Wo-Man took off and angled in the direction the voices told her to fly. They gave unmistakable instructions as to where she needed to go, but no hint as to why. Perhaps it was just a kind of pager system built into her alien body, capable only of telling her where to go for further instructions. It was vectoring her out into the middle of nowhere, close to where Steve had first encountered them.
And there, hovering above the lonely cornfields, were the unmistakable lights of the same flying saucer that had bestowed Wo-Man upon Steve.
She flew up alongside it and hovered, staring edge-on at its rim, then shouted, "Okay, guys, I'm here! What do you want?"
Instantly, the cacophonous voices in her head ceased, and bright (but not blinding) lights shone upon her from the alien ship's top half. She blinked her triangular yellow eyes. When she'd adapted to the light a second or two later, a new voice filled her ears. It was the same deep voice that had spoken to Steve on that first night. "You have learned to use the body," it said. "Now it is time for your mission to begin."
Mission? "What mission?" she asked.
"To help defend your world," the voice replied.
"I thought that's what I was doing," Wo-Man said.
"There are forces infiltrating your societies," the voice said. "Rogue elements from among us, posing as one of you."
Wo-Man frowned. This did sounded similar to Octoplex's description of the "rogue alien" his own creators had sent him against.
"We have designated your first target. Your assignment is to destroy it."
Assignment? Destroy? Wait a minute . . .
"When the target is eliminated, return to us immediately for your next assignment."
"Now hold on!" Wo-Man shouted, then continued speaking in a more measured (but still forceful) voice. "I never signed up for any assignments, let alone ones that involve killing. I don't want to be your assassin."
"You must," the voice replied.
"Forget it!" she said. "If that's the price for this super-powered body, I don't want it. Take it back and give it to somebody else."
"The body cannot be transferred to another," the voice said. "Its brain has already been customized to fit your mind. Once so tailored, it cannot be reset for any other occupant."
"Too bad," she said. "You abducted me, you gave me something I never asked for, and now you expect me to be your good little soldier. Frankly, it seems to me like the one our world needs defending from is you."
A brighter, blinding white light sprang out from the alien ship. It surrounded her completely. And now, she was paralyzed. She couldn't move a muscle. It was the same beam that had frozen Steve in place on the first night. And she felt just as helpless as Steve had been.
The voice now said, with far more authority, "You will comply."
Through gritted teeth held shut by the paralysis beam, she managed to speak. "I'm not your puppet, I'm not your lab rat, and I'm not taking orders from you. Or anyone. Now set. Me. Free."
There was silence for a moment. Then, the voice spoke again: "Your personality will need to be altered. It is a simple procedure, and collateral brain damage should be minimal. Afterward, you won't want your old life any more."
Wo-Man's defiance turned to fear. They intended to perform brain surgery on her? To mold her will into theirs? And she'd never be Steve again?! She tried to move, tried to will her rocket pack and antigrav to full power, but she remained rock-still.
"Don't try to resist," the voice said, "It will only increase the risk of collateral brain damage."
She tried every muscle. They were all frozen.
"It will be over very soon, and you will be our weapon, and ours alone."
There had to be a way out of this. A way to break the paralysis beam. She could see the source of the white light; the brightest spot in her field of view was hard to miss. If she could only punch it, or throw something at it, or —
Her eye beams! She didn't need to move to fire them. She focused on the center of the bright light, zoomed in at maximum magnification, and pushed inside her head. The eyes buzzed. And a second later, the white light became a yellow light and thunder filled her ears.
And then, with a fizzle, the blinding white light winked out — and the paralysis went with it. She was free!
She surged skyward and curved around to her right before the aliens could react. She'd destroyed their paralysis beam, or at least one of their paralysis beams, but they could have any number of other tools in their arsenal. She had to get away. She flipped over onto her back and flew directly away from the craft, while she jinked erratically from side to side. If they shot at her with, say, a second paralysis beam, their shot should be more likely to miss.
The flying saucer did shoot at her. But it wasn't the bright white of a paralysis beam. Something jet black zinged past her, barely visible against the night. She could tell it was a beam of some sort, but that was it. She'd better keep flying evasively. As the flying saucer started dwindling behind, a second black beam tore the air close to her, and this time she got a better look at its shape. It was perfectly straight, and about a foot across — but its exact width flickered rapidly. It almost seemed to be pulsed.
A third black beam, nearly silent, soared past her, but this one was farther off target. Surprisingly, despite shooting at her, the flying saucer didn't seem to be chasing after her. She was opening up some serious distance between herself and her attacker. Good. They were going to have a harder and harder time scoring a hit the further she got away. Keep flying away, keep dodging. She watched a fourth black beam miss her by a country mile. Something about these beams seemed familiar. She'd never seen them herself before, of course; but she vaguely recalled a picture, somewhere, of a weapon that looked just like . . .
Another beam. Another miss. This one passed below her and blasted a row of planted corn on the ground. The plants that had been in the direct path were now charcoal; the two corn rows immediately around them were either heat-scorched or freeze-dried. Yikes. She wasn't sure her body armor would have been enough to save her if one of those black beams had struck home. These guys weren't trying to scold her, or recapture her; they were trying to kill her. They might have lumped her together with those "rogue elements" they'd wanted her to eliminate.
