The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker (12 page)

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
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“Then you still stick with us, as our prisoner, for eight days. You’ll have a grandstand seat for the big show, as earth cracks up around your ears as well as ours.”

Karzz’s face had turned to putty. Terror shone from his eyes. “I—I don’t know if the four dooms can be halted,” he stammered. “I never thought of it.”

“Well, you’d better begin thinking now,” spoke up Hawkeye. “And if you fail….” Whipping an arrow out of his quiver, he shot it at whistling speed past Karzz’s ear. “You’re going to die a thousand deaths in the next few days, before the real thing comes. I’ll use you for target practice every day, see?”

Goliath was shooting up to his full ten-foot size, and he now seized up the trembling alien in his two mighty paws. “That is, Hawkeye will have you only in between the times I toss you around like this….”

Goliath flung the screeching alien up in the air, like a mere toy. He sailed up and up to dizzy heights before he plummeted down into Goliath’s waiting arms with a thud that knocked his breath out.

The Wasp, in her tiny size, next came diving down to jab her sting-beam into Karzz’s shoulder. “When the boys get tired entertaining you, I’ll take over,” she promised grimly.

“And I,” added Iron Man, “would like to put you in an armored suit, like a knight, and have some daily exercise with battle-axes.”

“I think,” advised Cap mildly, “you had better listen to them, Karzz. Even though I’m the leader of the Avengers, I don’t think I could hold them back. Besides, I might just happen to have my back turned.”

He grabbed Karzz by the neck and shook a mighty balled fist in his face. “And in case they sluff off, I’ll use you as a punching bag every hour on the hour. Give, you worm…can you save earth?”

But Karzz was laughing now, wildly. Cap let him go, surprised.

“Did he lose his buttons?” asked Hawkeye.

But Karzz did a more astounding thing, seizing an arrow out of Hawkeye’s quiver and plunging it into his chest clear through his body.

“He’s bumped himself off,” groaned Goliath, as Karzz fell to the ground.

“Pretty good play-acting.
Si, señors?”

All the Avengers jerked at this new voice out of thin air—the voice of multi-lingual Karzz.

Then they saw the image of the alien’s leering face floating toward them.

“Good grief!” whispered Iron Man, toeing the fallen body pierced by the arrow. “Then this was an android too.”

“Buenos noches
from the real Karzz,” said the mocking image. “What squares you Avengers are! Under my control, my guided android pretended fear and helplessness just to carry out the farce to its end. I have made utter fools of five great champions of earth.”

They all looked the way they felt…miserable. Victory had been snatched out of their hands.

“Let me explain,” went on Karzz. “I sent out my three androids from the start, to Antarctica, the South Seas, and the Sahara. I myself have been safely hidden in a secret haven all the time. Where? You’ll never guess. I still must stay three days to make sure the four earth dooms are coming on schedule. Well, Avengers? An American phrase is most apt at this point:
Cat got your tongue?”

None of them had anything to say.

“Farewell,” said the image, receding and fading away. “You’ll never find me in my hidden haven.” A last mocking laugh…then silence.

There was an awkward silence among the five Avengers too. At last, Hawkeye spoke up lamely: “If mankind is doomed, simple—we resign from the human race.”

Nobody laughed or even cracked a smile. Hawkeye dramatically drew out an arrow and pretended to stab himself, as the android had.

“Three days to search the whole world for Karzz, without a clue,” said Cap, voicing the thoughts of all of them. “We haven’t got a ghost of a chance. Where would we look first?”

“In the sea,” said Iron Man calmly, looking at an instrument he had slipped out of his belt. “That’s where his image-broadcast came from. You see, after that episode Hawkeye and I had in Antarctica, first meeting that image-gimmick, I returned to my lab and worked on the problem before coming here, figuring Karzz would use the trick again.”

He tapped the transistorized instrument. “I devised an image-tracer covering every known kind of carrier wave in the spectrum-gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, radar, and radio waves. I also hooked in the range of cosmic radiation and the area where electrons, neutrons, protons, and mesons operate as wave particles. I left nothing to chance.”

He looked at his wristwatch. “I’m waiting for the built-in thumbnail computer to analyze all the data and pin down the exact spot undersea where Karzz is hiding.”

