What's Gone Before: Using a truth serum, the Nazis obtain the secret of the "super-man" formula from Professor MacCreary and, in their airship, are en route to a mysterious destination in the Canadian Rockies with the Dreamstalker and Roberta in hot pursuit. Mr. Amazing and the Man-Fly encounter, and are apparently taken, by strange people in the woods. Meanwhile, the Silhouette is loose on board the airship. But for how long...?
THE GREAT ESCAPE(S)
The Blacklight stirred, his eyelids feeling like lead. Suddenly something struck him against one cheek. Then again. "Ow!" he said, his eyes snapping open. A woman was leaning over him -- a beautiful woman with raven black hair. And a mask. "What the Hell..." he mumbled, then realized that he was unable to move his arms or legs. He shook his head, struggling to wake himself up more fully, but it was like working his way through cotton. He was aware that he was tied down, and he was sure he knew the woman. At least her name. "You're...the Shadow," he said groggily.
"Not me, sailor -- do I look like a New Yawker?" her glib comeback, mimicking a broad American accent, hid an obvious sigh of relief. Her eyes were wide, terrified even. "I'm the Silhouette, remember?"
He nodded thickly, slowly. "I 'member. Whu-why's it so hard to think?"
"They've been giving you something, to keep you out."
"Yeah," he said. "I sort of remember. They wake me up periodically, to use the john. Then put me under again. Not chloroform. Some sort of -- of injection."
Her brow crinkled. "You know something about these things? There's a kit here on the floor, with little vials. Maybe-"
She did, reading off the names on the various vials. Either the Germans had picked up their supplies locally, she realized, or else medical names, most derived from Latin, remained unchanged whether written in English or German. Either way, the terms seemed to mean something to Blacklight. He quickly identified a couple of them, and slowly, his words slurred, instructed her in how to prepare a syringe of a counter-agent and inject it into him. Her hands trembled as she made to inject him. Which was funny, she thought. After some of the things she'd seen in the months since she had donned her costume, that she would still be squeamish over a little injection... Still, she supposed that was good. She should worry the day little things stopped bothering her.
Afterwards, as they waited for the injection to take effect, she said, "You're a doctor?"
He looked at her, sharply. He was still masked, after all. Then he seemed to relax. It seemed somehow silly to retain a secret identity from a fellow costumed adventurer. "Studying to be. My name's Crispin Baker. I was cramming late at night, doing some extra-work, when a lab accident resulted in my becoming Mr. Fleetness. It was my own fault, but I needed to make up some grades...you can't imagine how important it is to me, to my family, that I become a doctor."
"I think I do." She glanced at his chest. He looked, and for the first time realized his shirt was torn open, revealing black skin beneath.
He dropped his head back onto the flat pillow. "Like I said, you can't imagine."
"Ooohh, that's right," she snapped, "no one can imagine what it must be like being looked down upon, regarded as a second class citizen in your own country. Try being a woman -- and a Jew." She stopped, and put her hand to her head. After a moment, she said, "I'm sorry. I'm just on edge. You can't imagine what I've gone through -- or where we are." And then, she told him.
Where are we?
That was the thought that raced through Mr. Amazing's head over and over again. The Man-Fly was still unconscious beside him, so he had no one to bounce the question off of, and it just echoed inside his own skull.
He remembered the two of them had been surrounded by what look like a small community of farmers after barely surviving a fall from the Nazi airship, headed for an unknown destination in the Rockies. Then something had happened. The "farmers" had begun to change, to twist, their features becoming misshapen, hideous. Inhuman. Weak and, frankly, shocked, he and the Man-Fly had had little chance.
He wasn't sure how long he had been unconscious, but when he awoke, it was here.
He was in some sort of dark, roughly hewn tunnel, but whether underground, or in the mountains themselves, he had no way of knowing. His hands were bound in front of him, but his feet were untied. He managed to struggle to a sitting position and look around. A rusty track ran past him, leading from, and to, heaven only knew, but it seemed likely they were in an abandoned mine. A mine populated by monstrosities.
He repressed a shudder.
The illusion of them appearing normal -- and it was an illusion, he was sure; he did not believe they had physically changed shape -- was doubtless induced by what Dennis Welbeck called "mentalism". Obviously one, or more, of their captors were psychic. He wanted to believe they were German agents, but how did that explain the deformities? And if their captors were working for the Nazis, why had he and the Man-Fly been left trussed up here? Why hadn't he awoken in a proper cell, with some sadistic S.S. interrogator looming over him? No, there was much more to this than anyone had first thought.
He had many questions and, as yet, few answers.
First things first, he told himself abruptly, he needed to get his hands free. Lights glowed dimly from down the tunnel, but where they were, the darkness was heavy. The reason for that was just above him. The bulb behind the metal basket was black and cold. So, if he could only wrench off the basket, if he could only break the glass bulb, and if it shattered into large enough fragments that he could use one as a cutting edge, and if he could do this all, and quietly, before anyone came to check on them, he would be all set.
