Ace Egan struggled to regain consciousness, but for some reason it wouldn’t completely come. There was a dryness in his mouth, and his eyelids wouldn’t comply fully with his brain’s commands to open, which led him to the belief that he had been sedated. When he finally did get his eyes to open wide enough to see his surroundings, he found himself staring into the small face of a man old enough to be his father. The face looking back at him, however, was missing something he often saw in his father’s face; there was no compassion. When he tried to sit up, Ace found himself immobile. Not even his surprise could override the drugs in his system enough to cause his eyes to widen. The man said something guttural, and Ace realized the depths of his predicament — he had been captured by the Germans. The man smiled as he held up a syringe. A few seconds later, Ace was once again sliding back into the darkness.
Ace was next coaxed back into consciousness by the sound of voices drawing him into the waking world by their harshness. He managed to force open one eye, yet the other one refused to cooperate; a dull pain around his left cheek led him to surmise that he had been used as a punching bag by at least one Nazi. He raised a leaden hand to his face with much effort and felt the swelling flesh that kept his eye closed.
Whatever it was that had been in the syringe that the man had given him prevented Ace from immediately recognizing that he was no longer strapped down. By the time this information did register, his attention was drawn to a child-size Gestapo major outside of his cell.
“So, the famed Ace of Space is an American.”
Ace wasn’t as much surprised by the Nazi’s knowledge of his nationality — one word out of his mouth while he was drugged would have revealed that — it was the way he said it. The sounds filling Ace’s ears didn’t match the shapes the German’s lips were making. It reminded him of his childhood visits to the local movie theater, before the advent of talking pictures. The actors on the screen seemed to carry on endless dialogues, yet everything they said was summed up on one placard. Ace realized the belt was allowing him to read the man’s mind, an ability he used only before when trying to learn the plans of a foe.
“You have nothing to say?” the major asked.
Ace managed half a smile. “Drop dead, you goose-stepping bum.”
The major returned the smile — an evil smile that sent a shiver up the American’s spine — and spoke. “I suspect I will, one day,” he said in passable English. “I suspect, however, that before long it will be you who wishes he could ‘drop dead.’ We have doctors who will go to great pains, most of which you will feel, to discover the secret to your great height.”
Without waiting for a response from Ace, the major adjusted his black leather gloves and turned away. He paused just long enough to give instructions to his men, then stepped out of the line of sight of Ace’s good eye. The click of his heels on the tile floor indicated to Ace that he was walking away.
Ace shifted his single-eyed gaze back to the two Gestapo men outside his cell. Their faces appeared impassive, but a wicked gleam in their eyes let the American know that his immediate future held nothing but pain.
Ace was surprised, and somewhat relieved, that his only visitor after the major left was the man with the syringe. As its contents were forced into his bloodstream, the nine-foot-tall American tried to question the man.
“What is the major planning on doing to me?” Ace asked. Much like the first conversation Ace had with the major, he had to rely on his telepathy to understand the man’s answer.
“He plans to learn the secret of your great height, as well as your ability to speak to us through our thoughts,” the man said. “It is said that Dr. Mengele himself might perform your autopsy.”
Before he could ask another question, the drugs took hold of Ace’s consciousness and pulled him into darkness.
Ace awoke to find himself in total darkness. His first reaction was to raise a hand to his face; he was afraid that another overzealous guard had decided to beat him to the point that his good eye was now swollen shut. He was relieved to find no new swelling. That knowledge only deepened the mystery of the darkness that surrounded him.
“I trust a man of your apparent courage is not bothered by the lack of light.”
Ace recognized the voice of the major. “It makes napping easier without those pesky lights keeping a person awake.”
The major’s laughter was short-lived.
Based on the location of the voice and the amplified sounds that accompanied it, Ace surmised that there was a speaker in or near the ceiling of his cell.
“My guess is that you didn’t check to see if I was awake just so you could belt out a verse or two of Brahm’s Lullaby,” Ace said.
“I do so tire of American wit,” the major replied. “One would almost think it was part of your training.”
“So,” Ace said, taking a more direct approach, “what do you really want?” The major’s answer didn’t surprise him.
“It is simple, really,” the major said, “I want to know the secret of your great height, and the instructions on how to access your rocket ship.”
“Is that all?” Ace asked. “Well, why didn’t you ask sooner instead of beating around the bush?”
“So, you see the wisdom in telling us what we want to know.”
“The secret to my height is,” Ace’s voice dropped almost to a whisper, “I ate all of my vegetables when I was growing up.”
“Bah!” the major roared.
Ace knew his comment was in no way good for his situation, but the major was crazier than the little goofball with the Charlie Chaplin mustache if he thought those secrets would be forthcoming.
“Let’s see how willing you are to talk after our next discussion,” the major said with a growl.
Ace caught a whiff of something in the air. Almost immediately, his eyelids started to droop. Figuring that this was the end and that the Nazi had decided to move up the date of his autopsy, Ace decided to get in one final shot before he went to meet his maker.
“What happened? Run out of syringesss…?”
Ace awoke once more, and for that he was very grateful. As he lay in the darkness, not daring to move lest he draw unseen and unwanted attention, he tried to figure out a way to escape. Several ideas popped into his head, only to be immediately dismissed; while none of his plans were feasible, he did learn that whatever drugs the Nazis were giving him seemed to be wearing off faster after each dose.
