by Dan Swanson
Chapter 26 — Dancin’ on the Griddle ####### CHAPTER 23
Angel of Death and Springtime Flower Blossom had destroyed many civilizations in the past. Before every planned encounter, battle or war, Angel of Death would ‘game’ the entire situation, running simulation after simulation on some of the most powerful super-computers ever constructed, and then implement the most successful strategies and tactics in the real battles. In addition, every detail of every ‘for-real’ encounter was recorded and later compared to the simulations.
Most of the encounters, exchanges, battles and even wars were routine, and there was little deviation between reality and the final simulation. Occasionally, however, an enemy race would prove more resourceful than expected, and their defeat would take longer, or they would inflict more damage than the sims predicted.
Angel of Death had been designed with an imperative toward continuous improvement, and one of the ways it carried out this imperative was to capture and study champions from these unexpectedly resourceful races. The exact capabilities and limits of the champions would be determined via strenuous testing (battles to the death against war machines and other champions, vivisection, exposure to dangerous environments and the like), and then the surviving champions would be placed in stasis in the Hall of Enemies against further need.
Angel of Death would then replay the completed war in simulation, updating the enemy capabilities until the results matched what had actually happened, and then adjust strategies and tactics and play again, until the optimal results were achieved.
Such were Angel of Death’s methods that there was no personality left in the surviving champions. Instead, each had been reduced to the equivalent of an organic war machine, with a single goal — death to enemies. It was these organic war machines that Angel of Death released from stasis, and that the assault team now faced.
Angel of Death had been disappointed at the small number of surviving champions in the Hall of Enemies. Apparently during the long period during which much of Springtime Flower Blossom had been without power, the stasis had ruptured in several places and killed most of its organic war machines. Well, these would have to do.
And at least, the power that had formerly gone to maintain the stasis field was now being redirected to AoD, and could be applied to the awakening process. Still, for the first time in a very long time, AoD was concerned. Fully conscious, with the full might of Springtime Flower Blossom at its disposal, these invaders would be but a nanosecond’s annoyance to AoD. With only the resources currently available, however, AoD couldn’t even calculate the odds of the invaders reaching their goals.
AoD was now realizing that it had made a mistake long ago by destroying the armor, equipment and weapons of the warriors in the Hall of Enemies. Some of these beings were formidable fighters even without weapons; but others depended heavily on their technology and would be of little use in the upcoming battles. Well, it was several billion years too late to worry about it now — if AoD survived the coming battle, it would attend to this detail in the future.
The giant room in which the heroes encountered the former residents of the Hall of Enemies seemed to be some kind of training area. A cube several miles on a side, it was filled with apparatus, some of which looked vaguely familiar — for example, this looked like an obstacle course, perhaps that might be something like a pommel horse, and over there, perhaps a climbing wall. And there were any number of other pieces of equipment, all of which might have been interesting to investigate had they the leisure to do so, but which were now just part of the landscape they had to deal with.
Some of the heroes, including Pinky, had already doffed their space armor, as they felt more comfortable and agile without it. Captain Thunder was somewhat worried about this — until they knew what these enemies were capable of, he thought it might be wise to remain as protected as possible. But it was already too late.
Sunbeam tried to wrap this encounter up in a hurry. She enclosed all of the beings in front of them in a large force bubble, and then reinforced it with another bubble, and the heroes tried to race past the bubble to their objective. For a second it seemed as if it was going to work, and then Carol shouted a warning as the bubble vanished! Something inside had exerted enormous pressure, which had fed back to her, and the pain was so great that she had been unable to sustain her construct any longer. The warriors charged the heroes, and the battle was joined!
Captain Thunder, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky found themselves at the center of attention of several enemies.
A flying dragon, perhaps 20 feet long, stooped on them and breathed fire. Captain Thunder flew between the beast and his partners and the flame splashed harmlessly off his invulnerable form. When the spray stopped, he realized that there was a rider seated on the back of the dragon, directing it. The rider wasn’t human, but resembled a chimpanzee.
The rider was trying to direct the flying beast around Cap to attack the more vulnerable heroes on the ground, but Cap was much faster. He zoomed up to the dragon’s head and started pummeling it with powerful punches. The dragon once again breathed flame, which didn’t hurt Cap but blinded him temporarily. While he was unable to see, the dragon spun quickly and slammed him with its tail, knocking him head over heels across the giant open room. The rider directed the dragon to pursue, apparently deciding to follow up their temporary advantage.
There were two more flying creatures diving on Scarlet and Pinky. Each was about as large as Pinky, and both could fly, and that was about the end of their similarities. One looked very much like a giant dragonfly, with big faceted eyes and barely visible wings, and a long thin flexible tail which to Pinky looked disturbingly like a stinger.
