What's gone before: The Nazi airship arrives at its destination, a hidden Nazi base in the Canadian Rockies. Blacklight manages to avoid re-capture, but the Silhouette comes face to face with the talked about but as-yet-unseen Nazi mastermind, General von Schlachten. Meanwhile the Man-Fly and Mr. Amazing try to escape their mysterious captors deep in an old mine, but hear many footsteps approaching...
THE FORTRESS OF HATE
Fabric rustled, and the Man-Fly's hand emerged from his coat pocket with an odd looking pistol as he stared down the dimly lit tunnel. Mr. Amazing put his hand on the Man-Fly's wrist. "So far, we don't know who they are, what they want, or how much harm they mean us."
"Ask my headache how much harm they intend," snapped the Man-Fly. "I- Forget it. Don't worry, it's a tranquillizer, nothing more."
The shuffling grew louder, and dark, indistinct shapes moved closer. Many dark, indistinct shapes.
"Uh, so how many darts have you got, anyway?" asked Mr. Amazing quietly.
"Not enough!" hissed the Man-Fly. He raised his arm and fired into the sea of blackness. He heard one figure go down, then another. The others started hurrying, racing forward, but the sound of their steps was odd, unnatural, as if they tried to run on awkward limbs, not made for such exertions.
And then a sea of flesh washed over them.
Mr. Amazing braced his legs and stood his ground, slugging left and right, not seeing his attackers clearly, but feeling his fists against flesh. Before they had been taken by surprise, but not this time. "What do you people want? Who are?" he yelled at the shadows, trying to reason with them. Trying in vain it seemed. Hands clawed at him, arms tried to enwrap him, but he shrugged them off, dodging and twisting away where he could, punching and kicking when he couldn't. In the end, though, he knew he was just delaying the inevitable.
Abruptly, he realized he was fighting alone.
"Where are you?" he shouted to the Man-Fly. There was no answer. He did not want to believe that the Man-Fly had deserted him -- it went against his nature to assume the worst. On the other hand, he reasoned, maybe a pragmatic retreat was the wisest course of action, after all. If he could hold them back long enough, maybe the Man-Fly could escape. It still seemed somewhat unsporting, but maybe his values were old-fashioned in a world where the bombing of civilians was considered fair play. As he took knuckles on the jaw, his eyes momentarily losing focus, he told himself he wished the Man-Fly the best of luck. Really.
Something rattled behind him. Something squealed the torturous scream of old metal straining. The rattle grew louder, like the hooves of stampeding cattle. His attackers scattered just as something whacked him in the back of his legs and strong arms grabbed him, hauling him over and into some sort of rusty metal box. He curled awkwardly at the base of whatever it was, staring up at the grotesque visage of the Man-Fly. He squirmed himself around and managed to peer up around the edges of the box as the walls of the tunnel whipped past.
They were in mine cart, he realized, following the old tracks. And, best of all, leaving their playmates behind. Granted, they were heading back the way they had come, but at least it meant there were no surprises waiting at the end of their journey.
"You really are an enigmatic old son, aren't you?" asked Mr. Amazing good-naturedly. "Couldn't you have told me where you were-?"
Before he could finish his question, the cart lurched around a corner, wheels screeching, blazing sparks spitting against the coarse rock walls. Both men surged against one side, then the thing jerked back the other way and they slammed against the other side.
Steadying himself, Mr Amazing said, "Uh, I don't remember any turns on the way up."
"There must've been a side tunnel we didn't notice," muttered the Man-Fly. "Where's the brake?"
Mr. Amazing grabbed the likeliest culprit poking up from one side. He heaved against it. With a jolting crack!, it came free in his hands. "Can't say much for the craftsmanship," he remarked miserably. "Well, how bad can it get, eh?"
Mr. Amazing twisted awkwardly to get a look at what his companion saw. Sure enough, the tunnel seemed to open up onto a bigger chamber, and welcome light washed out from this new area, though whether torch light or day light, he could not say. Then he gripped the rusty lip of the cart's side, knuckles whitening.
"Good Gravy!" he exclaimed as the cart shot out into this new cavern.
The track bridge that was to carry the cart to the other side, old and abandoned for many years, had long since crumbled away into nothing. The cart tumbled through empty air, spilling them out into what looked to be a bottomless chasm.
Mr. Amazing's amazing luck, it seemed, had run dry.
