What's gone before: Our various heroes have closed in on the hidden Nazi base, deep in the Canadian Rockies, but their troubles are just beginning as they square-off for the final time against the Nazi super-agents...and General von Schlachten approaches his ultimate ascension into a being of unguessed at power...
MAN AND UBER-MAN
Blacklight was unsure how far they were from the hidden Nazi fortress. Perhaps a mile or two. He raced through the rugged terrain while, glancing behind, he saw Blitzkrieg still following, his hands sheathed in a crackling nimbus of electrical energy.
Blacklight did not figure he would survive a second physical encounter with the psychotic Blitzkrieg.
It was a strange experience for Blacklight. He was used to viewing the world in a sped-up way, landscapes, people, even cars and locomotives, blurring by him as he sped through the world. It was therefore almost off-putting how normal Blitzkrieg looked. Two men, apparently running at a perfectly normal, unremarkable speed...while the rugged scenery around them bled into a blur of almost unrecognizable colours.
He staggered, caught himself, and kept going. Behind him, Blitzkrieg closed the gap a little more. The Nazi was definitely gaining, and when he did, Blacklight knew he was as good as dead.
The hand that caught Das Vaterland's blow aimed at Mr. Amazing's head was silver. The arm it was attached to also gleamed silver, and both belonged to a silver girl in a silver shift. Das Vaterland turned, his dim-witted brain struggling to understand who had the might to stop him. Shock set in as he stared at the strange, and fragile-looking, young woman.
"You must not harm my friend," Roberta said, feeling an odd warmth inside as she said it. Yes, friend. It was good to have a friend. She swung her fist, colliding with Das Vaterland's face, and the Nazi agent did something he had never ever done before -- he somersaulted backward and skidded across the polished floor.
"Well, thank God you're alive."
Mr. Amazing, still amazed -- yes, him, amazed -- at his rescue, turned to see the Dreamstalker running into the room, his cloak flaring behind him, light glinting off his helmet.
"But where's everyone else?" The Dreamstalker looked around, his momentary relief vanishing. Suddenly the ground shook beneath their feet, and a tremendous boom sent hands to cover ears, Nazi and Canadian alike. The walls trembled visibly and stone rained down into the chamber. "What the Devil was that?"
Mr. Amazing staggered to his feet and looked at the Dreamstalker. "I believe that would be the Man-Fly. When we split up he said something about seeing if there were a munitions dump around. I guess he found it. As for the rest, Blacklight just ran out of here with some yellow blur on his tail and...and..." He looked around, dumbfounded. "I'm not sure where the Silhouette's gone to."
A second explosion shook the chamber, and the hot spring below geysered up momentarily, as if in sympathy. More rubble rained down from the ceiling. Major Strauss staggered and winced as a chip of stone bounced off his shoulder. Then he came forward on the elevated catwalk again.
The Silhouette felt the railing press against her bottom, the only thing preventing her from plunging to a nasty death far, far below. Her knuckles grew white as she gripped the rail. She tried to concentrate, to turn into her shadow form, but could not. She was too tired, too scared.
Strauss laughed and flung himself at her. She leapt to meet him in an impulsive act fuelled by desperation. She ducked beneath his arms and grabbed the front of his black trench coat, dragging as she slipped past him, using his own momentum to spin him around. Snarling like a beast, Strauss staggered back, trying to regain his balance, his hands clawing at the air. He struck the railing and it parted like a dry stick before his greater weight.
With a blood curdling scream, he plunged over the end of the catwalk. The Silhouette turned her head, cringing as she heard the splash of him striking the water far below, silencing his scream. She had not intended that outcome for her tactic.
Below, the bubbling water seethed and geysered happily.
"They'll bring the whole complex down upon us -- we must flee," screamed Vogel as debris rained down. He made to dash for the exit, but a clawed hand grabbed his collar and dragged him effortlessly from his feet. The scientist found himself staring into the glowing eyes of General von Schlachten.
"Fool! Not when we're this close. Give me the injection and I can end this once and for all."
Vogel squeaked, but was helpless before the enhanced strength of the general as von Schlachten dragged him toward the bridge that led to the opposite side, where the treatment facility was arrayed. The far platform was deserted, the technicians having retreated through another door at the first explosion.
