What's gone before: Blacklight and the Silhouette have been taken prisoner by Nazi spies, while the Man-Fly, pursuing a separate avenue of investigation, discovers a camouflaged Nazi airship. He grabs onto the ladder as the ship starts to fly away, heading for a destination unknown...
TERROR IN THE SKIES
The Silhouette groaned weakly. She stirred, as though waking from a bad dream. Suddenly she opened her eyes and found herself staring at an aluminum-like ceiling. Weakly, she sat up. Beneath her, the floor seemed to shudder slightly, as though somewhere an engine was running continuously. What sort of an engine -- a power generator? she wondered. Or something else?
She touched her lips, and felt dried blood. Slowly it all came back to her, and she realized she had not woken from a nightmare...she had woken to a nightmare. She recalled the fight at the army base with the super-powered Nazi spies, the struggle over the MacCreary file and her success in destroying it. A success that became Phyrric as she was kidnapped in its stead.
She wasn't bound, and her costume and mask were still in place. Obviously, they considered her a minor threat at best, and were supremely confident in their security. That worried her. Still, she had one advantage, and that was that apparently neither Major Strauss, nor the super-powered agents, Blitzkrieg and Das Vaterland, seemed to have registered her ability to transform into a two-dimensional silhouette. It was a solitary Ace-in-the-Hole that she would have to be very careful how she played.
Still groggy, she rose from the floor where she had obviously been thrown when dragged to this room. She groped for the bunk and sat up.
Where were the others? Dennis Welbeck -- the Dreamstalker -- and the others he had recruited to combat this Nazi threat. Were they even aware of her predicament? Of their predicament?
Their? she repeated in her mind, as if an unfamiliar word. She stopped, for the first time remembering her companion, Blacklight. She cursed herself and her grogginess. He had been badly injured by Blitzkrieg's electrical ability, but only injured...she hoped. Strauss had ordered both of them be taken, she remembered that much. Surely he wouldn't bother if the Blacklight was a corpse?
She walked stiffly to the door of her room. As expected, it was locked. Remembering her companion, knowing he was probably somewhere nearby, possibly wounded, she determined to find him. Whatever the consequences.
Pressing the tips of her fingers to the door, she bowed her head, her raven locks tumbling over her face. She concentrated, focusing past her headache, willing, willing...
A moment later, the sentry stationed outside the door of the Silhouette's cell hitched his belt higher on his waist, and idly hummed a tune that had been popular in Germany shortly before he had left for North America and this mission...a mission of which he had been told very little. He did not even know why he was to guard the pretty Canadian girl, or why she was dressed so outlandishly -- and so fetchingly -- in her one-piece bathing suit and mask. She seemed an unlikely threat.
Even as he thought these thoughts, a black shadow oozed out from under the door, past his feet. Though the corridor was brightly lit, he was expecting nothing, and so did not notice as it slithered soundlessly down the corridor. Had he noticed it, it was still doubtful that he would have identified it as comforming to the shape of a shadow as cast by a supple young woman...particularly as there was no such woman to cast it.
The slip of darkness slipped under the first door it came to, then, a moment later, re-emerged and tried the next door. Again, failing to find what it sought, it returned to the corridor.
It moved to the next door, then hesitated. Sounds issued from beyond the steel portal. Strange, unsettling sounds. At first listen, they could be taken for the moans of a human, perhaps under torture, perhaps Blacklight. Slowly, though, such an assessment took on a falseness. There was something not entirely human about the moaning coming from behind the door. Something more bestial.
Suddenly two men came tramping around the corner. The darkness hesitated, clearly visible in the middle of the well-lit hall, then it darted forward, toward the two men. It slipped under their feet, mingling with their own shadows. One of the men looked down, frowning, sensing something odd about the contours of the darkness beneath him. Then he shrugged to himself, unable to put a finger to the strangeness, and resumed his conversation with his companion. Slowly, the darkness allowed itself to fall behind as the men continued on.
After a moment, the darkness resumed its search.
A sentry was positioned before a door and the darkness whisked by him, slipping under the door.
