by Dan Swanson
Chapter eleven — Americon Takes Charge ####### CHAPTER 12
Americon continued speaking. “We are going to send a scouting team to gather more information about BattleWorld before we begin planning our campaign.” He was interrupted by an anonymous voice from the group.
“So who died and made you the boss, anyway?”
“Normally, I don’t answer anonymous questions. However, that’s a very relevant question and we need to answer it before we do anything else. We may be going into a life and death situation, and you will be required to trust your leaders and obey our orders. If you’re not comfortable with my leadership, speak up now.”
Tall Marvel stepped out of the crowd. “I think Captain Marvel should be our leader. He’s the greatest hero of our world!” Nobody else spoke out loud, but Americon could tell that several others felt that way as well.
“Yes, he is. And Captain Thunder is the greatest hero on our word, and he has 20 years more experience than Captain Marvel.” He paused for a moment to let that sink in. “And he takes my orders without question, as has the entire Society of Justice, for over 20 years. There is no man on either of our planets as qualified to lead a band of super-heroes as I am.”
“If any of you don’t wish to follow my orders, please form a separate group. Elect a leader and then please have your leader join us to formulate our battle plans.” Tall Marvel looked nervously at the group, but no one seemed ready to join him, so he slowly rejoined them. Americon made no further comments.
Tall Marvel privately mused over the scene, dissecting it with the Wisdom of Solomon. He realized that Americon had used his question as an opportunity to subtly demonstrate his leadership skills, decisively defusing a potential crisis that would have seriously weakened his forces before it could even get started. And, without embarrassing Tall, either! Tall Marvel discovered that was willing to follow wherever this man might lead. He could tell that some others around him had also reached the same conclusion.
Americon moved on to his next subject. “I would rather not order anyone to be part of the scouting mission — it will be extremely dangerous and some of the scouts may die. So I’d like to ask for volunteers.” He paused for a second, and before he could continue, everyone in the group had taken one step forward. He smiled, genuinely pleased — but not surprised.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Sivana, Mr. Ibis, Lady Bolt, Atomic Rocket, Sunbeam and Thunderman, please join me for the pre-mission briefing. For the rest of you — Colonel Pepper, known to some of you as Radar, and Minute Man, are second and third in command. Until our scout team returns, I suggest rest, refreshment, and getting to know your teammates if you don’t know them already. Captains Marvel and Thunder, could you also join us for the mission briefing?”
Before Americon could begin the briefing, Sivana spoke up. “Um… sir?” It was difficult for Thad to utter that word — he had probably never said it before in his entire life.
“Yes, Mr. Sivana?” Icon’s easy interest encouraged Thad.
“It seems to me that the Big Red C… heh heh, I mean, the Marvel Family and the Thunders, may be at a significant disadvantage in this fight, if they have to worry about being turned into mere mortals every time the enemy fires an energy weapon. I brought with me a small supply of Sivanium, a metal that blocks the magic lightning. I also brought my Jiffy Machine, which can make anything. We can use it to make Sivanium armor for some of the Cheeses… er heh heh… Marvels, but I only have enough for about four suits of armor.”
“Hey! It’s called Marvellium — and I brought some for just the same reason.” Captain Marvel sounded indignant, but before he could continue, Captain Thunder spoke up.
“There is a similar metal on our world called Thundranium, and we brought some with us as well.”
Americon spoke again. “Thanks to all of you for your contributions. Mr. Sivana, please show Bulletman and Spy Smasher how to operate the Jiffy Machine, and then rejoin us.”
Thad, Spy Smasher and Bulletman stood in front of the box Thad’s cargo robots had unloaded earlier. Thad pressed a button and the box suddenly started to open and unfold and change. When it finished changing, it resembled a Rube Goldberg invention.
There was a low conveyor belt to the left, which lead to the central core of the machine, a box the size of a small garage. The conveyor ended at a large circular opening, which was marked with a skull and crossbones. There was also a Red/Yellow/Green stoplight next to the opening. “Red means the machine is busy, don’t load any more raw materials,” Thad explained.
On the top of the ‘garage’ was what appeared to be a radar dish, constantly spinning slowly — drawing energy from cosmic rays was how Thad explained it. On the right side was a pair of large swinging doors, which seemed to be where the finished product must appear.
The front, facing the three men, was almost entirely covered with meters, dials, switches, digital readouts, buttons levers and flashing lights.
“How do you keep them all straight?” Bulletman asked Thad. “Why do you need so many controls?”
“Oh, most of them are just for show. Wouldn’t want just anybody to think they could operate one of my inventions, would I? By the way, that’s privileged information.” Bulletman was astonished when Sivana Jr. winked at him!
Attached to the front of the Jiffy Machine was a computer desk, with a monitor, keyboard, and short wand hanging from a long cable. Just to the right of the desk there was what appeared to be a phone booth (without phone) inset back into the garage itself.
Explaining each step, Sivana began typing. Text filled the screen. Sivana used the wand to touch some boxes on the screen, and it cleared, and then more text replaced it. Once again, Sivana selected some boxes with the wand, and again the screen cleared. This time, the text was replaced by pictures of various types of protective clothing, including armor, spacesuits, flight gear, sporting equipment and diving gear.
At Sivana’s directions, Bulletman picked up some Thundranium and placed it on the conveyor belt. “Use the pen to select the protective clothing you want.” Spy Smasher tapped on a slick looking suit of futuristic armor which covered the wearer entirely.
“I assume it has electronics built in that allows the wearer to see and hear and talk?” he asked the former wicked scientist.
“Hey, not bad! That’s a good choice; in fact, it’s the design I would have suggested. Could you go find Junior Thunder, oops, heh heh, Thunderman, and tell him we need him to stand in the scanner?” He indicated the recessed phone booth.
