It had to have been 1 a.m. when Roger heard that M.A.C.R.O.N. was making another strike. He knew as soon as it began; it came live off his police radio. This was the moment he'd been waiting for. Ellena was fast asleep, he was in the garage already, and his new jet-black costume already adorned his body. He jubilantly switched off the radio so that no next door neighbors would get suspicious, pulled the black cowl with the white plastic bands down over his head, and unlocked the Other Door to his garage — the back door that led to the alley.
Six seconds later a thundrous roar and the blinding blue-white glare of a halogen headlamp echoed from the newly-opened doorway. And six seconds after that, a motorcycle mounted by a shadowy, haloed figure leapt out into the alley and tore through the still night air as it sped away. The door closed itself behind him, of course, to prevent any would-be thieves from messing with his stuff; but lights went on in nearly every window on the block.
Oh well, Havok thought, So much for the neighbors not getting suspicious.
Now then, he had to make it down to the warehouse district by the old pier in a couple of minutes. These things always happened in the warehouse district by the old pier. He was a couple of miles inland, the old pier lay several miles to the south, and he had to get there in a couple of minutes without a freeway. No problem. This was no ordinary motorcycle he was riding.
He opened the throttle all the way and nearly got torn from the saddle. The twin intakes just in front of his shins howled as they gulped titanic quantities of air; he could barely hear the transmission go through fifth, sixth, and seventh gears against the din. All in all, that automatic transmission could use fifteen gears, and by the time it reached the last one the motorcycle would be going well over two hundred miles per hour.
He was only doing slightly over 120 at this moment, though, since he had to weave through early early early morning traffic and corner on a dime. The "Turbine One" label on the bike's side flashed past its sleeping spectators. He owed his breathtaking speed to the name of his 'cycle, in fact; this was no wimpy 1500 cc turbocharged engine between his legs. It was nothing less than a fully-blown turbine engine, geared in to the rear wheel through a shaft drive. And if that wasn't enough power, this engine had a direct-thrust option which allowed for three-fifths of a G of acceleration and a top speed of 268.4 miles per hour. He was sitting on a jet engine with wheels.
He reached the coast in nothing flat and angled south. Once more, just to be sure, he checked the now-one-foot-diameter energy accumulator mounted over his solar plexus. Yes it was still fully charged, yes it still gave him that yellow humming aura indicative of cosmic energy absorption, and yes he could still mildly control the energy flow by strength of will. The big encounter was fast approaching; he fought back the butterflies in his stomach and accelerated to the next higher gear. It was nice having an automatic transmission; not only did he not have to worry about shifting, he didn't have to worry about working the clutch. And since there was no clutch it freed his left hand to adjust the rear-view mirror. Or work the turn signals. Or fire energy blasts.
He could see and hear the commotion even before he could make out any details. At least eight police cars had to have been parked out front, their blue-and-red emergency lights flashing like Christmas tree bulbs, and gunshots and yelling and bullhorned voices rose over his engine's whine. This didn't look good for our side; it was up to Havok to save the day. Boy, what a rush that thought gave him!
He moved in practically on top of things, drawing the attention of both sides. A MACRON agent had just fired some funny-looking rifle at some cops who were now groping their eyes. Havok had heard about those things; it was a laser rifle. It wasn't much good for burning through things like the laser guns in the movies, but if you looked into the beam it could blind you for life. Havok also caught sight of some agents with more conventionial Uzis and AK-47s. He would have to take these guys out pronto.
"Hey, MACRON goons!" he shouted as he decelerated. "You guys look worn out; here, have some cosmic energy!" He thrust his left fist toward the closest group and a ringed beam of yellow energy surged from his body toward them. The energy beam swooped toward the ground in the agents' midst, impacted, and went off with a thunderous boom that dwarfed even the roar of his cycle's engine.
The brilliant fireball wasn't very large — it couldn't have been more than a couple of meters in diameter — but it was enough to catch two agents and send all the others in the vicinity diving for cover. As the cosmic burst faded into the infra-red, Havok became startlingly aware of just how powerful his energy blasts were. He bit his nails and wondered whether or not he should have lashed out at full strength; both agents' uniforms were charred to a crisp, and all their hair had burnt off. Well, at least they were wearing flak suits, so they'd probably live when they woke up tomorrow.
Or at least those looked like flak suits.
