by Dan Swanson
Chapter 33 — “… and a Deafening Retort!” ####### CHAPTER 31
Otto was about a half mile in the air when he ran out of upward momentum, and started to fall. A fall from half a mile on Mars wasn’t quite as serious as a half-mile fall on Earth would have been — it would take much longer, about 22 seconds instead of thirteen seconds, and he would be going ‘much more slowly’ when he hit — instead of smashing to the ground at about 280 miles an hour, he would instead touch down lightly at ‘only’ about 162 miles an hour. Small consolation — he would die when he hit, in either case — unless he died of suffocation, was shot by the enemy robots or got hit by a lava geyser first!
He had no way of knowing exactly how long he had been ‘missing’, but he knew from experience that Lady Bolt would show up soon — she always did, whenever he really needed her — but soon might not be quite good enough.
When Otto had left home yesterday for the Society of Justice meeting, a several hundred million miles away and in a different universe, it had been chilly. He had been wearing his brown leather bomber jacket, and he still was. That gave him an idea!
He pulled the zipper down, grabbed the stretch band at the waist, one hand on each side of the zipper, and spread his arms wide, opening the jacket like the wings of a bat. On Earth, the extra lift provided by using his jacket as wings would not have been enough to help him, and here on Mars, the air was normally much too thin to provide much lift. However, the combination of his lower Martian weight and the extremely powerful updrafts of thick volcanic gases over the lava fields allowed him to turn his fall into a controlled glide.
One of the things Otto had always loved most about having super powers was flying. Otto might not have Thunderman’s powers, but he did have the memories, and he was now able to put to use his many thousands of hours of flying experience. He was still falling faster than he liked, but the closer he got to the ground, the more lift the thermals produced, and he was fairly certain that if he could avoid landing in a pool of lava, he would at least be able to live through the landing. But he still couldn’t breathe this stuff. His only possible chance of survival lay in the technology represented by the alien robots.
So he angled his flight back toward the enemy war machines, steepened his dive, and began another attack run!
Lady Bolt got tired of the slow pace of her companions. “Guys, I’m going to run on ahead. Catch up as soon as you can!” and she was gone! She kicked a plume of dust into the air as she sped over the rusty sand, and she was over the horizon in only a second!
Another second later and she saw a red mushroom cloud growing on the horizon, eerily lit from inside by flickering orange, yellow and red light. At the same instant, she had to dodge for her life — something near the base of that cloud must have detected her approach and was shooting at her! But her enemies were wasting their time by shooting projectile weapons at her. Once she was aware of bullets and missiles, she could avoid them easily or change her internal vibration rate so they passed harmlessly through her. Energy beam weapons would have been more effective, as even Lady Bolt had trouble seeing a beam moving at the speed of light before it arrived, but they were all shooting their beam weapons at something in the sky. Well, at least she now knew that Thunderman was still alive! She shifted to even higher speed, and raced toward his side.
She was able to tell instantly that the figure in the sky wasn’t Thunderman, but Otto. An energy beam was about to hit him, and it had too much of a head start, even for her! There was a tremendous flash, and Otto vanished. Lady Bolt yelled in vengeful anger, and instantly turned her rage on the army of ‘ants’.
Moving so fast the war machines didn’t have time to react, she zipped through her ranks, creating a massive wind of the hot thick gases, which caught up the robots and drew them after her. She zoomed across the surface of the largest lava pool, and changed her internal vibration rate, allowing all of the robots to fall out of her slipstream and splash down into the lava.
She backed away and laughed at the floundering alien war machines, and then she curtsied!
Thunderman flashed out of the sky and slammed a very large slab of rock down over the pool of lava, driving it downward as far as he could. He vanished and then was back again, and within a few tenths of seconds, what had been a pool of lava was now a mountain of rock, which he pounded with all his might until it was flat and even with the surface around it.
He landed besides his beautiful wife. He took her hand and bowed over it, kissing it in a courtly, chivalrous style. In his magical form, he was actually able to talk through all the toxic gases in the air, and talk he did. “Cutting it a little too close, weren’t you?” He smiled, a smile Suze had never been able to resist. “What’s a hot, sexy, beautiful, sexy, intelligent, sexy, heroic, say, did I mention sexy?, girl like you doing in a dump like this?” As he said that, the ground shook. And kept shaking!
“You know, dear, as much as I love being flattered, I think we had best be leaving this area, don’t you? You remember what happened the last time you stopped up a volcano?” She hopped into his arms and pointed to the horizon. “Home, James!”
