by Dan Swanson
Wizzo the Wizard was, naturally, immune to his own avoidance spell, so he would have no problems remaining inside the Field Museum of Natural History until his task was accomplished. He thought he would use the staff to teleport into the museum, then zap himself and the single most powerful artifact back to his sanctum. A dry, crackly whisper in his mind suggested, “By now, the lesson should be learned, young fool. Do not waste your magic on flashy, inefficient spells, until you are sure you have the power to waste!”
“If I’m a fool, dead man,” he growled back, “why am I still alive and powerful, and you’re nothing but a powerless, lifeless skull? I require your life essence to be bound in my staff, but I do not require your insults. Be civil, or I will silence you!” He sensed anger, but Volthoom was silent, at least for a short time.
And yet Volthoom was right. Wizzo had no need to draw upon the power of the staff to enter the museum; his own innate and considerable magical skill would suffice.
He made his way back to Chicago. It was simple to approach the museum; with thousands of people waiting for their chance at the booths outside to pay to be truly scared, no one noticed a single man. He was amused that many of the fools standing in line were wearing outlandish costumes, some garbed as heroes, others as villains or monsters. Perhaps they felt that a costume would enhance the experience. Wizzo briefly considered going straight; if he could create a money-making sensation such as this by accident, what might he do if he set his mind to it? But then he recoiled from the thought. His destiny was to rule this world, not produce mindless entertainment for the mindless masses. Still, if he had known how easy it was to entice people to willingly part from their money, he might have been rich by now and forever ignorant of his true destiny.
Wizzo walked around the building, seemingly examining it like so many others. He quietly slipped behind a bush, composed his mind, and snapped his fingers. The world around him changed from brightly colored to shades of gray, similar to what one might see on one of those ubiquitous TV sets. Another fool’s toy, he thought, and walked slowly toward the thick stone wall, not pausing when he reached it, but instead walking right into the stone without slowing down. Two strides, and he was through.
Rather than thread his way through the internal maze of rooms and corridors, he remained in his phantom state and headed straight to the central room. He found that virtually nothing had been changed since he had made his strategic retreat after his encounter with Red Rocket. Very few people would have been able to resist the terror of the place long enough to descend the stairs to this level, and none save those few who could fly could possibly make it down to the floor and then back out again.
The single most powerful artifact was a throne. Now that he had time to examine it, he was struck by just how much it looked like the throne in Volthoom’s audience chamber in the mythical Volthoom City. That illusory throne must have been modeled on this one. He realized with awe that the ancient kings of Atlantis might have ruled from this very throne.
Volthoom spoke up in his mind again. The whispery voice, sounding almost like two dry bones being rubbed together, stated, “This is not the original throne of Atlantis, which was lost during the Great Flood. The colony in Greenland was made the new capital, and until the ice age covered the entire island with glaciers, the rulers of Atlantis used this throne. It was even mine once, before the traitors rose up and entrapped me.”
Wizzo rubbed his hands together. “Yes, yes, I can sense the power in this glorious throne — and the personalities of many powerful men and women! The magical power stored in this throne will help me assume my rightful place as ruler of the world. It will become the symbol of my power, and once again, he who sits in this throne of Atlantis shall rule the world.”
He raised the staff high in the air and chanted as he slammed the butt down on the cement floor.
“Gkuhel pigunw olvhty ghtkal uhapit yvufoi xuvalu!”
And he and the throne vanished from the museum.
The next morning, Todd Drake checked the telemetry of the monitoring devices he had planted within the museum. One of them had moved. He got a line on it with his directional antenna, and then called Tomas Thomas at home in Calumet. Tomas got another line on the monitoring device and gave Todd the bearing. Todd plotted both lines. They crossed near Michigan City, Indiana. The location was about a half-hour’s flight for Red Rocket and Tom Atomic. Rocket wanted to finish the fight without help from Tomas, but he realized that it was his pride speaking.
“OK, meet you there — in an hour! If you get there first, don’t start without me!” He was already changing to Red Rocket as he spoke.
An hour later, he was hovering over Lake Michigan about a half-mile offshore from Michigan City. His helmet radar detected a small flying object approaching him, and sure enough, it turned out to be Tom Atomic.
“Hey, buddy, welcome to the party!” Atomic radioed. “Looks like the tracer is somewhere back in the hills in that direction.” He pointed and then led the way.
“Company up ahead!” Red Rocket radioed his partner. His helmet radar had picked up a dozen flying somethings, moving generally in their direction. They were moving very erratically, swooping this way and darting that way, yet all the time getting closer and closer. He activated his telescopic vision and zoomed in. “Oh, boy,” he said, not sounding very enthusiastic. “Bats. Big bats! I hate bats!”
