Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Breaking of the Hour...Part 3!

Writer's Note: Pardon the delay, due to the interference of a Haitian lizard-god and its witch-doctor's foul curses.

* * *

Splintering inward like a rotten door, the wall imploded in shards of brick and glass. Slade covered his face while pulling the stunned professor to the floor. When the tinkling of falling debris had stopped, the screaming started in the street. Panicked voices of men, the wails of women and children, sirens in the distance - and behind it all was the crackle of a burgeoning inferno.

Chicago was on fire.

"Rick *cough* are you-?"

"I'm fine, Mack. Stay behind the desk."

Pulling a gun from under his jacket, Slade approached the jagged opening in the wall and looked out.

His heart pained to see his city this way. A long strand of iron scaffolding, bent and blackened by heat, lay in the middle of the street, straddling the remains of several exploded cars. Buildings around showed signs of damage, as from bombing. He looked up, but saw no planes, just the rising plumes of smoke from nearby streets.

"Devastation stretches for a least three blocks east and longer north and south. We're on the edge."

Slade's eyes followed the smoke and saw a black metallic disk move across the sky and against the wind. His cursing startled the professor into standing.

"God above, Rick, what's wrong?!" Mack joined him at the window.

Slade pointed at the disk. "Max Hitler. This was his doing." He stormed through the wreckage of the lab towards a fallen glass container. He popped the clasp and took out the watch.

"I don't know how to use this, but if I can hop through time, I'll stop him."

"Be careful, Rick! It took you to him once, and if I know my super-science it will again."

Smiling, wicked and eager, Slade strapped the watch on. "That's just what I want."

In a flash of light and the rushing of water, he was gone.

* * *

It was yesteryear, and not apple pies and Grandma. The sky was a bleak grey like overwashed clothes. Slade braced himself against an alley wall and stared out at the plaza before him. He'd been here, but long ago.

Friedrichshafen, Germany. Home to the famous Zeppelins.

In the distance, Slade saw the completed shape of a zeppelin. Noting a newspaper at his feet, it was probably the Graf Zeppelin II, sister-ship to the Hindenburg. 1938. The country was on the eve of war, but that wasn't something Slade could stop. He had to find Max, if Max were here.

And he was sure the slippery Nazi was, though what was he doing here and what it had to do with that...explosion was…. An ominous bolt slammed home in his head.

He left the alley at a dead run towards the airfield on the edge of town. American had been spared large-scale tragedy when the Hindenberg erupted in fire over a largely empty airfield. The floating bomb taunted him, its duralumin ribs standing out even at this distance, heat-treated alloy framework just waiting to crash into the city streets of Chicago. He would stop it; there was no choice.

A gun's CRACK, followed after a moment by several more, split the day, pedestrians flinching at each one as they hurried their way to the market or work or home. The shots came from the direction of the zeppelinfield and no doubt heralded Max Hitler’s arrival. "God, I hope he brought friends." After seeing the charnel house outside Mack Andersen’s window, Slade felt eager to return the kindness of a horrific death.

"Herr Slade! Achtung, Herr Slade!" The voice called from behind him, accompanied by the stomping of many booted feet.

Slade stopped in his tracks and turned around. A small group, a dozen maybe fifteen, all SS; they were more familiar than the town.

"Herr Thomas, so nice to see you," Slade said in German. "How long has it been?"

"Perhaps ten, fifteen minutes." The straight-backed younger man let his hand drop to a side holster. "When last we parted, you had just been arrested by the Gestapo for espionage. And were at least ten years younger."
Eyeing his surroundings, Slade took in the open garbage barrel, the nearby fruit vendor cart and, most lovely of all, a butcher shop.

"A misunderstanding. I'm sure you get those all the time." Slade started to turn, stepping back towards the barrel.

"We heard gunfire and wondered, did our Amerikaner friend make more trouble?" Herr Thomas’s hand now rested fully on the holster. Those SS behind him who could were raising their machine guns. No sense waiting.

Rocking back, Slade grabbed the barrel and, using his momentum, threw it into the crowd. A few bursts of machine gunnery pitted the eaves of the buildings on the street. The crowd began to scatter. Forgetting his wares, the fruit seller threw his hands up and darted away from the excitement. Kicking the wheel blocks off, Slade ducked behind the cart and rushed it passed the Nazis and into the wall next to the butcher's door. Once inside, Slade knew the game was his.

No Nazi could match his skill with a blade.

Vaulting over the counter, he took a cleaver in one hand and threw it. It spun across the room and out the door, catching a goosestepper in the chest.

"C'mon, Thomas! I have places to go today, Zeppelins to save."

From outside came a clatter and shouting about preserving the wonders of the sky, the great German achievements that had only recently been tarnished by the Hindenburg's obliteration in the States.

"Here, sir." Slade turned and saw the butcher, cowering in a back door and holding an old shotgun. "Give them a taste of our anger."

Accepting the gun, the American adventurer chambered a round, grabbed another thick-bladed knife and darted out the door, firing the scattershot round into the mass of SS. He whirled the blade around, stabbing it in and out a half-dozen times before sliding the next round home and letting loose.

In the pain and confusion, Rick Slade jogged through the winding streets to the great expanse of green, the zeppelinfield. Moored by thick ropes and cables to the ground, the Graf Zeppelin II looked both as innocent as a child's balloon and deadly as a torpedo. Near the mooring tower at the ships stern, a black-clothed figure strode from a pile of bodies to cabin pod slung under the great airship. He paused, looking over his shoulder and straight at Slade.

"Keep staring, Max," Rick growled through gritted teeth. He was a scant two hundred yards from the mechanically grown fascist, too far for the butcher's knife to be accurate or the shotgun.

With a final smile, Max raised his right arm, moving his fingers along the gauntlet he’d used to control the floating disc. Fire and earth spewed from the ropes tethering the zeppelin and the tower itself buckled inward under the strain of precisely controlled detonations.

The Graf Zeppelin II began to move away from the ground, trailing its useless cables like streamers. Quickening his pace, Rick Slade dashed the last yards and leapt, grabbing a trailing rope. He wrapped it tightly around his wrist and shut his eyes; he knew what was coming next.

Wind, noise, light from Heaven piercing his soul and air on his face, the sound of motors.

He opened his eyes and with a free hand wiped away the tears brought on by the cool air. Staring back at him was a sight he'd often seen, but not at this height: the Chicago skyline, 1953. Stretched below him, the row after row of man-made hills led to the greater city set against a grey northern sky. To the right was the lake, an undulating plane of blue crossed with white.

No one knew what flew above them yet, waiting to rain down such misery and death.

Rick Slade unwound the rope and started to climb.


To be continued in the final two parts of this Rick Slade serial adventure!

(c) 2007, E. M. Held, all rights reserved

No comments: