by Dan Swanson
Chapter twelve — Sneak and Peak, not Smash and Dash! ####### CHAPTER 13
The awesome space fortress had just crossed the orbit of Mars, but it was nowhere near that planet, which was currently on the other side of the sun. So they had to guess where to exit from the Rock of Eternity. They tried to pop into the ‘real’ universe ‘behind’ BattleWorld (further away from the Sun) so it would have to slow if it decided to attack them.
Four silvery armored figures, all with colorful insignias emblazoned on the chest and back of their armor, emerged into the void, followed by a Winnebago-sized spaceship with two more armored figures inside. The armor was very light and flexible, as the Jiffy Machine had been programmed to turn the raw metal into a kind of metallic cloth and then ‘tailor’ the armor to fit each hero.
Sivana, Lady Bolt (who Thad had discovered was at least as smart as Sybil of the Rainbow Girls) and Atomic Rocket had worked quickly to adapt the armor to the powers of the various heroes, as well as any electronic systems built into their costumes, and the control electronics on Sivana’s ship. As a result, each hero felt kind of as if s/he was wearing a well-fitted wet suit and retained unrestrained use of his/her powers.
This armor was designed to sustain the wearers’ lives in space and protect them from the magic lightning that had changed Captain Marvel Jr. back into his mortal form. It might be strong enough to protect them from a large caliber machine gun or a small explosion, but it would vaporize instantly in an anti-matter explosion. So the heroes needed to avoid those missiles with anti-matter warheads…
The ship eerily faded from sight as Sivana turned on his stealth field, and Sandy cast the invisibility and avoidance spells which Ibis had showed her. Then the small ship’s passive sensors began probing space, using all the technology at Thad’s command. He was aided in the search by Sandy, who, even though she couldn’t see the hidden artificial planet, could sense its direction, and within a few minutes, he picked it up on his sensors. He had spent an hour making changes to his sensor system, and though the picture was still blurry, it was much easier to see than it had been earlier. He projected the location to the Heads-Up-Displays in the helmets of the heroes.
As soon as they had entered the normal universe, Lady Bolt’s radio had begun broadcasting a recorded message, over every frequency available. She had suggested trying a modulated laser as well, but Americon had nixed the idea, as it might be interpreted as an attack.
BattleWorld was a little over two million miles away from them and moving fast. There was no way they would be able to catch up with it, but now that they knew exactly where it was, they could, if necessary, make another jump through the Rock of Eternity and get closer. However, it looked as if they wouldn’t need to. After Lady Bolt had been broadcasting for about five minutes, BattleWorld stopped moving! It was absolutely terrifying that something that big could stop so quickly.
“They must have the ability to cancel inertia!” Thad yelled excitedly into his microphone. “That’s impossible!” he declared flatly.
“Thaddy, they did it, so it can’t be impossible” Sandy pointed out. “I don’t know exactly how, but they used magic. But it doesn’t feel like any magic I’ve ever encountered before. It feels — mechanical, somehow, as if they have machines that control magic.”
At Lady Bolt’s orders, no one moved toward the mighty sphere. And then slowly, ponderously, inexorably, it began to move in their direction.
“Uh oh! Here they come. Be alert, all!” Lady Bolt ordered.
Every passive sensor in Thad’s spaceship was tuned to highest possible sensitivity and directed at the huge space battleship. He didn’t dare use active sensors such as radar or laser range finder because these would give his position away even with the cloak.
Atomic Rocket used the super sensors built into his costume to examine BattleWorld’s surface and the space around it. The entire surface, as far as he could see, was covered with massive guns, missile silos, beam weapons, and other stuff he couldn’t identify. There was no atmosphere, and there were what looked like meteor craters spread randomly across the surface. He played his visuals through the HUDs in the other heroes’ armor. Thunderman used his telescopic vision to examine the craters ‘up close’ and he discovered what looked like the remains of gigantic asteroids in the centers of each. They really were meteor craters.