He grabbed at the mesh covering with his bound hands, wiggling it, trying to wrench it off. A voice at his feet said, "Wouldn't that be easier if I untied you first?"
He looked and his mouth dropped open. The Man-Fly was sitting up, his grotesque mask now covering his features, and rubbing at his wrists, his bindings discarded upon the floor. "How did-?"
"I'm an escape artist, among other things." The Man-Fly stood. "Not all of us have lucky scarves to fall back on."
Sensing the remark was more ironic than critical, Mr. Amazing grinned, subconsciously touching the scarf around his neck. Then all they needed to do was get out of here, figure out who, what, and why they were captured, escape, find the Nazis, and put the kibosh on the Nazis and their plan to create some sort of literal super-race.
Even for a man who was the embodiment of good luck, he knew he'd be pushing it.
For the Silhouette, getting the Blacklight free of his bonds took some time, but at last that was done. Fortunately, though most of the crew of the airship was mobilized searching for her, the last place anyone would look for an escaped prisoner was in another cell.
Blacklight rubbed his wrists and grimaced behind his featureless black mask. "From what you've told me, even being free, we're trapped. Escape doesn't look too likely." He stopped, seeing her glance sadly at the floor. "What?"
"I'm just thinking about the Man-Fly. He rescued me -- he didn't have to. And now he's dead, according to what I overheard."
Blacklight hesitated, then reached out and laid a hand on hers. "Then I guess we'd better make his death count for something, eh?"
She looked up, knocking a dark bang from her eyes with a shake of her head. "Yes," she said at last, a steely determination in her eyes. "That we will."
They went to the door and Blacklight flung it open. The sentry on guard turned, his mouth dropping open in a comical O. Then he joined his jaw on the ground as a fist sent him into unconsciousness. Grabbing the limp man, Blacklight dragged him back into his cell, then rejoined the Silhouette in the hall. "Now what?"
"I guess we find the control gondola, and see about turning this balloon around."
He looked at her. "Great, and in our spare time-?"
She looked at him, not smiling, still brooding over the fate of the Man-Fly and not ready to appreciate his quips. He shrugged apologetically, and they started left -- neither having any idea which way they should be headed. After a moment, she stopped and grabbed Blacklight's arm. "Wait. Do you feel that?"
"Feel what? I don't feel anything."
"That's my point." She opened the first door she found and raced across a small cabin to peer out the window. Blacklight shouldered up beside her. "Oh my God," she breathed.
The airship was no longer moving. Below them, nestled amid some craggy out croppings of mountainous stone, sprawled a huge complex, hidden from prying eyes by the Rockies themselves, and the low lying mist that kept it hidden from planes.
"They've got a base!" she gasped. "A base right here in Canada!"
"Come on," he tugged on her arm. "At least now's our chance to get out of here. See, the ship's lowering to the ground."
Without a further word, they ran back into the hall and raced through the corridors of the ship -- now fairly deserted as the search crews were obviously being summoned away to man docking stations. At least, the Silhouette raced; Blacklight, in order to keep pace, only expended a fraction of his true speed.
They whirled as a man emerged from a side door behind them. Sputtering incredulously in German, he unshouldered his machine gun.
"Get down!" screamed Blacklight as the German opened fire in the narrow corridor, deadly bullets exploded out at them to the sound of an anti-climactic burping. He shoved the Silhouette, but instead of going down, she threw herself forward, under the lethal hail. She tucked her knees up under her chin, rolled, and kicked out, catching the sentry in the stomach. He doubled over, the tommy gun clattering to the floor, and a second kick across his jaw sent him stumbling back into his room, momentarily stunned.
She scrambled to her feet, looking fearfully around for the Blacklight. Then she relaxed. He stood there, unharmed. "You're O.K.?"
"Are you kidding? I dodge machine gun fire as a warm-up excercise."
She frowned, about to warn him not to get too cocky. Then she saw the blood on his arm, and another tear along his left side. She held her tongue. "Come on. If they're all this trigger happy, I sure hope this thing's filled with helium, not hydrogen."
Mr. Amazing and the Man-Fly stumbled through the cool, poorly-lit tunnel, hoping against hope to find some sign of daylight, some promise of an exit. They had both fallen repeatedly and their hands and knees were bloody and scraped. So far they had seen absolutely no sign of their abductors.
They were unsure if that was a good sign or not.
Something scraped behind them. The Man-Fly whirled. "What was that?"
Mr. Amazing shook his head. "I didn't-"
More scraping, shuffling.
"Scratch that." He looked around worriedly. "Someone -- or something -- is closing in."
