Michael sighed. His contempt for his sister, Two Ton Teela, was only exceeded by her weight. "Yes, Lorry?"
"I can't get Pac-Man to run on your Amiga!"
Michael snapped to alertness. "YOU were using MY Amiga?!?" He rushed to the scene.
Sure enough, his room looked like a disaster area -- not that it had been all that clean before. Three-and-a-half inch disks lay scattered about outside their envelopes. One was jammed upside-down into the the disk drive, against which the drive motor spun madly. He would be lucky if Pac Man would ever run again.
"You RUINED my Pac Man disk, Lorry!"
"Aw, c'mon, Michael, it's not that —"
"You have ABSOLUTELY no idea what you're doing, let alone any right to be in my room in the first place! Haven't you ever heard of private property?!"
Laurie nearly formulated a reply, when the earth shook violently beneath their feet. Earthquake. California was full of them; but this one looked like it was going to be a biggie. Michael and his sister both rushed for the doorway. Michael made it there first, but Two Ton Teela bumped him out of the way and got stuck in the doorway herself. Michael could just barely see a big chunk of the ceiling crumbling down and smashing his precious Amiga to little bitty bits.
He was about to scream, but the sudden darkening of daylight coming in from the outside stifled him. This wasn't just an earthquake: something supersonic or just very very loud was passing low overhead.
He rushed to the window of an adjoining room and peered up. The underbelly of a tremendous, colorful, humanoid robot thundered across his field of view. He could see neither the front nor the rear of the brigtly colored monster. It had to be a hundred meters long or more. How anything that heavy could fly by without vertical thrust was beyond his —
And then he noticed it. Etched in the center of the robot's groin stood an encircled lightning bolt with a pile driver for a foot, shown stepping on a helpless stick figure. That was their symbol, all right. M.A.C.R.O.N. had reached the west coast at last.
Michael buried his head in his hands. This was almost as bad as . . . as bad as . . . being invaded by the Russians, yeah, that was it. MACRON would leave nothing standing in their wake. Only a god could save this town, this state, from their iron grip now. . . .
Precisely the same thought rushed through the mind of Roger M. Wilcox, five miles away, when he noticed the humanoid air dreadnought. He could hardly help but notice it, actually; it interrupted him while he was reading a reprint of an old X-Men comic that had Havok in it. Since all of his windows were covered with screens, he rushed to his front door, ducked out across his front porch, and gazed skyard. The hundred-meter-long behemoth passed over his head exactly the way it had for Michael, hovering slowly across the sky in exactly the same manner that bricks don't.
Roger brushed aside his thoughts of, "All right, we've been invaded!" as the cold reality of the situation struck him. Conventional missiles probably couldn't even puncture it. He silenly mouthed the words, "Oh dear." That M.A.C.R.O.N. dared to flex its muscles so overtly over the Los Angeles area meant that they were now too big to be stopped by any existing defense institution; the police, or the army, or the air force, or anybody.
Roger watched the black monolith hover onward and shrink until it was merely a black dot in the distance. He stared at the dot until it vanished, then kept staring for a long, long time afterward. He silenly prayed that the few disjunct superheroes in the city might be able to do something before it was too late.
"Roger," a feminine voice approached him from behind. "It's gone now." She put a hand on his shoulder. "What are you staring at?"
Roger put his hand on hers, and swallowed to get his voice back in gear. "Its wake, Cathy. Its wake. It's gonna carve a pretty big path of destruction though L.A. pretty soon, you can rest assured of that. I never thought they'd make it this far."
"Huh, who? What are you talking about?"
"M.A.C.R.O.N.. That circled lightning bolt with the pile driver on the end, squishing that guy printed on the airship's groin; that's M.A.C.R.O.N.'s symbol."
Cathy backed away. "Oh . . . dear. . . ."
"That's what I said, too."
They escorted each other solemnly back inside. Everybody in California would need all the help they could get to bag that metal beast.
"For what it's worth," Roger said, "I think I'll go back in the garage and finish that free energy collector I've been working on."
Cathy put a loving hand on his chest. "I would think," she soothed, "That since these might be our last days together, we should get as much out of them as we can." Her blue eyes searched his and she wiggled her eyebrows.