The Dreamstalker and Roberta peered over an outcropping of rock, down upon the secret Nazi fortress deep in the Canadian Rockies. Truth be told, Dennis Welbeck, the Dreamstalker, was scared. He had brought the motley band of costumed adventurers together to try and prevent these Nazi agents from fulfilling their mad dream of creating a literal race of world-conquering super-men. It had been his plan...and it was his failure. Now it was down to just the two of them. He, the "mastermind" who had messed up so badly already, and -- he glanced at his companion -- a robot girl who seemed, inexplicably, to evince all the characteristics of a human being. Roberta, though undeniably powerful, was not a true costumed adventurer like the rest of them. Did he have the right to drag her even deeper into danger, when she was, in so many ways, an innocent?
Did he have a choice? He knew he could not accomplish it alone.
Startled from his reverie, he turned, Roberta with him, and stared into the business end of a machine gun in the hands of a German soldier, fully decked out in his uniform, so confident were the Nazis that their base would be undiscovered.
Roberta made to step between him and the soldier, her metal skin largely impenetrable. Instead, the Dreamstalker put a hand on her arm, stilling her. He looked directly at the soldier and in a calm, milky pure voice, said, "There are a lot of rocks here, aren't there? So many rocks, so many shapes. A man could imagine all sorts of things, couldn't he?"
He stayed perfectly still and prayed Roberta would follow his lead and do likewise.
Slowly, the German lowered his gun and scratched at his close-cropped hair. Then he shrugged and sauntered off.
Once he was confident the young man was out of earshot, the Dreamstalker relaxed, allowing himself to breathe again, and gave Roberta a weak grin.
"What-" she began, befuddled, "what happened?"
"I have certain...talents. I can walk the dream plane, visiting others' dreams and so learn about crimes being planned. And with this helmet, I can utilize my mental powers in the waking world, as well. I merely convinced our young friend there that what he had thought was a cloaked man and a gleaming metal woman was, in fact, just a couple of curiously-shaped rocks. If we had moved, something a rock wouldn't do, the illusion would have shattered. But I wanted to avoid gunfire, which would have alerted those below." He peered up over the rock again, and nodded. "Come on, the coast is clear."
The sentry just outside one of the doors leading into the Nazi fortress staggered back into the wall as a tremendous gust of wind slammed into him, sending his hat whirling away in the air. The door flew open, then slammed shut again. The sentry looked around dazedly, then shook his head cantankerously, and went to retrieve his hat, cursing the Canadian weather.
Of course, it had been no phenomena of the weather that had brushed past him so fast that, even had he been paying close attention, he would only have made out a blur of movement, as though a streak of black light.
The laboratory chamber was enormous.
It was divided into two main platforms overlooking a great, steaming pool of bubbling water, a hot spring that raised the temperature in the cavernous chamber to an almost tropical degree. A narrow metal bridge connected the two areas that were formed out of the natural rock of the mountain. High overhead, man-made girders and even a catwalk criss-crossed the stone ceiling. On the opposite side of the bubbling hot spring, a strange, complex apparatus was arranged, at the centre of which was a chair. Bustling about the mechanism were white-coated German lab technicians.
The Silhouette stood on one side of the chamber, surrounded by the German super-agents, Das Vaterland, and Blitzkrieg, and the cadaverous giant, Major Strauss, with his filed teeth. Of the three, Das Vaterland might well have been the most powerful, she knew, but he was far from the most terrifying. Though no agent of mercy, he seemed, at most, somewhat thuggish, but lacking the primal cruelty of Strauss, or the sadistic insanity of Blitzkrieg.
With them was Dr. Vogel, the Nazi chief scientist in charge of the project, and Professor MacCreary, the elderly Canadian scientist who had discovered the MacCreary Formula that, supposedly, would accelerate a human being to his full potential, transforming a man into a veritable super-man. An eventuality that Dennis Welbeck foresaw as leading to the complete domination of the human race by a cadre of demi-gods.
"Clever, yes?" asked Vogel, speaking theatrically to the room, but his words were obviously addressed at her. "Perhaps Germany's most important project, the one that will win the war in days rather than months, based, not in the Fatherland, but here, in the home of our enemy. No one would expect it, no one would look for it, and should the verdammenswert British attempt to bomb Germany, it is safe from any threat of harm or assault. Again, I say: clever, yes?"
MacCreary looked unwell, the hours spent being chemically interrogated by Vogel having taken their toll on his elderly metabolism. She doubted if he entirely knew where he was.
"Can't you let him sit down?" she asked, her voice cracked, more a timid squeak than the firm tone she had hoped would issue from her throat.
Vogel glanced at her idly, annoyed that his gloating soliloquy should fall on such deaf ears.
"He's an old man -- haven't you done enough to him?"
"But of course, fraulein," said Major Strauss, doffing his hat gallantly and flashing his filed teeth at her. He stepped to the professor and shoved, sending the old man sprawling upon the hard, polished floor.
