by Dan Swanson
Excerpt from The SuperYou Player’s Handbook:
Balefire, the Pale Pukard
Little is known about Balefire’s history, except that at some point in his past he obtained a green Power Band that he wears on his left hand, and which gives him awesome powers of energy-control. His fashion sense is terrible, and he is a coward, only fighting when no other options are left to him.
The Power Band draws power from death. Whenever a living thing dies, it releases some amount of life energy into the environment, and the Power Band collects and stores this energy. Balefire is paradoxically strongest in a very fertile environment, because where there is lots of life, there is also lots of death. In environments where almost nothing lives, such as a desert, the Arctic, or most of outer space, his power is very weak.
The Power Band’s storage capacity is very limited compared with the amount of power it can control. If it is fully charged, and in an environment totally devoid of death energy, Balefire can discharge it completely in a matter of seconds. In an environment in which there are lots of living things constantly dying, such as in the middle of a city, he can use the Power Band at very high output almost continuously.
Default Powers: The Power Band: Energy-Release (2 points); Solid Energy Constructs (2 points); Flight (3 points); Force-Field Generation (2 points).
Additional Power Points: None.
Control of the Power Band is disrupted by radiation sources, which cause existing constructs to fall apart, and make new ones harder to form, while those that are formed are either incomplete or wrong. Using the Power Band for a long period of time produces psychic stresses, and Balefire starts to become paranoid and sees visions. If one of his energy constructs is destroyed unexpectedly, the psychic backlash can be devastating, creating minor effects such as causing him to lose concentration, to major effects such as unconsciousness.
Elaine Playne thought she must be in Hell. An instant ago, she had been at the Justine Literary Association’s Halloween Hullabaloo, joining in a toast, and there had been a flash of light — and now she was in Hell. It didn’t seem fair; she couldn’t remember any sins quite that bad, but there was no other explanation. The air around her was dark with stinking chemical smoke that irritated her eyes and burned her throat when she breathed. She could see fires and occasional flashes as if giant sparks were nearby, and she could hear small explosions, the crackling of electricity, and the sounds of battle. A giant demon loomed menacingly out of the smoke directly in front of her, and she fainted dead away.
John Raymond approached the supine form of the Ghast cautiously. He wasn’t going to get caught in some kind of trap by a villain playing possum. Funny, though, the man looked different without the mask and cape. And then he realized it — Ghast the Ghostly Avenger was a young woman. He couldn’t possibly have missed it before. Somewhat puzzled, he nevertheless took precautions, and within seconds had her immobilized with restraints that were part of the kit of every security droid. “Scratch one super-villain!” he reported on the security frequency. “The bat is out.” He kept silent about the gender confusion. They could sort it out later.
A moment later, he heard his wife talking to Will Higgins via the security radio frequency elsewhere in the room, though both were hidden by the thick, oily smoke.
“OK, boss, let’s take down this twerp!” Rosie had what you might call an attitude. She was very small, perhaps four feet, eight inches tall in heels, but she had absolutely the fastest reactions of any non-enhanced human Will had ever met, including Lady Victory, whose day-to-day survival depended on her reflexes. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she worked out, Rosie just wasn’t very strong. Her droid body made up for that. It was the same size as she was, but much stronger, and she was their best hope of surprising Breakneck.
She couldn’t match his speed by far, but she was faster enough than the rest of the droids that she might be able to catch him off-guard one time. Will hoped that would be enough.
Breakneck the Speed Freak seemed to have recovered from the shock, and he also seemed to have learned from experience gained in his earlier attack. He didn’t try to touch Will again, but was instead throwing debris. The super-speed of these projectiles made them a danger to Will’s droid. Even with radar, he couldn’t dodge them all, and sooner or later one of them would hit a weak spot.
“Hey! What an idiot!” Will yelled at himself in anger. He switched over to full computer control. The giant computer in the basement, the largest computer ever built, took full control, disconnected from the cradle, and called up the fire control program. The android starting moving faster than any human, rapidly aiming and firing concussive blasts — short bursts of energy that hit like a hammer. Breakneck avoided them fairly easily, even at the speeds the computer could manage, but while he was dodging, he couldn’t attack.
In an instant, the speedster realized that whenever there was a chance of one of these blasts hitting one of the other droids elsewhere in the room, the firing stopped. He lined himself up between Will and Tommy, getting ready to charge at Will again. But Rosie had been waiting for that slight pause, and she fired a stinger at him (a sonic blast designed to knock humans unconscious) at the very instant he changed direction. She had the intensity set on maximum, but even so, Breakneck was partly protected by his speed. As he staggered, Elastique, who had just reached the fight, immediately wrapped him up in her elastic limbs and began squeezing.
