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.


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