"Bastard!" she snarled.
Blitzkrieg began giggling.
"Enough!" bellowed a voice, a deep, cavernous rumble. She turned, and flinched slightly as a man entered the chamber.
He was not quite as tall as Major Strauss, but broader in the chest and shoulders. His garb was the stormy grey of a Nazi officer's uniform, beneath a black cape that swelled majestically at his back as he strode across the room. His hands -- claws almost -- were thick with coarse hair, almost fur, really. His face was hideous, feral, with a pronounced mouth, like an ape, and large, pointed ears, and thick brows overshadowing eyes that seemed almost to glow.
"Amuse yourself in your own time, gentlemen," said the man who had been introduced to her as General von Schlachten. "I'm sure the Jewess will provide you with all the sport you need...later."
The Silhouette blanched. Blitzkrieg looked at her in shock.
"Jewess?" asked Major Strauss.
Von Schlachten's bizarre features turned to her and grinned. "I can smell your fear, girl," he touched his nose with a finger. "Literally. And I can sense your thoughts. Your fear that my comrades would discover your true nature is never far from your mind."
She stared, slowly, almost reluctantly, beginning to understand the import of what he was saying. "You? You're-?"
"I am the end product of the good Doctor Vogel's first round of experiments to create a true Master Race. My strength can challenge Der Mut von das Vaterland, while my senses are extraordinarily keen, and I have a limited ability to sense -- not so much thoughts -- but ideas, impressions, in the minds of others." He gestured with one clawed hand, airily. "As you can see, there was a certain...give and take. The doctor has been unable to entirely control the mutations. I was once quite a handsome man."
"Then you were the one on the airship? The one moaning?"
"Ah, you heard that, did you? Yes, the treatments are not always pleasant, and can induce irrational episodes. It was even necessary to put bars on my own cabin windows so that I did not attempt to kill myself during a moment of...regret, or weakness. Fortunately, your Professor MacCreary seems to have solved such unfortunate...side effects. Doing away with the danger of unfortunate disfigurements and unanticipated alterations. As well as revealing an end potential Dr. Vogel only theorized." He turned to Vogel. "All is ready? I am anxious to begin my final...ascension."
"Step this way," Vogel said, gesturing to the narrow bridge leading across the bubbling water.
The mine cart plunged into the abyss, spilling the Man-Fly and Mr. Amazing out into the stale, damp air of the mine cavern, with nothing below them but what appeared to be a bottomless drop.
Suddenly there was a sound, as the pounding of enormous wings somewhere in the shadows. The Man-Fly's arm was grabbed from nowhere and something snagged Mr. Amazing's belt. Abruptly, the two men found themselves jerking to a halt, watching as their cart dwindled into the blackness yawning hungrily below. There was no sound of a crash.
Man-Fly looked up and snorted in shock. For a moment, he thought it was an angel -- then he dismissed that idea. Maybe for Mr. Amazing, the "Spirit of Decency", he mused, but he doubted any celestial hosts would put themselves to any trouble on his account. Nonetheless, a man with great wings sprouting from his back was flying them to safety. Then Man-Fly frowned behind his grotesque mask. The "angel" wasn't pretty. More like a fallen angel, he mused, which made a twisted kind of sense in these Godforsaken mines. The features, though human, were puffy and distorted. One eye was shut and he had the uncomfortable sense that there was no eyeball lurking behind the closed lid.
Unceremoniously, they were both dropped upon the hard track of the mine tunnel proper. Shaking himself, the Man-Fly rose unsteadily and looked around. They were surrounded by their captors, some bearing torches which revealed what he had suspected, what he had seen briefly earlier when captured outside.
All of the dwellers in the cave were disfigured -- some quite hideously.
Someone started to speak. He stiffened. The man spoke German. They were fifth columnists after all! he realized. Then he received an even greater shock as the voice began to be translated into English. He found himself staring at a little boy with a third eye in the middle of his forehead, his lips unmoving. Instinctively he knew that the little boy was translating the words of the group's leader, using a kind of mentalism.
The voice echoed in his head, "You are Artie Trent, the Man-Fly, and, Chet Morgan, Mr. Amazing."
He stiffened. No doubt, thanks to telepathy, the Germans knew everything about them. Everything! How do you fight that? he wondered.
"So much for the Aryan master race," the Silhouette sneered, hoping to delay the two men, "if the best German scientists can't even beat a lowly Canadian professor, working alone in his lab."
