Apollyon City Chapter 4:"Men,
Magic, and Mars"
The Outskirts of Apollyon City
Soaring only one-hundred feet off the ground, Sentinel surveyed the damage below. The War Wheel plowed along State Route 113 for much of the trip into Apollyon. In its wake it left a trail of downed trees and power lines, chewed up asphalt, and a pronounced depression in the earth. At least it would be easy to track. Ahead in the distance, Sentinel saw two blurs of motion. He was glad to be working with Max Mercury, one of the few heroes in the business more experienced than himself. Still, he wasn't too sure about Impulse. His reputation was about the only thing that preceded him. Young. Rash. Impetuous. Impulse indeed. Sentinel didn't envy Max one bit. Tapping into the well of Starheart energy within him, he closed the distance between the speedsters and himself.
"We're going slow because.....???" Impulse asked.
Max answered Impulse in the peevish tone reserved solely for his precocious
student. "We're not going slow, Bart!
Impulse slung his wet bangs out of his face, then flashed a toothy grin. He looked like a masked Moon-Pie. "Now can we go home Max? I'm supposed to go camp- huh?"
The War Wheel appeared once more, unscathed from its encounter with the super-speedster-induced cyclone. Impulse turned to his mentor. "But Max...we...it...."
Max shrugged his shoulders. "I wouldn't unpack your sleeping bags just yet."
Sentinel lowered himself into the fray. Verdant flame emerged from his ring, forming a giant emerald bulldozer in the Wheel's path. The Wheel slammed into the dozer with tremendous force. Loud crackles of energy charged the air. "Max, I can't hold it back very long! Run ahead and make sure the Southern District is evacuated!"
Max and Impulse disappeared once more.
Sentinel focused his power into his ring, but could feel the enormous energy of the War Wheel pushing through his roadblock. Perspiration ran down his face and stung his eyes, but he persisted in his struggle. If the Wheel made it to the heart of Apollyon, the city was doomed.
Inch by inch, the Wheel pushed back the emerald bulldozer. Sentinel took to the skies, hoping a change in strategy would be sufficient to stop the encroaching Wheel. With a cacophonous shriek, the Wheel broke through his defensive stand, sending a feedback current into his ring. The jolt was quick but effective. The bulldozer disappeared. Silently cursing himself for allowing his concentration to wane, Sentinel flew to a new spot just in front of the spinning invader. One of the eyewitnesses at S.T.A.R had spoken earlier about the Wheel beginning as a miniaturized version of itself. It was a long shot at best, but perhaps he could force it to decrease in size.
A small cage appeared at the face of Sentinel's ring. It grew in size until it was large enough to envelope the wheel's massive circumference. The trap sprung around the merciless invader, but instead of shrinking the Wheel grew larger until it once more made contact with the Starheart energy of the ring. Sentinel's arm shook with the force of the feedback, as the sound of a thousand fingernails scratching across a thousand chalkboards filled the air. This time Sentinel was prepared for the energy surge, if not the aural assault.
From his perch in the sky, Sentinel noticed his news team approaching in a Jeep below. He didn't remember authorizing the purchase of a Jeep. He would have to speak with Jennie about expenditures. A faint grin crossed his lips. What a girl! A part of him wished she would join the battle too. Still, he meant what he told her at the restaurant. She could never disappoint him, but it would be nice if she chose to carry the emerald torch. Was it vanity for an old man to wish for a legacy? The WABS team was soon joined by a 4X4 with WCLO's logo on the hood. Great! He could trust Jennie to keep her team out of harm's way, but he could only hope WCLO would be as wise. The growing crowd of civilians forced Sentinel to rein in his stray thoughts.
Max Mercury and Impulse returned to the fray. "Evacuation complete! Sentinel, I have an idea! Trust me, and drop the cage!" Max called from below.
Drop the cage? Was Max serious? It was all that stood between Apollyon and imminent destruction. Still, Max was a seasoned pro. Hesitating for only a moment, Sentinel allowed the cage to dissipate. He hoped he wasn't damning Apollyon to its doom.
The Wheel erupted with a high-pitched whine and rolled freely once more. It crossed West Iroquois Drive, tearing up chunks of ground as it rumbled along. Why was KOBRA doing this? What did they hope to gain? A test? A demonstration? One thing was for sure, KOBRA undertook nothing out of common criminal arrogance.
