by Brian K. Asbury
The monster lowered its head to charge, but then a voice rang out: “Bull, no! Not in here! You will cause too much damage!” The minotaur abruptly stopped in its tracks, and a curious expression softened its coarse, hairy face. Out of the corner of his eye, Wildcat observed the girl called Heartbreaker in the shattered doorway.
This was his chance. Fighting dirty wasn’t his style, but he kicked out, catching the minotaur squarely between the legs. As it doubled up, he took the opportunity to skip past it and land a double-handed blow on the back of its neck. It was unlikely to faze the monster much, but even hurting it a little was better than not at all. It winced with the blow but did not respond, seemingly held in the French girl’s spell.
Then a squeal rang out from the doorway, and he saw Whitefox leaping out and on top of Heartbreaker. The minotaur instantly recovered and bellowed, lashing out blindly. Wildcat leaped back as the tank holding the girl shattered, spilling slippery fluid over the floor. The minotaur tried to turn toward Wildcat but lost its footing and went flying. Meanwhile, behind it, the girl slid out from the tank to sprawl on the floor, coughing and gasping.
Thanks, Frenchie! Great timing, I don’t think, thought Wildcat. The minotaur was trying to regain its feet again. Looking around desperately, Wildcat spied a steel retort stand. Snatching it from its bench, he landed a blow on the back of the monster’s neck. The retort stand bent, but the minotaur barely reacted, lashing out and grabbing Wildcat’s left arm in a grip of steel as it struggled to its feet.
Oh, geez, he thought. I’ve had it now! The minotaur pulled him close, its hot, stinking breath in his face. Instinctively, Wildcat reacted in the only way he knew how, landing a powerful right-handed uppercut on the monster’s jaw.
The minotaur grunted. It stared momentarily at Wildcat. Then its eyes glazed over, and it toppled over backward, almost landing on the girl and dragging Wildcat down with it. As he struggled to free himself, it transformed back into Gar Coles and lay still. Wildcat fought back the urge to laugh aloud. I don’t believe it! he thought. All that muscle and power, and a glass jaw! No wonder Gar decided to go for football instead of following in his old man’s footsteps and becomin’ a boxer!
The girl shrank back in terror, still coughing. “You OK?” said Wildcat. Her hands went up to her breasts, trying to cover her nakedness. “I’ll take that as a yes. It’s OK, babe, I’m one o’ the good guys. Just hang in there, and I’ll try ta get you outta this, ‘kay?”
She nodded dumbly. He started to rise, then stopped as he sensed movement behind him. He turned to see Heartbreaker there, training a gun on him. “That is enough, hero. You have done enough damage here. It is time I put an end to your interference.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Wildcat, continuing to stand. “With a gun? What happened to ‘We are New Order’ and all ya fancy powers?” The girl did not answer. Wildcat glanced to one side and saw Whitefox in the doorway, curled up as if in agony.
“Yeah, I get it,” he said. “That whammy you got is powerful, but ya can only use it on one person at a time, right? You used it ta stop Gar smashin’ up this lab, but it freed up Foxy. An’ now you’ve put her under again, ya can’t use it on me, ’cause it’d free her again.”
“Bravo, masked man. You have a brain. A pity I must put a bullet through it.” She leveled the gun and took aim.
“No, Janine! What are you doing?” The voice came from behind them. Wildcat did not dare look away from the gun, but he sensed that the naked girl was trying to stand up. It was she who had spoken.
“Janine Fauchard is dead. I am Heartbreaker. And do not worry, cherie. As soon as I have dealt with these interlopers, we will complete your transformation, and you shall take your place in New Order.”
“But you can’t… for God’s sake, Janine, think what you’re doing!”
“Be quiet! Goodbye, hero.” Heartbreaker’s finger tightened on the trigger. Wildcat steeled himself for an all-or-nothing leap, but nothing happened.
