by Dan Swanson
Chapter 22 — A Little Action for the Command Team ####### CHAPTER 20
The Command Team had so far had it easy — no combat, their only uneasy moment when Staquejaevo had originally appeared, their only discomfort listening to the reports from their teammates. Not that there was anything wrong with no action, but they wanted to pull their own weight.
Thad, Americon and Minute Man all strapped into seats in front of control panels, Thad facing forward, Americon and Minute Man facing left and right, each with a bank of video monitors that showed them the entire space around the small rocket. Staquejaevo sat in an observers chair, while Kid Eternity and Mr. Keeper, in their intangible forms, weren’t too worried about a possible rough flight. Captain Marvel busted them out of their asteroid, and Thad lifted the sleek vessel into the air. There didn’t seem to be any war machines nearby, so they headed at best speed toward Staquejaevo’s hidden control room, Captain Marvel flying alongside as protection from attacks from beam weapons or missiles.
BattleWorld had turned out to be a ‘world within a world’. The outer hull was very thick armor, and there were lots of weapons emplacements, and under this thick armor, there was a gap of about five miles, and then another surface. This gap was filled with air, and the surface was very planet-like — except for the regularly-spaced monstrous support pillars that held up the ‘sky’. The pillars also contained elevators to the surface and giant power sources for the surface-mounted weapons.
They seemed to have an additional purpose — their alignment was such that it was impossible to fly more than ten miles in any direction in a straight line inside BattleWorld. For a flying vessel moving at approximately the speed of sound, this was about one minute of flight time. When you factored in just how much air it took for a flying craft to turn when moving fast, the practical effect of this alignment of pillars was the equivalent of speed bumps in a parking lot — making it uncomfortable, difficult and dangerous to go too fast.
As they flew over the inner surface of BattleWorld, Thad had discussed construction details with Staquejaevo, focusing on computer systems and weapons. Americon, Minute Man and Kid Eternity joined in with occasional questions. Thad was starting to get an idea, similar to something he had seen on the original ‘Star Train’ series. He asked Staquejaevo a number of probing questions, and the alien’s responses convinced him that his idea had a chance to work.
Thad wasn’t ready yet to confide his idea to anyone, especially Staquejaevo. He didn’t quite trust this long-dead weapons designer who could apparently mutate into a fearsome warrior if he wanted. Was Staquejaevo really as willing to help the heroes take control of his ultimate creation as he appeared to be? Kit had already noted that Staquejaevo seemed to be less constrained by Mr. Keeper’s ‘rules’ than anyone else he had ever called on for help.
They were within perhaps 100 miles of their destination when Thad’s instruments showed that someone was trying to get a target lock on them. ‘I’m detecting Ladar scanning from several directions,” he reported to Americon. “Target lock obtained!” he was a little disturbed at how easy that had been. This ship was designed to be difficult to detect, even though he didn’t have the stealth cloak on right now. “We’re being painted!* ”
* Being ‘painted’ in this context means being targeted and illuminated by laser light. The laser light that reflects off of the target (Thad’s ship) is observed by homing missiles, which aim toward the source of the reflection.
“Evasive tactics, Mr. Sivana!” Americon had not really needed to say that — Thad was not about to sit around and let this enemy destroy his second spaceship in one day! These things cost money, and if he was going straight, he was going to have to start worrying about how to pay for them!
Americon continued… “Mr. Weston! Identify the origins of these scans, and see if you can send them some surprises.” He set about to do the same.
This craft had been designed by Thaddeus Bodog Sivana to fight Marvels. It had the most powerful offensive and defensive capabilities that Sivana Sr. had been able to devise. Sivana Sr. had expected to be the pilot, and often the only person aboard, so there were many automated functions accessible from the main control board, but he had also included auxiliary weapons stations so that Georgia and Thad Jr. might also get in on the fun if they happened to be aboard.
