by Dan Swanson
Power Boy stopped talking abruptly, and his expression indicated that he was listening intently to something the other two heroes couldn’t hear. Even Vic Valor’s super-hearing missed the inaudible message. But Power Boy let them in on it soon enough.
“I have to go. The jungle defenses are being overwhelmed!” He headed for the airlock, followed quickly by Strobe. Valor switched the autopilot to hover and followed at super-speed. Outside, the three heroes flew over a seemingly endless landscape of green — the top of the world-girding forest. In seconds, though, the city of Ralzen’s Forge came into view on the horizon. It was a fantastic sight.
The forest was several hundred feet deep. The city, about the size of Manhattan, was circled by a wall that was perhaps twice as tall as the tallest tree in the forest. Along the top of the wall, and on a descending series of ledges covering the entire height of the wall, were arrayed thousands of fantastic weapons, all of them firing constantly. They didn’t have much time to gawk at the city, but it was definitely worth seeing. At a quick glance, Jim noticed that these people built tall, avoided corners, and used a lot of glass. He thought the building style looked like a cross between Arabian-style architecture and the Westin Peachtree Hotel in Atlanta, lavishly decorated in arabesque-style carvings.
The forest was cleared back from the wall for about a half-mile, and in the cleared area the ground was a war zone. Cannons fired explosive shells, and energy-weapons filled the air with hot, deadly plasma. The weapons fire was mostly directed at the edge of the forest to try to extend the clear zone. Jim thought that the free energy density in that area must approximate the center of a nuclear fireball. Nothing living could possibly survive that, and yet the jungle was constantly pushing amoeba-like extensions of itself into that hell. Though these new extensions were instantly vaporized, the best efforts of the Jungle Defense Team were barely enough to keep the perimeter from encroaching any further.
As they approached the city at supersonic speed, Power Boy led them to an area near the perimeter where the ocean of vegetation was deeper than the surroundings. As they watched, a patch several hundred acres in size was growing into a hill, and then a mountain. When the heroes arrived, this mountain of vegetation was almost as tall as the wall surrounding the city, and still growing.
“We must chop this down!” Power Boy used his super-loud voice to communicate above the din of the ongoing battle. “Otherwise it will grow larger, then collapse on the wall, and provide the jungle with a path to invade the city!”
As they had flashed over the forest, Marnu had done some thinking. As an immortal, he was no longer used to making decisions at breakneck speed, and his recent activities had been making him kind of frazzled. A “well-thought-out plan” for a human was less than a capricious whim to an immortal, and he disliked acting on a whim. As well, trying to deal with humans at their level reminded him of the time when he had much like a human himself, and it was disturbing to think of himself as ever having been such an incomplete being. These must have been some of the reasons Nabu had chosen to join with a mortal body for a time — that made it easier to deal with mortals on mortal terms. The aspect of his personality that had been Vic Valor had been quite successful, in mortal terms, so he decided to withdraw the greater portion of his consciousness from Valor’s day-to-day activities.
Power Boy was explaining about the jungle’s most recent attack. “This kind of major attack normally happens about every fifty years. It’s like the jungle saves up extra energy for an all-out effort over those years. Worst thing is, it adapts to the weapons we use against it, and after a fifty-year attack, the adaptations spread throughout the entire jungle! So we use the downtime to develop new weapons. But this attack is way too early — by about fifteen years. We don’t have our latest weapons ready yet!”
“It can’t be a coincidence that the jungle advances its attack by fifteen years just at the same time we’re on Juneo!” Strobe mused. “Wotan must have something to do with it! Man, I hoped I was free of him when Nabu lifted that damn curse!”
Valor realized his best weapon against the voracious jungle would be his disintegration beam. Nothing that was made of matter could resist that beam — it produced a pinpoint of hyper-intense gravity, and anything within about thirty-thousandths of an inch (about the thickness of a dime) was instantly crushed into monatomic dust. But the area of impact was too small to be effective against a menace the size of a skyscraper. If he defocused the beam, the crushing effect would not be as powerful, but he judged that he could produce an effective radius of about ten feet, and the beam would still be powerful enough to destroy the vegetation involved. He mentally tweaked the settings of one of his gravity control modules, which were essentially built-in gravity rods.
Internal alarms started blaring immediately. Now operating well outside its design parameters, the gravity module had become unstable and was swiftly building toward overload. Thinking quickly, Valor burst ahead of his friends.
“I think I can take out that whole thing with a single gravity-bomb! Stay back!” Opening an access panel in his side, he pulled out a small oblong box. It’s a good thing Ted Knight used modular plug-in design with redundant backup capacity when he built this suit! he thought as he threw the box with all his super strength at the giant green wave, which seemed just on the verge of breaking. I’ll be able to keep functioning at slightly reduced power by drawing on the excess capacity of other units. It will take more than that to slow down Victorious Valor, ultimate commander of the Invincibles of Xadam!
“We’re not safe yet. We must get out of the blast radius immediately!” Valor yelled to his friends, while still doing mental calculations. If his math was right, they were barely far enough away. If he was off by a decimal, they would be caught in the implosion, and Strobe, Power Boy, his own body, and likely the entire planet would all probably be destroyed.
“How far?” Power Boy called, while Strobe extended his white energy-shield to encompass all three heroes.
Behind them, they heard a muffled whoomph, and then an incredibly loud crack of thunder, as cubic miles of angry jungle and the ground beneath it vaporized, and air rushed to fill the vacuum. They felt something grab their feet and pull with giant strength, but only for the barest instant. They looked back, and all that was left was a spherical crater, almost a half-mile in diameter, the jungle leaning crazily toward the crater in a larger circle.