Sentinel lowered himself near the super-speedsters. He caught Max in the middle of a speech to his pupil. "....no matter what! Do you understand?"
Impulse refused to look his mentor in the eye. Instead, he looked away sheepishly and fixed his gaze on the symbol on Sentinel's chest.
"Do I make myself clear?" Max demanded.
Impulse kicked at a small rock with the toe of his boot. "Yes sir. I'll stay put."
"What's your plan Max?" Sentinel asked. If Max was going to try something risky, he wanted to know.
"I'm going to match the Wheel's matrix frequency and vibrate into it. After all, it is a computerized construct. Introducing a foreign object into the matrix may crash its programming."
A living virus? It was risky, but it could work. "Are you sure? You'll be putting yourself..."
"At great risk. I know, but it may be the only way." Max replied.
"Look Max, we'll find another way."
Max pointed to the Wheel. It was now bearing down on a residential neighborhood. "We don't have time to find another way! The evacuees may appreciate having homes to return to."
Sentinel nodded. "Godspeed Max."
Max said nothing. He streaked away and raced toward the Wheel. He ran well beyond it to the horizon, then turned and approached its spiked treads head on. He increased his momentum as he drew near. At last, he faded to no more than a blur on a collision course with a killing machine.
The two collided. A loud feedback filled the air, much different than the one generated by Sentinel's ring coming into contact with the energy of the Wheel's matrix. The War Wheel flickered several times, losing part of its form in the process, and brought cheers from both news crews. Just as quickly as it flashed, the giant Wheel reconstructed itself and continued its onslaught. A large hotel was the first to be crushed underneath its psuedo-mass. Building after building, vehicle after vehicle, the Wheel claimed victims.
The Green Thumb Florist, 318 North Blackbear Lane, Apollyon City
Zatanna sat cross-legged behind the sales counter of her florist and applied a second coat of paint to a section of Colonial baseboard. The smell of fresh paint was finally overpowering the musty, damp odor of a building closed up for too long. Such work was a welcome change from saving the world. Temptation reminded her how easy it would be to use her magic to create a beautifully decorated shop stocked with the finest flora from every corner of the globe. This time though, she wanted to do the work herself. No magic. Of course, she did repair the leaky roof with a simple spell, but that was much cheaper than the twelve-hundred dollars the roofing contractor wanted for the job.
Burgundy paint dripped from the end of Zatanna's paint brush, splattering on the floor beside her. She was glad the property owner had installed the cherry parquet floor, rather than the carpet she wanted. She sighed. Was she ready for such a venture? After all, she wasn't the one with the foresight to use a hardwood floor.
The electronic greeting bell at the store's entrance clanged. Zatanna rolled her eyes and breathed deeply. Great! Another visitor. She wanted customers, but not until the store was ready for grand opening. She rehearsed her friendliest voice in her head, then spoke. "I'm sorry, but we're not open yet."
"Oh...I'm sorry. I saw the sign outside and thought...." The man's voice was smooth like the petals of a rose. It made Zatanna aware of places on her body that hadn't been touched since she and Terry cooled their romance. She stood. The man was dressed much like her, in sweats and tennis shoes, but he wasn't covered head-to-foot in burgundy paint. His face was a well-blended mixture of testosterone and pretty-boy good looks. Zatanna silently cursed her monthly cycle for making her feel so frumpy. "It's okay. I forgot about the painter finishing the sign early. I-I should be open next Friday."
The gentleman smiled. He and Zatanna played eye tag, unsure of what to say next. Finally, he spoke. "My name is Chris. Chris Steele. Nice to meet you."
Zatanna smiled and extended her right hand. "Zatanna."
Chris smiled and repeated her name as he shook her extended hand. "Zatanna. You're not the same...."
Zatanna nodded. "One and the same."
"Wow! I've caught your show in Chicago last year! It was great."
Zatanna bowed at the waist. "Thank you. You're too kind."
Chris applauded playfully.
Feeling silly, Zatanna straightened up from her exaggerated bow. "Forgive me. Old stage habits die hard."
After sharing a polite laugh, Chris turned to the door. "I suppose I'd better let you get back to your painting. After all, Friday is right around the corner, you know!"