Inside the room, the Silhouette rose up from her shadow and ran to the side of a man lying upon a cot. Blacklight was much as she last remembered -- unconscious, his ebony costume scorched and torn across the chest, revealing the skin of a black man. It had not occurred to her that Blacklight might, in fact, be black.
His hands and wrists were manacled. At least that was a sign for hope, she reasoned. A a speedster like Blacklight couldn't move quickly with his hands and feet tied, but there was no point in taking precautions like that with a man expected not to survive. Obviously, she felt, the Nazis believed he would recover.
She grabbed his shoulders and shook. "Blacklight," she whispered, not wanting to alert the man outside. Then, louder, "Blacklight!"
He did not stir.
She stiffened. Voices were outside, muffled, but moving past the door...seeming to be moving in the direction of her room. She turned and threw herself at the door.
A black shadow slipped out from under the door and darted down the hall.
Major Strauss and two others stood before her door, conversing with the sentry. After a moment, Strauss ordered the door be opened. The sentry turned and slipped his key into the lock even as a blackness slid under their feet.
The door swung wide.
The Silhouette stood in the middle of the room, reeling slightly, her brow glistening with sweat, as though having just been through some terrible exertion.
Strauss shouldered past the sentry and scowled suspiciously as he registered her condition. "I trust you have no foolish plans to escape, fraulein." He brushed past her, going to a drape drawn over a window. The Silhouette blinked, not having registered that potential egress earlier, so concerned had she been over the whereabouts of Blacklight. Strauss grinned at her and abruptly something froze inside, as if she knew what he was about to show her -- as if, subconsciously, she had always known. He tugged on the little ring, and the blind rattled up, sunlight streaming into the little room.
The Silhouette let out a little gasp, her knees going momentarily weak. Outside was nothing. Nothing but air.
She leaned across the bunk and pressed her face to the glass. Far, far below was the checker-board pattern of grassy fields. They were in a plane, she realized with mounting horror. There was no escape, and no chance of a rescue. Then she thought back to the army base, of the droning sound she had heard, and the sensation of rising into the air. No, not a plane, she realized. An airship.
Strauss chuckled. "I suggest you merely -- how do you say? -- sit back and enjoy the ride."
"Don't give me that: how do you say," she said, turning on him, trying to quell a mounting panic. "Your English is perfect. And how did you know about the MacCreary file? You said something about it being there since 'before the war'?"
He doffed his hat and grinned, his long, white teeth flashing. The Silhouette gasped involuntarily. What she had not noticed in the dark of the army base office was that the major's teeth appeared to be...filed. She knew that among some African tribes it was not uncommon to do that -- after all, in a culture without utensils, it made eating meat easier. But the major needed no such advantage when consuming a steak in a German restaurant. She shuddered.
If Strauss noticed her reaction, he gave no such indication. "As you have guessed, I have not lived all my life in Germany. In fact, I am a Canadian citizen of German parents, and once a minor official in the Canadian army. It was I who first flagged MacCreary's submission for my 'superior' officers, recommending investigation. A recommendation they ignored," he sneered. "When the Third Reich began to manifest itself, I recognized its greatness and returned to the home I did not know to offer my services to the Fatherland."
"Your parents must be proud," she muttered sarcastically.
"My parents are traitors to the Fatherland," he said levelly, "and will be dealt with as such when Canada goes the way of Vichy France."
"There must be a lot of traitors to the Fatherland," she rejoined. "Every German with an ounce of decency, in fact. You don't represent Germany, you represent a twisted little madman and his power-hungry goons."
"Perhaps," Strauss conceded amiably. "But the Third Reich will rule a thousand years, so such distinctions are immaterial." He drew a syringe from his pocket. "And now, so you will be no inconvenience for the rest of the voyage." He jerked his head toward her and his two assistants surged forward, grabbing her.
She struggled, but was still weak, both from the blow to her head and the effort of changing back and fourth between her shadow form. She kicked out, but they succeeded in wrestling her onto her belly on the bunk. She heard Strauss move up behind her, then pull the leg hole of her garment aside, exposing her right buttock -- rather more than he needed to. She spit a curse as a sharp pain announced the needle's entry, then she felt cold, the room grew hazy.
