by Dan Swanson
Since their armor and radios had been destroyed, Cap Jr., Hill Marvel and Tall Marvel had no way to communicate with each other — or anyone else in the space teams. They were all moving fast and in different directions, and within a few seconds, each was out of sight of the others.
Cap Jr. had been caught in the explosion of six of these missiles at once, and he had barely lived through it. Weakened as he was by his battle with the bees, there was a good chance that right now he might not survive an explosion of just two of them. He strained to increase his speed, but he was already going as fast as he could. He tried weaving and dodging, but even though the missiles weren’t as maneuverable as he was, they were gradually closing in on him.
He had an idea, and he flashed down toward BattleWorld, pulling out of his dive not far above the surface and racing across the landscape. The missiles cut kitty corner across his flight path, and closed the gap even more.
The surface of BattleWorld — he supposed it might be called the ‘Hull’ of BattleWorld — was not smooth. In fact, it was hard to determine just where the ‘surface’ started. There were a lot of tall spires, and between them, what on Earth he would have guessed were warehouses and factories, and the whole landscape seemed haphazard, as if it had grown rather than been built. And so it had — BattleWorld had passed through the hands of many different and varied races through the years, and many of them had added their own structures. What was important to him was that in this environment, he could fully utilize his vast advantage in maneuverability over the missiles!
He flashed down a narrow ‘valley’ between monstrously-large buildings, and suddenly was struck by a sense of deja vu. “Use the Force, Fred!” he whispered to himself and smiled He had been tickled when he found out his call sign was Rogue 2. Now that he thought about it, it was kind of eerie how much BattleWorld resembled a Death Star! Suddenly he realized that he hadn’t been paying close enough attention to his high speed flying. The valley turned and he was going too fast to turn with it!
He smashed into the wall at such high speed that the impact was like an explosion! Metal plates bent and burst, and debris flew everywhere. No structure on Earth could have sustained that impact without being demolished, but to this massive building it was kind of like a BB hitting something the size of a boxcar.
Still, this projectile wasn’t a BB, it was Captain Marvel Jr. Weary to the point of exhaustion, battered and bruised, hurting as he had rarely hurt before, but still invulnerable, he blasted through the wall, flashed instantly through a vast empty room, and blasted through the other side. He had the impression that this vast room was something like an airplane hangar for ‘bees’ — it probably could have held 10,000 or so, and it was empty. And now his head was ringing — even the Power of Zeus has some limits, and Cap Jr. was pushing those limits right to the edge of the envelope — and maybe a little beyond!
The two missiles didn’t fare as well as Cap Jr. While they didn’t explode when they smashed into the first wall (confirming Americon’s guess that the next batch of missiles would probably have proximity fuses instead of exploding on impact), they were torn to shreds, and the debris rained down to the floor of that vast hangar. Once again there was no explosion!
Cap Jr. found this extremely curious, and he would have liked to investigate — but he had more important things to attend to, like helping his team members. He flew high into space above BattleWorld and hovered, spinning and tumbling in place, trying to spot any traces of the Lieutenants Marvel. He never found them, but a sheet of magical paper floating through space found him. After he had read the message, he released the magical paper, and it flew away through space, guiding him to the rendezvous with the Phoenix.
Tall Marvel was beat! And yet, he couldn’t rest. He needed to think, and think fast. Americon had made it clear that these missiles had the power to hurt or even kill him, and in his current weakened state, he could easily believe it. He tried leading them back into the swarm of bees following him, and was disappointed but not surprised when the missiles smashed through the bees without exploding. He ended up taking some more hits from energy weapons and projectile weapons, and he was even more beat than ever now. No wonder Atlas had once asked Hercules to hold the sky for him — just long enough for Atlas to get some rest.
Suddenly he had an idea. In his current state, the missiles were faster than he was and they would catch him eventually — and when they did, he would be even more worn out and vulnerable. These missiles were obviously pretty stupid, and he had the Wisdom of Solomon at his command — if he couldn’t outwit them, he might as well let them catch him! He shuddered at the potential consequences of failure, but the Courage of Achilles sustained him.
