Whiz: Eternity Force
Future Tales, 2499
Some Assembly Required
by Dan Swanson and Drivtaan
Introduction: Disaster on Manhattan Island
The greatest threat the world had seen in hundreds of years was unleashed, appropriately enough, in the world’s largest city — New York, Normerica, in July, 2497. It started with a series of underground explosions in lower Manhattan. New Yorkers over the centuries had learned lessons from a series of deadly disasters in the city, and they knew what to do.
The Artificial Intelligence monitoring public transportation (busses, subways, slidewalks, zip tubes) detected the disturbance, and immediately set up a virtual perimeter. Automated traffic could leave the gzzone (short for ‘Ground Zero Zone’, pronounced g-zone, an unfortunate but necessary addition to the language) but none could enter. Every information channel — audio, video, virtuality, direct neural stimulation, even print — warned people to leave and each person received personalized directions to expedite their exit from the gzzone.
According to pre-arranged routes meticulously planned out by the World Emergency Management Agency (WEMA), each section of the city evacuated in an orderly manner to different rendezvous points. At each point, the name of every man, woman, and child was recorded. Once evacuation was complete, lists would be compiled and made available so that family members from different sections of the city would know each other’s location.
The weather today was wonderful, which contributed to the high survival rate. Most of those who couldn’t reach emergency public transportation were able to use their Personal Flight Harnesses (PFHs) to fly to their appointed rendezvous point. And so, the gzzone was a virtual ghost town by the time the first buildings collapsed.
Some kind of cataclysm was occurring underground. It was like a localized earthquake — or some incredible Juggernaut crashing through the bedrock under lower Manhattan. Whatever it was, the city above it started to crumble. Once again, the city witnessed the horror of skyscrapers collapsing. The view from orbit was awesome, and horrifying — a circular crater, a mile wide, swallowing up lower Manhattan. To some, it was like seeing a portal to Hell opening; this was due, in part, to the many gas main eruptions that belched flame and rubble into the air.
While civilians evacuated, New York’s celebrated first responders headed toward the danger zone, and the mayor contacted WEMA. Unlike disasters in prior centuries, the list of first responders no longer included police, militia, military, or super heroes. War had long since been eradicated and WEMA managed what little crime remained. New York, and the world, was soon to rue the lack of combat-trained heroes.
Chapter 01: A Monstrous Battle
Three mighty figures exploded into the air out of the center of the pit, continuing the titanic struggle that had begun far underground. They had already trashed a good portion of the city, yet they showed no ill effects. A careful observer would soon notice that the two smaller demons (relatively smaller, at least) were not fighting each other, but they were both attacking the largest, who was adequately holding its own. The two were not making a coordinated attack, as if they were a team. It seemed more as if they both realized that the big one had to be put out of commission first, if either of the others wanted to win this fight.
The ‘smallest’, who could almost have passed for human — an incredibly ugly man, 6’7″ tall and nearly as wide, with muscles bulging out all over his body — was holding on to the torn and tattered shirt of the largest with his left hand. The shredded shirt revealed that the largest demon was massively, disgustingly female. He was punching her with his free right hand, and kicking her wherever he could reach. The middle-sized demon, whose gender was impossible to determine, was blasting the large one with green magical energy flaring from the palms of its hands. The largest demon was trying to speak.
“Ibac, Sabbac, SeDEM said I lead!” She grabbed the male’s left arm with one gigantic taloned fist and squeezed. Ibac could feel the bones in his wrist grating together and then shattering, and he roared in pain. He was unable to retain his hold, and the giant demoness raised him high overhead, ignoring Sabbac’s green flares to do so, and then slammed him to Earth, where he was driven deep into the ground. Gigantic wings drove her down toward the debris, and she quickly toppled a pile of rubble, burying the unfortunate Ibac. Meanwhile, the other demon, Sabbac, dived on her.
“Follow strongest, SeDEM proclaimed” it began, as it pulled out of the dive and crashed into her with both hands, knocking her backward and to the ground. “Myself, that is!”
Sabbac smashed down on the fallen demon, driving her deep into the rubble. It then climbed several meters into the air, and hovered above the rubble. Green flame spewed from its mouth, melting the rubble to glass, entombing both Ibac and the other.
A sickly green and brown mist flowed out of cracks in the ground, then re-formed into the female demon. With a flap of her grotesque wings she was back in the air, and for almost a minute, she and Sabbac exchanged super-powered punches. Once again Sabbac spit vile flames, but they had no effect.
“Your puny might pales besides the awesome, devastating power of Morgoth!” the she-demon shouted.
She changed size, growing larger and larger, and then she swung both massive arms together, smashing a pile-driver blow down on the top of Sabbac’s head. The smaller monster was driven downward. It crashed to the ground, shattering the glassy landscape. Morgoth dived in pursuit and as she flew, her form changed again, this time into a giant flying snake. Before Sabbac could recover, Morgoth had enwrapped it like a giant magical python, and began to squeeze.
Sabbac could not reach Morgoth with either its fiery breath or the green magic from its hands. Instead, the magic blasted into the buildings on the edge of the crater, spreading destruction even wider. Sabbac was inexorably being overwhelmed by Morgoth’s great strength. Part of one coil covered its face, preventing Sabbac from beginning any spoken spells. Struggle as it might, Sabbac was unable to break free. The struggles grew weaker, and weaker, and finally stopped.
Morgoth wasn’t fooled. The evil genius of Bushyasta suggested that Sabbac was faking, so Morgoth continued to squeeze, for long minutes after Sabbac had stopped moving. When she finally released it, and changed to her normal form, Sabbac fell unconscious to the glassy surface below. Morgoth slowly and deliberately used a fingernail claw to scratch her own ‘tag’, a stylized figure of five strokes that looked almost Chinese, into the almost invulnerable skin of Sabbac’s cheek. She wanted it to remember who had won this fight, and just what she was capable of if it questioned her superiority in the future!
She changed back to her misty form, and re-entered the rubble, searching for Ibac. When she found him, she floated back to the surface. She dug a pit, and at the bottom of that pit, only Ibac’s head was visible. Strain though he might, the magically enhanced rubble in which he was buried held him easily. Once again, Morgoth went through the ritual of tagging the face of her defeated opponent, although Ibac remained conscious throughout the entire ritual.
“Affirm your allegiance to me, Ibac, or I will kill you. You and Sabbac are now my slaves, to use as I will.” She laughed, a laugh so evil it chilled even Ibac, who was no slouch in the evil department. She kicked him in the head, just for emphasis
“Yes, Lady Scratch, I am your slave.” He reluctantly inclined his head to her, acknowledging her power — but he was also planning a later betrayal, when he had a better idea of her weaknesses. Morgoth smiled inwardly — let him think she didn’t know what he was planning… it would make her future victories (already assured!), even sweeter when she frustrated him by foiling all of his secret plots.
“Lady Scratch?” She silently considered the title. Only a short time ago, she had despised that nickname. Yet now it seemed much more appropriate. “Yes, Lady Scratch, it does have a nice ring to it!”
Chapter 02: A Deadly Trap
Where had these demons come from? The answer lies a few hours in the past… late in the evening on just another night in 2497.
The Earth of 2497 was a virtual Utopia. Crime was rare, disease had been eradicated, poverty had been eliminated, the last war had been fought over 200 years ago, and the average human life expectancy was now around 135 years. Still, human nature had not changed. In any human society, there are those who have more than others, and those who aspire to get more — by taking rather than earning.
Three who stalked through the night in lower Manhattan were takers, looking for ‘donors’. And the donor they were stalking this evening seemed almost too good to be true. These three were young, too young to have learned that when you see something, anything, which seems too good to be true, it is time to keep one hand on your wallet and the other hand on your sidearm!
A rich old man, with more money than sense, walking the night streets alone, and all their fancy stolen high-tech gear couldn’t detect any security ‘ware. Zeevy, the leader of the three, quickly realized he must be high on ghost. But only a fool did ghost in public in this neighborhood. Ghost made you feel wonderful; in fact, each of the three of them had each killed for ghost, more than once, but it befuddled the senses and made one an easy victim. And regardless of all their other failings, neither she nor Balt nor W”Wa^t were ever easy victims!
This one was rich, so rich they could smell it. The stalked him for miles, waiting for him to make a wrong turn and stumble into a blind alley. A few times they lost him, and then the three grew frantic, running up and down side streets, twisting to avoid collisions, sometimes knocking down idiots who weren’t fast enough to dodge. And then, one of them would spot him, still stumbling down the street, weaving as he walked, turning corners at random, but always, somehow, turning away from the dead-end alley, the unlighted block, the dark vacant lot.
It was getting late, and they were getting frustrated. They had already passed up several potential smaller scores. But finally, their prey made that long-awaited wrong turn. A construction site in an office district, deserted at night. And the old man staggered to a bench and collapsed! Zeevy gave the signal, and the three rushed him. He’d lead them around like dogs on a leash long enough, and now he’d pay for it!
The old man morphed into a softly glowing ball of light, and vanished into the pavement. The three thugs were stunned — this kind of thing happened all the time, on ghost trips or in virtuality, but real life had rules!
More real life rules were immediately broken, as the ground beneath them collapsed, dropping them into a close approximation of hell!
They fell into a large room, filled with thick choking smoke, lit from below with flickering lights of strange colors. The floor of the room was covered with an incredible thicket of debris, the broken steel bones of buildings long destroyed, tangles of wires and cables, shards of marble and lumps of concrete, spears of shattered utility poles and broken glass from windows, and piles and piles of garbage, an accumulation of hundreds of years of crap in the large intestine of the city. Debris interspersed with the fires of hell itself, smoldering piles of refuse, burning pits of pitch — even open pools of lava.
Not one of them reached the floor. Trapped in a brier patch of ancient razor wire, pierced on the remains of a wrought iron fence, impaled on the jagged point of a shattered telephone pole. Hanging over the burning lava pits like pigs on spits, wrapped in poisonous acidic fumes that burned their lungs out. And, in the midst of all the pain, the midst of the agony, they discovered that some force was keeping them alive, keeping them conscious, not even allowing them to scream.
Unsure how she was sensing it through the haze of agony that was overwhelming her, Zeevy realized that at the edge of her vision, something was moving — in fact, seven somethings. seven giant shadows along one wall, rising from the floor and flowing together, than shrinking, changing shape and color, finally coalescing into… the old man! He floated toward them, and stopped where they could all see him.