Roger pointed to the garage. "Same principles. You know what kind of energy I work with." And with that, he left.
"Aw shucks," Cathy cursed, snapping her fingers.
Theirs was once a two-car garage, but there wasn't enough free floor space in it now to park a moped. It was crammed. Piles of cotton and steel wool lay heaped on various folding tables. A few work benches were littered with thin metal pipes and empty water bottles; other benches held bails of electrical wire and discarded transformer parts. One small shelf had an electric motor on it whose wires attached to two large cotton-and-steel pads. The motor wasn't moving.
"Oh yeah," Roger reminded himself, "I'll have to change the pads on that some day."
And in the heart of this conglomeration, on its own folding altar, stood the free energy collector he'd been working on.
It didn't look much like any monstrously powerful high-tech gizmo. It was merely an off-white plastic plate about three feet across, with a single on-off switch on its underside and several thin, black concentric rings painted on top. It looked rather like a thick white plastic archery target.
Roger took out a giant ziplock bag filled with a layer of cotton on one side and steel wool on the other. He laid the foot-square pad steel-side-down on the target, then picked up an identical pad and inserted it below the white plate steel-side-up.
"Nah," he shook his head, "I've tried that before. It's never worked no matter how new the pads were or how many of them I heaped on. Maybe if I directed the flow in one side and out the other."
So saying, he lifted the white plastic disc and flipped the lower pad steel-side-down, so it was facing the same way as the top one.
"Hmmm, funny, I'd think that I'd have tried this combination before, too, seeing as it's so obvious. It doesn't look like it'll make a good antenna, though."
Nevertheless, he flipped the underside switch and stood back. There was a very faint hum. He backed up to the wall and switched off the lights. In the darkness of the closed garage, he made out a faint yellow aura around the target. It seemed to fluctuate and undulate like an aurora or a Kirillian photograph.
"Nope," he commented, switching on the lights, "Nothing new. I can't get a strong reception out of any of these pads."
Maybe he needed more of them. Perhaps he was thinking in the wrong scale; perhaps a room-sized outlay of tons of steel and cotton might do the trick. With this in mind, he picked the target up off its precipice, stuck it under his left arm, and headed for the door.
That was when he noticed that he'd forgotten to turn the target off.
The plastic platform up against his left side softly glowed and hummed. Visibly glowed and hummed. He actually saw the yellow halo with the lights on. And it extended past the bounds of the three-foot collector and outlined his entire body.
He stood motionless for a long time. It took him over a minute just to get the courage to start to figure out why it suddenly worked so well. Pads, in whatever combinations, worked mildly well as antennas; but his own living body worked a lot more efficiently. A hundred and sixty pounds of living flesh made the best channel into the cosmic ocean he'd yet seen.
"It's," he began, "It's . . . so obvious. I should've thought of it. I should have. My body as an accumulator. That's what it does in the first place!" He chuckled, on the verge of bursting with laughter. "It's been right there all the time, and I couldn't see it because I was too close to it!"
He stepped slowly outside, shaking with elation from both his discovery and the yellow energy now tingling through him. The side effects of the cosmic battery, the strong aurora and the hum, were there, but the real test would be if he could redirect that stored up energy. He could feel the channels inside of him and where the energy was going: in through the top of his head, down the length of his body, out through his feet, and back up over his surface until it reached the disk, more energy flowing into the collector with each passing breath. If he was the energy's antenna, then he should be able to change the direction the energy flowed in and get it to come of the disk where he wanted it to.
He tried holding his breath. That only slowed the energy's progress somewhat. He exhaled, felt the surge go into target again, and then inhaled. Cosmic energy flowed into the disk even more slowly while he inhaled, but it still went in. The thing seemed almost to be a leech, draining the energy that should have gone into his body and storing it like a sponge. Nothing he did seemed to stop or reverse its draw on him.
It took over an hour for the free energy collector to satiate itself and stop sucking. Roger didn't let go of it once during that time, having decided not to break off unless he was about to pass out. Cathy hadn't come out back at all during that time, thank goodness; this was his secret project, and if she actually saw it working it might wreck everything. Now that the target was fully loaded, perhaps he could get the energy to come back out of it. He inhaled deeply.
