Saturday, September 29, 2012


(NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 4: "The King's Tale"

“Don’t move,” Storm quietly told Willy.  “Don’t even blink.  We’re dangerously close to becoming shish kebabs here.”

“I can see that,” Willy replied, slowly rising to his feet.  “Don’t worry about me.”

There was a long, heavy silence.  The woman’s screams had ceased abruptly when they had been captured, and they had not been heard again since.  Somewhere in the jungle there was a flurry of squawking as a flock of birds lifted off from the treetops.  The tribal warriors ringed around Storm and Willy were unflinching and watched the duo with stern and curious eyes.

Finally, Storm broke the silence.  He spoke several languages and was striving always to learn more… unfortunately, the language of these islanders was unknown to him.  “English?  Do any of you speak it?”

The islanders were silent for a few moments before one of them said to another one something low and quiet in their own language… the word “English” was buried within it but Storm didn't recognize the rest.  The second man, who appeared to be a leader from the slightly more ornamental elements of his primitive dress, nodded and said another few words without taking his eyes off of the captive duo.  Finally, he jerked his head over his shoulder and said something to Storm as the ring of captors parted.

“I guess he wants us to follow him,” Storm said, and Willy nodded.  Before they started following the natives' lead the weapons were plucked from Storm and Willy’s grasp, although Storm’s utility harness remained untouched.  “What else can we do?"  Storm confided to his friend.  "If things get too hairy, we've still got a few tricks up our sleeves.”

“Yeah, but what about Brock?” the mechanic asked.  “Maybe he got away & is still out there?”

“Nope, I’m comin’,” Brock rumbled, coming up behind them.  He was accompanied by his own group of captors, and they had disarmed him as well.

“Swell… the gang’s all here,” Storm muttered as he began to follow the warriors’ leads.

The warders led their captives through the jungle and the sweltering & humid air for about twenty minutes before a rough path appeared before them.  They followed this path for another ten minutes before they came at last to a village.  A large ring of bamboo huts surrounded a communal fire pit and rings of sitting-stones, and from doorways and the surrounding trees children and women began filing out to take a look at the strange newcomers.

“Are we dinner guests,” Brock rumbled, “or are we dinner?”

“They’re not cannibals, Brock- at least I don’t think they are.”  Storm searched them for signs of man-eating behavior and didn’t see anything… yet.

They were brought to a sandy patch near the center of the village, and a runner was dispatched to a nearby hut.  A few moments later, another islander appeared wearing the same grass and reed clothing as the others, and he was carrying a book.  He wore a pair of round spectacles, and he pushed these up his nose with a finger in a typically studious gesture, strangely out of place here in the jungle and primitive people of his tribe.

“Uh… hi,” the studious looking tribesman said to the captives in perfect English.  “My name's Bob, and I’m your translator.”

“You speak English?” Storm asked rhetorically.

Bob nodded.  “I spent some time in America,” Bob replied.  “Akron, Ohio to be precise.  I learned a lot there.  It’s a long story-“

The leader of the capturing-party- evidently the leader of the entire village- spoke up in his native tongue, and Bob fell silent.  Finally when the tribal leader was done speaking Bob began again.

“The king is wondering who you are, and where you came from, and why you’re here,” he said.

“My name is Clifton Storm,” he began.  “My friends here are Brock Thurman and Willy Avis.  We’re from the United States, and we were searching for a missing film crew from Hollywood.  We had heard they had been passing through this area when their airplane disappeared.  When we came close to this island we were attacked by some kind of flying machines.  They tore our seaplane to pieces and we had to jump out and swim to the island.”

Bob relayed this to the king, who eyed the captives warily as he listened.  He said something back to Bob, who translated it back to the group.

“The king doesn’t believe you.  He said that he and his hunting party heard a woman screaming out in the jungle.  When they came to investigate they found you running through the jungle, like you were chasing someone.”

