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.


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