"No you don't," said Mr. Amazing, leaping to intercept them. Von Schlachten swung a hand lazily, as though waving away a fly. Mr. Amazing swung around, blood on his lips as he crumpled to his knees.
Roberta spied what was happening, but her battle with Das Vaterland was proving more difficult than she had anticipated. Recovered from the initial shock, he was now braced for her blows, and more able to return his own. Like two Titans out of myth, they slammed into each other again and again, the concussive force of their impact shaking the ground even more. Almost instantly, Roberta's keener electronic brain had realized that Das Vaterland might actually be the stronger, technically. She was going all out, but he was instinctively pulling his punches -- after all, hitting her was like striking a brick wall. If he were to ever push himself beyond his pain threshold, she feared, he would prove her better.
She could not permit him that chance.
Angling herself so that her back was to the cave wall, she aimed her palm at him and blasted him with a shot of compressed air that almost took his head off. He cried out, then charged, eyes closed against any further blast -- momentarily blind. Which is how she wanted him. Another blast of air, this time from the soles of her feet, sent her up and over his head.
Das Vaterland charged headlong into the wall. The crunch was audible and dislodged stone rained down upon his shoulders as he staggered back, dumbly. He straightened, whirling about like a character in a Warner Brothers cartoon, eyes crossing and uncrossing. Then he simply collapsed at Roberta's feet.
Meanwhile, the Dreamstalker positioned himself at the beginning of the bridge, standing his ground, his cloak gusting angrily in the air currents rising from the bubbling pool below. "Your mad dream is finished, General -- it was your dream that I touched, I see that now. Even your Nazi masters don't realize the true extent of your ambition, do they? You and your proposed super-race would rule over everyone...including Hitler and his Gestapo."
"Perhaps," laughed von Schlachten. "However, my dream is hardly over. Even as this place crumbles around me, even as my agents fall before you and your costumed allies, I will rise, like the Phoenix, from the ashes of this complex. No longer General von Schlachten, but Lord Schlachten -- and all will pray to me as to a God!"
"I can't allow that." The Dreamstalker gestured dramatically with one hand, his eyes alive with broiling intensity. "Sleep, evil one. Sleep and dream no more of conquest."
Von Schlachten staggered, almost losing his grip on the struggling Vogel. He tried to straighten, faltered, then redoubled his efforts, his feral lips twisting in a crooked grin. "You're powerful, sorcerer. But not...quite...powerful...ENOUGH!"
As the general roared that last, Dreamstalker's head snapped back, struck by a psychic blow that hammered his own mental defences. His nose began to bleed and he started coughing, his scarred lungs unable to stand the strain put upon them. He stumbled, almost went down, and frantically flung one hand forward. Smoke geysered between them from a tossed smoke bomb.
"Petty parlour tricks won't save you," laughed von Schlachten, his momentary weakness dispelled. He flung one fist into the billowing cloud rolling over them both, and a dull thud preceded Dreamstalker flying out of the obscuring mist. "Not when I can sense you with my mind." Dragging Vogel behind him, von Schlachten strode out upon the bridge.
Blacklight began to realize, with great reluctance, the Blitzkrieg was not just his superior thanks to his electrical blasts, but was clearly the faster, too. The Nazi was steadily moving in, getting closer and closer. It did not make sense to him, though. When they had first fought days ago, Blitzkrieg had seemed no faster. Why was he now demonstrating greater speed?
Then, he realized, the why was less important than figuring out what to do about it.
Blacklight knew he was clearly at a disadvantage, save for two things: his brain, and his courage. His father had drummed into his head, over and over as he grew up, that whatever a man had on the outside, inside, God gave all men brains, and courage, and it was up to each not to let God's gift go to waste.
He had to out-fight Blitzkrieg by out-thinking him.
As they ran, he was aware of how unnaturally silent it was. He could not hear his steps, or his breathing, by simple virtue of the fact that he was running faster than the sounds he made. Somewhere, back along their trail, the air itself thundered with implosive claps of air rushing in to fill the voids they left.
