by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
Hourboy vanished from the boathouse. An instant later, his homing signal reached the Legion of Justice, and with an explosion, the entrance to a boom tube opened in the room. Chemique and Teleteen were using Legion flying disks and carrying one for Rand. The three Legionnaires floated quickly into the tube.
Randall Tyler had dived an hour into the past, carrying as many flash bombs has he could — he was overloaded, really, but that didn’t matter when he was a phantom. He flew at top speed to the location of the secret technology center, dived through the earth and rock until he reached the giant man-made cavern beneath, and then flashed through the facility, leaving flash bombs in strategic locations. The two he left in Coquette’s work area were slightly different than all the others. He’d be back soon, with luck, to see how they had worked. He moved at his top speed, but he wasn’t rushed — Timepiece’s computer simulations had showed that he would finish with about ten minutes to spare. It sure helped, being able to pass through walls.
Hourboy ended his rounds in the computer room. He had been a phantom for about fifty-three minutes now, and he was only seven minutes from the present. He placed his flash bombs carefully — this room would be the beachhead of the Stealth Squad invasion. Then he carefully floated through the rows of computer terminals to find the best location for the boom tube to transport his friends.
As the exact same instant Rand returned to the present, so did all of the flash bombs that he had scattered throughout this room, and they instantly went off. In less than a second, people started passing out as the room filled with vapor. Now that he was physical again, Rand unplugged a computer keyboard from the nearest computer. There was an explosion as the exit end of the boom tube appeared, and the rest of the Stealth Squad flew through it. By the time they landed, every Amgov employee in the computer room was unconscious.
Hourboy grabbed the universal digital adapter cable from the side of Timepiece’s floating chair and plugged it into the empty keyboard port, and the invasion programs developed by Rexford Tyler and Gernsback savagely invaded the computer network at the secret technology center. The system was entirely undefended at the level of these programs, and Gernsback was in complete control within less than a second. Earlier, Chemique had expressed doubts that this attack could be successful, even after Rex’s earlier assurances, so he had come up with a new analogy to reassure her.
“Think of a modern city, totally protected from the outside environment by an impenetrable energy dome. Nothing can break through the dome; so as long as the dome exists, the residents of the city are absolutely safe. So they spend a lot of money and effort improving that dome, and it is so perfect it would resist any known weapon or combination of weapons. No possible invasion can touch that city!” He smirked. “Or can it?
“That city has been there for centuries. Long ago, residents used something called subways to move from point to point in that city. For the last two-hundred years, nobody has used subways, and the tunnels have been closed and forgotten. But they still exist. All an invader needs to do is find the entrance to the tunnels. To an invader coming in through the tunnels, the impenetrable energy dome is totally irrelevant. In fact, it might be helpful — it conceals the fact that an invasion is in process, and eventually will hinder any rescue efforts. And you can bet the invaders won’t forget to guard the tunnels!”
Timepiece’s own research had revealed the existence of the tunnel system of the Amgov computers — the underlying Unix operating system — and Gernsback had found an entrance. And by the time Chemique finished remembering Rex’s little lecture, Gernsback was in complete control of all the communications in and out of the facility. Now that no one in the rest of the facility could call for help, Hourboy activated his remote detonator, and the rest of the flash bombs exploded.
“Any suits?” Chemique asked Hourboy, referring to guards in security armor.
Hourboy touched a control on his wrist computer, and a holographic 3D image of the facility was displayed. “I saw at least two during my sweep, here and here.” He stuck his finger into the display. He had actually seen exactly two. It wasn’t technically a lie.
“OK, the first one’s mine,” she replied. “Tommy, you take the second one. Rand, you look for any others you might have missed the first time ’round. Go!” And they went.
Timepiece didn’t need to stay in the computer center any longer. Gernsback was in complete control and had his instructions. So as soon as Chemique and Teleteen were gone, he quickly caught up with his brother.
“Slick!” he commented admiringly.
“Well, I set it up last night, actually,” said Rand. “I managed to suggest that if anyone needed to search the facilities again after you guys showed up, looking for more guards, I was the logical one, since I know the layout best.”
“What if there had been three suits?” Rex wondered.
“We’d be doing something else, I guess.”
“You know how much trouble we’re going to be in?” Rex talked a lot when he was worried. “Chemique is going to read us off — and that will be nothing compared to what Canary will do.”
“We talked about it last night, Rex. You don’t have to go with me, you know.”
“But we’re letting Miqui and Tommy face two suits by themselves.”
“Look, Rex — they are Legionnaires. They were trained by Liberty Lad and the Master of Flowers and even General Urbane at the Academy, and by Canary and Kid Terrific and me since then. And they have those gadgets you worked up. If you’re that worried, go help them. Otherwise, shut up for a while, would you?”
He kept going. Rex shut up and followed him.
