What's Gone Before: The Dreamstalker has encountered danger on the dreamplane in his search for understanding. An attack by the evil Raven has resulted in the Man-Fly being wounded, the Silhouette vanishing, Roberta with a mind-control disk on her neck, and the possessed Mr. Amazing free (not to mention the death of Bartholomew Mortimer). Meanwhile, searching for clues to the Puppet's scheme, Blacklight, Kid Gloves and the Rajah are attacked...
The Train Terminal Tussle
The Rajah launched himself over the train terminal counter, kicking out with his booted feet, knocking the mind-controlled clerk. Finger squeezing his trigger, the glassy-eyed clerk continued firing into the ceiling, sending plaster dust tumbling down upon the rain-slicked floor. People screamed and raced for cover.
The Rajah wrenched the gun from the clerk's hand and tossed it over the counter, then shoved the man aside so that he tumbled, landing on his backside. The Rajah hesitated to do any more, since the man was not responsible for his actions, and he did not seem to pose a formidable threat without his pistol.
"Look out!" shouted Blacklight, standing beside Kid Gloves on the customer side of the partition. Kid Gloves whirled about.
"Jumping Catfish!" the Kid exclaimed.
A baggage handler was pulling a Tommy gun off his cart; a woman, apparently waiting for the train, drew a pistol. A couple of others brandished knives.
"Has everyone gone crazy?" demanded Blacklight.
"It's the Puppet!" shouted the Rajah. "None of these people are in control of themselves -- they're under his control."
"We've got to go easy on them," said Kid Gloves. "They're victims-"
His plea for compassion was drowned beneath the cackling chatter of the Tommy gun as lead death spat like a hornet swarm at them. He raised his golden-gloved hands, the metallic gauntlets glinting in the light, and instantly the bullets veered off course and thudded like hailstones against his fists.
"Magnetized," explained Kid Gloves. "I'll keep the bullets from hitting us, or any bystanders."
"And..." Blacklight whipped away, smearing into a streak of black light, "...I'll... " he slammed a fist into the machine gunnist and sent the weapon clattering across the train station lobby, "...take..." he slapped the pistol from the woman's hand, but could only bring himself to shove her back into her chair, "...care..." in a blur of motion, he collected the knives and sent both men staggering back, clutching bruised stomachs, "...of the rest."
He felt a little sick having to attack what were, according to Kid Gloves, innocents. He particularly felt ill at ease striking the baggage handler, for the baggage handler was a black man. And beneath his all-covering costume, so was Blacklight. Then he chided himself: why should he feel worse about an innocent black man than an innocent white man? The key word was innocent. Off in Europe there were madmen waging a war in the name of racial distinctions. Grudgingly, he realized the war might also have to be fought in men's hearts as well.
Such ruminations took only seconds. He rocked to a halt scarcely millimetres from where he had started out.
Kid Gloves stared. "Uh, impressive."
The two turned and the Rajah stiffened in the midst of heaving himself back over the counter. A figure stood at the far end of the lobby, dressed in what appeared to be a stylized version of a monk's habit. A brown hood shadowed the face, and the billowy robe covered the upper body, sashed at the waist, and forming a brief skirt. The long legs were sheathed in form hugging navy blue.
"Uh, who are --?" started Kid Gloves.
"For what you 'ave done, you must face...the Canticle!"
"The Canticle?" repeated Blacklight, belatedly realizing there was a woman beneath the costume. "What sort of --?"
He never finished his sentence. A deafening boom thundered in the lobby as though the storm raging outside had just materialized in the building. Blacklight and Kid Gloves were literally blown off their feet; the Rajah held his ground, barely, by gripping the counter top.
"What the --?" screamed Kid Gloves, clutching his ears.
"It's her, the Canticle," shouted the Rajah. "I think she made the sound."
"A sonic blast?" exclaimed Kid Gloves, incredulous, the scientist in him momentarily overriding the adventurer. "Fascinating."
"Not so fascinating as what I'm going to do to her," snarled Blacklight, leaping to his feet. "I was raised never to hit a woman, but I think even my mother would forgive an exception, just this once --"
At his phenomenal speed, he was almost touching her before the Canticle let forth another blast -- clearly a vocal emanation, Kid Gloves realized -- and Blacklight was once more thrown from his feet, tumbling across the dirty train station floor.
Kid Gloves grimaced. "Lady, I don't know if you're in the Puppet's employ, or another poor sap with a disk on your neck, but either way..."
He raised one golden fist, and brought it down upon the tiled floor with enough force to send a minor tremble rocking the ground beneath the Canticle's feet. She staggered, momentarily off balance, giving the Rajah enough time to leap the room and tackle her.