And then it came to him.
What if Blitzkrieg was not faster than him, after all? What if the Nazi was gaining for some other reason entirely? If he was wrong, he would have surrendered every inch of lead he had, and basically handed himself over, gift wrapped, to Blitzkrieg for electrocution. He hoped he wasn't wrong.
Blitzkrieg was faster because he was running in Blacklight's slipstream, he reasoned, in the resistanceless vacuum he left in his wake. He was essentially carving a trail through the air for his nemesis.
That meant Blitzkrieg was pushing it to the limit, running all out, and now fully acclimatized to not having to meet any resistance. It was time to change that.
Blacklight stopped on the proverbial dime and blurred to the side -- essentially displacing the air next to his trail, slamming so many pounds of pressure per square inch directly in Blitzkrieg's path. At the speed he was going, and unprepared as he was for any air resistance, it was practically the equivalent for Blitzkrieg of slamming into a wall.
He was flung back through the air and landed in a heap upon the ground. Blacklight raced to his side and felt for a pulse. Blitzkrieg was still alive, though definitely out for the long term.
Dragging himself painfully to his feet, still shuddering with hacking coughs, the Dreamstalker looked around...and his heart sank. The Silhouette had rejoined them but, despite the ominous rumblings that shuddered through the floor, despite the stones that continued to tumble from the ceiling, reinforcement troops had arrived. Machine gun-totting German soldiers clattered into the cavern, a dozen at least. The lieutenant in charge of the troops growled, "If any one of you moves -- all will be shot."
Roberta stiffened. She was impervious to bullets, but any rash act on her part would doom Mr. Amazing and the others. She looked to the Dreamstalker for help, but he just stared at the German guns, his face a grim mask.
Sadly, she went to her creator, Professor MacCreary, sprawled insensibly on the floor. She held him to her metal breast.
On the other side of the bubbling pool, von Schlachten seated himself in an ornate chair, weird golden tubes coiling around it like gleaming snakes. He glared at Vogel, cowering on the floor, shielding his head as though to ward away the occasional stones that tumbled from the ceiling. "Hurry," growled the general. "Complete my transformation and we can be rid of these interlopers."
"Y-yes, general," stammered Vogel, rising and stepping to a machine, like a church organ. He drew a vial from his pocket of a vaguely phosphorescent green liquid. "The MacCreary Formula," he said, unable to keep a tremor of excitement from his voice, his fear of a moment ago momentarily forgotten. He slipped it into a chamber in the machine and depressed a button. Instantly a mechanical arm unfolded, angling a hypodermic toward von Schlachten. "Commencing the process," announced Dr. Vogel.
His coughing fit momentarily past, the Dreamstalker glanced at Mr. Amazing. "Sorry, old man. Sorry I got everyone into this, and sorrier that I must-"
Mr. Amazing nodded. "Just do it. It's a long bridge, but maybe one of us will be lucky enough to make it."
Dreamstalker nodded back, then he flung another smoke pellet, then another. The room exploded with grey, billowing mist. Someone yelled, "SchieBen!", and the room was instantly filled with a lethal hail of bullets. The Dreamstalker launched himself toward the bridge under cover of smoke, then snorted as something tore through his thigh. He hit the ground, clutching at a bloody wound.
Mr. Amazing raced for the bridge.
The needle pierced General von Schlachten's skin, and the glowing green liquid coursed through his veins. He stiffened, grimacing, but said nothing.
"Commencing electrolysis," intoned Vogel, intent upon his machine.
Electrical energy crackled around General von Schlachten, spewing from the golden tubes. He screamed as the voltage surged into his body, normally enough to fry a man but, instead, mixing with the chemicals in his blood. The electricity snapped and roared, growing brighter, more ferocious. Soon his body was lost beneath a blinding sheet of energy snapping and raging about the chair.
Mr. Amazing made it across the bridge, amazingly enough, then groaned as a random bullet tore through one arm. He staggered, then barreled into Vogel, sending the smaller man flying. Mr. Amazing started slamming at the console, hitting buttons, completely unsure how to deactivate the machine. Hot blood spilled down one arm and he felt light headed, but he knew he could not stop.
