MACRON One, all 269 meters of it, pivoted on its center and accelerated away.
"Looks like they know they've been beaten," the Scientist said matter-of-factly. Keybounce, Mauler, Wake, and Tsybd landed close by, all of them nodding in agreement with the Scientist.
Havok narrowed his gaze. "I'm gonna give them a going-away present." He raised his arms and fired a full-strength blast at the giant flying robot's rear, just before it got out of range. The nuclear-class fireball shook and scorched and incinerated just as before, but as before, MACRON One's armor was just too tough to bring down. The two blue glowing thrusters, mounted in the "soles" of the giant robot's "feet", were more exposed — the left one sputtered and died from the blast. But the right thruster kept on chugging away, driving the flying behemoth away until it dwindled out of sight.
"Hey," the Scientist admonished Havok, "You don't shoot a fleeing man in the back."
"Why the hell not?" Blue Shooter asked. "They've got less DCV from behind."
Agent 456 sat in the center of the road, surrounded by his enemies. Brick One glowered at him smugly. "Looks like your friends have deserted you."
Agent 456 sighed. "I'd have done the same, if our positions had been reversed. MACRON comes first. I'm just one agent, but MACRON will live on to fight another day."
Tsybd mocked his voice. "MACRON comes first." She levitated a big chunk of broken concrete, dislodged from the road by Wake's earlier impact crater, and suspended it over Agent 456's head. "You deserve to die!"
Agent 456 gazed levelly at her. "Ever killed anyone before?"
Her brow furrowed.
"I have," Agent 456 went on. "It changes you. Even killing in the heat of battle, or in self defense — it changes you." He looked up at the concrete boulder over his head. "And if you kill me right now, while I'm helpless, it won't be self-defense. It'll be murder. Either you'll go to prison, or you'll be on the run from the law. And in either case, the life you've known and lived will be over."
She clenched her teeth, and slowly lowered the concrete block down beside him. "I hate you."
"I know," Agent 456 said.
Brick One looked slyly at Agent 456. "You know," he said, rubbing his chin, "This agent gives off a guy-in-charge kind of vibe. I'll bet he's pretty high up in the MACRON organization. He probably knows a whole lot of MACRON's secrets."
Keybounce looked at the agent and grinned. "He probably does. Though I doubt he'd give up that information easily." He cracked his knuckles.
"Oh," Agent 456 sneered. "So it's torture you're talking about now?"
"No need," the Scientist said with an air of smugness. "Not in a world full of super-heroes. It shouldn't be too hard to find someone with telepathy, who can read the secrets from your mind whether you're willing or not."
Agent 456's eyes went wide. He should have considered that.
The sound of sirens approached from the east, and two police motorcycles approached with their lights flashing. But these weren't local police, or Federal.
The bikes stopped a short distance away from the League. Both officers wore light brown uniforms, half-head helmets, and reflective sunglasses. Mauler puzzled. "The California highway patrol?"
One of the officers dismounted his bike and walked up to them, his perfect teeth flashing. They could read the name "Poncherello" on his chest name tag. "You're going to have to leave," he said. "Westbound traffic's blocked off about half a mile east of here, and we need to get it moving again."
"Oh!" the Scientist said. "Right, we are in the middle of a freeway, aren't we." He turned to the League: "Okay, folks, let's leave the road. Mauler and Keybounce, why don't you fly our little agent friend here over to my Top Secret Base."
The human Romulan starship, and the Electromagnetic God, each grabbed one of Agent 456's upper arms, and together the two of them hoisted him unceremoniously into the sky. Wake followed just behind them, making sure his rear-facing shockwave didn't catch anyone. Tsybd took off and avoided Wake's wake by flying in a different direction entirely. Havok mounted his jet-propelled motorcycle, and took off toward the next freeway offramp with Brick One in the back seat. Blue Shooter shot a propeller-driven Flight Arrow eastward, grabbed on, and got yanked off the ground and away.
The Scientist was about to run off on his exoskeleton legs, but first he pointed at the crater Wake had made in the pavement, back when he'd crashed through the OverDone's illusion. "Um," he said to officer Poncherello, "Maybe you'd better cone off this lane."
