by Dan Swanson
Chapter 17 — Slaughter in Space ####### CHAPTER 16
Sue realized that she still couldn’t hear the three Marys. “Sandy, do you think you can fill this bubble with air?” Sandy thought for a moment, then pursed her lips, flipped open her helmet and blew gently. Of course, all the air in her space armor tried to rush out into the vacuum in the bubble, but her magic almost instantly replaced that vacuum with air. It was a good thing she didn’t have bad breath, though!
Posh Mary was swearing like a longshoreman; she went on for perhaps three seconds before she realized people could hear her, and she quickly stopped. Valley Marry was sobbing quietly. Mary Marvel was silent, but she looked awful. Sandy looked at the three Marvel girls closely for the first time since the battle had started and was stunned to see that they were all injured!
Posh Mary was missing a couple of teeth, Valley Mary’s right ankle was clearly broken, and Mary Marvel’s left arm dangled uselessly, apparently dislocated. “Oh my…” was all Sandy could say. The beams, rays and projectiles from which the Marys had protected them had hurt the mighty heroines but they had continued to battle on
Sue had seen worse injuries before, although never to a Marvel, and she had received first aid training when she had joined the police force. She couldn’t do anything for Posh Mary right away, but she knew what to do for Mary Marvel. She wasn’t sure she would be strong enough, but she had to try. She said to Mary “This is going to hurt!” and before Mary could react, Sue had grabbed her arm and pulled it straight out to the side. Mary screamed and there was a snapping sound as Mary’s shoulder snapped back into place. She spasmed reflexively and Sue was thrown painfully against the wall of the bubble!
Mary’s scream stopped almost before it started. Her shoulder was still painful, but the remaining pain seemed vanishingly small compared to what had gone before. She sagged, and probably would have collapsed in shock, when she realized that her two friends were still in incredible pain. They had to help Posh and Valley! She shuddered but managed to pull herself together. She saw that Sue had not been injured, so she turned her attention, and her Wisdom, to the needs of her friends.
“Posh, say your magic word!” she told her friend.
Posh swore at her. “Are you out of your f***g mind?” She said a couple of other things that can’t be repeated here. Mary Marvel quickly interrupted.
“In your other form, we can knock you out!” Posh stopped swearing immediately.
“Shazam!” A thunderclap in such a small, enclosed space should have deafened Sandy and Sue, but it was benign magic, after all. Posh changed back to her mortal form, and immediately started screaming from the pain!
Mary Marvel was about to knock her out by flicking her finger, when Sandy reached out and mimed closing Posh Mary’s eyes with her fingertips. Posh Mary Batson closed her eyes, mercifully unconscious.
Valley Mary was trying to be brave. “Ohmygod, like, she knows some bitchin’ words! Like, totally awesome! Like…” she faltered, “can you do that knockout thing with me too, like pretty please?” she pleaded. She saw Mary nod. “Shazam!” Once again the magic lightning struck, and once again, Sandy put a young lady into a deep sleep.
“Whew! So what do we do now?” Sue asked, almost rhetorically. “It won’t be long before they figure out that all they have to do is go around that asteroid, and we’re down to our last Marvel. ” Mary smiled grimly at her long-time ally.
Suddenly Sandy was yelling “Babe five to all units! BattleWorld is about to fire the ‘Magic Lightning’ weapon. Scatter!” A half second of silence, and then “Babe five to all units. Magic Lightning weapon has been fired. By the time you hear this, you’re either safe or it’s too late! Babe five out. God, I hate that stupid… oops!” and she clicked off her microphone. Even in their desperate situation, Mary and Sue had to smile at her gaff.
Relieved that they had not been the target of the magic lightning weapon, the three conscious members of the Super Babes tried to come up with a plan that would help them remain alive.
Rock Throwing Team 2, code named ‘Rogue Squadron’, included Bulletman, Radar, Captain Marvel Jr., Tall Marvel and Hill Marvel. Radar reflected that in a long career, he had rarely been the weakest member on any team. Bulletman didn’t have any more time to think about his wife, Babe 1, as his Rogue Squadron came under heavy attack! “This is Rogue Leader! All units, incoming! Rogue 2, three and 4, execute plan C for Chaos, I repeat, C for Chaos.”
There was a swarm of ‘bees’ flying toward them, preceded by (you guessed it) missiles, rays, beams and bullets. Once again, three Marvels flashed into action. With the Speed of Mercury, they split up and crashed through the closest wall of battle fliers, smashing some as they went. Within a nanosecond, they were through the first wave and attacking their enemies from behind. The first wave of fliers turned to attack the enemy behind them, and the Marvels were seemingly caught between the first wave and the second wave of enemy fliers.