Sprawled on the floor, Vogel laughed. "You're too late! The process is almost complete. You've lost! Lost!!!"
Suddenly the chair exploded, bowling over Mr. Amazing and flattening Vogel to the ground. Smoke rolled out across the natural platform, spilling down toward the hot spring below, then rushing up on a current of warm air, unfurling as it went.
"Cease fire," shouted the German lieutenant, staring awe-struck at the far end of the cavern.
The Dreamstalker looked up, face a grimace of pain -- emotional as well as physical. Roberta looked over. Professor MacCreary stirred, slowly coming to himself, and forced his body to sit, to view the culmination of his research.
The entire occupancy of the room held its breath.
From out of the smoke and wreckage strode a figure.
The Dreamstalker shielded his eyes. The man glowed! He stood majestically, a towering, perfect specimen, no longer suffering von Schlachten's deformities. He was nude and resembled nothing so much as an ancient Greek statue of a god. His eyes were like living flame.
There was no doubt in the minds of anyone there that they were viewing a true super-man, the master race.
Vogel dragged himself to his feet, brushing back his mussed hair, and grinned lop-sidedly. "Gen-general?" he asked tentatively.
Slowly, the unearthly head turned to regard him. "I was General von Schlachten," the being intoned, lips unmoving, communicating solely via mental power.
"Then destroy them," said Vogel, gesturing at the costumed adventurers scattered about the chamber. "In the name of the Third Reich, destroy the enemies of the Aryan people!"
The glowing figure raised one perfect arm, as if to implement the doctor's command, as if he truly could destroy them with but a gesture. He hesitated, though, as his newly enhanced consciousness considered the import of the words. Slowly, he lowered his arm. Quietly, he said, "I was General von Schlachten, and he believed in his race's superiority, and in a dream of world conquest. He sincerely believed. I do not. My perceptions, my intellect have been heightened beyond your ability to comprehend. I see now how truly childish, even insane were his notions of race, of prejudice. Why should one man believe himself superior to another when it is so blatantly not true? Why should brother hate brother, for you are all brothers under the sun. No, I no longer am interested in such petty ideologies."
"Was?" Vogel's face grew white, then smouldered a vivid red. "Then you are a traitor, general. A traitor to the Fatherland. Kill him! Shoot him down where he stands!" he shouted across the cavern.
The soldiers, completely bewildered by what was transpiring, but well-trained, obediently stepped forward and opened fire upon their erstwhile leader.
The-being-that-had-been-von Schlachten gestured with one hand. The bullets instantly reversed themselves in mid flight, returning whence they had come. German soldiers screamed as their own barrage came back at them, piercing their flesh, exploding their machine guns and driving shrapnel into them. In seconds, the entire group lay dead or dying upon the floor.
The being frowned and looked at his own hand, perplexed. "I did not mean to do that. I have been evolved to a point where my slightest gesture, or whim, can spell death for you all, as a man's misstep can destroy a colony of ants. I am a danger to you, and your violence and mistrust is a danger to me. The earth is no longer a place for me. The stars beckon. I am as a child grown too large for the sandbox that once seemed rife with infinite possibilities." Without effort, he started to rise from the ground, drifting up toward the ceiling of the cavern. "Perhaps in a thousand-thousand years I will return, to seek out my kindred among your descendants." And, with that, he vanished ethereally through the ceiling.
Silence echoed in the cavern for many moments as those remaining just stared up after him, struck dumb.
"Uh, wow," muttered the Silhouette at last.
Then Vogel looked around, slowly realizing he was now outnumbered and quite at the mercy of the Canadian costumed heroes. Shaking himself from his stupor, Mr. Amazing stepped forward. "Well, Doc, I guess-"
Vogel pulled a small pistol from his pocket. "Stay back!" he squeaked, backing toward his machine. "Von Schlachten proved it works. I can be a super-man, too. And, unlike him, I won't hesitate to destroy you." He slammed some levers with the back of his fist, and the apparatus began to crackle and hum as it came back to life.