Rings the same off-white as the collector's concentric circles ebbed over his body, popping as quietly as soap bubbles. He felt a little rush up through his feet and out the top of his head, but not much. He exhaled again and everything the battery'd lost rushed right back in.
Hmmph. That didn't quite work. He needed to be a little more specific; he had to tell the stored energy where to go, somehow. He looked out toward the western horizon, toward the Pacific ocean, and said, "Go." He told the energy to go, that was all. To leave.
It didn't leave. Not exactly, anyway; but those burbling circles did return to his body. Not relenting, he focused his attention on an arbitrary point about two hundred feet in front of him and forty feet off the ground, and pushed. "Forward," he whispered, then louder: "Forward."
The circles bunched up on his posterior and bowed up slightly. It was working. "Forward," he insisted.
His head lurched forward of its own accord as the energy leapt from his body into the air. It traced a sizzling yellow arc in the general direction of where he'd aimed, and at last thundered into a two-meter-wide icosahedron that glowed with a jumble of white and yellow circles.
He put his right fist contentedly to his hip and stared at the disk as if to say, "How about that."
"How about that," he said. "With a battery like this by my side, I'm a two-way cosmic energy antenna. Maybe if I made it smaller, say only a foot in diameter, and mounted it to my clothi—"
An idea struck him with the force of a lightning bolt. The image of the X-men's Havok, repleat with black leotards, plastic head bands, and white-and-yellow target-shaped emblem filled his thoughts.
"And if I mount it to the front of my clothing, and my clothing happens to be black tights with a goofy-looking mask, I'll be the spitting image of Alex Summers!"
He glanced back at the place in the sky where he'd made the fireball, then back at his abode within which he and Cathy dwelt. He couldn't afford to let her find out about this; he had to do what had to be done. "Look out, M.A.C.R.O.N.," he challenged the sky, "'Cause here comes HAVOK!"
Michael stalked solemnly into his kitchen, the shattering image of that MACRON airship still etching at his mind. The Radio Shack Model 100 tucked under his right arm didn't exactly help things; he still got four "D"s on the screen if he pushed the D key once. Perhaps running something in the microwave oven might ease his grief. He closed the door and turned the range on.
Not only did he forget to put anything in the microwave, there wasn't even a cup of water in there to begin with. The owner's manual had warned against that.
Instantly there came a loud explosion from within the countertop oven. Michael gave a start and leapt back in alarm. Unfortunately, in his panic, he failed to notice that he was still right in front of it. The contraption buzzed and hummed, a blinding white light sprayed out from inside it, the sound got louder until it resembled a heavenly choir, and just at the last instant before the door exploded open and all the radiation poured forward, Michael feebly intervened his Model 100 between the oven and himself.
Michael could see, hear, feel, taste, and smell nothing for the next few seconds — or years, he couldn't be sure. All that he could experience was a feeling of being overwhelmed, of whirring with some kind of new energy. Then, at last, he opened his eyes. The defunct microwave oven was jostling up and down on the counter and suddenly yanked its own cord from the wall socket and hurled itself toward him.
Michael gave an involuntary yelp and tried to shield himself with his Model 100. When he noticed that all that remained of the Model 100 was a heap of melted plastic and wire on the ground, he shielded himself with his arms instead. The microwave oven came within a foot of him, crashed into a shimmering barrier, and fell harmlessly to the floor.
As he uncrossed his arms from in front of his face, Michael realized what had happened. He also realized that the barrier was coming from himself; it encapsulated his body at about a half-meter distance. He reached out a tenative hand to touch the shimmering curtain, and the barrier bulged away to give his hand room to move around. Cautiously, he stepped forward and to the left, and the scintillating bubble tracked his movement. He jumped a short distance into the air, and the force-wall followed him.
"Well, what do you know?" he mumbled. He had a barrier that cushioned him from the outside world. Despite the fact that this forcefield had just saved his bacon, he kind of wished it would go away.
And so, it did go away. Michael had to blink and rub his eyes to be sure it had gone.
He didn't have much time to think it over, though. There was a rumbling from a nearby kitchen drawer, accompanied by a muffled clatter. Michael gasped; he knew what was in that drawer. An instant later, the drawer flew open and over a hundred pieces of stainless steel flatware hurled themselves across the room at him.