It all depended on how fast he could reverse directions. He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to do that, but he was coming up on a large asteroid, very quickly. “Now or never! Geronimo!”
This asteroid had a sort of weird shape. Maybe like the head of a duck, splattered with mud? Anyway, it might work for what he wanted to do.
Tall smashed into the end of the duck’s bill, and jammed his hands into the rock as he zoomed past. The asteroid spun around the heavy end, and he instantly broke his arms free — and he was going back the other way, almost as fast as he had been going before he took the turn! His plan was to trigger one of the missiles to explode and escape instantly to the Rock of Eternity. Sure, he would get battered a little, but he would escape almost the entire force of the explosions, and the missiles would be destroyed! He was sure he would survive — provided he timed it just right…
He was stunned to discover that the missiles were no longer trailing him! They had only been instants behind — he should have seen the explosion by now! He guessed they must have run out of fuel, and felt kind of silly that he had wasted so much effort fleeing from something that couldn’t hurt him!
Hill Marvel was beat! And yet, he couldn’t rest. He needed to think, and think fast. Americon had made it clear that these missiles had the power to hurt or even kill him, and in his current weakened state, he could easily believe it. He tried leading them back into the swarm of bees following him, and was disappointed but not surprised when the missiles smashed through the bees without exploding. He ended up taking some more hits from energy weapons and projectile weapons, and he was even more beat than ever now. Even with the Courage of Achilles, he feared for his life!
Suddenly he had an idea. In his current state, the missiles were faster than he was and they would catch him eventually — and when they did, he would be even more worn out and vulnerable. These missiles were obviously pretty stupid, and he had the Wisdom of Solomon at his command — if he couldn’t outwit them, he might as well let them catch him! He shuddered at the potential consequences of failure, but the Power of Zeus had never let him down before.
It all depended on whether he could the missiles to crash into an asteroid. He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to do that, but he was coming up on a large asteroid, very quickly. “Now or never! Geronimo!”
The asteroid looked kind of like a Chianti bottle, and it was spinning fast. He flashed past it, almost brushing his shoulder against the stone. The neck of the bottle spun by just behind him, and he figured it would smash into the missiles, destroying them. He hoped they wouldn’t explode, but he was going fast enough that he ought to be able to get away safely.
He was stunned when he realized there hadn’t been any explosions behind him. The missiles seemed to have disappeared! He guessed they must have run out of fuel, and felt kind of silly that he had wasted so much effort fleeing from something that couldn’t hurt him!
Hill saw a flash of red and white, and was pleased to see his buddy, Tall Marvel! He flew up to Tall, and they gave each other a high five, and then started heading back toward BattleWorld.
They didn’t even realize it when they flew close enough to a stationary missile to trigger its proximity fuse — which set off the other three! What they did realize shortly was that they both had lived through the explosion. However, the blasts had thrown them into each other with tremendous force, and each of them realized he had several broken bones. Bobbing in front of their faces were some magical sheets of paper. Painfully they read their orders, and even more painfully they slowly followed those magical pages back to their rendezvous with the Phoenix.
Crisis on Earth-S -Interlude — Impartial Observers
An hour ago… The ‘sky’ above BattleWorld was busy, with hundreds of rocket-propelled machines zipping to and fro, disappearing in the distance and returning, dragging asteroids behind them. Some worked in teams, and some were large enough to bring school-bus sized chunks of rock back by themselves. These asteroids were dropped into piles on the surface of the massive super dreadnought of space, and the busy workers, like the bees they resembled, disappeared again, looking for more raw materials. On the surface, teams of mobile machines retrieved asteroids from the piles, broke them up into smaller pieces and transported them. Some of the pieces went to smelters, to capture the metals they contained. Others were transported directly to some of the gaping wounds, and used as construction materials.
An empty volume of space far above BattleWorld suddenly wasn’t empty. Appearing from nowhere was a shiny white sphere, about ten feet across. The ‘lower’ half was opaque, concealing whatever mechanisms drove the sphere. The ‘upper’ half was transparent, revealing a pair of control panels and some chairs, bolted to the deck.
