Agent 456 fumed. Years of planning and preparation, all for nothing. Those Points should have gone to MACRON, dammit, not that ragtag group of super-powered misfits! Now, they were each 150 Points stronger, while not a single MACRON agent was.
He sighed, and glared at the helpless civilian sitting in the corner. At least the outing hadn't been a total loss. MACRON had gained a bargaining chip, and now they would put it to use.
Oh, and the other potential partnership they were working on might give them an additional edge. He hoped MACRON's diplomatic wing wouldn't mess it up this time.
In the morning, the new League of 250 Point Characters convened in front of the Scientist's Top Secret Base. They were all eager to show off their new powers to each other.
"Mornin', guys!" Mauler said. "I feel like a new man. Or a new Romulan. My deflector shields are tougher, my Mauler beam is stronger, and best of all, I can now react just as quickly as the Star Fleet Battles rules say I should!" He flew off to the north for 44 meters, jinked back southeast for 22 more meters, fired a low-strength blast at a trash dumpster, engaged his cloaking device to turn invisible, flew behind everyone, re-emerged from invisibility, and startled them all by yelling "BOO!" — all in the space of three seconds.
"Well, okay," Mauler admitted, "It's not as fast as in Star Fleet Battles. I mean, in that game, a turn lasts for 1/30 of a second."
"What're you talking about?" Keybounce asked. "I thought the ships in Star Fleet Battles were big and slow and majestic and —"
Havok butted in: "He's right. One hex per turn is the speed of light, right?"
"Yeah," Keybounce agreed.
"And one hex represents a region of space 10,000 kilometers across, right?"
"Well, the speed of light is 300,000 kilometers per second. So do the division."
Keybounce puzzled. "So one turn is 30 seconds."
"You divided the wrong way," Havok said.
"No, I —" Keybounce began, then his eyes bulged out. "Oh my god, one turn really is a thirtieth of a second!"
"During which time," Mauler added, "There are 32 separate impulses, on each of which a ship can make separate decisions and take action."
Havok said, "The Star Fleet Battles game rules, uh, tend to sweep this inconvenient fact under the rug."
Brick One had never played Star Fleet Battles in his life. Mauler had suggested it to him once, but when Mauler hauled out a 500 page instruction manual, Brick One immediately decided it wasn't for him. So, he changed the subject: "I'm not as fast as you are now, Mauler, but I am a lot tougher. I can take a direct hit from an Armor Piercing anti-tank round and come out of it without a scratch. I don't even think your full deflector shields can say that."
Keybounce asked, "That's all?"
"No, of course not," Brick One replied, a bit miffed. "I also boosted most of my stats, particularly my Dex, so that I wouldn't have to rely on my skill levels with punches so much."
"Nice," Blue Shooter said. "I decided that I should be a tad more agile too."
"How much more?" Mauler asked.
"Oh, about 18 DCV, when I'm not dodging," Blue Shooter said. "Plus, you remember how my bow-and-arrows multipower was big enough that my Net Arrows did a 7D6 Entangle? Well, now it's big enough that they do a seventeen D6 Entangle!"
"And I," the Scientist boasted, standing without a wheelchair this time, "Got tired of working slowly and methodically. I boosted my Intelligence to 48. Now all my INT-based skills are on a 19 or less!"
"Uh, that sounds nice and all," Mauler said, "But is that really gonna make a difference when we're fighting MACRON?"
"Well," the Scientist said, "I also doubled the size of my Gadget Pool." He patted the exoskeleton legs he was wearing for emphasis.
Mauler nodded. "That's more like it."
"By the way," the Scientist added, "My young, beautiful, virgin daughter didn't show up this morning. Have any of you seen her? She can be an impulsive girl sometimes."
Shrugs and "nope"s murmured through the League members. They were all more interested in showing off their new powers.
