(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.