"Do come back! It was a pleasure meeting you," Zatanna answered.
"Sure, see you around. Oh, and by the way, some costume-types are fighting one of S.T.A.R Labs' pet projects in the Southern District. You should be safe here, but you many want to keep a radio or the television on just in case. It's been nice meeting you." Chris waved, then left Zatanna alone once more.
Costume Types? S.T.A.R Labs? "!nosivelet raeppA" A small color television set appeared and hovered in the air over Zatanna's head. The footage on the screen showed Sentinel and two speedsters whom the reporter identified as Max Mercury and Impulse, fighting the War Wheel. "!ekat em ot....." No! Not this time. According to the newscast, Max and Impulse had evacuated the Southern District. She would stay put and defend the rest of the city from the Wheel's relentless march. Zatanna closed her eyes and imagined a border around the areas of the city not yet damaged by the Wheel. "!ytic ni ym s'dnim eye, taolf morf mrah ni eht yks."
The sensation was hardly noticeable, but the city within Zatanna's
imagined borders floated into the air, safe from the Wheel.
Apollyon City, The Southern District
Impulse and Sentinel rushed to find the Zen Master of the Speed Force. The search didn't take long. They found him lying in the middle of the pavement near Baker's Crest Drive. He had survived the meeting with the War Wheel, but hardly unscathed. He was sprawled out just to the left of a small median of trees that lined the Shopping District. It was here on Baker's Crest one could find imported goods from all over the world. This day, the shops were empty, the emporiums closed in a hasty evacuation.
"Max!" Impulse cried and ran to the injured speedster's side. Sentinel joined him.
Max was in bad shape. His uniform hung in bloody tatters. His body quivered as he drifted in and out of consciousness. When conscious he was mostly incoherent, speaking alternately of the Old West and women he had known in the Biblical sense.
Impulse knelt at his mentor's broken body. Sentinel restrained him from moving the injured man. "Max, it's me, Bart. Please don't die," Impulse begged. "I need you."
Sentinel wasn't sure what to say. He had been quick to pass judgement on Impulse earlier, and found the young man guilty of the crime of immaturity. He wouldn't have deemed the young hero capable of such strong emotion. He seemed too scatter-brained and hyper-active, as if Max's instruction was a burden he was forced to bear, an albatross the Speed Force placed around his neck to keep him in line. Now the young man shamed Sentinel with the fierceness of his love and respect for his mentor and friend. The kid was okay after all.
Max coughed and opened his eyes. He was still in rough shape, but alive.
Impulse recovered his composure quickly. "I mean...of course I need you. You still haven't signed those forms for camp..."
Max struggled to sit up.
"Max, are you alright?" Sentinel asked.
Max nodded and coughed once more. "Just shaken. The Wheel....the frequencies are in a state of rapid modulation. As soon as the frequency changed, I was repelled by the feedback. I would venture to guess that's how it broke through your barrier as well."
Impulse stood and stroked his long chin thoughtfully. "Rapid modulation, eh? This looks like a job for.....Impulse!"
Max's eyes grew wide. "Bart! Wait!"
It was too late. Impulse raced toward the Wheel, a blur of red and white.
"Max, you gonna be alright?" Sentinel asked.
Max Mercury ventured a weak smile and nodded. "I've been worse. Just keep him from hurting himself."
Sentinel nodded and rose into the air. The staffs of WABS and WCLO arrived on the scene just before the medics. Sentinel sneaked a peak at his team. The super-hero in him hoped the teams of competing reporters would leave Max alone. However as a station executive, he was glad Felicity managed to get her microphone in position for a standard "no comment"quicker than the competing reporter from WCLO.
Satisfied all was under control below, Sentinel flew toward Impulse and the War Wheel. It was from the sky that Sentinel first noticed the city, with the exception of the Southern District, rising into the air. He hoped a friend was behind it, rather than a foe. He was just thankful the rest of the city was out of harm's way. He pressed on to stop Impulse. Even with his tremendous willpower carrying him, Sentinel was hard-pressed to catch the young man, as he scurried around the rolling wheel of death. "Impulse! This will get us nowhere! We need a plan!"
The young hero didn't bother to glance in Sentinel's direction. "I have a plan!"
Impulse mirrored Max's previous attack, racing ahead of the Wheel then turning back to face it head-on.