Teleteen was nervous, and yet he wasn’t. He was going to face a trained opponent wearing powered combat armor with nothing but his powers and a few gadgets Timepiece had put together. Was he crazy? Worse, was Chemique crazy? On the other hand, Chemique and the rest of his teammates had faith in him, and he did have his powers and Timepiece’s gadgets — and years of Legion training.
He’d practiced fighting opponents in powered armor for years — they all had. Very few single opponents faced by the Legion had the variety of weapons that a suit had, and Amgov used the Legion as beta testers for each improvement made to combat armor. And, he supposed, it was a good way for suit wearers to get experience fighting super-powered opponents. Heck, he might even have trained against this particular security guy.
Tommy Tamare had another possible advantage — he had taken an elective survey course in armored combat suit design as part of his naval architecture curriculum, and a suit was very like a miniature spaceship, and designing systems to keep a man in a suit alive in a variety of hostile environments was good training for developing spaceship life support systems. Right offhand, though, he couldn’t remember noticing any design flaws during his studies.
Teleteen’s wrist computer was displaying a smaller version of the holographic map Hourboy had used earlier. His opponent was in the vast warehouse with all the stacks of crates. By staying down among the stacks, he might be able to get fairly close before he was detected. The suit had a number of automatic sensors, including radar, infrared, and magnetic field, but his scrambler would fix those. The security op would have to actually see him to detect him, and none of the suit’s target lock systems would work on him except the visual. If this guy depended heavily on his automatics, a common failing among suit operators, Teleteen would have a slight advantage.
Jerry Von Chider was on his regular patrol when suddenly his suit’s communications with the rest of the world were totally cut off. He was flying one of the preprogrammed routes through the vast warehouse area of the secret technology center when the vid he was watching on his opaqued visor simply stopped. His attempts to contact his partner Chuck Courtney, who was flying patrol in the office and living areas, also failed. He tried to contact his superiors, he tried to tune in outside radio stations, he tried his phone to call his wife, and he even used the small secret signaling device that Coquette had provided him — but nothing.
He came to a halt, hovering near one wall of the giant room while he tried to figure out what to do next. He fearfully made his visor transparent again. To his relief, the warehouse was empty of moving forms.
His suit was always set on full combat alert while he patrolled, and the radar, sonar, infrared, ultraviolet, magnetic, and even visual scanners had never recorded anything. But he knew better. When the warehouse workers were off-shift, things moved in the warehouse — things that were visible only to the human eye, but never to any detecting or recording device. They were things that passed through the walls of crates as if they weren’t there, things with forms he could almost discern — and what he could see scared him so much he didn’t want to see them more clearly.
So he would opaque the armor’s visor and use the suit’s head-up display, or HUD, to watch a vid from his personal collection while the suit flew preprogrammed patrol patterns. The suit’s external sensors never detected any threats, and he kept quiet about whatever he might detect that the suit missed. His predecessor had given him the trick, having learned it from his own predecessor. Jerry had laughed when the guy had told him about this. After all, he didn’t believe in ghosts or magic. But after his first patrol — watching things that didn’t exist do things for which he had no names — he’d stopped laughing.
Even with the suit’s visor opaque, he wasn’t totally shielded from the astral goings-on in the warehouse — occasionally his flight path would intersect that of one or more of the things, and suddenly there would be something in the suit with him, and then it would be gone again. So far he’d been lucky; so far, these things had done nothing more than terrify him. Well, and embarrass him, too, when his partner found him cleaning his suit.
He was terrified that, whatever these things were, they had something to do with the current communications blackout — but it looked as if they were quiescent, for now, at least. He tried to put them out of his mind and concentrate on the situation at hand.
There were only three ways into the warehouse — two airlocks that led to the loading dock and one that led to the office area. He flew to a position where he could see all three locks at the same time and prepared himself to repel any invaders who might come through. Then he had a thought — why not seal two of the locks so nothing could come through? Amgov security would have to investigate the problem soon, and several squads of agents in armor should be here within a few minutes. He would then join his fellows in their efforts. There was nothing on Earth that could stand up to a full squad of Amgov armor.
He floated to the big cargo lock and got to work. His main laser, thirty-percent defocused, melted the edges of the big sliding hatches where they met, and then he used pressers to push the melted edges together more solidly, and then cooled the join with a blast of liquid air. Nobody would get through that door in a hurry.
Behind him, his radar noted that the office airlock had just slid open. His automated combat systems kicked in and jerked him around violently, and his missile launcher burped four times. He barely made out a glimpse of a human figure flashing into the stacks, pursued by one of his missiles.
Wait, only one missile was tracking? His HUD showed that the other three had failed to acquire target lock. He sent a quick mental command to the combat systems, and the other three missiles were slaved to the first, and suddenly they, too, were flashing away. There was a tremendous explosion nearby as the lead missile detonated, and then silence. Telemetry showed that the other three missiles had now acquired the target independently — with visible-light sensors only, he noted — and they were now pursuing the flying figure between the stacks of crates. The little missiles were far faster than their prey, but he was more maneuverable, and was barely managing to stay ahead by numerous zigs and zags. Suddenly, though, the last zig brought the fleeing figure into a long corridor with no cross connections, and the missiles began to gain inexorably.
