by Dan Swanson
Chapter 15 — ‘No battle plan survives contact with the enemy… ‘ ####### CHAPTER 15
Before sending his entire force into unknown conditions, Americon had sent Captain Marvel and Radar on a quick recon mission which had verified that BattleWorld actually was near where Thad had estimated it would be, deep within the asteroid belt. With his radar vision, Pep was able to make out a swarm of bee-like fliers buzzing around the giant spaceship, dragging asteroids to the surface, where they were broken up and transported to the damaged areas by an army of ant-like robots.
There were still a lot of unanswered questions about BattleWorld, but Americon was starting to fit the known facts into a pattern. Sometimes people wondered how Americon, without any super powers, had managed to become such a successful hero — and why his super powered teammates were willing to accept his leadership without question. But the heroes all understood that Icon’s almost mystical intuition in matters of battle and combat, and his unmatched ability to understand his opponents were powers as potent as any of their own.
BattleWorld was a study in contradictions. Its builders had used highly advanced technology, but BattleWorld had made no attempt to communicate with Earth’s civilization. The mighty space dreadnought employed magic, but that magic was controlled by technology. It had a virtually impenetrable invisible barrier covering at least part of it, yet there were asteroid craters on the surface. It clearly had self-repair capability, but why hadn’t the craters been repaired before? It had attacked twice without warning, and both attacks had used exactly the same weapons and tactics. Did it not know any other tactics? Did it have any other weapons?
It was Americon’s opinion that BattleWorld was ancient and had originated far away, probably in another galaxy. If there had ever been a live crew, they had been dead for perhaps millions of years. Whatever was controlling it now, whether artificial intelligence, computer, robot, or (he smiled to himself) droid, might be hostile and dangerous, but it wasn’t designed for battle.
The unrepaired meteor craters suggested that the controlling intelligence of BattleWorld had been hoarding its resources — which suggested that its own resources were nearly exhausted. But now that it was in a region of plentiful raw materials, the asteroid belt, and near to a source of energy, the sun — and facing a dangerous enemy, that controlling intelligence had decided it was a good time for repairs.
The barrier still remained a puzzle. Americon had two theories — either it took a lot of power to operate and it wasn’t deployed unless there was urgent need — such as an attack from space — or, it only covered a limited area, which suggested that it protected something important. He had developed the Phase one of his plan to determine if either of these theories was correct.
Phase one consisted of long range bombardment from space. Three teams of heroes were spread evenly around BattleWorld. Their job it was to find asteroids and then throw them at the super space dreadnought. They had two objectives: to either overwhelm the barrier or discover its edges, and to provide a distraction for the two teams that were going to land on BattleWorld. Unless BattleWorld came up with some new tactics, Americon expected Phase one to be pretty boring.
Each rock throwing team had one member whose job it was to locate asteroids (Radar, Sandy, Spy Smasher, using instruments in the Phoenix), one ‘team member’ to protect the locater and help him/her move though space (Bulletwoman, Bulletman and the Phoenix itself). The other nine heroes in the rock throwing team were three ‘full time’ Marvels, all five ‘Part Time’ Marvels and Mary Thunder. Three of these were assigned to each team.
The initial landing teams consisted of everyone else who wasn’t already assigned, minus the four heroes who were still out near the orbit of Mars. Americon considered them for a second — he hoped they would rescue Thunderman, who was one of his best friends — and then he wrenched his mind back to the scene at hand.
Because BattleWorld and its swarm of bees seemed to be ignoring his arrayed forces (yet another piece for his puzzle), Americon gave the rock throwing teams an extra hour to gather ammunition. He couldn’t afford to wait too long, though, as the army of ants and the swarm of bees were making repairs faster than he would have believed possible. Still, their activity gave him an idea for his teams to reach the surface without being detected.
The bees were piling the captured asteroids at collection points, where they remained until the ants broke them up and carried the materials to repair sites. If his teams could be disguised as asteroids, BattleWorld’s own worker bees might be fooled into providing a safe ride to the surface. First, though, Americon made darn sure that the rock throwing teams would not target the asteroid collection points on BattleWorld’s surface!
