by Dan Swanson
Chapter 13 — Deja Vu Again? ####### CHAPTER 14
“Suze, I think there is something you should see before we go — something that will help you search…” Sandy started. Lady Bolt was just about to cut her off and send them on their way, when she realized what Sandy had actually said. She stopped, and waited for the young sorceress to continue.
“We have the whole thing on video. If we play it back slowly, I’m sure you, Thad and Tomas will be able to figure out which direction Thunderman was flung by the explosion…”
Hope flared across her face. She had never seen an impact like that one before, but Thunderman had survived the explosion of an H-bomb, and his counterpart Captain Marvel Jr. had recently survived the explosion of six anti-matter bombs. If they could only find him!
Atomic Rocket had downloaded his sensor readings to the advanced computers on Thad’s ship. While Thad was doing some quick programming to integrate that information with the information that his own sensors had gathered, Thomas took the chance for a quiet conversation with Sunbeam.
“Carol, it’s good to see you! You did a great job with those missiles!”
Carol was still shaking inside at how close she’d come to having a ring-side seat for an anti-matter explosion! “Tomas, what made you guys so sure the missile would explode? I still don’t get it!”
“We’ve all been in the hero biz a lot longer than you have, Carol. But it’s more of a military thing than a super hero thing. Think about it for a minute — if you shoot off one of these missiles and it doesn’t hit a target, what happens when it runs out of fuel?”
She frowned. “There’s no air to slow it down. I guess it will just keep going forever?”
“Or… until it hits something. And blows up.” Her eyes lit up and she smiled, and the whole cabin seemed to brighten. “And you can’t know if it will hit something that’s important to you. So you make it blow up, so it won’t be some uncharted space hazard!”
“That’s it exactly. Good for you!”
She was thoughtful again. “You know, Tomas, I really did do pretty well, didn’t I? I decided I don’t want to be the beautiful damsel in distress any longer. I don’t mind being the beautiful ‘damsel in dis dress’…” and she spun around once on her toe, flaring out the skirt of her costume, “…but I want to be the one doing the rescuing from now on!”
The spin showed off her legs, as she had no doubt intended, and Tomas almost whistled. “You’re off to a good start, lady! Say, when this is over…” he paused.
She looked at him expectantly, a small smile on her lips… “Yes?”
“I have a friend who might be able to give you some pointers on the super heroine biz. Lady Victory was a first rate hero for fifteen years, without any super powers. Except, well, she did have a superhumanly stunning physique.” He looked at her appraisingly… “Sort of like yours, in fact. Yes, I’m sure she could teach you some of the tricks of the trade. Tell you what, would you like me to introduce you?”
She smiled again “Of course! It’s a date!”
Lady Bolt and Thad were examining the computer images, each on a separate monitor, running them back and forth, using various types of filters and enhancement algorithms, trying to learn everything possible from the sensor data they’d gathered. Suddenly, Lady B spoke up excitedly!
“Here it is! I used heuristic fractal enhancement and frequency domain transformations to refine the image without losing details. Watch this!”
The other four gathered around her monitor and she played back one of the recordings in slow motion. They could see something streaking through the sky toward BattleWorld. She stopped the playback, and used a wand to draw a box around the streaking object. Tapping the box twice zoomed in the view. It began to become blurry and pixilated, so she stopped the zoom and made some quick entries on the keyboard.
The picture cleared and they could now make out the form of Thunderman. She zoomed further in until his image was several inches long, and then resumed playback. At this enlargement, they couldn’t even see that he was moving. Thad quickly reprogrammed his monitor to show the unexpanded original. A glowing circle with cross hairs showed Thunderman’s location, so they could see both the big picture and the close up at once.
Lady B slowed the playback down even more. “I used your color quantization algorithm, Thad, and did some halftone dithering to improve the contrast. You’ve got good equipment here!”
Sivana nodded. “I built most of it myself. But I never would have thought of combining all those different enhancement techniques to actually be able to see this! But I learned a lot from my examination as well.”
“Here’s the important stuff — watch closely!” she told them all. “Maybe you’ll see something I miss. I need all the help you can give me!”
In the slo-mo close up, they could see that Thunderman was flying with both arms outstretched, hands clenched into fists. “It looks like he was hoping to smash a hole in BattleWorld!” Sandy said in awe. “What did he think he was going to accomplish?”
Lady Bolt smiled sadly. “He was planning to smash in one side and out the other. With his super vision, he would see a lot of stuff on his way through, and later, when he had a chance to analyze it, we would learn a lot about our enemy. He used the tactic before, against Dr. Gorgunza, in fact.”
She blinked as she realized that Sivana Jr. was the analog of Gorgunza Jr. ‘But…’ she reminded herself, ‘… they are analogs, not the same person! This one is on our side!’
