by Dan Swanson
Americon’s group landed several miles away, out of sight of the assault team, still shielded inside their asteroid. As there didn’t seem to be any threats nearby, Americon decided it was time to call on Kid Eternity’s powers for some help.
Kid Eternity turned to his ghostly partner, Mr. Keeper. “Keep, do you know who built this thing?”
“Well, Kit, it’s difficult to answer that question. This ‘thing’ as you call it is almost three billion years old, much older, in fact, than I am, and it comes from a dozen galaxies away. As soon as you discovered it, I contacted the Research Department and made some inquiries about it. All our records about this “thing” and its builders are kept in storage in a distant dusty corner of the Sublime University Library. It’s been over 50 million years since anybody has even looked for them. I had to submit a special request for permission to access that area, and once that came through, the University sent a couple of grad students to find the stuff — told ’em they could use it as research credit towards their Doctorate of Heavenly Divinity degrees.”
“Keep!” Even the sometimes oblivious Mr. Keeper could hear the exasperation in Kit’s voice.
“Kit, my dear boy,” he said in an aggrieved tone “… I was sure you’d be thrilled that I’ve already retrieved the relevant records. After all, if I hadn’t started searching until you asked me, you’d have a long wait!”
“You have the records now? Why didn’t you say so?” Kit was more than a little annoyed!
As was Mr. Keeper. “I was saying so, when you rudely interrupted. Do you want to hear what I’ve learned, or would you rather do the research yourself?”
“I’m sorry, Keep! We’re kind of in a jam here, and I’m a little tense. Please go on!”
Keeper sniffed “Thank you. I do take pride in my job, you know!” Kit nodded, and Keep continued. “Yes, I know who built this thing. In fact, there were several million souls, from several thousand different races, over the course of many centuries. And many builders who had intelligence but no souls, and many others whose souls are not accessible to us.”
“You mean, they’re in the bad place?” Kit asked, with a hushed tone. “I would have thought that everyone who worked on such a terrible weapon would be spending Eternity there…”
“Many of those who built it were not ‘evil’ or terrible, Kit. They may have been is servitude to evil rulers, but that alone doesn’t qualify them for…” he shuddered “…Eternity in the bad place.”
Kit was about to respond to that when he realized that Keep was once again dragging him into an argument on philosophy when what he needed was ACTION! “We can discuss good souls in the service of evil some other time, Keep. Right now, which of those builders, that we have access to, knows the most about this vessel?”
“That’s a very interesting question, Kit!” said Keeper, scratching his chin. “Here,” he turned away, reached up and pulled a book from an invisible bookshelf. “The Research Department put together this little list for me.” He turned back, and handed Kit a book the size of the Historama. Kit was staggered by the weight of this humongous book. “They had a raucous debate about that very question, even called in the souls of some of the builders themselves for their opinions. They couldn’t agree, so they culled the list and gave me the biographies of the 10,000 top prospects. I haven’t had time to read through them yet. Tell you what — why don’t you take half and I’ll take half? Shouldn’t take us too long, should it? Then we can each pick our favorite and compare qualifications.”
Kit moaned. “I’m not the Freeman with the Speed of Mercury, Keep. Even if I were, it would take years to read this whole book. We need help NOW, Keep. What part of ‘now’ don’t you get?” Mr. Keeper shrugged and was about to argue, when Kit continued. “I DO NOT want to hear it. ” He dropped the book and it fell open near the front. There were pages and pages of pictures of beings, some human and some decidedly non-human — and some that Kit couldn’t even identify. He touched a human-looking picture. “What’s his name, Keep? He’ll do! And get somebody to teach him English before I bring him here!”
“Umm… ‘his’ name is Staquejaevo and he’s not exactly a ‘he’,” Keep said nervously.
“Eternity! Staquejaevo, I need your help!”
Without any fuss, Staquejaevo stood before them.
“Uhh, Keep, what the heck is that?”
“I did try to warn you, Kit, but you must insist on never listening to me!”
