The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker (11 page)

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
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Peering closely and tuning the image sharper, Cap sucked in his breath. That was no tower; it was the huge nose of a
rocket
sticking up within the high outer wall of the fort.

He tossed away the dehydrated K-rations he had been eating, which had been reduced to compact lozenge size by Anthony Stark’s science magic. Slinging his survival kit over one shoulder, his shield over the other, he jumped in the jeep and spun off across the wasteland.

With smooth sand before him like the natural racetracks of Daytona Beach or the Utah Flats, Cap was able to shift his nuclear jeep into its top speed of 100 miles an hour for the three-hour trip to Fort Shahib, some 300 miles south.

It was the south-central Sahara, the most desolate area, spotted with just a few widely scattered Bedouin camps and crossed by only one long-unused camel trail of the old Arabian nomads. It was doubtful if anyone from the outside world had been here in fifty years.

Endless burning sand, rippling in the wind, stretched before Cap’s squinting, sun-dazzled eyes. He fumbled beside him and slapped a pith-helmet on his head; otherwise he’d go glare-blind in an hour.

Heat rose in invisible, suffocating waves from the shiny sands. Cap kept telling himself the temperature was only 120 degrees. He did not dare look at the windshield thermometer. If he found it registered 150 degrees, the shock might undermine his grim determination to endure the hell-hot inferno he was crossing.

He drank sparingly from his water supply, but when he picked up the canteen again and upended it, it was empty, dry. Hurling it down, he licked his leathery lips and drove on for what was another eternity, though his lying watch said only two hours had passed.

The noonday sun pitilessly poured its furnace heat down on him. Cap suddenly jerked up and swung the jeep around.

“A Nazi machine-gun nest!” he exclaimed. “What’s it doing here today, long after the war? They’re opening fire….”

As at the Avenger memorial ceremonies, Cap leaped out of the jeep, shield forward, and charged. Sand flew under his feet as he warded off the hail of bullets and hurled himself headlong, his fist cracking on…nothing.

He sat up, spitting the sand out of his mouth, dazed. “A mirage? Delusion? Take hold of yourself, boy. You’re cracking up.”

He drove on, but images again swam before his eyes…and faded. Once he glanced beside him in happy astonishment to see Bucky sitting there. But that image, too, faded….

“I’m an Avenger,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “An Avenger does not crack up, hear me? If I flip my lid now, I’ll let down my Avenger pals…and the whole world…and twenty thousand future worlds. Hang on…
hang on!

He was singing
“twenty thousand future worlds, baked in a pie…What will Karzz do with them? My, my, my!”
when the ramparts of the fort rose over the horizon before him. His maniacal laughter choked off.

“Karzz’s hangout,” he muttered, and once again he was Captain America, Avenger, alert for danger and tuned for action.

Cannily, he drove up behind the screening palms of the oasis, cutting off a direct view from the fort, hoping to surprise Karzz. He belly-crawled through the sand, brushing aside lizards and other creatures of the desert. Soundlessly, he wriggled among stone debris where one portion of the old fort’s wall had collapsed.

Skilled in the tactics of unseen and unheard approach, Cap congratulated himself that he could have surprised a platoon of Nazis in the fort if they had been there, as he raced silently through the front gates.

“Bon soir,
Captain America! Why did you go to all that trouble sneaking in?” a mocking voice greeted him. It was Karzz, pointing at a monitor screen atop an electronic box. “You have been under surveillance ever since your vehicle first approached the old fort.”

Cap conquered his first surge of disappointment. Swiftly his eyes took in the wide courtyard and the tall rocket standing on end with a gantry tower around it. Turning back to Karzz, Cap’s eyes narrowed. Was the faint purplish aura of his force-shield missing for some reason? Was he vulnerable?

Suddenly he plunged forward in a crouch, to find out.

Karzz stood unperturbed. “You are the incomparable man-to-man, face-to-face, toe-to-toe slugger that no other man on earth is a match for…except
one,”
he said.

He touched a stud on his belt and a figure dashed out of a barracks doorway nearby.

Cap’s driving plunge had ground to a halt, in utter shock. The man coming toward him in a crouch, legs churning powerfully, had a round shield in front…a uniform of red, white, and blue design…a winged cap….