She awoke to a feeling of great pressure. She opened her eyes, and stared into the masked features of Blitzkrieg.
"You avaken?" he asked in his broken English, fumbling at her garment. "Gut. I like it better vhen dey avake!"
"Monster!" she shrieked, swinging her elbow up into his face. There was a crack, and hot blood spattered across her face. Blitzkrieg screamed and she brought her knee up into his side, knocking him from the bed. She twisted on the bed and kicked out with all her might.
But he was no longer there.
Suddenly a yellow blur grabbed her throat and slammed her brutally against the wall.
Hungry eyes consumed her straining form. "For that, I will-"
"I don't know what's more pathetic:" interrupted a new voice, "a man who forces himself on a woman, or... No, I guess that's about as pathetic as you can get."
Blitzkrieg whirled. A figure stood just outside the door, not entirely visible. Blacklight? he wondered. No, this man was in civilian clothes. "You vish to challenge Blitzkrieg?" he laughed. "I vill fry you vhere you stand." He tossed the Silhouette aside like a cloth doll and started for the door, his hands crackling with electrical energy. He stepped out into the hall and the Silhouette stared, horrified, knowing her mysterious benefactor didn't stand a chance.
Suddenly a hand moved, holding something: a simple drinking glass. Water splashed Blitzkrieg.
There was a flash and a scream and, momentarily, the lights in the airship flickered.
When next she looked, Blitzkrieg was on the ground. A man came at her through the doorway. "Good thing I had rubber soles. Are you all-?"
Whoever he was, he was obviously a German agent, she reasoned. And though she was grateful for his intercension, he was an enemy...and the only thing between her and an open door. She kicked out, catching him across the face. He must have seen the blow coming, because he pulled back just enough to make it only a glancing blow. Still, it was enough to send him stumbling against the wall.
"Damn it," he snarled, "I'm on your side. I'm a friend of Dennis Welbeck's."
She froze, just about to deliver another savage kick. Slowly, she realized that her kick had torn the skin on his cheek -- but there was no blood. Instead, beneath the shreds of flesh was more flesh. He wore a mask. "I-I'm sorry," she stammered. "Waking up...Blitzkrieg...I...I..."
"It's alright," he said, soothingly. "You're O.K. now. You are O.K., aren't you?"
"He didn't -- yeah, I'm fine. Who are you? What happened to him? How did you-?"
"I'm called the Man-Fly and I do my homework," he said, a little abruptly. "A man I know at the F.B.I. gave me a rundown on von Schlachten and Vogel and their team...and their weaknesses."
"Von Schlachten? Vogel?"
"The real masterminds, and the real threat. Have you seen them? Vogel's a little guy with glasses, von Schlachten...well, apparently no one's seen von Schlachten yet."
"I haven't seen anyone, not really. How long have we been-?"
"About two or three days. I spent the first half-day hanging outside. By the time I managed to sneak inside, I was exhausted and damn near hypothermic. I was unconscious myself for I-don't-know how long. Then, once I'd recovered, it's been slow, hard work casing this place -- there aren't a lot of places to hide and use to sneak about. I couldn't even be sure you were on board. I didn't intend to do anything until we'd landed anyway, but I heard you scream, and figured I didn't have much choice but to get involved."
"Sorry. I guess that's messed things up, huh?"
"Forget it, sister. There's no point in fighting the big fight if we ignore the little ones. Who else is on board?"
"The professor might also be around." The disguised man canted his head slightly, as though listening. "They're coming. I suppose they heard Blitzkrieg's scream. You get to Blacklight and the professor, if he's here. I'll try and lead them off." Without waiting for a response, he ran out into the corridor.
Man-Fly raced down the corridor, plowing into a couple of on-coming guards, catching them unprepared and bowling them over. He had managed to get an idea of the layout of the airship in his reconnoitering, and hoped it was enough to lead the Nazis on a merry chase.
Suddenly a door swung open on his right and a big man in red and black, a swastika on his chest, stood in the doorway.