(Oops — how did Thunderman get telescopic vision? In his desire to escape from Captain Thunder’s shadow, Otto had spent a lot of time learning about the powers that Merokee had granted him. The mystical entities that granted him the standard Thunder powers included the spirits of the Tornado, Hare and Eagle. Captain Thunder Jr. had learned to commune with the various mystical entities, and some of them had granted him additional powers, which were raised to superhuman levels by the magic star burst — super breath from the Tornado, super hearing from the Hare, super eyesight from the Eagle. OK, back to the story!).
Suddenly Sandy sensed a familiar disturbance in the ambient magical forces. “Scatter, everyone, they’ve launched more magic lightning!” This time, instead of blocking the magical energy beam, the heroes moved quickly in random directions, and the dangerous energy beam blasted past them with no effect. The battleship of space used the same tactics as before, and launched several missiles to follow up behind the energy beam. Unfortunately for the heroes, they were homing missiles, which turned to follow them regardless of where they headed. A piece of good luck, though — the missiles did not seem to be able to detect the cloaked spaceship!
Thunderman, with the magically enhanced speed of the Hare, and his wife Lady Bolt, who was even faster, were easily able to elude the three missiles that turned to follow them. They flew well away from the other heroes, and then executed a risky maneuver. They zoomed past each other, avoiding a collision by less than a foot, at their top speeds. The missiles followed and the one following Thunderman crashed into one of the two following Lady B. This set off the warheads, which exploded and destroyed all three of the deadly projectiles. By this time, Lady B and Thunderman were thousands of miles away. The blast from the explosion expanded in a sphere, and when it finally reached the other heroes, it was too diffuse to even affect them.
Atomic Rocket wasn’t fast enough to outrun the missile that headed for him. He was, however, considerably more maneuverable, and discovered that by letting the missile close on him and then moving quickly, he was able to dodge. Lucky for him the missile was set to explode on contact instead of proximity!
Atomic Rocket tried a dangerous trick. He waited until the last second and just before the speeding missile would have hit him, he quickly moved aside — but not very far. As the missile zoomed by, he accelerated at his top speed after it! As he had hoped, it slowed and turned, trying to line him up again. This allowed him to catch up to it, and when he did, the homing circuit of the missile seemed to go crazy, like a dog trying to bite its own tail!
Rocket remembered that Captain Marvel Jr. had been able to wreck the rocket on one of these missiles without it exploding, so he was determined to try a similar tactic. He fired up his short-range disintegrator and cut a hole in the side the size of a (9″) softball, and used that as a handhold. He slipped his other hand into the hole and fired the most powerful electromagnetic pulse he could generate. The rocket engine stopped blasting! He backed well away from the deadly projectile, and used his plasma torch to cut away the last three feet of the dead bird. As it drifted away, he turned to see if he could help Sunbeam.
Sunbeam had panicked when the missiles first appeared in her HUD. She had pushed her power to the limit, but even that had not been enough and the missiles were catching her! “Help!” she yelled into the radio. “I’m not fast enough!”
The calm voice of Lady Bolt spoke back to her. “Instead of fleeing, try dodging. Circle around and fly past the missiles going the opposite direction, and they’ll have to slow down to continue following you.”
“Ohmygod I’m gonnadie!” Carol didn’t even know she had said that out loud. At that moment she noticed a very bright flash of light, and the jubilant shouts of Lady Bolt and Thunderman.
“Got the buggers!” Lady Bolt yelled triumphantly. “Hold on, Carol, we’re on our way!”
Somebody was going to have to rescue her again? She screamed in her thoughts ‘No way, Carol! You’re done being the beautiful damsel in distress! Dammit, girl, the others did it, and so can you! Use that brain you’ve hidden away for so long — or you’ll never be more than just somebody’s favorite lap cat!’
She created a solid-light duplicate of herself, and then she and the duplicate zoomed back past the closest missile. She projected the duplicate directly in front of the missile and caused it to flee at high speed — much faster than she herself could fly. The homing circuit was temporarily confused, but then it settled on the target in front of it, and blasted away after the dupe. It was moving slightly slower than the missile’s top speed, and she figured it would take about fifteen minutes before the missile caught the dupe and exploded. Her duel with the other missile had better be over long before then!
