Authors: Otto Binder
A click, and oppressing darkness struck them like a blow.
“Eyes peeled below, everyone,” ordered Captain America. A faint fluorescent glow indicated the outline of the observation window in the floor, allowing them to grope their way to its edge and peer down.
“Eek!” cried the Wasp suddenly. “A glowing tentacle of giant size.”
And at that moment, as something huge wrapped itself around their craft with the squish of suction cups against the hull, they were thrown off their feet.
“A giant kraken!” shouted Cap. “The deep-sea squid with tentacles a hundred feet long, like a creature in one of Jules Verne’s stories.”
Iron Man had clung to his seat at the controls. Now he yanked over a lever. Lightning flashes sizzled through the water outside. Almost instantly, the tentacle’s grip unwound from the craft, and something thrashed wildly in the water and departed, leaving a wake of faintly phosphorescent bubbles.
“I jolted him with five megavolts,” said Iron Man drily. “Mr. Squeezer decided he had an appointment elsewhere.” His voice sobered. “I only hope that electrical display didn’t warn Karzz of our coming.”
Iron Man inched the craft down now, as they all resumed the downward watch. A faint glow below gradually brightened and grew bigger, until it resolved itself into a huge lighted structure.
“A lighted and aerated dome,” breathed Cap. “Karzz’s sea-bottom hideout seventy thousand fathoms deep. How did he conjure it down here? Talk about superscience….” His voice trailed away in awed amazement.
“Does Karzz,” wondered Iron Man more practically, “have any detection or alarm system for approaching craft?”
The answer came suddenly with sizzling rays spangling from the dome’s apex, stabbing through the water toward their craft.
“Hard aport,” called out Iron Man. “Hang on, everybody.”
They barely had time to grab hand-hold bars on the walls before the diving ship slammed sideways, swift as a leaping greyhound. Iron Man twisted and turned in the waters, but the rays followed relentlessly.
Suddenly, the craft dived straight down.
“I’m aiming for a sea-bottom landing,” Iron Man informed them tensely, “where we may be out of range of the rays.”
Halting their downward plunge skillfully, Iron Man brought the ship to a curving touchdown in watery ooze. The rays stabbed a dozen feet above them, but no closer.
“The curvature of the dome itself cuts off any direct-line beam toward its base. And look-a hatch door leading into the dome! It must be for Karzz’s own use, to leave the dome in a mobile craft. Therefore it must have automatic open-and-close controls for him to re-enter.”
While talking, Iron Man had been guiding their craft straight toward the door. When within ten feet, some electrosensor trigger was set off and a huge round hatch swung open. Water rushed into an inner chamber, pulling their craft with it. Then the outer hatch silently closed, and the whine of a high-powered pump was heard, emptying the chamber. Finally, an inner hatchway opened into the dome itself and its artificial atmosphere.
“All hands out!” barked Cap. “If Karzz is in a different part of this huge dome, he won’t reach here in time to stop us rushing in. And then, if luck is with us, we can stalk him through the dome. Come on.”
The five Avengers dashed through the inner hatch into the lighted dome, upheld by massive crossbeams that defied the almost unbelievable crushing pressure at sea bottom. It was all mind-staggering seventieth-century technology.
After a swift glance around, surveying details, Cap gave instructions. “Catwalks and stairways all seem to lead to a master control chamber at the apex of the dome, where Karzz probably is holed up. We’ll scatter now. Hawkeye,” the next catwalk left. Iron Man, the right one. I’ll go up the closest one. As for Goliath and Wasp….”
“No need to tell us,” shrilled a thin voice from the shrinking girl. “As the Ant-Man and Wasp, we’ll be invisible to Karzz, and will be waiting to do our bit when we see the chance.”
Traps of Death
The amplified voice of Karzz suddenly boomed from the apex.
I constantly underestimate you Avengers. I did not think you would ever locate my undersea hideout in the first place, nor that if you did find it, you would cleverly invade it through my own automatic hatchway. So much is to your credit.”
Then his voice changed, ominous with threat.
“But now you will find yourselves facing the
five Avenger dooms,
picking you off one by one. Come after me…if you dare.”
“We dare,” was Cap’s answer at the bottom of his catwalk stairway. It was almost a whisper. When he saw that Hawkeye and Iron Man had gained their catwalks, he waved a signal and all three began racing up the winding stairways that hung suspended from the ceiling of the dome.
Iron Man did not dare try jet-flying in the dome with its many crossbeams and guy wires, affording him too little maneuvering room. He had to climb like the others.