Breakneck struggled mightily, but couldn’t get free. He tried to vibrate through her body, but the stretchy material resisted. He was barely able to move his legs in a super-speed flutter kick, which forced Elastique to stretch even farther. She could feel air pressure being built up inside the cocoon she had created, and it was getting harder to hold him — and now he was able to flutter his fingers as well. She screamed in agony as, despite all her efforts, he started to burst free from her grip. But her allies were with her; before he started tearing her apart, Rosie stung him again, and this time he passed out. Elastique had held on as long as she could, and it was just barely long enough.
The mystic energies of his power band warned Balefire the Pale Pukard that his allies were both out of the fight. It was definitely time for him to get out of here and away. He saw Red Rocket drop into the room through a trap door in the ceiling, and he quickly willed a tendril of energy into that door, preventing it from closing. He slammed Red Rocket from behind with a giant green fist, then flashed through up the trapdoor and let it close behind him. He was now in some kind of service corridor, lined with cables and pipes.
On the general principle that disruption created distraction, he created a giant circular saw out of his green energy, set it spinning at high speed, then grew it even larger, and it cut through all the pipes and cables, as well as the walls, floor, and ceiling of the hallway. In the foyer below, the droids abruptly stopped working, and the few remaining working lights winked out. The dim red glow of the emergency lights further enhanced the Hell on Earth feeling in the foyer.
Rocket flashed into the air and quickly cut the now-jammed trap door open with his short-range disintegrator. He followed a fading green glow around a corner to his right, slowing down as he heard an explosion ahead. A few yards past the corner, a jagged hole in the outside wall showed him how Balefire had escaped the building. He flashed out after him. The villain had perhaps a quarter-mile lead on him already, but his radar and vision-enhancing visor allowed him to lock his tracking program onto the flying villain, and he flashed away in pursuit.
Red Rocket cautiously increased his speed, angling above and to the left of his foe’s flight path. He thought that the villain might leave him some nasty surprises, and he was right. Even with his visor enhancing his vision, he barely saw the cloud of virtually transparent floating globes, like an aerial mine field. He radioed a position report back to headquarters, and kept closing on his quarry.
In only a few minutes, they were over New Jersey. A few minutes more, and Red Rocket caught up over the swampy wasteland of the Meadowlands. Or, he thought warily, Balefire had reached the spot where he wanted to make a stand.
Balefire gestured, and half a dozen green missiles were instantly blasting toward Rocket. As he moved aside, they changed directions, tracking his motion. These missiles didn’t register on radar; could they be illusions? Rocket couldn’t want take the chance. He accelerated toward them, climbing to pass above them, then flipped over as he continued to climb, so he could watch their reaction. They swerved to follow him, much faster than the guided missiles he was familiar with, but not instantly as illusions might. He climbed rapidly until they were all on his tail again, then rolled backward and dived for the ground at high speed.
Once again the missiles followed slavishly, and Rocket continued to accelerate, passing within a few feet of the startled Balefire. The result was less than satisfying — rather than an explosion, the missiles just vanished. Rocket slowed his descent, and just before he stopped he heard a loud swishing noise behind him. Before he could turn his head, he was swatted by a giant green tennis racket, which drove him down and away, and he splashed into the swampy ground, throwing up a geyser of mud and dirty water. Even with his force-field and the protection of the battle-suit, he was a bit woozy. The water flowing over him would hide him; why not take a nap?
But no, suddenly the water around him was boiling, and he floated up to the surface, discovering that Balefire was sweeping the swamp with a giant green blowtorch, boiling away vast amounts of water and starting fires. Rocket was tired of being on the wrong end of this fight.
Red Rocket blasted toward the pale pukard at his highest possible acceleration, smashing the blowtorch to smithereens, then crashing into the villain with his armored fists outstretched. Balefire also shattered into green shards, which quickly evaporated. Rocket slowed to a stunned halt — he had expected the villain to defend himself. Then he was hit by green fire from behind, and he spun around to find a half-dozen Balefires, all armed with giant blowtorches, closing in on him.
“Energy duplicates! This guy is starting to annoy me,” he snarled to himself. Well, he’d been looking for a chance to test his new rail-gun, and the other duplicate had been vulnerable to kinetic attack. He flicked a switch on his control panel, and the left arm of his armor automatically stiffened. A collapsible tube that extended down the top of his arm deployed, and a steel round the size of a marble clicked into a chamber on his shoulder. He aimed at the first figure and fired on full automatic.
Super-powerful electromagnets surged in sequence, pulling the round through the chamber and accelerating it instantly to about twice the speed of sound. Before it reached the end of the tube, there were two more following it. He swept his arm across the entire energy squad and emptied his whole magazine in under four seconds, completely shredding the green duplicates, and tearing up shrubs, bushes, and terrain for almost a half a mile beyond his targets.
