by Dan Swanson
Melanie (Mel) Garde (also known as the super heroine Pinky, partner to Mr. Scarlet) was excited about her ‘vacation’. She, along with several of the other ‘unpowered’ super heroes associated with the Squadron of Justice, were engaged in a ‘working vacation’ — also known as ‘survival training’. They had just parachuted into a remote location in the Adirondack Mountains, and their agenda required them to make their way through the wilderness to a small town about 100 miles away.
They had no tools, no rope, no tents, nothing! They were not even allowed to wear their costumes, although they were allowed standard hiking clothes. Mel had expected that they would use the parachutes and ropes to make tents and stuff, but they were required to pack the chutes and the protective gear into a chest and lock it.
Golden Arrow — Gary Parsons in his civilian identity — had set up the whole deal. He had a Native American friend who took three or four groups a year through this kind of ordeal. Jack Weston, Minute Man, had received this type of training in the military, and Gary had also had similar training, but they both felt the need for a refresher course. Pinky’s partner Rob Butler, Mr. Scarlet, and Spy Smasher (Jack Armstrong) rounded out the group.
Their guide, Black Wolf, had hiked out from the destination town to meet them, just to show them it could be done. Gary was the first to land, and after he had stowed his ‘chute, he hurried up to his old friend. “Wolf! It’s great to see you! Looking fine as always!” They had exchanged handshakes and a hearty hug.
Then Black Wolf took a step backward. “I don’t wish to hurt your feelings, my friend, but while in the company of these others, please use my formal name. Until and unless they become my close friends as you are, the more formal form of address should be used.”
Gary was not offended. He remembered how honored he had felt when he had become well enough accepted among Black Wolf’s friends and family that he had been allowed to use the friendly forms of their names.
Mel was surprised at how much Jack and Gary seemed to be learning from their guide, especially as they had already had survival training. She had wondered at the level of respect the other super heroes had given this unknown civilian, until she started to get hungry, and had no idea how to feed herself.
As soon as they had finished locking up their parachutes, Black Wolf put them to work. “What do we need first?” he’d asked. The experienced survivalists, Jack/Minute Man and Gary/Golden Arrow both knew the answer, so they kept quiet. Rob/Mr. Scarlet and Jack/Spy Smasher appeared to be reluctant to look foolish. Well, Mel was still a teenager, and that’s what teenagers did. Besides, she knew this one! “Weapons!” She waited for praise.
“Why are weapons first? Are you some kind of war monger?” His voice was stern and disapproving, although actually he was quite pleased. ‘Let’s see how she stands up to a little intimidation,’ he thought with an inner smile.
Pinky intimidated? She would never have become a super heroine if she backed off that easy! “Lions and tigers and bears!” She smiled.
Black Wolf smiled as well “Oh MY!” and Mel blushed. But she wasn’t finished.
“Well, actually, there are likely no tigers. But there are probably mountain lions and brown and black bears,” she insisted stubbornly. “And there may be bobcats and wolves, coyotes and rattlesnakes, wolverines and porcupines. Maybe wild dogs. I think those are good substitutes for tigers, don’t you? And there have recently been a bunch of murders on the Appalachian Trail, so we might even want to watch out for bad guys!”
“Aren’t you all super heroes?” Wolf asked in a mild tone.
“And a bear is going to care?” she asked, still stubborn.
He surprised her. “Very good, young lady warrior! We will have other problems, but we must ensure that we are alive when we encounter those other problems. Weapons first. One of you…” he pointed at Rob and Jack Armstrong… “what weapons might we make?” Jack A. spoke up first. “Clubs should be easy — just pick up a broken branch. Staffs would be better, but we would need something to cut wood. We can always throw stones.”
Black Wolf pointed at Rob. “Now you!”
“Hmm, it would be easy to make slings. Spears, too, maybe.”
Black Wolf still wasn’t satisfied. “You who use the tools of the Iroquois, what weapons?” Golden Arrow was now on the spot.
“I want a bow and arrows! We can also make stone knives and stone axes.”
Black Wolf nodded. “Yes, the bow and arrow will be the most important tools you will create. As you are aware, archer, crafting a bow of high quality may require many hours of work done over several months. The bows we make today and tomorrow will serve our needs, but they are only shadows of what might be accomplished. Do you know what you require to make this first bow, that you may use it as you gather the materials for the real thing?”
