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."
"Okay, then!" Keybounce said, and started walking over to the row of scanners. His steel boots made loud, clomping footfalls on the linoleum tiles. Perhaps he should consider lifting his boots slightly with his magnetic powers while he walked, just to keep from putting dents in the floor. He paused, briefly, when he walked past one of the new Tandy 1000 TX models on display. Hmph. Here it was, 1987 — a full three years after IBM started selling the PC-AT — and Tandy finally got around to introducing an 80286-based PC clone. At this rate, Radio Shack would never recapture the glory days of the TRS-80.
He sat himself down in front of the scanner farthest in the back of the store. The other four were just blasting their audio out over their front speakers, trying to impress casual shoppers. This fifth one had headphones plugged into it. He slipped them on and listened while the row of red LEDs cycled through left-to-right, over and over.
He didn't have long to wait. The row of LEDs stopped on a mid-range frequency, and a dispatcher's voice sounded in the headphones: "All units, proceed to Crocker Bank on Santa Monica Boulevard. Robbery in progress. Multiple armed MACRON agents sighted. National Guard has been alerted and is en route, ETA thirty minutes."
The National Guard. About time they started taking MACRON seriously. But thirty minutes? MACRON could steal every penny in that bank and be gone in that time. And ordinary police weren't going to be much good against them.
Keybounce whipped the headphones off and ran, clunking, toward the Radio Shack's front door. As he passed Brian on the way out, he exclaimed, "This is a job for Keybounce!", then hoisted himself off the ground magnetically and shot out the door and into the sky.
The Crocker Bank building was only two blocks to the east and four blocks to the south. It stood roughly ten stories tall, with an enormous clock protruding above its upper floors; the actual bank vault would be on the ground floor, and that was MACRON's most likely target. The vault probably held a cool half-million in cash, enough to fund over a dozen MACRON agents for —
Wait. Those weren't just armed MACRON footsoldiers down there. Those bulky vehicles . . . they looked vaguely like tanks. Yikes. No wonder the National Guard had been called in. The police barricades surrounding the building wouldn't do much good if MACRON could just run right over them. Keybounce, the electromagnetic god, had better start thinning their ranks. He angled downward toward one MACRON agent who was keeping the police pinned down with Uzi fire. When he got in range, Keybounce pointed his magnetic will at the gun in the man's hands, and tried to yank it free.
And that was when he discovered that his magnetism could miss.
That caught the agent's attention. He glared up at the new target flying overhead, and as casually as though this were something that happened every day, he pointed his Uzi at Keybounce and let loose a three-round burst.
Keybounce barely switched on his magnetic forcefield in time. The two bullets that would have hit him ricoched harmlessly away. He cursed himself for not having turned on his forcefield the moment he got close to the action.
At that moment, a single shot rang out. Since this agent was now distracted by a flying superhero, he was no longer pinning down the police officers, and one of the boys in blue had had enough time to draw a bead on him and pull the trigger. The bullet cracked off the body armor covering the agent's left arm. He yelped in pain, then turned back toward the police with fury in his eyes and sprayed a hail of bullets at the cars they were crouching behind.
Well, Keybounce thought, if he couldn't disarm the man, perhaps he could take a more direct approach. He sighted along his right arm at the agent, and let loose a jolt of static electricity. Lightning. The bolt snapped straight to its target, impacting the agent's body armor but still managing to knock the man onto his side, dazed.
But the police still sat crouched behind their cars . . . because the tank-looking vehicle the agent had been standing on began to move. It rumbled toward the row of police cars, threatening to drive right over them, or through them. Keybounce looked on in horror. Up this close, the armored vehicle looked too small to be a regular tank; but even still, his magnetic powers would be nowhere near strong enough to lift it. His lightning blasts, likewise, would probably do nothing beyond blacken its armor plating. What could —
From one end of the police barricade, a line of yellow-white rings arced above the ground and flowered into a devastating fireball right atop the armored vehicle. The boom was deafening. The tank's treads melted, its armor buckled in places and crumpled in others. Its hatch flew open, and its sole occupant leapt out to keep from broiling inside the still-hot armored box. Keybounce looked to whence the beam of rings had originated . . . and saw a black figure with a target on his chest, riding on a banshee of a motorcycle.
"I heard they called out the National Guard," Havok called out over the crowd. "I thought maybe you could use some heavy firepower."
"All right!" Keybounce cheered. "Another super-hero! Let's get these g—"
At that instant, the front doors to the bank burst open and a wave of MACRON agents poured out. Each of them was carrying a big burlap sack with a dollar sign on the side. Cripes! They must've already stolen damn near everything in the bank's vault. They'd also spotted Keybounce and Havok, and immediately started shooting at them. Keybounce's forcefield was still firmly in place and could protect him from the bullets; Havok, though, gasped and switched on his own force field as fast as he could.
