Asphalt sped around the corner, his kinetically charged rollerblades carrying him at inhuman speeds. The two speedsters that he pursued were far too fast for him; he knew it and they knew it, but they seemed keen to play this game. They were bouncing like pinballs from side to side along the street, keeping them in Asphalt’s line of sight.
He sped along the street and jumped over a car going the opposite direction; midair, he pointed a fist at the speedsters and fired a series of carbon fibre disks from a launcher. Like vengeful hockey pucks, they sped through the air to strike at the troublemakers, but unfortunately they were travelling far too slow and the speedsters simply laughed.
It was an unusual sound; coming from all directions at once due to the wind whipping around them, and distorted by the accelerations and decelerations they were doing.
Suddenly one of the speedsters raced up to a truck carrying barrels of something, he struck at the emergency release mechanism and the barrels fell onto the road. It became almost ironic, actually, when the other speedster slowed enough to divert the barrels toward a woman pushing a pram.
“You’re joking” muttered Asphalt, changing course to rescue them. He bumped into a young man he hadn’t noticed, causing him to spill his groceries over the pavement.
To the diary, the only one who cares
Why! WHY can he not see me?
No. It isn’t just Asphalt. I’ve noticed it ever since I moved to Detroit three years ago, when I nearly died on my first day here. He saved my life, said some sort of polite goodbye and a line about road safety, and blazed on out of there. I was on a pedestrian crossing, thanks, and the driver just wanted to race through.
Then just two days later, he didn’t recognise me. Neither did the paramedic acknowledge me, even though I had a pretty brutal graze all down my leg. Now, I’m not trying to be selfish, I know there was a person there with glass sticking out of their face, but he didn’t even seem to notice me until he had to reach behind me to get some equipment. Even then, he seemed surprised when he saw me, as though I wasn’t there a second ago.
Then things seemed to be going ok; until I went to try that new restaurant that opened up. Indian food isn’t everyone’s favourite I guess, but I can’t get enough of it. And again, it’s like my table was empty. I would wave like a madman and none of the staff would notice me, I even think the maitre d tried to lead someone to my table, until they got within a metre of the table.
Am I actually invisible? Is that what’s happening? Because I really hope it isn’t just this superhero, that he really isn’t this self-absorbed.
Asphalt was certainly not being self absorbed when he saw the barrels of what he hoped wasn’t toxic waste roll toward the lady and her baby. Like a scene from a movie it was, including his rescue of them. Throwing one arm around her and grabbing the boy with the other, he left the pram for the barrels.
“Ooof” groaned the lady; movies never seem to capture just how rough rescues are. Her eyes widened “My baby? Hayden?”
“He’s ok ma’am,” Asphalt handed the precious cargo over, watching as she fell into an incredible state of calm. Looking around for the speedsters, he saw nothing but the accident scene.
“That’s it. They’ve crossed the line this time” Rolland Blake, the Urban Defender, set off to contact the DMA and re-request Bolt’s presence.
July 1st, 1994
North Atlantic Ocean
The Freedom Five were imprisoned within it, The Pentagon was scrambling Air Force personnel to intercept it, and yet no-one knew exactly what ‘it’ was.
Suspicions were made of course; there were not many people capable of building such a large airship, and one of the few had escaped from prison earlier this year.
The airship had as yet made no hostile actions, but D.C superteam Freedom Five treated it as a potential threat. Flying to the state limits of Illinois to intercept it, Minuteman was brought down with an ion blast. Before he could recover, a transparent sphere was deployed to retrieve him and imprison the hero within. The remainder of the team fought bravely, but were quickly and expertly defeated.
The New Patriots and the Homeland Heroes were both on their way, with two HH reservists coming for the ride: New Mexico’s premier superhero Earthman and Kansas’s premier superhero Argonaut.
Entering American airspace, the airship activated an electromagnetic pulse, emitting a wave of supercharged particles in the direction of the District of Columbia. This was less effective than intended, for over the years D.C had been targeted by Senator Adversary, Sovereign, Doc Synapse and Electric Eye, most of who attempted to disable the defences with an EMP. So while a large number of civilian devices were left powerless, most of the Defence Department wouldn’t have noticed a difference.
A squad of F-18 fighter jets launched from the USS KittyHawk and closed in on the airship.
“Blue Leader to Base, we are ten seconds from target.”
“Base to Blue Leader, engage at will.”
“Roger that, Base. Blue Team, weapons free. Engage at will.”
A chorus of ‘affirmative’ followed that command, and the pilots all locked on to the airship.