Seated at the control panels were two humanoid figures, wearing form-fitting bright white space suits and opaque helmets, which looked like polished obsidian. The suits revealed physical characteristics that suggested that one was a human male and the other a human female but without being able to see into the helmets, who could be sure they were even human? For ease of reference, let’s call them ‘him’ and ‘her’, ‘he’ and ‘she’.
Each wore a utility belt with many pockets, and hanging from his belt was what might have been a coil of golden rope, glowing with its own light. Above the left breast of each figure was a colorful icon.
The swarming bees didn’t seem to be able to sense the sphere, and she was exceptionally busy for a short time, maneuvering the sphere to avoid collisions, but he finally reached a point that was not on any flight paths. She set the sphere to hover, turned on the automatic collision avoidance system, and relaxed. For the next couple of hours, the two used their instruments to closely observe BattleWorld and everything that happened on the surface or in nearby space. They never removed their suits or helmets. They must have been communicating with each other, but no sounds and no signals passed through the transparent hull, so we may never know what they talked about.
When the battle started, both pilots returned their attention to their control panels. They were unsure just what weapons and forces might be deployed, and they didn’t want to get killed through inattention! The battle was widely spread across the sky, with knots of confrontations taking place around each of the members of the Rock Throwing Teams, so they were easily able to stay out of danger. They continued to remain undetected. If they had been human, an observer might have concluded that they seemed to be interested in the details of the battle, rather than the fate of the combatants on either side.
That detachment didn’t last! She caught his attention and pointed to a smaller screen near the edge of her control panel, then pressed a button and the scene from the small screen was repeated on the much larger screens directly in front of the pilots. Tall Marvel and Hill Marvel were each fleeing from a pair of deadly anti-matter missiles, and the missiles were gaining! They would both pass nearby, and the tracking computer calculated that both would meet their dooms only a few seconds later.
The male figure stood and stepped toward the invisible hull of the vehicle. The female turned, and gestured back toward the seat, but he didn’t return. Instead, he touched the inner hull, a section of it slid aside, and he stepped out into space.
He reached to his belt and pulled the ‘coil of rope’ free. It quickly unfolded and unfolded again, and he was holding a circular net — with the strands made of energy! He held still for a second, then tossed the net, flicking his wrist to impart spin. As it flew, and spun, it quickly grew larger. For a second, he thought he had miscalculated and he might catch Tall Marvel, which would be a disaster, but Marvel whizzed past untouched. He was concentrating on a distant asteroid, and he never saw the glowing, growing net as it flew toward him.
The two missiles impacted the energy net, which folded around them. Their rocket engines stopped firing and they were dragged to a halt. The energy net dissipated, leaving the missiles hanging in space. A few seconds later, a new tightly-coiled net appeared hanging from the observer’s belt.
He detached the net again, faced a slightly different direction, held for a second, and then once again threw the net, and it flew, spinning and growing. History repeated itself, and the other two missiles were dragged to a halt. As planned, the energy of the nets had disabled the electronics in the missiles, and they were now harmless. He re-entered the sphere, and the two mysterious observers quickly moved to a different vantage point. They had been unnoticed up until now, but their scanners showed them that the two Marvels were returning, and if they decided to search for the now harmless missiles, they might stumble on the sphere.
A couple of minutes later, they were both extremely relieved that they had moved far enough, when all four missiles exploded. There was a short period of frenetic activity in the sphere, as both pilots frantically used every sensor, scanner and detection device available to try to locate Tall and Hill Marvel. Both figures seemed to shrink in upon themselves when their visual scanner zoomed in on the twisted bodies of Tall and Hill Marvel, and even without hearing them, any observer would have been able to recognize the relief and joy they displayed when the two Marvels wakened.
The female pilot pointed back at the swarms of bees around BattleWorld. Her partner shook his head. They seemed to argue for a short time, and finally, both turned back to their controls. The sphere vanished… No one, and no machine, had noted its presence.