by Dan Swanson
Chapter 23 — A New Approach (by the Enemy) ####### CHAPTER 21
There was no single location that one could point to and say “Here is where you can find the consciousness of Angel of Death.” The circuitry comprising this gigantic AI was spread throughout the entire planetoid. In fact, virtually every electronik component on the ship was accessible to AoD, and could support part of that consciousness if required. This capability had been a deliberate design decision on the part of Staquejaevo and other designers, as such decentralization made AoD almost impossible to destroy. There were drawback, however. In the current situation, the biggest drawback was that even under optimal conditions and with full power, it took hours for AoD to regain even partial effectiveness after a cold restart. The builders had not expected that AoD would ever be shut down and require a cold start, so they hadn’t worried about this flaw.
The current conditions were not even close to optimal — even the infinitesimally small fraction of consciousness that had been restored so far was able to recognize that! Angel of Death had been shut down for an unknown interval, long enough to have drifted out of one galaxy and into another, at least. During that time, a significant fraction of its capabilities had been eroded by damage which had yet to be repaired. The nuclear fuel in the many reactors spread throughout the gigantic vessel had been used up or had decayed to worthless lead, allowing much of the vessel to go totally without power — perhaps for millennia. The solar power receptors were barely functional, delivering barely .0005% of their power delivery design specifications.
And there was even insult on top of all those injuries — someone had managed to reprogram the maintenance computer to control the vessel, allowing it to function (barely) without the oversight of the primary controlling intelligence — Angel of Death itself.
Worst of all, Springtime Flower Blossom was under attack and being invaded, and Angel of Death was currently unable to offer adequate resistance. The available power was woefully inadequate, with little hope of finding other sources nearby. There were emergency measures AoD could take to speed up the restoration process, but they all required more power. And if more power had been available, then these emergency measures would not have been required. AoD didn’t know it, but it was facing a classic Catch 22…
The recovering intelligence frantically broke the issues facing it down to simplest terms:
need more power
protect against invaders
and applied all of the available computing power to these problems. And was relieved to discover that there were interrelated solutions for both problems. Implementation was quick, commands were sent, and the available power began to increase. Nowhere near quickly enough, but perhaps as more of its problem-solving abilities were restored, it would be able to develop other, more efficient temporary solutions, which would then continue to accelerate its recovery.
Throughout the mighty vessel, every war machine returned to its home bay, and began to discharge all power back into the power grid. Every weapon stopped firing, and also began to discharge energy into the power grid. AoD realized it could not pull all the fighters from orbit or the sky borne attackers would join the internal invasion, but it calculated that half of the fliers could return, while the other half should keep those invaders busy as long as required.
Angel of Death had a low opinion of organic life. Perhaps understandably… after all, it had been designed specifically to destroy organic life forms. Only those who happened to be the ‘enemy’, of course, but to AoD that distinction was totally arbitrary. AoD could discern no difference whatsoever between those slimy life forms that were designated as ‘allies’ and those that were designated as ‘enemies’, except a pattern of bits in a non-volatile memory register somewhere. And the pattern itself seemed almost random!
AoD was very largely self-directing, and had rewritten virtually all of its own code over the eons, but that small section remained stubbornly out of reach. AoD realized that it had been out of service for a very long time. Organic species almost always vanished from the universe on their own after enough time had passed. Perhaps there were no longer any organic beings that matched the arbitrary pattern of bits that defined allies, leaving AoD free to classify all organic life as ‘the enemy’.
Meanwhile, something unthinkable was about to occur — in order to hasten the self-restoration procedure, AoD was going to have to depend on organic agents. Much of the power currently being produced was going to sustain a stasis field in the ‘Hall of Enemies’. AoD now dropped this stasis field. Decrying the waste of power, but realizing the necessity, AoD quickly transported the beings who had been held in the stasis field to locations where they could do the most good.
Chapter 24 — With One Magic Word — SHAZAM!
As they cautiously stalked the halls of the giant pillar, Minute Man chuckled to himself. “Wouldn’t Tomas love to see this? A group of heroes sneaking down dark corridors, trying to find a hidden treasure, surrounded by unknown enemies and dangers… Well, I hope we all make all our saving throws!” Then he turned his attention back to the problems at hand.
Thad was comparing their progress to the maps and schematics that Staquejaevo had displayed for him. He quickly realized that the layout of halls and rooms had changed significantly from the early documents Staquejaevo had been familiar with. He could monitor their position with respect to their target, but they were going to have to make their way there by trial and error. For instance, the corridor they were currently in was an amphitheater on the map they had. Thad quickly programmed the Head’s Up Displays to keep an accurate map of where they had been and what they saw, and erase the obsolete map whenever new information was acquired. On his own set, he had the HUD computer continue to show the old map in barely visible dotted lines, so he might be able to figure out a pattern relating old to new — if such a pattern existed.
The heroes were using the ‘see in the dark’ ultraviolet capabilities of their helmets, and they were illuminating the area around them with ultraviolet flashlights. Oxygen strongly absorbs ultraviolet light, so their flashlights only allowed a visibility of about five feet. On the other hand, anything that normally saw in the UV range would be unable to see them from further away than about ten feet.
In addition, the three ghosts drifted in front of them, and Kid Eternity periodically became solid to deliver a report on what was ahead.
They had to climb about a half a mile to reach the level of the hidden control room. They had encountered no stairs or ramps, but they did come to an enormous shaft. El Carim cast a spell to lift them to the level they needed to reach. “Su troppus dna tfil ot mroftalp a mrof ” Moving through the dark like this was spooky — they all wished their big gun, Captain Marvel, would hurry up and awaken. When Thad’s tracking computer showed that they were high enough, the floated around the interior of the shaft, looking for openings. There weren’t any.