Americon and Minute Man were busy at those auxiliary weapons panels for a couple of seconds, tracking the scanning Ladars, and even though these beams seemed to come from empty air, they launched homing missiles at a couple of them. Meanwhile Thad had slapped a switch which activated the stealth cloak, and to Captain Marvel and the enemy tracking devices, it seemed as if the spaceship just disappeared! Thad quickly changed direction after they cloaked.
Not so good for Cap! The illuminating lasers were now painting him, and the enemy had already launched five missiles. Two of them were unable to change directions and they whizzed harmlessly by him, but the other three struck! The massive explosion stunned him momentarily and blasted him higher into the air. At that instant, two of the counter-missiles fired by the patriotic heroes struck their invisible targets with their own massive explosions.
“Heh! Heh! Heh!” Thad laughed. “That will teach them to mess with a Sivana!” Meanwhile, the three remaining invisible enemies were still targeting Captain Marvel, and a steady stream of missiles was now battering him, lifting him higher and higher. Thad slapped another switch, and half a dozen missiles were launched by the ship’s targeting computer, and Americon and Minute Man had each launched a second salvo as well. The other three invisible attackers were destroyed, and Thad quickly maneuvered to catch the unconscious Captain Marvel before he could fall almost five miles to the surface below.
Staquejaevo was astounded. These primitives had not only managed to penetrate the stealth capabilities of weapons automatons he himself had designed, but their own stealth seemed superior to his! This implied intelligence at least equal to his own, and he refused to believe it. These beings must be the minions of some superior race!
Thad resumed course. Due to these confounded ‘speed bumps’ it would take them another ten minutes to reach their destination. His targeting computer would now recognize BattleWorld’s Ladar systems, and they would not get caught by surprise again. Meanwhile Americon and Minute Man tended to Captain Marvel. They stretched him out on the deck. He was battered and bruised, but there was no broken skin and no apparent broken bones.
Again Staquejaevo was stunned — he had designed those missiles so that a single hit would be enough to take out a Scort warrior, the mightiest beings in his Galaxy. This being had resisted the explosion of perhaps a dozen of them! They must be defective due to extreme age! Even in the wimpy transition form he was currently wearing, he had been sure he could have bested Captain Marvel easily. He was going to have to re-evaluate these beings, this time putting aside his instinctive disdain for members of other species…
Cap moaned and then awakened. “Even Superman can’t hit that hard! Holy Moley! I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had!” His teammates were all relieved — if he could make a joke, however feeble, about this experience, he was probably OK. “Thanks for the save, guys!” He sat up and turned to Thad. “I wasn’t certain about you, Thad, but my apologies — and my thanks!” He stuck out his hand.
This in turn made Thad a little uneasy, because his first reaction had been to destroy the enemy rather than to help his teammate in trouble. He was certain that he had made the correct tactical decision, to ensure the safety of the team first. And yet, he was coming to realize that the correct tactical decision may not necessarily be the right social decision. Going straight was so much more difficult than he had thought! He did shake Cap’s hand, with a feeling of disbelief, that this man — no, this hero! — was thanking him after Thad’s actions had at least partially lead to him getting hit and hurt.
BattleWorld didn’t give up, either. As they flew on, they were hit by a sudden rain storm. Well, actually, rain is not nearly an adequate description! Have you ever been to Niagara Falls? Think Niagara Falls ten miles wide, with the cascade of water falling several miles! The small ship was driven downward by the force of the water striking it, and Thad was just barely able to land safely. Almost immediately the rain ceased, and several flying machines whizzed by, spraying the ground and air with a fine powder. The dust stuck to the wet hull, and their stealth cloak was compromised!
This was followed immediately by several missiles, and they quickly discovered that they were surrounded by a ring of formidable war machines. The ship shuddered with impacts from projectile fire and beams, but the defensive energy barrier would hold — for a few minutes, no more, Thad calculated.
They now had a straight-line path to their destination. Staquejaevo’s secret control room was somewhere near the base of the pillar directly in front of them.
“Mr. Sivana? Time estimate from blast-off until we reach the base of the target, at top acceleration and deceleration?” Americon demanded. “How long would it take to evacuate the ship?”