A sudden explosion of light left the American dazed and momentarily blinded. He tried to jump to his feet, but the quick movement brought with it a rush of nausea that forced him to his knees. At the sound of a door opening very close by, Ace scrambled into a crouched position and prayed that his vision would clear before anyone entered.
A shadowy mass entered the cell and, upon seeing Ace crouched with his back against his cot, began to break apart and fan out in a semicircle.
“Strip him bare.”
He knew the words were a command to the shadows that were looking more and more human in shape and not for his ears, but his telepathy picked them up loud and clear. Ace realized that unless he did something soon, his secrets would soon belong to the Nazis.
Ace managed a growl that caused the soldiers to pause for just a second.
The major motioned his men forward. “His bark is worse than his bite,” he said in English.
Ace blinked his eyes a couple of times, clearing away the remaining effects of the light. And then he moved.
The major leaped back and slammed the cell door shut as Ace knocked his men aside like tenpins. He took an involuntary step back as the full weight of the prisoner’s nine-foot-tall frame struck the door. The barrier held, and a second later the major heard what could only be described as pandemonium coming from the other side.
Anxious to learn what was taking place in the cell, the Gestapo officer reached out and slid open a small, rectangular viewing portal that had been built into the door. Pushing himself up on his toes to get a better view, the major leaned close to the opening.
He was met by the crunch of bone, the spray of blood, and the agony-filled face of one of his men that looked, for all the world, like it was about to be shoved through the viewing portal.
Inside the cell, the Ace of Space was fighting for all he was worth. It had only been the ferocity of his initial attack that had allowed him to dispatch the first soldier so quickly. The five remaining soldiers had already recovered and were preparing to carry out the orders they had been given.
One of the men nodded toward the man slumped in front of the door and barked a command to a second. “Hans, grab the syringe from Adelmar’s pocket while we occupy the giant.”
Ace easily understood the man’s thoughts and reacted accordingly. Feigning an attack at the nearest soldier, he suddenly shifted his center of balance and kicked out at Hans. The surprised German fell clutching his throat, his eyes wide as he struggled to draw breath. Ace let his momentum carry him between the unconscious Adelmar and his companions. Ace ignored the mental translations of the soldiers’ curses. The odds were down to four to one, but to Ace that wasn’t good enough.
Taking advantage of the very brief pause his viciousness had won him, Ace decided to try something new. Using the telepathy, he did a quick search of his opponents’ thoughts. Beyond the dominant thoughts of fear and anger, the only other thing he picked up was their names. Singling out one of the soldiers, he made an attack that caught the man completely off guard.
“Berahthraben!” Ace forced the man’s name into his own mind as loud and as strong as he possibly could. Despite the fact that he had never before used his telepathy for anything more than a way to gather information, Ace was pleased with the results.
Berahthraben screamed, dropped to his knees, and clutched at his head. Somehow the giant had gotten inside his head and had used his own name as a weapon against him. The pain of the assault was worse than any headache he had ever had.
Although his attack was successful, Ace, too, felt the drawbacks. His own head began to throb — not as bad as Berahthraben, but enough to shake his focus — and he had to lean against the door for support. He heard a groan from Adelmar, who lay on the ground just behind him, and executed a reverse kick that silenced the man.
Seeing their foe in a moment of weakness, the three remaining Germans attacked.
Outside the cell, the major could see the American’s back blocking the viewing portal. An idea quickly formed, and he hurried down the corridor. A few seconds later, he returned carrying another syringe. The dosage wasn’t as high as he would have liked, but he hoped it was enough to give his men the advantage. He smiled when he saw that Ace still had his back to the door.
Ace barely noticed the tip of the needle enter the middle of his back, but when his reflexes began to slow, he knew something was desperately wrong.
The three remaining soldiers could also tell that something was different by the look of confusion on the giant’s face. Sensing that the pendulum of fate had swung in their direction, the men advanced.
The first two soldiers rushed Ace, hoping to pin his arms at his sides. One managed to grab the giant’s wrist, while the other narrowly missed it as Ace raised his fist. Even though he couldn’t muster the energy to hit the man with a solid strike, the size and weight alone were enough to knock the soldier to his knees.
Finding it harder and harder to focus, Ace tried to concentrate on the soldier holding his wrist. The German pulled his legs up in the hopes of toppling his opponent. Ace managed to get a knee under him and prevented himself from being dragged to the floor. A muddled thought from the third soldier caused Ace to look up.
Using the cot as a springboard, the German executed a spinning kick that caught Ace in the side of his head. He spun toward the soldier holding his wrist, and the man rolled out of the way, narrowly missing being trapped under the falling giant.
Ace was only semiconscious as the soldiers who were able climbed to their feet and proceeded to carry out their orders. It took two men to remove Ace’s boots, but the moment they were free from his body and tossed to the side, they returned to their original size. While one began unbuttoning his shirt, Berahthraben, still feeling as though his head were going to explode, began to undo Ace’s belt.
Ace’s attempts to stop the man were futile. As the belt came away in Berahthraben’s hands, the Germans were amazed at what took place. Before Ace returned to his normal size, the major had already thrown open the door and was rushing inside. He said nothing to his men as he grabbed the belt from the soldier’s hands and left.
Despair hit Ace like a tidal wave. Without the added size and strength the belt provided, he could no longer keep his eyes open. His last conscious thought was one of complete failure. He no longer cared if he lived or died.