by Dan Swanson
Chapter 25 — From Frying Pan to Griddle… ####### CHAPTER 22
The assault team was attacked while approaching the city Bolt had discovered. A sea of robots advanced toward them from all sides. Most of these robots had visible damage or had been partially disassembled, as if someone had released the robot repair center or maybe even the robot junkyard against the heroes. Fortunately, none of them had working guns, but the wave upon wave of metal foes rushing toward them looked perfectly capable of overwhelming them without guns, regardless of the condition of the individual units!
Golden Arrow, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky didn’t want to get into hand-to-hand with combat robots, so they started shooting.
GA found that arrows in the leg joints would slow the machines, and they often stumbled and fell. Pinky was using the sling she had made back on Earth. She was less accurate than Golden Arrow, but she discovered that if she targeted existing damage, her pebbles often got inside the robot’s body and bounced around, doing extra damage.
The sleeping gas and sleepy powder settings on Mr. Scarlet’s utility pistol were useless against robots, but he found that the laser setting was surprisingly effective. The laser wasn’t powerful enough to quickly burn through the remaining armor on the damaged robots, but whenever he hit an optical sensor (an ‘eye’), that robot would stop moving — almost as if he had ‘turned it off’.
None of their weapons was powerful enough to destroy their targets unaided. But the end result was exactly the same! Each robot they hit would stop, slow or stumble, and the advancing mass of the other robots behind it would quickly knock it down, and it would be battered into worthless scrap under the feet of its former allies.
Yet as fast and deadly as the three heroes were, what possible difference could even their best efforts make? There were over a million of these things already in view, and they were killing them in ones or twos. They would soon run out of ammunition and be overrun. But they were heroes, and they kept shooting. Every robot they destroyed was one less their more powerful teammates would have to deal with!
Sunbeam created a giant show shovel and dumped robots from the front of the advance on top of their counterparts further back, creating a satisfying tangled mess — and even more robots trampled into scrap. She realized she could not repeat this often — the robots weighed about a ton apiece, and she would soon exhaust her power. She dispelled the shovel and created a giant snowplow, complete with flashing emergency lights. The blade was wedge shaped, and as the plow started forward, it pushed robots to one side or the other. She then created two massive steam rollers which rolled along behind the plow, each slightly off center, flattening the displaced robots into pancake-shaped rubble. She could keep this up for a while, as long as the robots didn’t realize that the three giant vehicles were undefended from the rear!
Bolt’s usually tactic in a mob scene like this was vibrate at a rate that allowed him to pass through matter, dash through the crowd, and gently touch each opponent he passed, slightly altering the vibrations of his hands as he did so. The gentle touch, delivered at the speed he was moving, was usually enough to render his opponents unconscious, and his progress through a riot could be followed by watching lines of opponents falling to the ground.
He dashed into the crowd, vibrating madly, and instead of passing through the first robot he encountered, he bounced off! His high speed vibrations and the speed of his colleague Captain Thunder, who was able to pick him up before the robots advanced over him, saved him from dying, but he was going to have to develop another plan of attack.
Bulletman and Bulletwoman were having the most success. They were able to manipulate gravity and magnetism in such a way as to trip hundreds of foes to the ground, where they were stomped by their fellows.
“I’m glad these guys aren’t on OUR side,” Bulletman quipped.
“Ya think?” Sue smiled wanly in return. “I wonder what they do to their enemies?”
“Actually, we might find out — our gravity helmets and magnetic controllers aren’t designed for this type of use. Another few minutes, and we risk burning them out!” Bulletman was a little more serious now.
Golden Arrow, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky had not been able to prevent the horde from advancing on their position. They were about to be overrun when Sandy made some motions with her arms. She held them horizontally out from her sides, spun in place once, and then slowly brought her arms forward until her hands met, palm to palm. She then crooked her arms, and then suddenly thrust them, palms still together, into the air above her head. She and all her friends were lifted from the ground. As their heroic resistance suddenly stopped, the ring of robots suddenly closed. Confusion reigned as each robot on the ‘inner circle’ attempted to pass through the same point at the same time, and suddenly robots were falling by the thousands, trampled by the crush of the advancing robots behind them.
Just as suddenly, all robot movement stopped. An instant later, the surviving robots headed back wherever they had come from. The team heard Mary Thunder’s report from orbit, but they were under orders to maintain radio silence. Americon followed Mary’s report with the order they had been waiting for. “Assault team, let’s take advantage of this lull, whatever is causing it. Advance to your objective as fast as possible, but beware of traps!”
Their objective was the power juncture that Staquejaevo had identified as being critical. The problem was, it was near the center of BattleWorld, over two thousand miles away, through who knows how many layers of decks, surfaces, and potential attacks by war machines. They called up maps and schematics that Thad had managed to obtain from Staquejaevo on their Heads Up display, trying to find the fastest way to reach their goal. They had finally located what seemed to be a transportation system when Pinky spoke up.
“Uh, guys? Didn’t we just punch a hole clean through this giant disco globe? Why isn’t it on our maps?”
