The world screamed.
The world and all her varied people writhed beneath the boot heels, not of petty dictators, but of gods -- gods come to life. There was blood and flame everywhere, a maelstrom of horrific images, a cacophony of terrible sounds. He stumbled through the wrecked streets of a city that had tried to resist. A city now dead and desolate.
"Sleeper!" Dennis Welbeck screamed above the roar of flames still raging in the distance. "Where are you?"
"I am here."
He turned, weary and afraid, to face the being that he had come to take for granted, his perpetual guide through the dream plane. "Sleeper," he said to the figure in the phosphorescent yellow robe, the hood, as always, hiding his otherworldly features. "Whose dream is this? Such carnage, such terror? Is this Hitler's dream? Is this his ultimate fantasy of how the war ends? His personal Gotterdammerung? But I've never walked in the dream of someone so far away before."
"No, Dreamstalker, this is not the dreaming of Adolf Hitler, nor do you see the envisioned result of human bombs on human flesh, though that is its own unconscionable horror. But Hitler, and the instigators of this war that humankind currently wages, are, indeed, responsible."
"I don't understand," he said, half statement, half question. The dream images swirled by him, showing him a hundred vistas at once, only some of which seemed to make any sort of sense. "Please...tell me."
A glowing arm rose and gestured. He looked and beheld an army base. He blinked, and suddenly he was standing, as though a fly, upon a huge file folder. The name "MacCreary" stretched across his horizon...
Suddenly Dennis Welbeck bolted upright in bed, a choked cry upon his lips. His heart pounded in his chest and he started coughing as lungs scarred by the previous "great" war spasmed in his ribs. He clutched at his chest, waiting for the coughing to subside.
Then he looked at the silver helmet on his night table.
"Oh, my God," he muttered.
AN UNUSUAL GATHERING...
Crispin Baker stared up at the big house leaning back from the road with the smug contentedness of a well-fed banker. The silver light from the half-moon gently illumed the wide, well-manicured lawn slanting up from the road to meet the facade of the house. A cool-but-pleasant breeze caused the short grass to ruffle like the hair of a child being mussed by a loving parent.
Shadows thrown by the nearby poplars played eerily across the ground.
Crispin was dressed somewhat unusually. From head to toe he was swathed in form fitting black that revealed a lean, but well-muscled physique. Only his eyes were visible from two holes in his face mask, and they gleamed slightly in the moonlight. His arms were sheathed in white from biceps to wrist, and his hands were covered in black gloves.
He considered the house for a time, vaguely unsure what it was that had brought him here, what had compelled him. Why he felt that he had to go in, as if not to do so would spell unimaginable doom.
He inhaled sharply, coming to a decision. In the blink of an eye, he crouched before the house. For when Crispin Baker started running, he ran not with the speed of a man, not even an Olympian athlete. He moved like a flash of light -- black light, in fact. Which was appropriate.
He moved cautiously to the front window and peered in. The spacious living room was dark, but light spilled in from another room, deeper in the still house. He turned and shot around the side of the house. He was at the back patio window before the grass that had been beneath his feet had time to straighten.
He hesitated again, then tried the patio door. It was unlocked. He entered quietly. He appeared to be in a sitting room or den, the light spilling in through the doorway from the next room, carving out a single slab of brightness upon the floor. Suddenly light washed over the room, exposing the lush, expensive furniture, the dormant fireplace...and himself.
He stiffened, ready to run, when a voice said, "Greetings, Blacklight. Good of you to come."
Two people entered from the other room. Crispin gawked -- he wasn't sure what he had expected, but this certainly was not it. The two were dressed as oddly as he.
One was a tall, deep-chested man. He wore jodhpurs and riding boots, and a white, loose shirt like Tyrone Power would wear in a swashbuckler. He wore a purple silk cloth tied about his upper face, eyeholes cut in the fabric. About his neck he sported a scarf that looked to be of Native Indian handicraft.
The other figure was a woman. She wore boots and what was essentially a pink one-piece bathing suit. She wore a mask across her eyes that obscured her features, but not so much so that he couldn't tell she was lovely. Raven-black hair spilled over her shoulders.
For a moment, he was speechless.
The man spoke first, a friendly grin on his handsome features, and a twinkle in his eyes. "Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Mr. Amazing -- so the papers have dubbed me. And this is the Silhouette. I don't know if you've heard of us, but I certainly recall something about a Blacklight in the papers. They say you're quick as a wink, so to speak."