“Good evening, young predators. I suppose you are wondering why I gathered you here tonight?” He waited, but got no response. He continued “My name is SeDEM, and I’m looking for some ambitious young people such as yourselves to run some errands for me. Perhaps you three would be interested?” He tilted his head as if he were listening. “Extremely limited command of invective, even for ones so young. Quite unimaginative, I must say, but heartfelt, for all of that. Still, I see that I must sweeten the pot somewhat. I can stop the pain!”
Of course, they didn’t believe him.
“Of course, you don’t believe me, but I’ll give you proof of my intention to keep the bargain.” He snapped his fingers and the pain was gone. The PAIN WAS GONE! Balt realized that the three of them were still trapped in the wreckage, and he knew his own injuries should have been instantly fatal. And, from what he could see, Zeevy’s too. It was hard to tell about W”Wa^t, though. He was some kind of alien — Balt hadn’t stayed in school long enough to learn all the different kinds, and W”Wa^t never discussed it. But W”Wa^t’s brain wasn’t in his head, so that metal spear poking out through the back of his head might not actually have been fatal to him.
“Mr. SeDEM, I’ll do whatever you want!” he shouted fervently.
W”Wa^t was also speaking, in his strange, rumbling voice. “Your man, forever, I am. The pain, start it not again!” Balt could never figure out if W”Wa^t spoke that way naturally, or if he was pulling a perpetual joke on them. He did look a little bit like Yoda.
But Zeevy was made of sterner stuff then her cowardly partners (or maybe she was just more stupid?)
“Why should I do anything for you?” she snapped. SeDEM smiled and tapped his toe on the ground. Zeevy screamed, and this time her voice was not stilled. Her partners had heard a lot of screms, but nothing like this… A few seconds later, he snapped his fingers again. “When do we start?” Zeevy asked…
Chapter 03: With three Magic Words…
“As you are so eager to begin, suppose we get started right away?” SeDEM snapped both fingers at once, and the three lifted upward and free of the various spears and shards and ragged points, and floated to a landing near their new Master. They saw but did not feel their ragged bodies being further shredded.
“Tsk, tsk, children, you must learn to take better care of yourselves” he chided. Even Zeevy had learned, by now, to ignore such jibes. He frowned at them, considering their physical condition, then sighed. “Just this one time…” he warned as he clapped his hands. All three were suddenly whole. “And never forget for a second that I control the pain.”
“Now, let’s move on to your tasks, shall we?” He floated into the air, and they followed.
“Like leashed pets!” W”Wa^t thought.
SeDEM turned to him and nodded approvingly. “Exactly right!”
They passed out of the hellish room into one that was almost exactly the opposite of the first. At least, there was no rubble, no damage, not even dust, and the air was cool, fresh, and had a crisp outdoorsy smell. At one end of the room was a large stone throne, now occupied by a large cube of stone. Nearby was an iron brassier on a tall stand.
“This room is known as the Sanctum of Shazam. Your first task is to totally destroy it.”
“Spit, man, that be easy!”
“If my preparations have been successful, it will be trivial.” SeDEM agreed. “If not, it will be impossible.”
“And probably fatal” he thought to himself. “Which is why I drafted you three fools!”
“Your crew, are we! Best wreckers ever seen, we are!” Balt had never heard W”Wa^t sound so enthusiastic — or put so many words together at one time.
“Not yet” SeDEM mused to himself. “But you will be…” Aloud, he continued, “The room outside is called the Hall of the Seven, and it is, in a way, my home. Your second task will be to restore it to the magnificence I deserve.”
He turned and pointed at Zeevy, who immediately cowered. “Don’t even think it, little witch, or you’ll be sorry. When you deal with me, remember — I always know what you are thinking.”
Zeevy’s mother was a maid. To Zeevy, even being a drug-addicted mugger was preferable to being a maid. But fear quickly buried the protest that had been forming in her mind.
“I’m sure you will enjoy your third task. I want you to devastate the world!”
“Hey, now you’re talking, old man!” She realized what she had said, and winced, but SeDEM let it pass, this time. “That what we been tryin’ to do for long, man. No luck. three losers like us, we ain’t got no chance. Hell, we even got trapped by one old man… Oops!”
“It isn’t wise to test me.” She screamed, certain her body was being torn apart again. This time, he let it go on, and on, and on… for three or four seconds, the longest centuries of her life. “This is your last chance. I have the power to extend your life indefinitely. Think of spending eternity in Hell. What I’m promising you now is much, much worse!” He snapped his fingers. Her pain stopped, and he vanished. But his voice remained, in their brains.
“Emblazoned on what each of you laughingly call your minds is a Word of Power. Speak your Word!”
Time slowed to a crawl… each of the three could see, floating in space, growing to envelope them, swelling to fill their personal universes, a single Word, burning itself into their brains. They knew that for the rest of their lives, whenever they closed their eyes, their Words would be forever visible, forever hanging in the darkness behind their lids, throbbing, calling to them…
Zeevy barely managed to croak her word. Balt almost stuttered. W”Wa^t’s thunderous bass shook the floor.
“SHABLAM!” “IBAC!” “SABBAC!”
The Words summoned seven Deadly Enemies… four Evil Men… six Horrible Demons…
An explosion of black nothingness, smelling of burning garbage enveloped Zeevy and dissolved her body. A gout of green flame rose up through the floor and seared Balt, blistering his skin. A bolt of pale blue lightning burst through the ceiling and blasted W”Wa^t into blackened cinders.
The darkness faded, making visible the form of… The green flame died, exposing… A whirlwind arose, pulling the cinders together, and solidified, revealing…
Morgoth, Minion of Dark Ibac, King of Evil Sabbac, Demon Diabolic
When the evil magic had faded, the Sanctum of Shazam was already destroyed, defiled by the Powers of Darkness that had conferred their gifts on three new Champions of Darkness — the Devastors. Never before in history had one of these Dark Words of Power been uttered in the Sanctum of Shazam — and never before would a being that dared utter such a word have lived. Now that the danger was past, SeDEM returned.
“You now have power beyond your wildest imaginings, Devastors. By the very act of your creation, you have fulfilled my first two tasks.” He waved his hand, and the four vanished, to instantly reappear in the Hall of the Seven. The rubble had been cleared, the walls rebuilt, and there were seven magnificent thrones along one wall, constructed of gold, silver and platinum, each encrusted with an ostentatious display of glittering gems and jewels. Seated in the thrones were figures of evil, each representing one of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Mankind…
Smeagol, an Avatar of Greed, Hybris, the Greek God of Pride, Albasta, Slavic Goddess of Envy, Bushyasta, the Persian Demon of Sloth, Lempo, Finnish God of Hatred and Evil, Agroana, the Celtic Goddess of Injustice and Strife, Manabozho, Algonquin God of Trickery and Icon of Selfishness
A thin streamer of mist, or something misty, at least, now connected each figure to SeDEM. He appeared to be larger than before, and his eyes were glowing. Even the newly created Devastors, with all the incredible powers now at their command, would no longer mistake him for a potential victim.
“Go now, and devastate the world!” With that, he began to lose solidity, and each of the streamers of mist thickened… and then he vanished entirely!
“OK, you bibabs! You heard the man! Go!”
Ibac looked at Sabbac. Sabbac looked at Ibac. They both turned to Morgoth. Sabbac spoke. “Sorry, Scratch! Named you leader, SeDEM did not. Take your orders, we do no longer!”
“Yeah, you boss us ’round longer enough. We on our own, now!”
“Nothing has changed! I was the leader before, and I am the leader now!”
“Ah, yes, I did overlook that tiny detail!” Each Champion of Evil saw an image of SeDEM, hanging in her/his/its mind. “In my world, the strongest rule!”
Morgoth screamed in rage and attacked her former followers! She WOULD be the leader of the Devastors! We’ve already seen the deadly results of the terrible battle that followed.
Chapter 04: Morgoth Takes Control
“I’m going to start with Capitalia. Balt…”
“Not Balt! IBAC!” A gout of sickly green flame rose up through the floor and seared Ibac. Even in his invulnerable form, he screamed in agony. When the air cleared, standing in front of them was… Balt.
“Idiot!” Morgoth shrieked at the top of her lungs. “You wasted your powers, you no good to us!” She slapped Balt with a wicked backhand slap, breaking bones in his jaw and knocking him flying over the devastated landscape. Sabbac raced after him, shouting a spell as he flew.
“Of Eternal damnation denizens Balt in web of dark and despair ensnare!” Maybe he thought the spell in his own language and the magic worked off his thoughts? Otherwise, it might have been minutes before the spirits finished translating his spell.
Two giant spiders appeared and instantly spun a black web between them. Balt was totally ensnared, and he began whimpering and sobbing. Sabbac screamed at Balt
“Fatal can be, web! Power Word, say!”
Balt could feel his life ebbing, and with it, his will to live…
“On Scratch and world revenge, must have you!”
Yes, he must. He gathered his hatred and his anger and screamed his Word with all his fading strength.
‘Ibac’ He could barely hear his own voice, but his evil patrons heard! Once again, green flame flared from beneath the ground, changing weak wounded Balt into strong enraged Ibac!
Morgoth found this very interesting. Why hadn’t SeDEM told them they could change back and forth? That might come in really handy, if Morgoth ever needed to hide. Part of her scoffed. She was now the most powerful being on Earth (except for SeDEM) — what would she ever need to hide from? Another part of her, the survivor part, responded that you can’t ever be too careful! And, she noted, the broken bones in his wrist and face seemed to be completely healed.
Morgoth flew to them. “Ibac, you finish off New York, and Sabbac, you destroy Washdist. And don’t either of you idiots say your Word again!” She flew away to the southeast. “We meet again in Boston!”
“Boston? I can’t fly!” Ibac complained.
Sabbac laughed at him. “PFH always, you want. Stop you from stealing now, eh, can who?” He vanished into the southern sky.