"Forgive me, Madam," he said, "I'm sure you're not responsible for your act --" He grunted as a knee came up into his stomach, and a fist collided with his bearded chin. The Canticle crawled to her feet, looked about wildly, then gestured dramatically with her arms. Grey smoke spilled out into the room, swirling about her like a fog bank.
Still dazed, Blacklight started forward, tripped over the Rajah, and took precious seconds to right himself. By the time he reached the cloud it was already dissipating...and the Canticle was gone.
Kid Gloves sniffed the air. "Is that incense I smell?"
"Must be part of her motif -- Censure-smoke. Costumed kooks all seem to have motifs these days. How'd you hit the floor so hard?"
"Told you -- magnetics. Using a magnetic field, I can increase the strength of my blows. You alright, Rajah?" he asked, kneeling by the older man.
"Fine," he grumbled.
"Thanks," said Blacklight after a moment, grudgingly. "If you hadn't spotted the danger first, we might all be dead."
"That's the Rajah for you," grinned Kid Gloves, helping his companion to his feet. "He looks out for me. According to him, my dad saved his life in India. But according to my dad, it was the other way around. When he took sick, dad that is, the Rajah kind of took over looking after me."
"All right, Kid," interrupted the older man. "Perhaps it's time we got back to the others -- we've learned all we can here." He glanced at Blacklight. "No offense."
Blacklight nodded. "Hey, I was suspicious of you guys myself...at first. Maybe when this is over, we'll all feel comfortable enough to trade alter egos."
As they started to leave, Kid Gloves said, "Uh, so what did we learn?"
"Whatever the Puppet was after, it was a what, not a who," explained the Rajah. "The clerk and the others were pre-programmed to attack only over queries about cargo. Also, clearly, the Puppet did not get whatever it was. Why leave a lobby full of people programmed to kill anyone investigating if it was already too late to stop him? But I'm afraid there's another problem. Clearly the disks can turn on and off. I don't think the clerk was possessed until I asked about cargo."
"You mean someone could be like a mental time bomb -- possessed and not even aware of it? Gosh." Kid Gloves scowled, then shook his head. "Well, we can't worry about that now." Recapitulating, he said, "What we know, then, is that something came in on the 6 pm from Montreal that the Puppet either tried to get or, more likely, never intended to steal until it reached its final destination."
"Whatever it is, is it worth all this?" Blacklight asked darkly, glancing behind them.
The programmed people were still lying about, or slowly getting to their feet, reverting once more to innocuous sentries until the little disks on the back of their necks kicked into action again. Disks that could not be removed safely without the technology only the Puppet possessed. "Scratch that. Nothing's worth all this suffering and misery. I've never met the Puppet, but I'm really looking forward to it in the worst way."
* * *
Artie Trent, the Man-Fly, staggered toward the open window, rain splashing in with every savage gust of wind. He clutched his bloody left arm. "Silhouette!" he called. In a crack of lightning, he saw that she was not sprawled on the street below. But then, where?
"You're arm must be tended to."
He whirled toward the robot woman, Roberta. She was made entirely of steel and could flip a car over without effort...and she was in thrall to the Puppet.
He had not expected the neuro-hijacker disk to work on her, but clearly he did not fully understand how she, or it, worked. Because at a word from their recent intruder, the Raven, she had freed the possessed Mr. Amazing, and both men had escaped into the night. And now he was left to face her, alone and with a bad arm. His legs shifted into a ready stance as his sharp eyes darted about for a weapon, any weapon.
"I will not harm you, Man-Fly. You don't think --?" She stopped, realization dawning on her silver features. She reached behind her head and easily plucked off the neuro-hijacker disk. "This has no sway over me."
He stared, unsure what to believe, then he slumped back into a chair, grimacing. "Then why the hell did you release Mr. Amazing?"
She glanced over at the dead body of Bartholomew Mortimer, two bullet holes scarring his business suit.
"It was clear our assailant had orders to kill Mr. Amazing if he could not secure his release. The more protracted the fight became, the greater the likelihood it would end with Mr. Amazing meeting the same tragic fate as Mr. Mortimer. The only solution was to play along."
Artie opened his mouth, then shut it. He did not like it, but he had to admit that she may have done the only thing possible that would preserve Mr. Amazing's life. He winced as she knotted a cloth above his wound. "Wait a minute -- where's the Silhouette?"
"That I do not know."
Dropping to his knees, he starting ferreting around the dampened carpet and broken glass, searching for a sign of the dark shadow that was the girl's silhouette form. He discerned no incongruous shadows. Besides, he was pretty sure she had to concentrate to maintain her unusual state. If she were unconscious, she should have reverted to a fully-dimensioned human being. So if she was not here, nor -- he allowed himself a little exhalation of relief -- was she lying dead on the street below, what did that leave?
He was afraid he knew.