“No, now wait a second: we weren’t chasing anyone,” Storm defended himself.  “We heard the woman and we were looking for her, too.  We never found her, and have no idea who she was.  We never even saw her.  Are there any women from your tribe missing?”

Bob related this to the king and the pair of them asked other tribesmen to take a quick census.  After a few minutes, they conferred and Bob spoke up again.

“All the women and children are here and accounted for,” he said.  “The king still doesn't trust you, though.  He thinks you might be working with the other outsiders on the island.”

“Wait, what other outsiders?” Willy asked.  “You know of others here besides yourself?”

Bob spoke to the king, who seemed to consider something for a moment.  Finally, he nodded and Bob spoke.

“He says I can tell you our story,”  Bob began as the king related his tale for him to translate.  "This island is very closed off, far away from everyone, and that's just the way we liked it.  We used to have free reign over all of it until several months ago when a strange airship arrived.  Many men like yourself, white men from somewhere else, got out of the airship and set up a camp.  We were curious and wanted to be friendly with them.  Instead, we were chased away by the men and their weapons.  Some of us were killed, and we got all of our tribe's people together and moved in here at the other end of the island, to be as far away from them as we could be.

"Shortly afterward," Bob continued, "we sent scouts back to the other end of the island, to watch the outsiders' actions.  We were surprised: the newcomers were building a fortress there, and ships were bringing supplies to them.  We are not sure who they are, but they are frightening to us... especially their leader.  The king says he has the look of madness in his eye, but also of strength."  Then, in a lower tone, Bob confided "I just think he's a loon myself, but the king is right... he does have some power over those soldiers of his  They'd die for him... and we already know that they'd kill for him."

Storm thought deeply about the story... so deeply that he nearly didn't hear the rumbling sounds tearing through the jungle.  His sensitive hearing alerted him several seconds before anyone else heard the noises.  The villagers and their captives began looking around wildly.  Something big and menacing was rocketing through the deep foliage that surrounded the village.

"Bob, give us back our weapons!" he commanded.  The native's face had gone blank in the confusion.  "Tell the king we need our guns!" he barked again.  Bob began to speak rapidly to the king, who had already leaped to his feet,  his spear at the ready to meet the incoming threat.

From the trees burst three heavily armored vehicles.  The trucks were jet-black, their shapes nearly buried beneath the angular armor-plating and the double machine-gun turret upon their roofs.  From the front of each truck a sloping battering-ram jutted out, and each of these was adorned with a pair of wide and sharp metal horns.  On the vehicles' doors was a single decoration: a gold circle with a U-shaped line connected to the top.

The villagers scattered in fear.  Warriors held fast to their spears, knowing the primitive weapons would never penetrate the thick armor of the vehicles.  Confusion reigned.

Storm's hand whipped to his utility harness and he flung an incendiary grenade at the nearest armored truck.  He had aimed the bomb toward a slit in the armor, seeking to shatter the windshield behind it but his throw was off and it struck the plating instead.  The grenade burst across the front of the marauding vehicle instead, sheathing it in a spreading wave of fire.  The driver of the truck ignored the flames and swerved the speeding juggernaut toward Storm and his allies, racing toward them with murderous intent.


Saturday, September 22, 2012


(NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 3: "Out of the Frying Pan..."

Tumbling through the air, Clifton Storm, Willy Avis, and Brock Thurman found themselves surrounded by shrieking winds and the swooping robotic flying machines.  The survival bundles the men had grabbed on their way out of the Dolphin held weapons, but they were sealed tightly within their waterproof outer coverings and would be difficult- if not impossible- to get into as they fell.  They were, for the time being, unarmed among their attackers.

The adventurers had bailed out low over the water, and they had to open their parachutes immediately.  One by one the white silk canopies blossomed above them, yanking them upwards by their harnesses with the suddenness of their slowed fall.  Several of the ornithopters that had surrounded the seaplane had followed it as its flight continued; above the troubleshooters the main swarm of ornithopters was still diving, following the course of the now doomed Island Girl.  The flock of robots swooped down towards the three men as they dangled helplessly from their 'chutes.  They braced for impact as the metal monsters streaked toward them.