“Holy spit! What was that?” asked Strobe.
“I decided to use my gravity controller as a ‘gravity-bomb,'” Valor replied. “I set it to overload. For just a nanosecond, it created a virtual quantum black hole which vaporized everything within a quarter mile.”
Power Boy was awed. “If we had that weapon, we could finally win our battle with the jungle!”
Strobe was a little more practical. “What would have happened if we’d been inside that radius? You could have given us a little more warning!”
“I’m sorry — I’m not used to working with others,” Valor apologized. “As you can see, though, my methods are successful.” He wasn’t about to tell anyone it had all been unplanned, the serendipitous results of a potentially deadly mistake on his part — or that he had a long history of similar successes.
“You better work on the teamwork concept some, Vic. I don’t look forward to being destroyed next time you’re playing the Lone Ranger with black holes or some other super-scientific weapon of planetary-scale destruction.”
“You already have my apology,” Valor said stiffly. He was, after all, commander of the most highly skilled troop of warriors in the galaxy, not some mere recruit to be reprimanded by a civilian. “My results should speak for themselves.”
“We’ve still got problems,” Power Boy reminded them. “The jungle is now probably impervious to our existing weapons, and our latest generation is still under development. Mr. Valor, do you think you can teach our weapons scientists how to build hull-shields and gravity-bombs?”
The major threat of the giant wave was defeated, but the jungle was already reclaiming the crater — in fact, vines were cracking out of the exposed granite. And Strobe could see that tentacles of vegetation were creeping tentatively into the clearing around the city. The combined forces of the Jungle Defense Force fired at these new tentacles, and some of them were blasted out of existence, but some resisted. It took the combined fire of every weapon on this half of the city to push the encroaching jungle back to the perimeter in a single spot, and while the firepower was diverted, the jungle began pushing forward at hundreds of new locations. Again the fire shifted, and another incursion was destroyed, but another hundred were begun, and the jungle crept closer. There weren’t enough weapons, and they couldn’t be redeployed fast enough to stop the revitalized invasion. Without newer, more effective weapons, the eventual outcome was clear — total victory for the jungle.
“I can certainly work with your weapons team!” Valor agreed, and Power Boy led them into the city toward a highly advanced weapons research facility. After introducing Valor to the lead scientist, Power Boy and Strobe headed back to the city wall to aid in the war against the jungle.
The jungle was now immune to the killing effects of the microwave radiation beams from Power Boy’s hands, though if he focused the beams long enough on a certain point, the heat generated would eventually cause the vegetable matter to either explode or burst into flame, but that was quickly extinguished. He and Strobe quickly discovered that physical force was currently the most successful weapon they could employ.
Power Boy would stand straight and extend his arms out to the sides, and then begin whirling around at super-speed. His outstretched arms acted as invulnerable saw-blades, and the rock-hard vegetation would almost literally explode when he whirled into it. As long as he could spin, he carved away the face of the forest with relative ease, but he couldn’t keep up the pace for long. The broken vegetation sprayed him with sticky sap, and debris stuck to him, and every few minutes, he had to stop and stand beneath one of the powerful energy-weapons, which would burn the mess off of him. Strobe was able to create giant cutting tools, such as a giant, glowing white chainsaw, but the wood of the jungle contained a lot of ultra-hard stone, absorbed by the plants as armor against explosions and cutting tools, and the cutting edge quickly dulled. When he willed the cutting edge to be as hard as hull ceramic, things went more smoothly.
Working in concert with the jungle defense teams, Power Boy and Strobe were able to fight the jungle back to the earlier boundary. But they had to constantly use their powers to the fullest, and they had almost no time to rest. Sooner or later they would need a break, and during that time the jungle would inexorably creep forward. The assistance of the heroes could slow down the inevitable fall of the city to conquest by the jungle, but the heroes were seemingly doomed to ultimate failure.
That was, until Vic Valor appeared over the wall, carrying a futuristic gadget that appeared to be an energy-cannon.
“Stand back!” he roared the command. Bracing the cannon with his massive body, he aimed at the edge of the forest and fired. A pale pink beam lanced out, and where it touched the encroaching vegetation, all the green instantly turned to brown. It seemed as if the plants were being killed, but it wasn’t enough — the piles of dead matter protected the living plants farther behind. The weapon was actually going to make it harder to fight the forest. “Protect yourself — there is about to be a very large explosion!”
After his last experience with Valor’s weapons, Strobe immediately threw up a powerful force-bubble around himself and Power Boy. Cones of heat came from Valor’s eyes, and the dead vegetation exploded violently, blasting the dead matter out of the original clearing, and actually destroying some of the living jungle and extending the cleared zone significantly. A cheer went up from the Jungle Defense gun crews on the barrier wall.
“The weapons factories are starting to turn these out now. We should help deliver them to the teams on the walls!” Valor told his friends.
“What a fantastic weapon!” Strobe said enthusiastically. “But it’s not a gravity-bomb or a hull-shield — how did you come up with it so fast?” The three heroes sprang into the air, and Power Boy led the way to one of the many weapons factories in the city.
“It’s a beam that breaks the hydrogen-oxygen bonds in water molecules,” Power Boy guessed. “It kills the plants, and then they’re filled with hydrogen and oxygen — and it just takes a little heat to make the dead matter explode. You found a power supply with enough energy to drive the beam, right?”
“That’s it. I just adapted an stellar infra-energy power source used on Earth, and it was ready to go. The factories were already tooled up to build the cannons as soon as someone figured out how to power them. How did you know about the bond-breaking beam?” Valor asked the teenage hero.
“I invented it.”