The controlling computer was not the only computing device on BattleWorld. When the controlling computer vanished, some of the lesser computers were left without a source of orders. Yet their programming, written billions of years ago, was so complete that it included contingencies even for this event. These computers activated circuits that had not been used in several billion years, which in turn brought ancient power sources on line. After so long, the nuclear fuel in these reactors had largely decayed into lead, and their combined output was only a trickle compared to their designed capacity.
The combined current from a dozen of these ancient reactors was shunted into a single computing device. As it came back on line, it realized the need for more power than the reactors could provide. On the surface, energy collectors came to life. Many had been damaged over the long life of BattleWorld, and once again, they delivered only a tiny fraction of their designed capacity.
All of this power was routed to a giant power storage facility. Capacitors began to charge, and current started to flow into other long-unused circuitry. Devices long dormant began to sluggishly go through their power-on processes. Digital data began to flow into long unused collection and correlation centers. Self-assessment and repair capability was enabled, and maintenance machines were ordered to reactors and energy panels on the surface. As things were put into better working order, more power flowed. With circuitry spread throughout the entire planetoid starting to get a trickle of power, a machine intelligence, older than Earth and more deadly than anything humanity had ever encountered, began to awaken…
Chapter 21 — Angel of Death
The control room of Thad’s spaceship had been very crowded with five heroes (and Mr. Keeper, but he didn’t take up very much room). Now the room appeared almost empty, as most of the heroes quickly backed up against the walls. In front of them crouched what looked like a cross between a praying mantis and a scorpion — if you can imagine a 10′ long praying mantis!
The monster seemed as surprised as they were. It sprang upright, and in the process, its head bashed into the ceiling of the room and dented it. The monster seemed perturbed and started to make a chittering noise. Slime dripped from its mandibles, and the floor started to crackle and dissolve where it splashed. The monster raised its front legs, and giant claws clattered open and shut, and the tail with its deadly stinger was raised for an attack.
Captain Marvel leaped between his allies and this deadly monster. Thad was pulling a weapon from a closed compartment, and Americon and Minute Man had each moved to opposite sides of the room, so they would be able to attack from different directions. Kit was speechless. He had never before summoned anything like this! He had always assumed that anyone he summoned would be friendly and willing to help him, but this being looked anything but friendly! He opened his mouth to release the monster and send it back wherever it came from when it just disappeared.
Kit was even more confused. “Hey, Keep, can he do that? I thought he had to stay until I release him?”
Mr. Keeper sprang into action. He pulled yet another book from the air and quickly found something in the index. “Ah, yes, of course… Here it is. Scorts — that is, Staquejaevo’s race, goes through several transformations during their life cycle. They enter the Warrior phase — the form we saw — after passing through several others. It isn’t known if there might be another phase, as none of them ever survive the warrior phase — they kill each other if there are no enemies nearby.”
Suddenly, without any warning or any fuss, Staquejaevo was back. This time, he looked almost human. Almost… he was seven feet tall, muscled like Captain Marvel, no hair, bulging, faceted eyes the size of tennis balls, no nose, a mouth that worked sideways instead of up and down, and two sets of arms, at his shoulders and his hips. He wore no clothing, and there were no outward indications of gender.
“Oh my! Please accept my apologies! That was so dreadfully horrid! I received the notice,” he held out a tattered piece of paper. Though it had holes burned through it, they could see that there was printing on it. “… but in the Warrior phase,” he shuddered “we don’t pay much attention to notices. Or time, either. Or anything but fighting and…”
He stopped talking as he noticed the holes in the floor, the weapon Thad was holding, and the defensive postures of all the heroes and he actually cringed. “Oh my, oh me, there is really no need to worry. In the Transition phase, I’m harmless, quite tranquil, and very intelligent.” The heroes weren’t quite convinced. Staquejaevo turned to Kit and the invisible Mr. Keeper.
“You summoned me, didn’t you? This is so exciting!” He closely examined the six heroes around him. “I say! You look much like transition stage Scortions, but I can see that you aren’t. Quite fascinating, actually!”