A bright and sunny morning greeted the Scientist's base of operations. Up on its roof, in ten-foot-high letters, a sign now read "TOP SECRET HEADQUARTERS OF THE LEAGUE OF 250 POINT CHARACTERS."
Havok pulled up on Turbine One, just at about the same time Keybounce magnetically-levitated himself down in front of the building. The Scientist — back in a wheelchair for old time's sake — rolled out the front door to greet them, with Blue Shooter and Brick One trundling along behind. "Top o' the morning, fellow League comrades!"
"Heya, Scienist!" Keybounce said. "Where are Wake and Mauler?"
The Scientist rolled his eyes. "They're out having an aerial drag race, speedster versus impulse drive. Each one of 'em's still convinced he's the fastest."
"I think I know what'll happen," Blue Shooter said. "Wake'll take the lead, then Mauler will just climb out of the atmosphere and warp-drive to the finish line. Then Wake'll accuse Mauler of cheating, tempers'll flare, and if we're lucky we might get to see 'em come to blows."
Havok looked around. "And where's your young, beautiful, v— er, daughter?"
The Scientist shrugged. "She hasn't shown up since last evening's big showdown with MACRON. I hope she's just being her usual impulsive self, and that she hasn't been —"
As if on cue, the mailman appeared and said, "Letter for the Scientist."
"Oh no," the Scientist said, "Not again!" He snatched the letter from the mailman's hand and tore it open. Thankfully, it wasn't written in pasted-together magazine letters this time. As the mailman walked away, the Scientist read; and the more he read, the more anxious his expression became.
Havok watched the Scientist read for a few seconds, then got impatient and asked, "Is that letter from Mental Girl?"
"Don't call her that to her face," the Scientist said, "But yes."
"She hasn't been kidnapped again, has she?" Havok asked with alarm.
"Worse," the Scientist said, holding the letter out for the group with an almost dead gesture. "She's left the nest."
Havok, Keybounce, Blue Shooter, and Brick One all leaned in and read:
As I am now super-rich, I no longer need, or want, to live under your roof. I've bought a mansion in Wiscansin with a solid gold swimming pool and its own built-in platoon of personal servants. I am now living there. With all the super-heroes protecting Los Angeles, I figured Milwaukee could do with one of its own. Here's hoping my telekinetic powers will be occupied with foiling bank robberies, saving people from collapsing bridges, and rescuing kittens stuck in trees.
Maybe I'll come visit you for Thanksgiving or something. Just knock it off with the whole "my young, beautiful daughter" routine, okay?
As they finished reading, the Scientist sighed. "I'm going to miss her terribly."
"Well," Brick One said, trying to be as consoling as a brick with arms and legs could be, "You knew this day would come eventually." He looked up wistfully for a moment. "Guess someone else is gonna have to run the Danger Room now."
"The Danger Room can practically run itself," the Scientist said. "She just worked the control room to make herself feel useful."
"By the way," Keybounce said, "Did you ever find someone to read that MACRON agent's mind?"
The Scientist chortled. "You bet I did. He's now in the ever-capable hands of Mentalis."
"Oh, great," Havok grumbled. "Mentalis will just make him sit down and have a beer."
"Oh, come on," the Scientist said, "Just 'cause that's Mentalis's main schtick doesn't mean he does it all the time. Remember way back when, when I threw together an Intelligence-draining device, and used it on a different agent we'd captured? Turned the target into a drooling moron for a few moments. Since telepathy has to overcome its target's Intelligence, this allowed Mentalis to pry every scrap of knowledge out of the agent's subconscious. I'm sure he'll do the same to our latest captive."
"Too bad Mentalis isn't based on 250 points, like we are," Keybounce said.
At that instant, a streak of light appeared in the sky. The Scientist frowned at it, and said, "Something's re-entering the atmosphere from space."
Brick One asked, "Is that Mauler, cheating his way to the finish line?"
"No, can't be," the Scientist said, "Mauler doesn't bother accelerating when he's in space — he just pops in and out of warp drive. Whatever this is, it hit the atmosphere at orbital speed, if not interplanetary speed."
The streak of light got closer and brighter, but then seemed to get redder and redder, as though it were cooling off. Finally, when the light abated completely, a tiny dark dot appeared where the light had just been. The dot grew larger, until they could make out a vaguely rectangular shape. In a few more seconds, it was clear — this was some sort of spacecraft.