Keybounce said, "I'm better able to live up to the title 'The Electromagnetic God' now. I'm more agile, I can fly faster, my lightning blast and force field are both stronger, I'm a lot better at Computer Programming now so I can totally show up that Brian guy down at the Radio Shack, and my magnetic power is now strong enough that I can lift up and throw a whole tank! Watch!" He flexed one arm, and made a UPS truck parked half way down the street levitate out of its parking space for a moment.
All eyes turned to Havok, the only one who hadn't described what he'd changed about himself. Havok cleared his throat, and said, "I made my energy blast stronger."
"Okay," Keybounce said. "And?"
"What do you mean, 'and'?" Havok asked.
"And," Keybounce continued, "What else did you buy?"
"Well," Havok said, somewhat defensively, "What else would I need?"
Keybounce squinted at him as though he were from Mars. "You've gotta be kidding me. That's it? That can't be right." He reached into the space over Havok's head, and pulled his character sheet out of the æther. He studied it, and the longer he did so, the larger his eyes grew and the wider his mouth fell open.
"I don't believe this!" Keybounce said, flapping Havok's character sheet in the air. "You put nothing into your skills, nothing into your force field, nothing into your jet-powered motorcycle — ten CON, ten DEX, two PD, two ED, two Speed, a hundred and fifty extra points, and you put them ALL into your energy blast?!?!!"
Havok said, "Yeah, but now look what I can do!" He pointed his arms toward the next city block, aimed a little above his shoulder level, and fired. Twin yellow beams, ringed in blinding-white rings brighter than anything he'd ever produced before, flew from his arms and arched upward and outward, then slowly curved downward until they struck the ground in the middle of a big vacant lot a block-and-a-half away.
At that instant, the world seemed to end.
An outrageously bright fireball, as from a nuclear weapons test, flowered into being where Havok's beams had touched down, and blew outward until blinding fire engulfed the entire vacant lot. A half-second later, the sound arrived. It was as though the gods of thunder had all struck their hammers at the same time, upon anvils made of dynamite. The ear-splitting BOOM shook windows and rumbled guts, its echoes reverberating for what seemed an eternity until at last the light faded to nothing and the air quieted to an eerie, dead calm.
Blue Shooter stared in frozen-faced horror. "Jesus H. Christ on a Pogo stick!"
"Pretty impressive, huh!" Havok said.
Keybounce shook his head in disbelief. "You turned half a city block into . . . a crater! What if there'd been people there?"
Havok said, "It was only a vacant lot."
The Scientist stared through hastily-thrown-together binoculars. "Not quite. Your blast also caught a building next to the vacant lot."
"Oops," Havok said.
"The far half of the building looks fine," the Scientist said, "But the near half, in a curved section where the edge of your blast caught it . . . it's gone, as though all of it had simply evaporated. Just how powerful did you make your energy blast?"
Havok grew smug, and boasted, "Thirty-five D6, baybee!"
All eyes turned to Havok in alarm.
"Thirty-seven if I push," he added.
Mauler said, "That's not an energy blast, that's an atomic bomb."
The Scientist furrowed his brow, then asked: "Havok, by any chance, would you be able to . . . focus that giant energy blast of yours, so the fireball is smaller than a hundred feet across?"
Havok scratched his chin. "Actually, the rules for Area Effect Radius are, uh, silent on the subject of whether you can shrink the radius or not. So . . . maybe?"
Blue Shooter rolled his eyes. "Ho boy."
"Hey, look," Havok said, "You told me to do something about my accuracy problem, right? Well, now, if my aim is off by a few meters, it won't matter! 'Almost' counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, right?"
"Horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear warfare," Brick One finished the set. "Which your energy blast is definitely getting within the realm of."
"We're trying to stop MACRON when they attack," the Scientist said, "Not blow up every building around them too! Honestly, Havok, your power set now is something I'd expect to see on a super-villain, not a super-hero."
"Uh, excuse me?" a voice came from one side. "Are you Mister, uh, The Scientist?"
They turned. It was the mailman.
"Yes, that's me," the Scientist said.
"Got a letter for you," the mailman said, handing him an envelope. "It looks kind of suspicious."