Indeed he did remember. In fact, he was counting on the same thing happening here, and he headed quickly toward orbit. Getting out of the Martian atmosphere ought to protect them both from the violent effects of the upcoming explosion. This time, though, the explosion would be perhaps a thousand times more violent, and should easily destroy the war machines that they had trapped in the lava pool. Lady Bolt was already on the radio, warning Ibis and Atomic Rocket not to come closer, but to meet them in orbit.
Thunderman had miscalculated a bit. The explosion happened before Ibis and Rocket could leave the atmosphere, and it was more violent than he had imagined. Lady Bolt warned the two flying heroes, and Ibis barely had time to wrap the two of them in a magical bubble before the blast wave reached them. Even inside the magical bubble, it was the loudest sound the two had ever heard — a deafening retort indeed. And, they all concluded, a fitting end for the minions of BattleWorld.
Thunderman flipped them back to the Rock of Eternity. He turned to his wife. “So what was that scream of rage all about? You obviously knew all along that I was safe?”
“Of course I knew, you Big Blue Goof Ball! I was mad that those idiot robots messed up my rescue! You know how much I like it when I’m one up on rescues. Instead, we’re still even. By the way, I love the new costume — especially the lightning bolt!”
As Otto had not quite dared to hope, the war machines had blasted him again with their magic lightning weapon, which had changed him from Otto Beck to… well, looking at his Captain Marvel Jr. costume, he wasn’t quite sure who he was right now. Maybe “Thunderman, Powered by Shazam”…
“Tell you what, then, next time we run into Posh Mary, you can come to my rescue!” he winked at her, and they went looking for the rest of the heroes.
Chapter 34 — “Loose ends…”
Kid Eternity had not yet released El Carim, so he accompanied the heroes back to the Rock of Eternity. Mr. Keeper and Wizzar met them there. Mr. Keeper had a very sheepish look on his face.
“Keep!” Kit demanded. “What was the deal with Staquejaevo, anyway?”
“As you know, Staquejaevo lived very long ago, in a galaxy far, far away from ours, and they had a different set of rules and regulations regarding ascension to the afterlife. Staquejaevo was supposed to sign a waiver agreeing to follow our rules when you called on him, but the grad student that got hold of him didn’t know the drill. It’s hard to blame the kid, though, really — nobody has called on a Scort in a couple of billion years. Anyway, as soon as you called him the first time, he was a free agent. When he cooperated with us, it was only so he could learn enough to try to fight us later.”
“Umm, Keep, isn’t there a procedure to keep this kind of thing from happening? And doesn’t the kid have some kind of supervisor? Somebody to make sure dangerous messes like this don’t happen?”
“Well, yes, but he’s incredibly busy, and must have been preoccupied, because this one somehow slipped by him. But no harm done in the end, right?”
Kit had some suspicions just who that supervisor might be, but he was too pleased about their victory to press further. At least for now.
Since Kid Eternity was allowing him to hang out for a while, El Carim was pleased when he ran into an old acquaintance, Ibis, and they spent a few minutes catching up. Ibis introduced him to Sandy. To El Carim’s surprise, Sandy was able to see Wizzar! He normally did not make himself visible to most people.
“Charmed, Daughter of Magic! I understand you inherited a great gift of magic from your father?” Sandy nodded. “You probably don’t know this, but your father and I were once friends — and you and he are both descended, through almost 500 generations, from my mentor, Wizzar, the Father of All Magic. Wizzar was the first Atlantean Wizard to actually study and codify magic — before he discovered many of the basic principles, there was only wild magic!”
Sandy was eager to learn more of her father. “Tell me more about Wizzo, if you don’t mind? He’s been in prison or insane since I was born, and I don’t know too much about his early years.”
El Carim smiled. “When I was in my mid-teens, I hooked up with a traveling stage magician one summer, and toured several states giving shows. Your father was even younger than I, and he came to one of our shows. He was absolutely fascinated, and he hung around with us for about a week, before we had to move on. He was a quick learner, too — by the time we left town, he knew all of our tricks and was inventing new ones of his own!”
“The next time I encountered him, we had both begun our sorcerous careers — no more stage tricks for either of us. It was clear to me even then that he was more powerful than I, and that he had a taste for power! We managed to avoid conflict ‘for old times’ sake…’ but we were clearly on different roads — roads that would inevitably lead us to conflicts.”
El Carim paused, with a sad look on his face. “I’m sorry to be telling you this story, Sandy, but you asked, and you deserve the truth.”