And suddenly, she remembered where she'd seen those black beams before. Steve saw a photo in a newspaper article, back in 1985. An alien space ship had been shooting at Mauler and Magnetic Bottle. Someone on the ground with a camera noticed the fighting, and happened to snap a photo right when one of the ship's weapons went off. Mauler had called the beams "black phasers." The aliens had lost that fight, and it turned out they were trying to subjugate humanity for our fusion technology.
There was no doubt about it. These were the same aliens.
Wo-Man got away. She was safe, for the time being. But these aliens were a serious threat, not just to herself but to the rest of Earth. The 1985 news article had said they possessed technology to render themselves invisible to radar, and to cross interstellar distances in a matter of days or hours. She had to sound the alarm.
Calling the police or the military would've been fruitless. Even if they believed her, it was questionable whether they could actually do anything about the aliens. The only ones she could think of who might have an idea of what to do were Mauler and Magnetic Bottle, and no one had seen Magnetic Bottle in years.
So, Mauler it was, then. Time to pay a visit to the League of 250 Point Characters.
It was an odd name for a super-hero group. "250 Point" referred to an obscure paper-and-pencil role-playing game, which used a point-buy system to build characters. Its members swore by that game, even going so far as to measure themselves — and other supers — by its rule mechanics. The members of the League were "built" on 250 base Points. A "normal" super-hero, like Wo-Man herself, was what they (sometimes condescendingly) referred to as a "100 base Point" model. Mauler was one of those lucky, higher-powered 250 Pointers. She hoped that arriving at night like this wasn't going to scare Mauler off. And that he was still awake.
She landed in front of their headquarters. It was hard to miss. Atop the building, a massive sign in ten-foot-high letters read "TOP SECRET HEADQUARTERS OF THE LEAGUE OF 250 POINT CHARACTERS." The double doors on the front looked surprisingly plain for a super-hero fortress. She flew down to them, hoped for the best, and knocked.
A moment later, the door on the right flew open, revealing a masked man in a white costume with black lines criss-crossing it. He was carrying a tall hardcover book, sporting a picture of a half-naked ninja guy battling a thinly-veiled homage to Dr. Doom from Marvel comics. The masked man studied her, sizing up her shining armor, yellow eyes, and rocket pack. "Are you that new super-hero lady?"
"Yeah," she said. "The name's Wo-Man." The man raised an eyebrow at this under his white mask. She continued: "And judging by your costume, you must be Mauler. You're just the man I need to talk to."
"Well, make it quick," he said. "We're trying out the new 4th Edition of Champions." He brandished the book in his hand. "Just came out this August. They finally unified the whole Hero System across all the genres. Plus, it cuts all my Endurance costs in half. The Scientist is GMing a pretty keen scenario right now, and my character's just about to get around to his action phase."
She got right to the point. "The aliens. The aliens you fought four years ago. They're back."
Mauler's eyes hardened. He set his book down on a table just inside the doorway, then called toward a room somewhere within: "Uh guys, could one of you take over playing Magma Man for me? Something just came up." After a few murmurs from inside, he stepped out and shut the door behind him. He glared at Wo-Man. "All those aliens were put in prison. What the heck makes you think they're 'back'?"
"Because one of their space ships just shot at me," she said, "With black energy beams. Black phasers."
Mauler put his hands on his hips and looked down, contemplating. "Huh." He rubbed his chin, then looked back up at her. "What did their space ship look like?"
"Like a flying saucer," she replied.
Mauler nodded. "The space ship I fought in 1985 didn't look anything like a flying saucer. And with the aliens from that ship all behind bars, I see two possibilities. One, someone else figured out how to duplicate their black phaser technology. Or two, . . . before I defeated them, the aliens I'd been fighting told me they were mutant outcasts. Maybe the space ship you saw came from the same planet as them, but belonged to its non-mutant mainstream population."
"Whatever they are, they're a threat," Wo-Man said. "They used some kind of paralysis beam on me, twice. Even with my superhuman strength, I couldn't move a muscle. They said they were going to reprogram my brain to serve them." She sneered. "I only escaped because I had eye beams."
"Ho boy," Mauler exhaled. "Anything else you can tell me about them?"
"Well," she searched her memory for any scraps of clues, "They're probably the same aliens that gave Octoplex a super-power harness a while ago. And they gave me this body — I didn't always look like this. And they said something about wanting me to kill 'rogue elements from among us, posing as one of you.' But that's about all I know."
Mauler nodded, a bit disappointed. That wasn't much to go on. "Um, how far away in space was their ship when you encountered it?"
"Oh, I can't fly in space," she said. "I called it a 'space ship' because it looked like a flying saucer. I actually encountered it within a couple hundred feet of the ground, out in some cornfields."
Mauler rolled his eyes, as if to say "You can't even fly in space? What good are you as a super-hero?". Or maybe he was just rolling his eyes at her use of the term "space ship," Wo-Man couldn't be sure. He stood there with one hand over his mouth for a number of seconds, then frowned. "You know," he said, "There is one other person I can think of who might know something about these aliens. And I use the term 'person' loosely."
Wo-Man raised what passed for her eyebrows. "Oh?"
"She goes by the name of Number One. She was the leader of the mutant aliens back in 1985." Mauler left the ground and hovered ten feet in the air. "Come on, let's go visit her prison cell."
Here is Mauler's character sheet for 5th Edition Champions™.
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