Keybounce nosily peeked over the Scientist's shoulder at the envelope. "It does look suspicious. No return address."
"And," the Scientist said, "My name is spelled out using letters cut out from a magazine." He tore the envelope open while the mailman walked away to continue his rounds. There was a single sheet of paper folded inside. The message it bore was short, and written using the same pasted-on letters cut from a magazine that the envelope had for the address. He read:
Dear The Scientist,
We have your young, beautiful, virgin daughter. Stop interfering with our operations, or face the consequences.
"Great Newton!" the Scientist exclaimed. "My young, beautiful, virgin daughter has been kidnapped by MACRON!"
"Great Romulus!" exclaimed Mauler.
"Great Tesla!" exclaimed Keybounce.
"Great Orgone!" exclaimed Havok.
"Great Barnum!" exclaimed Brick One.
"By Robin Hood's Bow!" exclaimed Blue Shooter. They all looked at him funny. "What? It's what the Green Arrow said on the SuperFriends!"
The Scientist took a heavy breath. "Despite its vague wording, MACRON's ultimatum is pretty clear. If I — or the League — try to thwart any of their attacks again, they could do unspeakable things to my young, beautiful, virgin daughter. I don't . . . I can't . . . I, I can't let her get hurt on my account. She's my young, beautiful, virgin daughter! If anything happened to her because of me, I'd never be able to forgive myself."
Blue Shooter squinted at him. "You're just gonna roll over and give in to their demands?"
"As long as she's in their clutches," the Scientist replied, "Yes."
"If you let them push you around like that," Mauler said, "The terrorists win. They'll never return her to you. They'll never stop making demands. They'll keep going until they've conquered the world."
"Um," Havok offered, "Maybe we could mount a rescue operation."
Blue Shooter looked at him as though he were still in kindergarten. "In order to rescue her, we'd have to know where they're keeping her."
Havok rubbed his chin. "You know," he said slowly, "There might be someone who could find out."
"What," Blue Shooter said sarcastically, "You want to hire the world's greatest detective?"
"Of course not," Havok replied. "Batman isn't real. No, the person I'm thinking of lives in Chicago."
On this beautiful day on the streets of downtown Chicago, a stick figure walked blithely from one block to the next.
He wasn't just a thin man, or a walking skeleton. He was a literal stick figure. His arms and legs were jointed black lines less than an inch thick. His entire torso, too, was one slender vertical black line. Atop the stick neck on his stick torso, there sat a perfectly spherical head, white as a sheet of paper, adorned only with the dots and arc of a smiley face drawing. As he walked, the music of Meco's "Other" followed him around like his own private soundtrack. Passersby simply said hello, when they bothered to notice him at all.
As the stick figure finished crossing a busy street, he noticed a streak of bright light in the sky. It vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared, but something had definitely arrived. A meteor? A re-entering spacecraft? He shrugged, and kept on walking. If it was something important, he'd find out about it in due time.
Due time turned out to be only a few minutes later. A flying costumed super-hero came whizzing down the street less than a hundred feet off the ground. The newcomer braked to a halt and descended right in front of the stick figure, who recognized the big black upward-pointing arrow on his white costume instantly. "Mauler! What brings you to the Windy City?"
"Actually," Mauler said, still hovering, "You do. You must be Mind Scan Man."
"Yep, that's me," the stick figure replied.
Mauler took out a sheet of paper. "I, uh, need a specific person located. She's been kidnapped."
The smiley face expression on Mind Scan Man's otherwise-blank face changed. "Kidnapped?!"
"Yes," Mauler said, tapping the paper. "I have a copy of an old E.E.G. of her, taken a couple of weeks ago. I hear you can locate someone just from their electroencephalogram."
"You heard right," Mind Scan Man said, taking the sheet. He studied it for a few seconds. "Do you have any idea where she might be, any idea at all? The smaller a region I have to scan, the better my odds of success."
"Well, she was kidnapped in the Los Angeles area," Mauler said. "Maybe you could start your search in Southern California."
