"Hold on, guys," Havok said, holding up one hand as a robotic attacker crashed to the ground behind his turbocycle, "Lemme catch my breath."
"MACRON's not gonna let you catch your breath," Blue Shooter said.
"Maintaining this force field takes a lot out of me!" Havok protested.
Brick One shrugged, punching another robotic attacker casually across the room. "One endurance for every five active points, just like the rest of us."
Geez, Havok thought, You'd need to buy Reduced Endurance Cost just to keep a lousy force field up for more than half a minute. And like Brick One said, everyone faced the same problem with the constant threat of exhaustion. He wondered, briefly, if the rules shouldn't be changed to one endurance for every ten active points, then pushed the thought aside. Another wave of robots — stand-ins for MACRON agents, and designed to be about as tough and hard-hitting — had just been let loose in the room.
"They've got two heavy weapons specialists with them," the Scientist called out. "Treat 'em as prime targets. All others, target assignment beta."
Target assignment beta, Havok thought. Was that the one where he fired at the target third from the left? No, that was alpha. Beta was —
Keybounce managed to grab one of the heavy weapons specialists' rocket launchers in his magnetic grip, and yank it from the robot's hands. Mauler was still recharging his internal starship batteries from the last wave, so Blue Shooter had to fill in for him; the archer shot the second one right between its robotic eyes. Sparks flew from his target's electronic brain and it fell to the floor.
"Don't just stand there, Havok," Brick One said as he charged forward, "Nail the two standing together!"
Oh, right! That was target assignment beta. Havok targeted a point right between the two robotic goons that were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and let loose with a blast at two-thirds of his full power. This time, though, he missed, and his fireball erupted into being in an empty space with no enemy robots or vehicles.
Both of the robots he'd missed returned fire — not at him, but at Brick One, who was charging them. Both bursts of automatic weapons fire bounced ineffectually off of Brick One's stony surface. True, these Danger Room robots were only firing rubber bullets, but real bullets would've done the same. Two of the other robots fired autofire burts at Blue Shooter, who was moving fast enough and unpredictably enough that none of the rubber bullets hit him — this time.
Brick One was just about to reach his assailants when a klaxon sounded and a red light in the ceiling started flashing. All the remaining robots went limp, and the main steel access door swung part way open on its own accord.
"That's the MACRON alert!" the Scientist announced. "And after sunset, too. They don't usually strike outside of daylight hours like this. Daughter, can you give us a location and a sitrep?"
"Looking," came the voice of the Scientist's young, beautiful, virgin daughter over the intercom.
Havok asked, "Is the MACRON alert anything like the TroubAlert on the SuperFriends cartoon?"
Keybounce folded his arms. "That was the Trouble Alert, not the TroubAlert."
"Not in the first season," Blue Shooter countered. "In the old Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog episodes, they called it the TroubAlert."
"Ugh," Brick One said. "I hated that season. It was so boring."
"At least they tried to make the first season an edutainment show," Havok replied. "Not like with the Legion of Doom, where it was all ridiculous bad-guy plot of the week."
The Scientist's young, beautiful, virgin daughter interrupted over the intercom. "I can't find a sitrep yet, but the MACRON disturbance is definitely in the mall."
"The Santa Monica Place mall?" the Scientist asked.
"No no," the Scientist's young, beautiful, virgin daughter's voice said. "Third street. The old mall. It's outdoors."
"All right, guys, this is it!" the Scientist said. "Let's show MACRON what the League of Characters can do!" With that, he kicked in his wheelchair's turbocharger, and sped out of the building.
"Right behind you!" Blue Shooter said. He pulled out an arrow with a propeller on its tip and a thin rope dangling behind it, fired it, then grabbed onto the rope and got yanked away through the air.
"Wait for us!" Keybounce and Mauler said together, and flew out under their own power.
"Bet I can beat all of 'em there," Havok said, gunning the engine on Turbine One. He was about to kick it into gear and burn rubber, when a voice from behind shouted, "Can I have a ride?!"
Havok glanced over his shoulder. It was Brick One. The only member of the team that didn't have a way of moving fast. "Oh! Right," Havok said. "Hop on the back seat!"