Inside the airship, beyond the nanostructure shell, a sensor array detected the infra-red signals of a missile lock.
The squad let loose a salvo of missiles, with twelve Sidewinder missiles tracking the heat signature of the ship. Streaking through the air, an enormous payload of high-explosives closed in on the target. Seconds before impact, a second electromagnetic pulse was released; this time specially calibrated to Sidewinder missiles.
As soon as the signal touched their processors, it activated remote detonation. An entire squadron had failed to dent it.
“Okay, let’s see this guy dog-fight. Select tracer fire, let’s take strafing runs” ordered Blue Leader. The jets armed themselves accordingly, and engaged the airship in a good old-fashioned dogfight.
The airship took plenty of punishment; the tracer bullets were large enough to punch a hole through plate steel, but they barely scratched the armour. To make matters worse, the marks left from the attack repaired themselves seconds after.
“Blue Leader to Base, this isn’t working. We haven’t even slowed it down; whatever this shell is made from, it’s unstoppable.”
“Base to Blue Leader, report acknowledged. Metahuman support is fifteen minutes away.”
Blue Leader looked at his screen, and sighed “Base, in fifteen minutes this UFO will be hovering over D.C.. We can’t wait that long.”
The SR-77 of the New Patriots streaked through the sky, cruising at 80,000 feet.
“Mainframe to Bolt, come in.”
“This is Bolt” responded the team’s field leader “What’s up?”
“I was tapped into the standard United States Air Force communication channel, and overheard a conversation between ‘Base’ and ‘Blue Leader’. A squad of F-18s just tried to shoot down this UFO, and they’ve got nowhere. Base informed Blue Leader that you are fifteen minutes out, and Blue Leader responded that they do not have fifteen minutes.”
“Well, do we?” asked Bolt, fully aware that Mainframe wouldn’t call unless he had done the math.
“At current speed, according to satellite feeds, in fourteen minutes the UFO will be directly above Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“Alright; step on it” Bolt ordered the pilot. The grim-faced USAF pilot increased their speed, but not by much. They were already cruising at Mach-4, a speed that most aircraft couldn’t safely travel at due to safety of the public.
“Mainframe, what’s the Homeland Heroes ETA?”
Bolt swore “Okay, let’s do this.”
En route from Bermuda, Atlantic Ocean
While the flying frigate began its assault on the East Coast of America, a smaller, radar-invisible craft flew from the island nation and made its way to Minnesota. This craft was a jetcopter, able to fly like a fighter jet, with the hovering capabilities of a helicopter, and it was one of Sovereign’s proudest inventions. It allowed him to travel from his secret base in Nevada to Bermuda without alerting a soul to his presence.
The reason for his journey was simple; after being incarcerated for eight years, he needed to make a splash. Unfortunately, being chased twenty four seven meant he didn’t have a galaxy-class laboratory in which to construct Atomech VI or concoct a rapidly-growing fungal life form. Instead, he was ripping off megacorporation warehouses and buying samples of stolen stealth ore from the Underworld to try and equip himself with the basics.
But with a fully functioning jetcopter, he could reach his hidden deposits and weapon caches all over the world. During his reign he’d seal off caves and chambers that were hard to reach or undiscovered, then set up a distortion field which moved the contents out of synch with the rest of the universe. It was a simple matter to then enter the room and activate the jamming signal, turning off the distortion field and allowing the contents to settle into this frame of spacetime.
And it just so happened that he’d stolen and disassembled the aircraft carrier USS Claremont in 1976, storing the armaments in a ‘collapsed’ section of the Parisian catacombs. A chemical warehouse was built underneath the Ross Glacier in New Zealand, the freezing temperatures keeping the hazard substances safely refrigerated. The Indian jungle concealed his more esoteric weapons, a laboratory full of inactive construction droids lay just beneath the surface of Hawaii, and finally he had a billion dollars of gold bars in the centre of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Moving the lot to a cavern system in Bermuda wasn’t even difficult for him; the distortion field could be equipped with a subspace modulator, so as to make pockets in the upper fourth dimension and store the contents there. Putting one of the field generators on the jetcopter, he then flew it to the cavern and opened the subspace pocket there. Sitting on a platform in the centre of the cavern was the gutted husk of a Chinese freighter ship, the very ship he’d hidden in to travel from China to America with the information he needed to finish Red Dragon.
After setting up a light source, Sovereign opened his briefcase, removed three brick-sized blocks of metal and dropped them in a metallurgical solution he’d developed as one of his breakout attempts.
