by Dan Swanson
The case he was working on had led Tomas Thomas out of town, and Todd Drake had nothing new to report, and Bonnie Drake also said she hadn’t made any progress, so the meeting that night was short. Jack went to sleep early, and Todd and Bonnie stayed up late, a luxury they were often unable to enjoy these days with a one-year-old in the house.
The next day they slept in as late as Jack let them. Bonnie dressed Jack and headed out to do some shopping, and Red Rocket went out searching for Wizzo again. He had a feeling he might have better luck today. Well, if you could call an encounter with a deadly, bloodthirsty super-villain better luck, anyway.
His luck began to turn when he heard a police bulletin on his helmet radio. A security guard at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History had called the police and hysterically announced some kind of robbery, and then the line had gone dead.
That was enough for Red Rocket. Immediately, he was flashing toward the museum at high speed, a red guided missile streaking across the Chicago sky.
When he reached the museum, he was stunned to see that it no longer appeared to have any doors or windows. Every external opening had disappeared and been replaced by solid stone. In fact, the new stone blended with the old so well it was impossible to tell exactly where the doors and windows had even been.
There was a large crowd of people outside, and the crowd continued to grow. Rocket circled the building, and, finding no openings, flew up and landed on the roof. He had hoped, but not dared to expect, that doors to the roof would still be available — and he was correct. He didn’t know if this was oversight or the villain’s planned escape route, but right now it didn’t matter. He used his disintegration tool to cut the tongue on the lock on one of the doors, and carefully entered the building.
Red Rocket floated down the stairway rather than walking, so he wouldn’t risk making noise or tripping. It was quite dark inside the museum; not only were there no windows, but all the electric lights had somehow vanished. Rocket switched through the various modes of vision his visor provided — infrared, amplified visible light, and ultraviolet. Infrared with ultrasound sonar overlay gave him the best idea of his surroundings, and after a few minutes, he felt reasonably confident with his enhanced vision. He wouldn’t have wanted to try competition pistol shooting in this environment, but he wasn’t going to overlook anything obvious, either.
He turned up the sensitivity of his hearing amplifiers as well. There was some kind of energetic activity going on from a lower floor in the building, so he cautiously followed the sounds to their source.
The museum had a big central room several stories high, surrounded by balconies at each level. He came into the central chamber on the top level. He couldn’t believe what was happening on the floor. A group of about twelve men, working quietly and in total darkness, were breaking down the floor exhibit, packing it into crates, and apparently getting it ready for shipment. They seemed to be able to see easily in total darkness. Once again Red Rocket cycled through his various vision powers, and he realized that the room was brightly lit in the near-ultraviolet spectrum. The light was coming from the walls and ceiling, so Rocket left his vision set to ultraviolet.
What was eerie was that all of the men below resembled almost exactly one or the other of the police artist’s sketches of the murdered henchmen at the bank. They moved with greater speed and precision than normal humans, and based on the crates they were moving around, they had to be three or four times stronger than normal as well. If there was ever a time when he wanted and needed reinforcements, this would be it. But Tomas was well out of helmet radio range, and the police wouldn’t be able to get to the roof in time to help him.
Wizzo himself was nowhere to be seen, although that meant little. He had showed up quickly enough last time when his minions had been interfered with.
No civilians seemed to be in any immediate danger, so Red Rocket took a few moments to come up with a plan. If the men below were really human, he didn’t want to end up killing them — but, outnumbered a dozen to one, with all of them faster and stronger than he was, he might have no alternative. He reviewed the capabilities of his costume and weighed alternate plans of action. He had pored over the suit with Tomas until he knew all of its functionality intimately, and he had even added capabilities of his own design. He quickly came up with a battle plan.
First, Rocket reconfigured his ultra sonar to emit a much higher volume of ultrasound, and aimed it at the floor below. After a few minutes, he noticed some effect — the workers were stopping to scratch, and one of them dropped his end of a crate to clap his hands to his head. The worker at the other end screamed as the crate fell on his foot. He limped up to the first worker and punched him, hard. The others stopped working and gathered around to watch. A couple of them bumped into each other, and they, too, started fighting.
The ultra sonar wasn’t designed for such a high power level, and after a few more minutes, several components failed. Rocket was ticked off; he had planned to make further use of ultrasound. But very few battle plans ever survived the first encounter with the enemy.
He would have to rebuild the system and make it more powerful and more flexible for the future. Meanwhile, the fighting continued for another five minutes or so. Four of the workers had been knocked unconscious by their peers. None of them seemed to realize that they were under attack. One of those not involved in the fighting seemed to be sort of a foreman, and he had just started to bully them back to work when Rocket struck again.
Red Rocket set his gauntlet searchlight for ultraviolet, adjusted his visor to completely block ultraviolet, and blasted the room with eight million candlepower of UV light. When the flash was over, he saw that the remaining men appeared to be temporarily blinded, and as they were shouting and stumbling about, Rocket did a power dive among them. It hardly felt fair, slamming into blind opponents, but it was a successful tactic — he quickly knocked another five of them out. But he had to hit them harder than he had hoped; their resistance to damage seemed to be enhanced similarly to their strength and speed. The last three were recovering their sight, and suddenly he wasn’t worried about “fair” any longer.
