by Brian K. Asbury
“Nazis? In this day and age?” said Whitefox. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“You better believe it. They keep comin’ back, tryin’ ta recreate their precious Reich. An’ every generation of the bastards seems to get worse,” said Wildcat. “By the way, what happened to the accent, doll?”
Wildcat let it pass. “I don’t see Gar here, though, or your Janine. Or my buddy Johnny. I just hope they’re somewhere else in this Frankenstein chamber, not buried out there under the snow!”
Whitefox’s hand flew to her mouth. “Sacre coeur, non!” Suddenly she didn’t look as tough and confident as she had seemed. Lack of experience, thought Wildcat. She likes to act brash and sassy, but she’s still pretty green at this.
“It’s OK. Let’s not jump to conclusions, huh? Look, there’s another couple o’ doors out of this room. Let’s see where they lead.”
She nodded, and they headed for the nearest door, which turned out to be firmly locked. “No card reader,” Whitefox muttered. “So zey do not rely on ‘igh-tech solutions for everything.”
“D’ya see any keys around?” They both looked around and shrugged to one another. “OK, then, we’ll come back ta this one. As a last resort, we can always try an’ bust it down. The other one does have a swiper gizmo, though.”
They crossed to the second door, and Whitefox swished the card through the slot. Again there was a click, and the door swung slightly ajar — except that this time, light poured through the crack. “Oh-oh,” she murmured.
“I think we got another problem, too, doll,” said Wildcat. A small noise to his left had prompted him to look in that direction, where he saw a tiny, almost completely concealed camera swiveling to focus on them.
Whitefox followed his gaze and sighed. “In zat case, mon ami, we ‘ave little to lose. Shall we?”
Wildcat nodded. Shucking off his purloined jacket and hat, he counted down three… two… one on his fingers. Then they both charged the door, hurtling through it and diving into a roll as soon as they were on the other side.
“Very dramatic,” said an American-accented voice. “Now get up and surrender.”
They both leaped to their feet. This was some sort of storage facility, with shelves lined with glassware, tubing, and other scientific paraphernalia, much of it still in its packaging. At the opposite end a door stood ajar, with stairs leading down just visible through the gap. And standing in front of the door, arms folded in a dramatic pose, stood three costumed figures. They did not look friendly.
“Surrender now, and your deaths will be quick; you have my word on that.” The speaker was the middle of the three, a tall African-American youth dressed all in black, with a bull’s head symbol on the chest of his jumpsuit. Flanking him was a dark-haired girl in red, a broken-heart symbol in a white circle on the front of her costume. The trio was completed by a blond young man in gold, his chest symbol showing a sector of a clock face.
Wildcat opened his mouth to reply, then started as he realized who the black youth was. “G-Gar?”
Almost simultaneously, he heard Whitefox whisper, “Janine?”
“We are New Order,” said the young woman in red, her voice French-accented. “You are trespassing, and you have forfeited your lives by that act.”
“We can make this easy or hard,” said the third newcomer, his accent betraying New York origins. “Surrender and die quickly. Resist and die slowly.”
“I don’t think much of them choices, kid,” growled Wildcat. “Gar, what the hell’s gotten into you? Don’t you know what’s going on here?”
At his side, Whitefox took a step forward. “Janine? You know me, don’t you? What is zis ‘New Order’ nonsense?”
The blond youth sneered. “‘Gar’? ‘Janine’? You have no idea to whom you speak, scum. We are New Order. Split Second!” he said, thumping his chest.
“Heartbreaker!” said Janine, clapping her hands together.
“Raging Bull!” shouted Gar Coles, his right arm snapping out in a Nazi salute.
“OK, that’s as much as I’m gonna stand,” growled Wildcat. “I dunno why you’re helping these Nazi bloodsuckers, but if we have ta take you down, we have ta take you down. Foxy?”
“I’m with you!” breathed Whitefox. They started to run forward.
“We warned you!” snarled Gar Coles. “Split Second?”
“My pleasure, comrades,” said the blond. His form seemed to blur, and then a strange effect happened. It was as if Wildcat saw multiple images of Split Second at the same time, like hundreds of frames of film superimposed upon one another. The young man did not seem to move quickly, yet suddenly he was everywhere at once, surrounding Wildcat and his lovely companion and raining punches down upon them. Both of the heroes went down under the onslaught.
The multiple images coalesced back into one, standing above and slightly away from the fallen heroes with a smirk on his face. “You should think yourselves honored, pigs, to be the first to fall beneath the New Order,” said Gar. “Now beg for your lives, and we may be merciful and put you out of your misery quickly!”
“Well?” said Split Second. “Do you give in? You cannot defeat one such as me, who can displace himself in time to appear in many places at once. You have no hope but to fall upon our mercy.”
To Wildcat’s surprise, Whitefox scrambled to her knees and put her hands together. “Very well. Please… you ‘ave defeated us. Please be merciful…”
Then he felt it — the same powerful, primeval urge that he had felt when they had encountered the technician Manfred on the floor below. An urge that filled him with admiration, love, even lust for this incredibly sexy woman in the white jumpsuit and foxy hood. He saw a look of bewilderment cross Split Second’s face as the young man tried to come to terms with what was happening to him.