He slowed down some more and prepared to come about, all the while looking at and not quite believing what he'd just done. He was so caught up in this, in fact, that he didn't notice a MACRON agent fire at him with a .44 magnum. The shot missed him, but it did hit his engine's Fiberglas covering. That scared the daylights out of him. Half-screaming, he spun out of control and flew off his motorcycle — while he was still going sixty miles per hour.
In the spilt-second he saw the ground rushing up to greet him, he wished he'd worn his helmet this time. Oh, sure, a helmet wouldn't fit over those plastic arches on the top of his head; but for God's sake did he have to duplicate Havok's get-up exactly?! He braced his arms out in front of him, squeezed his eyes shut, and waited for the end.
Instead of getting smashed into little bitty pieces, though, he felt a resounding thump and bounced back up into the air. He opened his eyes, still airborne, and to his astonishment found a glowing yellow sphere encasing his body. He forced himself to keep his eyes open as he came back down to the ground; there was that buzzing thump again, and this time he make out the front of the sphere deforming against the ground. It rebounded, and sprang him into the air once more. He bounced three more times before he ground to a stop.
And as soon as he relaxed at the end of it, the sphere disappeared. He felt rather short of breath as well, and was sweating a little more than he should have been. Maybe creating and maintaining that protective sphere took something out of him. Hell, maybe he was just nervous from being shot at; but he couldn't worry about that now. Those MACRON goons doubtlessly saw what happened to him, and would probably try to shoot him again if he didn't do something fast. He scrambled to his feet, braced his arms up against an imaginary barrier, and willed the glowing shell of force to return. Instantly, yellow streamers raced out from the plate on his torso and congealed into the same pulsing forceball that had protected him before. Now that he could pay more attention to it, he noticed that it was vibrating — and giving off a weird, repetitive sound.
Unfortunately, he was right; MACRON would try to shoot him again. A nearby agent popped up from behind a vacated police car and fired at him with an Uzi set on fully automatic. Havok felt five distinct shocks, each one of which sent him reeling backward — but none of those 5 bullets actually hit him! They merely ricocheted off his force field. The agent who had just fired at him lowered his Uzi and stared, then raised his eyebrows in fascination; his new adversary was impervious to bullets.
Bullets, yes, but any of those agents that still had lasers could probably still blind him. Havok had to get rid of them first. Now, where were they again? Geez, it was so hard to concentrate with that force field distracting him. The strain of having to maintain it didn't help much either. He glimpsed a couple of agents, one of whom held what he thought was a laser rifle, blinked as he took aim, and flung both his arms in their direction without bothering to chide them this time. Another yellow bolt raced toward them, shining rings adorning its passage every fifth of a meter or so, and cooked one of the agents as the rest got out of the fireball's way.
A police officer watched the yellow beam zing past and incinerate its target. The officer raised himself part of the way up from behind his car door and took aim at the man in black.
"No, don't shoot him," his partner barked, pushing his gun hand down, "I think he's on our side!"
"You sure?" the first officer asked.
"Well, no, but let's not shoot him until he aims for one of us."
Another agent with a handgun fired twice at the shielded stranger, once again shocking him slightly but not actually wounding him. "Jeez, what's that guy made of?!" he barked. He turned ot one of his associates. "This goon's ruining everything! Break out some of that heavy artillery!"
Heavy artillery? Havok thought. He saw another MACRON person nod to the first and pry open a crate. That must be where their "heavy artillery" was. It would have to be his next target. He stomped his right foot down in front of himself, thrust his torso forward, and fired another yellow bolt straight from his target-battery. The crate exploded into coals.
"Oh, damn," the MACRON agent who'd just shot at him cursed. Havok was beginning to figure that this guy headed the operation. "There went our ace in the hole. All right, men," he pointed at Havok with his pistol, "Concentrate your fire!"
And then, it was as if the heavens themselves opened and poured forth their hail. Or as if MACRON began shooting at him from all directions, anyway. Every Uzi, .44 magnum, AK-47, and laser rifle in the area spewed its load at the black-clad stranger with the force field. Havok had the good sense to close his eyes before any of the remaning lasers went off, but the combined force of all that high-speed lead hitting his deflector shield knocked him down onto his shielded buns and sent him skittering along the pavement like a hockey puck.
"I don't think this is working," an agent with an Uzi remarked as he changed ammo clips.
"Just pretend to use that thing on his chest for target practice or something," the head MACRONner replied, squeezing off another three rounds. "He can't hold out forever!"