“To reach the destination, eight seconds with shields, four seconds without,” Thad replied. “They take a lot of power. But we wouldn’t last four second without shields. And we might not even last eight seconds with shields. There are probably other attack sites that can’t target us right now on the surface that could hit us in the air. Much longer to evacuate the ship, perhaps ten to twelve seconds. No way could we live through that. And what if we couldn’t find an entrance?”
“Suppose I make an entrance for you?” Cap asked grimly.
“Cap, can you take another few seconds of fire?” Americon asked the battered hero. “Four seconds to reach the destination, and a few more to bust open a door for us?” He knew what Cap would say; after all, Cap was this world’s Captain Thunder! Asking the battered hero to accept more battering, perhaps sending him to his death, was one of the most difficult things he had ever had to do. Yet, the fate of a world might depend on his decisions. He had to do what was right, no matter how hard it was!
They made their plans. Thad programmed his auto pilot — things were going to happen soon that would be just too fast for human reflexes. Cap would exit the ship, Thad would let the engines build up power, then drop the shield and go instantly to max acceleration. Cap would protect the ship from fire for a few seconds. As soon as they were moving, the ship’s automatic weapons would launch a full salvo of missiles at the wall of the pillar they were headed for. Three seconds into the flight, the shields would come on automatically, which would slow the rocket somewhat. Cap would fly ahead and finish the job the missiles started, making sure there was a hole in the pillar wall large enough for the vessel to pass through. Once the ship was inside, it was Cap’s job to stop it before it smashed into anything.
For safety, Staquejaevo was released to return to Paradise, though Kid Eternity promised to call him back again soon. And Kit and Mr. Keeper, in their ghostly forms, were unaffected by acceleration.
It might not have been the single most foolproof plan Americon had ever approved, but they didn’t have the time to come up with the ‘perfect’ plan. When they had finished discussing it, he only had a few words. “Good luck to all of us! Execute!”
Cap left the ship and Thad started the auto pilot. There was a hum as power built up, and he called off a countdown. “3. 2. 1. GO! Heh He mmmph!” At GO, the ship sprung into motion, and the acceleration was so great Thad was unable to complete the trademark Sivana chuckle. The next few seconds were the longest, most painful years of each of their lives as they were first smashed by the tremendous acceleration, then had to endure violent battering as the concussions from the weapons fire Cap was intercepting knocked the little ship around. The noise was as bad as the explosions themselves!
Finally, several years later, the noise diminished and instantly the acceleration changed to deceleration — much more violent than the prior forces — and a tremendous crash! The front of the ship collapsed as it was crushed into a bulkhead. Cap was between the ship and the bulkhead, and the incredibly tough alloy of the hull stretched, until they could see the outline of his invulnerable body, and then they stopped moving!
For an instant there was silence… and then, ever so slowly, the rocket started to inch backward. Thad quickly reversed the engines, and then stopped them after they had moved backward a couple of feet. Cap tapped the hull several times in a pre-arranged code — he was still alive!
Battered, bruised and sore, but still functional, Sivana Jr., Americon and Minute Man armed themselves and then cycled through the airlock, and Kit and Keep joined them. The weapons outside had stopped firing. The silence was startling, and they all wondered if they were now deaf when they got a short message from Mary Thunder from orbit…
Quick Interlude… Action in Orbit
“Command Team, this is Mace Leader. I don’t know what you guys did down there, but half of these bees just peeled off and headed home. We remain under attack. However, we are no longer in danger of being immediately overwhelmed. If you could induce half the remaining fliers to retreat as well, we could join you on the surface in a couple of hours.”
Cool Marvel was awestruck! Mary T’s voice had remained calm and collected, but the whole while she had been giving her report, she was also engaged in a furious dogfight. Three small sleek spaceships which sort of resembled an X-15
( http://x15. com/9-inflight1. html )
were pursuing her, and she was dodging beams and missiles. She was faster and more maneuverable, but they had cannons and ray guns and she didn’t. And unlike most of the fliers around them, these three were working as a team and covering each other. Whenever Mary T tried to attack one of the ships, the other two were able to shoot at her. She was able to dodge most of the shots, but she was being hit, too often.