It took Crispin -- the Blacklight -- a moment to realize that Mr. Amazing was speaking as much to give him time to adjust as anything, obviously realizing he'd be momentarily surprised. Blacklight found he liked the man already...a man nicknamed, if his memory served, "The Spirit of Decency".
"Uh, yeah, yes, I've heard about you -- both of you -- on the radio." For a moment he could almost hear Lorne Green's bass tones as the radio announcer recounted yet another exploit of one of these mysterious, newfangled, 'costumed adventurers'. "What-?" He stopped in mid-sentence, suddenly realizing that Mr. Amazing's voice was not the one he had first heard upon entering.
"What are you all doing here?" that voice now asked. "Simple: I asked you here."
Blacklight turned, and for the second time in as many minutes was taken by surprise. It was odd, he thought, how quickly one becomes accustomed to the unusual. Because what surprised him now was how normal the third man appeared.
He stood in another doorway, dressed in a pressed navy blue suit, a pipe in hand. He was tall and handsome, with jet-black hair and a trim mustache, looking for all the world like Ronald Coleman. He spoke with a proper, Upper Canadian accent that Blacklight pegged as Loyalist, Old Money. He had little doubt but that this was the house's true owner.
"Uh, I hate to disappoint you, but I wasn't asked. I came...I came..." Blacklight stopped, suddenly at a loss. He wasn't sure why he had come.
"You came because I very much needed your help," said the man in his clipped, elegant tones. "Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Dennis Welbeck. The papers have come to call me The Dreamstalker -- that is, when I'm dressed a tad more garishly than you now see me." He held up a hand, as if anticipating an interruption. "I trust you all, so that's why I'm telling you who I really am, but I don't expect that trust to be returned right away -- if at all. No one need feel obligated to part with anything more than his -- or her -- uh, nom du heroics."
"We only just got here ourselves," said the Silhouette. "So I think we're all equally in the dark. How did you summon us?"
Dennis Welbeck smile slightly and tapped his temple with a finger as he stepped into the room. "By mental exertion. I'm something of a mentalist, it's how I fight crime. That and a few magician's tricks I know." He gestured flourishly and a bouquet of roses sprang to his hand. "I projected a -- well -- a need, and hoped some would respond to it. You have." He laid the flowers on a table.
"You used, what, thought-control?" demanded Blacklight angrily.
"Heavens, nothing so dramatic. I merely projected my own burning need for help, and hoped costumed adventurers like yourselves would respond. I'm not keeping you here."
"Yes, well," said Mr. Amazing, hands on his hips, and sounding not entirely reassured, "will you tell us why you've...invited us?"
Welbeck stopped by the glass doors leading onto the patio, one hand holding the pipe to his lips, the other in his pocket. He was silent for a moment. The three colourfully-garbed people looked at each other, waiting. He turned, finally, a resigned sigh issuing under his breath.
"I had hoped for a fourth, but I guess he's not... Well, anyway." He looked at them, forcing a weak smile. "We'll just have to make do. Drinks, anyone?"
When it was ascertained that no one desired a beverage, Welbeck settled on the arm of his sofa and crossed one leg over the other. Behind him, an original Tom Thompson landscape provided a suitably tempest-tossed backdrop. "These are dark times, as you know. War is raging in Europe, and only God knows how that will end. The world is changing too, with so-called costumed adventurers cropping up through-out the world, evincing powers undreamt of by yesterday's prophets. These two elements, I fear, are coming together in a most frightening manner. Are you sure you don't want to try my Scotch? It's really very-"
"Mr. Welbeck," said Mr. Amazing, a little sharply.
"Ah, sorry. As I was saying: while our boys die in Europe, a menace is rearing up right here in the Dominion. Now that people like us exist -- now that we've demonstrated that human beings haven't even scratched their true potential -- I'm afraid it wasn't long before that Teutonic madman thought to connect it with his lunacy about a Master Race. In short, I have learned that the Nazis are bent on creating a literal super race. And I fear he can do it, thanks to the well-meaning efforts of a scientist right here in Toronto-the-Good."
"Are you saying...Hitler can create people like us at will?" asked Blacklight, struggling with the implications of an entire Nazi army made up of men who could move faster than most men could think.