Captain Marvel, Captain Thunder and Sunbeam quickly collected two large asteroids, which they hollowed out. Sivana’s rocket, with the ‘command’ team inside, snuggled into one, while Sunbeam lined the other with a solid light capsule enclosing the ‘assault’ team. The two Captains nudged the ‘Trojan Asteroids’ into orbits that would carry them near the swarm of bees, and then pulled concealing plugs into place, joining their respective teams.
The bombardments were scheduled to begin once both Trojan Asteroids had been deposited on the surface. It was a spooky wait, inside a pitch black ball of ancient rock, but the presence of Captain Marvel in one group and Captain Thunder in the other helped the others retain their composures. If anything went wrong, they had two of the mightiest warriors in two universes to rally around!
Finally the nerve-wracking wait was over! A couple of the worker bees grabbed each asteroid, shaking up the heroes hiding inside, and dragged them down to a collection pile. Immediately after their rough but survivable landing, it started raining rocks on the surface of BattleWorld.
BattleWorld had active automatic meteor defenses, and those sprang into life. Smaller energy cannons blasted away, and swarms of small missiles were released. In addition, the bees intercepted some of the incoming asteroids and tried to capture them.
But the meteor defenses had never been intended to stop hundreds of asteroids — the builders had assumed that the pilots would be smart enough to steer clear of dense asteroid fields, and the automatic defenses had been designed to stop the occasional asteroid that they happened to encounter in open space. The automatic defense did what it could, but it was quickly overwhelmed, and didn’t even manage to target most of the asteroids in the first wave. Traveling at about a quarter of the speed of light after having been thrown by ‘pitchers’ who had both super strength and super speed, they impacted the surface like so many atomic bombs!
By observing which asteroids were destroyed by smashing into the invisible barrier, the observers in the bombardment teams were able to determine that the invisible barrier covered only a small part of the surface — a disk with an area about the size of Rhode Island.
Phase one shifted smoothly into Phase 2. All of the heroes concentrated their bombardment on the barrier, hopeful that the design flaw revealed by Thunderman had not yet been fixed. Americon was sure that the controlling intelligence wouldn’t have the knowledge or creativity to fix the problem, and he was right.
None of the individual asteroid impacts was as powerful as the Thunderman collision event. The barrier could easily have handle any single asteroid impact, and in fact, it probably could have safely dissipated the energy of a dozen or so simultaneous impact events But each of eight Marvels and one Thunder were throwing two large asteroids every second, and even that incredibly resilient barrier couldn’t dissipate energy quickly enough. Instead, the barrier absorbed most of that energy like a gigantic capacitor.
Finally, like an overloaded capacitor, it discharged violently in an unfathomable burst of energy — inside the barrier, aimed at the surface of BattleWorld. Instantly, that burst tore entirely through planet-sized spaceship, blasting out the other side and leaving a perfectly cylindrical hole, over 35 miles in diameter, with walls smoother than glass. Nothing material had survived, or even could have survived in that raging vortex of energy. It was lucky this pulse of energy was headed for the stars, rather than toward Earth!
Although he hadn’t expected such a tremendously powerful blast, Americon had hoped that the ‘control room’ of BattleWorld was somewhere under the barrier, and that destroying the control room might shut BattleWorld down, entirely and instantly. But that blast had exactly the opposite effect, and at that instant, like so many others before it, Americon’s battle plan failed to survive contact with the enemy!
Instead, it was the final contact with the enemy that finally destroyed Americon’s battle plan.
Chapter 16 — Rock Throwing Team one — The Super Babes!
Though the attacking force didn’t know for certain, BattleWorld was indeed controlled by a giant computer. Every ‘bee’, every ‘ant’, every automated weapon, every maintenance machine — all were linked to the controlling computer, which gave orders to each individual unit.
The controlling computer had been located pretty much where Americon had expected it to be, directly under the barrier and about 200 miles below the surface. It wasn’t there any longer! However, the results of vaporizing the controlling computer were unexpected — and very unfortunate.
Every automaton aboard BattleWorld, from the bees to the ants to the hall sweepers to the electronic repair ‘bots to the engine maintenance robots — and thousands of other types, each and every one — were designed to serve dual purposes. Asteroid mining, engine repair, sweeping, cleaning sewers, all of these were secondary functions, so that the bots would be useful between battles. When the controlling computer stopped communicating, each BattleWorld bot instantly reverted to its primary function: Destruction of the enemy!
Thousands of ‘bees’, which had previously ignored them, swarmed toward the rock-throwing teams. They barely had time to radio a warning to the surface teams before they were engulfed in combat.