The swarm reached the men, and for a moment there was chaos as the things flew around and among them and then there was silence.  The ornithopters had flown among the three parachutists without damaging them, then had flown on and continued on their course toward the Island Girl's flight.  As each one reached the Dolphin they landed on the plane and split apart into their dual-forms.  As the doomed seaplane receded in the distance over the island, Storm could see the outer hull of the plane as the robots swarmed over it like insects, tearing the craft apart.  Eventually, the wings became sheared off along with parts of the tail.

As Storm, Willy, and Brock watched, the MARDL plane dropped like a stone, somewhere over the jungle of the mysterious island.  As smoke rose up from the crash, so did the swarm of the ornithopters.  They wheeled up in the sky like a steel tornado, then headed off toward the other end of the long, spindle-shaped island.

After steering their 'chutes to bring them as close to the island as possible, the trio touched down in the warm, deep blue saltwater.  A water landing can be life-threatening for a jumper, and the men had to immediately get clear of the dangerous lines and shroud of their 'chutes.  Once free from the encumbrances of their parachutes, they swam with their survival packs to the shore and regrouped on the beach, waterlogged but alive and grateful.

There was a few moments of silence, which Brock finally broke.  "What the hell," he panted, "was that?"

Storm shielded his eyes from the early morning sun and gazed into the distance toward the other end of the island.  "Your guess is as good as mine," he said evenly.  "Whatever they were, they ignored us... they wanted the plane."

"Well, they got it," Willy grumbled as he rose from where he sat on the beach, wiping the wet sand from the seat of his denim pants.  As the chief mechanic at the Miami Aerodrome Research & Development Labs, Willy had a very proprietary view of the aircraft under his care.  "I just fixed up her ailerons, too."

Storm smiled.  "Don't worry, Willy, I'll get you a new one when we get back home."

"If we get back home, you mean," Brock said as he turned from the ocean and looked into the jungle.  "Does anybody know we're here?  Do we even know where 'here' is?"

"I launched a radio-flare before we jumped," Storm told him.  The flare was one of Storm's aeronautical inventions for flight-safety.  It contained a transmitter and a small buoy, and it broadcast a strong radio signal with a distress-call along with the last coordinates that had been recorded by the plane's transmission logger, another of the adventurer's creations.  "We should be okay."

"Maybe, if the radio signals aren't still being jammed" Willy reminded him.

Storm turned to the mechanic.  "You're right.  This does all seem a bit deliberate, doesn't it?"  Willy nodded.

Suddenly a woman's scream rang out, sharp and piercing and frantic.  It shattered the idyllic feeling of the tropical beach.  The sound came from the jungle, and it cried out again, more panicked now.

Without another word, Storm raced into the trees and toward the sound, followed closely by Willy Avis and Brock Thurman.  They had already gotten into their survival packs and had brought their weapons out: each man had a Tommy gun and 2 drums of ammunition, plus their own sidearms- .45 caliber Colt 1911's for Willy and Brock, the Mauser C96 for Storm, plus spare ammo for these.  Storm was outfitted as well with his multi-pouched utility harness, which held many of the tools and gadgets he had created to aid in his war.  The group was armed and ready for action as they sprinted toward the sound of the screaming, which was coming from deeper in the jungle now.

The canopy of vegetation rapidly closed in over them as they raced toward the sound.  Trees and vegetation whipped by them as they followed the screaming.  It was impossible to be silent in their pursuit, but they were fast and seemed to be closing in on the sound.

Something strong and fast closed around Brock's right ankle, and he was yanked into the air by his leg.  He yelped in surprise.

"Brock!" Willy yelled as he and Storm turned to him.