That guy doesn't know how true that is, Havok thought. He would have been down on his knees at this point were he standing up. Maintaining that force bubble took a lot out of him. Every limb in his body felt like it was on fire, it so fatigued him. But if he relented even for an instant, that imposing rain of bullets would hit him instead of the barrier. He chanced opening his eyes to see where their shots were pushing him; he was headed for a metal dumpster against a corner of the warehouse. He wondered, briefly, how much other artillery MACRON had stored in that place.
"Still think he's on their side?" the second officer asked.
"Oh, well, all right," the first acquiesced, moving to the other side of his car door. "What say we even the odds a bit?"
"Right with you," the second said, and started shooting.
The next second, something knocked a laser rifle out of one MACRON agent's hands, and half a second later something stung another agent in the shoulder. The muffled yell from the second brought the leader's attention.
"Damn it," he looked over his shoulder, "The cops're shooting at us again! STRATEGIC WITHDRAWAL!"
Havok rebounded off the dumpster, his heart pounding, his fatigue overwhelming him. It was no use. He couldn't keep his force field up any longer. He let go and waited for the bullets to finish him.
He blinked his eyes open three seconds later when he realized he hadn't been hit yet. All he could see was black, so he pulled the eye holes of his mask back into position. The yellow bubble around him was gone, of course; but so were the agents of MACRON. He propped himself up on his arms and shook himself to his senses. Then, he looked again. The enemy agents really weren't there anymore. He breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed again.
"Hey, buddy," a coppish voice said as a nightstick tapped Havok's shoulder. He came to.
"Hey, buddy," the policeman said, "That was a pretty impressive display you put on back there."
"You really think so?" the black-suited man inquired, scampering to his feet.
"Sure. You really turned the tide. They probably would've gotten away with every weapon they'd stored in that warehouse if you hadn't come along and distracted them."
"Well, er, uh," he tried to make his voice sound impressive, "Glad I could be of service."
"Say, who are you, anyway?"
"Me? I'm glad you asked! My name is . . . Havok!"
The officer glanced at the remnants of the crate he'd blasted. It lay in a crater of melted asphalt. "I believe it."
"No, really!" Havok took out an X-men comic with a picture of the real Havok on the cover and held it next to his own face. "See?"
"You mean you're actually the guy outta that comic book?"
"Well, no, I'm not really Alex S— . . . er, I mean, yes! Yes, I am the same Havok! The comic book character come to life! Defender of truth, justice, and . . . uh . . . well, you get the idea."
"Well, whoever you are, it was good to have you here!" He grabbed his shoulder and fervently shook his hand.
Havok recoiled slightly. The whole experience had left him rather banged up, even with his new force field. Agitated physical contact at this point didn't feel very pleasant. "Er, um, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to be going now."
"You're not going to stay around and talk to the TV reporters?"
Havok smiled momentarily, then wondered if his comic-book-style mask could really keep anybody from identifying him on television. "Uh, sorry. Ta-ta."
And with that, he exited stage left.
Now then, he thought, Where did my motorcycle get to?
Unfortunately for Ellena the next morning, unpleasant physical contact for Roger M. Wilcox hadn't been limited just to vigorous handshakes. She'd wondered where he'd gotten the bruises, so he'd told her he had one of those accidents mad scientists are always having in their laboratories. Right now, though, he was clipping out the cover article from this morning's edition of the Daily Planetary Bugle.
"M.A.C.R.O.N. WEAPONS DROP DEFEATED," read the headline; "Mysterious Black-Clothed Vigilante Aids Police."
Vigilante? Roger thought. Come on, he was HAVOK, the great and powerful super-hero from the X-men come to life! He was here to rid the world of the evil forces of M.A.C.R.O.N.!
He read the second paragraph: "Six of the MACRON agents were captured. Three were treated for bullet wounds, but the other three had to be rushed to burn centers. One is still reported to be in critical condition."
Well, all right, maybe he did come on just a little too strong.
Some miles away, another person finished reading the second paragraph as well. A person whose torso was a solid block of concrete with stubby little concrete arms and legs jutting out. A person who sometimes wished to God that the super-heroes in the city would get organized. A person who, thanks to an accursed particle-accelerator accident, had changed his name from Steven Singer to Brick One.