The MACRON agents made for several tanks that their comrades were guarding, and began funneling into them. Keybounce managed to magnetically slam the access door shut on one of the tanks, but it did little to stem the exodus. For six full seconds, Havok just sat there on his motorcycle, safely ensconced in his force field and, seemingly, trying to figure out what he should do next. Damn, Keybounce thought, He sure has a slow reaction time.
Not all of the agents were merely carrying guns, though. Agent 456 had a rocket launcher. He was one of MACRON's heavy weapons specialists; in his case, he was in charge of ensuring the safety of as as many of the fleeing agents as possible. He'd read the reports on Havok from yesterday's encounter, and had seen for himself the frightening destruction Havok had just wreaked upon Joe's MALAV. (Thankfully, only Joe had been inside at the time.) The pulsing sphere of force surrounding Havok's body was the real problem, though; it had turned aside his comrades' small arms fire last night, and again today. That made him a hardened target, one that needed to be neutralized now. Agent 456 lined up Havok in his rocket launcher's sights — he'd had a rocket loaded in it ready to go for just such a moment — and put his finger on the trigger.
Havok noticed the rocket launcher being aimed at him, and panicked. There was no way his forcefield would be strong enough to withstand an anti-tank weapon. He wasn't athletic enough to jump behind his motorcycle or dart away in the fraction of a second he had left. He instinctively crossed his arms in front of himself and shut his eyes.
A sky-blue beam lanced out from somewhere and cradled him, at the same moment Agent 456 pulled the trigger. The rocket zipped toward him, faster than the human eye could follow . . . then banged harmlessly off of his crossed arms and careened head-over-tail through the air, finally landing half a block away without going off. Havok glared at the projectile in disbelief, then noticed the beam and followed it to its source. There sat a bald man on a souped-up wheelchair, pointing a small handheld device at him.
"Missile Deflection, Useable By Others at Range," the man said. "30 Active Points. I figured this might come in handy."
Before Havok could react, or even reply, Keybounce fired a lightning zap at Agent 456. He managed to dodge the bolt — just barely — then headed for one of the open tanks and called out, "Finish loading up, MACRON! We are leaving!"
One of the tank's hatches slammed shut, but it wasn't Keybounce doing it this time. Its own occupants had closed the hatch. The tank started moving forward on its treads, turning away from the police cars and the two (three?) super-heroes. Then another tank started moving. And another.
"They're getting away!" a police officer called out.
Havok revved the engine of his motorcycle — if "revved" was the right word for an engine with no pistons — and shouted, "Not if I can help it!" He pulled out past the police barricade and headed for the nearest tank.
That was when all of the tanks lifted off the ground, and glowing jet (or rocket) exhaust ports sprang into being on their rears.
"What the hell?" Havok called out. "Those tanks can fly!"
Keybounce watched helplessly as these impossible flying chunks of steel streamed away from the scene of their crimes. Then he cursed himself. "Wait a minute, I can fly too!" He angled toward the squadron of departing tanks and hurtled himself through the air at them.
Havok tried firing an aerial burst at one of the fleeing tanks, but the fireball detonated just to one side of it without even blackening its armor.
"Uh oh," the man in the wheelchair muttered, and frantically began removing parts from his handheld device.
Keybounce closed in, but he wasn't quite sure what he'd do when he caught up to them. Their armor was too tough for his lightning zaps, and they were too heavy for his magnetic powers to bring down. Maybe he could lever open one of their hatches, and —
The turret atop the nearest tank swung 180 degrees, so that its cannon was pointed straight at Keybounce. Keybounce had just enough time to gasp before a wide blue-white beam sprang noiselessly from the muzzle. It caught him squarely, ignoring his forcefield and his metal harness like they weren't even there. Every nerve in his body seemed to shut down in that instant. When his vision came back a fraction of a second later, his forcefield was gone and he was plummeting toward the ground. He could barely move a muscle, let alone reactivate his magnetic powers.
Just before hitting the ground, a pale orange beam came out of nowhere and surrounded him in a pale orange bubble. Keybounce's descent slowed, until he touched down on the pavement at a nice, gentle four miles per hour, and the orange beam shut off. This beam, like the blue beam preceding it, had come from the bald man in the wheelchair.
"Phew," the wheelchaired man said, "I barely got the emitter reconfigured for 15 STR Telekinesis in time!"
Havok and Keybounce converged on the wheelchair-bound stranger. All of the MACRON agents, except the one Keybounce had knocked out and the tank driver whom the police were now pursuing on foot, had gotten away; and if it hadn't been for this stranger the two of them would probably be dead now. Some super-heroes they were turning out to be. Keybounce landed next to the stranger right as Havok pulled up on Turbine One, brimming with questions; but Havok squinted at the flying magnetic-powered hero and spoke first:
"Michael?" Havok asked.