"Go on, I'll be ok," the dangling strongman told them as he flailed, trying to reach the vine rope that had ensnared him.

Storm and Willy again took up their chase again as they headed further into the deep jungle.  The screaming started again, still further away but still in the direction they were headed.  Someone was taking the woman- whoever she was- deeper into the jungle.  Something bothered Storm: there was something familiar about the screaming, but he wasn't sure what it was.  And the trap that had ensnared Brock... there was danger here, and something wasn't right.  The task at hand was to save that woman, though, and they kept crashing through the curtains of deep green leaves and vines.

Suddenly Storm stopped short.  Willy collided with his Storm's back before falling back onto his backside.  "What the...?" the aging mechanic began in protest, but Storm raised his hand and cut him off.  Blinking, Willy looked around them and realized the gravity of their new situation.

Storm and Willy were surrounded by a ring of fierce-looking Polynesian warriors.  Their spears were held steadily toward them, the points hovering just an inch away from their flesh.  They had been ambushed.


Saturday, September 15, 2012


(NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 2: "The Steel Wind"

Storm, Willy, and Brock watched the rising cloud of airborne visitors as it thickened before them.  The objects looked like the dark silhouettes of bats or birds with wings flapping on either side of central bodies, but something about the shapes themselves indicated to the MARDL flyers that they were neither as they headed toward the Island Girl.  The Douglas Dolphin seaplane was a utility ship and not a combat aircraft, but she wasn't without fangs of her own.

“Brock, get the starboard machine gun ready,” Storm ordered.  “Willy, take the port side.  Something tells me these things aren’t going to be too friendly.”

As Storm gave his orders, each of the flying objects suddenly started trailing a thick, white smoke.  As the mechanic and the strongman scrambled for their posts Storm began to bank the Dolphin away from the advancing cloud, attempting to evade the unidentified flyers.  The group followed them; their speed was far greater than that of the Island Girl.  The troubleshooters had no sooner taken their positions at their guns than the flyers reached the seaplane.  The swarm broke their formation and veered off from each other; they swooped around the aircraft and soon the visibility dropped amid the thickening smokescreens.  Storm and his men were flying blind.

Above them, one of the flyers swooped down out of the haze and toward the Dolphin.  Willy tracked it as far as he could from his position on the left-hand side of the seaplane.  He fired a burst at the thing from the Browning machine gun, the bullets making a throaty roar and the empty shell-casings tinkling on the floor around him.  The swooping object disappeared from his view.  Almost immediately afterward, there was a thump and a rending screech: the object had sliced gouges from the Dolphin's roof and swooped off to come in again.  At the right side of the plane, there was another scream of tearing metal as another slash appeared in the Island Girl's starboard side.

"They're cutting us to ribbons!" Willy shouted over the roaring of the engines and the machine guns; he and Brock were doing their best to try and shoot the shapes from the sky but as soon as one would dive out of the mist it seemed to disappear again.

Realizing the danger of the situation, Storm barked to his men: "Hang on, I'm gonna try to get us down out of this pea-soup!"  Sensing a lull and an open spot below, he shoved the control yoke forward, sending the Dolphin into a sudden dive.  Willy and Brock hung on to their safety harnesses in the back of the plane as the Island Girl burst from the artificial cloud.

Leveling out the seaplane over the waves below, the three adventurers were able to collect themselves for a moment before the things dove out of the smokescreen to renew their attack on the Island Girl.  As the flying things headed toward them in the full daylight, the morning sun reflected off of metallic skin: they were mechanical constructs that flew with flapping wings.  Ornithopters.  Storm had heard of similar flying machines that had attacked New York once not too long ago and had been defeated by the members of a mercenary air force, but the machines in the photos of that attack had been larger than these ornithopters, which were more man-sized and had a wingspan of only about 15 feet or so.  The machines' bodies were different, too: not as pod-shaped as the ones that attacked New York, these had the suggestion of smaller appendages.  