"Don't be a fool, Vogel," said Mr. Amazing. "It's blown all to heck and gone. You can't know-"
"Silence! I will be the true super-man, the true champion of the master race." He backed up toward the glowing vortex of energy, where the chair had once stood. "I will be the true ubermensch!"
"Doc," shouted Mr. Amazing, glancing at the console. "The vial's empty! You used it all on von Schlachten!"
But the scientist backed up into the maelstrom of electrical energy and, without the formula in his veins upon which it was to act, was promptly electrocuted. His scream was mercifully brief.
Mr. Amazing staggered away from the crackling apparatus and looked across the bridge, his mouth agape in incomprehension.
The Dreamstalker shook his head. "He was obviously insane by the end," he said. "I suppose he must have been insane always."
Shoulders slumped, Mr. Amazing started back across the bridge. "What now?"
"Now?" The Dreamstalker slowly looked at the frail professor being helped to his feet by his surrogate 'daughter'. "Now we must figure out a way to make sure none can repeat this experiment. The world came to the brink today, my friends, I'd rather it didn't happen again anytime soon." He started toward the professor, limping on his wounded leg.
"Huh?" asked Mr. Amazing, startled. "Uh, Dennis, you aren't thinking-?"
The Dreamstalker reached out for the professor. "Hear me, Professor MacCreary, hear- uhfph!" he gasped as Roberta slammed into him.
"No!" she said, her lithe, unstoppable body moving toward the sprawled form of the Dreamstalker. "I won't let you harm my father. I won't let any of you."
"Hey, Roberta," said Mr. Amazing, racing forward. "Don't-"
The Silhouette started toward the building conflict, not even sure whose side she should take, when she glanced over at the professor. He had picked up a discarded German pistol and was turning it toward his own chest. "No!!!" she screamed as he pulled the trigger.
Roberta whirled and screamed, "Father!" In a single bound she was at her creator's side, catching him before he even had time to fall.
"Foolish girl," said the Dreamstalker, limping toward her. "I just wanted to erase the knowledge from his memory, nothing more. Nothing more."
She cradled her father, making little hiccuping noises.
The professor stirred weakly. "It's...for the best...child. Better that...that my formula die with me...than that it be used to cause more...misery." He focused on her with the last of his strength. "No one must ever know. You understand? No one."
She nodded jerkily, then stiffened as she felt him grow limp in her arms. Her sensors immediately registered the cessation of his heart, the final exhalation of his lungs. She knew he was dead almost before he was.
For a moment, no one said anything, not wishing to intrude upon the grief of the robot girl. Then another tremor shook the ground.
"Uh, I think we should get going," said the Silhouette.
"These tremors...they just affect this base, right?" asked Mr. Amazing.
"Hmm?" The Dreamstalker looked at him, wrenched from grim musings on the pointless death before him. "I don't think the mountain's in any danger of coming down, if that's what you mean," he said after a moment. "The roof is another matter entirely."
"Good. We have some friends in the neighbouring tunnels, but I guess they'll be O.K."
"Friends?" They turned as Blacklight staggered back into the room, dragging an unconscious Blitzkrieg with him. "What friends? Say, did I miss the whole show?"
Mr. Amazing knelt beside Roberta. Gently, he put a hand on her shoulder. "We have to leave now, Roberta. I'm sorry, but we can't stay."
Face still turned toward her creator, she shook her head. "I won't leave him."
"I'll carry him out. We'll bury him proper. But you'll have to get Das Vaterland...I don't suppose any of us can carry him."
After a moment, reluctantly, Roberta relinquished her father's clay to Mr. Amazing, and went to get Das Vaterland.
As the group moved through the tunnels, they encountered no opposition.
"Fortuitously, it looks as though the rest of the base fled once the explosions started," observed the Dreamstalker, leaning on the Silhouette for support. "We'll have to inform the R.C.M.P. when we get out of here. It shouldn't be very hard to trackdown a few score of German army regulars wandering lost and confused through these mountains. It's not like they can get lost in the crowd."
"What about us?" asked the Silhouette. "How're we going to get out of here?"
"Unfortunately, Roberta and I rather had to parachute out of my plane. I imagine it's strewn all over that mountain there," he said, gesturing as they emerged from the corridor out into the cool, grey, afternoon light. The freshness of the breeze was momentarily invigorating. "I'm afraid we've got a Devil of a hike ahead of us."