"Thanks," Mind Scan Man said, "That helps a lot."
His smiley-face eyes closed, and little rings started beeping out from his head. They looked like Aquaman's aquatic telepathy from the SuperFriends. The thin rings ventured far and wide, criss-crossing the continent, until a few seconds later, he opened his eyes and said "Got her."
"Wow," Mauler said, "That fast?"
"With as many points as I've put in Mind Scanning," Mind Scan Man said, "You'd better believe it." He took a notepad out of his pants pocket — his stick-figure legs were apparently clothed — and scribbled down a few numbers. "I can't give you cross-streets or anything, I don't have a giant map stored in my head. But I can give you her exact latitude, longitude, and elevation, down to a one-meter resolution." He tore the page off the notepad and handed it to Mauler.
"Oh," he added, "And she's moving. Northeast, at about ten miles per hour."
Mauler looked down at the scribbled figures. "Thanks," he said, "I've gotta get these back to the S— er, to my associates right away." He stuffed the little piece of paper inside his costume, looked up, and shot straight upward and out of sight.
"Hmm!" Mind Scan Man said. "Exciting day after all." And with that, he resumed his stroll down the streets of Chicago as though nothing had interrupted it.
Mauler streaked downward and landed next to the Scientist, who was still waiting outside his Top Secret Base. "Got it," he said. He took out the note paper and handed it to him. "Here are her map coordinates."
"Whoa," the Scientist said, "Back so soon? You were gone less than twenty minutes."
"Yeah, about," Mauler agreed.
"And you went all the way to Chicago and back in that time?" Blue Shooter said. "I don't believe it. You can't have put that many points into your Flight. You'd have to have gone hypersonic — triple hypersonic!"
"Or," Mauler explained smugly, "I could fly up out of the atmosphere, kick in my warp engines, fly at Warp 1 for 9.3 milliseconds, and come out of warp right over Chicago."
". . . Oh," Blue Shooter said meekly (or as meekly as a guy like him could let himself appear in public).
The Scientist puzzled at the coordinates on the paper. "This elevation figure looks pretty high. The latitude and longitude must be near the top of a tall hill. To the map room!" He bounded through his Top Secret Base's clearly-marked entrance door on his powered legs. The rest of the League followed, more out of curiosity than obedience.
When everyone was inside, the Scientist unfolded a wide map onto an equally wide table, found the latitude and longitude marks he was looking for along the top and left edges, then followed both inward 'til they met. He frowned. "That's odd. These coordinates are right in the middle of Simi Valley. The surface elevation at that point is a hair under 900 feet." He looked at Mauler. "But the elevation coordinate that Mind Scan Man gave you is twenty-one hundred feet. That would be over a thousand feet off the ground."
Mauler scratched his head. "He did say she was moving northeast at about ten miles an hour. Maybe she's in a helicopter, or a hot air balloon, or a blimp."
The Scientist closed his eyes in understanding, and took a deep breath. "No. They've got her aboard MACRON One."
At the same time, Havok and Keybounce both asked, "What's MACRON One?"
"The giant humanoid robot you may have seen hovering over the city," the Scientist said. "That's the callsign MACRON uses whenever they refer to it over the radio."
"Ohhhhh," Havok and Keybounce said simultaneously.
The Scientist's countenance grew grim. "There's no way we can sneak aboard MACRON One to rescue my young, beautiful, virgin daughter. They'll see us coming. And even with the extra 150 Power Points each of us now has, we couldn't breach their defenses fast enough to break in and rescue her before they . . . take action against her."
"We can't do it," he went on. "I can't do it. I can't risk her life like that. I won't let the League of 250 Point Characters conduct a rescue mission, or any confrontation with MACRON, so long as my young, beautiful, virgin daughter is in their grasp."
The five other super-heroes grumbled, but they could do nothing. The Scientist's mind was made up. Havok and Keybounce walked drudgingly outside, and using their turbocycle and their magnetic flight powers respectively, they trundled on home.
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