The attackers were too swift to get a clear view of at the moment and they were now diving down toward the  Island Girl.  There was no time to examine them.

Storm jinked the Dolphin hard to the right and climbed as the ornithopters drew nearer.  Willy and Brock hammered at the flying machines with their guns when they were in range but they realized now their efforts were pointless: the ornithopters were armored, and the heavy slugs bounced off of their metallic hides.

There was a sudden thump and a tremor that shuddered through the Island Girl.  From his starboard-side gun placement, Brock could see a dark shape as it hung onto the underside of the seaplane's wing.  The shape suddenly folded its wings and split apart as it seemed to sprout two separate sets of mechanical limbs.  The twin shapes scurried over the wing like a pair of massive cockroaches.  With razor-sharp bladed limbs, the robots crawled toward the seaplane's fuselage, shredding the wing as they advanced.

Brock opened fire again with his gun.  The bullets bounced off of the metal adversaries with no effect.  The Island Girl began to shake violently.  "They got the wing!" Brock cried.

In the cockpit, Storm fought the controls of the plane.  He knew there was no point in trying to stay aloft now: the Island Girl was going down hard and they were going to have to bail out.  He managed to point the craft toward the small island the ornithopters had originated from and locked the controls in place.  There was a shrill scream of metal and something exploded on the Dolphin's roof.  One of the crawling robots had reached the starboard engine and had destroyed it.

"Bail out, guys!" Storm called back to his men, "We're going into the drink!"  He yanked a lever, launching a flare from the roof of the Dolphin, and began to strap into his parachute.

In the rear of the seaplane, Brock and Willy hurriedly struggled into their own 'chutes.  The Island Girl was nearing the beach but two more of the strange robots were crawling around the plane and tearing it apart.  The Dolphin would fall apart around them before they reached the beach, and the men knew they would have to jump now over the Pacific and swim to shore.

After they strapped small survival bundles to themselves, Storm threw open the plane's door and the wind rushed in around them.  Looking out through the open doorway, they could see the air was full of the swooping and diving ornithopters as they circled ever closer to the crashing seaplane.

Another scream of metal rang out.  A huge section of the plane's port-side fuselage tore open like paper under the claws of another ornithopter-machine.  A metallic head looked in on them, a single green sensor glowed where a face should be.  The thing began to advance through the hole it had made.

Storm, Willy, and Brock leaped from the Island Girl's open doorway and out into the open air, surrounded by the swooping deadly machines.


Saturday, September 8, 2012


(NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 1: "Hollywood SOS"

The sun was just coming up over the Pacific Ocean as the Douglas Dolphin began its descent.  On the nose of the plane the painting of a dark-haired beauty in a grass skirt lounged beneath the plane's name: "Island Girl".  The sky around the seaplane was clearing and there were now only a few patches and shreds of clouds between the aircraft and the barren stretch of blank water below.  The trio of men inside the Dolphin examined their map yet again and checked the ocean for any signs of what they had been searching for.  So far, their search had turned up nothing.  The mission had been a bust.

At the controls of the plane sat an athletically-trim man with blue-gray eyes and dark hair.  He was handsome despite the three long vertical scars that marred the left side of his face, and he seemed to radiate a quiet yet intense energy as he scanned the waves below.

His name was Clifton Storm... the world called him "Challenger".

Storm had grown up wealthy, his father the owner of an industrial empire.  He had been a cruel youth, however, selfish and self-absorbed and reveling in the superiority and elitism that his family's wealth bought him.  Despite the urging and guidance of his philanthropic parents he had been living his life as though it had been one big party until fate intervened: Storm's mother and father had been killed in an automobile accident.  While flying home to attend to their funeral, the passenger plane Storm was travelling in had been caught in a freak blizzard and crashed into the mountains.  Everyone aboard was killed except for Clifton Storm, and though he was scarred from the experience he managed to emerge from the mountains alive and whole... but changed.