He almost didn't bring that barrier back in time.
"Michael!" Laurie's distant voice followed the din of clattering metal. "Are you playing with the silverware again?!"
As a matter of fact, he was playing with the silverware. Of course, if it had been real silver he wouldn't have been able to do anything to it, but since it was steel he was having a wonderful time attracting select pieces of it to himself and bouncing it off his deflector shield. Yes, he could actually select which things he wanted to magnetically attract and which things he didn't. He noticed, though, that he seemed to be getting pretty tired. He was wearing out far faster than he should have been. He stopped magnetizing the tableware, but he still grew weary. When he shut off his forcefield, though, he started to recover almost instantly. 'I'll have to remember that,' he thought.
He could switch a magnetic force field around himself on and off. He could not only send out magnetic fields but emit them in a tight beam. Who knew what the limits of these new magnetic abilities were?! And if he could create and control magnetism, then it served to reason that he could produce electrical effects as well.
It took only a snap of his fingers to confirm it. The blue spark that jumped from his thumb to his forefinger could have jolted an elephant. With a little practice, he figured, he might be able to fire zaps all the way across a room. Or at specific targets. Or at agents of M.A.C.R.O.N.. If it would take a god to stop M.A.C.R.O.N. from taking over Los Angeles or even all of California, then he'd be that god. A god of electricity and magnetism. A god with a name taken from the very model 100 which shielded him from the exploding oven's microwaves and gave him his new powers: Keybounce, the Electromagnetic God!
It had to have been 1 a.m. when Roger heard that M.A.C.R.O.N. was making another strike. He knew as soon as it began; it came live off his police radio. This was the moment he'd been waiting for. Cathy was fast asleep, he was in the garage already, and his new jet-black costume already adorned his body. He jubilantly switched off the radio so that no next door neighbors would get suspicious, pulled the black cowl with the white plastic bands down over his head, and unlocked the Other Door to his garage — the back door that led to the alley.
Six seconds later a thundrous roar and the blinding blue- white glare of a halogen headlamp echoed from the newly-opened doorway. And six seconds after that, a motorcycle mounted by a shadowy, haloed figure leapt out into the alley and tore through the still night air as it sped away. The door closed itself behind him, of course, to prevent any would-be thieves from messing with his stuff; but lights went on in nearly every window on the block.
'Oh well,' Havok thought, 'So much for the neighbors not getting suspicious.'
Now then, he had to make it down to the warehouse district by the old pier in a couple of minutes. These things always happened in the warehouse district by the old pier. He was a couple of miles inland, the old pier lay several miles to the south, and he had to get there in a couple of minutes without a freeway. No problem. This was no ordinary motorcycle he was riding.
He opened the throttle all the way and nearly got torn from the saddle. The twin intakes just in front of his shins howled as they gulped titanic quantities of air; he could barely hear the transmission go through fifth, sixth, and seventh gears against the din. All in all, that automatic transmission could use fifteen gears, and by the time it reached the last one the motorcycle would be going well over two hundred miles per hour.
He was only doing slightly over 120 at this moment, though, since he had to weave through early early early morning traffic and corner on a dime. The "Turbine One" label on the bike's side flashed past its sleeping spectators. He owed his breathtaking speed to the name of his 'cycle, in fact; this was no wimpy 1500 cc turbocharged engine between his legs. It was nothing less that a fully-blown turbine engine, geared in to the rear wheel through a shaft drive, complete with a direct-thrust option which allowed for three-fifths of a gravity of acceleration and a top speed of 268.4 miles per hour. He was sitting on a jet engine with wheels.
He reached the coast in nothing flat and angled south. Once more, just to be sure, he checked the now-one-foot-diameter energy accumulator mounted over his solar plexus. Yes it was still fully charged, yes it still gave him that yellow humming aura indicative of cosmic energy absorption, and yes he could still mildly control the energy flow by strength of will. The big encounter was fast approaching; he fought back the butterflies in his stomach and accelerated to the next higher gear. It was nice having an automatic transmission; not only did he not have to worry about shifting, he didn't have to worry about working the clutch. And since there was no clutch it freed his left hand to adjust the rear-view mirror. Or work the turn signals. Or fire energy blasts.