“I think bowstring, and since I want the bow as soon as possible, fiber from tree bark is what I’ll need!”
“And your contribution, noble guardian?” Black Wolf asked Jack Weston.
“I would say, tools instead of weapons. Fire and rope.”
“Very good. We have a long way to go today, so let’s spend a couple of hours making tools and weapons, then have lunch and then get started on our ‘hike’. When you begin to build something, remember that you will first need to make ‘the tools to make the tools to make the tools’, so start with something simple.” Then Black Wolf dismissed them to their tasks. “Be sure to remain in groups of at least two and always keep at least one of your partners in sight. The young lady warrior is correct; there are dangerous animals — as well as other dangers — nearby.”
Sharp edges could be created by bashing one rock against another. Rocks with sharp edges could be used to cut down small trees. Some of those could be stripped of branches and bark and sharpened by rubbing on rough stones.
Black Wolf and Gary found a dead tree with the bark still attached, and they had pulled a lot of fibers from the dry bark. While Gary rolled these fibers into long threads, Black Wolf had used some sharp stones to cut down some American Hornbeam saplings and carve them roughly into the shape of bows. He and Gary would use rough stones to finish shaping them after dinner this evening. They would make some arrows at the same time.
After a couple of hours of work, Black Hawk called a halt to the tool building, and the group broke for lunch. Gary had many yards of tree-fiber thread, which he and Black Wolf would twist into cord as they hiked. Tonight they would use the cord to string their bows, and Golden Arrow would be armed with his chosen weapons tomorrow! Jack W. could use the extra cord to weave into rope.
Jack Armstrong had made himself a quarterstaff, though he wasn’t happy that the wood was still green and soft. As long as his opponent didn’t have a blade, it would do.
Mel had made a sling from a strip of her shirt, and found a pocketful of smooth rocks for ammunition. She had already begun practicing, and she had improved quickly — she was able to hit a boulder the size of an office desk about half the time. Gary had watched her for a while, and the two were discussing sling techniques.
Rob carried half a dozen spears and an atlatl. His throwing range was very impressive, but his accuracy was horrible. “I hope we never have to depend on me to feed us!” he joked.
“You are doing quite well, given your late start into the art of spears, scarlet warrior. Were your life to depend on your accuracy, you would find your skills improving rapidly — or it wouldn’t matter.” Among those who knew him, Black Wolf was a noted philosopher — and a very practical one.
Jack Weston was armed with a half dozen sharpened wooden stakes, very similar to daggers. Black Wolf eyed him thoughtfully. “Remind me never to anger you, guardian! I have never been interested in knowing what it would feel like to be a pincushion.”
He paused, looked at the group, and smiled. “Very good, considering what little we have to work with. Time for lunch!”
“What are we going to eat?” Mel wanted to know.
“Ah, young lady warrior, whatever you can find — or catch! For now I suggest fish; tomorrow we will have bows and we should have rabbit or venison.”
Black Wolf and Jack Weston taught Mel to ‘tickle’ fish, while the other heroes searched for something they could knock down with their new weapons. Nobody else had any luck, but they brought back firewood. Gary used a shoelace to make a fire bow and had a fire going shortly. It was tough to clean and gut fish with rocks and sharp sticks, but they managed to feed themselves. Black Wolf kept the guts and other leftovers, wrapping them in some big leaves.
“Never discard what may be useful. Never retain what is worthless.” He stopped and waited. Someone always took the bait. This time, it wasn’t Mel as he expected, but Jack Armstrong.
“And how do we know the difference? Those fish guts look pretty worthless to me!”
Black Wolf pounced! “Ah, young man — that’s why you hired me. To teach you the difference between treasure and trash!” he chuckled.
Black Wolf wanted them to get in a good 20 miles before dark. “You are feeling good now, full and rested. I guarantee you won’t feel this good again for at least a week! So we should get in as many miles as possible. Tomorrow you will be hungry, tired and sore and we’ll be lucky to get ten miles.”
