They fell, curses in high German and broad American laughter trailing them like a kite's string. Max Hitler's silver-smooth platform followed closely above them, falling only as fast as it pleased. Slamming an elbow to Slade's gut, Max broke free of the bigger man's grasp and pulled a gun. Slade slapped it away like a child's toy.
"I don't think I've ever seen a Nazi driven through a sidewalk before," Slade shouted over the wind.
"Nor have I seen an American pig turned into sausage, Scheissehund!" Depressing a button on an electronic gauntlet, Max rotated in midair until he was falling straight up and down, right next to Slade. "But from here, I'll have an uberview!"
The platform slid under Max's jack-booted feet, slowing him gradually until he was cackling far above our beleaguered hero. The ground was a vast sheet of death marked with speeding cars, bewildered people and uncaring buildings. Slade squinted and growled, the always-hidden barbarian creeping through.
"I can do this." He grinned at the challenge he'd faced before.
Falling to his death? Old hat.
Working through the faint annoyance, past the anger, Slade calmly looked at the silver watch on his wrist. It was still ticking. How did it know when to shunt through space? Was there a button or command? Slade took the watch off and checked its backing, and felt a wave of heat through his insides.
Sticking the watch back on, he cast aside thoughts of that feeling and peered for a way to slow his fall. The ground was fast-approaching, and time was wearing thin. From off to his right, Slade saw large movement and raised his hands as a streetcar...flew past him.
"Where am I?"
With that last thought, Slade fell the remaining hundred feet, not into the concrete, but a vortex of energy and perception beyond normal human thought.
* * *
He awoke in a sheen of sweat, laying on his office floor and the ruins of the table.
A two-inch thick piece of ironwood, and he'd broken it under his fall?
Pushing through the grogginess, he stripped off the watch and lurched across the room to a small glass dome on a oil-sheened plate of gold. He stuck the watch inside, replaced the glass and flipped a switch, locking the containment jar.
"Mack needs to hear about this."
* * *
Whirling electrified coils, smoking beakers, the tangy smell of burned air and growling, locked boxes - these greeted Rick Slade as he entered the labyrinthine laboratories of Professor Mack Andersen. Slade paid them no mind, as he'd investigated most in this lab in his previous visits - and helped procure some of the more...unique materials.
"No earthquakes localized to churches, flying death commandos or dark continent beasts lurking in the shadows," exclaimed the bespectacled professor under a cap of blond-grey hair, "and yet...and yet...."
The two colleagues shook hands and laughed. It had been nearly two years since Ooranla Turu and the lost elements.
"I did run into our old friend Max Hitler, and he was hovering." Slade set the glass container on Mack's table. "But that's for later, over a red beer. Tell me what this is."
"A man's watch, slightly worn." Laughing at his own joke, Andersen took off his regular glasses and replaced them with a pair of magnifying specs. He made to remove the lid, but Slade's hand shot out and gripped his wrist.
"I don't think you want to do that."
While Professor Andersen examined the watch as thoroughly as he could through a half-inch of glass, Slade walked around the main room of the lab, noting the new items and concoctions on the shelves that stretched floor to ceiling along all the walls. Broad wooden tables, criss-crossed with the scars of science and progress, held objects not seen outside of hidden jungle civilizations, ancient kingdoms, the holds of long-sunken ships and a few items some museums still thought stolen.
"Rick, you'd better come over here." Mack waved for Slade and pointed at the watch. "Where did you say you got this?"
"I didn't, but if it matters, off a man's severed forearm."
"How I wish to hear that story, but it's irrelevant. No deep expedition to a lost kingdom or a mad scientist's charnel house in the depths of the Black Forest? Perhaps another jaunt to South America-"
Slade turned cold. "No, none of it. And I haven't been to South America since...." He sighed. "Just go on."
"It's not from around here, Rick, you know that. Was the arm just laying around?"
Shaking his head, Slade said, "No, it fell from a building. Right here in Chicago. I ran to the roof, checked every room, but there was no body to match it."
Mack rubbed his chin and replaced his normal glasses. "Probably a malfunction of the chronal trigger...this is serious, Rick. Deadly serious."
"Why? Sure it can jump a man across the world, but-"
"No, Rick-" Mack grabbed his shoulders and looked dead even into his oldest friend's weathered face "-it can jump a man through time, and God help us if the wrong man had access to this-"
And with a deafening BOOM!, the world outside exploded.
* * *
To be continued next week, in Part 3 of a 5 part Rick Slade serial adventure!
(c) 2007, E. M. Held, all rights reserved