As he rocketed toward one of the remaining thugs, the man suddenly stepped out of his way and hammered a two-handed blow to his back. This drove Red Rocket down into the floor, and with his forward momentum he skidded across the floor and slammed into the base of a display case. His costume stiffened and distributed the impact, and instead of being seriously injured, he was only somewhat stunned. One of the others started to push the massive display case over, but Rocket was able to roll out of the way, and it crashed harmlessly to the floor.
In order to offset the others’ speed advantage, Rocket took back to the air. Heavy things were thrown at him, but he could use his plasma-thrower to slag them before they reached him. He noticed that one of the unconscious men was starting to move; he had to end this quick before he had all twelve to fight again.
He dived at one of the villains once more; the man had just seen his buddy counter this kind of attack, so he stepped aside and prepared to slam Red Rocket as he flew by. But Rocket wasn’t repeating his earlier attack; he pulled up short, aimed both hands at his opponent, and fired at him with his new compressed air-blasters. He couldn’t use them often, because they took a long time to charge, but they were very effective. The villain was slammed backward as if by a gigantic, super-powerful fist, lifted off the ground, and flew backward into a display case — which shattered and cascaded down around his now-still figure.
Another of the bad guys had used Rocket’s short pause to launch himself through the air, intent on grabbing Rocket and wrestling him to the ground. When he hit, the impact was enough to knock Rocket from his feet, and the villain landed on top of him, unconscious. Rocket had generated an extremely powerful electric charge on the surface of his uniform (another new weapon), which knocked the man out on contact. Rocket’s uniform once again distributed the impact. He was going to have bruises all over his body tomorrow morning, but he was still able to fight.
Red Rocket was almost out of tricks, and there was still one opponent to go — and that opponent had apparently learned a lot from watching the fight so far. One of the museum displays had been a reproduction of an early New England farm, complete with an actual stone fence, which was made up of medium-sized stones carefully piled together. The bad guy (one of the Jake lookalikes) was ripping stones from the fence and throwing them at Rocket. He tried burning them with the plasma-torch, but there were too many of them coming too fast. His only option was to retreat into the air, where he could avoid many of them. But his opponent was smart; he would launch a barrage of a half-dozen stones aimed so that if Red Rocket dodged one, some of the others would hit him. He took some painful hits from these projectiles, but nothing critical.
Seeing that the moving man had finally managed to sit up, Rocket broke off his attempt to attack the rock-thrower, and zoomed at the top speed he could muster at the hapless villain — striking him in the chest with both fists and delivering another electrical charge at the same time. This shock was weaker than the last, because this weapon also took a while to recharge, but with the hammering fists of Red Rocket to back it up, the villain was knocked unconscious once more.
Rocket turned back to his other foe, but was unable to see him or detect him via his ultra sonar. He switched to infravision and scanned the entire room, but was unable to see anything that indicated where his foe might be. Suddenly he had a terrible thought, and he quickly launched himself into the air. An extremely heavy display case smashed into his legs and sent him tumbling head over heels. He smashed into the wall and slid downward, stunned. When his back was turned, his opponent had collapsed to the floor so he looked just like the other unconscious bad guys, and Red Rocket had overlooked him. As Rocket sat there, almost unable to move, his opponent approached him, wielding a sword he had grabbed from another display.
Red Rocket had no choice. His legs were numb and were temporarily not working, and he couldn’t concentrate enough to fly. Hoping his theory of a couple of days past was correct, he managed to arm his plasma-thrower, and he blasted the remaining bad guy — instantly burning him to a crisp only a second before he would have skewered Red Rocket with the sword.
Rocket then concentrating on flying; he was pretty sure this room was just about to become even more dangerous than it had been when he first arrived. He managed to lift into the air, and within a half-second he was flying over the railing and into one of the hallways on the upper level, heading back for the stairs to the roof.
Behind him, he heard a faint poof and then a voice, chanting.
“Gheak htnugg sanupg dolygt xuvalu!”
Wizzo the Wizard had appeared on the scene.
Red Rocket flashed down the hallway toward the stairs. His plan had been to surprise Wizzo, rather than be surprised by him. By now he was too far away to hear the wizard chant his next spell.
“Ghenys thlyls wylvol vghkyr upiwau xuvalu!”
However, he certainly observed the results when he was struck from behind by a lightning bolt. This wasn’t as damaging an attack as Wizzo might have hoped, however. All it did was finish recharging Rocket’s own electrical weapon. In the main room, Wizzo was chanting again.
“Ghecoh okkoyg omolgi. Ghpyst hifylv gkuhek lpiulu pituku xuvalu!”
A mighty wind began to blow through the corridor toward the center of the museum. Red Rocket fought against it for a few seconds, but then he realized that he might be able to use Wizzo’s own actions to catch him by surprise. He flew with the wind, and when he reached the big open central chamber, he increased his speed. His hope was that he would be able to reach Wizzo before the wizard could cast any more spells. As he flashed over the railing, he realized he was in luck — the wizard was standing in the middle of the floor in what looked like the eye of a hurricane, and the wind was propelling Rocket directly at him. Rocket increased his speed even more. Wizzo saw him coming and tried to chant a spell, but he didn’t have time to complete it.