“Americon calls it ‘smash and dash’, and Otto has used it often. Americon hates it, but this is really the first time that it hasn’t worked, the first time we’ve ever run into something Otto can’t smash his way through. Americon warned him this would happen, but Otto never really believed him.” Her voice was stern — they could all tell that she, also, disapproved of ‘dash and smash’. Yet it was her husband, and her next words revealed her real feelings. “We have to find him! We just have to!”
Sandy moved next to her and gave her a hug. “We will! We won’t give up until we do find him! But you said you found something that would help. What is it?”
Lady Bolt actually shook herself like a wet dog. “I’m sorry. Let’s get back to the video…”
Sivana had turned on a third display, which was showing the recorded telemetry of Thunderman’s heads-up display, so they could see him from far away and close up, as well as seeing what he saw and what his HUD had been telling him.
Thunderman had been approaching BattleWorld at a speed rivaling the best Lady Bolt, the Earth’s Fastest Woman, could achieve. His range indicator was a blur but when Lady Bolt slowed the video enough, they could watch it change. She advanced the record very slowly, and they could see that at a distance of a fraction under 10,000 miles from the surface, Thunderman had encountered something solid; something that was invisible to every sensor they could bring to bear.
Thunderman was moving so fast that even when the video was slowed down as slow as Thad could get it to play, it was impossible to pinpoint the exact instant of impact. Because within a nanosecond, the barrier had stretched and they could no longer see Thunderman! He had acquired so much kinetic energy in his high speed plunge, and the barrier was slowing him so abruptly, that much of the energy was dissipated as heat. The barrier started glowing yellow-white and they were unable to see through it.
Thunderman’s armor disintegrated instantly and they lost his visual and telemetry playbacks. Lady Bolt’s close up no longer showed anything but a bright yellow-white light. The long distance view showed what looked like a bright yellow nail pointed directly at the surface, growing longer as Thunderman stretched the barrier further. In around a second, the nail was about 1000 miles long, and it stopped growing, then started to shrink as the elastic barrier began to return to its normal shape. Within another second, it had snapped back into place, and Thunderman was tumbling into space.
Lady Bolt was trying to track Thunderman’s path, but Sivana had seen some interesting things in the long distance video, and he was replaying various sections over again on his own monitor. “I have to get this information back to Americon!” he exclaimed. “There’s information here that might help us win this fight!”
“So, Thaddy, you don’t think BattleWorld has gone away forever?” Sandy asked. She thought she could still ‘feel’ BattleWorld’s magic, but it was so faint she had hesitated to mention it.
“I think it probably went somewhere for repairs. Thunderman did a lot of damage — a lot more than just that crater. I think we need to figure out where it is as soon as we can, and attack right away, before the repairs are completed.”
“I may be able to help, Thaddy. BattleWorld is somewhere in that direction…” she pointed away from the Sun “…and it’s much further away from us than it was when we first encountered it.”
Sandy had thought he might be skeptical, but Sivana jumped all over that idea. “I’ll bet they’re out in the asteroid belt! What better place to hide, and also find raw materials.” He twiddled with his sensors, but he couldn’t get a strong enough reading to be sure. Based on Sandy’s information and the weak traces he was able to detect, he made an estimate of BattleWorld’s location.
“Lady Bolt, we have to go back to the Rock of Eternity right now. If we can attack before BattleWorld can effect repairs, it will give us our best chance.”
“But I need your computer! It’s calculated Otto’s probable course, and I’m going to stay and search for him, but as soon as you leave, there won’t be any way for me to find him! I’m sorry, but until I do find him, you can’t leave. I order you to stay here!”
“Lady Bolt — this might be our only chance to save our planet. We have to go, and we have to go now!”
“If you leave, I lose my only chance to find my husband. You are going to stay here until I find him!”
“Umm, Lady Bolt, Thad, I might have a solution…” Atomic Rocket spoke up. “I don’t have a lot of computing power in my suit, but once your computers have worked out the area we need to search, you can download it to my systems, and if I stay here with Lady Bolt, I can help her search and make sure we stay in the right search area.”
Lady Bolt had been regretting her outburst — it was out of character and inappropriate for the mission commander. Yet, she hated to think of her husband, tumbling through space, perhaps critically injured, maybe dying in a universe not even his own. If he died under conditions like that, could his soul ever find peace? She eagerly accepted Atomic Rocket’s offer.
“Thank you, Tomas! Mr. Sivana, make it so! Tell Americon we’ll rejoin you as soon as Thunderman is safe. He should leave us your target coordinates at the Rock of Eternity if we don’t get back there before you guys leave.”
