Adam Blake possessed hearing more acute than any dog. He could hear the distraction from Hop Harrigan and Paul Twitchell long before it actually took place. He counted the seconds, fitting a miniature gas mask over his face.
Then gray smoke blossomed from the mortar shells launched by his assistants. Blake burst from the tent like a big cat after an elusive antelope. His sudden appearance went unnoticed by the guards amidst the flowering smoke. Then he was among them with the darkness-causing grenades he used.
When the cloud of smoke drifted away, he was the only man standing in the campsite. He listened, making sure the area was clear before waving his men and the expedition back to the area.
They lowered Floyd Lawton down the vertical shaft with a rope tied to a winch on the bumper of the Jeep. He used his hands and feet on the sides of the tunnel to slow himself down and prevent slippages caused by being lowered too fast. Finally, he touched bottom.
Lawton undid the rope and yanked on it. The lifeline was pulled up and lowered again with a small bag of supplies for his search. Unfortunately, a gun was not included in the bag. Lawton searched in the bag until he found a flashlight and turned it on. The beam barely cut through the darkness. An old explorer’s skull grinned at him from underneath an nineteenth-century British Army helmet.
Bending down, Lawton examined the skull in the light of his flashlight. A small hole cut through the back of the thing. The edges of the perforation had been darkened by whatever had punched the hole.
He noticed something was under the bone and shone the light on it to get a better look at whatever it was. It was the rest of the soldier’s body. It was laying face down in bony splendor. Lawton whistled in the musty air. The man’s head had hit been hard enough to twist it all the way around on his neck by something about as big as a pea.
Lawton took a sight line on the hole. It wasn’t easy, but the convict knew the science of ballistics as well as any expert. He found a small hole high up on a wall next to the shaft he had used to gain entrance. He inspected the area with the flashlight. He found several more holes. Suddenly, he knew the nature of the trap.
He dragged the pile of bones and rotten clothes back to the entrance to the cave. He threw it forward, making it almost walk on its own. New holes sprouted in the old soldier, dragging it forward with the multiple impacts. Lawton whistled at the nearly soundless projectiles eating into his makeshift target.
Lawton thought about his problem for a second. He picked up a rock and threw it. Nothing happened. He picked up a handful and threw them all together. Nothing happened. He threw a rock at ankle level, and miniature bullets chased it until it hit the ground.
Moving forward cautiously, Lawton stepped over where the strange trip wire had to be. Then he proceeded forward gingerly. He was going to live long enough to find out what this was all about.
Floyd Lawton proceeded down the artificial tunnel, using thrown rocks to check for booby traps. He found another shooter trap set up in the opposite direction. It pointed toward him, and he narrowly avoided the single round that came to chase the moving target he had thrown.
He found a metal door like a bank vault’s at the end of the tunnel, examining it thoroughly in the beam cast by his flashlight. He tried the lever to one side, and it turned at his touch. Floyd pulled the door open slowly to give any traps time to trigger at the movement of the metallic portal. Nothing happened as the door reached the zenith of its arc.
As he stepped into the next room, the vault door slammed close behind him, and he heard a hiss of vapor.
Floyd Lawton bolted forward to the next door in line. This one was a sliding elevator door with a keypad. Floyd paused for a moment’s consideration. Obviously, he had to get the right combination to open the door and proceed to the next area.
He shined the light on each key in rapid succession. A gleam caught his eye from the side of the pad, and he bent down and examined it. The side of the pad had been scuffed by something sharp.
Floyd ran the flashlight along the side of the lock. A hidden catch popped open. Two buttons were revealed. One was green, and one was red. Which to pick?
He picked the red on a hunch. The door slid open with a rasping groan. He stepped through before the thing shut again.
A lot of modern traps for something buried in the Outback, thought Floyd as he proceeded forward. He noticed that the ground here was as metallic as the sudden walls. A cave? Not likely. More like some airship buried in the ground.
Adam Blake advanced across the Outback in his swift, machine-like way. His metallic green eyes calmly surveyed the changing landscape for the trail he knew had to be there. He guessed he would not need to go far. The site of the archaeological dig was evidently the genesis of this plan to frame Lawton while securing an unknown objective.
An escape and return to crime was all too common with enemies of the Batman. So hardly anyone would believe Lawton when he said he had been coerced to the other side of the world for a man that was not readily connected to Gotham City or America.
Blake saw his goal in the distance. He slowed his advance as he stealthily continued.
Floyd Lawton cautiously moved forward. The more he thought about it, the more likely he was in an airship of some kind, something like the Lightning Master would use. News in prison had been sporadic, but rumors said that some individual heroes were still out there, despite what Congress had decreed. And they were still putting guys like him in jail. Floyd admitted to himself he couldn’t think of anyone brave enough to tell Superman to quit busting heads.
He soon found himself in a large room. A piece of gargantuan machinery dominated the space, and broken pipes and severed wiring lay everywhere. The convict could see that the device had snapped the fasteners holding the bottom of the machine to the floor of the artificial cavern. Floyd walked around the engine, studying it. Definitely not Earth technology.