Red Rocket hit him like a runaway freight train, and Wizzo lifted into the air and flew backward. However, his velocity quickly decreased, and instead of striking the wall, he stopped and floated to the floor, landing gently on his feet. He had made no gestures or chants. Tomas Thomas was right in his earlier warning; Wizzo was more than a common Type B wizard, those who used a token or tokens to store, focus, and release power. Many Type A wizards, those who didn’t require a token, regularly used tokens to increase their powers; as such, they were dangerous in both modes. Rocket reminded himself that virtually all wizards could also operate in C mode — using no real magic, but stage magic using special effects and sleight of hand to produce effects that simulate magic — since almost all of them had learned stage magic before they learned true magic.
Before he landed, Wizzo was chanting again.
“Gheyna duwygt luhgha zrylsg. Ghewyv kohtuk wysthc ohollo. Skuohx onngaw wykuxe kghohp iupuli xuvalu!”
Great fireballs burst from his hands and flew toward Red Rocket. This hardly bothered him; he used his own plasma-thrower, and the two sources of flames met between the two opponents, and both were stopped. Many of the crates and exhibits were starting to char and catch fire, and this seemed to bother Wizzo, because he cast a new spell.
“Ghewwo nnwyku gdolyg tonntu ohuvht ylsgxu zaanuv xuvalu!”
The fireballs and the plasma vanished, and all other flames in the room were snuffed out. This diversion gave Red Rocket time for an attack of his own — he used his magnetic controller to cause all the iron and steel in the room to be attracted to Wizzo. The smaller pieces of scrap started flying at him, while the larger pieces started sliding slowly in his direction.
“Ghewoy kmkahu zhpuwk apwniy lsqelr xuvalu!”
Wizzo commanded, and suddenly it seemed as if he was surrounded by an invisible cylinder. As the various pieces of magnetized junk smashed into this cylinder, they stuck, and within a few seconds, Wizzo was completely encased in an irregular column of iron and steel. Every wizard understood magnetism, and Wizzo knew what to do about this.
“Posluh ygpnag uyhggh kulsht xuvalu!”
Rocket’s magnetic controller suddenly stopped working, and all the iron and steel that had been attracted to Wizzo suddenly fell to the ground. Wizzo took some incidental damage due to falling scraps that bounced and hit him, and he was now surrounded by a fairly high crater of jagged debris.
Red Rocket could see Wizzo’s wounds closing.
“Folvnu hpuwni xuvalu!”
As Wizzo floated into the air, Red Rocket took a quick inventory. His magnetic controller wasn’t working, his ultra sonar wasn’t working, and his plasma-thrower had quit. As far as he could tell, Wizzo was unfazed and unharmed. At this rate, he was going to be out of weapons and defenses soon. He had to be a lot smarter about this battle if he hoped to survive, much less win.
Wizzo wouldn’t be working in Type B mode unless it made him more powerful, so Rocket knew he should really concentrate on getting his wand away from him. He wasn’t quite sure how to do that. However, he could still fly, and he was willing to bet he was a better flyer than Wizzo. He took to the air. Wizzo pointed his wand with a quick chant: “Ghewxn oghtyp xuvalu!”
A bolt of energy flew from the end of the wand. Rocket swerved and easily avoided the burst. Wizzo tried again with the same chant and the same result. But this time, Rocket fought back.
Aiming his right arm at Wizzo, he tried a trick he had been practicing for quite a while. He flashed his visible light searchlight on and off, like an eight million candlepower strobe light, and at the same time caused his goggles to compensate for the changing light, so his vision was not affected. The light was so intense that Wizzo was forced to turn his back, and he still had to put his arm over his eyes, and even then the light was so intense that he was dazzled. Red Rocket flashed at him and punched him, unleashing his electrical charge on contact, and Wizzo was smashed into unconsciousness. At the same instant, Rocket touching the wand must have triggered a safety spell, as both Wizzo and the wand vanished.
Red Rocket was left alone in the partially demolished main room of the museum. There was no sign of the dozen men who had been looting the place, and nothing remained to show that Wizzo had ever been there, either. He was awfully glad he was on good terms with the Chicago Police, and that the police radio dispatcher had actually told him about this robbery, so they couldn’t blame the whole thing on him. Even so, he was sure he was going to be explaining this adventure to many different investigators over the next few hours. He quickly placed a call to his agency’s answering service to let Bonnie know he would probably be late for dinner.
He had expected the cops to be swarming through the museum by now, until he remembered that the doors and windows had been replaced by solid rock. Until they got a crane or a chopper or a really long ladder outside, he wasn’t going to run into anybody. Swell, he would call Detective Spinelli later with the whole story. Right now, he felt pretty beat up, and he needed to fix the busted devices in his costume, so he flew out the rooftop door at top speed, and wended his way home.