The General turned and stared at her, his misshapen lips pushing out even further in what, she belatedly realized, was a pursed look. Slowly, he allowed a smile to touch his lips. "With one word, I can order you a quick, merciful death, girl. Otherwise, Vogel will be permitted to experiment on you, to add to his knowledge of the workings of you so-called super-humans. Just one word can save you from -- how do the lurid American pulp writers put it? -- a fate truly worse than death. Just one word." He turned and followed Dr. Vogel toward the bridge, his meaning clear. The word would not be forthcoming.
"Hey, general," she called.
He turned back, impatience creeping into his vaguely luminescent eyes.
"Everyone seems to know I have powers...but you don't know what. Yet." With that said, she closed her eyes, forced everything out, her fear, her revulsion, every distracting emotion, pushed it all away and concentrated. Suddenly, she vanished.
"Was-?" gasped Das Vaterland, whirling about and trying, with his limited mental capabilities, to figure out where she had gone.
Major Strauss yanked a luger from his coat. "Just like before -- she must be able to turn invisible!" He fired again and again at the space where she had been, bullets bouncing off Das Vaterland. Blitzkrieg threw himself to the floor to avoid the lethal ricochets.
"Stop!" roared von Schlachten, his enhanced mind and senses immediately focusing his attention on a black silhouette upon the ground. He strode forward and waved his clawed hand over the shadow where, logically, a person who cast the shadow should have been. There was nothing there. He stomped on the shadow, and it darted away, like a fish.
"Fascinating," gasped Vogel. "I'd never have dreamed-"
Strauss fired a couple of slugs into the shadow as it slithered about, but with no effect.
"In this state, she is impervious," muttered the general. "Quick. Bring a light. Let's see if we can dispel this silhouette."
Two German soldiers paced by an old door that led to an unused part of the fortress, left over from the abandoned mine that had been here prior to their arrival. One stopped, putting a hand on his companion's shoulder. "Zuhoren," he muttered. They both stopped, heads cocked. For a moment, he was sure he had heard something behind the old door. He waited a moment, then his companion shrugged and made to move on.
It was then the door burst open, literally tearing free of its rusty hinges. Two men leaped into the hall. One was a handsome man in jodhpurs and a purple mask, the other...
One of the Germans screamed in horror as the grotesque monstrosity came at him, his gun useless in numb, frightened fingers. Stationed at this secret base, he had seen many disturbing things in these past months, not the least of which was the general himself. But this horror coming at him was beyond anything he could imagine. He dimly heard a sound of compressed air being released, and his legs went out from under him as unconsciousness claimed him.
Mr. Amazing, finished decking his own soldier, turned to the Man-Fly. "That mask really is effective, isn't it?" He stopped as the grotesque head turned to regard him with its eerie, multifaceted eyes. He shuddered, his own question answered. Then he turned, remembering their companions. A man with a tiny head imbedded in big shoulders, long arms allowing him to knuckle walk, joined them, the little boy with the three eyes at his side. "Thank you, my friends," said Mr. Amazing, knowing the boy would instantly translated his words, telepathically, into German.
The small-headed man nodded, his eyes sad, but proud. Then he and the boy turned around and disappeared back into the darkness beyond, heading back to the old tunnels his people called home.
Mr. Amazing scowled, feeling a righteous rage burning in his breast. The creatures in the tunnels had once been German citizens. Not Nazi party members or even soldiers, just civilians -- poor, handicapped, behind in their taxes or convicted of misdemeanours -- who were given a chance to "serve" their country by being transported here to participate in certain experiments. Experiments to create a super-race. Experiments that had gone rather awry. Those that had survived, but were no longer of any use to Dr. Vogel and his associates, had retreated into the caves, to make some sort of new life for themselves here, far, far from the land of their birth.
And to hate the Nazis who had done this to them. When they had come upon him and the Man-Fly, they assumed they were Nazi super-agents -- the only costumed people they had previously seen were in the employ of the Nazis. But a later mental scan revealed their error. That he and the Man-Fly were not agents of the hated Dr. Vogel.
Such hatred Mr. Amazing could understand. He felt a hand on his shoulder, an unusually comforting gesture from the usually stand-offish Man-Fly. Obviously he knew what he was thinking. Then the hand was dropped.
"We'd better split up," said the Man-Fly subduedly.
"Did someone ask for a light?"
The Nazis whirled, momentarily forgetting the shadow darting about on the floor. A man in black, save for his white-clothed arms, stood in the doorway to the laboratory complex.
"The Blacklight!" hissed Blitzkrieg, still sprawled on the floor.
"Hello, Blitzkrieg," said the Blacklight. "I believe you owe me a rematch...now that you don't have the advantage of surprise. And, believe me, goosestepper, that's the only advantage you ever had."