Within minutes, Lady Bolt and Atomic Rocket were back in space, flying a computer-generated search pattern along Thunderman’s most likely trajectory. The heroes in the spaceship had loaded extra supplies into one of the escape capsules and released it in case their search took a long time, and then Thad’s ship vanished as Sandy magically returned it, along with Thad, Sandy and Sunbeam to the Rock of Eternity.
Chapter 14 — Meanwhile, Back at the Rock…
When the three returned to the Rock of Eternity, Americon immediately held a staff meeting to discuss what they had discovered and to devise a battle plan. He was extremely worried about the three who were still in space, so he dispatched Ibis to help them. He would leave them instructions to join the main group later — they might even be the cavalry coming over the hill!
He then gathered his ‘staff’ — Minute Man, Radar, and the two Captains — and reviewed everything his scout team had discovered.
He was extremely upset with Thunderman, but not really surprised. This was the kind of thing he did regularly. In his obsession to differentiate himself from Captain Thunder, he seemed to be driven to take insane risks, again and again. Americon understood obsession — some people had observed that he might have had a few of his own — but he really hoped this wasn’t the time Otto actually did something fatally stupid! However, Thunderman almost always got good results, faster than Icon’s more cautious methods might have, and this time was no different.
“Thunderman discovered two pieces of really good news!” Thad was saying, excitedly. “You can see that somehow, the massive energy he built up was transferred to the barrier — and then released inside the barrier in kind of a gigantic super powerful laser beam! It can’t possibly be designed to work that way. The barrier must be designed to protect against energy weapons, but I think Thunderman overloaded it and it failed catastrophically. Rather than safely draining that excess energy, when it failed, it was all released at once.”
“Whatever controls BattleWorld is bound to be working on that design flaw right now. If we want to take advantage of it, we need to attack before they figure out how to fix it!” He was almost frantic in his need to convince everyone of the need for speed.
“Noted,” said Americon, much more calmly than Thad. He was already figuring out ways to take advantage of this weakness — methods that didn’t involve smashing his most powerful warriors into an impenetrable force field at 99. 99% of the speed of light! “What’s the next piece of good news?”
Sivana Jr. pointed out two damaged areas on the surface of BattleWorld. “When Otto smashed into the barrier, some of the energy was transmitted directly to the surface as an impact event.” He rewound the video. “Watch here and here as I play it back’” he pointed at two places on the surface. “When T-man hits the barrier, it looks like an invisible metal punch smashes the surface, see?”
And that’s what it did look like — as if a giant round punch had been set against the hull of this incredible vessel, and then struck with a gigantic hammer. A perfectly cylindrical hole was punched deep into the surface of the giant super dreadnought of space. “The barrier almost seems to be some kind of invisible substance, supported by invisible columns of the same invisible stuff which rest on the hull. So Thunderman’s attack did two sorts of damage — that energy beam and the impact damage.”
“Very good, Mr. Sivana — superb observation and excellent analysis!” Thad was surprised at how much this simple bit of praise, from a ‘regular’ human, meant to him! “I’ve noticed one other thing that I’d like you to think about.”
‘Huh?’ Thad thought to himself. ‘Something I didn’t notice? I’m a Sivana!’ He was stunned at what Americon pointed out — it should have been obvious but he’d totally overlooked it.
“You discovered a half dozen meteor craters in the surface of BattleWorld, Mr. Sivana. If there is an invisible barrier around it, how did those meteors get through the barrier? And why hasn’t the damage done by those meteors been repaired?”
There wasn’t too much time to consider those questions. Thad would have liked to discuss them with someone really smart and well versed in science, like his Pop. Or, he realized, Sybil or Lady Bolt or even Bulletman. He was learning that while the Sivanas were in fact the smartest people on Earth-S, there were a number of people who were close to being their equals — at least in selected areas of expertise! He was starting to develop more respect for ‘normal’ humans, something he wouldn’t have believed six months ago.
Americon and his staff debated for a few minutes, then decided that there wasn’t enough time to come up with answers. They were going to have to go with what they knew.
Between them, Americon and his ‘staff’ quickly came up with a rough battle plan. It was pretty vague, but it took advantage of what they already knew, and utilized the exceptional capabilities of all the members of this awesome assault team. Americon divided the group into several teams and gave each team a specific mission.
While the scout team had been away, Spy Smasher and Bulletman had added makeshift exo-atmospheric capability to the Phoenix. Bulletman had retrieved a spare gravity regulation/magnetic control unit, and they had adapted it to the Phoenix’s power source and wired it into the flight controls. The unit was not powerful enough to lift the Phoenix against the gravity of the Earth, but in weightless conditions it would at least allow the pilot to navigate the vessel.
The heroes assembled in their assigned teams and left the Rock of Eternity, popping into the normal universe in carefully calculated locations. After a short pause to orient themselves, each team leader gave the order to begin the assault!