Keybounce's eyes went wide. "Dammit, does every —" . . . then it was his turn to squint at Havok. "Roger?"
"How —" Havok stuttered, "How could you tell it was me? I thought this mask was the perfect disguise!"
"Perfect if you're in a comic book, maybe," Keybounce replied.
The man in the wheelchair glanced back and forth between the two of them, and said, "I take it you two know each other?"
"Apparently, we do," Havok said. He indicated Keybounce. "Michael here is one of my gaming buddies. We play Champions with Todd and Ramin once or twice a week."
"Oh, gosh!" the stranger exclaimed. "Isn't Champions the best! No random character generation, no armor class, no abstracted hit points, no classes, no levels, no difference between player-characters and monsters — just dose after dose of reality. Have you seen the new 3rd Edition rulebook? No more wondering whether Reduced Endurance Cost increases the power's Endurance cost, because it no longer increases the Active Points! Although it does make Reduced END more expensive if the Power has Advantages."
Havok frowned. "That's how they did Reduced Endurance in Fantasy Hero, isn't it?"
"Pretty much," the stranger said. "Honestly, I don't know why they don't just publish one core Hero Games rule set, and make Champions and Fantasy Hero and Danger International into 'genre books', instead of putting a new spin on the core game rules in every published game."
Keybounce shook his head. "They'd have to publish a whole new Fourth Edition for something that big."
"By the way," the stranger extended his hand, "I'm called the Scientist. What do you call yourselves?"
Keybounce drew himself up to his full height and proudly proclaimed, "I'm Keybounce, the Electromagnetic God! Pleased to make your acquaintance, fellow citizen!" He shook the Scientist's proffered hand.
Havok added, "And I'm called Havok!"
The Scientist's eyebrows shot up. "You mean, you're the guy from the X-Men Comics?"
"Well, no," Havok explained, "Not exactly. I mean, he was my inspiration, and I made myself look like him, but he absorbs cosmic rays and the target on my chest absorbs cosmic energy. So, totally different."
Keybounce pointed at the device in the Scientist's hand, the one that had saved his life a moment ago. "So I take it your superpower is the Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver?"
The Scientist shook his head. "No no no. I build fantastic gadgets out of spare parts, use them once or twice, and then never see them again." He held up the device for close inspection. It looked ratty and dog-eared, like it had been taken apart and put back together one too many times. Ungainly pieces that were all the wrong shape jutted from its sides.
Havok smirked. "Kinda like Reed Richards, then."
The Scientist got serious. "I think of myself more like Professor Xavier. You see, since MACRON came out of the shadows, I've realized that no one super-hero will be able to take them down on his or her own."
"I've gotta agree with that," Keybounce said grimly. "Did you happen to see their giant humanoid robot hovering overhead a couple days ago?"
"Yes," the Scientist said. "They were grandstanding, making a display of just how powerful they were, and just how futile any attempt to thwart them might be. I think they were doing the same thing today. They couldn't have absconded with more than half a million dollars. Each of those flying tanks of theirs must have cost close to that much. And if, as it would seem, they've developed some kind of anti-gravity technology, there's not a military force on the planet that's going to be a match for them." He gazed at Havok and Keybounce levelly. "Which is why I'm forming a super-hero team. Maybe together, we'll all stand a better chance. My supercomputer Kerebro located the two of you here. That's why I showed up."
Keybounce's eyes popped wide open. "You have a computer that boosts your mind, just like Cerebro in the X-Men's mansion boosts Professor X's mind, thus allowing you to detect super-heroes anywhere in the world with your powers?!"
"Er, no," he admitted, "It's just a regular computer. It deduced that you'd be here because of yesterday's newspaper article about the foiled MACRON weapons drop. But," he added, "I do have a headquarters just like they do. I've expanded my lab into a full-blown Base of Operations. In fact, I've recruited three other super-heroes. They've already started training together, so that they can work out tactics for taking down MACRON as a team."
The Scientist gazed at both of them levelly. "And I want you two to join us."
Havok blinked. "A super-hero team? Huh! Wow! That actually sounds pretty amazing. Count me in!"
"And with Keybounce, the Electromagnetic God on your side," Keybounce added, "There's no way this new team can lose!"
"All right, then," the Scientist said, "Follow me to team H.Q.!" He turned his wheelchair toward the south, fired up its engines, and burned rubber as he accelerated away.
"Right behind you!" said Havok, gunning his turbine engine and chasing right after him on two wheels of his own.
"Wait for me!" Keybounce called out, taking to the air and trying to keep up with them.
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