by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
Amgov had not planned for Tommy Tamare, alias Teleteen, to be a super-hero. A lot of aptitude tests he had to take during his first few years of schooling showed a strong inclination toward the engineering disciplines, and the public school system had arranged his curriculum accordingly. By the time he reached the age of ten, he was well on his way to becoming a spaceship designer, and his future career in the Utopian States Space Navy was virtually assured. The emergence of his telekinetic powers had not really altered his career track — if he survived the Legion, he would end up working for the USSN after he retired from full-time heroics. All his Legion Academy electives were chosen for him with a career as a naval architect as the ultimate goal.
In his fast-tracked curriculum, he had already come as close to designing actual Space Navy vessels as was possible for a civilian. The most advanced sims in his graduate-level courses gave him simulated access to the same tools that actual USSN officers (senior naval designers) used as well as access to all their other resources — real reference works and simulated raw materials, completed assemblies, stocks of proven components, and bleeding edge prototypes. The only difference was that his designs were only implemented in simulation, while their designs might be sent to automated shipbuilders for prototyping and implementation once simulation testing was completed.
What he didn’t know was that some of the more minor modifications he had suggested for existing ship models had been successfully prototyped and tested, and were now being added to those models whenever they came in for refit. Amgov didn’t believe in wasting resources.
The hangar deck and ship maintenance facilities on Knight Base were like a playground to Tommy. Lightyears from any star system, the Wanderers had been totally dependent on the reliability of their own spacecraft and their ability to repair their vessels whenever they were damaged. The automated facilities at Knight Base had to be able to handle virtually any kind of repair or maintenance that a ship might require — and not just one kind of ship. Over the years, the Wanderers had collected a small fleet of ships built in the space-yards of over a dozen different races. And the Base mainframe, now synonymous with Gernsback, had volumes of information about each ship and type of ship. About the only thing the Knight Base shops couldn’t do was create a totally new hull — at least, not a military-grade hull.
Just after the Legion’s relocation — the escape from Amgov, in starker terms — Canary had assigned Tommy the tasks of reactivating Base’s automated spaceship maintenance machinery and then getting as many ships as possible back into reliable operational conditions. This was interesting and fulfilling work, but not very exciting. Canary wanted these ships restored by the book to like-new conditions, but with no customization.
In his spare time, Tommy started a project that was much more exciting. In the centuries-old tradition of mechanically included teenagers, he had always wanted to turn a clunker of his own into a hot rod. And now he finally had the chance.
Tommy found his clunker in the scrap heap — a battered, thirty-foot, wedge-shaped hull with systems that had been cannibalized many times before it was finally scrapped. He would have to strip it down to bare hull and build anew. When he was finished, this thing might look exactly like a long-obsolete H’lven StarBlazer, but inside — well, it would be unique.
Like the creation of millions of hot rods earlier in history, it became a communal project, with all of the other Legionnaires contributing opinions, expertise, cash, and even elbow grease, according to their own interests. When they were finished, they had a small, very fast, very agile ship, not capable of hyperspace, which required a crew complement of two, and could support up to six for several weeks. It had some weapons but was stronger on shields and stealth; the Hot Rod as it was officially named was not designed to be a warship but a big boy’s toy. Tommy had a riot flying it around Knight Base, but eventually the thrill wore off, and the Hot Rod officially became ship’s pinnace for the largest Legion cruiser. And then, with the revelations that came with the discovery of Mekanique and her tampering with time, every other project fell by the wayside.
But the Hot Rod would come in handy for the Legion Stealth Squad on their mission to Earth, and Teleteen would use it effectively.
The four Legionnaires observed the valiant Aurora’s desperate last battle from aboard the Hot Rod a nanosecond in the future.
“C’mon, Tommy, let’s get a move on!” Rex was sweating. “I can’t hide this boat for long.” Holding the thirty-foot pinnace uptime was pushing his power to his limits.
But Tommy Tamare was already diving the Hot Rod earthward at maximum safe velocity, or maybe a little bit faster. The ceramic hull of the boat was heating up as they entered Earth’s atmosphere at meteoric speed. Chemique directed him toward the Atlantic Ocean.
“Weather monitors show a nasty storm about a hundred miles off the coast of New Jersey. I wish it were a little closer to Gunderson,” she said, referring to the former District of Columbia, “but it will do.”
“It will have to — do,” Rex managed to get out.
“Hold on, Rex!” Tommy said, trying to assure his teammate. “Five minutes, max!”
Even Rand, who was perhaps the best pilot in the Legion — though Hawk Lad would have argued about that — was impressed with Tommy’s skill as he brought the Hot Rod down through the atmosphere into the storm. From orbit to hovering in a violent thunderstorm in under five minutes was no mean feat, even with extrasolar technology. The inertial dampeners were the only thing that made it possible — the little ship must have pulled fifty Gs a couple of times during the dive and subsequent pull-up. Suddenly, the Hot Rod was hovering motionless in a steamy fog in the center of a raging thunderstorm, rain flashing to vapor as it struck the ship’s now-ultraheated ceramic hull.
Motionless? A relative term. Compared to orbital velocity, compared to the mad dash from orbit to their current station, the Hot Rod was now dead still. But even extrasolar technology couldn’t totally ignore or compensate for the raging winds inside this fierce storm. Despite the best efforts of the autopilot, ably aided by the human pilot, the Hot Rod swayed and pitched, yawed and rolled like a balloon tethered in front of a ventilation fan. They couldn’t plunge into the ocean until the hull had cooled off.