Ibac cheered right up, and he stomped through the rubble, headed toward Parthenon Sports. They always had the best flight harnesses. The entire crater was cordoned off by WEMA troops, while firefighters, rescue teams, and construction crews dealt with the devastation in the surrounding buildings that were still standing. Ibac deliberately headed toward a large knot of WEMA troops, an evil smile on his face. Balt had always enjoyed beating the crap out of weaklings, and Ibac was no different — except that, to Ibac, everyone else in the whole world was a weakling. Well, almost everyone!
It wasn’t a WEMA agent who fired on him first. A firefighter turned one of the ultra-high velocity hoses on Ibac, who roared with laughter and kept right on coming! The jake aimed the hose at the rubble beneath Ibac’s fee, and that worked. More quickly than a laser beam could, the water gouged out a pit, and Ibac fell into that pit. Several other jakes joined in, and within seconds, the pit was filled with a lake of mud and rubble. As punctuation, half a dozen WEMA agents aimed energy blasts into the disgusting water, which flashed into steam in virtually no time.
The mud and muck immediately baked and fused into something very like brown obsidian. Everyone stopped shooting, and after a second it became quiet, the only sounds the hissing of steam still being forced out of the hot ground. Two seconds, three seconds, twenty seconds… After about a minute, the watchers had just about decided it was safe to cheer when the hot obsidian plug shook and cracked open with an explosive BANG!
Ibac began punching hand and footholds into the wall of the deep chasm he had just created. BLAM! Reach, pull, BLAM! Reach, pull,…. Nobody knew what to do. The WEMA troops had extensive virtuality combat training, but they weren’t quite sure how to handle a foe who got back up after taking their best shots. When a virtuality foe went down, the battle was over. And the other emergency teams had never been trained for combat situations.
Fortunately, there was still someone in the world who knew how to act against super villains! A tall, trim, man with an athlete’s build and very wide shoulders sought out the WEMA commander and showed her his ID. The commander was stunned — never in her life had she expected to see that particular ID!
He gave her some quick orders. While he wasn’t officially in her chain of command, his ID outranked any WEMA field operative, with one possible exception. She assumed that this person, and that other, had long since worked out the protocol to be followed if the two of them met… As the commander ordered her troops to hasten the evacuation of all civilians remaining within a 5-mile radius, the stranger passed through the cordon. Once inside, he doffed his coat, revealing a red, white and blue costume that hadn’t been seen in hundreds of years. In a live news report broadcast from the disaster area, Jack had recognized Ibac, and it seemed somehow appropriate to confront him as…
Chapter 05: Minute Man and IBAC Meet Again (For the First Time)
“Hey! I remember you! Aren’t you Imoose in the Morning? You know, even back before they shipped you to Cleveland, you weren’t a prize, but you look really awful — sorta like you been dead for 500 years! And, I don’t mean to be rude but… you smell even worse than you look!”
Ibac was furious. He stepped forward and delivered a haymaker that would easily have flattened even Morgoth. Jack ducked, sidestepped, and was quickly behind his opponent. He charged, hitting the much larger Ibac like a pulling guard, and the impact was just enough to knock Ibac off-balance. He staggered around for a couple of instants, then missed his footing and toppled over, falling back into the obsidian chasm from which he had just climbed.
“Fall has always been my favorite season, don’t you agree?” Minute Man quipped. A detached part of him flinched at the horrid pun. “Does this inane banter come with the costume?” he asked himself. “Or maybe it’s just because it feels so good to be back in action…”
Instead of climbing out of the chasm again, Ibac slammed both fists at the wall, over his head. The obsidian shattered, dropping Minute Man onto an unstable pile of razor-sharp shards of obsidian glass, which would quickly cut him to ribbons. Except for his lightning-quick reactions and his own Personal Flying Harness.
Jack had never been big on weapons or gadgets, preferring the benefits of skill, training and dedication. Still, over the centuries he had tried them all, and adopted a handful that suited him. One of the abilities he had always lacked and missed the most was flight, so ever since the PFH had become practical and reliable, he had made a habit of always owning the best PFH on the market.
“Sorry to cut out on you, Mr. Imoose, but it’s a new union suit, and the tailor bills were outrageous!”
Ibac took the fastest way out of the glass pile. He flexed his powerful legs and jumped.
Long ago, well before even Jack’s time, a brilliant man had formulated a human-language statement of a natural law. “For every action, the is an equal and opposite reaction.” In reaction to Ibac’s prodigious leap, a shock wave spread through the debris field, reducing much of the rubble and all of the obsidian shards to powder.
Ibac had been as surprised as any of the observers at how powerful his leap actually was. He shot into the air like a ballistic missile, heading west at high velocity. Ibac reminded Jack a lot of an ancient monster movie. If he had been all green, rather than just having green hair, he would have been a dead ringer for that long-dead monster, what was his name? “Green Goliath” or something like that…
Jack took off and had to hustle to catch up to the hurtling Ibac. “Hey, I-full! I didn’t know you could fly. Where we headed?”
“Not sure how you know me, flea, but I grab you, even rats not be eatin what’s left!” He tried to lunge at Jack, but the laws of physics defeated him.
The collision alarm in Jack’s high end PFW fed him a warning. “Say, I-land, if I were you, I’d be thinking about a course change right about now. Or maybe not — you can survive a ground-to-air missile strike, can’t you? How about 4? Don’t look now, but you’re about to find out!” Jack broke down and away, picking up speed. His PFH broadcast a code that convinced missiles to leave him alone, but he wanted to be well clear of the blast. And he thought it might be a good idea to be close to the ground, in case there were any civilians endangered by falling debris.
“I wonder who authorized a g2a missile strike? WEMA should be more careful, there could have been other fliers around.” Jack made a mental note to talk to WEMA second in command, Mr. Atom, about that. Meanwhile, he hoped the explosions would weaken Ibac!
The four missiles struck, virtually simultaneously, almost head-on. After the flames cleared, Jack could see that Ibac was relatively unscathed, but apparently unconscious, plummeting earthward. He raced earthward himself, and made sure that the landing area was clear of people. They had been flying awfully fast, and were already over the mountains in central Pennsylvania, and the upcoming crash site looked safe.
Ibac hit chest first, and the force of impact blasted a hole about the size of an inflatable kid’s wading pool. Jack hovered behind a nearby outcropping of stone until the debris stopped crashing down, and then he landed and cautiously approached.
He was trying to figure out some way to immobilize the unconscious Ibac, but he wasn’t going to end this fight that easily. Ibac was already conscious, though he appeared somewhat dazed. He rolled over and sat up with a moan.
“You know what they say, I-tunes! Any landing you can walk away from is a good one! Of course, I never believed that — your landing looked pretty poor to me!”
Ibac looked around to get his bearings, and he realized “Hey! We ain’t in New York no more!”
“Brilliant, IQ! A couple more years, and you’ll be ready for your High School Equivalency Test!”
Ibac drove his hands into the exposed stone in the bottom of his personal crater. He pulled out two handfuls of granite, and hurled them at Minute Man. Jack dodged and evaded both fastballs, but it was close! He could hear the two impromptu cannonballs crashing through the woods behind him.
“Hey, nice fastballs. Betcha some major league team would love having an ambidextrous pitcher. But, can you field?” Jack was circling Ibac as he spoke, and the man-monster turned slowly with him.
“You good at weavin’ and dodgin’, loudmouth. But you any good at fightin? Fight me or go away!”
Faster than the monster could react, Jack skipped forward and landed a one-two on Ibac’s jaw, then slipped out of range. Ibac stumbled backward and welts appeared on both his cheeks, but he was unharmed and further enraged.
“Thought the Thundergloves would work better than that… This guy is tough!” Jack thought. “Well, I haven’t had a real workout in years!”
(In his long history, Jack had often changed his costumed identity to conceal his extended lifespan. Back in the 22nd century, in one of his gadget-happy periods, he had created the identity and weapons of ‘Thunderfist’. As T-Fist, he had worn ‘Thundergloves’ — half gloves that he had designed as the 22nd century equivalent of brass knuckles.
The front face of each fist (over the metatarsal bones) was armored with plates of collapsed uranium encased in a radiation-proof ceramic. In addition, each punch released a stunning electrical charge. Thunderfist could shatter a granite statue with only a few punches, and he had once knocked down a 40-foot tall Venusaurous Rex with a single blow to the head.)
“Hope that ain’t yo best shot, flea. My turn now!” Ibac punched the trunk of a big tree, snapping it like a cheap wooden chopstick, then picked it up and swung it at Jack. The goon moved so quickly Jack was unable to escape the crown of the tree, which knocked him down and then swept him along the ground for at least forty feet. His costume, of a 25th century material much stronger and more durable than Kevlar, protected him somewhat, and he managed to avoid the tree trunk. When the giant broom rolled him onto his back, he reached up, grabbed some branches and pulled himself off the ground and into the crown of the tree.
Not realizing that Jack was now inside the crown of the tree rather than being raked over the ground, Ibac threw it away from him, then searched for his foe to continue his planned thrashing. Jack endured the bumpy ride, protected fairly well by the springy branches around him. When the tree stopped rolling, he worked his way loose and launched himself toward Ibac at the highest acceleration his PFH could generate.
“Hey, I-Dud! Think fast!” Ibac turned toward him just in time for a two-fisted rocket to hit him in the head, and once again he tumbled and fell.
“I’m real sick, you! You dis me; now I kill you!” Ibac sat up and clapped his hands, producing an incredible explosion! Minute Man was knocked off balance, and his flight changed to an uncontrolled tumble, and then he slammed into a tree. Another tree crashed down next to him and a large branch smashed across his ankle, pinning him to the ground and likely breaking the ankle. His chances of beating this brute in face to face battle had just gone from slim to none. But Ibac was almost mad with rage by now. While that made him even more dangerous, Jack was hoping that it also left him more vulnerable.
Ibac was back on his feet, throwing fallen trees out of his way to get at his foe. He grabbed Jack by the front of his costume and yanked him upright. Jack didn’t even bother to try to suppress a scream of pain. He was definitely going to need medical treatment on that ankle.
While he was screaming, he launched a new attack, kicking Ibac in the jaw with his other foot. Ibac was more surprised than hurt, and he dropped Jack, who immediately activated his PFH, and. fell hard to the ground, banging his injured ankle again and screaming again. Ibac’s manhandling had wrecked the PFH, depriving Jack of one of his greatest advantages in this fight.