"Hah!" laughed the man in yellow as he got to his feet. "I fry you vhere you stand." He launched a barrage of electricity at the Blacklight, but the Canadian speedster was no longer there to receive it. Instead, he stood by a table of beakers, fists on his hips.
"Sorry, were you even aiming for me?"
With a scream of rage, Blitzkrieg shot out another wave of deadly energy. Again, Blacklight darted out of the way. The table behind him exploded.
"Idiot," roared Strauss. "He wants you to destroy this place. You are a speedster...run him to the ground!"
Barely were the words out of his mouth than Blitzkrieg vanished into a streak of yellow light and he and the Blacklight began their deadly race of death, disappearing out through the doorway.
"Is this a private party, or can anyone join?"
Strauss turned, only to meet the fist of Mr. Amazing which sent him sprawling on the ground. Racing forward, pushing his surprise attack, Mr. Amazing leaped into the air and kicked out with all his might into the chest of Das Vaterland, taking great satisfaction in digging his heels into the swastika emblazoned on his costume. For all the good it did. Das Vaterland staggered back with an "oof", but kept his feet even as Mr. Amazing hit the ground. He rolled just as a boot stomped down where he had been, shattering the polished floor with the force of its impact. He punched out; once, twice. Delivering blows that might have crippled an ordinary man, not holding back at all.
Das Vaterland grimaced in discomfort then, slowly, grinned as Mr. Amazing's jaw dropped open. A hand as gentle as concrete closed about Mr. Amazing's arm. Another fist was raised. Das Vaterland muttered something in German. Mr. Amazing couldn't make out the words, but the triumphant tone was universal. He flinched, awaiting the death blow, knowing he was not strong enough to truly challenge Das Vaterland -- that none of the costumed adventurers recruited by Dennis Welbeck had that sort of power.
Then a svelte arm caught the massive fist, arresting its lethal descent.
Against one wall, the Silhouette materialized, unable to maintain her shadow shape any longer, the strain was too much. She got wearily to her feet, then sagged back against the coarse stone, glad that, for the moment, no one was paying her any attention. Then she stiffened.
Someone was breathing right next to her.
She looked over and barely choked back a scream as she found Major Strauss looming over her, his nose bloody from Mr. Amazing's punch. He grinned at her, his filed teeth pink with his own blood. "Well, fraulein, it seems you're friends have come. Too bad they are preoccupied. At this moment, strangely, I find that the prospect of your death pleases me more than anything else. You have humiliated me with your elusiveness, cheated me by destroying the MacCreary file, and dared to strike me -- you, a Jewess." His huge, cadaverous body came at her, his mouth yawning wide as she realized he meant to use those hellish teeth on her.
She launched herself away from the wall, hit the ground and rolled to her feet. Before her were rungs from a ladder and she started up them, desperate to be away. Even as she climbed, she realized it was a mistake. She should have yelled for one of the others, tried to secure some help. Instead, she was leading Strauss farther and farther away from her friends.
She shrieked involuntarily as she felt his fist close about her ankle. Before he could lock his grip, she kicked free and scurried up onto a rickety catwalk in the rafters beneath the stone ceiling. It shook beneath her and she took a moment to steady herself.
With a renewed clatter of the metal gantry, Strauss joined her, still grinning his bloody grin.
He came at her again and she twisted and kicked out, catching him in the stomach. He groaned, but glanced his fist off her temple, sending her stumbling. She hit the railing and rocked half way over. Her eyes swelled wide as she saw far below was only the bubbling hot spring. She heaved herself from the brink, and collided with the black leather trench coat of the major. His arms snaked around her like a python.
His breath was hot and foul against her throat. "For the Fatherland," he hissed as he brought his teeth to her neck.
With a sobbed scream, she slammed her head sideways into his, gashing her cheek on his teeth. He grunted, and she knifed her elbow into his ribs. His grip slackened and she ducked below his arms and raced farther along the rocking gantry. Suddenly, she stopped. Fear drained the blood from her features.
The catwalk ended abruptly over the middle of the boiling pool.
"Did I neglect to mention that construction was never completed upon this catwalk, fraulein?" asked the major, pacing toward her. "After all, what purpose does it serve...except to corner young women who think they can escape me?"
Below, General von Schlachten and Dr. Vogel started for the bridge leading to the far side of the cavern...and his final transformation.
Next: The long awaited wrap-up, the ultimate showdown, and the most senses-shattering conclusion ever in a little saga we just had to call..."Man and Uber-Man!" Be here in seven days (or you'll hate yourself forever!)
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