While the enemy units would not fire directly at one another, they would fire at one of the Marvels, even if others of their own were directly behind that hero. By moving slowly enough to allow the fliers to target them, and then zipping away at top speed, the three Marvels were able to fool the enemy into shooting their own units. As many enemy units were destroyed by ‘friendly’ fire as by the Marvels. But the Marvels took their share of hits as well. As with the Marys, none of the hits was immediately disabling, but all were painful, and the cumulative effect was starting to wear them down. And as the battle continued, their mounting pain and fatigue started slowing them down, and they were hit more often. They had already destroyed thousands of enemy fighters, but for each one they destroyed, another four or five seemed to appear. This was a downward spiral that could only have one possible end.
Unless something changed!
When they heard Sandy’s warning, all three Marvels immediately flew at top speed. They weren’t trying to go anywhere in particular, just get away from where they had been. Though the magic lightning weapon was extremely dangerous, the allies from Earth had seen no evidence that it could hit anything but a stationary target — and this time, at least, they were right. Whatever fired that beam had aimed at the three of them, and by the time it had been fired, they had zoomed away. Although the enemy fliers didn’t seem capable of coordinating their attacks, they did manage to clear out of the path of the beam just before it was fired. Americon had briefed them about what to expect after the lightning attack, and he was right again — the smaller fliers moved aside and six mighty missiles thundered into view.
Cap Jr. remembered these missiles — well, their brothers and sisters actually, but it was a meaningless distinction. He had barely survived his last encounter, and weakened as he, Hill and Tall were now, these missiles might actually be able to kill them!
All three turned to dodge, and found to their consternation that the battering they had undergone had weakened them — the Speed of Mercury had temporarily been reduced to the Speed of Maserati. Still, they were faster than the other fliers and just about as fast as the missiles, so they fled in different directions, each pursued closely by a pair of guided missiles, and further behind, his own personal swarm of angry bees.
Chapter 18 — A Short Lull…
Rock Throwing Team three had decided to call themselves Mace Squadron. Mary Thunder was Mace Leader, Cool Marvel was Mace 1, Posh Mary was Mace two and Spy Smasher (in the Phoenix) was Mace 3. Back before the squads had left the Rock of Eternity, Spy Smasher had conferred with Sivana Jr., and they had used the Jiffy Machine to create a duplicate of Thad’s stealth gear, which they had installed on the Phoenix. When the magical dog poop hit the intergalactic tornado, he was glad he had done so — the swarm of ‘bees’ which suddenly attacked his teammates didn’t realize the Phoenix was nearby.
The enemy attacked with the by-now familiar (to readers, at least) array of missiles, rays, beams and bullets
Mary Thunder took a very direct and practical approach to the battle. She avoided as much enemy fire as she could, and did her best to ignore the hits she couldn’t avoid, accelerated to her top speed, and carried out her own version of dash and smash! She was able to destroy maybe 20 enemy fliers for every shot that managed to hit her — and yet, there were so many bees that this was a net win for the enemy. For every 20 she destroyed, several hundred more swarmed out of BattleWorld, and she knew she couldn’t keep this up forever. She was better at dealing with pain then her younger ‘sisters’, particularly the Lieutenant Marys, but even a Thunder had her limits.
Cool Marvel exhibited his own unique style. He had fashioned himself a gigantic metal and stone baseball bat by fusing several asteroids together, and he was hovering pretty much in one place, twisting and turning and spinning, shattering anything and everything that came near him. By dint of his furious speed, he swept a bubble of space near him clean, and not even a missile, ray, beam or bullet had yet touched him. But he could see that he was soon going to have to change tactics.
While most of the enemy attack machines were smashed away from him by his ‘bat’, often damaging or destroying some of their fellow attackers, some of the wreckage was sticking to his bat, and it was becoming heavier and harder to swing. Marvels have limits too… But he was determined to keep it up as long as he could. He tried spinning the bat, so the side that had been the ‘back’ before was now the ‘front’. This helped, as some, but not all, of the unwanted wreckage was thrown off. So far, his furious speed had kept him being hit.
Mary Belle had not been a Marvel for very long, and her upbringing as a genteel Southern Belle had left her with a certain aversion to fisticuffs. Before she had gained her Shazam powers, she had never before been in a physical fight. But she had always had a great throwing arm — in fact, she was an All-State shortstop on her (ritzy private) school’s softball team.
So she smashed one of the nearby asteroids into small pieces and started throwing at top speed. With the Grace of Selena and the Skill of Ariadne, her accuracy was awesome, and even when she missed her intended target there were so many other fliers nearby that every fist-sized chunk of asteroid she threw destroyed or disabled at least one enemy and, if she got lucky, sometimes two or 3. But she couldn’t dodge and throw at the same time, so she ended up getting hit a lot.
Genteel Southern Belles don’t have a lot of experience with pain, and she didn’t have much experience in being a super heroine, either. Every hit slowed her down, and within only a few seconds she was unable to throw fast enough to keep her attackers away. Instants after that, they were swarming around her like she had just poked a stick into their beehive. She screamed when she realized she was going to die… but she would go out fighting!
Spy Smasher felt like a coward behind his stealth cloak. He knew it was irrational. With the guns and missiles in the Phoenix, he might have been able to take out a half dozen or so enemy fliers, but there must be at least a million of them attacking now — they would destroy him before he could do anything useful. So instead of fighting, he was going to have to use his brain!