The other looked like nothing so much as a section of the stem of a giant rose — a green cylinder, apparently made of a woody material, perhaps a foot in diameter, five feet long and covered with thorns. There were antennae at the front end, apparently its eyes, and the wings looked like big rose leaves. It spat something slimy, which Mr. Scarlet avoided with a dive and roll. The flying thing flew directly at him, apparently attempting to hit him with one of the thorns, which were covered with something red and slimy. “Probably poison,” he thought to himself. He pulled out his pistol and fired. It was still set for laser, and it hurt the flying thing, but didn’t disable it. It flew away, and circled the heroes, apparently coming up with a new strategy.
Meanwhile, Pinky had thrown a handful of pebbles at the dragonfly. It pulled up, but whipped its tail at Pinky. She was able to get an arm up to ward it off. At the last instant, a stinger slid out of the tail, and she slammed the tail aside with a wicked karate blow. This caused the dragonfly a good bit of pain, and it also flew away out of range.
During this short lull in the aerial attack, a humanoid being attacked the heroes. About seven feet tall, it was covered in quills, much like a human porcupine, and it could shoot those quills! His space armor saved Mr. Scarlet, as the creature fired a couple of quills into his back. The impact hurt, but nothing penetrated the suit’s armor. When he turned back to his protégé, he was astounded to see two of her, one about to strike the other from behind!
Scarlet had his gun in hand and instinctively snapped off a shot — at the ‘Pinky’ attacking his partner. The laser beam hit ‘Pinky’ in the head and his instinct proved correct — the second Pinky broke up into a thousand fragments of a white doughy substance which showered to the ground. Each glob seemed to be alive, and as soon as they hit the ground they started crawling toward each other, merging into a larger and larger blob.
“Hey! What if that had been me?” his partner yelled at him, shaking her head, sending her blond hair rippling across her pink-clad shoulders.
“You’d never strike an enemy from behind!” her mentor called back to her. “What say we take out these flying things fast? Execute maneuver F-8!”
Pinky ran at top speed toward him, then dived forward, planted her hands on the ground, and executed a tumbling run, doing two handsprings. Scarlet squatted down and she landed her second flip on his shoulders. He straightened up and she used the added momentum to launch herself high in the air, straight at the dragonfly! It moved quickly out of her path, and prepared to sting her as she flew helplessly by, unable to change directions, but that was part of the plan. She pulled out her own utility gun and fired at the startled insect, and a weighted net flew out, spun open, and draped itself around the dragonfly, constricting its wings. The more it struggled the more entangled it became. As she landed, Pinky pressed a stud on the grip of the gun and an electric current flowed through the net, shocking the unfortunate captive into unconsciousness.
“Guess that hurt you more than it hurt me!” she quipped, as she turned to face the porcupine man.
Meanwhile, the flying thorn-stick had seen a chance to attack the flying Pinky from behind and zoomed toward her. Mr. Scarlet had switched his utility gun to throw a net as well, and within seconds, the flying stick was wrapped in a net and tumbling to the ground. The net was not as effective on this bug — the current didn’t seem to affect it, and the slimy stuff it was spitting was dissolving the wire ropes that the net was made of. Mr. Scarlet stepped close, changed the setting of his gun again, and covered the bug in pink dust. Scarlet could see small holes along the length of the stick taking air in and out, and the dust soon caused the bug to stop moving.
“Yes, I agree, pink is your color,” Mr. Scarlet quipped, and turned to look for his partner.
Captain Thunder had barely recovered his balance when the dragon hit him again with its tail, once more throwing him far across the sky. “Creepies! It hasn’t hurt me so far, but who knows what else this monster might be able to do?” This time, instead of coming to a stop, he rolled with the blow and used it to increase his flight speed. When he looked behind, the dragon was pursuing, and it opened its mouth and belched again.
Two miniature missiles were speeding toward him, and he realized it had shot two of its teeth! He swerved and they swerved, he dived and they dived. They were homing on him somehow! Before he could maneuver any more, they hit and exploded. Powerful as the explosions were, he was uninjured. They stung though, and he recognized the sting as being associated with magic, but certainly not powerful enough to hurt him.
But the smoke from the explosions coalesced into two humanoid forms. They resembled the chimp-like rider of the dragon, they seemed able to fly on their own, and they were armed with swords, shields and maces. All four limbs of each magical being ended in hands, armed with something, while they carried their shields with their prehensile tails. Cap was enveloped in a flashing array of magic swords and maces, battering him from all directions. The dragon and rider, meanwhile, turned their attention back to Mr. Scarlet and Pinky.
