by Dan Swanson
“I imagine they’ll come looking for us after we land,” Oxide suggested. “I’d sure like to be able to get some stuff from my car before that.”
That was another chance for Majique to strut her stuff, she realized. Wand, show us the way to Oxide’s car! she commanded mentally. The wand changed instantly into a fine gray dust. Disgusted, she reached for the bag at her waist, then stopped abruptly as her magical intuition flared a strong warning of danger. She was rather flustered when Red Rocket turned toward her.
“Sorry — the items from the bag only work once, and the bag needs some time to recharge!” She was apologetic, and even her best attempt at self-control couldn’t keep her cheeks from reddening with embarrassment. How inept a mage did that make her sound? “I didn’t expect to be captured by aliens today!” She stopped when she realized she was whining, then snarled, “I’ll make sure I’m carrying more powerful tools next time.”
“It’s this way,” Rocket said, pointing at the bulkhead behind her. “I can detect the radios with my electromagnetic sensors.” He turned one of the heavy tables on its side. “You guys should take cover while I use my disintegrator.”
Red Rocket crouched down near the bulkhead, started the disintegrator, and started tracing out a circle on the floor a little larger than a manhole cover. The room was filled with flashing light and a wave of heat as the tough material of the floor resisted, but the incredibly intense heat released by the controlled fusion of hydrogen was more than any material could long withstand. In only a few seconds, the circular section of the floor fell into the room below. Rocket quickly blasted the hot edge with super-cooled carbon dioxide, then dropped through into the dark room below, and helped Majique and Oxide down.
Before they could explore, there was an uncomfortable thump that knocked them off their feet, and then the saucer’s engine noise stopped. They had arrived… somewhere.
Lily Lovelace wasn’t exactly sure when she regained consciousness. Absolute darkness, total silence, absence of bodily sensations, all without self-awareness, gradually gave way to absolute darkness, total silence, absence of bodily sensations, and slowly growing self-awareness. The change didn’t seem to matter; Lily knew she existed and was satisfied, and then the satisfaction gradually evolved as well, and she started to realize something was missing. And then she slowly started to remember another way of living — and then suddenly, as if a lightning bolt had struck her, she remembered everything. She sat up with a scream and opened her eyes.
Except she didn’t move, and there was no noise. She was able to see straight up, but she couldn’t turn her head, and she realized that she couldn’t move, but at least she could feel her body, and now she could feel pain. Lily hurt everywhere, as if someone had worked her over with a rubber mallet, not hitting her hard enough to break anything, but not missing a spot — the effects of the violent acceleration the aliens had used to capture her, no doubt. And then she realized that she could move a little, by wiggling her fingers and toes, and moving her eyes, but she was encased in a series of straps that held her firmly in place against a firm cushion. The straps made it difficult to breathe deeply, but she had enough breath to speak her word — so she did.
But nothing happened, not even a mumble. Lily tried to speak, she tried to sing, but nothing happened. She was still able to whistle, so it seemed as if her vocal cords were paralyzed. She tried using her whistle to form words, but she couldn’t make the R sound. Lily was well and truly trapped, she knew, and fought against her rising panic. Kali was not afraid of anything; she struggled to evoke the courage that was one of her powers in her heroic form, but she wasn’t completely successful — the panic was there, lurking in the back of her mind, but for the moment at least she could think. If the situation changed, even slightly, however, she knew it might leap on her like a hungry predator.
Lily found that, by straining, she could actually roll her head slightly to either side, and she examined her trap. She was in a large room, and there were all sorts of what appeared to be alien instruments arrayed around whatever she was lying on. The image of being abducted by aliens who might want to dissect her, like something out of a lurid sci-fi story, leaped into her mind, and for a few moments Lily went away, and a primitive wild animal struggled to escape from the bonds on the table. Lily’s mind only returned when her struggling body was exhausted.
Without the energy to continue struggling, Lily wearily examined as much of the room she could see. She could barely glimpse a couple of other tables, and at least one of them had another human strapped to it, also surrounded by alien instruments. Finally, she studied the bank of instruments surrounding her: a concave device like a radar dish, some mechanical arms with disturbingly human-like hands, some things that looked like flashlights mounted on other mechanical arms, and an array of what might be cameras — boxes the size of a deck of cards with a round tube sticking out of one end, hanging from the ceiling, the tubes all aimed at her. She hoped they were cameras, and not weapons, or something even more sinister.
Off to her right she could see what appeared to be a giant TV screen, and it was showing a picture of herself. Every few seconds the picture changed, and she could see herself from another angle. Then the picture would change again, and she soon realized that the next view was an x-ray, followed by a picture that seemed to show her body as if all her skin had been stripped away, and then other views that she could barely recognize. The apparatus around her was analyzing her as no human had ever been analyzed by human instruments, and details of her body were being shown on the TV. One view showed what could only be a schematic of her nervous system, and another showed what looked like a human shape made out of roaring flames. What could that possibly represent? Under other circumstances, Lily might have been fascinated, but she was currently alternating between terrified and humiliated.
Every few minutes, an alien being would walk through the room and make adjustments to the instruments, machines, and controls. They were humanoid, short, and spindly, with gray skin and heads much too large for their bodies, and they completely ignored the humans strapped to their tables. Apparently they didn’t care if Lily was conscious or not, and so effective were her bonds that Lily wasn’t surprised. She wanted to scream and swear at her captors, but the most she could do was flutter her eyelids. It was maddening. But, she realized, in her helpless condition anger felt better than helplessness or despair. She focused her thoughts on the revenge she would take when she got free.