“Thanks, Mr. El Carim. I really do appreciate knowing. Do you have any idea what turned him bad?”
“I think he fell in with some bad company during the War — kids the military wouldn’t take. But we didn’t really talk about it. Anyway, I realized that I would never be able to stand up to him with my unaugmented abilities, and that’s when I was able to recover the legendary ‘Cloak of Mystical Might’. During that quest, I met the spirit of Wizzar, and he took me on as his apprentice.”
“Is that it?” Sandy was almost disappointed. “Did you ever meet my father again?”
El Carim seemed quite nervous, and almost unwilling to continue. He looked at his mentor, Wizzar, who gave a very small nod.
“I did see meet him once more. It was after he gained his mighty magical weapon, the Volstaff, which gave him power equal to virtually any wizard in history, but which drove him insane. Once again, I was no match for him — but something inside stopped him from destroying a childhood friend! He had a short lucid period, and he begged me to free him from the Volstaff. And then, it was as if that lucid spell had never happened, and he vanished. I’ve never quite understood that encounter…”
Sandy had been watching Wizzar’s expression as El Carim recounted this story. It seemed clear to her that Wizzar felt great distress that his descendant Wizzo had become a villain. She turned to address him directly, but before she could say anything, the spirit raised his hand — and everyone around them stopped moving!
“Yes, grand-daughter, it was I who cleared Wizzo’s mind for that short moment. I wish I could have done more, but now that I am in the ghostly realm, my powers have much less effect on the living! And more, I wish I had not done that thing at all… because it lead directly to my protégé’s death. While he does not blame me, if I had not intervened, he might not have died.”
“So there is a way to help my father?”
“Yes, there is — but El Carim died during his quest to find that way. Do not try to save your father’s mind at the expense of your life, granddaughter! He chose his path, with full knowing of the risks.”
“Grandfather, you’ve been dead too long, and you’ve forgotten the way living minds work! If there is a way to help my father regain his sanity, I’m going to find it!”
“As you will, granddaughter — I cannot stop you. As I’ve said, my powers no longer work well on the living.” ‘But,’ he thought to himself ‘my words still affect the living as well as they ever have!’
He lowered his hand, and the scene around them returned to normal. It appeared to Sandy as if no one, not even Ibis, had noticed her short tête-à-tête with Wizzar.
El Carim continued speaking as if nothing had happened. “In my travels and readings did I learn the legend of an ancient mystical artifact — the mighty magical dagger, Starblade, created and ensorcelled by the wizards of the Atlantean High Council of Mages to destroy the wizard Volthoom, yet somehow lost for thousands of years. I embarked on a quest, and find the Starblade, I did. Yet the moment of my greatest triumph was as well the moment of my defeat and my death. I survived barely longer than the guardian beast who dealt me my mortal wounds, and my mortal shell is yet entombed with the remains of the great beast and the mystical treasure it guarded.”
“So this Starblade can cure my father?” Sandy asked hopefully.
“Nay, daughter” Wizzar interjected. “It can free him from his mystical bonding with Volthoom — but there is no hope of curing him until that bond is severed.”
“So where is this mega-dagger?” Sandy asked El Carim.
“I wish I could tell you, Daughter of Magic! However, it seems that I cannot; though I have tried.” He looked at Mr. Keeper, who smiled sadly and shook his head slightly. “This information you must discover for yourself. However, I was able to do so, and I have no doubt you will be able to as well.”
“Hey, El Carim! Time’s up, my man!” Kit yelled at the ghostly magician. “I gotta send you back — rules are rules! Say good-bye in a hurry!”
“Before we take our leave, Daughter of Magic, I’d like to give you a wedding gift…” He turned to Mr. Keeper again “if that is allowed?” When Mr. Keeper nodded, El Carim smiled, then took off his cape.
“I apologize that I don’t have a gift for your husband-to-be, but I present you with the Cloak of Magical Might. May you wear it in health! I wish you long life and happiness!” He handed her the cloak. She blushed, and then gave him a quick kiss.
She turned to her many-times-great grandfather. “I guess you have to go as well. It was nice to meet you, grandfather. I suppose I’ll see you again when I reach the afterlife.” She didn’t know what else to say, but Kid Eternity couldn’t wait any longer.
“El Carim, you, and your mentor Wizzar, have our thanks for your assistance in our time of need, Return now to your rest. Eternity!” and the two vanished!
Only Mr. Keeper overheard Wizzar whisper to his protégé “I expect I’ll be seeing her much sooner than that!”