Brick One did so, and landed in the saddle with such a heavy thud that he nearly blew out the turbocycle's suspension. "Maybe I should've rephrased that," Havok said. "Uh, lemme get you my spare motorcycle helme—" he noticed the crash helmet on the living brick's head "— Oh. You've already got one. Okay, hold onto my waist, keep your feet on the passenger pegs, and look over my low shoulder when I make a turn. That should make you lean by the correct amount. We're off!"
His cycle's intakes gulped air like a banshee, and with Brick One in tow behind him, Havok tore off out of the building toward the 3rd Street mall.
It was worse than they thought. Those damned flying tanks were back. And there were a lot of MACRON agents here. The threat was so severe that none of the police were willing to risk themselves in a direct conflict — all they could do was direct traffic away from the trouble zone.
"I wonder what MACRON is doing here in such large numbers," the Scientist mused. "There aren't any banks here for 'em to rob."
Havok suggested, "It could be another weapons drop."
Brick One frowned. "It'd have to be a pretty huge weapons drop."
Mauler ascended a bit for a bird's-eye view. "The mall's three blocks long, and it looks like they're all congregating around the dead center. There's something there making a swirling smoke cloud that I can't see through."
"Third Street between Arizona and Santa Monica Blvd.," the Scientist said. "What's there that they might want?"
"The two movie theaters are on the far opposite ends of the mall," Havok said, "So they're not taking in a show."
Keybounce snorted. "Even if they were, MACRON's not gonna be interested in the Cine Latino."
"You never know," Havok replied. "What if their international arm's here paying us a visit?"
"The Woolworth's is in the middle block, isn't it?" Blue Shooter asked.
Mauler shook his head. "They don't look like they're here for clothes or knickknacks."
"Whatever they're after," the Scientist declared, "Let's make sure they don't get it!" He turned toward the center of the mall and gunned his wheelchair.
Havok and Brick One followed close behind on two wheels. Mauler and Keybounce flew after, with Blue Shooter towed along through the air behind a buzzing propeller arrow. They didn't have far to go before MACRON noticed them. A group of five agents whirled to face them, brandishing their guns.
"Bet they weren't expecting a whole team of super-heroes!" the Scientist said. "Target assignment alpha!"
Mauler let loose on the first agent, firing at about two-thirds of his full unboosted power to save to save on battery energy. The beam hit the agent squarely in his armor, slamming him back on his derriere and knocking the wind out of him. Blue Shooter let go of his flight arrow's tow-rope and, before his feet touched the ground, fired a normal arrow at the second agent; the arrow pierced his body armor and bit into his left arm, causing him to drop his gun and clutch at the wound. Havok raised his left arm from his cycle's handle bars and loosed a half-strength blast, which easily caught the middle agent in its burst, sending him reeling. Keybounce managed to grab onto the fourth agent's gun magnetically and wrench it from his grasp. Finally, Brick One leapt from the back seat of Turbine One and landed squarely atop the fifth agent, body-slamming him into the ground.
They could make out more agents in the distance to either side, running in to close the gap in their line. The six of them pressed onward across Santa Monica Boulevard toward the center of the mall. As they did, the Scientist happened to glance down the street and saw a single, green Toyota Corolla driving toward them. The car had somehow made it past the police barricade. As they crossed onto the next block of the mall, the Scientist muttered to himself, "Is that my young, beautiful, virgin daughter's car?"
He didn't have time to worry about it now. The agents were much thicker on this block. Tanks dotted the landscape of a promenade that had been blocked off to automobile traffic for decades; and the turrets on the two closest tanks were swiveling toward them. "Mauler, Havok, take down those two MALAVs!"
Mauler fired at full strength on the first tank, utterly wrecking it. As he did so, Havok asked, "What's a MALAV?"
"It's what they call their flying tanks," the Scientist explained. "MACRON Air/Land Armored Vehicle."
"Oh!" Havok said. "Good name, even if it is an acronym within an acronym." He pointed both hands at the second tank, and blasted it at full strength. Unfortunately, his blast landed off-center; the rear quarter of the tank was completely wrecked, but the rest was still intact. Including the turret, which had now drawn a bead on their group.
"Yikes!" Keybounce yelped. He grabbed the second MALAV's turret magnetically and yanked it to the left as hard and as fast as he could. A massive stun beam shot out of its barrel the instant after he did so, missing everyone wide to the left.