“It’s me!” choked Cap. “Another Captain America!”

“Your android double. While you were supposedly sneaking in, my electro-scan ray was X-raying you inside and out, feeding the data into a bio-computer, which then built up a carbon copy of you, so to speak. His body and mind are exactly like yours. So, in a sense, my bodyguard is…
Captain America!”

Karzz finished with a devilish laugh. “Now see if you can defeat yourself.”

Recovering from his first shock, Cap sprang forward to meet his twin’s charge. Like super football-players, two powerful figures came together with bruising impact, their shields clanging together so loudly that the vibrations made a dozen loose bricks fall out of the crumbling wall nearby.

They both reeled back. It was almost like a parody in pantomime, the two actors doing everything the same, and reacting exactly alike.

In unison, they swung the world’s mightiest fists at each other, to meet the world’s toughest chins. When Cap suddenly flung his shield to slice at his opponent’s legs, the second Captain America also sailed his shield in a perfect block shot, knocking Cap’s shield aside.

When Cap ran to retrieve it, his double leaped headlong to tackle him around the legs and they both crashed to the ground. Both without shields, they wrestled and tumbled in the dirt. When Cap pulled a judo trick to hurl the android back, his double promptly rolled on his back and footed Cap away as he charged.

Karzz had watched the furious battle with an amused grin. “Very entertaining, but I have work to do. While you’re busy fighting with yourself, Captain America, I’ll start the countdown for my Storm Satellite.”

The alien flipped over switches on a control board near the rocket, then began counting: “Ten…nine…eight…”

It was now or never for Cap, if he hoped to stop earth doom number four—whatever it was—from being launched.

He tried a desperate ruse, facing his android double and gripping his shield as if to sling it at him again.

“Seven…six…five…”

Cap flung the shield, but not at the android. It went to the side, at one of the stone walls of the courtyard. Puzzled at this move, the android hesitated a moment, watching the flying shield. It was at this instant that Cap hurled himself forward, taking the android unawares and flattening him with a driving shoulder in his solar plexus. He heard synthetic bones crack within the artificial man.

“Three…two…one…”

Cap went over the fallen android, straight toward Karzz at his controls, with a flying leap.

“Ignition!” Cap heard, just before he smashed into the control box and tipped it over with a crash, staggering Karzz back.

chapter 13

Avengers’ Darkest Hour

Cap fell back as a roar burst from the rear of the rocket and a glowing flame drove it upward out of its launch cradle.

“Too late!” crowed Karzz. “My rocket is on its way to space orbit above earth.”

Cap clutched at him desperately but once again met the diamond-hard invisible shield of force that had previously protected the alien.

“I had to convert all my available power into the launching procedure before,” Karzz said. “But now I can keep my shield around me again.” He shrugged. “It hardly matters that you disposed of my android bodyguard. You may as well share my joy now that earth doom number four is launched on schedule, and hear all about it. I want you Avengers to know my achievements in full so that you will more exquisitely enjoy zero-day-when your world ends.”

“Never mind rubbing it in,” growled Cap. “Let me hear the facts.”

Karzz chuckled, and went on. “My aides in the seventieth century devised and tele-transported this launch rocket to me in the twentieth century. Its payload is about to go into orbit.”

Karzz pointed to a monitor screen, in which the powerful rocket could be seen driving upward and starting to slant toward the horizontal. The booster separated and the second stage drummed on, faster and higher. Then the empty second stage separated, and floating in space was a shiny shell whose outer sheath split open to reveal an intricate satellite.

“The Storm Satellite,” said Karzz. “As is spins around earth every ninety minutes, it will spray down kinetic forces into the top layers of the atmosphere. A violent wind will gradually arise in the thin stratosphere and work its way down into the thicker air near earth.”

“You mean
all
the air around earth will turn windy?”

“Yes, in eight days. The satellite went into polar orbit, which means it will shift westward every revolution, and thus will cover every area of the upper air daily. It will eventually whip up a super-hurricane all over earth, with wind velocities of five hundred miles an hour.”

Cap gasped. “Most natural hurricanes are under one hundred miles an hour.”