"No," said Welbeck grimly. "My understanding of the matter is that, if they succeed, they will create an army that is as far above us, as we are above normal people. A new race of Gods that will rule, not from Mt. Olympus, but from Berlin."
"My God," said the Silhouette. Then she started, belatedly realizing she had spoken out loud.
"No, my dear Silhouette -- my Gods."
Blacklight looked around. "And we're here...?"
"To stop it...if we can," said Welbeck. "It won't be easy. We're up against an organization of fifth column saboteurs, no doubt supplemented by some of the Nazi's own costumed 'heroes' that I've heard rumours about."
"How do you know all this?"
Welbeck grinned disarmingly at the beautiful young woman. "Let's just say I have a knack for...dreaming up trouble. My source is often...oblique, but rarely out-and-out wrong. As my record as a crimefighter should attest."
"Why are we meeting here?" asked Mr. Amazing. "Surely this involves military intelligence, the R.C.M.P. -- perhaps the Prime Minister himself."
"Yes, well..." Welbeck looked at his penny loafers for a moment, as though slightly uncomfortable, then he looked up. "Let's leave Mr. King and his associates out of this if we can."
The Silhouette frowned. "I don't understand?"
"The less our side knows about Professor MacCreary's research, the better off the world will be. It would be monstrous if Hitler started mass-producing goosestepping demi-gods...but can any of us be sure that our leaders could resist the temptation to sire a race of super-men themselves? If it meant winning the war? And what of the consequences after the war, eh? No, we must deal with this ourselves."
"Why? Because we already have powers, and won't be so tempted?" asked Blacklight.
"No. Because the fact that you wear those costumes tells me you're good people. Dressing up anonymously to work in shadows to make the world slightly better for your fellow man? Knowing there's no reward, no benefit, other than doing the right thing? Besides, I think some of you are painfully aware of the dangers of believing in super-races."
Blacklight stiffened, but said nothing.
Mr. Amazing frowned, and stared at the dormant fireplace for a moment. What was suggested smack a little of having to work against their own government in order to defend their own government. It bothered him. It bothered him almost as much as the fact that he knew Dennis Welbeck was right. He turned and looked at their host. "So what's your plan?"
Dennis Welbeck watched the last of his guests vanish into the night. He turned, and almost leaped back through the glass doors as a shape emerged from another room. "My God, you startled..." He stopped and grimaced. "Good lord, but I forgot how repulsive you look."
The figure standing in the door was a tall man wearing a tattered, dark trenchcoat. For a head, he wore the grotesque visage of a house fly, as though a fly's head had been swelled to the size of a man, then grafted onto human shoulders. It was an unsettling sight. Even in the lighted room, it was hard to remember it was just a mask.
"That's the idea," said the Man-Fly. "You dropped your pipe."
Welbeck retrieved his pipe from the floor, then clenched it between his teeth. "How long have you been there, Artie?"
"I was hoping you'd come, you know. They've got abilities and courage, but I think we're going to need skill and experience if we want the world to live through the next little while. I'm glad you..."
"Don't be," he cut him off. "I heard, but I'm not in, Dennis."
"Why the Devil not?" Welbeck demanded, incredulous. "The world's on the brink of an abyss, man -- you're needed, badly. Now is the time for all men of integrity to stand together. I believe it was Sir Isaac Brock who said: A country defended by free men, enthusiastically devoted to the cause of their king and constitution, can never be conquered."
"Bravo. You should speak at a War Bond rally."
"You were in the trenches, Dennis. I would have thought choking on mustard gas all those years ago taught you the dangers of big, unwieldy units. You're sending kids out there with sledgehammers when what you need is a surgeon."
"So be our surgeon, Artie. Help us."
The grotesque visage regarded him for a moment, implacable behind eerie, multifaceted eyes. He walked to the glass doors. "Good luck, Dennis." Then he was gone.
Dennis Welbeck slumped into a chair, both angry and saddened. Suddenly he clutched his chest as a painful coughing sparked lights before his eyes. He doubled over, Artie Trent's mention of mustard gas having triggered an unconscious reaction in his scarred lungs. After the coughing fit had subsided, he looked at his pipe.
In disgust, he set it on the side table.
Next: Our heroes are in place, the crisis explained, so now things start cooking. Be here as Mr. Amazing tries to safeguard the professor himself...and finds an unusual ally. Plus: The Silhouette!
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