Das Vaterland. Man-Fly cursed and ducked beneath a huge arm. According to F.B.I. Agent Kelley's information, Das Vaterland had no real Achilles heel. He was big, strong, and nigh invulnerable. He was also slow, clumsy, and not exactly the brightest candle on the old Tannenbaum, Man-Fly thought.
Man-Fly delivered two quick rabbit punches to Das Vaterland's mid-section, with no real effect. Then he ducked beneath another swing of those massive arms. Turning, he kicked open a door leading out of the ship proper, and up into the balloon mechanism itself. He slammed the door behind him, securing the latch. Then he took a moment to yank his fly mask out of his pocket and pull it on over his head. Somehow, it seemed more proper that way.
The weak door buckled once, then tore apart like so much tissue paper in the hands of Das Vaterland. Man-Fly hurled himself at the nearest ladder.
Snarling German epithets, Das Vaterland followed.
Man-Fly clambered up the ladder, then raced across a catwalk between huge balloon sacks. Behind him, the unstoppable human tank continued to pursue. Looking around desperately, he knew there was only one way to go. Up. He grabbed the next ladder, almost slipped, then scrambled up. Moments later, he reached an access panel leading outside the airship. Ignoring the safety harnesses by the panel, he flung open the hatch and crawled outside.
The icy wind slammed into him, almost hurling him back into the hatch...or worse. Steadying himself, he slowly rose to his feet and started across the balloon.
Moments later, Das Vaterland joined him. The big man had fastened a safety harness around himself.
"So, at least you're scared the fall might hurt you. I guess that's comforting," quipped the Man-Fly. He stood upon the top of the balloon, legs braced against the winds hurtling past him. He felt no fear, no concern. He had flown too far and too often to find the sky anything about a comforting environment. A purer place, in fact, than the overpopulated, strife-torn planet below. He moved carefully, but easily. He had done enough wing-walking after the Great War to move with confidence here.
Not so Das Vaterland, who even with his harness was wide-eyed with fear and clearly regretting having followed his quarry this far. But follow him he did. Obviously Das Vaterland was so thick-witted, the Man-Fly realized, he wasn't even smart enough to be shocked by the Man-Fly's eerie visage. That was one advantage down -- his only advantage. And at any minute, the Man-Fly feared, even Das Vaterland might make the mental leap and realize that the easiest strategy would be to simply turn around, go back inside, and lock him out. He couldn't let him think that far ahead. Feinting a right-hook, the Man-Fly scythed his leg, knocking Das Vaterland off his feet. The big man tumbled toward the edge, then caught himself, eyes rolling with terror.
The Man-Fly leaped forward and kicked with all his might into Das Vaterland's face. The impact almost broke his foot, but it succeeded in knocking the already disoriented super-man off balance. With a scream, Das Vaterland skidded across the balloon, and vanished over the side. Abruptly his harness cable snapped tight, keeping him from a messy death far, far below.
The Man-Fly glanced momentarily about, then stopped, stunned, as he faced the direction the airship was headed. "Wha-?" he said. "Are those the Rockies?" He had come aboard somewhere over Ontario, but now they were obviously some two thousand miles or so west, apparently making for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. But why? he wondered. If anything, he figured they would be over the Atlantic by now, on their way to Berlin.
Preoccupied, he failed to hear the noise behind him.
Unseen, a German agent, leaning half out of the hatch, swung his rifle like a club. The Man-Fly grunted in surprise as his feet went out from under him. He hit the balloon, tumbled end over end across the convex surface, grabbing futilely at the smooth material.
Then he found himself with nothing beneath him but hundreds of feet of empty air. He had no wings like his namesake, no parachute, and his automatic glider was thousands of miles away, still blindly circling a harbour on Lake Ontario. All he had to break his fall was the earth itself...far, far below.
Next: Man-Fly takes the plunge while the Silhouette is still trapped on board the airship. And who -- or what -- is moaning behind the door? Plus: whatever happened to the Dreamstalker, Mr. Amazing, and Roberta? All this and more in seven days!
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