by Dan Swanson
Chapter 19 — The Space Force Regroups! ####### CHAPTER 18
When Spy Smasher reached Mary Belle, she was alone — which was good, he supposed — but she wasn’t moving. That, he didn’t have to suppose, was bad! He quickly unshipped his robotic grappling arms and gently moved her into the airlock, then cycled her through. She had some incredibly ugly wounds, and there was frozen blood on her arms, legs and face. He hadn’t even imagined that a Marvel could bleed. She still wasn’t moving, not even breathing. He couldn’t tell how bad that might be, as Marvels didn’t seem to need to breath, at least not when they were in space.
After Americon finished his orders, Jack turned off the Phoenix’s stealth cloak and turned on the landing searchlights, to make the Phoenix as easy to find as possible. The others had better get here soon, or he would be in big trouble when the enemy battle machines reverted to their prior hostile attitudes! Then he turned back to Mary Belle. He didn’t know if there was anything he could do to help her, but he was going to try!
He quickly cleaned her up enough to identify her wounds, putting pressure bandages on each one he discovered. Taken one at a time, none of them looked like it should be fatal, but a normal human who had taken that many wounds would quickly bleed to death. He thought it was surprising just how little blood she had actually seemed to lose, but then he realized that the frozen blood had almost immediately staunched each wound as it occurred
Of course, he didn’t even know if blood loss could be fatal to a Marvel, but he wasn’t going to take any chances he could avoid!
Things were looking brighter — IF there were no internal injuries he didn’t know about, and IF being unconscious in the vacuum of space had not harmed her, she ought to live. He sure wished she would start moving, though. Once the wounds were all bandaged, he tried mouth-to-mouth, but her muscles were too strong — he was unable to inflate her lungs! He had to settle for putting an oxygen mask over her mouth and nose, and turning the pressure up as high as he could.
He was stunned when a sheet of paper floated through the wall of the Phoenix and started bobbing up and down in front of Mary Belle’s face! He touched it and it stopped jumping around. He smiled when he read it — it was from Sandy.
Not long before that, in their magic bubble, Mary Marvel, Sue and Sandy had all heard their new orders. Shortly afterward, they were able to make out the spotlight beams coming from the Phoenix, so Mary started flying the bubble in that direction.
Mary was Babe Leader, and rightly so. She immediately issued some orders of her own. “Sandy, some of the others may have lost their armor too, and may have missed Americon’s orders. Can you use your magic to let them know?”
Sandy considered for a couple of seconds, then drew an imaginary rectangle with her left index finger, and started writing in it with her right index finger. Instantly, what looked like six sheets of paper sprang into existence, floating in the air, each covered with a copy of Americon’s orders. Sandy waved her hand and they all flew off in different directions, passing through the wall of the magic bubble — as if by magic. “That should do it.” She looked surprisingly tired. She had never used her magic this much in such a short period of time, and she found that she was becoming exhausted.
They reached the Phoenix shortly afterward, and transferred the two injured Mary Batsons through the airlock. Mary Marvel followed them, while Sandy and Sue headed toward the surface.
Inside the Phoenix, Mary was stricken to see Mary Belle covered with blood and bandages. “Oh my goodness! All three of them, hurt this badly! It’s my fault!” She had, after all, recruited them to become heroines. Remorse almost made her cry, and she seemed on the verge of hysteria.
“Mary Belle needs your help! I’ve already done all I can!” Jack actually yelled to get her attention. As always, knowing that there was someone who needed her helped focus Mary’s mind. She had no way of knowing if this would help, but she held Mary Belle tightly to her and said her magic word. “Shazam!” The magic lightning flashed, thunder roared, and when his vision cleared, Spy Smasher saw that it hadn’t — Mary Marvel had turned back to her mortal form and Mary Belle remained a Marvel.
But she hadn’t given up. Mary Marvel had seen which direction the magic lightning had come from, so she quickly tried again, holding Mary Belle in that direction. “Shazam!” This time it worked, and she was now holding the limp form of Mary Batson…
And saw to her relief that Mary Batson — all four of them, in fact, including herself — were breathing! She quickly changed back to Mary Marvel. Meanwhile, Spy Smasher had cycled Hill Marvel and Tall Marvel through the airlock. Both of them were trying to ignore the pain of broken bones. Mary Marvel explained the transformation knock-out procedure and both agreed. Spy Smasher put their mortal forms out with anesthetic from his first aid kit. By this time, Radar was cycling through the airlock, and it was time to go. Mary transferred them through the Rock of Eternity pocket universe, to New York City on Earth, near the West Side Hospital. She and Radar carried the unconscious Batsons out of the Phoenix into the Emergency Room. Pep identified himself and remained to be sure they were getting the best possible treatment. Mary then transferred Spy Smasher and the Phoenix back to the Rock of Eternity. She and Alan fired up the Jiffy Machine and popped out four space helmets for the remainder of the space team, to allow them to communicate with each other and the ground teams. Then she hopped back to near-BattleWorld space.
‘No rest for the weary,’ she thought, as she joined Mary Thunder, Captain Marvel Junior, and Cool Marvel in their tedious but not currently dangerous task of destroying as many as possible of the million or so passive enemy fliers before they came back to life.
Bulletman joined his wife and Sandy as they headed toward the surface. “Hey, Babe One! You sure look gorgeous!” And then to tease her, he added “You, too, Babe Five. In fact I would say you are at least worthy of being Babe Three or even higher!”