Ibac kicked at Jack’s stomach and Jack couldn’t avoid the blow. He tried to ride with it, folding his body around Ibac’s foot, and then rolling up into a ball so he would fly as far away as possible. He bounced over the edge of a cliff, and when he unrolled he saw that he was falling toward a wide quickly flowing river.
Chapter 06: Vacation in the Pennsylvania Mountains
“Probably the Monongahela” he thought as he fell. “Hope it’s pretty deep enough, here!” He managed to enter the water in a headfirst dive, and he was down about twenty feet before he managed to halt his dive. He clicked on a powerful searchlight built into one of the Thundergloves, and looked around. He couldn’t see more than six or seven feet, even with the light, so he had no idea how close to the bottom he had come — and he never wanted to know!
His PFH’s high altitude breathing mask was emergency rated for eight to ten minutes of air when underwater. He couldn’t spend that much time down here, though — he had to keep Ibac occupied and away from civilians. He was relieved to hear a tremendous splash, not far away. That had to be his foe. Jack quickly extinguished his searchlight.
He was almost out of gadgets, but one that he hadn’t used yet was now invaluable. He quickly manipulated some controls on a PDA keyboard on the inside of his left wrist. Compressed air was released into artery-like tubes in the material of his costume around his ankle, and these tubes expanded, immobilizing the broken bones.
“My goodness, that HURTS!”
This time he didn’t scream — he didn’t want Ibac to hear him. But he did use words that can’t be repeated here! After all, Jack’s All American Hero image must be maintained.
He touched another control, applying a magnetic field to the ankle area of the costume, and it stiffened. The result wasn’t quite a walking cast, but if he could ignore the pain, Jack would be able to move around pretty well for a while. He realized he was in shock right now, but that was good — when the shock wore off he was going to be in even more pain, and probably non-functional. Better finish this up fast!
As bulky as he was, Ibac could probably swim faster than Jack, especially with a broken ankle. And the water would hamper Jack’s agility. Best finish this up on shore. He headed to the surface. On the other side of the river was a small rocky beach, backed up by a cliff. Not ideal for the upcoming battle -but what was the ideal battlefield, with a broken ankle and Ibac the opponent? The battlefield was not going to decide this fight anyway. He reached shore and scrambled up onto the beach, and started talking to himself.
“Relax, Jack, it’s only a fight!” he told himself. “Hey, if that isn’t an oxymoron, I’ve never heard one!”
He chuckled out loud, in spite of his pain. It had been years since he had been in a real fight, and he had been forcing things. His body knew how to fight, if his worried mind would leave it alone. He even knew how to compensate for injuries, after all…
“Shazam knows I’ve had enough time to practice over the last 450 years!”
He took several deep breaths, and then ran through a mental relaxation technique he’d learned ages ago, visualizing in his mind each of the colors of the rainbow, relaxing specific areas of his mind and body with each color. It only took a few seconds, and then he was ready.
He saw Ibac surface further downstream.
“Thar she blows!” he yelled, but the villain couldn’t hear him. He started chucking rocks. The first one hit the monster in the back of the head, and he turned around. The second rock, much larger than the first, smashed right into his forehead! This would have knocked out or killed a normal person, but then, Jack would not have thrown rocks at a normal person.
Ibac roared his anger, and began swimming toward the riverbank. He didn’t have much style, but he could haul butt through the water! His pinwheeling arms and thrashing legs raised a trail of spume behind him, and he reached the shore downstream from Jack in only seconds. He ran up the beach, and threw a few large rocks of his own. Jack was able to dodge these, barely.
“N’yah N’yah, missed me again, I-dud! That all you got?” Ibac leaped, this time under partial control, and Jack collapsed to the sand as the living missile zoomed through the air directly above him. The wind of Ibac’s passing rolled him across the beach.
“Are there any of those darned stones I missed?” Jack thought to himself, as a struggled to his feet — and broke out laughing! Ibac had slammed head first into the cliff and penetrated to his stomach, and he was now trapped with his arms pinned but his legs still sticking out. He would probably manage to break free in only a few minutes, but Jack planned to take good advantage of his predicament.
He pulled up some cattails from the edge of the water, and. began tickling Ibac’s feet! Ibac kicked and roared and strained, and Jack turned and ran as fast as he could, then dived into the water. The cliff literally exploded as the enraged Ibac finally managed to flex his arms, sending rocky shards hurtling through the deep valley. Jack would have been shredded, but, by the time he surfaced, the deadly hail was over. He was quickly back on the beach, and Ibac was stomping toward him. Jack knew the next few seconds could very well be the end of Minute Man!
He assumed a boxing stance, hands up, and yelled at his opponent. “This ends now, I-beam! I’m pretty sure we can make Oddball tonight!”
His pitched his voice to sound just like one of the most popular video newsies
“And today’s number one Oddball story: “Crippled World War II super hero Minute Man defeats second-rate Frankenstein known as Ibad!”
Ibac screamed and rushed him. Jack managed to slow him down with a couple of Thunderpunches, but Ibac finally got in a solid blow, which lifted Minute Man off his feet and slammed him back against the wall. Ibac lifted a gigantic boulder over his head, and as he prepared to bury Jack under tons of granite, he got in a few sneers of his own.
“No more dissin me now, rat food. Hear what Keth really goin say tonight: “Ibac ru…” He broke off his rant and screamed in horror as a gout of sickly green flame grew from beneath the ground and consumed him, and then he stopped screaming as a giant boulder started to fall on him.
This wasn’t quite what Jack had originally had in mind. He moved as fast as he could — he had rolled with Ibac’s punch, and been able to avoid most of the damage it could have caused. He flashed forward and tackled Balt around the chest, driving him backward and out from under the heavy stone. The impact of the tackle knocked Balt unconscious.
Jack pulled some restraints from inside his belt. They were made of the same material as his costume, and once he had wrapped Balt’s hands and legs, and more than a few had been strapped around his head and mouth, he flipped on a magnetic field and the bonds became as solid as steel.
He managed to signal a rescue crew on his PDA Phone, and then he collapsed to the sand.
Chapter 07: It’s Dangerous Being a Looky-Loo (Even in 2497)
Sabbac arrived to find the megalopolis of Washdist completely covered by a giant energy shield. These shields had been unused since the last nuclear war, and most civilians, W”Wa^t included, were unaware of their existence. New York’s shield hadn’t been deployed earlier because it would have trapped the Devastors inside, but it had snapped on as soon as Ibac left the city limits!
Sabbac attacked the shield, but it resisted his mightiest efforts. He was frustrated and angry, and in big trouble with Scratch, even though it wasn’t his fault. Maybe he could satisfy her be wrecking someplace without a dome.
“On forever cannot go this dome” he screamed. “Victims elsewhere find will I!”
He flew further south, gathering a following of fliers inside the transparent dome. His fury grew to rage, and he suddenly had a fascinating idea. Although he couldn’t actually break through the dome, might his magic create affects inside the dome? Such as turning oxygen into chlorine? There was a lot of chlorine in the atmosphere of his homeworld, but humans were surprisingly vulnerable to this gas. It was worth trying, to punish these gawking idiots.
“Surrounding gaggling humans air oxygen in chlorine become!”
The effect was immediate and gratifying, although the area affected was limited. The air around a half dozen members of his escort suddenly showed a misty green tint, and the surrounded humans started screaming in pain.
“Makes it worse screaming does. To gas is more exposed. Idiots human!”
He laughed as the affected humans fell from the sky and the rest scattered. He stopped to watch, so he could enjoy the deaths of those falling. It wasn’t going to happen, though, as the shield instantly became opaque.
A second later, he was hit with a tactical nuclear warhead. His screams of pain were as silence compared to the noise of the explosion, but when the small nuclear fireball subsided, Sabbac had survived! Yet he knew he couldn’t survive many more of those — and as long as there was no danger to humans, they would keep shooting nuclear-tipped missiles at him. Now that he knew what to look for he could see two more closing on him right now!
“Toys pathetic of devils destruction these destroy! Me surround fire with invisible!”
The incoming missiles exploded at a safe distance. Sabbac began flying southward again, skimming the dome. For a while, a swarm of missiles followed him, and an orbital observer would have seen a moving nuclear explosion, ‘walking’ across the face of the dome. An awesome display of firepower, yes, but ultimately ineffective.
Finally, the useless missile attacks were ended. Flying robots equipped with radiation scrubbing tools were immediately sent to clean up the effects of the explosions — but it would take three days of clean-up before it was safe to open the dome again. WEMA considered it a successful exchange — the nukes had prevented Sabbac from killing more people through the dome. The second-guessers disagreed, as second-guessers always do, and there would be political wrangling over this event for years to come.
Emergency evacuation plans were put into effect in the unshielded areas around Washdist. One individual ignored the evacuation orders. In fact, he hurried directly into the demon’s path. When Sabbac flew over unshielded land again, he was greeted by a barrage of very small missiles. Though these missiles exploded harmlessly in Sabbac’s shield of fire, they did get his attention. They could very well lead to his first confirmed kill of the day…
Standing on the ground below was a human — a rather large human, but still over a foot shorter than Sabbac. The human was dressed in partial body armor, silver and brown, and carried… a spear? No, a giant fork!
“YO HO!” Sabbac roared in laughter, his bass voice so low and powerful that his opponent felt it resonating in his chest. “Fun some have I!”
As he landed, he canceled his fire shield. He needed to destroy something by hand, and this foolish human was just the ticket! He wasn’t even aware of the hissing sound he made as he approached — an ancient hunting instinct, a sound that had paralyzed the prey of W”Wa^t’s remote ancestors. Scratch had years ago beat that instinct into submission, but even Morgoth would never deny him again.
The human, who called himself Gladiator, was somewhat intimidated. He had never been in a life-and-death battle before. But he often faced, and bested, larger opponents who were better armed and armored than he. That was the fate of a Retiarius, after all. And he had weapons today that were far more powerful than anything that he was allowed to use in Society of Historical Reenactment tournaments.
There was a glowing coil of something hanging from his belt. He grabbed this, and shook it, and it opened out into a small glowing net. He took a defensive posture -leading with the armored left shoulder, trident in the right hand, extended in front of him, to keep his enemy at a distance, and the net in the left, ready to defend or attack. The classic stance of the Retiarius. Of course, he doubted if any Retiarius had ever faced a foe such as this.