As he stumbled over some red rags and bones littering the ground, something skidded at his touch. He played his light on it. It seemed to be the remains of a finned red helmet. A beige stripe could have once been white. Floyd could just make out a winged star, or what was left of it, on the front of the helmet. Floyd cleaned it out and put it on. He wondered if he looked like some strange, spectral spaceman from the movies, like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. He smiled slightly at the thought.
Then the flashlight fell on his second discovery.
A pistol rested in the debris on the floor. Floyd picked up the strange firearm and sighted down the barrel. He wondered if it was loaded or if the load was still potent. He noticed there was a small indicator gleaming yellow on the side of the alien pistol. Hopefully that meant that the thing was ready to fire.
Floyd tucked his discovery in his belt as he circled the central pillar. The bulldog had said that the prize was down here somewhere. He played his light all over the room carefully. There had to be some kind of clue.
A glow reflected the beam from the light. The more he looked at it and shone the light on it, the more the object glowed. That was his ticket out of here and Jessie’s way to freedom. Time to go.
Looking around, Floyd found a box made of some alloy. He scooped up the large jewel and placed it in the box. He closed the lid, shutting off the glow.
Floyd took the box back to the door. He pressed the hidden switch and stepped back into the corridor with the automatic guns. He carefully avoided the tripwire and headed back to the entrance. He paused when he came in sight of the British army helmet. He stepped over the trip and went to the entrance.
“Hey!” Floyd called up out of the pit. “I think I got what you wanted. Drop me a rope.”
“Put it down in plain view,” said the Bulldog. “We’ll pull it up, and then we will pull you up.”
Floyd put the box down, grumbling to himself but without any other choice, and pushed it over into the light with his foot. He waited as the rope dropped down. He tied the cable around the box and yanked on it. The rope slowly ascended upward out of reach.
Adam Blake paused in the shadow of a small bush, his keen eyes spotting his goal in the distance. No Lawton in sight.
Blake cautiously approached the small group. He could see a rope was being pulled out of the ground. The bulldog picked up the box and untied the rope so that he could open the box. His face lit up in joy at the sight of the contents. Blake approached closer. He didn’t think Lawton had too much more time to live.
“Throw down the rope!” he heard Lawton shout.
“No,” the bulldog said casually as he took out the contents of the box. He held the glowing thing in his hand, seeming to savor its touch.
Blake couldn’t make out what the thing was from his vantage point. He approached, pulling a small globe from his vest. He judged the wind, pulled the tab, and let fly with his grenade. Hopefully a small dose of knockout gas would end this whole affair.
The bulldog raised his hand. The jewel glowed with radiant power. The grenade exploded in a fine mist that quickly evaporated in the open air.
“A challenge to my power so soon,” said the mastermind. “I had so hoped it would be the Batman. I’ll guess you will have to do.”
Raw energy poured out in a destructive yellow ribbon. The ground itself cooked off in a glassy spray as Blake stepped out of the way with his unusual speed. “A fast bugger, are you?” He twisted the rock, and a spinning wall erupted violently in front of the investigator.
“Burn at the command of Joshua McCabe!” laughed the bulldog. The laughter stopped when Blake hurtled the ten-foot wall of yellow death. The two henchmen went for their pistols, but surprise slowed them down, and punches laid them out.
McCabe made a shaking motion with the jewel, and a ribbon of death coiled out in a furious spray of energy. Blake dodged the deadly whip as he pulled another device from his equipment vest. He pointed the tube at the glowing jewel and pushed the button on it. An effect seemed nonexistent.
Floyd Lawton stuck the weird pistol in his belt. Whatever was happening up above was the distraction he needed to get out of the rat trap he was in. Floyd braced himself against the sides and began making his way up the shaft. He rapidly ascended upward to the top, where he caught the lip of the hole with his hands.
He took in the scene before him at a glance. The bulldog had the jewel in one hand. His two henchmen were on the ground. A stranger stood about ten feet away, pointing some kind of device at the jewel. Floyd noticed the jewel was responding to the device with a cascade of rampant energy.
Deadshot pulled the alien pistol from his belt and took aim, holding himself in place with a forearm and his feet. He pulled the trigger. A narrow red rod leaped from the muzzle of the pistol and hit the jewel. The beam was instantly absorbed by the crystal surface.
McCabe screeched in sudden agony, letting the jewel hit the ground. He bent to retrieve it. A hand slapped him into the ground.
“That is that,” said Blake, kicking the jewel back into the depths of the cavern, past Lawton climbing out of the hole. It thumped repeatedly on the way down until it hit bottom. A brilliant shaft of light then erupted from the pit, burying everything once more.
Floyd Lawton was rewarded his parole as soon as he had been returned to the prison and the appropriate explanations had been made. Joshua McCabe was sentenced in Australia for kidnapping. Jessie Torrence — no, she was Jessica Cooper now — had returned to her husband. That still shook Floyd. She had found someone that was good to her and could take care of her. He had always thought they would get together and things would be perfect. Now he had to lose her again.
He had his freedom. He was still relatively young. He could start a new life.
Sure he could.