The first block was the sample of stealth ore he’d bought from the Underworld, the second was a heat resistant alloy developed for space travel, while the last and smallest was a sample of rare smart metal he himself invented. He left it to react, and started strapping weapons to freighter ship, automated laser drones hovering around the ship to carve out panels for the guns to point out of.
While he worked, the pool of metallurgical chemicals dissolved the blocks, and after an hour the whole pool was a gooey mess of molecular bonds. He donned a filter mask, and got to work spraying the solution all over the rusted hull of the freighter. Trapdoors attached by the construction drones would open to allow the weapons to fire upon his enemies, while the nanostructures within the smart metal coating would automatically react and cover all gaps with stealthed, heat resistant armour plating.
The engines of the freighter were replaced with the nuclear reactor from the Claremont, and although Doc Fission’s extremely impressive work was evident here, Sovereign tweaked it to increase the power output and reduce waste heat. Attaching the lot to a gravity drive theorised by Doctor Alexander Luckman, better known as the costumed adventurer Starship, Sovereign placed eight pillars along the length of the cargo hold, which would allow the freighter to float on a platform of weightlessness.
As June 29th rolled around, he flew in a specialised crew and attached his secret weapon to the ship. This was something he’d dreamt of since he assembled his first Sceptre, but it took recent upgrades in computing power and a packing system developed for NASA to realise. Thirty identical circular platforms lined the cargo hold, placed by the construction drones while Sovereign spent 36-hours bug-checking the coding in the system. Atomech II was brought down not by the indestructible fist of Universal Man, but by a poorly executed loop in its programming.
And at 12:00 noon local time, the freighter left Bermuda and made its way toward America, three miles above the ocean. And while an aircraft carrier making its way
Patriot Island, San Francisco
Mainframe was observing the telemetry of the SR-77 on his VR visor when the scheduled two-minute satellite photo update filled his visor, and the telemetry was reassigned to viewscreen 2. Simultaneously, both screens flashed red.
“What the hell…” he pressed the comm switch “Bolt?”
“It’s turning. The UFO has changed course, and if this satellite photo is correct…”
“It’s coming straight for us, isn’t it?”
“I believe that it somehow scanned your transponder, the firewall went down just before it turned. It is now heading straight west rather than north-westerly, and I calculate that it is looking to put itself on a collision course with you. Also, it has increased its speed by 35%”
“Excellent. Time to intercept?”
“Your speed and distance is… and the UFO is travelling… I’d say eight minutes.” Mainframe sounded uncertain, but it was their best info “The good news is, if you change your heading we can make it miss Pennsylvania Avenue altogether.” He entered in the new flight plan, and watched as the SR-77’s pilot adjusted their heading.
Bolt had already developed a strategy “Satellite photos; find me the largest open space between here and there, with as few civilians as possible.”
“Understood” Mainframe leant back in his chair, and called up a VR search box. The logo of the SkyHawk satellite network appeared on his visor, and he ordered a series of photos covering the entire spread of Iowa to the ocean, to be spread over the viewscreens.
His eyes flickered back and forward, looking for a wide open space.
“I’ve got it!” he sent in the co-ordinates of a large farmland on the outskirts of the District of Columbia “You should reach it before the UFO by about three minutes”
“Good work; we’ll now we can take this thing down.”
True to Mainframe’s predictions, the airship followed the New Patriot’s flight plan perfectly, albeit at a much slower pace. As they reached the co-ordinates, the pilot set the VTOL jets up to make the supersonic jet hover at 1000 feet while Bolt sent out the first line of attack.
“This is a tremendous drain” warned the pilot “You’ve got twelve minutes, max, before I have to leave to refuel.”
“Understood,” acknowledged Bolt, eyes on the sky.
Shooting Star and Red Mage were the first lines of attack; her surrounded by fireflies of stellar fire, him standing on a circular platform of crimson light, glyphs of levitation drifting around each hand.
“Here it comes” said the magic user, raising one hand and drawing a glyph of protection.
“Intercept, but keep your distance” ordered Bolt “Disorientate and secure”
“Acknowledged,” Shooting Star shot forward, leaving a trail of glowing energy in her wake. Red Mage incanted and his platform floated forward along the trail, like a leaf on the wind.
They finally got a good look at the vehicle causing so much panic; it was quite literally a flying boat, with a 90mm cannon on the deck. They couldn’t see any other weaponry, suggesting the missile launchers were hidden inside the armour. The cannon rotated to lock onto the heroes, and without looking at each other, Shooting Star and Red Mage began their attack. She bombarded it with a salvo of stellar energy bursts, while he fired a bolt of cascading maroon fire. The shells from the cannon were caught up in the fire, while the stellar energy bursts flew through the air to impact on the bow of the ship.