A roundhouse kick sent one German down, and the heel of her hand to the jaw sent another careening into the wall. The Silhouette, sweat staining her brief costume, stood, legs braced, ready for the next attacker. Then she relaxed as Blacklight sent the final guard into a whirling spin that ended with him tumbling dizzily to the deck, not quite unconscious, but definitely with the fight out of him for the moment.
"Where'd you learn to fight like that?" gawked the Blacklight.
"Ever heard of Jack Martin?" she asked.
"He was my dad." Of course, his real name had been Jacob Messinsinger, but no one would pay to see a Jew go ten rounds. She didn't say that. She merely peered out of the storage room they were in, through the gaping, oversized door that was obviously for loading and unloading big crates.
Just outside was the roof of a building. The airship was still being pulled to the ground by about fifty strapping young spies, hauling away on the mooring cables. Once the ship was grounded, she knew, all their attention could be focused on the two escaped Canadian prisoners. They did not intend to stick around that long.
"Can you make it?" asked the Blacklight.
"Gentlemen first," she said.
He cocked his head, seeing that as no answer, then shrugged. He took a step back, then raced toward the yawning opening and flung himself outside. For a moment, it seemed to her, the Blacklight hung suspended in the air, poised, frozen, as fate tossed a coin and decided whether to allow the young man across, or whether to dash him to pulp on the concrete below.
Then fate decided.
He hit the roof, stumbled, then turned, arms outstretched. "Hurry!"
She took a deep breath, then, not letting herself think about it, raced toward the opening. One of the Germans at her feet reached out. She twisted, avoiding his grip, then stumbled, arms pinwheeling as she tried desperately to retain her balance. Desperately, but in vain. She plunged out the opening backward.
"Silhouette!!!" screamed Blacklight.
She tumbled through the air, but strangely, was unafraid. Fear needed time to think, to recognize the ramifications of one's circumstances. And time was something she most definitely lacked.
She flailed out blindly, and caught one of the mooring cables. Her fingers snapped about it, and she swung around, her other hand gripping just below her first. She dangled there for a moment, her feet swinging this way and that like a crazy pendulum, her own momentum threatening to tear her free. Terror started to assert itself. No! she thought. Don't think, just do!
She waited till she was no longer swinging as wildly, then relaxed her grip on the cable, just a little, and slid downward. The German holding the other end just stared up at her, uncomprehending, as her feet slammed into him. Then she hit the concrete, rolling to diffuse the impact, and was up in a ready crouch. Some of the other Germans dropped their lines, starting toward her, unthinking. Someone yelled something in German, then again, more hysterically. The men hesitated, then raced back to their lines as the airship started to lurch, threatening to tear itself open on the mountain.
She turned, grateful for the distraction, and the earth shook as something struck the ground directly in front of her like a bomb, almost knocking her from her feet. She blinked and found herself staring at the red and black, swastika-emblazoned form of Der Mut von das Vaterland. The German super-man grinned at her, standing ankle deep in shards of shattered concrete.
She made to spin away, but powerful fingers snagged her hair, and another arm curled around her waist, hoisting her from her feet. She struggled helplessly for what seemed like ages, kicking and squirming, but Das Vaterland was immovable. At last she relented, gasping for breath, and stared out at the landing strip through strands of sweat-dampened hair. Dumbly, she realized the airship had been brought to ground.
Figures approached. Distressingly familiar figures. The tall, trenchcoated figure of Major Strauss, the yellow figure of Blitzkrieg who obviously had been no more than stunned by his encounter with the Man-Fly. A short, dapper-dressed man she recognized from Professor MacCreary's interrogation room.
They stopped before her. "Allow me to introduce myself," said the little man, unaware that she had already seen him. "I am Dr. Wolfgang Vogel. We'll be getting to know each other quite well over the next few days, I'm afraid."
Major Strauss made a scissors motion with his fingers, and the blood drained from her face as she remembered his earlier words -- that the Nazis were interested in dissecting super-humans.
"You're the one in charge?" she hissed.
"Me?" asked Vogel. "No, fraulein, not exactly. But, then, I guess you have not met General von Schlachten, have you?" He stepped aside as another tall, broad-shouldered man joined them. He was dressed in a heavy cloak, a hood shadowing his features.
He pulled back his hood.
And the Silhouette did something she never thought she'd do -- she screamed in horror...
* * *
"By God, there it is," said The Dreamstalker, staring out the cockpit of his plane at the Nazi base nestled in the Rockies. "An entire compound of fifth columnists -- a bloody fortress -- right in our own backyard!"
"What do we do?" asked Roberta, the robot.
"Do? They've got Professor MacCreary, and we can only assume they've acquired his formula, and they've made it to their base where they no doubt intend to put it into action. There's only one thing to do -- get your parachute on and we'll try and stop this madness...provided we're not already too late!"
Next: Questions answered! Revelations revealed! And the penultimate showdown in..."The Fortress of Hate".
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