It was obvious, however, that the blond was not being affected as strongly as Manfred had been. And he had two companions, who were starting forward to join him. Wildcat realized that he had only one chance to act, and he must do it now. Gritting his teeth against the pain he felt from the pummeling he had just received, he sprang up and launched himself straight at Split Second. As he connected, he felt something weird happening as the youth started to use his powers. The pair hit the floor, Split Second already starting to blur under Wildcat’s grasp. Screaming defiance, Ted grabbed his opponent’s head — or was it three heads, or four? Five? Six?
The hell with it. He shut his eyes and battered all of them against the floor with every ounce of strength he had. The head (heads?) went limp, and as he opened his eyes, he saw them blur back into one again.
At the same time, he felt Whitefox rush past him, diving toward Janine Fauchard, or Heartbreaker, as she now seemed to call herself. Then she screamed in anguish. Wildcat dropped Split Second and looked up to see the French heroine sprawled on the ground, wailing for all the world as if she was in mortal terror. His eyes widened. He had heard noises like that before, made by victims of the Psycho-Pirate. Could it be that this girl could, like the Pirate, induce emotions in people?
However, Wildcat had a problem of his own. Gar Coles was bearing down upon him, looking extremely angry. Ted rolled back and regained his feet, taking up a fighting stance.
Gar stopped. “Very well, pig,” he said. “You may have overcome Split Second by your sneaking tactics, but you will find that Heartbreaker and I are not so easily defeated.”
Wildcat sighed. “Gar, listen to yourself. They’ve got you under some kinda ‘fluence, kid. Fight it. You know this ain’t you saying these things.”
“You talk too much,” said Gar. “Prepare to face the wrath of Raging Bull!” And suddenly he seemed to expand, his upper torso becoming huge, while his head elongated and grew coarse fur, at the same time as massive horns sprouted from his temples.
“Oh, geez,” Wildcat muttered. “I shoulda known you wouldn’t call yourself that just ’cause you’re a boxing fan.”
For where Gar Coles had stood was now something no longer human — a raging, snorting, foaming beast that was half-man, half-bull — a minotaur.
The creature looked as if it would charge at any moment, and Wildcat made up his mind that he didn’t want to be in its path when it did; it looked incredibly powerful. He hated to back away from a fight, but he was at a serious disadvantage here, and he needed to find a way to even the odds. Just running away wasn’t enough, though. Whitefox was still down on the floor, rolled up into a ball as she experienced heaven only knew what. If Gar — Raging Bull — decided to deal with her first, she wouldn’t stand a chance.
He made his mind up in an instant. Backing off away from the fallen Split Second, he reached for a box from one of the shelves. “Hey, beefy — chew on this!” he shouted, hurling the box toward the monster that had been his friends’ son. The minotaur snorted as the box opened, and a dozen test tubes flew toward him. He butted it away with one horn as several tubes shattered against him with seemingly little effect.
Meanwhile, Wildcat was running back for the door to the room where they had seen the macabre exhibits of human bodies and body parts. Maybe there was something in there he could use as a weapon. He heard the minotaur roar as it charged after him. Dashing through the door, Wildcat pulled it toward him with all his strength. As it closed, a horn plunged through the wood, sending splinters through it everywhere. Oh, geez, he thought. That is not gonna hold for long!
As the bellowing from the door became louder as the monster began to tear it apart, Wildcat looked around frantically for anything he could use as a weapon. And yes, there were plenty of things he could use here — sharp-pointed glass instruments, knives, scalpels… the trouble was, they were all pretty deadly. This was Gar Coles he needed to take out — the kid he’d come here to find in the first place. He needed to subdue him, not kill or seriously injure him.
His eyes fell upon a row of labeled bottles on one of the workbenches. The trouble was, the names on most of the labels meant nothing to him. Yeah, he thought. If Jay or Rex were here, they’d know exactly what they could use to make a knockout bomb or somethin’. Maybe it’s time I started goin’ to night classes — if I get out of this alive!
There was one familiar word on one label, though — chloroform. He picked up the bottle as the door burst asunder and the minotaur came roaring through it. OK, so what do I actually do with the stuff? he thought. I can’t see Gar standin’ still long enough for me ta hold a pad soaked in the stuff over his mouth and nose!
The minotaur charged into the room, knocking glassware and some of the smaller specimen jars flying. Talk about a bull in a china shop! thought Wildcat. In desperation, he threw the bottle at the monster. It shattered against its skull without slowing it down, but then it seemed to get a whiff of the pungent fumes. It stopped, coughing and spluttering. Wildcat skipped away to the other side of the room, his own eyes starting to stream. That wasn’t the brightest idea I ever had, he thought.
Then he realized he was backed into a corner formed by two of the body-sized glass cases. He could hear Gar, snorting angrily and groping about blindly. He rubbed his own eyes to clear them and looked around. The body of a young woman floated in the tank nearest him, and as he stared, her eyes suddenly snapped open and looked straight at him. Her lips made word shapes: “Help me!”
Wildcat could only stare in horror, wondering how to get her out. And then he realized that the minotaur was right behind him and advancing upon him.