What's gone before: A group of costumed adventurers set out to prevent Nazi spies from securing the MacCreary Formula, a serum to turn normal men into super-men. Mr. Amazing's attempt to rescue Professor MacCreary himself from homegrown racketeers leads to him fighting for his life in a burning loft, only to be rescued by a mysterious woman. Meanwhile, the Silhouette, sneaking onto a Canadian Forces Base to steal a report on the formula (since our heroes feel neither side can be entrusted with using the formula responsibly) is caught in a mysterious explosion...
THE METTLE OF A MACHINE
Mr. Amazing staggered to his feet amid the burning loft that had served as a laboratory. His luck was holding true to form, he thought -- fire notwithstanding. The improbable, inexplicable luck that was the cornerstone of his career. If more than just one of the overhead lights in this room had been on, he wouldn't have been able to plunge the place into darkness so easily when tackling a roomful of armed goons. And then, just as he was in real trouble with the pineal-exaggerated Bobby, the strangest thing happened.
A metal woman saved him.
He stared after where the strange girl had run off through the flames, apparently unharmed. Not so impervious himself, he vaulted instead through the shattered window and landed on the creaky gable. Bobby was sprawled there, unconscious. He glanced back at the inferno that had once been a lab, then grabbed Bobby and hauled him to the edge. A hedge was below to break the unconscious man's fall and, in the distance, Mr. Amazing could hear sirens. A neighbour must have called the fire department...or maybe the police in response to the sound of gunfire. Either way, the fire would be contained.
Lucky for him.
"Easy does it, big fella," he muttered, rolling Bobby off the roof. Then he leaped down next to him. He was on his feet in an instant, racing to find the kidnapped Professor MacCreary...and his strange benefactor, the unnamed, gleaming woman.
Lou Piper shoved the protesting Professor MacCreary into the back of the black Cadillac and piled in after him.
"Hey, boss! What th'hell is that -- that...thing?"
Irritated, Lou glanced around. Though he was perfectly willing to accept the notion that Mr. Amazing would beat Bobby and escape the blazing bonfire that had once been a lab -- the man had the luck of the Gods on his side -- Lou didn't think he could have done it so soon.
He stopped, his jaw making a beeline for his lap. The toothpick that had not lost its place during the fight in the lab tumbled end over end to the floor of the car. "What the Hell?" he echoed his man.
A woman was racing at the car. Youngish, shapely -- at least as far as he could make out in the flickering light from the burning lab and at the speed she was making. She was one other thing -- she gleamed from head to toe as though made entirely of steel.
"Floor it, Fingers!" barked Lou. "Now! Now!! Now!!!"
With a screech of tires on macadam, the stink of burnt rubber, the Cadillac launched itself away from the curb. Lou didn't know just who -- or what -- it was, but he had no intention of finding out either. Curiosity was not one of his more obvious characteristics.
Roberta saw the car tear away from the front lawn, saw it shoot off down the road. She knew she had been seen, knew that her creator -- her father -- would be disappointed that she had revealed her existence to the world in such an uncontrolled manner. Revealed the existence of Roberta...the robot. But there was nothing for it now. She redoubled her pace, tripled it, and raced after the fleeing car. At first she paced it, letting her joints and gears acclimatize to the unaccustomed strain, the pushing of her abilities. As she ran through the dark streets, keeping the weaving lights of the car always in sight, she grew more confident. Her body adjusted well.
Slowly, she increased her effort. The distance between her and her father shrank, and shrank some more.
Using her hypersenses she could hear the arguing in the car, the bickering as the men-who-hid-behind-guns panicked, unsure what to do. Then she heard the one identified as Lou Piper issue a muffled order. She frowned. She missed the words, but the determination was obvious.
The car took a corner hard, vanishing momentarily from sight. Sight, but not sound. She heard the car squeal, the groan of gears and pistons as it must have made a turn so sharp that it plastered the occupants against the windows. She hoped her father was all right. It was hard to pinpoint his heartbeat among all the others in the car, and among the noises of the car and even the whispered sounds of the night itself.
Then, blazing headlights burst from around the corner,
bearing down upon her.
Had it not been for her father, she might have been tempted to stand her ground, to test herself against this far more clumsy and awkward apparatus. But the impact, possibly damaging to herself, would surely injure her father.
She vented the compressed air chambers in her feet, launching herself up into the air as the car roared past beneath her. She could hear someone inside the vehicle laugh, a mix of glee and barely concealed relief. She landed well, the shock-absorbers in her calves easily taking the impact. Then she was away again. This time, she did not pace herself. This time, she was determined to stop them.