The airship stopped moving forward, and two sections of the armour slid away to reveal twin missile racks. A volley of missiles bombarded the heroes, but Red Mage’s protection glyph generated an invisible barrier that took the brunt of the damage.
Smoke filled the air, obscuring the heroes’ view of the ship. So they were caught by surprise when two transparent spheres shot through the air, straight at them. They reflected Shooting Star’s bolts, and when Red Mage surrounded one with an aura of dancing lightning, it caused no apparent harm to the sphere.
“This is ridiculous” spat Shooting Star, flying to avoid it “Everything we throw at it, it just shrugs it off.”
“My mystical charms are all but useless against machines” agreed Red Mage “And any energy I generate is far less effective than your stellar bolts. I have an idea; grab me and take me back to the jet. Perhaps Tin Soldier can shatter these spheres.” He closed his eyes, and the platform disappeared. Shooting Star caught him, unaware that his consciousness had been transferred into his astral form, which was projected into the airship.
‘He’ materialised inside a large, empty space which appeared to be the cargo hold. He saw a large device with a circular opening at each side, apparently the device containing the transparent spheres, before he saw where the Freedom Five were being incarcerated.
Lining the walls were cylindrical prisons, each specially equipped to handle the prisoner. The alchemic Wolfram was suspended in a breathable liquid which prevented him from transmuting himself or the cell. Cold Fusion was in a cell which channelled off superheated water vapour from the power core, while super-powered statesman Minuteman was bound by apollium-lined bonds. The synthenoid Paradigm was hijacked with a digital scrambler, rendering him unable to connect his CPU to his nervous system, while the new American Anthem was in an ordinary cage with a strange device strapped to his face.
Frowning, Red Mage looked around. The five heroes were all lined up along one of the long ends of the hold, and each cell was the same size. He noticed that at regular intervals along that and the parallel wall were what appeared to be manhole covers. Counting quickly, he realised that this room had the potential to hold about thirty superheroes. And seeing as it looked as though whoever built this had developed countermeasures against each member on the Freedom Five, they most likely had similar plans for the New Patriots and Homeland Heroes.
So who could design something like this? thought Red Mage, suspecting that he knew the answer. Passing through the back wall, he found what looked like the engine room. But what an engine. With no knowledge of engineering or physics, he had no idea what these components were, but the thing that caught his eye first was translucent cylinder with millions of golden glowing particles swirling counterclockwise. It lay flat in the centre of a lot of circuitry, with a gigantic lever on one end. Metal pipes emerged from the cylinder and entered the floor, possibly generating the thrust that kept it in the air. The second thing that caught his eye was the yellow-black symbol on the giant metal sphere behind the glowing thing. There was a radioactive engine powering this thing, and if it was brought down in a populated area than who knew what would happen.
A jerk rippled through his entire body, and he realised he had forgotten the fight. Closing his eyes, he turned off the projection and reappeared inside his body.
Since the heroes had returned to the jet, the airship pursued them. A Gatling cannon protruded from the nose, and tore the left wing to pieces. A small air-to-air rocket slammed into the engines, and it spun into a nose dive.
Red Mage sat up and began chanting. He traced the six glyphs of levitation in a straight line, and incanted activation. They floated into a circle, spinning around his index finger. Identical glyphs appeared around the nose of the plane, and its descent slowed. Striking the ground with as much force as a child falling from a tree, the passengers were thrown around the cockpit.
“Bolt” spoke Red Mage quickly, “Whatever this thing is, I think it has personalised restraints designed to hold us. There are only so many people who can design something that advanced, and one of them is-”
“Sovereign. So, this is his masterpiece; a machine that can contain us all. What’s your thinking, Red?”
“Don’t get caught” insisted Red Mage “Stay free and warn the Homeland Heroes, get them to gather as many heroes as they can; the prison only has room for twenty-eight, and he’s already got the Freedom Five. Even with the Homeland Heroes and us, there’s still room for more than ten heroes in there.”
Bolt paused for a second, which was a long time for him. The he reached up to his ear “Mainframe, did you get that?”
“I sure did, but what-”
“Contact the Homeland Heroes, get them to break off the attack and go recruiting, then come to our rescue.”
Red Mage realised what he meant and threw his arms in the air “Don’t be so noble, Bolt!” he shouted at his field leader “You’re too valuable to fall into enemy hands, just get out of here and let me stop him. There isn’t a piece of technology around that can contain my magicks, and Sovereign doesn’t do arcane. Live to fight another day, and I’ll stop him from following.”