The other heroes were startled, and then sheepish — none of them had even thought about that newly created shaft. Bulletman eventually responded “Our maps were provided by one of the people that built this ship billions of years ago. Of course, it doesn’t show a two hour-old feature. Hold on!” He knew the data was stored; he just had to figure out how to call it up on the same display as Staquejaevo’s map. “There we go!”
On their HUDs, they could now see the tiny shaft extending all the way through BattleWorld, and their target was very close to it. “So, we fly down the shaft until we reach here,” and the point closest to the target started flashing “and we break through to the interior and go straight to our target!” Bulletwoman summed up. This job suddenly looked a LOT easier than it had a few seconds ago.
Once again, Sunbeam carried the heroes who couldn’t fly (or run really fast). “Let’s have a little fun with this,” she thought. She concentrated, and formed a small luxury jet plane. She climbed in and sat in the pilot’s seat. Sandy sat in the co-pilot’s chair, with Mr. Scarlet, Pinky and Golden Arrow taking passenger seats.
“You guys ought to get yourselves your own transportation, you know!” She winked at Sandy, then teased her teammates a little more. “Maybe a jet you could call the Arrow Plane?” she grinned at Golden Arrow, then turned to Mr. Scarlet “and you guys could have a hot car called the ‘Scarletmobile’!”
The interior of BattleWorld was filled with gigantic pillars which supported the ‘sky’, but on the ‘horizon’, they could see a wall — a five-mile high wall, that stretched in either direction as far as they could see. The closer they came, the more devastation they could see on the surface — it was as if a gigantic explosion had blasted the surface within many miles of this wall. Captain Thunder and Bulletman had a theory.
“When that explosion blasted a hole through BattleWorld,” Cap started “suddenly all the air on this and other levels started rushing out into space. Emergency bulkheads were automatically erected around the damaged area that was leaking air — and this gigantic wall is the end result.”
“There’s probably a vacuum behind that wall,” Bulletman continued. “And we’ll probably find emergency bulkheads such as this one on every level. But we should be able to move freely toward the planetoid’s center, once we get through that wall!”
The emergency walls stretched from pillar to pillar to pillar, curving away out of sight. While they were still many miles away, Golden Arrow spoke up.
“We’re going to reach the closest section of wall at about the middle, but I think we ought to head for one of the pillars instead. The wall is pretty plain along most of its stretch, but there are structures near the base of the pillars which might be doors.”
“Aww, who are you kiddin’, featherhead?” Bulletman scoffed. “We must be eight or nine miles away. Only Radar has eyes that good!”
“You wouldn’t want to put some money on that, would you?” Arrow asked hotly. “Why don’t you fly on ahead and check it out yourself? By the way, no checks or credit cards — cash only.”
“Don’t bother, Jim — I’ll be,” Bolt was talking, and there was a very short pause “… right back. Arrow’s right — there’s like a hundred of these wall panels in a circle, must be about a thousand miles around! And there are no doors anywhere except near the pillars.” He turned to Golden Arrow. “You got great eyesight, buddy!” He turned back to the others and continued. “This thing is incredible — and a little intimidating…” He was much more subdued than was normal for him.
“After all the other engineering marvels we’ve seen today, this one seems to be sort of small potatoes, doesn’t it?” Bulletman asked his counterpart.
“I guess I’ve got frames of reference for the rest of the stuff… the pillars are just really tall skyscrapers, you can’t see the tops, no big deal. The surface around us looks like a real landscape. BattleWorld is really big, but we only saw it from outside from far away. But a wall, five miles high and over 100 miles long — and clearly constructed, not natural. The closer you get, the more awesome it looks. And, I can’t vibrate through it, either. So I just gotta say — wow!” But there wasn’t much enthusiasm in that wow…
The others realized just what he was saying as they got closer. This wasn’t just a featureless wall — it was a bulkhead. Very like a bulkhead in a Terrestrial war ship, with obvious plates and rivets! But the rivet heads were twice the size of manhole covers and the plates were the size of football fields. Yes, indeed, being near this wall made them feel small as nothing else they had so far encountered on BattleWorld! It wasn’t a comfortable feeling for them. Most of them had decades of experience as ‘larger-than-life’ heroes. Carol Clews was new at the hero biz but her beauty had always been larger than life. The least affected were the two youngest members of the group, Pinky and Sandy.
They had altered their course when Bolt had returned, and soon landed at the ‘doors’ Golden Arrow had discovered. Sunbeam dissolved her jet.
“Pay up, Small Caliber!” Arrow laughed at Bulletman. “Better luck next time!”
With nine heroes investigating, including some of the best detectives from two worlds, they soon figured out how to open the airlock and, after making sure their space armor was still airtight, they passed through into the damaged section. Sunbeam created a somewhat larger jet and everyone but Captain Thunder went aboard. Thunder then lofted the jet and flew at top speed to the new shaft and then arced downward. It only took a few minutes to reach the correct level — at least, the HUDs showed them it was the correct level. They once again passed through an emergency airlock, and their HUDs showed that their goal was less than a mile away.
But they were greeted by a crowd of living beings, and they could tell it was going to be a difficult mile to travel!