“Superscience against superscience,” murmured Cap. “That will be the only way to win out over Karzz. Without you and the scientific genius you bring from Anthony Stark, Iron Man…Well, we Avengers would have nothing to avenge.”

“Ah, here are the results.” Iron Man peered at a thin tape that came out of the side of the tracer device, imprinted with mathematical data.

“Hmm…According to latitude and longitude figures, Karzz is in some sunken hideout in the deepest part of earth’s oceans—down in the Pacific Trench between Hawaii and Japan, seven and a half miles deep.”

“But how do we get there, and what do we do?” Hawkeye asked.

“That,” said Captain America, drawing himself up, “is something to be worked out at an Avenger conference among all of us, back at headquarters. Let’s go….”


chapter 14

Destination Deep-Sea

“Ah, nothing like a good night’s sleep,” said Hawkeye, coming into the conference room at Avenger headquarters to find the Wasp already there. “Not to mention a hot bath, a change of uniform, and a seven-course dinner. I feel great.”

“Like a
novus homo?”
said the Wasp. “That’s French for ‘new man,’ old thing.”

don’t give me any of that linguistic guff the way Karzz does,” growled Hawkeye. Then he went on musingly. “I wonder if people think we Avengers never bother with life’s trivialities—sleep, showers, meals, trimming our fingernails, and such. I’ll bet they think I wear my Hawkeye uniform day in and day out, without a change.”

“Don’t you?” queried the Wasp in wide-eyed innocence.

“Very funny. It so happens I have three full uniforms. Two of them always out at the cleaners.”

He eyed the Wasp with a devilish glint in his eye. “Your elastic uniform has stretched from small to large so many times that your leotards have baggy knees.”

“Why, that’s pretty funny,” laughed the Wasp.

“Yeah?” said Hawkeye, startled and pleased.

“Yes, but it only proves,” said the girl sweetly, “that you’re a Hawkeye
The real Hawkeye serves nothing but stale corn with mold on it.”

Hawkeye smote his forehead dramatically. “Why do I always play stooge for you?” he said plaintively.

They were bantering as usual, but only to cover up the gnawing dread within. Multiple earth dooms launched by Karzz the Conqueror…to crush this thought they had to play a game of brittle humor.

“Speaking of stretch uniforms,” put in Goliath, “shed a sympathetic tear for Wasp and me. Our special superelastic costumes have to stretch and shrink from insect proportions up to human size—and to ten-foot tallness in my case—along with our bodies. They wear out in a month and it costs us plenty to replace them constantly.”

“And what about my arrows?” retorted Hawkeye, not to be outdone at hardships. “Each is made of special parts and tricky gizmos that I have to sweat over through long hours.”

“If we think we have it tough,” put in Goliath, pointing down the hall at a golden figure approaching, “what about Iron Man? That is, the man inside, whoever he is. All he ever told us is that he’s condemned to live in that steel suit almost twenty-four hours a day. Otherwise, for some unknown reason, he would die.”

“That means if his iron tux ever cracked open when he goes into battle with us…” Hawkeye threw up his hands. “I withdraw from the poor-me contest. Next to him, who’s got troubles?”

“Cap has,” murmured the Wasp, as their star-spangled leader strode in. “With his memories of a vanished past, and of Bucky. Plus the king-sized responsibility of working out the right Avenger moves. Just think, if the world comes to an end-assuming no miscalculation by Karzz—Cap will
blame himself
for some kind of ‘mistake’ he called for in Avenger tactics.”

The three of them shuddered a bit.

Despite this inner burden, Cap called out in his usual firm voice: “Avengers, assemble!”
They sat around the table.

He read from a news bulletin. “Scientists report several alarming and unexplained phenomena occurring around the earth. The Antarctic ice cap has begun melting mysteriously. Volcano eruptions have started in the South Pacific and are spreading through thousands of islands. The Tiros and Nimbus satellites of NASA have recorded violent wind currents unaccountably arising in the high stratosphere, plus the sudden appearance of a new satellite, assumed to be Russian, but this is denied by them. Even more baffling is the giant comet plunging into the solar system from outer space with a trajectory that may come alarmingly close to earth, though full computer data is not yet in.”

Cap eyed the others around the table.

“If we secretly hoped that Karzz was bluffing or was self-deluded, we know otherwise now. Unless by some miracle he has miscalculated the final results, earth will meet oblivion in just one week. The question is, do we inform the authorities of the machinations of Karzz, which so far we Avengers alone know about? Opinions, please?”

