your heroism with wisdom in the future!”
The missile impacted the pink aura and vanished, along with Mekanique.