"I'm on it," Brick One and Blue Shooter said simultaneously. Brick One leapt onto the barrel of the tank's gun and wrapped his arms around it. He was about to bend it upward so it pointed harmlessly at the sky, when Blue Shooter jumped right in front of the muzzle and shot an explosive arrow straight down the barrel. The arrow went off about half way down the barrel and blew it apart right where Brick One's midsection was. The blast threw the living brick loose, while bits of barrel shrapnel pummeled his brick-shaped torso. His stony form wasn't injured, but he still groaned in pain.
"Oops," Blue Shooter said. "Maybe we should've —"
A MALAV's stun beam shot straight down from overhead, catching Brick One completely by surprise. The added trauma was too much even for his tough, bricklike body, and he passed out.
"Dammit, we should've been watching the skies!" the Scientist said. "Let's see if my latest gadget does any good." He pointed what looked like a ray gun from a 1950s B science fiction movie at the three-ton hunk of metal bearing down on them from above, and pulled its trigger. A purple beam shot out and enveloped the flying tank. Its antigrav units sputtered and died, and it fell from the sky and crashed to the pavement right next to the Scientist.
"All-or-nothing Flight Drain, useable at range" the Scientist announced smugly, brandishing his ray gun. "Had to put a whopping 10D6 worth into this gadget, just to ensure —"
A revving diesel engine interrupted him. The MALAV had hit the ground right-side-up, and the fall hadn't been long enough to put it out of commission. The treads rumbled to life and it drove straight toward Havok's turbocycle, hoping to run him over.
"No ya don't!" Blue Shooter called out, and fired an explosive arrow which took out the tank's left tread. It veered wildly to the left for a second or two, until the driver figured out what had happened and shut the right tread down.
"Mauler," the Scientist commanded, "Finish that tank off!"
"I can't," Mauler said.
"What?!" The Scientist seemed incredulous. "But you just —"
"My batteries only store enough energy for one full-power blast," Mauler explained. "They recharge on their own, but it takes time. I can fire without using the batteries, but it physically injures me to do so. I must have mentioned this to you at some point!"
"Oh," the Scientist said. "Right. Um . . ." He glanced around at the rest of the team. Brick One was just beginning to shake himself awake and get back to his feet. Keybounce, despite calling himself an electromagnetic god, wasn't strong enough to take down a MALAV. Blue Shooter had just acted, and his SPD wasn't high enough to act again yet. That left . . . "Havok?"
"Lemme at 'em!" Havok said, and blasted the tank full force. Once again, though, his blast landed off the mark, and incinerated only the tank's rear half. Thankfully, the MALAV had already sustained enough damage from the fall that even this offcenter blast managed to break its chassis. But if it hadn't, or if he'd missed off to one side instead . . .
"Havok," Blue Shooter said, "We've gotta do something about your accuracy problem."
Close to the center of the block, whence the swirling smoke emanated, Agent 456 watched the six approaching adversaries with increasing alarm. Three of them were the same guys who tried to stop their bank heist earlier today. Two of the others, Mauler and Blue Shooter, he recognized from the news; the last was probably Brick One, from Exxmen Corp.'s dossier. They were all getting way too close for comfort. He didn't want them ruining what was, quite literally, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He picked up his bullhorn and blared a command: "Keep them away from the monolith. Protect the altar!"
The Scientist said to his team: "So it's some kind of monolith or altar, is it? League of Characters, converge!" He surged forward in his motorwheelchair.
"League of 100 Point Characters!" Keybounce corrected the Scientist, and flew off after him.
"That's it!" Havok cried. "That's what MACRON stands for! Monolith Altar Carrying the Royal Order of Nations!"
Blue Shooter said, "You're out of your mind, you know that?", then ran forward to catch up with the Scientist and Keybounce.
Mauler flew on ahead. Havok looked for Brick One so he could give him a ride, then noticed the living brick was already a good distance ahead of him on foot. He shrugged and popped Turbine One into gear, speeding off toward the Scientist.
The agents grew thicker and more determined. Form up. Attack pattern beta. Priority on the heavy weapons specialists with the rocket launchers. More MALAVs. Attack pattern gamma. More mistakes by the League, but they were getting better, and MACRON's tactics were starting to become more obvious. Break through. Break through their lines. Make it to the smoke clouds at the center of the mall. Yes. There. Now push them back. Back. Keep MACRON at bay. Keep them from whatever prize they're guarding. Arrange yourselves with your backs to the smoke cloud, and take down any agents who get near.