Iron Man shook his head slowly. “It would leak out to the public and create needless panic.”

“No emergency measures can be taken to save people from any of the dooms,” spoke up Goliath, “even if they were forewarned.”

“Only a mass migration into space would save humanity,” added the Wasp. “And we don’t have the spacecraft to send even a dozen survivors away.”

“Besides,” drawled Hawkeye, “who could do anything against Karzz if we Avengers can’t?”

Cap tapped his gavel perfunctorily. “It is unanimously agreed to go ahead on our own without a word to the world.”

Cap’s next remark startled all of them, except the Golden Avenger. “Iron Man informs me that he and Stark had secretly designed a manned spacecraft capable of moon-flight, in case the U.S. fell too far behind in the moon race. A few days of tuning up and it could take us from earth before the end. You will vote yea or no.”

“Negative,” shot back in quick chorus from Goliath and the Wasp.

At the same time Hawkeye sprang to his feet, his face livid. “Cap, that was an insult. Do you think any of us would be white-livered, spineless, cowardly worms and save our own miserable hides?” He caught his breath. “Wait…how do you and Iron Man vote?”

“Relax, Boy Scout,” said Cap. “In private, Iron Man and I had already cast negatives in advance. So that’s out of the way.”

His face became more serious. “Next is the matter of invading the undersea lair of Karzz. Anthony Stark, of course, previously assigned to us a suitable diving craft, among the many vehicles he has invented for our special missions,” He looked around slowly. “Now, if Karzz is on guard against us, he can probably spot our approaching craft like a sitting duck. On the other hand, he may be so confident we couldn’t locate him that he won’t expect us. We’ll have to run that risk.”

They all nodded grimly.

“Iron Man will take along his Z-ray,”’ resumed Cap, “to penetrate the personal force-field Karzz might be shielded by. We stand a good chance to capture him—for
this time.”

They flushed at the thought of the episode in the Sahara, when they captured the android.

“Then we can make a deal with him,” finished Cap. “His life for saving the world—if he can. If he can’t, that’s his tough luck.”

Cap smiled crookedly. “That would shift destiny into a third kind of parallel universe, one in which Karzz, dying in the twentieth century, never exists in the seventieth century at all. Thus we would have saved twenty thousand other future worlds, if not our own.”

“Yet nobody would ever know,” mused Iron Man softly. “All earth records would be destroyed.”

“Right, Iron Man. Uh…I almost said Ironic Man,” quipped Hawkeye. “But the thought is plenty strangeville. The joke would really be on Karzz, caught in his own time trap.”

“Some joke,” growled Goliath, “with the human race wiped out along with him. I say let’s get going against that world-wrecking wretch from the future.”

“Seconded,” snapped Hawkeye.

“Thirded,” said the Wasp.

“Carried,” barked Cap, rising. “We leave at 1200 hours—five minutes from now—and fly by rocketplane to the coast. Iron Man has already wired ahead for our deepsea boat to be ready.”

Five minutes later a countdown sent the Avenger rocketplane roaring into the sky. An hour later, at the Pacific coast, they made another countdown at sea and took off—straight down.

Looking like some queer denizen of the deep, their special bathysphere plunged rapidly, passing through the “milk” zone of fading sunlight at 3000 feet, then dropping down into the lightless pit of stygian darkness that extended another six miles down.

On top the hull, a swinging atomic searchlight stabbed through the inky waters, lighting up unearthly species of deep-sea fish that inhabited this sunless realm. As with the “Trieste’s” pioneering dive years before, they saw life forms incredibly existing at every depth.

“Spooky,” said the Wasp with a shiver, looking out. “Like another world.”

“The pressure down here is about five tons per square inch,” estimated Goliath with his Dr. Pym mind.

“Almost enough to crush your thick skull,” commented Hawkeye.

“You’ve got the bends,” sniffed the Wasp, “in your brains.”

“Aw, you and Goliath are ganging up on me with the quips,” complained Hawkeye. “It’s hardly fair—for you two.”

“Approaching sea-bottom zero,” sang out Iron Man tensely, at the controls. “We’re coming down over the spot where Karzz’s lair should be. I’m turning out all lights, outer and inner.”

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
11.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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