Shortly Thunderman was ready to be scanned. “Next you press the Scan button,” Thad explained to Bulletman and Spy Smasher “The Jiffy Machine will take his measurements and build armor to fit him. The monitor will show you what Blue Thunder here will look like with his new clothes on.” Inside the ‘phone booth’, there was an intense burst of light similar to the flash of a camera, except brilliant red. Then as promised, the monitor displayed a schematic picture of Thunderman wearing the space armor that Spy Smasher had selected.
“You can make visual changes using the wand,” Sivana touched the wand to the screen, and used it to pull the stomach of the armor out a little bit, and then put it back the way it had been. “When you’re happy, pull the ‘Start’ lever.”
He did so, and the conveyor started, dumping the Thundranium into the central machine. The stoplight turned red. This was followed by some rattling and clattering, something that sounded like riveting, and then another sound like pressurized steam blasting out of an overheated automobile radiator. Out of the big doors on the right slid a completed set of Thundranium space armor, just the right size for Thunderman.
Bulletman had an idea — “Once we’ve made armor for all the Marvels and Thunders, can we make titanium armor with the same design for the rest of us? And make it the same color so the enemy will have trouble telling us apart?”
“Hey, that’s a pretty good idea,” Thad said, with as much appreciation as any Sivana could have for a more normal human. “Of course. All you need is titanium!” Sivana and Thunderman hurried back to the briefing, with Thunderman beginning to don his new armor.
Bulletman talked to Radar, and shortly afterward, he, Valley Mary and Mary Thunder headed back to Earth-S to find a supply of titanium. Before Spy Smasher could began making more armor, Radar approached him. “Is there any way you can put some kind of insignia onto the outside of the armor so the guys on our side will be able to tell us all apart?”
“From what Sivana showed me, that should be pretty easy. Numbers?”
“Too hard to remember. How about either a large lightning bolt or a large star burst, signifying which world the wearer comes from, and then a smaller insignia inside? So the Thunders will have a large star burst and then a smaller one, the Bolts will have a large star burst with a small lightning bolt, etc. “The two conferred for a short time, and came up with a scheme. Spy Smasher made another piece of chest armor for Thunderman with the new insignia on it, and then went back to making armor for the rest of the group.
While the scout group was waiting for Sivana and Thunderman to return, Sandy joined them. “Americon, I’d really like to be part of the scout group. BattleWorld is part magic, and I know that magic better than anyone.”
As Americon was considering her request, Ibis spoke up. “The young lady is correct. She has a magnificent talent for understanding the magic of others, and anything she can learn will certainly aid us.”
“I don’t really want to risk both of you on this scouting expedition. You are the only mages I have, with no way to get another in a hurry if the worst happens. Ibis, do you believe that the potential rewards justify the risk? If I add her to the team, she’ll be your replacement — which will also lessen the experience level of the team.”
Ibis considered. “There is no way to evaluate risk vs. potential rewards without more information. I think Sandalyn will likely learn more about the magic of our opponent than I would, but I believe you should send both of us. Removing me from the scouting team makes the team significantly less powerful.”
Americon quickly made up his mind. “Scouts are not supposed to be your most powerful troops — they are supposed to be the ones most likely to learn something important about the enemy and then return alive. Keep that in mind, Miss Wizzolinsk — if you don’t come back, I’ve just made a serious mistake. Mr. Ibis, please stay for the briefing.”
Sandy gulped. She had not meant to be a replacement for Ibis, but instead an addition to the team. She suddenly had much greater responsibility than she had expected. ‘Just proves the old saying, doesn’t it?’ she thought to herself. ‘Be careful what you ask for…’
Finally, the team was gathered, along with the additional advisers Americon had requested. Americon briefed them on what he had in mind. “Lady Bolt, you’re in command.” Americon spoke again before Thunderman could object. “Sorry, Otto, but you are too reckless to lead this particular team. Your dash and smash style is going to be important later, but for this mission, your assignment is to protect the rest of the group when required, and use your super senses to learn more about BattleWorld.”
“You will all wear space armor, so as soon as we are finished with the briefing, report to Spy Smasher. Miss Wizzolinsk and Mr. Sivana will travel in his rocket, and they will combine their magic and technology to attempt to shield the rocket from detection by BattleWorld. The rest will proceed using your own powers of flight.”
“You have two objectives — the first is to determine if indeed this so-called BattleWorld is really our enemy and the second is to gather information.”
“You will approach slowly and without making any threatening actions. Suze, you will continuously broadcast over every available frequency that we come in peace — but that we will fight if provoked, and that any approach closer to Earth than 1 AU,” (93 million miles to the rest of us) “will be considered an act of war, and we will act accordingly.”
“If BattleWorld stops its advance, you will signal us and I will join you to begin negotiations. If there is no response you will assume it is hostile and be prepared to come under attack. If the response is hostile, you are to take evasive actions, fight when attacked, and learn as much as you can about the nature of BattleWorld’s weapons and defenses.”
“Suze, standard SoJ guidelines for battlefront intel gathering are in effect, and your tactics are up to you. Ladies and Gentlemen, Lady Bolt will explain those guidelines to you; they are designed to keep you alive and they have served the Society of Justice well through many battles. Pay attention to Lady Bolt and she’ll get you back alive! Any questions?” Everyone seemed a little daunted, and nobody asked anything. “Very well. If you have questions later, please ask your team leader. Good Luck!” He turned his attention elsewhere, clearly dismissing them.
“OK, crew, let’s go get our new zoot suits while I explain the guidelines for battlefield intel.” Suze headed for the Jiffy Machine and her team followed, listening intently.