Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Breaking of the Hour...Part 4!

At last we've come to it, the penultimate chapter in Rick Slade's fight against Max Hitler, the twisted creation of Nazi superscience and an unhealthy love between a Fuhrer and his propaganda minister.

How have we gotten here? Catch up with the first three parts in a glorious collected edition post extravaganza! And when you're done?

Press on, if you dare, to Part Four of Rick Slade, Adventurer, starring in...

The Breaking of the Hour!

The strong cross-breeze at this altitude batted at Slade's legs, impeding his ascent. But hand over hand, teeth clenched against the bracing air, he moved upwards to the zeppelin's underside. Max Hitler steered the airship forward at a slow pace, heading due north to the city. Rick knew what was coming, the conflagration set by the crash, the sheer physical violence of the fall.

At any cost, he had to stop it. He hadn't remained long enough before to see if Max had followed the crashing of the zeppelin with any further torment, but knowing the motherless Nazi it was only the first act.

He reached the mooring anchor above the gondola and, pushing himself off the side several times, managed to kick a window in. Rolling over the glass, Slade got to his feet and surveyed the empty passenger deck. No one had boarded before Max Hitler had commandeered the airship; there were no whimpers from under tables or muffled cries from behind cracked doors.

To face Max, Slade knew his fists wouldn't be enough. He grabbed several knives off a table and broke a chair against a metal railing, taking two to of the legs with him as clubs. Taking a deep breath to slow his heart, he walked forward.

Lesser men would claim they were too old for work like this, the adventuring of a younger man. Throughout his life, Slade had never demurred from a task at hand, despite the pain caused, the moral quandaries he'd slogged in. Age and experience provided the tempering flame to his youthful abandon, but he'd never lost the spirit of excitement when faced with a challenge.

Now, well past sixty years old, he'd sometimes wake to knuckles swollen with pain. His right hip and ankle hummed with a dull ache from injuries long put behind him. Two bullets still in his back from his years in the Orient grew cold when a storm was on the wing. But he'd trade nothing for the life of a regular man.

At the closed door to the pilot's cabin, Slade halted and listened. He didn't hear any movements, but that meant nothing. Hefting one chair leg high over his shoulder, the other in front of his chest, he slammed his left foot into the door handle. Cracking against the wall, the door flew open, bits of frame hitting the forward windows and broken controls. And the slumped corpses of the zeppelin's intended pilots.

Slade checked the controls and saw a course laid in, frozen due to the damage wrought by a clip of bullets. If nothing was done to arrest its progress, the zeppelin would fly over the heart of Chicago's Loop. But he'd seen it crash well south of there, into a neighborhood off the south branch of the river and just east of the train yards.

He doubled back through the public areas to the stairs leading up to the crew cabins inside the zeppelin itself, small rooms running a quarter of the length of the ship back to the engine nacelles. The drone of the engines pulsed through the metal deck and support pylons. From the memory of his last trip through the belly of zeppelin, he remembered where the main engine room was, a low-lying room along the bottom with open-air access hatches for repairs.

The perfect place for a critical escape.

Passing an emergency station, Slade dropped the two chair legs and lifted the fireman's ax off its cradle. He tested the edge on a calloused thumb and approved. Twenty more steps and he faced a staircase down to the clanking, vibrating cacophony of the engine room. Before starting down, a chance look at the superstructure above halted him in his tracks. Four bulbous cannisters nestled in the crooks of the steel girders.

"That looks like trouble," Slade whispered.

The noise drowned out his shoes on the metal steps, and once below the deck-level, Slade saw Max Hitler, absorbed in some work over a lever-and-geared console. A gun was fastened into its holster on his right leg, buttoned in; a knife rested against the other thigh. Leaning against the control podium's side was the round hovering disc, looking like a child's sled.

In three quick steps, Slade had closed the distance, swinging the ax at Max's neck but purposely too far forward. An armored brace from a previous tussle protected the Nazi. The handle bounced off the metal collar, Hitler rocking to one side before spinning around, reaching for his gun.

"I wouldn't do that, Max. Helium."

Face contorted, mustache twitching, Hitler started to speak- "You--!" -but was cut short when Slade pulled the ax back one-handed, the blade hooking Max's neck and brining him stumbling forward right onto a left hook. A tooth flew out an open hatch into thin air, falling to the city below.

Bringing the ax back over his left shoulder, Slade paused and saw the explosives attached to the console Hitler had been furiously laboring over. Seizing the opportunity with his knife, Hitler slashed back and forth, forcing Slade to the stairs before he could recover. The ax came around again, with a focused rage behind it, and clanged into a girder.

"I would stay around, mein stummster Feind..." Max took a step back and grabbed the disc "But the view will be better from out here!"

"No!" Slade dashed forward, dropping the ax and reaching out for a shred of Hitler's clothing to pull him back, force him to explain what was going to happen. Alas, he grabbed thin air, and the remnant of the Third Reich settled onto his floating platform and drifted away.

"Do no worry, Herr Slade," yelled Hitler as he donned a gas mask, "you were never smart enough to stop this. I've been planning it for years, since I first worked out where you lived. Worked. Gespielt mit Freunden. Your world will burn as mine did."

Max Hitler kept talking as he moved away, but Slade ignored it. There was a time to despair and a time to act. He picked up the ax, and chose.

Whatever happened, the gas mask was the key. If Hitler feared the air, there was a reason. One longer look at the detonator and explosives confirmed Rick's first guess - he didn't have the skill to disarm it. Jumping up the stairs, Rick ran along the crew deck and searched around for a clue - anything to point to-

There, up above: the four cannisters.

At this part of the ship, climbing a dozen feet on the metal struts and girders was no song and dance, but he made it. They weren't even fastened in place. Collecting all four he wondered how he'd get them out of here without rupturing them as surely as they would have if they remained in here when the bomb went off, spreading a cloud of who knew what over everything south of Congress Parkway.

The axhead slammed through a closed cabin door, and another and another until Slade found what he was looking for. Running some cord through metal brackets around the nozzles of the would-be chemical bombs, Slade lugged them and his other cargo back to the engine room. The timer on the detonator shows less than a minute to get clear.

Strapping a parachute to his back, Slade checked the knots connecting the other one to the four cannisters and jumped. He did not hear the high-pitched beeping as the timer reached its last seconds. Tearing the ripcord on the loose parachute, he angled away as the cannisters jerked up, carried away and down on the northern wind. An eye kept on where they were headed, Slade pulled his own ripcord as the zeppelin burst into a new sun.

Looking up, he saw the disc speed southward and vanish in a bending of light and space.

Max Hitler had gotten away.

* * *

To be concluded in the gripping finale of this Rick Slade serial adventure!

(c) 2007-8, E. M. Held, all rights reserved

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