by Dan Swanson
As soon as Thad had turned to investigate the control panels, Minute Man had been attacked by an opponent carrying a makeshift sword. Someone, probably Staquejaevo, had used a powerful cutting implement to cut a sword shape from the incredibly tough wall material, and then sharpen it. Jack thought that perhaps, if the Scort’s claws were tough enough, it might be able to whittle the wall material with the sharp edges of those claws, much as Jack had whittled edges into wooden swords as a boy. Of course, a wooden edge was dulled the first time it was used; not so this particular sword.
Jack didn’t know it, but this being was a Thaim, a member of the same species as the dragon rider who had previously confronted Captain Thunder. The Thaim had been the first race conquered by the Scort, and instead of wiping them out, the Scort had originally enslaved them. A couple of generations later, this came back to bite them as the Thaim revolted. After putting down the revolt, the Scort had implemented a new battle policy of totally exterminating their enemies. A few Thaim had been added to the Hall of Enemies
Although they were smaller than humans, the Thaim were dangerous warriors. Like the chimpanzees they resembled, the Thaim were stronger and more agile than humans. Unlike chimpanzees, they had a prehensile tail which they could use to aid them in their attacks.
In the movements of his opponent, Minute Man could see the precision and discipline of a highly trained martial artist. Of course, he didn’t recognize the style! But then, the Thaim wouldn’t recognize his style either…
They circled each other slowly, and the Thaim moved his makeshift sword through a series of intricate movements. To an untrained opponent, this might have had a hypnotic effect, but Jack knew that trick. He made the same kind of movements with his hands, but the Thaim knew that trick too. “Round 1, a draw!” Jack chuckled. The Thaim tilted his head as if puzzled, but said nothing.
Jack thought he had picked up a couple of ‘tells’, so he launched an attack — not expecting to do any damage, but just to test his opponent. He was stunned at the speed of the response, and almost lost a hand at the wrist as the Thaim quickly converted his own defense into a surprise attack. Both combatants backed off.
“Brother, you’re FAST!” Jack breathed. “Round two to you!” This time, the Thaim gurgled back at him, but of course, Jack couldn’t understand him. Jack didn’t realize that this was the only living enemy encountered by the heroes so far that had made a sound — other than Staquejaevo himself.
This opponent was quicker than most Jack had faced, perhaps even quicker than Jack himself. Jack had fought against opponents armed with swords before, and usually it made little difference to him, but against an opponent with unknown abilities, his first priority had to be neutralizing that sword.
This time, the Thaim initiated the attack. The sword flashed, first here, then there, and it was all Jack could do to avoid or block the cuts and thrusts. He used the old Samurai trick of capturing the flat of the blade between the palms of his hands, and was a little worried when the blade was easily ripped away. He leaned backward away from the next thrust, and stumbled and fell. The Thaim raised the sword above his head with both hands and swung it down at the prone Minute Man. By now, Jack had a good idea of the Thaim’s speed, and he rolled aside — the stumble had been a ruse.
“Fooled you!” he crowed, as the sword bit into the metal deck throwing off a shower of sparks.
He had hoped that it would get stuck in the deck, but no joy. “Damn! Round 3, another tie!”
He jumped up and sprinted away, toward a pile of junk he had spotted earlier. The Thaim followed and Jack smiled to himself. His opponent was stronger than he, and more agile, but in a flat-out sprint, Jack was much faster. He grabbed a pole that he had spotted earlier and wrestled it free. He had no idea what it was for, but he now had a metal quarterstaff, about six feet long. He got it into motion as the Thaim approached, passing it from hand to hand, spinning it like a propeller until it hummed.
The Thaim looked at the spinning staff, and tilted his head as he considered the hum. He chattered at Jack and to Jack it almost sounded like a compliment.
This rod could not have been designed as a quarterstaff, but Jack had never held a weapon that seemed so suited to him. The weight and balance were perfect. He didn’t normally use a staff, but he was going to make sure he took this one back with him!