Mr. Amazing looked up, and grinned. "Not necessarily...look!"
Overhead, the airship hovered, its engine droning away. Through the window of the control gondola, they could make out a figure -- a figure with the grotesque head of a fly.
"I'll be damned," said the Dreamstalker. He laughed. "I wondered where he had got to."
They were all gathered in the den of Dennis Welbeck's stately home. If any of his neighbours could see the odd gathering he had, he rather thought the gossips would still be wagging till Judgment Day. Fortunately, it was late, and no one was the wiser about his rather unusual friends.
"A toast," said Dennis Welbeck. He looked around. The Silhouette and Blacklight each had wine glasses, while Mr. Amazing held a glass of milk -- naturally. Roberta sat on the big couch, obviously lost in thought, and he felt a slight twinge, remembering her personal loss. The Man-Fly was dressed in shadows by one wall. Those with glasses, raised them. "To our little effort to make the world a safer place, even if it was only by the skin of our teeth."
"And luck," Mr. Amazing reminded him. "Von Schlachten did become a super-man, remember. It was only thanks to the fact that he became one in all aspects, mentally as well as physically, that we're even here to brag about it. Frankly, we didn't do too well, if you don't mind my saying."
"Perhaps," agreed Dennis. "Perhaps not. We smashed a ring of Nazi agents right here in Canada -- a base that probably cost the Nazis a lot of Deutschmarks to establish. Besides, Vogel could have diluted the formula, prevented its, shall we say, enlightening side-effect on future subjects. No, I definitely would say we have more to be proud of than ashamed of."
"And practice makes perfect," added the Silhouette.
Dennis looked at her and smoothed his mustache with a debonair flourish. His eyes twinkled. "Are you suggesting, my dear, that we consider some sort of semi-formal association beyond this particular adventure?"
"Say, that's not such a bad idea," agreed Blacklight. "I mean, not to tie any of us down, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to stay connected. There are other costumed adventurers who might want to join, too."
"What would we call ourselves?" asked Mr. Amazing. "Every group needs a name."
"How about..." Dennis thought. "How about, The Liberty Force? The Defenders of Democracy?"
"The Axis Axers?" chimed in Blacklight.
"The Midnight Sons."
They all turned toward the Silhouette.
She shrugged, a little sheepishly. "I mean, far be it from me to suggest it, being a girl and all, but why not? It's a play on words. You know, Canada being 'the land of the midnight sun'?"
"Patriotic, but not jingoistic." Mr. Amazing nodded approvingly. "I like it."
"Very well." Dennis raised his glass. "To the first official meeting of the Fellowship of the Midnight Sons."
Mr. Amazing put down his glass and sat beside Roberta. "You know that means you too, don't you? I know your father's dead, and nothing can replace that, but we're your friends and you have a place with us now, Roberta...if you'll have us."
Slowly, she looked at him, and her silver lips turned in a smile. "I think I'd like that."
"It's tough, but try not to brood too much," he said kindly. "We all have to carry on."
"It's not that," she said, but when he waited for her to go on, she said nothing more. What could she tell him? she thought. Her father swore her to secrecy with his dying breath. No one must ever know, he had told her. His formula must remain lost. Hopefully, she mused, no one would ever question what was it that turned a mechanical object into a thinking being, what made her so unlike any other machine that had come before, and would ever come after. They would never know about the phosphorescent green liquid that coursed through her unliving insides.
Leaning slightly on his cane, Dennis walked over to the Man-Fly. The latter stood by the French doors, staring at the night.
"Still against 'unwieldy' groups, Artie?" Dennis smiled slyly. "I'm not sure we'd have made it without you, but the reverse is also true."
The eerie mask regarded him, then the doors clicked open and the Man-Fly stepped out into the evening air. "Join your little social club? I don't think so, Dennis." Then he stopped and tipped his head. "But I suppose I might keep an eye on you from time to time." With that, he vanished into the encompassing darkness.
Grinning to himself, Dennis Welbeck went back inside.
THE END...for now.
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