With only one missile still chasing her, she didn’t have to worry about dodging away from one into the path of the other. She remembered that their mission was to learn as much about BattleWorld and its weapons as possible, and she had an idea. She dodged the remaining missile again, and this time, as it zoomed past, she created a solid light harness, and caused it to slip over the missile. The missile pulled her along with it, and she used her powers to create a saddle — and within seconds she was riding the missile. She created another duplicate of herself and moved it so that the missile started following it. She guided it into a circular path, and settled down to wait for it to run out of fuel. Then they could take it back and study it.
“Ya HOO! Ride ’em, cowgirl!” She yelled at the top of her voice!
“Atomic Rocket calling Sunbeam! Carol, we’re on our way! If you can stay away from that thing for another three minutes, we’ll be there to help!”
Carol laughed! “Don’t worry, guys! Everything’s under control.” She told them the story. All three heroes reacted much differently than she had expected! She focused on Lady Bolt’s instructions.
“The rest of you, shut up! Sunbeam, that missile will probably explode when it runs out of fuel! Let it follow your duplicate and you get as far away from it as you can, as fast as you can!”
Carol did those things, zooming back toward her teammates. She didn’t understand why they thought the missile would explode, but she wasn’t going to argue with them. Just to be on the safe side, she created a solid energy capsule around her, and reinforced it as much as she possibly could. Sure enough, the missile did explode. She was much closer to the explosion than she had hoped, and she felt her capsule being battered around, but her precautions were enough — she lived through it…
Thunderman was more than a little angry. He and his mates had approached this giant spaceship in peace and had been attacked. He knew this was supposed to be a sneak and peek mission, but he’d really had enough of being meek and weak!
He lined himself up with BattleWorld, and began flying in that direction. In a manner similar to that which he had previously used to commune with his spiritual sponsors, he again opened his mind to them, and set before them a petition. He asked each to lend him more of their powers, drawing even more speed from the Tornado and the Eagle, accuracy from the legendary warrior Uncas, and the battering toughness of the Ram. Flying faster than he ever had before and still straining for yet more speed, Thunderman rocketed toward BattleWorld faster than that fantastic flying fortress could react!
Still, even at the tremendous speed he had attained, he never reached the surface. 10,000 miles away, he struck an invisible barrier. A force field which was a fusion of technology and magic, designed to protect BattleWorld from any imaginable bombardment, any conceivable attack. Thunderman’s attack had heretofore been inconceivable and yet, this tremendously powerful force field continued to hold — barely! Thunderman battered it, and it bent and bowed, partially crushed by the tremendous impact. Then Thunderman’s momentum was absorbed and the field rebounded, and it flung Thunderman away into space.
The impact transferred a tremendous amount of energy through the force field. This energy took the form of a massively powerful beam, incredibly more potent than even the most powerful weapons on BattleWorld could generate. This beam passed through the armor-plated outer skin of BattleWorld, and then pierced easily through the more vulnerable interior, until it finally dissipated. The result was a smoldering crater some ten miles wide and half as deep!
Whatever beings controlled BattleWorld took this as a sign, and the mighty world-ship disappeared!
To everyone’s dismay, so had Thunderman. The rebounding shield had bounced him away, moving nearly as fast as he had been when he crashed, flashing unconscious through space in a random direction. His armor had been instantly vaporized in the tremendous energy release at impact, and even Atomic Rocket’s extremely sensitive sensors were unable to locate him.
Thad decloaked his spaceship. The three remaining heroes all returned to the ship and were cycled through the airlock. Lady Bolt was right on the edge of hysteria — Thunderman was her husband, after all. But she was also in command and she knew that meant she had to place mission objectives over her own grief.
“I’d like the rest of you to return to the Rock of Eternity and tell Americon everything you know. I’ll stay and hunt for Thunderman.” Her expression was grim. “Ask him if he might send back some others to help me search. And hurry!”