Once he got the feel of his weapon, Jack launched another attack — and he was serious this time. He slashed left, right, over the top, thrust, parry, a two handed swing like a baseball bat. The Thaim ducked, parried, twirled, jumped, and backpedaled, and Jack felt a little more confident. Suddenly the Thaim captured Jack’s quarterstaff with his tail and yanked it out of Jack’s hands! He had backpedaled to gain Jack’s confidence, trying the same sort of decoy that Jack had used before. But Jack didn’t back off — he used the pull of the Thaim’s tail on his weapon to facilitate a fast rush forward. He dived and wrapped his arms around the Thaim’s sword arm, and slammed that arm into the ground, using his momentum and his weight to add power to the blow.
The Thaim screamed and dropped the sword, but with his tail, he brought the staff around and whipped it across Jack’s back. Jack rolled with the blow and picked up the sword as he recovered, and a second later, the two faced each other again, although they had swapped weapons.
“Not bad for a little guy!” Jack smiled at his opponent. “Round four — another draw!” He was surely getting a workout. It was too bad this guy was his enemy.
Jack wasn’t a sword fighter. He deliberately threw the sword over his shoulder, as far away as he could. The Thaim’s eyes widened — and then it was Jack’s turn to be astonished as the Thaim threw the staff away.
“Crazy fool! Without a weapon, my tail gives me an advantage you can’t match!”
Jack jumped backward, not believing his ears. How could he possibly understand this being? He didn’t know that El Carim hand just cast his translation spell. He held up both hands, palms out.
“Warrior, must we fight, you and I? I’m trying to save my planet from destruction, so I can’t let you stop me…”
“I wish I could understand you, large warrior. You seem honorable, and yet, I must defeat you.”
Once again, Jack understood every word! The translation spell didn’t let him speak the language the Thaim was using — but he focused on a couple of words, and tried to repeat them. He had to hope that these words maintained their meanings even when spoken in a different order. It almost tore his throat out making some of the alien noises, but he was able to croak:
“I honorable! You honorable!” He realized immediately just how awful the words sounded coming from his throat, and the Thaim seemed to struggle to understand — but he didn’t attack.
“Do you understand me, large warrior? For yes, move one step to the right, without dropping your guard.” Jack stepped to the right. “It could be coincidence.” Jack stepped back to his left. “Then again, if you are capable of reason, you just said ‘no’. No coincidence, eh?” Jack slid right again.
“Large warrior, I will take a chance. I will stand down. I hope you really do understand, and are honest and honorable. Know this — if you are planning betrayal, you will pay. I will return to you from beyond the dead and haunt you until you go insane! This I swear.”
Jack didn’t know whether to answer this one with a yes or a no, so he simply sat down. The Thaim paused by a pile of junk and pulled out a twisted piece of metal. “This will make an excellent club, large warrior. I will not use it unless attacked.”
Jack remained still. As the Thaim approached, he slowly raised his right hand toward the alien. The Thaim wrapped the end of his tail around Jack’s wrist and slowly pulled him to his feet, then released him.
“I know you not, large warrior, nor your species. I do recognize the ship of my master, Staquejaevo, although it seems it has been long indeed since last I have seen it — it was still under construction yesterday, and today it is falling into scrap!”
“Hardly scrap,” Jack thought sardonically. This gigantic heap of ‘scrap’ still had the power to easily destroy his world. He struggled to put together several words of Scortion (for it was that language that the slave of the Scorts was speaking).
“Staquejaevo attacked my species. Staquejaevo no honorable. I must defeat!”
“Remarkable. You are learning my language as I speak it, are you not? Only magic could help you do so. Are you a mage as well, large warrior?”
“Do you betray master?”
“Heh! Your grammar is atrocious, even worse than your accent! Staquejaevo and our enemies, the Scorts enslaved my people. I betray no one, I revolt!”
“Hear hear!” Jack cheered. The Thaim looked startled. Jack quickly added, in his butchered Scortian “Your honorable species and my honorable species as well haunt Scorts.”
“By the time Staquejaevo popped me into stasis, there weren’t many Thaim left, large warrior. I’m probably the last.”
“I Jack. You and I move to mage for you learning my language?”
“That sounds like a good idea, Jack. I’m Eduga. Lead on! And don’t try to speak Scort any more, OK? Your accent is painful!”