He could see and hear the commotion even before he could make out any details. At least eight police cars had to have been parked out front, their blue-and-red emergency lights flashing like Christmas tree bulbs, and gunshots and yelling and bullhorned voices rose over his engine's whine. This didn't look good for our side; it was up to Havok to save the day. Boy, what a rush that thought gave him!
He moved in practically on top of things, drawing the attention of both sides. A MACRON agent had just fired some funny-looking rifle at some cops who were now groping their eyes. Havok had heard about those things; it was a laser rifle. It wasn't much good for burning through things like the laser guns in the movies, but if you looked into the beam it could blind you for life. Havok also caught sight of some agents with more conventionial Uzis and AK-47s. He would have to take these guys out pronto.
"Hey, MACRON goons!" he shouted as he decelerated. "You guys look worn out; here, have some cosmic energy!" He thrust his left fist toward the closest group and a ringed beam of yellow energy surged from his body toward them. The energy beam swooped toward the ground in the agents' midst, impacted, and went off with a thunderous boom that dwarfed even the roar of his cycle's engine.
The brilliant fireball wasn't very large — it couldn't have been more than a couple of meters in diameter — but it was enough to catch two agents and send all the others in the vicinity diving for cover. As the cosmic burst faded into the infra-red, Havok became startlingly aware of just how powerful his energy blasts were. He bit his nails and wondered whether or not he should have lashed out at full strength; both agents' uniforms were charred to a crisp, and all their hair had burnt off. Well, at least they were wearing flak suits, so they'd probably live when they woke up tomorrow.
Or at least those looked like flak suits.
He slowed down some more and prepared to come about, all the while looking at and not quite believing what he'd just done. He was so caught up in this, in fact, that he didn't notice a MACRON agent fire at him with a .44 magnum. The shot missed him, but it did hit his engine's Fiberglas covering. That scared the daylights out of him. Half-screaming, he spun out of control and flew off his motorcycle — while he was still going sixty miles per hour.
In the spilt-second he saw the ground rushing up to greet him, he wished he'd worn his helmet this time. Oh, sure, a helmet wouldn't fit over those plastic arches on the top of his head; but for God's sake did he have to duplicate Havok's get-up exactly?! He braced his arms out in front of him, squeezed his eyes shut, and waited for the end.
Instead of getting smashed into little bitty pieces, though, he felt a resounding thump and bounced back up into the air. He opened his eyes, and to his astonishment found a glowing yellow sphere encasing his body. He watched again as he came back down to the ground, heard the buzzing thump again, and saw the front of the sphere deform against the ground and spring him into the air once more. He bounced three more times before he ground to a stop.
And as soon as he relaxed at the end of it, the sphere disappeared. He felt rather short of breath as well, and was sweating a little more than he should have been. Maybe creating and maintaining that protective sphere took something out of him. Hell, maybe he was just nervous from being shot at; but he couldn't worry about that now. Those MACRON goons doubtlessly saw what happened to him, and would probably try to shoot him again if he didn't do something fast. He scrambled to his feet, braced his arms up against an imaginary barrier, and willed the glowing shell of force to return. Instantly, yellow streamers raced out from the plate on his torso and congealed into the same pulsing forceball that had protected him before. Now that he could pay more attention to it, he noticed that it was vibrating — and giving off a weird, repetitive sound.
Unfortunately, he was right; MACRON would try to shoot him again. A nearby agent popped up from behind a vacated police car and fired at him with an Uzi set on fully automatic. Havok felt five distinct shocks, each one of which sent him reeling backward — but none of those 5 bullets actually hit him! They merely ricocheted off force field. The agent who had just fired at him lowered his Uzi and stared. He raised his eyebrows in fascination; he was impervious to bullets.
Bullets, yes, but any of those agents that still had lasers could probably still blind him. He had to get rid of them first. Now, where were they again? Geez, it was so hard to concentrate with that force field distracting him. The strain of having to maintain it didn't help much either. He glimpsed a couple of agents, one of whom held what he thought was a laser rifle, blinked as he took aim, and flung both his arms in their direction without bothering to chide them this time. Another yellow bolt raced toward them, shining rings adorning its passage every fifth of a meter or so, and cooked one of the agents as the rest got out of the fireball's way.