"Impulse! Are you crazy? You saw what the Wheel did to Max! You can't beat it this way!"
The young man didn't listen. Instead he hastened his pace, slamming into the massive energy construct as his mentor had done. The Wheel blinked several times in rapid succession, then began to glow brightly. Sentinel shielded his face from the angry, white light emanating from the War Wheel. Where was Impulse?
The Wheel continued to glow, blinking in and out of existence. What was Impulse doing to it? Or worse, what was it doing to him? A violent eruption of feedback spewed forth from within the heart of the glow. A different sound followed, a hum. It was low in pitch and shook the ground. The Wheel was going to blow! He couldn't let the kid die like this.
"Impulse! Stop! We'll find another way!"
Then came the explosion. Or did it? Sentinel found himself aware of the spreading blast, but seemed to be racing away from it, well beyond the edges of its destruction. He was being carried away by Impulse. Incredible! Somehow the young man defeated the War Wheel, but left a major explosion in his wake.
Impulse looked at him and grinned. "The explosion! There's still plenty of time...."
For once, the Green Lantern was ahead of the Flash. Focusing his incredible will through his ring, Sentinel erected a force-shield dome around the blast as Impulse carried him around the perimeter of the slowly-expanding destruction. "Ok Impulse! You can put me down now!"
Max had taught the young speedster well. Firm earth immediately greeted Sentinel's booted feet. He almost lost his concentration coming out of the speed-force, but managed to push back the vertigo as the world's time caught up with him. Unlike the previous few seconds, the next one occurred very suddenly.
The exploding War Wheel rocked the emerald force-dome, knocking Sentinel
to one knee. He never blinked, but kept up the intense concentration
required to contain the blast. The dome held tight, absorbing the impact
of the explosion. Sentinel released the dome. A deep crater pock-marked
the earth where the detonation occurred.
While emergency personnel hurried about the scene, Sentinel knew he owed someone an apology. He found Impulse with his cranky mentor.
"No! It's not acceptable! You should have treated Sentinel's commands as you would have my own!"
"But Max...I had an idea and it worked!"
Max shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. "Not good enough. What if it hadn't? Did you ever think of that?"
Impulse shuffled his feet in the dirt, forming a crude tic-tac-toe board. "Well...no, not really. I mean...I just kinda knew it would work."
Sentinel cleared his throat. Max and Impulse stopped arguing. Max turned to him and shook his hand "Thank you for keeping him safe."
Sentinel smiled and patted Impulse on the back. "Actually Max, I owe Impulse an apology. I tend to forget how capable the younger heroes really are. Impulse, I'm sorry. Just one thing though. What did you do to the War Wheel?"
Impulse grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Monkey Boy Of Mars."
The two older heroes looked at one another. "What?"
"A video game. In order to beat it, you have to beat Boffo, the Martian Jungle King. You have to stay one step ahead of him. I kinda...heh...use my super-speed and enter all the combinations of moves before the program can react."
Sentinel nodded. "..so you modulated your vibrational frequency faster than the Wheel's matrix could alter its own and overloaded it! Good job!"
Impulse nodded. "You learn a lot of neat things growing up in
a virtual environment." He turned back to Max again. "Now
about those forms for summer camp...."
WABS Studios, Apollyon City
The news team celebrated together as they viewed the final edit of the War Wheel story. Congratulations flowed freely between "talent" and crew. Alan Scott stood back and watched, content to sip fruit punch from a plastic glass and let them bask privately in their moment in the sun. What a lead-in for their first broadcast!
"Penny for your thoughts."
Alan turned to greet a friendly female voice. It was Felicity Barnes.
Alan raised his plastic glass in a toasting gesture. "To a great job. Rumor has it that you beat CLO's Tina Munroe to the punch on a Max Mercury interview."
Felicity smiled and returned the toast graciously. "I'll drink to that, but I'd hardly call 'no comment' an interview."
"Still it deserves recognition."
A hand brushed Alan's shoulder, interrupting his conversation. It was Bob McNamara. "Bob, what's up?"
"Alan, it's your mother."
"My....mother? Oh, ahem, my mother. Send a limo for her. She should be here for the broadcast."
Bob's hands shook as he handed Alan a Post-It note and spoke in a hushed tone. "She's had a stroke."