“I don’t abandon my team. The rest of you, get to a safe distance if you want, but I’m standing to fight.”
Tin Soldier spoke up next, looking out the window at the approaching spheres “I’m going to fight, but I reckon Red Mage has a point. You’re the one with the best chance of getting out of here; take it, and fight back with better preparations.”
Victorious drew his swords “I’m the least likely to get out of this, so I may as well go down fighting. Bolt, get your sorry ass out of here now, and help those Homeland Hero fools. You know they’re absolutely hopeless without us.”
A multitude of abduction spheres crashed into the jet, and the ship lowered itself to hover over the New Patriots. A turret emerged from the airship, and a focused beam laser carved into the plane.
“Get out, but keep watch for the spheres” ordered Bolt.
“Give me a second” said Red Mage, drawing glyphs with his fingers quickly
Bolt raced out of the plane, and a single sphere followed him. Large enough to contain three average sized adults, it flew through the air at close to a hundred miles an hour. Unfortunately for it, Bolt was doing double that speed, and wasn’t even breaking a sweat.
As he predicted, Victorious was the first to be captured. He brought one sword slashing down into a sphere, and it sank into the transparent plastic like jello. A sucking sound and it pulled the sword inside it and was flooded with anaesthetic gas. Victorious jumped backward and brought his other sword up. Another sphere grabbed him from behind, and he was pulled into it. Gas flooded his sphere, and he passed out.
Tin Soldier stood his ground, stubborn as an ox and twice as heavy. Planting his weight on the ground, he resisted the pull of the abduction sphere which had grabbed his arm. Seeing another one approaching him from the other side, he swung his arm like a hammer, causing the two to collide. Upon impact they turned solid and shattered, spilling their dual payload of gas into the air. A third sphere descended directly onto him, and he was helpless to stop it.
Finishing his spell Red Mage surrounded himself with an aura of crimson flames, spheres came to him but he repelled them with fireballs, sending the abduction spheres careening off course.
Racing back at four hundred miles an hour, Bolt slammed into one of the spheres and pushed it into a tree. At this speed, he had enough force to solidify the sphere, so it shattered. Unfortunately, the gas within the shattered sphere filled his lungs, and he slowed enough for another sphere to catch him.
Shooting Star had been grabbed by one, but the spheres ignored the pilot. Now, only Red Mage was standing.
Two spheres approached the magic user, and Red Mage gestured. A pillar of maroon glyphs rose from the ground, and wrapped around the closest sphere, anchoring it to the ground. He repeated the process with the other, but this left him light-headed. The plane exploded next to him, and he jumped distractedly. One of the spheres wiggled free, and entrapped him.
En route to Minnesota
Sovereign observed the antics of the abduction vessel on a handheld viewscreen. The spheres were one of his oldest ideas, he’d first attempted to put it into practice in 1969 by launching them from a floating platform in the stratosphere. But the non-Newtonian plastic lost consistency with the rapid changes in atmospheric pressure, and Universal Man threw his platform into space before he could finish it.
The spheres were now able to pursue their targets, thanks to a crystalline central processing unit he’d duplicated from blueprints developed by former colleague Doc Synapse. The crystal sat in the centre of the sphere dispenser, running diagnostics for the omni-prisons and selecting the best method of containment.
He watched as the spheres brought the New Patriots inside the prison. Victorious and Red Mage were problematic; the abduction sphere with Victorious’ sword was about to deposit it in an omni-prison before the CPU ran a second scan. Realising the sword was in fact a sword, the dispenser sent a microwave signal and dissolved the sphere, dropping the sword on the ground. The man himself was placed on an omni-prison, and the scanner ran a diagnostic. Recognising him as baseline human, it simply entrapped him in a titanium cage.
Red Mage was about to be placed in a similar prison, due to the scanner being unable to detect magic, so Sovereign had to override the system. Instead of a titanium cage, the magic user was moved to the one prison with a mixture of Viking runes, Taoist philosophies and the emblems of a Catholic saint etched onto the base; according to former colleague Cerberus, the theological incompatibility of these markings caused all magic to lose effectiveness around them.
“It’s good to be the king” mused the Sovereign, leaning back in his throne. With the heroes of America distracted, he could work on the next stage of his plan.
Soon, he would have a complete collection of today’s greatest heroes, and he’d know exactly who he would be fighting this generation. And while this plan unfurled, he would begin Phase Two. Picking up a mind control helmet he’d constructed in 1978, he descended from the helicopter right over the Minneapolis home of Jake Milton, also known as the Everyman.