Heartbreaker simply stood there, holding the gun, unblinking. Wildcat tentatively reached out, waving his hand in front of her face. There was no reaction. “What the–?”
“Please… take her gun. I don’t think I can hold her for long.”
Wildcat looked around to see the girl, on her feet now, holding out one hand toward Heartbreaker. He could also see Whitefox rising to her feet in the doorway, shaking her head furiously. Needing no further encouragement, he gently prised the gun out of the French girl’s hand. “I dunno what you just did, doll, but I gotta admire your sense of timing!”
“Wildcat? What is going on?” Whitefox was now approaching. “Who is zis girl you ‘ave been cavorting wiz while I ‘ave been ‘aving ze worst experience of my life?”
“I’m… I’m Della Berkowitz,” the girl said. “But we’re not…”
“Not funny, Frenchie,” said Wildcat. “You OK?”
“I ‘ave been better. So why is zis girl naked, if you ‘ave not…”
“Is that all you French ever think about?”
“What else is zere?”
Scowling, Wildcat handed her the gun and crossed to where several lab coats were hanging on the wall. He tossed one to Della, who gratefully put it on. “OK, kid, you can let her go now. We’ll take it from here.”
“Let ‘er go?” said Whitefox, curiously examining the statue-like Heartbreaker. “Just what is it you ‘ave done to ‘er, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” said Della. “I just held up my hand and concentrated, and she… stopped.”
“For which I’m grateful,” said Wildcat. “OK, like I said, drop the… whatever it is, an’ you can fill us in on just what this is all about.”
“I don’t know what it’s all about. I was on the bus with my friends, and next thing I knew I woke up in that tank. I don’t understand any of this.”
“Zen let us ask Janine,” said Whitefox.
“Whoa!” Wildcat said. “That might be risky. Maybe we oughtta get her outta here before we start the show-an’-tell routine.”
“I don’t think I can hold her, though,” said Della, who was visibly swaying.
“In zat case, release ‘er. I know what to do about zis.”
Della looked momentarily uncertain, but nodded and seemed to relax. Heartbreaker was suddenly animated again. She squeezed the fingers of her right hand and was astonished to find the gun was gone.
“Surprise, cherie!” said Whitefox, delivering a karate chop to the back of her neck. Heartbreaker crumpled.
“Anybody ever told you that’s a nasty habit, doll?” said Wildcat.
“A most satisfying one, though,” said Whitefox, smirking.
Then a voice rang out. “Hold it right there!” The trio looked around to find themselves looking down the barrels of a dozen or more handguns.
The speaker was Martin Grunewald, and he was accompanied by a cohort of very angry-looking security guards. “So! I should have known that the Amerikaner so-called masked heroes would not be able to keep their noses out of what does not concern them.”
“‘Amerikaner’?” said Whitefox. “Now I am insulted. I am French!”
“That hardly matters,” said Grunewald. He signaled to his men. “Take them!”
As the guards started to advance, Wildcat thumped one fist into the palm of his other hand. “Now this,” he said to Whitefox with a grin, “should be interestin’!”
The scuffle that followed was brief and brutally efficient. As Wildcat had calculated, the first two guards that approached them ran headlong into the as-yet-unexplained sexual magnetism of Whitefox and hesitated, to their cost. The two heroes made short work of relieving them of their guns and throwing them back into their comrades, then they both leaped in, and a general melee ensued. The guards were unable to use their guns for fear of hitting either each other or the valuable equipment in the lab, and were obviously also unused to brawling in close quarters — a situation that was meat and drink to Wildcat’s hard-hitting style of fighting.
In less than a minute, all of the guards were out of the fight, leaving only Martin Grunewald standing there, shell-shocked but still holding his gun. He backed toward the exit. “No closer, either of you, or I shall shoot.” Suddenly, it no longer mattered about the Project or the specimens within the lab. His own safety and survival was now paramount.
“I mean it,” he said, switching his gun back and forth between targets. “I am an excellent shot.”