“Why, thank you, Rogue Leader!” Sandy replied, and her voice reflected the twinkle in her eye. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Rogues, you know!”
“OK, you two jokers, that’s enough! We’ve got serious business here, you know!” Sue said sternly, but then she laughed. All three were relieved that their friends were still alive, and they were working out some of their stress.
“Yes, Babe One,” Bulletman responded meekly. They all laughed again.
“Can you guys behave yourselves for a few minutes? Remember I can hear everything you say!” Sue had an errand to run. “I’ll catch up to you.” She flew away, toward the booby-trapped asteroid. “Don’t worry, Mr. Rogue Leader, I know what I’m doing,” she teased, knowing that Jim had been just about to remind her of the danger.
“Yes, Babe One,” Bulletman responded, again. “You’ll catch up with us! Now, Sandy, where were we?”
As she approached the danger zone, Sue sent a coded message to her helmet which shut down the hyper gravity field. She recovered it and quickly caught up with the others.
Chapter 20 — Something Wicked… Awakens!
Before Kid Eternity could respond to Americon’s request, the heroes were nearly deafened by loud creaking, as of titanic rusty hinges being forced open, which was quickly joined by a loud rumbling — and then the spaceship started shaking. Minute Man, who had spent some time on the West Coast, yelled through the noise…
“It feels like an earthquake! Everybody hold on to something!”
Thad’s external view screen showed something even more frightening, though. Directly beneath the mountain of captured asteroids, two halves of a gigantic door were sliding apart, and the asteroids resting on the door were showering into the interior of BattleWorld. Even Thad’s viewscreens couldn’t show what was under the doors or how far they might fall! Fortunately they were very near the top of the pile rather than buried under hundreds of asteroids. As Americon shouted a warning through the radio to the other team, Captain Marvel quickly smashed his way through the ‘top’ of the spaceship and allowed the roof of the artificial cavern he had created to settle on his shoulders.
“I can slow our fall, but I don’t dare try to actually lift this whole asteroid! The rock would split! Somebody see if you can find someplace safe to land and guide me there!”
With all the other asteroids beneath them, Thad’s scanning devices still couldn’t make out any other details.
In the other asteroid, they didn’t have the scanning gear that Thad did, but they didn’t have a spaceship to protect, either. Sunbeam enclosed her teammates (save Captain Thunder) in an energy sphere, and then Thunder quickly shattered the rocky shell around them. They had a few seconds to look around before the overhead doors slid closed again. What they saw — or rather didn’t see — was stunning. The roof they had just fallen through extended as far as they could see, and if there were walls or a floor in this gigantic room, darkness and dust obscured them. If this was an enclosed room, it was several miles on a side at least!
With the doors fully closed, they were left in total darkness. Cap saw what appeared to be the lights of a small airplane approaching, and he prepared for an attack. Suddenly, a searchlight was switched on, and Cap was momentarily blinded. When he could see again, he realized that Sunbeam had used her powers to create a giant searchlight! He could also see that she was floundering — apparently she couldn’t fly and sustain the bubble with their teammates and the searchlight at the same time.
Cap was torn about what to do. He might be needed to fight the attackers, but if he didn’t help Sunbeam, she might drop their teammates into the black unknown. He was saved from having to make a terrible decision when Bulletman, carrying Sandy, and Bulletwoman flew into the beam of the light! He quickly got under the bubble, and took over supporting it.
This relieved some of the strain on Sunbeam, so she rearranged things. She converted the bubble into a platform, and the giant searchlight into a half a dozen smaller lights which her teammates could aim in any direction they wanted, and then she landed on her own platform. She hadn’t before realized what her limits were. Whatever the outcome of this adventure, she would be a changed person when it was over.
Golden Arrow had been examining the darkness below them. His eyesight was far keener than that of any normal human, and he thought he could make out a sort of lighter glow, far below.
At that second, Thad’s voice came to them all over the radio. “Impossible as it seems, heh heh! there’s air in here, and it’s safe to breath.” By now, the assault team had drifted low enough so that they could all see that there was light below them. And that light revealed an amazing landscape!
Of to one side was an incredibly large pit, and all of the asteroids had fallen into that pit. There was some kind of grinding, swirling motion going on, and the pit seemed to be ‘eating’ the asteroids — as they swirled around, they were broken up into smaller and smaller pieces, until the pit seemed to be filled with a ‘fluid’ the color of brown rock — and then it began to drain. Meanwhile, they were gliding down toward what looked like a partially wooded park on Earth. Gently rolling open spaces, covered with grass, a loose woods of tall trees and underbrush, a stream running through it. They landed gently and looked around them, unable to believe their senses. It looked like they were back on Earth!
Until they examined everything more closely. The ‘grass’ all seemed to be part of a single plant — Pinky described it as ‘moss with hair — green hair!’. The trunks of the trees resembled clusters of bamboo — if you took a bunch of bamboo sticks and coated them with glue and then tied them all together, that’s what these tree trunks resembled — and they also were covered with very fine, almost invisible ‘hair’. The crowns of the trees were some kind of living balloons, made of a transparent green stretchy skin, and filled with some kind of cloudy gas. No, they weren’t in Kansas any longer!
The second they had touched ground, Bolt had dashed away, scouting. He was back seconds later. “This way” he pointed. “There’s a city not very far away. And…” he paused for dramatic effect “… there’s people in it!”