* * *
The villainous Raven alighted outside the penthouse apartment of the criminal mastermind known as the Puppet. Mr. Amazing disengaged from the Raven's belt and stood beside him, fists on his hips. In his jodhpurs, silk shirt, and mask, he looked every inch the proud champion he was, despite the rain and wind raging about him, whipping his scarf back and forth. The image was tarnished somewhat by the knowledge that Mr. Amazing was no longer a champion of justice, a "Spirit of Decency", so long as he bore a disk the size of a silver dollar at the nape of his neck.
He was as much an agent of the Puppet as the Raven, save the Raven's loyalty was secured by cold, hard cash.
Neither man noticed the black shadow that rolled off the Raven's back and slithered off across the puddle-strewn terrace. As the two men entered the penthouse, the mysterious shadow began to tremble, then swell, and moments later, a woman in what looked like a pink bathing suit and boots stood huddled in the rain. Her raven-black hair was plastered about her lovely features, and her mask dragged slightly from the rain soaking it. The Silhouette slinked closer to the glass doors, left slightly ajar by the two men.
Inside, the Raven and Mr. Amazing stood before a diminutive fellow in top hat and tails, his face garishly made up to resemble a ventriloquist's dummy. A big, barrel-chested fellow handed towels to the two rain-soaked costumed figures.
The Raven said, "I got Mr. Amazing, but that other fellow won't be talking." He smiled cruelly.
"Very well," said the little man, the Puppet. His tone evinced no emotion, neither glee at the news of Bartholomew Mortimer's murder, nor regret. "You two are just in time -- we were preparing to depart for the Royal Ontario Museum...and the ultimate culmination of my plan."
Outside, the Silhouette lost her footing in the slippery wetness. She fell forward, almost crashing through the glass doors, but managed to twist herself at the last minute, hitting the hard concrete with a startled, "Ofph."
"What was that?" demanded the Puppet, glaring at the glass doors. The interior light reflected from the panes, making the glass effectively opaque. "Mr. Amazing..."
The erstwhile "Spirit of Decency" nodded and went to the doors.
The Silhouette struggled to her feet, but a tremendous gust of rain and wind, combined with the wetness under foot, sent her down again on her bottom. She gasped, eyes wide like a startled animal, as Mr. Amazing cracked open the doors wider and stared out into the darkness. She sprawled there, staring at him, and his eyes instantly locked on hers. He studied her for a moment, his mouth opening and closing like a fish's, as though attempting to speak. His brow furrowed.
The Silhouette rolled from the pool of light cast from the penthouse, leaving Mr. Amazing to stare at the place where she had been.
"Well?" called the Puppet.
"I-I-" Mr. Amazing shook his head. "Nothing. There is no one here." Slowly, he pulled his head back in and closed the doors.
The Silhouette, nestled miserably in a puddle, stared dumbly at the closed doors. Mr. Amazing was clearly fighting the control, barely. His insistence that no one was there, but speaking in the present tense, demonstrated how little he could resist. He obviously was incapable of lying to the Puppet, but for just a moment, he could respond selectively. Whether she could count on that again, or whether Mr. Amazing -- the real Mr. Amazing buried inside that caricature that answered to the Puppet -- had offered his last resistance, she didn't know.
Getting to her feet, she threw herself at the doors and a black silhouette slipped under the sill.
The Man-Fly had been right -- the Puppet was after something at the museum. Something that could give him control, not just over a few electronically manipulated subjects here and there, but over the entire city. She'd have to call the others once the Puppet and his team arrived at the museum -- and hope they were still in time to save everyone...
* * *
Artie Trent looked at the soaked carpet and the shattered glass of the window. Dennis Welbeck was not going to be pleased when he woke up, he thought wryly. Out loud he said, "Dennis, 'old son', you could sleep through the twister that picked up Dorothy."
"The Dreamstalker appears to be having a nightmare," offered Roberta.
"What?" He turned, realizing that beneath the roaring of the wind and the rain, like a melody underscoring a tune, were the sounds of someone groaning.
Dennis Welbeck was still upon the couch, forgotten in all the chaos and violence of a moment before, writhing, his face twisted in horror.
"Damn!" Artie hissed, lurching to his feet. Dennis had left instructions that he was to be awoken if he evinced signs of agitation. And this most certainly qualified. "Dennis." He grabbed the prone man by the shoulders, ignoring the agony flaring up in his left arm. He shook him violently. "Dennis! Wake Up!!!"
The Dreamstalker continued to moan and twist, but did not wake. Again and again in Artie's mind echoed the admonition that, if Dennis died in his dreams, he would die for real...
Next: "The Dream of Death"...and the terrifying secret about what the Puppet is truly up to. It's a shocker. But don't take our word for it, check back in seven days and see for yourself.
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