Havok stole a glance over his shoulder between blasts. The smoke was beginning to clear. Behind it . . . whoa. There really was a monolith hidden in the smoke. It had to have been at least six meters tall. It certainly wasn't part of the mall's normal decor. Through the clearing smoke, he caught hints of giant glyphs carved in its surface, or maybe they were just abstract designs.
No time to muse over that now. More agents were coming, and this group looked extra determined. The one with the bullhorn was among them, and this time he directed his shouts at the League: "The altar belongs to MACRON! You won't stop destiny!"
Mauler, Havok, and Keybounce all picked off targets, but there were too many of them this time, coming too fast. Bullets flew at them from multiple directions. The Scientist had to reconfigure a gadget to provide him an impromptu forcefield, just to stay alive. Blue Shooter blinded a few of them with a flash arrow, but he couldn't keeep shooting; he had to stay moving, randomly, to keep any agents from drawing a bead on him. Brick One readied for close-quarters combat, but there were at least two rocket-launchers in that pack of onrushers. There were too many to keep track of. They couldn't even be sure they were all MACRON agents. They were in way over their heads. "Um," Keybounce piped in, "Do we have an escape plan?"
But . . . at that instant, it no longer mattered.
From the smoke cloud behind their backs, a fantastically bright white light burst outward. The onrushing MACRON agents shielded their eyes. It seemed to create a rippling curtain of light between the League of Characters nestled in close, and the agents farther away. The agents stumbled backward as though hit by an unseen force. The one with the bullhorn screamed "Noooo!"
The Scientist, Keybounce, Havok, Blue Shooter, Mauler, and Brick One could no longer see the agents. The couldn't even see each other. Each was ensconced in his own little world, a world which was turning each one to face the monolith. The smoke cloud was completely gone. The huge stone slab at the center of it all was now glowing — no, shining, brilliantly — and the mysterious glyphs on its carved surface stood out even brighter than the rest.
Each of them thought he heard a choir of angels, or his own interpretation of what a choir of angels would sound like. And over this sound, there came a deep, majestic voice, speaking perfectly comprehensible modern English.
"The altar of the chosen seven has awakened," the voice said.
Then, louder: "I . . . AM THE ALTAR . . . OF POINTS."
A warm, powerful feeling suffused each of them.
"I GRANT YOU THESE POINTS," the voice said. "A HUNDRED-AND-FIFTY OF THEM. SPEND THEM WISELY, THAT YOU MAY FULFILL YOUR DESTINIES."
The world seemed to hum and pulse with light. Then, smoke began to rise up and swirl around the shining monolith again. The voice spoke once more, seeming to recede into the distance: "Until the next epoch, farewell."
The smoke completely enveloped the monolith, and the light ceased. Then the smoke cleared almost immediately, and the monolith was gone.
MACRON was gone too. They could see each other again, but there wasn't an agent in sight. Blue Shooter caught a glimpse of a MALAV's thruster glow on the edge of the horizon, but that was all. "How long were we out?" he asked.
Brick One took inventory of his bricklike body, just to be sure everything was still intact. "You all saw that too?"
"The glowing monolith," Mauler asked, "That said it was granting me 150 points?"
"That's the one," the Scientist said. "It said it was granting me 150 Points, too."
"Me too," Havok said. "You know, I do feel different."
"Yeah," Keybounce said, wiggling his fingers as though they were new. "It's like I've got . . . all this potential inside me, just ready to erupt."
"Guys," Mauler said, "I think we've honest-to-goodness just been blessed with 150 new Power Points to spend. I . . . I need to go home and figure out how I'm going to spend all these points!"
"Me too!" Brick One said.
"Me three," Havok said. "Plus, El— er, my girlfriend is probably wondering where I am. She still thinks I'm a mild-mannered music composition student at UCLA."
Mauler raised his eyebrows. I remember when I was still just a music composition student, he thought. I hope he knows what he's in for when he graduates, and has to compete in the real world.
The Scientist announced, "I think we all should go and figure how we're going to spend these new Power Points! If we can become even half as much more powerful as that Altar said we could, the League of Characters might just be able to take down MACRON once and for all!"
Keybounce started to correct him: "You mean the League of 100 Point Cha— . . . Oh! Not any more!"
"Indeed," the Scientist nodded, trying to sound profound. "When next we assemble, we will be . . . The League of 250 Point Characters!"
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