I guess I can’t use this on a human opponent! he thought ruefully. The barrel automatically collapsed, and the locking mechanism relaxed so that he could bend his arm again.
So where was the real Balefire? Rocket couldn’t see the villain, and he no longer showed up on radar, but Rocket was suspicious after the earlier sneak attacks. He quickly scanned the ultraviolet and infrared spectrums, and was rewarded when he spotted a veritable star in the near-infrared floating nearby.
Using his gravity controller, Rocket increased the gravity beneath Balefire, one of his favorite tricks. Gravity increased by five times should smash the villain to the ground, a welcome repayment for the tennis racquet trick. But Balefire seemed to be partially immune to gravity. He was struggling to stay aloft, and started sinking slowly toward the swamp. Finally, Rocket was having some success.
Red Rocket hit him with a sonic blast, ultra-high-powered, very low frequency noise designed to instantly knock out a human. He wasn’t surprised that Balefire remained conscious. That green energy made him tough. But Red Rocket didn’t let up.
Surging forward at high speed, he tackled the dazed villain. As he wrapped his arms around the pale pukard, he activated electromagnets in his gloves, ensuring his grip. Rocket blasted into the air, rolled, and dived into the ground, smashing Balefire beneath him, and sighing in relief when the green bubble around Balefire vanished.
While Balefire was unconscious, Red Rocket disarmed him. The power band Balefire held tightly in his left hand slipped off easily, and the pale greenish yellow glow it emitted died away.
Even though he was completely protected by his costume, handling the power band made Rocket feel ill, so he tried to destroy it with his disintegrator. There couldn’t be a lot of things that could survive the touch of a controlled hydrogen fusion reaction, but the power band was one of them.
Removing Balefire’s cape, he wrapped the power band securely, then picked up the still-unconscious villain and headed back to New York. The Super Squad could find a safe place for this dangerous weapon.
Shiva and Kali flew toward D.C. at high speed. Kali loved to fly. Somehow, it felt as if the cold air flashing by her washed her troubles away and released an inner person, cheerful and relaxed, and free of the dark, troubled spirit that had seemed to overtake her with increasing frequency. Her Lily Lovelace Martine personality attributed it to the dual nature of her namesake goddess, Kali, the goddess of both creation and death.
In her Kali identity, with the wisdom of the goddess at her command, she might have suspected a deeper, less benign cause, but she forced those suspicions deep into her subconscious. Wisdom only helped her when she chose to apply it.
Shiva missed the old happy personality of his wife, but even the wisdom of Brahman couldn’t suggest an answer. So Martin Martine tried ever harder to keep her happy, and he lived for the times when they could fly together. Even knowing that two deadly villains were rampaging through the capitol barely dimmed his joy; whatever the problem, he and Kali would deal with it. They always did. They raced, and joyously shared the beautiful sights below them, and all too soon, they had arrived.
Vanquish the Deadly Domina and F’ant O’mah the Lunarian Lawbreaker seemed more interested in publicity than simple destruction. They made their presence known by destroying several national monuments and trashing first the police and then the National Guard as they advanced toward the White House. They currently stood on the National Mall, surrounded by the shattered remains of the Washington Monument.
The National Mall was surrounded by a ring of foolhardy journalists. The remains of tanks, other armored vehicles, and downed fighter jets littered much of the open area. There were armed soldiers and policemen keeping the civilians back, but no one fired at the villains. If they were allowed to continue their rampage against property, they ignored the people around them, but whenever someone shot at them, observers died in a deadly hail of rubble. The military command had quickly learned caution.
Shiva radioed his Super Squad I.D. to the officers in charge of the beleaguered troops and planes, and the military was reassigned, some as backups for the heroes, and the rest to aid civilian rescue and evacuation efforts. Kali’s good mood vanished when she saw the villains trashing the nation’s capital, and Shiva watched as she became consumed by a deadly anger.
Kali muttered to herself, barely loud enough for Shiva to overhear, “Hope the photographers started shooting already, ladies, or it’ll be a really short movie.” She yelled to her partner, “I get greenie!” And she vanished in a flash of light.
As her personality changed, Kali’s powers were evolving as well. She had recently discovered that she could teleport for short distances only, and the power wasn’t useful in a fight, because it took too much concentration and effort. But it was useful when she wanted to surprise an opponent. Almost instantly she appeared near the surface, and slammed into F’ant O’mah at high speed, wrapping the Lunarian lawbreaker with all four arms and squeezing savagely. As she had planned, he momentum carried the two of them out over the Potomac River before F’ant O’mah recovered enough to fight back.