Sabbac spit green flames at Gladiator. The net flashed through the air in front of the human, sweeping the flames away, disintegrating as it did so. Gladiator was forced to dive to one side to avoid the remaining green fire. As he rolled quickly to his feet, he launched an attack of his own. The three tips of the Trident each shot a stream of small darts, which exploded like small firecrackers when they hit Sabbac. The explosions released small electrical charges. Against a normal human, a single dart would sting and a half dozen would stun. A sustained barrage such as this would probably kill. Sabbac was a little distracted by the constant explosions, but they had no other effect.
The dart clip ran out, and Gladiator didn’t have time to reload. When he had reloaded earlier, after emptying the first clip at the flying monster, he had realized he had a design problem to deal with, and not being able to reload quickly in the heat of battle confirmed his fear. If he lived, he would redesign the trident so that he could load new dart clips much more quickly.
Gladiator came out of his roll moving fast, and he continued circling, forcing Sabbac to turn to keep facing him. Without warning, he jumped toward Sabbac, stabbing with the trident in his right hand while his left swept down to his belt, grabbed the glowing net hanging there, shook it out and cast it over his opponent. His speed and precision were incredible. This was the very move that won him so many SHR tournaments with the less exotic weapons SHR allowed, even against opponents who had studied his earlier fights. Until they had actually faced him, nobody could quite believe how fast he was.
But his speed was that of an exceptionally gifted and skilled human athlete. Sabbac slapped the head of the trident aside with his left hand, and used his right arm to sweep the net aside. The net wrapped around his arm and then discharged a bolt of energy. That hurt! Sabbac’s arm became numb, and fell limply to his side. Sabbac hissed again.
“So, have tricks feeble you! Have tricks better, I!” Sabbac leaped into the air, and cast a spell.
“Fires of arise deep earth! Human lava in sink!” The ground for about fifty yards around Gladiator turned to molten lava. He was buffeted by incredible heat. Two more design flaws — much of his skin was left exposed by his costume, which replicated the armor allowed to a Retiarius, and he hadn’t built in a Personal Flying Harness. Funny, he had thought his entire life would flash before his eyes, not just his most recent mistakes!
A giant glowing pale blue hand wrapped around him and lifted him to safety.
“What? This isn’t virtuality, this is real life! I must be dead already.” As he was carried toward solid earth, he saw a giant blue mallet descend on Sabbac’s head, driving the demon downward into his own lava trap! Sabbac vanished beneath the fiery surface with an anticlimactic ‘glurp’. Gladiator shuddered — it was an awful way to go, but it is what the villain had planned for him. He turned to locate his savior.
Chapter 08: The Cavalry to the Rescue
There was a glowing blue thread connecting the mallet and the giant hand to the right hand of a figure hovering over the scene. A very attractive bluenette in an equally attractive blue and skin costume hovered overhead. Gladiator heard a very low-pitched rumbling quickly getting louder.
“Look out!” he yelled. It was all he had time to say, before the lava pool erupted, blasting into the sky.
The hand that was still gripping him changed into a pale blue sphere, and the exploding lava threw it high into the sky. He could see goblets of lava spraying around him, but the globe protected. He hoped this meant that the lady in blue was able to protect herself as well. He took advantage of the break in combat to change the ammunition clip on his trident. He loaded his most potent darts, each of which contained a few atoms of anti-hydrogen contained in a magnetic field. He had never really expected to need these particular darts!
The globe set him free after the eruption had subsided. A large blue WEMA truck suddenly landed nearby, and it was pumping some kind of foam onto the lava. Where it touched, the lava turned to stone. A heat exchange laser was firing into the sky, dissipating the heat the foam absorbed. Gladiator hoped there was nobody in the path of that beam for millions of miles! As far as he knew, WEMA didn’t actually have that kind of technology. The lady in blue seemed to be able to imagine things and make them happen, but she needed a template of some kind to model her imagination after.
Sabbac was furious, and he turned his attention to the heroine. He raised his hands and blasted her with flares of green magical energy. She responded by creating a large shield, and the green energy spattered harmlessly off her shield.
“Not bad on short notice…” Gladiator thought critically. Although a Retiarius didn’t use a shield, he often fought opponents that did so he was something of an expert on them. “Wonder if she knows that she just created a rectangular Roman Scutem?”
He fired a single anti-matter dart into Sabbac’s back. The explosion was only a little more intense than the tactical nuke Sabbac had survived before, and he turned in rage toward Gladiator.
“Fish gut you like flea!” he roared and charged. Suddenly he was wearing a blue harness, which was connected via a blue chain to a very large blue boat anchor, which was half buried. When Sabbac reached the end of the slack in the chain, it jerked him to a stop — a jerk that would have killed anything human. A blue globe appeared around his head, and he pounded at it with his fists, trying to shatter it. He blasted high into the air, and once again the chain jerked him to a stop, and he fell back to Earth. He landed on a giant leg-grip bear trap, which sprung shut when he hit, the sharp jaws closing on his neck.
Still, his invulnerability was proof against the blue blades. He forced his hands between the edges of the jaws and strained to push them apart, and they shattered! The feedback of her energy creations being shattered blasted the flying blue belle and all her energy creations disappeared. The demon turned once again toward Gladiator, but he was already in motion!
Instants before, he had grabbed a new net from his belt, and tossed it in a high arc. Another net re-formed at his belt, and he threw this one faster and with less arc, so that both would reach the demon at the same time. He also fired several darts from the trident, and then, at just the right instant, he fired a Force Blast from his left Gauntlet. Sabbac, who had just broken loose from the bear traps, tried to evade all the different attacks, but it was too late.
Gladiator’s long hours of training with his weapons paid off — again! He wasn’t the Society for Historical Reenactment’s Open Division champion by chance! Two energy nets discharged into Sabbac’s head and torso, simultaneously with impacts to his legs from several small antimatter blasts and the Force Blast from the Gauntlet, which was like being hit by a cannonball directly in the stomach.
Sabbac was battered and stunned, and his body twisted in several directions at once, tearing his almost invulnerable skin in several places. One foot was blasted away at the ankle while the other leg was shredded from the knee down.
Sabbac remained conscious throughout this. His species was more resistant to injuries than humans, and they had the power to regenerate their bodies and recover from just about anything. But he had recently observed a faster way!
“Sabbac!” A pale blue lightning bolt seemed to come from nowhere, striking him and blowing his invulnerable body to smithereens! Followed by a whirlwind, which gathered up the smithereens and magically reassembled them into W”Wa^t. Bare instants later, W”Wa^t was struck by yet another pale blue bolt of energy. This one did not blast him into smithereens, but it did knock him into unconsciousness before he could repeat his magic word yet again.
Gladiator, who was sickened by the damage he had done to the monster’s legs, was relieved to see that the alien’s body was whole and undamaged. He pulled an energy net from his belt, stretched it long and thin, and used it to bind their captive.
The lady in blue landed next to him and watched appraisingly as he tied up their foe. “Not bad! I really enjoy men who run around half naked! ‘Course, you have to wonder about the symbolism of carrying a spear around. Still, you and the spear probably saved my life. Thanks!” She held out her hand. “My name’s Bobbi.”
Gladiator shook her hand. “When I’ve got this outfit on, I call myself Gladiator.”
“Hmm…” she mused. “What do you call yourself when you don’t have that outfit on?”
“Call me Conrad. Don’t you have a super hero code name?” he ignored the leading question.
“I surely hope you mean super heroine, sugar! But no, I don’t. Until a few minutes ago, I never ever expected to be a super heroine — or even the non-super kind, either. Why? You got somethin’ in mind?”
As the two bantered, winding down from the fight, they failed to notice the horrible change happening to W”Wa^t. Blue sparks leaped over his body, seemingly devouring it, a little bit vanishing each time a spark landed. Within seconds, the body was gone and the sparks dived into the ground and vanished. When Gladiator and Bobbi turned back, there was nothing left of the alien and nothing but a charred outline to show that he had ever fallen in that spot.
Chapter 09: Preparing for Battle
As she had flashed southeast over Long Island on her way toward Capitalia, Morgoth had seen several anti-missile shields being raised over towns in her flight path. If they realized where she was headed, by the time she got to Capitalia it, too, would be covered by an impenetrable shield. Well, several of the evil avatars she got her powers from were tricksters, and she should be able to think of something.
She altered course northward, and dived on Block Island. The large southern portion of the island was already covered in a shield, but the lightly populated northern area was not. She saw a group of houses right on the water, which would do just fine for what she wanted.
“Must been some rich muthas living here!” she laughed to herself as she trashed several mansions, some guest cottages and a very large boathouse. It was fun, but she wanted to do the same to the capital city of the world, not some puny out-of-the-way island.
She gathered what she would need. As Zeevy she wouldn’t have been able to figure out what to do, but as Lady Scratch, she could call on the evil genius of Bushyasta. She stuffed a wet suit with junk and home-made napalm to make a dummy, then used her strength to bend some masts and spars into the shapes she wanted. Sail canvas wrapped around some triangular frames made wings which she strapped to the back of the dummy.
She wrapped the dummy with a Personal Flying Harness and spent a few minutes programming the autopilot. She spent a few minutes more rigging up some remote controlled weapons she could control from a stolen PDA, and then she launched the dummy. It flew away to the northeast. Morgoth then called upon the power of invisibility granted her by Smeagle, and she headed southeast.
The video camera of the PDA in the dummy’s head was broadcasting to her own, and suddenly the view changed dramatically. The radar in the PFH had detected incoming missiles, and her dummy was taking evasive action. She waited until it looped up and around and she was able to see one of the missiles, then launched a weapon of her own.
A signal from her PDA triggered a diver’s spear gun to fire. This pulled plugs from the necks of several compressed CO2 cartridges which were attached to the spear shaft, and it leaped ahead on rocket propulsion. It hit the incoming missile and its ‘warhead’ of homemade napalm ignited — splash one g2a missile! The explosion caused a couple of other incoming missiles to explode, and all the makeshift explosives she had packed in the dummy exploded also. She hoped that whoever had launched the missiles had been monitoring the encounter, and now they would think she was dead.