A police officer watched the yellow beam zing past and incinerate its target. He raised himself part of the way up from behind his car door and took aim at the man in black.
"No, don't shoot him," his partner barked, pushing his gun hand down, "I think he's on our side!"
"You sure?" the first officer asked.
"Well, no, but let's not shoot him until he aims for one of us."
Another agent with a handgun fired twice at the shielded stranger, once again shacking him slightly but not actually wounding him. "Jeez, what's that guy made of?!" he barked. He turned ot one of his associates. "This goon's ruining everything! Break out some of that heavy artillery!"
'Heavy artillery?' Havok thought. He saw another MACRON person nod to the first and pry open a crate. That must be where their "heavy artillery" was. It would have to be his next target. He stomped his right foot down in front of himself, thrust his torso forward, and fired another yellow bolt straight from his target-battery. The crate exploded into coals.
"Oh, damn," the MACRON agent who'd just shot at him cursed. Hovk was beginning to figure that this guy headed the operation. "There went our ace in the hole. All right, men," he pointed at Havok with his pistol, "Concentrate your fire!"
And then, it was as if the heavens themselves opened and poured forth their hail. Or as if MACRON began shooting at him from all directions, anyway. Every Uzi, .44 magnum, AK-47, and laser rifle in the area spewed its load at the black-clad stranger with the force field. Havok had the good sense to close his eyes before any of the remaning lasers went off, but the combined force of all that high-speed lead hitting his deflector shield knocked him down onto his shielded buns and sent him skittering along the pavement like a hockey puck.
"I don't think this is working," an agent with an Uzi remarked as he changed ammo clips.
"Just pretend to use that thing on his chest for target practice or something," the head MACRONner replied, squeezing off another three rounds. "He can't hold out forever!"
'That guy doesn't know how true that is,' Havok thought. He would have been down on his knees at this point were he standing up. Maintaining that force bubble took a lot out of him. Every limb in his body felt like it was on fire, it so fatigued him. But if he relented even for an instant, that imposing rain of bullets would hit him instead of the barrier. He chanced opening his eyes to see where their shots were pushing him; he was headed for a metal garbage bin against a corner of the warehouse. He wondered, briefly, how much other artillery MACRON had stored in that place.
"Still think he's on their side?" the second officer asked.
"Oh, well, all right," the first acquiesced, moving to the other side of his car door. "What say we even the odds a bit?"
"Right with you," the second said, and started shooting.
The next second, something knocked a laser rifle out of one MACRON agent's hands, and half a second after that something stung another agent in the shoulder. The muffled yell from the second brought the leader's attention.
"Damn it," he looked over his shoulder, "The cops're shooting at us again! STRATEGIC WITHDRAWAL!"
There was no use, Havok figured after rebounding off that trash can, he couldn't keep his force field up any longer. He let go and waited for the bullets to finish him.
He blinked his eyes open three seconds later when he realized he hadn't been hit yet. All he could see was black, so he pulled the eye holes of his mask back into position. The yellow bubble around him was gone, of course; but so were the agents of MACRON. He propped himself up on his arms and shook himself to his senses. Then, he looked again. The enemy agents really weren't there anymore. He breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed again.
"Hey, buddy," a coppish voice said as a nightstick tapped Havok's shoulder. He came to.
"Hey, buddy," the policeman said, "That was a pretty impressive display you put on back there."
"You really think so?" the black-suited man inquired, scampering to his feet.
"Sure. You really turned the tide. They probably would've gotten away with every weapon they'd stored in that warehouse if you hadn't come along and distracted them."
"Well, er, uh," he tried to make his voice sound impressive, "Glad I could be of service."
"Say, who are you, anyway?"
"Me? I'm glad you asked! My name is . . . Havok!"
The officer glanced at the remnants of the crate he'd blasted. It lay in a crater of melted asphalt. "I believe it."
"No, really!" Havok took out an X-men comic with a picture of the real Havok on the cover and held it next to his own face. "See?"
