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.


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