Kit and Keep were both stunned. They had never summoned a soul such as this before. Kit wondered — would he ever stop talking? Kit decided to just interrupt.
“We are aboard a gigantic space battleship that you helped build,” Kit started, but Staquejaevo interrupted him.
“Yes, yes, I can feel it all around me! We called this vessel Springtime Flower Blossom. But many things have changed since I finished my work. My work still exists, buried underneath many layers of the works of others. Many others — and many of them would have been my enemies, if I had ever met them!” He didn’t seem very happy to think about his enemies meddling with his masterpiece.
Americon stepped forward. “Mr. Staquejaevo, my name is Americon. Springtime Flower Blossom is threatening my world. I need your help to save that world.”
Thad had been quietly using some of his scanning equipment on Staquejaevo. Before the Scort could reply, Thad was speaking urgently. “Americon, this being is a cyborg — and computing devices in his body are exchanging massive amounts of data with BattleWorld. We may be in grave danger. He must stop!”
Staquejaevo turned to Thad. “Oh, yes indeed, you are indeed in grave danger. But not from me!”
“Then, stop the data exchange immediately!” Americon snapped. He looked at Thad, who gave him the thumbs up. He turned back to the alien. “How can we protect our world?”
“I cannot know for certain. With all of the changes that have been made, my own safeguards may have been overridden. I have been trying to establish control, but my commands have been ignored.” He looked frustrated.
“What else can we do?” Americon asked.
“It is difficult — so many changes — and yet, my designs remain. If my workstation still exists, direct access to the controlling AI may be achieved from there. And there was a main power juncture, where it might be possible to shut off power. But we haven’t much time!”
“Where is your work station? Where is the power junction?”
On one of Thad’s view screens, a picture of BattleWorld was suddenly displayed. Staquejaevo touched a spot on the surface. “Here is my concealed work station. I built it inside of a weapons hardpoint — actually inside the weapon itself, in an attempt to keep it hidden. It was designed as a failsafe — if ever Springtime Flower Blossom was turned against my own race, this hidden control room might present me with a chance of stopping it. The weapon seems to be virtually untouched. Perhaps my workstation will be similarly intact?” The view turned into a schematic. A small sector, near the center, began to flash. “And this is the critical power juncture. Destroying this juncture may temporarily prevent the Angel of Death from coming on line.”
“What the… heck… is the Angel of Death?” Minute Man demanded.
“Why, I may have translated the name incorrectly — but that is the name that we gave to the artificial intelligence that was designed to control this warship during battle. An artificial intelligence designed for a single purpose — destruction of the enemies of the Scort. Designed to wield weapons that can easily destroy a star, to make tactical decisions leading to the destruction of millions of enemy combatants in seconds, to make strategic plans for the annihilation of entire species, yes, even entire Galactic Empires… Did I make an inappropriate translation?”
“Oh, yeah, Staquejaevo — not inappropriate, just a little inadequate…” Kit responded weakly. “Archangel of Devastation might be a little closer — but let’s not quibble…”
Americon was already on the radio, barking orders to the assault team. Their target was the power juncture, deep within the vessel. His own team would attempt to take control of this Angel of Death from Staquejaevo’s own control room. Thad transmitted the location and schematics to the heads-up displays in the space armor of all the ground-side heroes.
Americon also took an emergency call from the remnants of the Rock Throwing teams, Mary Thunder, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. and Cool Marvel. They were once again under attack from the millions of fliers in the sky. Their earlier experience with the fliers and their weapons had allowed them to improve their strategy, but with fewer fighters than before, they weren’t sure just how long they could last.
“Hold out as long as you can up there, and we’ll do the best we can down here!” was all he could tell them. He knew that response wouldn’t be good for their morale, but it was the best he could do. If one of the two ‘ground’ teams couldn’t figure out a way to put BattleWorld out of commission real soon, the morale of the sky team really wouldn’t matter much…