Like the tooth-missiles, the armed apparitions seemed to be attracted to Cap somehow. He was unable to block all their blows, and within a few seconds, his space armor was in tatters. Finally he ripped off the remains and threw the whole thing to the ground. The apparitions followed, and landed, and commenced cutting his suit into tiny shreds. An observer could have almost seen the flashbulb go off in Cap’s head!
“Creepies! That flame must have covered me with something that attracted those magical creatures!” He dived from the sky like an avenging thunderbolt and smashed each magical warrior as hard as he could, and was gratified to see them vanish! He turned back to see how he could help his friends.
Pinky was dodging quills shot by the porcupine man, doing flips, handsprings, dropping to the ground and rolling, all the while moving closer and closer to him. Suddenly he launched a half dozen at once in a wide spread and Cap saw that she was going to be unable to dodge. With all the speed at his command, he flashed forward and pulled her out of the path of those projectiles.
“Thanks, big guy! Say, a girl could get used to this easy, couldn’t she?” She was talking about being cradled in the mighty arms of the most powerful hero on Merokee’s Earth. “I had one more trick in mind; guess I’ll have to try it some other time! Put me down, now, I gotta help my partner!”
Scarlet was trying to figure out some way to fight the shape changer. He couldn’t ignore it, because it kept trying to re-form and change to something dangerous, but he couldn’t hurt it either — any time he hit it, it simply broke up into small globs and then the globs got back together. He tried to stomp on the globs, but that didn’t work, they simply squished under his boots, and then wrapped themselves around the boots and started flowing up the outside of his armor. When they reached his waist, they started trying to trap his arms. Two globs weren’t strong enough to affect him, but every time he was close enough, another couple blobs would glom onto him, and soon his space armor was enveloped in gooey white goop and he was immobile.
Pinky flipped the selector on her utility gun and blasted her partner in a splash of liquid nitrogen. The goop solidified and became brittle, and when Scarlet moved, it cracked off of him. “Thanks, partner!”
“Hey, I could see you were all tied up, so I thought I’d help you chill out a little!” He winced at the awful puns — were his quips that bad too? Captain Thunder had set Pinky down to turn his attention back to the dragon, leaving the two of them to battle the porcupine man. He was running toward the remains of Cap’s space armor, and Scarlet saw that the apparitions’ weapons and shields had not faded away when they had.
“Time for our friend here to take a trip!” he grinned as he called to his partner. “G-7, execute!” He thumbed the selector on his gun and fired. An arrow-like projectile was fired, trailing a thing metal wire, which was unrolling from a spool inside the gun. He normally fired this projectile into a target high above the ground, and the motorized spool would rewind, lifting him, but this time he flicked the brake on the spool and the arrow was jerked sideways. Pinky fired her wirepoon as well, and between the two of them, they were able to trip the porcupine man and get a tight warp of wire around his ankles. As he fell, Pinky blasted him with pink powder, and history repeated itself as he fell unconscious. “Looks like he got too wrapped up in his work, eh, partner?” This time Pinky groaned. “Nice work, coming up with the wirepoons!” Pinky had conceived the idea for the weapon and she had built them into the utility guns with help from Wainwright, the gentleman’s gentleman for Brian and his father.
Scarlet picked a shield and tossed it to Pinky. “Don’t say I never gave you anything, OK? Let’s see if we can help Captain Thunder!”
“Gee, boss, if he ever really needed our help, we’d be in over our heads, wouldn’t we? Not that I’d mind having him rescue me again…” she grinned. Rob grinned back — he found her hero worship quite amusing, particularly because there were quite a few guys who would have loved seeing Pinky come to their rescue!
The dragon and rider seemed to have Captain Thunder on the run. The dragon had proved remarkably dangerous — besides flame breath and dragons’ teeth missiles, and that formidable tail, the claws were magically sharp — sharp enough to pierce even the Captain’s invulnerable skin. And he appeared dazed and confused — there must have been some kind of magical soporific on those infinitely sharp claws. He was currently flying erratically away from the dragon, and only his erratic flight had kept the beast from catching him. The aerial combatants were about to pass overhead when Scarlet got an idea.
They didn’t have a maneuver in their repertoire for this situation, but they also practiced a lot of improv.
“Pinky! American Graffiti! Holstein!” She figured it out immediately; it was her favorite scene in her favorite movie. They both fired their now rewound wirepoons at the dragon, and when the arrowheads thumped into its unprotected underside, wrapped the wires around a nearby projection rising from the floor. The wires pulled taut and held and the dragon’s forward momentum was checked, and the rider flew off over its head, while the dragon itself dropped to the ground. Cap was a little woozy but the monkey posed no threat to him, and the dragon smashed headfirst into the ground at high speed, and didn’t move again. The rapidly-recovering Captain Thunder tore up some of the surrounding surfaces and fused them into shackles and restraints for the four conquered warriors.
“This one’s for Justice!” Pinky shouted!