“Yeah, but can ya take out both of us before we can reach you, buster?”
“Possibly not — but whichever of you I fire at will be dead, I assure you. So you will remain here while I depart.”
“I don’t think so,” said Wildcat. He half-turned toward the young woman in a lab coat cowering back by the tanks. “Say, Della — can you do that trick again, doll?”
There was a strange… discontinuity… and suddenly the gun was no longer in Grunewald’s hand. Wildcat was instead much closer to him and holding the weapon. The woman in white was also right next to him. “Surprise, surprise, Marty,” said Wildcat. He turned again toward the young woman, who had also changed position suddenly. “Hey, kid — nice work. Any time ya feel like becomin’ a hero’s sidekick, I might have an opening for ya!”
The woman pulled back her arm, making a fist. “As my friend ‘ere would say, say goodnight, Gracie!”
The blow, however, never connected. Instead, it was blocked by Wildcat grabbing her arm. “Not this time, Frenchie,” he said. “Herr Ratzi, here’s, got a lot o’ questions ta answer — and it’d be kinda difficult if he was unconscious!”
It was several hours later when Ted Grant, no longer in his Wildcat costume, sat in Martha Coles’ hotel room, explaining it all to her and to Johnny Coles, who had turned up alive and well in a basement room of the factory, where he had been held since Grunewald’s men had caught him trying to break in.
“Turns out,” he said, “that Grunewald was a third-generation Nazi. His grandpa had started off the whole project to try an’ fulfill Hitler’s crazy dream of a race of Aryan supermen or ‘ubermensch.’ Couple o’ months ago, they had a breakthrough, an’ they needed a whole bunch o’ guinea pigs ta try out the process on — y’know, givin’ ’em special powers. Also, the guinea pigs needed ta be fit an’ in a certain age range. So, they picked a busload o’ students at random an’ arranged ta kidnap the whole kaboodle.
“Well, first dozen or so they tried it on died, which was about what they expected. We found their bodies — minus various organs they’d taken to run tests on — buried out back o’ that building. Luckily, the process then started to work, an’ Gar, Janine Fauchard, and the other one — that Split Second guy — were the first three. That girl Della was goin’ to be the next, and we found a couple o’ more live ones in there partially changed. The rest were locked up with you, Johnny, as you know. We dunno what exactly Grunewald was plannin’ to do once he had his army of super-kids loyal ta the Reich, but ya can bet it wouldn’t have been the ’80s answer ta the Von Trapp Family Singers, if ya catch my drift!”
“And Gar was going to be one of his Nazi army?” said Martha, grimacing. “That’s horrible!”
Johnny nodded. “What about Gar, Ted? Is there any way to get him back to normal?”
Ted shrugged. “We don’t know. The cop docs that examined them said they thought the powers were probably permanent — only time will tell if the shrinks can reverse the brainwashin’, though. It was part o’ the whole business.”
“But that Della girl wasn’t brainwashed into thinking she was a Nazi!”
“The process wasn’t completed with her. Gar smashed her tank before the brainwashin’ part was done to her.”
Martha sighed. “Well, thank you, anyway, Ted. You at least got me my husband back, and there’s hope for Gar. We’ll just have to do some hard prayin’.”
“Amen to that,” said Johnny.
Ted left them to console one another and made his way down to reception to make arrangements for his departure back to the States. But he could not help wondering whether this affair was really over. The setup Grunewald had had suggested powerful financial backing, yet nothing had been turned up yet to indicate who might have been bankrolling him. So would any more Nazi-inspired ubermensch be turning up? And what if the brainwashing done to Gar and the other members of New Order could not be reversed? What would happen to Della and the other two partly transformed youngsters, who would now be returning home with special powers they would have to learn to live with? And then there was the mysterious Whitefox, who had vanished in the confusion of the police raiding Grunewald’s compound. Where would she turn up next?
So many questions, and so few answers. Only time would tell whether that situation would change.