No longer was Storm living his life only for himself: between the pair of tragedies and his own near-death experience, he had found himself turned inside-out and now burned with the urge to help others.  Throwing himself into his education, Storm soaked up knowledge like a man possessed.  After graduating from a prestigious college at the top of his class, he disappeared from society and embarked on a globe-spanning journey of discovery as he honed the skills that would make him a force to be reckoned with.  He became a dynamo of action, defending the weak and punishing those who would prey upon them.  After establishing an enclave of like-minded scientists and engineers known as MARDL (the Miami Aerodrome Research and Development Laboratories), Storm gathered together a group of adventurers who shared the same goals and dreams that he did and this became the troubleshooting arm of his organization.  Together they would aim to make the world a better place, fighting tyranny & injustice and helping those in need in corners of the globe both near and far-flung.

It was such a mission that brought Storm- who had been given the nickname of "Challenger" Storm by the overeager media- and a pair of his aides to the Pacific ocean, in search of an island that simply wasn't there.

The trio had been returning to the United States after an adventure involving a wayward scheming debutante, her gangster cronies, and a lost diamond mine in Australia when they had received word that an American movie production crew that had been filming in Hawaii had been hijacked as they had been flying back to California.  The details of the kidnapping were sketchy, but the mid-air hijacking made Storm question whether his sometime ally/enemy, the air-pirate Simon Crowe, was involved.  The M. O. was all wrong for Crowe and his band, though... money was his big motivator, but kidnapping seemed a little out of character for him.

After the film crew's disappearance, there was a silence and mystery surrounding the event until a final panicked radio transmission was sent out giving approximate map coordinates, and then all was silent again.  It seemed as though the Hollywood movie-makers had simply ceased to exist.  The crew consisted of largely B-movie personnel, including leading man and frequent gangster on film Billy Hartsell, wide-eyed blonde actress Fay Durning, and the director and producer, Jimmy Keane.  Keane was especially noted offscreen due to tabloid rumors of his involvement with the mob, and the hyperbolic movie-maker had raised a few eyebrows by packing up a crew to film on location in Hawaii instead of spending within his budget and making his latest "epic" on a soundstage in Burbank.

Whatever the reason for the kidnapping, the crew was missing and in danger.  While Storm and his team were flying over the empty Ocean, search parties were coordinating their plans.  Time was of the essence, however: the missing people had to be found, and soon, or risk perishing at sea.  The MARDL seaplane was the only plane or boat in the vicinity, and it all rested on their shoulders for now.

"There, over there!"  Willy Avis shouted over the Dolphin's engines.  The graying black mechanic was at the upper end of middle-age, but was a combat veteran and still sharp as a knife.  Clifton Storm and the third man in the cockpit, the bald and heavily muscled & tattooed Brock Thurman, turned and followed Willy's pointing arm.  Down below, through the patchy clouds, they saw a small green jewel of foliage amidst the endless Pacific.  An island.

"Thank God," Storm sighed.  "We'd be flying on fumes soon.  If we didn't find them we'd have to go back for fuel."

As Storm banked the Dolphin to get a better look at the island, Brock checked the map.  "The island's close enough to the where the SOS said they went down," he rumbled.  "I only hope they made it there."

"Yeah," Willy agreed as he clamped the radio headphones to his head, "and I hope they're all still alive.  I'll call it in."  As he tuned the radio dial, a frown appeared on his face, followed by a scowl.  "Cliff," he said finally, "... something's wrong."

Storm turned.  "What is it?"

Willy held the headphones out for Storm to hear.  A screaming peal of white noise was tearing from them.  "The radio- I can't get any channels at all.  Something's blocking it."

Storm started to say something, but was interrupted.

"Look!"  Brock shouted and pointed, startled.  "What the hell are they?"

Looking through the windscreen, the trio beheld a chilling sight.  Large winged shapes, batlike and menacing, were rising from the island and heading straight for the "Island Girl" on a collision course.