“You can picture, then,” Karzz gloated, “what my superwind will do, blowing away people, cars, houses, everything. It will have the force to level the sturdiest steel skyscrapers, which will crash in big cities and create a further shambles. After a few hours, earth’s surface will be swept bare.”

Cap shuddered at the stark picture of wind-swept destruction.

“Of course,” said Karzz, “there won’t be much left to be swept away after the giant comet crashes, and the Antarctic floods arise, and earth’s volcanoes erupt in unison. Do you think, Captain America, that even
one person
will be left alive on earth after the four dooms strike?”

Cap choked, unable to answer.

“There won’t be,” Karzz predicted savagely. “And that means my goal will be accomplished, eight days from now. With earthly civilization wiped out, there will be no human race to build up a superior technology that would in the seventieth century smash my drive for galactic conquest. In short, the new parallel universe, or if universe, will replace the former real universe. And in the parallel universe, I will win the galaxy.”

Cap felt hollow inside. Had this heartless monster won all? What were his plans now? “With your four earth dooms launched, are you going to return to the future?”

“Not yet,” Karzz answered. “I will remain on twentieth-century earth for three more days, to observe and make sure the four dooms are properly building up to their climaxes. If one or more of them seems to be halting, I will make the proper adjustments to insure their final success. Then I will say farewell to earth…forever.”

The alien’s frosty eyes glared at Captain America triumphantly. “Rest assured that no hitch in my world-wrecking plans will occur. In eight days…
sic transit gloria mundi!”

“And so passes away the glory of the world,” muttered Cap, remembering the translation from the Latin from his college days. Rage boiled up in him now, at the smug, ruthless monster from outer space…and outer time. Leaping up, Cap slammed away at Karzz with all his power—or at the force-shell protecting him. It was futile, senseless, Cap knew. Yet he could not stop himself from hammering away, until his knuckles cracked and bled.

Karzz was laughing harshly.

“Keep it up, asinine Avenger. You will never burst through my energy shell.”

Yet suddenly, there was no invisible obstruction there, and Cap’s fist connected solidly with the alien’s chin, sending him head-over-heels.

Cap stood stunned, hardly believing it had happened.

Then he leaped forward and ripped the studded belt off of Karzz, who was just dazedly picking himself out of the dirt. “Without this belt of weapon rays or your forceshield, you’re my prisoner.”

“But how can my force-shield be gone?” said the bewildered Karzz.

“Because,” rang out a new voice, “I penetrated it with my Z-ray, as I did once before in Antarctica.”

Cap whirled. “Iron Man!”

“Hi, Cap,” said Iron Man, landing with Hawkeye, whom he was towing. “We came as soon as we could, all four of us.”

“Four? But where are Goliath and Wasp?”

“Ant-Man, alias Goliath, and the Wasp rode in style,” answered Iron Man with a grin, opening a pouch in his belt. Two tiny figures crept into his palm and he lowered them to the ground. The next moment, two human figures grew magically before their eyes until they were normal size.

“That pouch was rather stuffy,” complained Goliath. 

“And full of lint,” added the Wasp, brushing herself off.

“You’re all a sight for sore eyes,” said Cap happily. But then his face fell. “But you came too late to stop earth doom number four.”

Briefly, he recounted the story of what the Storm Satellite would do.

“Maybe we’re too late to stop that,” said Iron Man, seizing the still-dazed Karzz, “but not too late to blackmail this fugitive from the future.”

“Blackmail?” echoed Cap.

“First of all,” explained Iron Man, “remember that we met only androids of Karzz in Antarctica and the South Seas. But this is the
real
Karzz now, handling the Storm Satellite’s launch in person.”

Iron Man shook Karzz like a rat.

“And now here’s the pitch, mister. It won’t do you much good to be here for the end of the world, will it? If you die too, in the holocaust you caused, you can hardly return to the seventieth century, and carry out your conquest of space.”

Karzz paled, and Iron Man went on measuring his words grimly.

“That’s the blackmail, pal. We’re offering you a trade. Your life for the lives of three billion doomed earth people. I’m assuming that with your future science you can somehow reverse or halt the earth-doom processes…. Well?”

“But what if I can’t?” choked Karzz, his face distorted with fright.

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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