“Anything BUT dead!” she gloated. She continued her invisible flight toward Capitalia
When WEMA radar captured Morgoth changing directions, everyone on Capital Island had relaxed a little. It had seemed unlikely that the monster had been heading their way, but now they could shift their attention to making sure Boston and the East Coast of Normerica was safe. And a long way away, too. When reports came in that the demon had been blown out of the sky, and Ibac and Sabbac captured as well, it was back to business and pleasure as usual. For everyone except Mr. Atom. The ancient super powered robot was second in command of WEMA and leader of WEMA’s elite Emergency Rescue Team ER-1, but even his boss, K. Orville Blunderbluster, laughed at him when he suggested a possible deception by Morgoth.
“Time to get that computer overhauled again, Mr. A! You’re getting paranoid. Maybe you’re running out of positrons!” Blunderbluster laughed at his own joke.
“You know that positronic brains don’t use positrons, any more than the hamburger in your head is made of ham,” Atom replied patiently. “And positronic brains are far more stable and and much less liable to paranoia than the old fashioned human model…”
“It was that good old ‘human model’ that captured the other two, and blew the third one away. Damn aliens!” K. Orville stated, loudly.
Not for the first time in his long existence, Mr. Atom realized just how… inefficient it was to work for a political appointee. “They are not aliens, they are creatures of magic.”
“Ha! There’s no such thing as magic. How can you, a robot, believe in magic?” the short, rotund Blunderbluster snorted in reply.
“I have witnessed magic with my own senses.” It was a good thing, he thought, that robots don’t have tempers!
“You witnessed what you THOUGHT was magic. Big difference. Remember Clarke’s Law ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Maybe you just couldn’t distinguish?” WEMA’s chief bureaucrat objected.
“As a product of technology, I have a certain inherent sense of the difference, and the difference is distinguishable….”
“Well, you were fooled! There certainly isn’t any magic now! Where’s the magic? Show me the magic!” Blunderbluster crowed.
“I admit…” said the robot reluctantly “…that there no longer appears to be magic in Earth’s Solar System, but there used to be.”
“Well, Mr. Positron, I don’t believe it. And, I’m the boss and I am ordering WEMA to stand down.”
Fortunately, Mr. Atom had considerable autonomy of action as the head of ER-1. One of his jobs was to ensure the safety of Capitalia, regardless of the skepticism around him. Mr. Atom gathered some WEMA gear and headed for the corner of the WEMA R&D lab that was set aside for his own use. He set to work with his usual robotic speed and precision.
“Analysis: Probability of destruction of designated target in the recorded explosion: less than 2%. Correlation: probability greater than 98% that target is currently undetectable to electromagnetic sensors. Conclusion: other types of sensors required. Possible solutions: sound, ultrasound, magic.”
“Continued analysis: Noise from on-board rocket engines will degrade the efficiency of sonic and ultrasonic detection devices by over 95%. Solution: use a silent means of flying, such as a Personal Flying Harness. Continued Analysis: A normal PFH is inadequate to lift my weight. Solution: Link two PFHs to a single controller.”
“Analysis: guided missiles which depend on electromagnetic sensors will be ineffective against target. Continued Analysis: ultrasonar guidance systems for atmospheric use not easily available. Solution: modify underwater sonar from WEMA diving gear.”
“Next step: modify missiles from arsenal to use ultrasonar. Analysis: latency delay for ultrasonar is far longer than latency delay for radar. Solution: missile on-board guidance computers must be modified to accommodate greater latency. Related information: guidance computers are tiny and not designed to be modified or reprogrammed. Caution: reliability of modified computers calculated at approximately 61.3%. Risk unacceptable. Solution: probability of simultaneous failure of four modified units falls to under 15%. Acceptable risk.”
This took a little longer. Wait for it, wait for it… Done.
“Analysis: Probability that warhead loads in current arsenal will be effective against target: Less than 3%. Solution: modify warhead loads.”
“Analysis: sound and ultrasonic tracking systems inadequate for long range detection of target. Solution: re-install obsolete magical sensor.”
Mr. Atom didn’t understand magic, but long ago, he and, Jim Barr and the old Wizard had built a magic detector. It had stopped detecting magic anywhere in the solar system about forty years ago — though it still worked at the Rock of Eternity. The Wizard theorized that the growing dominance of technology on and around Earth had caused an equivalent decline in magic. Whatever the reason for the decline of magic, if the monster was a being of magic and it was approaching Capitalia, this device should detect it.
“Action: Lock and load. Advance to designated attack coordinates.”
Done, and done.
Chapter 10: The Perpetual Conflict, Science and Magic
Even at supersonic speeds, Long Island was several hours away from Capital Island. Hidden in the clouds, Mr. Atom waited as patiently as only a robot could. Finally, his magic detector indicated a powerful magic source, hundreds of miles away and closing fast. The magic detector couldn’t precisely pinpoint the monster’s position, so, when he was sure the demon was nearby, he cranked up the gain in his hearing. Now he could hear every little rustle of breeze.
And, just as he had hoped, the sound of giant wings approaching soon became audible. His hearing was not as accurate as short-range radar, but with the modified missiles he was carrying, it would be good enough… He fired four missiles, and then two more. The first four carried ultrasonar, the next two were aimed by instinct… not really:
“Lessons learned through long experience, which will have to substitute for instinct…” he thought, and he would have grinned, had he any muscles in his face to grin with.
He was gratified when the first guided missile hit. Especially since, in defiance of the laws of probability, the guidance computers on the other three all failed, and they fell harmlessly into the sea. The demon attempted to dodge just as Mr. Atom had anticipated, instead moving directly into the path of the first free flying missile. The explosions of those two warheads set off the warhead of the other free flying missile as well, also as planned, and the monster was blasted by glowing pink paint! As well, this paint was magnetic.
Morgoth screamed and climbed to the attack. Mr. Atom smoothly slipped aside, and she flew right by. He was much more maneuverable in the air than she. Once again, Mr. Atom wished he had the facial muscles to smile. It had been a long time since he had fought an opponent less agile than he.
Morgoth braked to a stop and that’s when Mr. Atom attacked. He fired his on-board rockets and blasted upward into the demon’s exposed stomach. He used his arm weapons as auxiliary rockets for extra power. She was totally unprepared as his head smashed into her midsection. He wrapped his mighty arms around her legs and rolled backward into a power dive. He resisted her powerful blows to his back, and then they slammed into the side of a mountain at close to escape velocity.
With much less effect than Mr. Atom had hoped. Morgoth seemed to be shaken, but by no means out of the fight. A scant second later, her body began to dissolve into mist, and she flowed around him to freedom.
He had been expecting this action, having seen it in the video records of the demons fighting in New York. He cranked up the magnetic field generator in his right forearm, and it blasted the magnetized paint-coated fragments of her body even further apart.
This fight would have been over right then except that his magnetizer, damaged by the smash landing, chose that exact moment to fail.
“Initiate Diagnostic. Routing signals around damaged circuits, cross-circuiting to A. Ineffective, cross-circuiting to B. Repairs completed, total time off line under three hundred million nanoseconds. Attack resumed.”
Still, it was too late. Morgoth instantly pulled her body together again, and the renewed attack was unsuccessful. It wasn’t a total failure — the fluorescent paint was now spread throughout her body, which would thwart further attempts to turn invisible. And she wouldn’t try that dispersed body trick again either.
Morgoth launched herself at Mr. Atom, battering him with her fists, her wings, kicking him, even head butting. With computer speed, he blocked each blow, but even as fast as he was, there was no time to launch an attack of his own. Incredibly, she was driving him backward. He had withstood the best Captain Marvel had to offer, but he had never before faced an attack like this.
Morgoth battered aside his defenses and managed to step closer, and then grab him in a bear hug.
“Warning! Opponent’s strength enhanced by apparent berserkergang rage! Critical Systems failure in 4,483 million nanoseconds.”
Mr. Atom could not experience the gangr himself, but he had experience with it over the years. For the duration of the gangr fugue, Morgoth’s already incredible strength would be enhanced, enough to destroy him, and she would ignore virtually every injury — whatever that meant to an opponent who was already invulnerable…
Action: ‘Desperation Contingency initiated. Discharge in three million nanoseconds.” Too fast for humans to follow, the countdown continued toward 0.
In a flash, every power storage device (batteries, capacitors, inductors, etc), every auxiliary power source (fuel cells, solar cells,…) and Mr. Atom’s main reactor discharged through Mr. Atom’s invulnerable metal skin and blasted the enraged demon. Enough energy to power every city on earth, with as much more to spare, poured from the robot into the monster, and it achieved the desired effect. Morgoth was blasted clear and away, flying several miles through the air toward Centroid Lake, while Mr. Atom was blasted backward, out over the ocean.
Paige Madison had only been with WEMA for eighteen months, yet she had recently requested a leave of absence to consider resigning. Her supervisor had offered her the use of a WEMA-owned guest cottage on Centroid Lake until she could make up her mind. Centroid Lake was one of the most popular vacation sites on Earth, so she had accepted. The cottage was lavishly equipped, and Paige had been enjoying her vacation, but she still hadn’t made up her mind.
Paige and Harlan Keller, who was currently renting the vacation cabin next to hers, had been doing some fishing from Paige’s boat. Well, actually the boat belonged to WEMA, and it went along with the cabin.
They were headed back to shore, with Harlan doing the driving. Harlan had never been in a boat before, and Paige was a little bit concerned about his piloting — but she was tired of getting hit on, and this was a way to keep him occupied and maybe save him from getting his rear end kicked up around his neck. And, the boat’s sophisticated anti-collision system would keep him out of almost any kind of trouble. Vacationing WEMA agents got some of the best equipment…
Paige heard an explosion high above, and she spun about to see what it was. She saw a human body rocketing south from over the mountains, clearly ballistic rather than flying, and tumbling as if unconscious. The figure was wrapped in some sort of wreckage, which almost gave the appearance of… wings?
The falling person was going to land in the lake. They might be able to get there in time for a rescue, though somebody falling from that high was unlikely to survive. She pressed a couple buttons on the PDA control panel strapped to her wrist. This gave her remote control of the boat from the PDA.
“Hold on!” she yelled to Harlan, as she pointed skyward. The big boat powered into a sharp turn, throwing up a big wave, and then roared toward the falling figure at max power. Harlan grabbed for a handhold on a railing and missed, falling heavily to the sole of the cockpit.