She leaped and came down on the runningboard. The car lurched drunkenly, the driver struggling to keep from crashing into a telephone pole. Inside were screams of panic. Her father was silent, obviously aware rescue was imminent.
Holding onto the car, one foot on the runningboard, she put out her other foot, kicking against the pavement as they roared past. The car lurched and lurched again. Someone stabbed a gun through an open window and fired point blank into her torso. She frowned, mildly annoyed. The dent it left would take the better part of an hour to repair.
She kicked out harder and the car spun around 180 degrees, momentarily stalled. Then she leaped up and came down with all her weight on the hood over the rear tire. The back end of the car crumpled like tin. With a single, savage pull, she wrenched one of the doors off.
She sent goons flying, sailing through the air like clumsy birds as an unfamiliar sensation washed through her artificial frame. A moan escaped her lips.
She turned at the sound of flesh hitting flesh. Mr. Amazing was just in the process of relieving a thug of his gun as the man crumpled to the ground. The costumed adventurer looked up, realizing something was desperately wrong from her muffled cry.
"He's gone," Roberta moaned. "My father's not here!"
The Silhouette lay limply against one wall of the general's office, coated in fine white powder, nicks on her bare legs starting to well slightly with blood. A groan issued between her lips. Through foggy eyes, she dimly perceived figures striding purposefully, arrogantly, through the rupture in the outside wall.
She inhaled sharply.
At the forefront was a towering man in a black trenchcoat, a black fedora shadowing his features. With the moonlight at his back plunging his face into a Stygian darkness lit only by the red dot of hellish light cast by a cigarette in his teeth, he had an almost demonic appearance. Three or four similiarly dressed men with machine guns came in after him, as well as two whose garb was rather more individualistic. One man was sheathed from head to toe in form-fitting yellow, dressed with red and black lightning bolts on the chest, shoulders and thighs. The other was dressed in a particularly ominous uniform of black pants, black sleeves, and a torso of blood red with a swastika emblazoned across his broad chest.
She did not need to recognize who they were to recognize what they were. She lay stilly in the shadows against one wall, breathing shallowly and trying to fight a surge of panic. Steadying her mind, she attempted to transform into her shadow-self. After a moment of silent struggle, she gave up. She was too disoriented from the blast to properly invoke the bio-chemical alteration needed. All she could do was hope that, not expecting anyone in the general's office at this late hour, they would not notice her.
The tall man in the trenchcoat looked around with the quick, efficient movements of a military man, then spoke curtly in German.
"Jawhol," was the response, and the conventionally-dressed Germans immediately shouldered their Tommy guns and went to the file cabinets. One pulled open the drawer she had already jimmied, but the other found himself struggling with a locked drawer. He jostled it for a moment, then suddenly the big man in red and black stepped forward and, seeming without effort, tore the drawer entirely free of its housing. He dropped it on the ground.
"Duh-danke schein," muttered the German without meeting the other's gaze, obviously a little nervous around the super-human. He knelt and commenced rummaging through the files.
Looking fearfully about, the Silhouette spied the MacCreary file lying unnoticed practically at the feet of the group's leader as he puffed languorously on his cigarette. She bit her lip and almost would have prayed that the Nazi didn't look down -- but God seemed painfully deaf to the prayers of the Hebrews these days. Instead, she just stared morbidly at the file, too far away to reach without betraying both herself...and the file.
Suddenly a steel-toed shoe kicked the edge of the document. The Nazi looked down absently, then his eyes narrowed. He bent and retrieved the file, opening it for a cursory, largely disinterested scan. He held his cigarette frozen in his fingers as his sharp eyes absorbed the English words, disinterest giving way to intensity. Suddenly, he barked a laugh at his good fortune.
Then he stopped. He looked around at his men still rummaging obliviously through the files.
The Silhouette ceased breathing. The Nazi was obviously wondering just how it was the file had landed at his feet. Slowly, he began to look around the room, scrutinizing the shadows with cold, deadly efficiency.
His eyes were almost upon her.
"What the Hell?" All eyes went to the uniformed private standing in the doorway. He fumbled with his pistol and aimed it unsteadily into the room. "Ju-just you hold it there, fe-fellas. I don't kn-know what-"
He never finished his sentence. The leader gave a curt nod of his head and the man in yellow was across the room in a flash -- as fast as Blacklight, the Silhouette thought. Perhaps faster. He touched the private lightly and there was a crackle of discharging electricity, the stink of burning flesh, and the private screamed as the shock sent him flying across the hall and into the opposite wall. As he slumped to the floor, plaster dust rained down upon the head of Pvt. Marty Mortimer who had, at last, experienced the "action" he had hoped for...and would experience nothing ever again.