The craft descended right onto the same block where the League was standing, and parked its full 30-by-30-foot bulk in the middle of the street. A hatch opened, and out stepped a man wearing red tights with a black cape and a hollow whitish capital "I" on his chest.
Keybounce blinked. He couldn't believe it. "Infra Man?!"
"Hi, guys!" said the Man of Rust. "I just got back from visiting my home planet of Caloria. Actually, it's not a planet, it's a black dwarf star, but we Calorians live on it as though it were a planet. What did I miss?"
Blue Shooter held up a newspaper. "We made the front page of the Daily Planetary Bugle! See?" Atop a photo of the group fighting MACRON One — with photo credit to Rob Hood, much to Blue Shooter's delight — the paper bore the headline: BAND OF COSTUMED FREAKS ENDANGERS THOUSAND OAKS.
Damn, Infra Man thought. Headline news in the Planetary Bugle, and Cal Heat wasn't around to write the article. Then he squinted at the photo, looked up at the group gathered around, and asked, "That's you guys?"
"You better believe it!" Brick One said. "We're the League of 250 Point Characters!"
As if on cue, Mauler and Wake flew in and landed right next to everyone else. "Infra Man!" they both said in surprise.
Infra Man pointed around at everyone, as much in surprise as the two new arrivals. "You guys are all based on 250 Points?"
"We are indeed!" said the Scientist.
"What a coincidence!" Infra Man said. "So am I! Say, does that mean I can join your League?"
Havok practically choked in surprise. "You want to join us? But . . . but you're Infra Man! The Man of Rust! The super-hero that all the other super-heroes look up to! And we're just . . . um —"
Blue Shooter did a somersault, popped up right in front of Infra Man, and held out his hand to shake. "We would love to have you as a member!"
"Well all right, then!" Infra Man said, shaking the proffered hand (but being careful to shake it gently, what with his full Calorian strength being enough to lift an ocean liner). "So, what does the League of 250 Point Characters do for fun?"
"Well, we practice in the Danger Room," Keybounce said, "And, uh . . . actually, I haven't been in the League long enough for any fun. We've all been preoccupied with fighting MACRON. Thank goodness that threat's gone."
The Scientist held up a hand. "The threat of MACRON is diminished," he said. "It's not gone. MACRON has retreated into hiding, but they'll be back. Depending on what Mentalis finds out from that agent, they might even be back pretty soon."
"And MACRON's not the only threat out there," Wake added. "There's also T.H.E.M., The Harbingers of Eternal Mankind, under the scheming eye of Mr. Eternal."
Havok folded his arms. "At least with THEM, we know what the acronym stands for."
"And there's the Exploiter," Blue Shooter said, "With his monstrous creations Sick Brick and Ridiculous Brick."
The Scientist nodded. "And Mutant, with his monstrous creation Disgusting Brick."
"Welllll," Brick One said, "Those two hate each other enough that they might just get rid of each other for us."
The Scientist got out a crate labeled SOAP, and stood on it. "But wherever evil lurks," he proclaimed, "We shall be there to face it." Patriotic music swelled in the background. "Wherever the threat is too great for the hands of mortal men, we shall be there to push it back. For we are . . . The League of 250 Point Characters!"
As the music died down, Havok looked around and said, "Um, so, anybody wanna play a game of Champions?"
"Oh hell yes!" the Scientist practically squealed with glee. "I've got this awesome martial-artist character I just made with the new 3rd Edition rules. I put a lot of work into his secret identity, but I'm dying to try him out against a supervillain."
"Count me in, too!" Keybounce said. "I brought my character sheets and D6es with me in my backpack, just in case."
"I've never actually played Champions," Brick One admitted.
"Oh, it's loads of fun!" the Scientist said. "Character creation is, like, half the game all by itself. I'll show you!"
The Scientist escorted Brick One inside the League's Top Secret Headquarters. Havok and Keybounce eagerly followed. Murmurs of conversation ran through the whole group as all of them eventually wandered inside, and shut the door behind them.
And as the credits began to roll and the scene faded to black, Havok ran back outside. He'd forgotten to park his jet-cycle.
I hope you've enjoyed reading The League of 250 Point Characters as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
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