"You mean you're actually the guy outta that comic book?"
"Well, no, I'm not really Alex S— . . . er, I mean, yes! Yes, I am the same Havok! The comic book character come to life! Defender of truth, justice, and . . . uh . . . well, you get the idea."
"Well, whoever you are, it was good to have you here!" He grabbed his shoulder and fervently shook his hand.
Havok recoiled slightly. The whole experience had left him rather banged up, even with his new force field. Agitated physical contact at this point didn't feel very pleasant. "Er, um, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to be going now."
"You're not going to stay around and talk to the TV reporters?"
Havok smiled momentarily, then wondered, 'Can this mask here really keep anybody from identifying me on television?' "Uh, sorry. Ta-ta."
And with that, he exited stage left.
'Now then,' he thought, 'Where did my motorcycle get to?'
Unfortunately for Cathy the next morning, unpleasant physical contact for Roger M. Wilcox hadn't been limited just to vigorous handshakes. She'd wondered where he'd gotten the bruises, so he'd told her he had one of those accidents mad scientists are always having in their laboratories. Right now, though, he was clipping out the cover article from this morning's edition of the Daily Planetary Bugle.
"M.A.C.R.O.N. WEAPONS DROP DEFEATED," read the headline; "Mysterious Black-Clothed Vigilante Aids Police."
'Vigilante?' Roger thought. 'Aw, come on, I was HAVOK, the great and powerful super-hero from the X-men come to life to rid the world of the evil forces of M.A.C.R.O.N.!'
He read the second paragraph: "Six of the MACRON agents were captured. Three were treated for bullet wounds, but the other three had to be rushed to burn centers. One is still reported to be in critical condition."
'Well, all right, maybe I did come on just a little too strong.'
Some miles away, another person finished reading the second paragraph as well. A person whose torso was a solid block of concrete with stubby little concrete arms and legs jutting out. A person who sometimes wished to God that the super-heroes in the city would get organized. A person who, thanks to an accursed particle-accelerator accident, had changed his name from Steven Singer to Brick One.
"Another super hero," he muttered. He glanced unconsciously at a picture of Susan he'd framed on his mantle. "Not that we don't need any more. Especially not right now. Phhh, with M.A.C.R.O.N. on the make, this city needs every hero it can get its hands on."
And yet a third person finished the same paragraph at the same time some distance away from the two of them. He wished to hell that he could have woken himself up and gotten some pictures of the event for the article. Rob Hood, his bills and comic- book-subscription renewal notices were addressed to. Rob Hood's paycheck could have really used the boost some front-line pictures of M.A.C.R.O.N.'s latest setback would have given it. He flexed the muscles in his right arm and wondered if they would go soft if he quit pumping steroids into it.
The fourth person to read the headlines at this time did so between sips of coffee and trips to the piano. His latest piece, entitled, "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Five Pieces of Wood," just wasn't working out. He felt tempted to blast the piano to flinders, but then he'd just have to go buy another one. It was hard enough composing neo-romantic music in the minimalist style without having your name changed to Gustav Mahler.
The fifth person who just happened to be reading the article at the exact same time as these other four actually had better things to do. He was a Nobel-prize winner in three categories, and he sure as syrup wasn't going to get a fourth Nobel if he didn't get back to work. But he had to do his work at his own pace, he reminded himself, he was just a simple scientist who worked slowly and methodically.
There was, of course, one more person reading the headlines simultaneously, and he wasn't happy.
"M.A.C.R.O.N. made a strike last night?!" Michael Gersten barked. "MACRON had a shoot-out with the police and I wasn't in on it?!!"
"MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-chaeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel!" Laura cried, "STOP YELLING SO LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Michael ignored her. He was used to it. 'I wouldn't have been able to get in on it anyway,' he thought, 'Because I didn't have a way to get there fast enough. Now, if I could fly like all those other super-heroes I know about . . .'
He snapped his fingers and came up with an idea. That shimmering force field of his looked an awful lot like the shields Major Havoc had in the video game of the same name. This selfsame vector-graphics character could also wear anti-gravity boots. If he were to put on some boots made of iron or steel, and then use his magnetic powers on them . . .