He showed them how to orient themselves (moss grows on the north side of trees, the afternoon sun is south and west) and they were just about ready to get started when Captain Marvel Jr. broke up their whole vacation! He offered Black Wolf a ride back home, but was refused. Who could possibly pass up a 100 mile hike through wilderness with no tools or weapons but what you had made yourself?
Ibis the Invincible was currently feeling quite vincible. He, the new super heroine called Sunbeam, and Kid Eternity had been battling for what seemed like ages against a trio of villains who seemed to have been created especially for this task. His foe controlled the forces of nature — electricity and gravity, wind and light. Sunbeam’s foe seemed to use blackness much the way Sunbeam used light, and the villain who was engaging Kid Eternity seemed to be able to adapt the powers of whatever heroes the Kid called out of the past for assistance.
At least he had been able to use the Ibistick to shift the entire battle out of the city, although they were devastating many square miles of farmland. He had been in hospital visiting his wife who was recovering from an appendix operation when he had seen a news report of three criminals battling an indeterminate number of heroes, in the local stadium, no less — a stadium that was filled with thousands of people who had been attending a rock concert.
The Ibistick had transported him instantly to the stadium, and then he had transported all the combatants into the countryside, and nothing had gone right since then. It was more than time to end this battle. Yet it was so evenly matched, unless he and his allies changed tactics, it could continue for many hours.
“Ibistick, I wish to talk to Sunbeam and Kid Eternity, and remain protected as I do so.” Now, when he spoke, he knew his two young allies would be able to hear him. “My friends, I propose we quickly switch opponents. Kid Eternity, the sorceress Circe should be able to defeat Sunbeam’s opponent. Sunbeam, you attack my opponent, and I will take care of the mimic plaguing Kid Eternity.”
Both younger heroes were also growing weary, and they quickly agreed to the plan. “At my signal, launch your strongest attack against your current opponent, and as soon as they falter momentarily, I’ll make the switch! 3… 2… 1… now!”
“Ibistick, blast my foe from the sky!”
A beam of magical energy blasted his opponent, whose gesture seemed to turn the air solid around him. Ibis saw a giant hammer, seemingly made of solid yellow light, slam down on the female villain who seemed to control darkness, and a giant being with only a single eye slammed a club the size of a railroad tie into Kid Eternity’s foe.
“Ibistick, switch opponents,” and suddenly he was hanging in the air in front of a being who looked like a young boy with a sling. “Ibistick encase him in amber!” and the boy was encased in a transparent yellow goop. Sunbeam picked up the former foe of Ibis with a pair of giant tweezers, squeezing his chest to try to make him pass out. Circe threw a spell at the wielder of blackness, presumably to try to turn him into some kind of animal.
Suddenly a blue and red figure flashed onto the battlefield. Taking full advantage of the confusion his allies had just caused he zipped from one villain to the next. They were trying to adapt to the newest attacks and they had no chance against the Speed of Mercury and the Strength of Hercules. Suddenly there were four heroes (five if you count the invisible intangible Mr. Keeper) and three unconscious villains.
“Our thanks, Boy of Might!” Ibis greeted his long-time ally. “This battle had become wearisome. Your air of haste makes me think that it is more than a mission of aid to us your fellows that brings you here.”
“You got it, Ibis. Captain Marvel sent me to gather as many heroes as I could, and ask them to meet at the Rock of Eternity in about a half an hour. Can you be there?” He stopped and explained what he knew of the threat. Ibis suggested that he needed to check on his wife, and the other heroes accompanied Captain Marvel, Jr. to the Rock of Eternity.
Captain Marvel exited from the Rock of Eternity near the peak of Mt. Everest. He was looking for Master Man, not to recruit him, but to make him aware of the mission of the other heroes — if they failed, Master Man would be Earth’s last line of defense. As he headed back to the Rock of Eternity, he realized he ought to make one more quick side trip. When he arrived back at the Rock, he deposited a small pile of Marvellium — a metal which he had invented which could block the magic lightning.
Sivana Jr. had been able to find another rocket, but his father had removed all weapons from the lab Sivana Jr. had been using. Still, Jr. didn’t return empty-handed; he brought with him his fiancée Sandalyn Wizzolinsk and a small pile of Sivanium — a metal his Pop had invented which could block the magic lightning. He was astounded at the scene he found!