“It was probably a mistake, thinking I could get away from WEMA, while vacationing in a WEMA cabin” she thought ruefully. “There will probably be an ER team here in minutes. Probably even ER-1.”
She was a member of ER-1’s highly trained combat team, one of the best fighters in the world, in spite of her distaste for fighting. That dichotomy was the reason for her soul searching, in fact. Still, she had joined WEMA to help people and save lives and she couldn’t simply ignore the falling person!
Since this boat had some special WEMA equipment built in, it made sense to take advantage of them. Paige entered a command into her PDA, and a panel slid open on the deck, revealing a Paige-shaped depression, lined with half a WEMA situation suit. She lay down on her back and the front of the WEMA situation suit slid over her. It sealed automatically with the back half and Paige rose to her feet, fully geared up and prepared for just about anything she could imagine.
Harlan had banged his head during his fall, and he was just recovering. He was in pain and pissed as hell and surged to his feet. The boat bounced off another wave, jarring him off his feet again. This time he landed on the control panel, and somehow managed to shut off the remote control.
“Damn poor design!” Paige just had time to think, before the world seemingly exploded around her.
Without an autopilot or a hand on the steering wheel, the next time the speeding boat bounced off another wave, it turned sharply to the right, without slowing down. They were moving much too fast for a sharp turn, however.
Instead the speedboat broke free of the lake, becoming airborne and rolling sideways through the air, throwing Paige and Harlan far out over the water. It finally hit the water again, and started to come apart. It bounced and rolled, throwing wreckage everywhere. The wrecked boat continued to bounce down the lake at high speed, shattering and shredding more with each bounce. To her horror, it smashed directly into the falling figure, still tumbling at high speed, and then body and wreckage crashed to the surface of the lake and started sinking.
Paige was able to wrench her tumbling flight into a kind of a dive, and she hit the water hard! Her suit and her training protected her, and she had flipped on the sonar even before she hit the water. The PFH built into WEMA situation suits also provided propulsion under water, and she zoomed toward the sinking debris. She was glad she had insisted that Harlan wear a life preserver.
Chapter 11: Adding a Human Element
By the time Paige reached the wreckage, it had already sunk to the bottom of the lake. She used the suit’s headlamp spotlight to see through the murky waters and she was able to make out the form of a body entangled in the wreckage. Although it was humanoid, she realized that it was not human. Paige had deliberately been ignoring the news during her retreat, and she had no idea that this giant winged figure was the most dangerous enemy humanity had faced in centuries.
For all she knew, this might be an ambassador from an alien species she was not familiar with, No human could have survived the fall, the collision, and being trapped underwater this long, but there were some species of aliens that probably could. She activated the fore-finger laser on her right glove and carefully began cutting away the wreckage of the boat. As soon as possible, she attached a couple of flotation balloons to the body and got back to work.
It took her much longer than she had hoped. No air-breathing species she had ever heard of could possibly last this long underwater. He mission had shifted from rescue to recovery, but Paige didn’t slow down. The human race might be judged by her efforts, and she would do her best…
Finally the body floated free and was dragged toward the surface by the balloons. Incredibly, Paige was certain that the being had begun moving! She raced upward, and when the balloons reached the surface, Paige used her PDA to command them to continue rising into the air, suspending the body a few feet above the water. She switched on the suit’s radio, intending to send an SOS, but all channels were overridden by an emergency broadcast. Oh my heavens, she had just rescued a monster that might have destroyed her boss, Mr. Atom!
This suit had the capability of extruding flexible restraints, and she quickly began flying around the demon, wrapping her up much as a spider wraps a fly in silk for later consumption, but it was too late.
Morgoth came fully awake, and she was in horrible pain. She could feel that her wings were torn and shredded, she was sure she had several broken bones, and she had a throbbing headache. Still, she knew what to do about all her injuries.
“Shablam” and before the visual and olfactory effects of the magic faded away, ‘Shablam!” again. Much better.
She turned her attention to the feeble human trying to restrain her. She flexed and her arm tore free, and she used her claws to tear away the rest of the useless material. The human was fleeing. When she caught up, she clubbed it with a blow that could level a mountain!
Paige was knocked to the ground, but Morgoth had almost totally missed her. Her suit was able to protect her, barely. She scrambled to her feet, knowing she was finally in a fight she wouldn’t be able to win.
To an outside observer this fight seemed an almost inconceivable mismatch. Morgoth was almost twice as tall as Paige, and was easily four times as massive Incredibly, the fight didn’t quite follow the expected script.
The demon was unable to punch Paige squarely, and also unable to dodge Paige’s attacks. It was almost as if Morgoth didn’t know exactly where Paige was. With her situation suit giving her additional protection, Paige exchanged blows with the demon for several minutes. Paige was landing more blows than the demon. If this fight had been judged like a boxing match, Paige would be well ahead.
Unfortunately, there were no judges, and this match wouldn’t be won by the combatant who landed the most punches. Even with the situation suit’s built in weapons, there was nothing Paige could do to harm the invulnerable monster. Even though none of Morgoth’s attacks landed cleanly, even through the protection of the situation suit, Paige was being hurt. And, she was getting tired, while Morgoth was just becoming more enraged, and, seemingly, stronger than ever before.
And, as the demon became more enraged, the character of her attacks changed. Instead of jabbing and punching, she was now swinging sweeping backhands, slashing with her claws, and whirling around, trying to buffet Paige with her wings.
Many martial artists try to provoke rage in their opponents, as an enraged opponent is often a less effective fighter. In Paige’s case, though, the opposite was true. Whatever mysterious power protected her in a fight, it was more effective against punches than swipes.
Consider a long thin wire, made of transparent material and very difficult to see, hanging vertically in front of you. Your life depends on breaking that wire and you are allowed but a single blow. Do you punch at it? You might miss… how much easier to hit it if you sweep your arm horizontally through the space in front of you? Even if you aren’t exactly sure where it is, you are pretty sure to hit it anyway. Although she didn’t reason this out, Morgoth’s rage drove her to discover Paige’s weakness.
Paige leaped backward and out of range of the first swipe, but Morgoth advanced relentlessly. Paige found herself backed against a well, and realized that she had somehow backed into a carport for one of the lakeside cottages. As Morgoth swiped at her again Paige used her last trick, collapsing to the ground and rolling forward past the demon’s legs. She got to her feet and ran. The building behind her was demolished by that single blow, and the roof of the carport collapsed, burying Morgoth in rubble.
Paige activated her PFH and leaped into the air, and came crashing down to earth. The PFW must have been damaged in the fight. The landing knocked the wind out of her and she couldn’t move. She watched in horror as Morgoth battered her way free of the rubble, then looked around. Paige was lying exposed on the short-trimmed lawn of the demolished cabin. There was no way Morgoth could miss her, and she was no longer able to fight or even flee. As Morgoth looked right at her, Paige recited a silent prayer…
Morgoth continued turning, and seeing no trace of her opponent, assumed she was buried in the rubble. A single dead human, one demolished vacation cabin, these were less than an appetizer to her. She turned in the direction of Capitalia and prepared to resume her self-appointed mission.
Chapter 12: It Ain’t Over Yet
Before she could launch herself into the air, she was struck from behind by a roaring eight foot long missile. Mr. Atom was back in the fray!
Morgoth rolled to a stop and then climbed slowly to her feet. That had hurt! It was time to finish off this irksome robot once and for all.
“Like, man, you been dissin me too much. Time you was pounded to scrap!”
She charged the robot, and the two behemoths launched into mortal combat, pounding on each other with lethal blows. They were very well matched — both had super strength, both invulnerable, one fighting with the arrogance and evil purpose of her seven powerful patrons, the other with the speed and precision of a computer. Both could fly, and both were experts at hand-to-hand combat, Mr. Atom from centuries of experience, and Morgoth from the many skills she inherited from her patrons. And, most telling of all, neither was interested in ending the engagement for any reason short of total victory.
Mr. Atom’s allies couldn’t figure out how to stop Morgoth without exposing him to deadly damage, and Morgoth had no allies to come to her aid. It was a battle that could continue indefinitely.
Paige was finally able to climb to her feet. She was much closer to this titanic battle than any normal human should have been, and she realized just how lucky she was to still be alive. She really ought to run, but she needed to help. Mr. Atom had personally selected her to be a member of ER-1, which was the culmination of a life-long dream for her, a goal which she had long since given up on. And, when she began having regrets, he had granted her a leave of absence so she could make up her mind without any pressure.
She considered her options as she crept closer to the battling behemoths. A quick diagnostic on her situation suit showed that almost all of the suit’s built in functionality was off-line. The only tool still working was the short-range laser cutter. Maybe she could put one of the demon’s legs out of action.
As she prepared to rush the combatants, Morgoth was swung around by a mighty blow, and ended up looking directly at Paige! For the second time, the demon totally ignored her, and spun back to the fight. A few seconds later, Mr. Atom was facing in her direction, and he gave no indications of seeing her either! She checked again. Even when working correctly, this suit had no stealth capabilities. Either they had both seen her and ignored her, which was impossible, or she was invisible!
She got ready to move fast, then yelled as loud as she could. “Boss! It’s Paige! Put your ears on and listen to me!”
Both Mr. Atom and Morgoth turned to locate the noise, but Paige was already moving. Her voice dropped to a whisper. She hoped Mr. Atom would figure out her hidden message, and tune in on her voice with his super hearing.
“Boss, she said a word before and turned into a normal human. Then she said the word again and turned back to a monster. The word was ‘Shablam’. She was all busted up, and when she was done Shablaming she was all healthy again.”
One of the advantages of having a computer brain was the ability to split his mind, so Mr. Atom could pay close attention to Paige while still concentrating on the fight. “Message received!” his awesome voice rumbled, temporarily drowning out the sounds of the battle. “Withdraw and regroup! This is a Code Orange order.”
Paige understood. It was now her job to prepare the rest of ER-1 to continue the battle if Mr. Atom was somehow knocked out of the fight. Meanwhile, he would attempt to use the intel she had provided. He quickly evolved a plan, and just as quickly set it in action.
“Your allies, Ibac and Sabbac, have been captured. You are alone, with the world against you. And this fight is almost over. You might as well give up now, and save yourself a lot of pain.” He added inaudible subsonic and supersonic overtones to his voice, the subsonics designed to induce fear, and the supersonics designed to cause irritation and anger.