He dove into the pile in his closet and began tearing through his old stuff. He found one of the original 16-inch-high G.I. Joe action figures, half an RS-232 board, a Slinky inextricably tangled up with a wad of kite string, a yo-yo with no string (kite or otherwise), a flashlight with one corroded Eveready D-cell in it and no bulb, several unwound cassette tapes that used to hold TRS-80 Model 1 programs, and three empty cans of Silly String, but no iron or steel boots.
Suddenly, he got an idea. He looked under his bed, and lo and behold there stood a pair of stainless steel boots in just his size. For the first time, he was grateful for his dog's habit of carrying things in from the yard and hiding them under his bed. In a nervous flash, he'd taken off his normal shoes and clamped the metal foot coverings down over his socks. Then he stood up and concentrated on levitating them.
There was the low hum that always accompanied his magnetic powers, and then his feet started to move. Just like Major Havoc's antigravity boots, he thought with excitement. The boots shook, rose up off the ground, and shot toward the ceiling.
And Michael found himself hanging upside-down from a pair of floating steel boots.
All right, so this scheme did make it a little difficult to keep his balance. He switched off his magnetic field and collapsed back onto the floor. No, this wouldn't work at all. If he really wanted to fly, he would need some kind of iron or steel harness to ride in, something that carried his whole body along with it. Of course, he could keep the boots for effect, but they wouldn't be enough.
He looked under his bed one more time. Unfortunately, there was no steel body harness there like he hoped.
"A.J.!!" he yelled, calling his dog.
Five seconds later, a rather frightened and guilty-looking German shepherd padded through his bedroom door, wagging his tail and carrying a steel body harness in his mouth.
Michael chuckled to himself over this extreme coincidence, shrugged, took the steel harness, and put it on. It looked like a steel version of that plastic strap the He-Man toy wore. Now, concentrating again, he willed his magnetic field back into existence and levitated smoothly off the floor to a prone floating position. It worked perfectly.
His legs, he noticed, weren't drooping down. They were straight out behind him like they ought to be. That was probably because those steel boots were still on; well, he figured, he might as well keep the antigravity boots just for kicks, so to speak.
He opened his window magnetically — it had a steel frame — and magnetized himself headlong out into the world. "Now, M.A.C.R.O.N.," he said in that voice super-heroes always used (or as close as he could come to that kind of voice), "Prepare to meet the REAL wrath of Keybounce!"
Michael continued to sail on out into the world for about two miles before he realized he had no idea where MACRON was. Maybe he should stop a police car and ask directions or something. Oh, sure, he figured, that would work just fine. "Pardon me, officer, but I'm Keybounce the Electromagnetic God and I was wondering if you knew where MACRON was." Sure, they'd be real responsive to that. Perhaps if he sidled in non-chalantly to a Radio Shack and listened to their police band receiver . . .
He lowered himself gently down onto the pavement on the corner of 6th and Wilshire and promenaded through the Radio Shack's open front door. He would have flown through the door to make it look more impressive, except he wasn't sure of his ability to control his levitation in cramped, low-ceilinged quarters with lots of fragile and expensive equipment around. The man adjusting one of the displays (who was the only one visible, since it was a slow day for business) looked up at him and cracked a grin. "Is that you, Michael?"
"Michael?" Michael did a take. "Er, uh . . . who's Michael? Why no, Mister uh . . ." he pretended to read the man's employee badge, ". . . Brian W. Ritchie, I'm Keybounce, the Electromagnetic God, here to search out the crime that's been ruining our fair city!"
"That is you, Michael, isn't it?"
Now he felt frustrated. "Don't you have any respect for secret identities?!"
Brian scratched his head. "Well, sorry that I could see through that fantastic disguise of yours — even though you're not doing anything really drastic, like concealing any part of your face or something."
Keybounce patted his right hand over his face, feeling only his ordinary distance glasses adorning his eyes, and groaned. 'Drat,' he thought.
"Well," Brian started over, clearing his throat, "What can I do for you, Mr. Keyboard?"
"I'd like to monitor one of those radios of yours that picks up police bands."
"Sure," Brian replied. "I have about five scanners listening through police frequencies right now. Tends to liven up the slow days."
— Remainder of story yet to be written —