Rock Throwing Team one consisted of Mary Marvel, Bulletwoman, Posh Mary, Valley Mary and Sandy. When he had been selecting team members, Mary Marvel had privately suggested to Americon that he should put Posh Mary and Valley Mary on an all-female team, because she had noticed those two in particular tended to get distracted in the presence of some of the male heroes. And in turn, distracted those same heroes. As soon as the team was complete, Posh and Valley had suggested the code name ‘Super Babes’. Mary Marvel and Sandy had hated the name and immediately suggested others. To their surprise, Bulletwoman had cast the deciding vote — in favor of ‘Super Babes’. They didn’t understand until they did a radio check, and Sue’s call sign was revealed as ‘Babe 1’. Mary Marvel had almost choked when she realized that as team commander, her call sign was ‘Babe Leader’, but after a while it started to grow on her.
Right now, the Super Babes were certainly a center of attention! But not quite the kind of attention any babe wanted! Space around them seemed to be jammed solid with flying machines of all shapes and sizes, all bent on their destruction. They were the target of missiles, rays, beams and bullets. All three Marys kicked into high gear and flashed around and around their two teammates, blocking the incoming rays and shattering the projectiles.
No matter how fast they moved, though, there were too many enemies and their protective sphere was slowly shrinking. Within seconds, their protective armor had been shredded. Fortunately so far, nothing had shot at them with a magic lightning beam, but they were now alarmingly vulnerable.
Bulletwoman, as strong and as fast as she was, would have just been in the way if she had tried to help the Marys. If she was going to help, she would have to think their way out of this mess! “Sandy, I need your help! Can your magic pull a big asteroid towards us?”
“That’s a great idea! It will smash into them from behind. I might be able to pull in three or four.”
“That’s not exactly what I had in mind, but do it! Make them come as fast as you can and bring the biggest one right to us. When the others are near the enemy, can you make them explode?”
She had her answer almost before she finished speaking. Sandy stretched both hands above her head and then, keeping them fully extended, swept them down to her sides. A few seconds later, she snapped her fingers on both hands, and somewhere within the crowd of machines, two large asteroids exploded, destroying or damaging hundreds of killer fliers. She snapped them again, and two more asteroids exploded. Directly in front of them, an asteroid the size of an ocean liner punched through the massed enemy fighting machines. Bulletwoman and Sandy slipped out of the protective Babe-o-sphere and flew toward the asteroid at top speed, motioning the Marys to follow.
“Sandy, can you get my gravity helmet out from under my armor without killing me? Don’t tell me, just do it if you can.” Her head suddenly felt strange — and her gravity helmet was in her hands. She smashed a hole into the surface of the asteroid, and jammed her helmet into it. She had set it to do something she and Bulletman had discussed, but never tried.
Earlier, while working the Jiffy Machine to make titanium armor for everyone except the Marvels and Thunders, Bulletman and Spy Smasher had further customized the armor design, adding miniature ion rockets, so even those heroes who could not normally fly under their own power were able to move. So Bulletwoman, Babe 1, could still fly, even without her gravity helmet.
Sue and Sandy blasted away from the asteroid at top speed, motioning for the Marys to join them. Without their armor, the Marys had no way to communicate in airless space, so they didn’t know exactly what was happening. But Mary Marvel sensed her best friend’s urgency, and she motioned to her comrades, then grabbed Sandy and flew away from the asteroid at top speed. Valley Mary grabbed Sue, and she and Posh followed.
Sue realized that their enemies had clear shots at them from behind, so she called on Sandy one more time. “Sandy, I need you again! Can you protect us while we escape?”
The Super Babes were immediately surrounded by a magical shield, and the three Marys zoomed away from the asteroid and BattleWorld at top speed. Sue had set her gravity helmet to amplify the asteroid’s gravity to incredible levels, and the machines near the asteroid were suddenly wrenched violently from the sky and smashed to the surface! They were squished flat, and those machines further away were now being captured by the hyper gravity of the asteroid. The Super Babes got away, but thousands of war machines were dragged down to the asteroid and destroyed.
“Babe one to all units!” Bulletman winced when he heard this. If they lived through this, he was going to have to listen to her crow about it for months. She quickly filled all her teammates in and warned them to stay away from that asteroid!