Thad had been able to turn on some monitors, and he had figured out how to make the monitor display some of the source code in the local computer. As he had deduced from his earlier conversation with Staquejaevo, the Scorts didn’t use a programming language — or perhaps it might be more correct to say that their spoken language was also their programming language. And the concept of a ‘computer hacker’ was outside of their experience. There was virtually no security on this system!
Thad was able to construct some elementary security programs that he trusted would keep his presence secret from Angel of Death, and then he widened his explorations. He planned to find AoD’s core programming and rewrite it. He soon discovered that as primitive as the Scorts were with respect to computer security, they had still managed to create a hack-proof operating system. Because all of the relevant programs for AoD were hard-coded, ie., written in Read Only Memory, which was impossible to alter. Well, then, he was down to his last resort — the solution he’d first seen on an episode of the original ‘Star Train’ series.
He quickly wrote a simple virus, and introduced it into the system. This virus searched out all available active memory, and then began filling it up with 1s. Every few seconds, it would spawn another copy of itself, which would do the same thing over again, starting at the beginning of memory and filling it up with 1s. With no defenses against a virus attack, there was nothing Angel of Death could do, except watch in horror as more and more of its memories were wiped out. The original programming would remain, but everything AoD had learned since the day it had been turned on would be erased!
AoD immediately started cutting power to memory, in an attempt to isolate the virus. It was too late! Working at top speed, AoD diverted power to a bevy of laser-armed warriors, and they began cutting patterns of zeros and ones into one of the vast emergency bulkheads. If AoD survived, it would be able to read that pattern and restore at least some of its memories. At the same time, AoD activated the Fail Safe Destruction system.
Fortunately for the heroes, there was a 20 minute delay built into this system, just in case it was ever activated by mistake. But only AoD could activate it or deactivate it, and Thad’s virus couldn’t touch it.
When the Self-Destruction alarm blared, Uber-Man seemed to recognize it, and he gave up his fight with Americon. He blasted his way out of BattleWorld. Before he vanished, Americon noticed that his jewel was flashing again, so Americon helped him on his way with one last double blast of lightning.
As soon as Thad realized that BattleWorld was going to self-destruct, he got on the radio. Enough receivers were still working, and the Marvels, Thunders, and Bolt were fast enough, to get everyone back to Thad’s spaceship. Minute Man insisted that his new friend, Eduga, accompany them, and the little being gladly came aboard, carrying his new sword and Jack’s staff. Captain Marvel then carried the ship into space, and they quickly jumped back to the Rock of Eternity. Thad wanted to see what happened, though, so he convinced Cap Jr., Americon (still in his magical form) and Captain Thunder to accompany him and Sandy back. They popped back into real space a couple of million miles away from BattleWorld, just to be safe, and Thad set all his instruments up to record the end.
On Springtime Flower Blossom, Angel of Death was still fighting the virus. It had made preparations as best it could, and it was almost guaranteed that something of AoD would survive the self-destruct. Almost! Almost wasn’t good enough, partial survival wasn’t good enough. To the last nanosecond, AoD desperately attempted to discover another means of escape.
A few million miles away, the observers were almost disappointed in the final results. Thad had hoped to observe the largest explosion in human history, recording everything in the hopes that later analysis would tell them more about BattleWorld, and the universe as it was when BattleWorld was originally built.
And there was an incredibly bright flare of light — so bright, in fact, that it destroyed all the video sensors Thad had deployed for observation, and partially melted through the hull of his spaceship! So bright, in fact, that it must have come from the total dissolution of BattleWorld into energy, because they were unable to find any debris. So bright, in fact, that for just an instant, on Earth, the night side was lighted brighter than any daylight, with all the light coming from a single small dot in the heavens which was much further from Earth than the Sun was. So bright, in fact, that it leaked through the subway tunnel into the Rock of Eternity, and through the abandoned cave connecting Earth-S to the Earth of Merokee and the Thunder Family, where it looked like a flashbulb going off nearby.
That incredibly intense flash of light lasted for less than a nanosecond, and then was gone. And it was the last they ever saw or heard of BattleWorld!