Tommy was far too busy trying to smooth out the hover to notice the effect of this pitching and rolling on his teammates, who were struggling against motion sickness. Rex, who had dropped them back to real-time the instant they entered the storm, was floating his chair independently of the Hot Rod, which worked all right for the smaller bounces and jolts, but when the pinnace instantly jumped a good distance in a random direction, which it did often, the protective force-field around his chair would jar off of the bulkheads. The little movements didn’t affect him, while the big ones were worse for him than for his teammates.
Miqui was able to slow down her metabolism to the point where she was barely affected by the ship’s rapid movements, though by doing this, she also drastically slowed down her mental processes. She hoped she wouldn’t have to make any snap judgments in the near future; any emergency situation would be long resolved by the time she had made up her mind about a course of action.
The Legionnaire having the hardest time with his stomach was Rand — who would have been fine if he had been doing the piloting. As it was, he was concentrating desperately on his reputation as the Legion’s tough guy who could handle anything. They’d change his code name to Flash if he couldn’t handle this, he just knew it. And they’d make sure every girl he ever met for the next twenty years would hear this story, over and over again.
The volume of rain cascading around the hovering spaceship quickly lowered the hull temperature to under boiling, and Rand was still but barely in control of his stomach when Tommy finally splashed them down into the ocean. Fifteen feet under, the violent motions began to abate, and his teammates started returning to normal. Tommy had been concentrating so fiercely he hadn’t noticed any discomfort. He quickly took them down to two-hundred feet and got them moving slowly toward shore, then put the Hot Rod on autopilot and started checking his other instruments.
Rex was giving his brother a hard time. “Geez, you need a new costume designer. The blue and yellow uniform doesn’t go well at all with the green face!”
Rand didn’t even feel well enough to respond. Instead, he turned his attention to the Hot Rod’s instrument panel and started shutting down the systems that weren’t useful in this environment — and turning on the few that would be helpful now, such as the sonar. Designed to penetrate the very thick atmospheres of gas giants, it should serve them just as well in the oceans of Earth. And concentration on these tasks helped him forget his queasy stomach.
After a few anxious minutes, Tommy made the announcement everyone was waiting for. “Well, I wouldn’t want to do this every day — the Hot Rod is a spaceship, not a submarine — but the hull is handling the pressure just fine, the inertial engines work well enough, and life support will hold up for as long as we plan to be submerged.”
“And the sonar picture is almost as good as being able to see,” Rand crowed.
“I sure wouldn’t want to be outside in this sludge!” Chemique’s voice radiated emphatic disgust. She was sensing the chemical composition of the fluid outside. “It’s like we’re in a sewer!”
“I’ve heard that the water is cleaner closer to the surface,” Rex offered. “We’re deep enough to be cruising through the accumulated waste products of our civilization, dumped into the ocean for five-hundred years. Yuck!”
“OK, time to get to work. Rand?” Mique said, changing the subject.
Hourboy smiled. “You won’t even know I was gone — see?” His position shifted slightly, the only indication that he had just spent an hour in the past as a phantom, spying on government installations.
“I checked out several Amgov radar installations along the Jersey coast, as well as the observation station at the military spaceport on Fire Island — and nobody noticed us.”
There was a chance that Amgov maintained some secret space observation facilities along the coast, but Rand didn’t know those secret locations, so he had checked as many known facilities as he could reach in an hour in his phantom form. It was the best they could do.
“OK, since we seem to be undetected, we’ll go with Plan A,” Chemique confirmed.
A few hours cruising and they entered Delaware Bay, where they had to be more careful. Their stealth systems would hide them from the sonar of any surface vessels, and this was a busy shipping port. It wouldn’t do for a cargo ship to hit an invisible, sonar-proof obstruction. Chemique quickly moved them to Plan A prime. They dropped to the bottom and waited a couple of hours for dark. As they passed the time, Miqui and Tommy proved to be an unbeatable team at euchre, and Rex had a flair for bridge, regardless of who he paired with. Soon enough, it was time to continue the mission.
Rex concentrated and moved the Hot Rod uptime. Tommy flipped a switch, and the autopilot took over, raising them from Delaware Bay, flashing across the Upper Chesapeake Peninsula, then down again into Crab Alley Bay near Kent Island, much faster than Tommy could have done it. Rex had hardly had any time to complain, when the signal came that it was safe for him to return them to normal time. The water here was much cleaner — though still not clean enough to swim in. Fortunately, they didn’t have to.
Once again, Rand dived back into the past, this time scouting the nearby island as a phantom, and almost immediately found what they needed — an abandoned estate with a large boathouse. Shortly thereafter, the Hot Rod was safely hidden inside the boathouse. The estate had once been home to a rich family, but after centuries of Amgov, there was no longer an independent wealthy producer class. The immense taxes the producer class had to pay had soon driven this family into one of the slums with all the other producers. Some entitled class had lived here for a while, but entitled didn’t work — even to do maintenance — and the place had fallen into such disrepair that even the entitled wouldn’t live here any longer. Even to the politically and socially naïve Legionnaires, the fallen estate pointed out the irony of their mission — they were trying to save this timeline, which meant saving Amgov.
“What they would bring about is even worse than Amgov,” Miqui said, referring to Mekanique, Rotwang, and Vandal Savage. She was constantly reassuring her teammates. Tommy, who had been pretty much enslaved into the Legion Academy when his powers manifested, and Rex, whose body had been crippled on Amgov orders, found this to be a very thin rationalization. Canary had prepared her for this eventuality, however. Miqui showed her teammates a video Canary had recorded before they left — just in case.
“Once we’ve stopped Savage, Mekanique, and Rotwang,” Canary promised on the recording, “the Legion of Justice will begin working with the underground in the Utopian States of America to topple Amgov. We’ll finally live up to our name. So pick up as many Amgov secrets as you safely can without compromising your main mission.”
As Canary had known it would be, this was just the impetus the Stealth Squad needed to regain their enthusiasm. It was time to get started on their mission.