He had been recording the radio chatter going on between the bees and BattleWorld. It might have been more accurate to say, the radio chatter being sent from BattleWorld to the bees, because there had been no messages going the other way. At exactly the same split instant that the BattleWorld radio transmissions had ended, the bees had begun their attacks. There had to be some relationship!
He worked as fast as he could, and in his frenzy, he found he was making stupid mistakes, and it took him much too long to fix each mistake. What he was doing had to work correctly, or he and his teammates might all end up dead! So he slowed down, did everything slowly and deliberately, and got finished in half the time it would have taken him if he had kept ‘hurrying’. He heard Sandy’s warning, but didn’t see the magic lightning beam, so it must have missed him, at least… Finally, he was ready!
He switched on his radio transmitter and started playing back the recorded radio messages. Sure enough, all the near-by bees stopped attacking and started hunting asteroids. And just as suddenly, all the war machines that were out of range of his radio signal started shooting at their now peaceful ‘brethren’. There was some kind of ‘interdiction zone’ around the Phoenix — any enemy that came within about a mile suddenly changed its purpose — until it got out of range again. The enemy machines seemed to learn fairly quickly that it was dangerous to fly into that zone, so they began avoiding it.
Jack drove the Phoenix at top speed toward the clump of bees surrounding Mary Belle. He had to reach her in time!
Down on the surface, Americon’s teams were getting ready to exit from their hiding places. Thad had been monitoring the radio signals from all of the other teams but not transmitting anything, in order to remain undiscovered. Americon decided that it was time to bring the rest of his forces into battle. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite know what to do with them.
His original objective for the ‘ground’ teams had been to find whatever was controlling all the automatons and shut it off, hoping that this would stop them from attacking. However unfortunate it was that destroying the controlling computer had apparently set all the automatons free to attack on their own initiative, there was a silver lining — if his ground teams had found that computer and shut it down, they would probably be dead by now from attacks by all the war machines on and inside BattleWorld! Even though his space forces were losing, he had to figure out how to take advantage of that bit of luck.
But what could a force of eleven heroes do against the massed war machines of an entire world? Especially since most of them had no ultra-human powers…
He could send the fliers up to help his space teams, but even Captain Marvel and Captain Thunder would not be able to turn the tide of that battle. He felt an itch in the back of his mind and realized he was missing something — something right under his nose. He knew from experience it would come to him shortly.
Just as he was about to start giving orders to his teams to join the battle, Sivana Jr. spoke, urgently. “Sir! Spy Smasher has discovered a way to inactivate some of the enemy fliers. I think I can replicate his process from here and affect more of them!”
“Good work, Mr. Sivana, go ahead. Explain it to us as you go.” Thad did so, and then turned on his transmitter, on full emergency power. From the receiver that was tuned to the space teams’ channel, there came a lot of cheers, as all of the bees stopped attacking and went back to the business of asteroid mining!
“I’m not sure how long this will work, sir. The signals I’m sending seem to include an encrypted authorization code followed by instructions. Spy Smasher has been recording these signals since we jumped into this area, and only a few seconds after we got here, the authorization codes changed. They probably have some kind of automatically changing encryption key system, to prevent people from doing exactly what we are doing right now.”
“Any estimates when it might change again?” Americon had a bad feeling about the answer, and his premonition was correct.
“No sir. We don’t know how long the previous key had been in use. But probability theory suggests that the cycle is rather short…”
“As does military theory!” Americon interrupted him. He didn’t have time to listen to the full explanation, it was time for action! “Space team leaders! This is a temporary respite only! Recover your teams and rendezvous with the Phoenix immediately! Mr. Armstrong, you are to take the wounded back to Earth and then return to the Rock of Eternity and wait for the cavalry…” That was the radio call sign for the heroes looking for Thunderman out near Mars, “… and if they are healthy, bring them back here immediately. Babe Leader, I want you to go with them, and guide him to the Rock of Eternity and then to Earth, and then get back here five minutes ago.”
“Mr. Pepper, please return to Earth with the wounded and ensure that they get proper treatment. Miss Wizzolinsk and both Bullets, join Captain Thunder’s team.”
“I don’t know who that leaves up there who is healthy, but I want the rest of you…” all of whom were either Marvels or Thunders “…to disable as many fliers as fast as you can. They are going to start attacking again, probably very soon, and the more you can disable now the fewer you are going to have to fight later on! All space teams — GO!”
Still that nagging feeling… related to his own team, he was certain. Unfortunately, he had just run out of time. Attracted by his radio transmissions, his asteroid was now under attack by some of the ‘ground’ forces. Apparently they took their commands from a different source than the fliers.
Marvel was going to have to get them out of here, in a hurry. As he turned to give the order, his gaze swept across Kid Eternity, and immediately he realized what he had been missing!
“Mr. Freeman! The people who designed this monster are long dead, but we could really use some help from them!”