“Jibber jabber, tin man. You rat meat! Lady Scratch don’t need them bibabb losers!”
Mr. Atom had heard enough to deduce a lot about Morgoth’s background, and it was time to use that information. Trash talking was not his normal mode of operation, but he had been the target of trash talk over the centuries. Time to put his experience to work.
“Tough talk from a New York street urchin. You nuthin but a bibabb mugger, ghost girl! This a ghost dream, maybe?”
“Shut it, rat meat!” She screamed in rage, and charged him, swinging wildly. This time, though, he was ready for her gangr fugue. He fell backward, and kicked up with both feet, driving them into her gut and firing his rockets at the same time. This blasted her high into the air, and he was blasting aloft after her. He managed to get behind her, and grabbed her wings, preventing her from flying. He swung her around and dived downward, smashing her into the ground. He backed off and she climbed out of the hole, digging rocks out of the ground and throwing them at him like cannonballs.
He casually blasted each boulder with a single shot from one of his arm cannons. She stopped throwing and charged again, caught in the throes of berserkergang. This time he blasted into the air, and as she rushed through the spot he had just been standing, he kicked her in the back of the head. She fell to the ground, and the power of her rush drove her face into the ground, and she dug a short ditch with her head before grinding to a stop. With the gangr reinforcing her invulnerability, she didn’t feel any of the damage she was taking, and her rage continued to grow!
With power born of rage, Morgoth jumped back to her feet, and this time she moved so swiftly Mr. Atom was unable to dodge. She managed to grab one of his legs. She was so deep into the gangr that she could easily destroy him, so he fired the rocket in his other leg and jettisoned the one in Morgoth’s grasp — which then exploded violently, knocking her down. He would definitely be at a disadvantage during the rest of the fight.
Unfortunately for Morgoth, the gangr had finally run its course. As her rage receded so did her strength, and the ebbing gangr left her weak — perhaps as weak as Zeevy. And, though she had no broken bones, not even any broken skin, she was battered and bruised, and in pain, again. Still, she knew a magic cure for that pain, and it had worked before…
“Shablam!” An explosion of black nothingness, smelling of burning garbage enveloped Morgoth. “Sha…” she never finished her magic word the second time. Mr. Atom flashed through the air, and one hand hand grabbed Zeevy by the neck, while he used his other hand to hold her mouth open. He held her like that until she passed out from lack of air — until his sensors verified, beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was unconscious. He quickly found some cloths among the wreckage, and gagged her, and then he signaled to ER-1 that the fight was over. They quickly swarmed over the area that had been destroyed by the fight, and Mr. Atom oversaw the operation of putting a more permanent gag on the unconscious Zeevy. A doctor was assigned to insure that she remained unconscious until an official decision could be made about her status.
Once he was assured that Zeevy would not be able to turn back into Morgoth, he tried to find Paige. No one had seen her! He spoke:
“Paige, you must be nearby, but we are unable to locate you. Please say something.”
and turned up the gain on his hearing again.
Her voice was so loud it almost damaged his audio sensors.
“I’m here, boss! Right next to you. Hold still.” He stopped moving, balanced precariously on one leg. She reached out and touched him on the hand. “See, I’m right here. Somehow I’m invisible, but otherwise I’m fine. Well, a little sore, but that’ll heal.”
Paige thought she ought to be half out of her head by now, with anxiety and panic. What if she never turned visible again? But something inside kept her calm; something inside told her everything was fine. And it was so convincing, she believed it. Once Zeevy had been captured, a lot of things happened in a very short time. She was taken to WEMA HQ where she was left in the care of the medical team. They wrapped a special net around her head, a net designed to keep her in a harmless sleeping state until some other solution could be developed to keep her in safekeeping.
Epilogue: A Paige From a Minute Manual
Mr. Atom had flown and hopped into his lab, and attached another leg. He was always improving his robot body, and he always had a few spares around. He hurried back to where he had left Paige and asked her to come with him.
They had found refuge in a ‘quiet area’ in WEMA HQ, an area regularly used as a chapel by various WEMA employees, though it was against WEMA regulations to call it that. Mr. Atom had tried to simulate her visibility by giving her a new sitsuit, but as soon as she put it on, it too became invisible.,, He was intrigued and wanted to do some experimenting to determine the limits of her new powers, but even with the subtle reassurance of her subconscious, she was becoming distraught at her invisible state.
“Boss, what if I never turn visible again? What will I do?”
Mr. Atom had never had much success comforting humans, but this time he felt personally responsible for what had happened to Paige, and he wanted to help as best he could. He neutralized the normal subsonics and ultrasonics in his voice and spoke quietly and smoothly.
“You have been visible all your life, until today, and it is logical to assume you will return to visibility shortly. In my experience, some human mutants never exhibit their extraordinary powers until they are stimulated to do so by situation of great stress. You have never before faced death in combat, and the stress caused your mutant ability to manifest.”
So far, Mr. Atom wasn’t doing so well. She had stopped listening in the middle of his explanation. “I’m a MUTANT!?!? Oh, golly, now you’re telling me I’m not even human?” She screamed in despair. “I wish I’d never been born!”
Even though he had hoped this encounter would go better, Atom, based on his past experiences, had put an alternate plan in motion almost as soon as the battle was finished. An urgent request to New York, and an suborbital ballistic transport had delivered someone who might be better able to help. He sent a silent radio plea, and Jack Weston entered the room. Even though he couldn’t see Paige, he quickly faced her and addressed her as if she were completely visible to him.
“Paige Madison, my name is Jack Weston. I know a little bit about humans with extraordinary powers.” That was a slight understatement, considering that he had been dealing with such humans for over 500 years, but there was no reason to believe Paige had any idea who he might be. “Can we talk for a while?” He couldn’t see Paige nod, but he sensed it almost as clearly as if he could. “Mr. A, could we have some time alone?” Mr. Atom left the room. As he closed the door he could hear the reassuring tones of Jack’s voice. He knew Paige was in the right hands.
Meanwhile, there was something else that needed his attention. He had assigned agents to contact Gladiator and the as yet unnamed woman in blue, and they had agreed to come to Capitalia for debriefing.
Before talking to Paige, Jack had watched ER-1 videos of Paige in training. He watched her work out, and he watched her fight, and he was starting to figure out what her powers were. She had average combat skills at best, and yet, in some forms of combat she was unmatched. The more disciplined her opponent was, the better Paige fared. It was almost as if Paige was always fighting out of her opponent’s blind spot…and her invisibility was just a logical extension of that power. As such, he had no doubt that she would be able to both become visible again, and learn to control her invisibility. And, she could make her clothes invisible — he wondered if she might be able to extend her blindspot protection to other people and objects as well? Plenty of time for that later, though, first, help her regain visibility.
So, he used a new super power he had never before known he possessed. He reacted to her exactly as if she were visible. His centuries of martial arts experience, his instinctive knowledge of the capabilities of the human body, and his quick study of her training videos, all combined with his intense concentration — and he could visualize her as well as if she were in fact visible. Her voice was coming from ‘right there’ and the rustling of her body as she moved indicated her arms were ‘here’ and her legs were ‘there’. He could see her plain as day! As they talked, he made sure they moved around the room, and she started to relax. And, finally without warning, she snapped back to visibility — and his mental image was exactly right!
Without changing his tone of voice, he gently added “You’re back!” Paige, who could see herself when she was invisible, was startled!
“You mean, you couldn’t see me before? I was sure you could!”
“That was my plan, it helped you relax. Now, if you don’t mind, we need to figure out how you do it — because we can’t risk you becoming invisible again unless you want to.”
“Do you really think I can control this, and do it whenever I want?”
“I’m absolutely certain!” He smiled. “It might not be easy, though. You are going to have to try and remember exactly how you felt when you first went invisible, and every time you manage, you are going to have to remember how you felt when you came back. We don’t have to do this now, unless you really want to?”
She did, so they did. And it turned out to be less difficult than he had feared.
Paige thought about how she had felt when she first became invisible. At the time, all she knew was that she was terrified.
“That’s understandable,” Jack told her. “Just concentrate. See if you can remember anything else about that specific moment.”
The girl thought about it for a few seconds, but couldn’t remember a thing. She quickly began to feel frustrated.
“How do you feel right now?” Jack asked.
“Frustrated,” Paige replied. “And a little warm. Why?”
“Because,” Jack grinned, “you’ve done it again.”
The girl groaned.
“It’s OK. This works to our advantage,” Jack said. “Do me a favor and picture yourself someplace cool. Not cold, but just cool.”
Paige didn’t see the point in his request, but she knew he was trying to help so she gave it a try. An image of herself taking a swim in the lake on a brisk September morning formed in her mind. She felt a slight shiver as an imaginary breeze passed by.
“Excellent,” Jack smiled. “It seems that your power is linked to your body temperature. A burst of adrenaline triggers your power, then, when your body temperature returns to normal, your power switches off.”
“Well, at least I know how to become visible again,” Paige said. “If we can just figure out how to make me invisible voluntarily, then we will be getting somewhere.”
“Let’s try something else,” Jack said. “Think back to the fight. Now, let yourself feel the fear you felt when you were facing the demon.”
Paige did as she was asked. She felt herself getting warmer as the fear became more and more real.
“You’ve done it,” the man told her. “Now, go back to your cool place.”
She did, and, all of a sudden, she reappeared.
The excitement of her discovery gave Paige the strength to practice her new gift for several hours. Eventually, she reached the point where she didn’t need to feel the fear or visualize her cool place to activate or deactivate her power. She had been so wrapped up in her experimenting, she hadn’t noticed that Mr. Atom had reentered the room.
The girl looked at Jack. “Yes?”
“Step over here by Mr. Atom and visualize both of you being invisible.”
Paige did as she was asked.
“I knew it,” Jack said as both Paige and Atom vanished. “Now, become visible again.”
“Excuse us a minute, Paige,” Mr. Atom said. “Jack, could I speak with you outside?”
Jack had a strong idea about what his friend wanted to discuss. “Of course.”
They were only gone for a few minutes. When they returned, Mr. Atom put his arm around Paige’s shoulder.
“How would you like to be a part of a group other than WEMA?”