The Silhouette screamed involuntarily and all eyes went to her. The man in yellow was at her side in an instant, yanking her to her feet.
She flinched, but there was no repeat of the electrical blast that had killed the private. She struggled momentarily, then stilled. She was weak, battered, and terribly out-numbered, but that was not why she stopped. Her eyes locked on the file and she realized that she couldn't escape, not while the Nazis still had the MacCreary file.
The leader of the men stepped forward, looming over her like a gaunt, sinister tree. He pulled off his hat with a courteous flourish. "Good evening, fraulein," he said in perfect English. "I am Major Strauss. What a curious place to choose for a nap, yes?" His features were gaunt, though not unhandsome, with eyes like blue ice. It was his teeth that focused her attention the most, though: big and straight and white. She felt like a fish staring into the mouth of a shark. His cold eyes flickered over her supple form like a dancing flame. He put his cigarette to his lips and inhaled. "A curious apparel. Have Canadian fashions changed so much since last I was here, eh? I think not."
With her eyes she looked around the room, trying to gauge the opposition, the best corner from which to stage a defense. Suddenly a big hand struck her across the face, and she winced. She looked back at her interrogator.
He grinned coldly. "Please pay attention. We do not have all night -- no doubt more soldiers are on their way here even as we...discourse." He smiled again. "I should kill you, of course, but I am curious...about that costume, about your presence here, and about how much you know about what's in this file." He did not phrase it as a question, but it was.
Swallowing her fear, she said, "Nothing. I was merely assigned to guard the MacCreary file. The P.M.O. felt someone like you might try this."
Lazily Strauss inhaled again, the tip of his cigarette flaring scarlet. "So...I am to believe that you know nothing, and therefore are not worth killing, while your government, right up to the Prime Minister's Office, knows everything about MacCreary's formula, and therefore it is worthless to steal?" He exhaled. "Poor little fraulein, do you truly think to deceive me -- to beat me? How can you win against a man who intends to fail and, in failing, my task will be accomplished?"
She stared at him, his words making no sense. Looking into his eyes, she could not believe he was on a suicide mission. So what did he mean?
Without warning, he punched her savagely in the stomach. She doubled over, coughing. "If anyone in authority truly understood the value of this document, it would not still be here, as it has since before the war." He bent over, putting his lips to her ear as lights still flashed before her eyes. "Let's be more co-operative, please. You are a beautiful woman...my friend Blitzkrieg here likes beautiful women, but they do not like him, not for long. Do you know what he did to beautiful women before the war? Enough to put him on death row until our beloved Fuhrer found a better use for his talents...and his taste for the sadistic. Tell me what I want to know, and I won't give you to him."
"I...I'll tell you where to go," she muttered.
"Go?" he repeated, still leaning over her. "I don't understand. Go where?"
"Go to the Devil!" She flung her head up into his face, and was rewarded by deafening clack of bone against bone, and Strauss fell away, moaning. Then, though her concentration was still shot to pieces, she threw all her will, all her mind, into one last effort...and vanished into the shadow at her feet.
At the attack on his leader, the man called Blitzkrieg instantly fired electrical bolts, instinctively trying to incinerate her where she stood. But she was no longer there. An overzealous German was not so lucky. Rushing forward to his leader's defense, he caught the full brunt of the electrical discharge. He was dead before his body completed its somersault over the general's desk.
"Mein Gott!" exclaimed one of the Germans.
"Where did she go?" demanded Strauss, clutching a bloody nose, still speaking English instinctively. He had not seen the transformation...none of them had in the confusion. "Where did that strumpet go?" He did not notice the shadow that slithered across the floor, blending with a darker pool of shadow against one wall. "You fool, Blitzkrieg, you let her go!"
"Nein, Major," protested the man in yellow. "I swear. I vas holdink her and then...I vas not."
"Find her, you idiots! That costume -- she is obviously a super-human. I want her found!!!"
"And I want to play trumpet in a jazz band..."
Strauss whirled, enraged at this new interruption.
"..but I just don't have the chops for it." A man stood in the gap in the wall...a man dressed in black from head to toe, save for his white arms. "I guess life is full of disappointments, eh, goosesteppers?" said Blacklight. "And I'm about to become yours."
Next: The Nazis manage to lose and win, and our heroes manage to win...and lose. Sound confusing? Be here in seven days for "The Success of Failure". Plus: Blacklight vs. Blitzkrieg!
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