Then circumstances changed. A horde of robots descended on her. She recognized some as being like the New York City attackers, and there were at least three or four other models. They all moved silently, efficiently, and relentlessly. She was unstrapped from the table, and then, despite her struggles, strapped upright to a wall, as efficiently and inexorably as she had been strapped to the table, and another human female was brought into the room.
The new prisoner was a very short brunette, who couldn’t have been much more than five feet tall. Her eyes were open, and Lily could see them darting this way and that, but the newcomer couldn’t speak, either, and soon she was strapped down in Lily’s place. The views on the TV shifted to show views of the newcomer’s body. After checking to be sure the straps were secure, the aliens left the room.
“Hello! Can you hear me?” a girl’s voice whispered in Lily’s ear — but there was nobody nearby. Who could it be?
“I’m a super-hero,” the voice whispered. “I’ll have us free in a moment.”
Lily didn’t say anything; she realized her vocal cords seemed to be paralyzed. Who could this female super-hero be? She must be invisible. She grunted, the only noise she could make.
“Good. I have super-hearing, you know.” Lily didn’t know, but she grunted again. “Hold on. I’ll be right with you!”
Suddenly, there came several muffled bangs, and the bindings on the wrists and ankles of the tiny girl on the table exploded. She climbed stiffly to her feet and tottered to the wall.
“This may sting a little,” the voice spoke in Lily’s ear, but the girl’s lips didn’t move. The brackets holding her to the wall suddenly started to vibrate, and then they seemed to just fall apart. “Good. I’m getting better at it!” the voice said in satisfaction, though her lips still didn’t move. “We’d better hurry before someone notices we’re free.”
But it appeared to be too late — a strange wailing sound, probably an alarm, was blaring, and the people on the other tables throughout the room were suddenly moving. Lily pushed the smaller girl to the floor and fell on top of her, and a rock smashed into the wall where her head had been just an instant before — a rock thrown by one of the throng of humans advancing their way.
Donal Regan awoke to pain and confusion. He felt as if he had been kicked in the head by a mule, following which he had rolled down several flights of marble stairs. And he quickly discovered that he was in the body of one of the ‘chauns, but his mental link with the others was broken. His memory started to return; as the saucer had sped away from Phoenix, he had felt that link stretching, and then it had snapped, and the recoil had knocked him unconscious. He realized he was lucky to have awakened at all — none of the ‘chauns had ever been this far away from the others before, and separation such as this might just as easily have killed him.
Each of the ‘chauns had Donal’s personality, but they never bothered naming themselves, as they never thought of themselves as independent beings — they were all part of the whole, and even though they could operate independently, they were always under the control of Donal’s overmind. But that wasn’t true now, and the isolated ‘chaun decided to refer to himself as Don. Don Chaun sounded perfect to him right then. He wondered briefly if he would retain his newfound independence after he rejoined the others, then decided that, for the moment, it didn’t matter. He had places to go and things to do — if he could figure out where he was, and what needed to be done.
The saucer he was in was quiet, but he could hear a commotion nearby — a lot of people screaming and sounding angry. He decided to check it out. Don moved cautiously out of his hiding place, and then to the door through which he’d entered the saucer. It stood open, and the clamor became louder. He couldn’t see the howling crowd yet, but they were nearby. He headed off in that direction, and then he heard another sound — a high-powered automobile, roaring toward him at high speed. There was the squealing of tires, and a sleek black car slid around the curve of the saucer and then straightened out, heading directly for him, not fifty feet away.
Any human observer would have said that Don must have acted instinctively, so quickly did he move, but what actually happened was this:
The black car started sliding sideways, and Don watched it closely. There were two people in it, a black man with a domino mask driving, and a white woman with a red scarf in her hair, hanging on tightly and yelling her approval of the ride, barely audible over the roar of the engine and the squealing of the tortured tires. Flying above the car was a human figure dressed mostly in red and yellow, a figure anyone who had lived in Chicago recently would be familiar with — Red Rocket. As soon as he realized that the black car — which looked like something he’d seen in a documentary on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Grand Prix of Endurance — was going to drive right through the spot he was standing, Don started calculating his next move.
By now, the driver was standing on his brakes, but the vehicle wasn’t going to slow down very much in less than fifty feet. Still, Don didn’t move, and the car was close enough that he could read the manufacturer’s name from the symbol on the front — a Jaguar, he should have known — and then at the last possible microsecond, he jumped, and not as high has he could have, either. He tilted his body somewhat, and the car struck the soles of his feet — and he instantly jumped again, as hard as he could, pushing off from the hood.
It didn’t go as smoothly as he had hoped — the pressure on his legs was a little uneven, and he tumbled as he rose into the air — but he was a superbly trained tumbler, and quickly regained control. Seeing that the tiny person had somehow managed to get out of his way, Oxide hit the gas again. Just as Don reached the peak of his jump, Red Rocket caught him — as he’d intended.
“Where’s the fire, Red Rocket?” he asked the startled hero. “Would ya be needin’ a hand, now?”
Below them they could hear Oxide swearing. “He left a dent the size of a softball in the hood! Mel is going to kill me!”