"Another super hero," he muttered. He glanced unconsciously at a picture of Susan he'd framed on his mantle. "Not that we don't need any more. Especially not right now. Phhh, with M.A.C.R.O.N. on the make, this city needs every hero it can get its hands on."
And yet a third person finished the same paragraph at the same time some distance away from the two of them. He wished to hell that he could have woken himself up and gotten some pictures of the event for the article. Rob Hood, his bills and comic-book-subscription renewal notices were addressed to. Rob Hood's paycheck could have really used the boost some front-line pictures of M.A.C.R.O.N.'s latest setback would have given it. He flexed the muscles in his right arm and wondered if they would go soft if he quit pumping steroids into it.
The fourth person to read the headlines at this time did so between sips of coffee and trips to the piano. His latest piece, entitled, "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Five Pieces of Wood," just wasn't working out. He felt tempted to blast the piano to flinders, but then he'd just have to go buy another one. It was hard enough composing neo-romantic music in the minimalist style without having your name changed to Gustav Mahler.
The fifth person who just happened to be reading the article at the exact same time as these other four actually had better things to do. He was a Nobel-prize winner in three categories, and he sure as syrup wasn't going to get a fourth Nobel if he didn't get back to work. But he had to do his work at his own pace, he reminded himself, he was just a simple scientist who worked slowly and methodically.
There was, of course, one more person reading the headlines simultaneously, and he wasn't happy.
"M.A.C.R.O.N. made a strike last night?!" Michael barked. "MACRON had a shoot-out with the police and I wasn't in on it?!!"
"MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-chaeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel!" Laura cried, "STOP YELLING SO LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Michael ignored her. He was used to it. He wouldn't have been able to get in on last night's action anyway, because he didn't have a way to get there fast enough. Now, if he could fly like all those other super-heroes he knew about . . .
He snapped his fingers and came up with an idea. That shimmering force field of his looked an awful lot like the shields Major Havoc had in the video game of the same name. This selfsame vector-graphics character could also wear anti-gravity boots. If he were to put on some boots made of iron or steel, and then use his magnetic powers on them . . .
He dove into the pile in his closet and began tearing through his old stuff. He found one of the original 16-inch-high G.I. Joe action figures, half an RS-232 board, a Slinky inextricably tangled up with a wad of kite string, a yo-yo with no string (kite or otherwise), a flashlight with one corroded Eveready D-cell in it and no bulb, several unwound cassette tapes that used to hold TRS-80 Model 1 programs, and three empty cans of Silly String . . . but no iron or steel boots.
Suddenly, he got an idea. He looked under his bed, and lo and behold there stood a pair of stainless steel boots in just his size. For the first time, he was grateful for his dog's habit of carrying things in from the yard and hiding them under his bed. In a nervous flash, he'd taken off his normal shoes and clamped the metal foot coverings down over his socks. Then he stood up and concentrated on levitating them.
There was the low hum that always accompanied his magnetic powers, and then his feet started to move. Just like Major Havoc's antigravity boots, he thought with excitement. The boots shook, rose up off the ground, and shot toward the ceiling.
And Michael found himself hanging upside-down from a pair of floating steel boots.
All right, so this scheme did make it a little difficult to keep his balance. He switched off his magnetic field and collapsed back onto the floor. No, this wouldn't work at all. If he really wanted to fly, he would need some kind of iron or steel harness to ride in, something that carried his whole body along with it. Of course, he could keep the boots for effect, but they wouldn't be enough.
He looked under his bed one more time. Unfortunately, there was no steel body harness there like he hoped.
"A.J.!!" he yelled, calling his dog.
Five seconds later, a rather frightened and guilty-looking German shepherd padded through his bedroom door, wagging his tail and carrying a steel body harness in his mouth.
Michael chuckled to himself over this extreme coincidence, shrugged, took the steel harness, and put it on. It looked like a steel version of that plastic strap the He-Man toy wore. Now, concentrating again, he willed his magnetic field back into existence and levitated smoothly off the floor to a prone floating position. It worked perfectly.
His legs, he noticed, weren't drooping down. They were straight out behind him like they ought to be. That was probably because those steel boots were still on; well, he figured, he might as well keep the antigravity boots just for kicks, so to speak.
He opened his window magnetically — it had a steel frame — and magnetized himself headlong out into the world. "Now, M.A.C.R.O.N.," he said in that voice super-heroes always used (or as close as he could come to that kind of voice), "Prepare to meet the real wrath of Keybounce!"
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