Teleteen was able to use his powers to sense that the agent in the suit was closer to the big airlock than the office airlock, so he triggered the office lock and flew into the vast warehouse at the top speed the flying disk could provide. He used his own power to lessen his weight, which allowed him to divert more of the disk’s power to speed.
Immediately, his sensors showed that his opponent had launched four missiles. Three of them went in random directions — they must be using homing systems that his gadgets were interfering with — but the fourth flew toward him at high speed. No sweat — he formed an invisible telekinetic energy shield, and it exploded about a hundred yards away. But now the other missiles had somehow acquired target lock.
They were too far apart to stop with a single shield, and coming too fast for him to block all three with individual shields. So he ran and dodged. These small missiles only held about ninety seconds worth of fuel.
Using his power to augment that of the flying disk, he could make sharp corners at very high speeds. The missiles, on the other hand, had to make very wide corners, and then they had to maneuver to find him again. Even with his maneuverability advantage, they were closing on him, and they were becoming faster and more maneuverable as they burned fuel and became lighter.
Then he made a mistake — he rounded a corner, and he could see no cross corridors ahead of him. There was some big piece of machinery blocking the end of this corridor — he immediately switched the disk’s power entirely to lift and strained his own telekinetic power to lift him — and he barely avoided a collision. He immediately dived again, and the closest missile smashed into the giant forklift and exploded, detonating the other two as they closed. He wrapped himself in a spherical force-field, and the force of the explosion caused him to lose control. He tumbled head over heels and bounced hard off of several crates and the floor before he finally smashed to a stop. His telekinetic shield had protected him from broken bones, but he was going to have bruises everywhere — and maybe a concussion. The flying disk still seemed to be fully functional, at least.
He could no longer see the guy in the suit, but his telekinetic sense could detect movement. The security guard was coming his way, high up. Just off the floor, he scuttled along like a rat in a maze. Oops, two more missiles — but far enough away that he was able to block one, then shift his block to the other. But they had locked on him too easily. The suit’s combat computer had figured out how to compensate for Rex’s sensor scramblers.
Tommy quickly deployed another one of his gadgets — a decoy. He only had two of these, so he couldn’t waste them. He programmed a flying holographic projector and then watched as he fled from himself, zig-zagging between the rows of stacked crates. He fled in the opposite direction.
A laser beam deflected from his energy field — while he had been thinking, his opponent had been moving. He fled, and the laser tracked him. Running and hiding appeared to be out of the question now, but you rarely won a fight by running and hiding, anyway, unless you had lots of time, which Tommy didn’t. Sooner or later, this guy’s buddies would twig that something was going wrong in the center, and the Stealth Squad had to be out of here by then.
So if running and hiding was out, what was left? Kid Terrific had taught him that you can often beat an opponent who has equal power to your own, and even superior power, by doing the unexpected. Well, a frontal attack would certainly be unexpected. He forced the disk to stop moving — and stopped so quickly that, for an instant, even the suit’s sophisticated targeting system lost him, and the laser beam panned past him and exploded one of the crates in his path.
He rocketed straight upward and curved his path directly at his opponent. He shaped his force-field into a wedge shape, pointing at the suit. He then focused all his remaining power on a quasi-solid spherical shell surrounding the combat armor.
Teleteen then made the shell opaque to photons. In a single stroke, he’d taken out most of the armor’s targeting capability — radar, radio, visual, infrared, and ultraviolet — and blocked the most effective weapons — the laser and the microwave beam, the heat beam and the photon cannon, all of which made use of photons. In addition, the shell blocked sonic weapons and bullets.
Jerry Von Chider didn’t know what this shell could do, so he tested it — and almost disabled his armor as his own weapons fire reflected back at him from short range. The suit’s combat computer stopped firing instantly and displayed a situation analysis on his HUD. His only effective sensors and weapons were magnetic. Well, he had a magnetic trick he’d never tried before. He created an intensely strong magnetic field around the flying man — strong enough to disrupt electrical currents, even the minuscule electric currents in the human body. For just a second, every nerve impulse in Teleteen’s body stopped — and he fell unconscious. The opaque shell around Jerry vanished.
What Jerry hadn’t counted on was that his armor would be disabled by the same blast. He had channeled all available power into the magnetic field and forgotten to save some for a shield — and every system in his armor shut down.
The power-up process for a suit of armor took twenty minutes — and you never did it while you were inside the armor. You always powered up before you suited up. Jerry would be helpless until he could get out of the now-rigid suit, and he would need outside help for that.
As soon as he realized the condition of the suit and the security agent inside, Tommy Tamare chuckled. He had finally figured out the design flaws in combat armor. He used his powers to strip the armor from the helpless agent, disabling each module as he removed it. He couldn’t help the feeling of triumph inside — he had faced an agent in full security armor and not only survived, but triumphed.