Tom Atomic checked them out as well. They each appeared to be about the size of a grown man, with enormous wingspans. He could see razor-sharp claws on their feet and the first joint in each wing. “This shouldn’t be too tough.”
“Tomas, what do we do?” Red Rocket sounded almost as if he were panicking. That couldn’t be right, or could it? Tom Atomic had never heard him rattled before, but he was rattled now. The two had an agreement never to use their real names when they were in costume. “They’re faster than we are, and they’ll tear us to shreds!”
Atomic had a touch of claustrophobia, and Todd’s actions and tone of voice suddenly convinced him that Todd must be afraid of bats. Well, hopefully he could help Tom deal with that by taking command of the situation.
“Rocket, they use echolocation, right? Ultrasound. Well, we can have ultrasound echolocation, too, built right into our helmets.”
“And just what good does that do us? I already know where they are — I can see them!”
Atomic laughed. “I don’t know how you’ve managed to live so long! If we turn the volume up all the way, and blast them with random ultrasound noises, we ought to be able to confuse the heck out of ’em!”
Tom Atomic did so, and almost immediately afterward, so did Red Rocket. The bats flew nearer, and then suddenly seemed to go crazy. They all seemed to panic, turned to flee as one, and some of them lost coordination and fell, although they all managed to gather themselves before they hit the ground. They were magically driven to attack, though, and they made several more attempts, each time scattering in panic as they approached the flying heroes. But they seemed to learn quickly, and before long they were pacing the two heroes, perhaps fifty feet away, occasionally attempting to fly closer or dive on them from above. The heroes easily evaded any attackers who managed to get close.
Red Rocket’s voice sounded much more confident now. “That was a great idea, pal! Good job! I would have never thought of using the ultrasound as a weapon against bats!”
They continued flying toward the locator beacon. Rocket spoke again. “Um, Tom, flaw in the equipment — I can’t use my radar at the same time as the ultrasound.”
“Hmm… me, either. They share some circuitry. Never thought we’d want to use them both at the same time. I hope there’s nothing else up here with us.” He shut up for a few seconds, pondering the problem. “Nothing we can do about it now except keep a sharp eye out. I suppose we could land.”
Red Rocket had stopped moving forward, and was trying to search the whole sky at once. “I’ve got a better idea! Look, bats mostly come out at night, right? Their eyes are adapted for dark. Suppose we were to blast them with our searchlights.” Both heroes had eight-million-candlepower searchlights set into the back of one of their gauntlets.
Atomic agreed that it was a great idea, so both heroes fired up their searchlights and aimed the searchlights at their attackers. Their echolocation confused and their eyes temporarily out of commission, several of the bats collided and fell from the sky, while others fluttered down and made awkward and sometimes painful landings. The heroes put on a quick burst of speed, and the two quickly left the confused and blinded bats behind.
Tom Atomic looked back at the bats as they zoomed away. “Hey, the magic must fail after they get beat! They all just shrunk back to regular size!” The score is technology one, magic zero!
They split up to improve their triangulation on the beacon and, within a few minutes, were hovering directly above it. “I don’t see anything. It must be underground,” Tom commented. They were above some low hills, mostly covered with bushes.
“Try infrared,” Red suggested. The landscape changed to a ghostly color scheme of greys, and they could see some moving white figures that looked like small animals, but nothing human-sized. “Three o’clock — looks like a cold spot,” he reported. “Maybe the entrance to a cave?”
Tom Atomic switched back to visible light and used his telescopic vision to examine that spot closely. “All I see is hillside. But with magic, what else would you expect? You hang back. I’m going in low and slow.” He dropped to just above the level of the tallest bushes and drifted forward, as lightly and slowly as a dandelion seed in a breeze. He switched on his radar and could clearly see a hole in the side of the hill ahead, but still nothing was visible. He had switched on his repeater, and Red Rocket was seeing the same radar image that he was.
“That’s gotta be it! Hold on, let me come up from the other side.” Rocket moved more quickly than Atomic did, and they each approached the entrance from opposite sides. Even a few feet away, they still couldn’t see anything. Their radar wasn’t precise enough, so Rocket switched back to infrared. The illusion vanished; chalk up another one for technology.
Tom Atomic remained on normal vision and floated slowly into the cave behind Red Rocket. The illusion vanished after about four feet, but it was very dark in the cave. Both heroes switched their searchlights to infrared and illuminated the cave in front of them (with a lot less than the maximum output). From what they had already seen, they figured that Wizzo didn’t know or care about infrared.
Again they floated forward very slowly. Suddenly, the cramped tunnel opened out into a enormous room, and as they floated into the room it was filled with bright white light.