However, all of their attention was focused on Mary, and they had no chance when Cool ripped them apart. By covering for each other, the three Marvels and Mary Thunder were surviving, and destroying enemy fliers, but it was a slow painful process. Now that half of them had bugged out, though, he was starting to think that he might even live through this day!
Americon responded. “Mace Leader, that’s good news but we did nothing to effect this retreat. Please be wary of a trap of some kind, and keep us informed. We’re headed for a control room in the hope that there is a back door to the computer system. Good luck!” Most of the heroes were not computer experts, but after the movie “Peace Games”, pretty much everyone understood what a computer back door was.
Thad had mapped out the route to the control room, and they could follow it using their heads-up displays. Since Staquejaevo was gone, Americon decided to ask Kit to summon another spirit to help them. He wanted a specific spirit, but of course the spirit he knew was from his own world. He talked to Minute Man to see if there was an analog in this universe. In fact, the hero he wanted had used the same name in both universes.
“Mr. Freeman, can you summon El Carim?”
Kit looked at Mr. Keeper — he had never heard of El Carim himself. Mr. Keeper nodded, a big smile on his face. “Yes, Kit, I think that’s a wonderful idea!” That didn’t reassure Kit as much as Keep thought it should.
“El Carim, I request your assistance! Eternity!” Suddenly a man appeared in the room with them. About 6′ tall, slender, distinguished looking, wearing a pale violet tuxedo, with a turban and a monocle. And a long gray cape.
El Carim looked around, and recognized Minute Man. “It certainly is good to see you, old friend! When Master Wizzar told me my services would be required again, I was quite incredulous — we have not seen action since I joined him in the spirit plane.” The two shook hands, and then El Carim turned to Kit and bowed.
“El Carim, Master of Magicks, at your command. How may I assist you?”
Kit shook the mage’s hand but he was distracted. He was watching his mentor, Mr. Keeper. El Carim was accompanied by another; a bald man wearing what appeared to be a Greek toga. Although they were dressed differently, and the newcomer was of ‘normal’ build compared to Mr. Keeper’s ‘stout’ physique, the two spirits might have been close relatives! And in fact, they seemed to be close friends — they had clasped hands and then exchanged a hug, as between two who hadn’t seen each other in some time.
This was the first time Kit’s summons had ever produced two spirits! He realized that none but he and El Carim could see these two. Keep turned to him. “Kit, I would like to introduce you to my cousin Wizzar, sometimes known as ‘the Father of All Magic’. As I am mentor to you, so is he mentor to El Carim.”
Americon introduced himself and Thad to the ‘Master of Magicks’ and explained their mission. “This world integrates magic and technology and we need protection from magic threats. And, Captain Marvel needs some attention.”
“Ah, indeed he does. ” El Carim knelt down next to Marvel, and waved a hand over him. “Speels eh sa mih tisiv gnileah fo stirips. ” A shimmering glow outlined Marvel. He stood again, pointed at Marvel and raised his hand. “Su htiw oreh siht yrrac ria fo stirips.” Marvel rose gently into the air. “Cigam elitsoh fo nraw sdraw citsym”. A spherical ‘ripple’ moved outward from El Carim, passing through the bodies of the other heroes without affecting them, expanding through walls, floor, and ceiling of the smashed spaceship. Inside this sphere, some items and locations glowed. “The glow indicates concentrations of magic. Without time to study this magic, I cannot quickly determine if a particular instance is dangerous or not. I suggest we avoid all glowing areas if we have a choice.”
Americon again took the lead. “My thanks, Mr. El Carim. Let’s get a move on, team! I don’t know what caused the weapons outside to stop firing, or half of the fliers to break off their attacks in orbit, but I don’t think it is for our benefit! Mr. Freeman, can you and your intangible friend Mr. Keeper scout our way? I don’t want to go through any doors or around any corners unless we already know what’s on the other side.”