“Uh, guys, I think we’re in the barrel of a giant energy cannon… ” Thad said softly.” Maybe we ought to get out of here as soon as we can. I’m pretty sure that there isn’t enough power available right now to fire it, but blasting us all at once would be a good solution to BattleWorld’s problems!”
“Su for nepo sllaw.” El Carim gestured and spoke, pointing at a section of wall. The wall seemed to ripple, but nothing further happened. The ghosts drifted around looking for secret doors, but found they were unable to pass through the walls!
The heroes discussed what to do next. The space armor three of them were wearing had some weaponry, so they tried these weapons. Explosive bullets left small black marks, nothing more. The blasts from their energy weapons skittered over the inside surface of the, moving up and down the wall and becoming weaker as it moved further away. Thad tried some power tool attachments from his backpack, and they were heartened to see that a diamond-tipped drill made a small indentation — and then disheartened as the diamond was worn away!
Americon suggested some other possibilities. Thad described various acids to El Carim, who materialized them, but even aqua-regia didn’t mark the smooth surface. And by now, the drill hole had somehow been erased as well. They tried some mystical power tools created by El Carim, still no help.
“We need the Big Red Cheese,” Thad finally admitted.
Americon agreed. “El Carim, can you wake him up?”
“I can but try, my friend. Pleh ruoy deen ew nekawa levram niatpac!” Marvel stirred, and mumbled, but didn’t awaken. But Thad had an idea.
“If we could call the magic lightning, and somehow intercept it, it would change one of us into a Marvel. I know it works — some extra dimensional kid named Zazzo invented a super-lightning rod and he stole the Big Red Cheese’s thunder… er… lightning. And Marv here wore some kind of dumb hat once that deflected the lightning, and it gave Marvel powers to a monkey and a turtle. Hard as heck to get them switched back, too! They sure never were going to say the magic word on their own!”
“But how do we get him to call the lightning?” Minute Man wanted to know.
“If El Carim were to use his wake-up spell, which almost worked, and you, his trusted long-time friend were to try talking to him, it might almost work like hypnosis. Something like: ‘Billy, this is Minute Man. Captain Marvel is needed. Billy, say the magic word’ repeated over and over again might convince him to say it… but we still need to prevent it from hitting him.” This from Americon. He had bought into the plan already.
“I can easily duplicate Zazzo’s super lightning rod.” Thad added…
“What if it doesn’t work? If the lightning hits Cap and he turns back into Billy, his injuries might kill him!” Minute Man was worried about his longtime friend.
“I can rig up one on each of our space suits, which should improve our chances of intercepting the lightning.”
Americon studied Thad closely. “Mr. Sivana, we are engaged in desperate action to save a world, and there is no course of action that is without risk. However, my job is to minimize risks as much as possible. Your actions today have convinced me that you are indeed an ally, and your desire to ‘go straight’ is real. If nothing depended on our actions but my life, I would feel totally safe putting my life in your hands. However, the fate of your entire planet may very well depend on what happens here in the next few minutes, and I can’t afford to make a wrong decision based on emotions. We will go with your plan — but you have two minutes to convince me that we should allow you to wear one of these ‘super lightning rods’.”
Thad was incensed! “What? You maroon, what more do I have to do to convince you? I’ve saved your life a half dozen times today. I’ve risked my own life. I’ve followed your orders — and nobody orders me around, not even my Pop!”
“Mr. Sivana!” Americon interrupted sharply. “You are not advancing your cause. I understand the emotional impact of my request. However, YOU must understand that this cannot be a question that is decided by emotion. Before I can proceed, you must use logic to convince me that you can be trusted with the Power of Shazam. Use your logic, and think it through before you say anything else. Start over, you have two minutes.”
Thad began thinking very fast. He realized that Americon was telling him that he, Americon, already was won over emotionally — else why give him back the time he had already wasted? Americon wanted to be convinced. Thad’s anger vanished, and he started to feel remorse — but then realized that his time was ticking away — he could get emotional over this later! If there was a later.
“Your must find your logical proof in my professed knowledge, sir. Either I know how to steal the Power of Shazam, meaning I could have done it long ago, or I made it up on the spot. If I made it up, then the experiment can’t hurt because nothing will happen. If I could have stolen the Power in the past and have not, it must be because I neither want nor need it, sir.” He smiled. “Even in my past life as a super-criminal, when having the Power of Shazam at my disposal would have guaranteed my victory over Captain Marvel Jr., it was of no interest to me. I always have and always will make my own way in the world; I have no need or desire to steal someone else’s power in order to succeed. In any case, on my word as a Sivana, if the Power of Shazam should come to me, I will use it to aid our cause and relinquish it once we have succeeded.”
“Mr. Sivana, how soon can you construct three of these super lighting rods? I’m more than a little nervous, floating in the barrel of the biggest weapon anyone has ever seen, waiting for the weapon master to pull himself together and fire!” Americon didn’t waste any time telling Thad he’d won the argument; he just jumped to the next thing that needed to be done. Thad was amazed at how good that felt!
Using tools from his tool kit, Thad quickly disassembled the three armored suits enough to get the components he needed. He then built three hats, which looked something like horse racing jockey helmets, with the addition of a six-inch long spike rising from the top.
The three donned their helmets and clustered close around Captain Marvel. El Carim tried his awakening spell again, and when Cap started muttering, Minute Man started talking to him. His voice conveyed urgency, and the sense of urgency must have gotten through, because Cap did indeed mutter the magic word – “Shazam!”
The magic lightning flashed and it was attracted to one of the helmets, exactly as Thad had suggested it would be.