Most agile of all, Cap went up the fastest, keeping a wary eye on the globular chamber at the dome’s apex. He jerked back with hair-trigger reflexes as a blast-beam knifed down past his ear.
Karzz’s aim was handicapped, however, Cap knew. He did not dare aim too close to the stairway itself, or disintegrating metal would bring about collapse. And he could not afford to weaken any part of his bracing system, for the macro-pressured water outside would then crush the dome as flat as a pancake in horrendous seconds.
Karzz would have to try to pick them off with sideswiping shots from strategic angles. Cap took care to keep some portion of the metal catwalk-stairs between himself and the apex chamber.
But why had Karzz been so confident they would meet Avenger dooms?
As the thought sprang into Cap’s mind, he tensed, slowing his upward race. Now all his senses tautened to keen alertness, as they had so many times in his career in World War II when faced by Nazi booby traps that could only be called fiendish.
The short hairs on the back of Cap’s neck bristled in instinctive warning. Something did not look right ahead.
What was it? Then he noticed the slightly dull sheen of one step ahead of him, whereas the rest were shiny polished metal.
Aha! One false step on that false step—Cap could not avoid the play of words in his thoughts—and he’d be a goner in some unknown way. Yet he wanted to set it off and make Karzz think it had worked, thus putting him off guard.
Cap went back a few steps, then tossed his shield on the bogus step. It exploded with just enough force to kill a man, yet not enough to damage the stairway itself. Cap expertly caught the flying shield, which was unharmed.
At the loud report, Hawkeye and Iron Man glanced that way across the dome through the latticed structure of the triple stairways. Cap made frantic pantomime motions, and they quickly caught on that he was warning them about booby traps.
Iron Man tensed and wondered what lay ahead for him. Karzz would be too clever to repeat the booby traps, knowing that one sprung would tip off the presence. of the others. Deciding he needed keener senses than his own human ones, he jabbed studs on his chest-control.
From his helmet issued a bat-like radar-beam, sharp and sensitive to anything untoward that might lie ahead.
Then he saw it, through his radar-sensitive eye lenses—a poised mallet fastened to the railing, which could easily brain a man. Yet, by some science legerdemain of the seventieth century, it was invisible to the eye.
Iron Man raised his right gauntlet, and one finger shot forth a shock-beam that touched the fatal step like a man’s heavy tread, and the invisible club descended viciously—on empty air. Brushing it aside, Iron Man went on.
Hawkeye, climbing the third stairway, peered ahead warily, looking for the unknown. Nothing seemed amiss.
About to step ahead, a high-pitched voice shrilled in his ear: “Stop, Hawkeye! That step ahead is triggered with death. Watch….”
The Wasp’s tiny form flew down to the next step, shooting her sting-beam at full power and jarring the whole step. Instantly, a dozen long recessed needles sprang upward, their points tinted blue with poison. They would have pierced up through Hawkeye’s boots into his feet….
Flitting between the spikes safely, the Wasp then swung up past Hawkeye’s face. “See?”
“Thanks, Wasp,” Hawkeye managed to say, wiping his brow. He took a deep breath. “You had the privilege of saving my life,” he said banteringly, regaining his composure.
“Oh, lucky, lucky me!” buzzed the Wasp. “But I condemned myself to hearing your cornville cracks for weeks and years ahead, unlucky me.”
“Why do you admire my witticisms so much, Wasp? I must say
right all the time.” Hawkeye grinned, then raced upward again.
Now all three Avengers—Cap, Iron Man, and Hawkeye—met at the top landing and converged on Karzz’s globular chamber. “Hsst,” said Cap, crouching beside the door. “You rush in first, Iron Man, using your Z-ray to knock out his force-shield. Then Hawkeye’s arrows can divert him from using his belt-rays, giving me time to rush in and crack him on the jaw. And it’ll only take one punch—my Sunday Special for supersinners.”
Cap nodded his head for the signal, then kicked open the door. Iron Man sprang in. Karzz turned in amazement. “But my booby traps…the signal lights said they went off!”
“So we’re ghosts,” was Iron Man’s answer, and he aimed his Z-ray. The hissing beam sparkled all around Karzz, dissolving his invisible force-field armor. The sparks died. Karzz was now unprotected.
His hand leaped for his belt-studs, which was Hawkeye’s cue to let his twanging bow speed an arrow across the room. Its bulbous point burst and sprayed itch-powder, which had been treated chemically to make it a maddening irritant, over Karzz’s hands. He fell to scratching them frantically.
Cap was already plunging across the floor, fist cocked eagerly for its chin target. But Karzz, still scratching, leaned his shoulder back and closed a big switch on the wall. A whining drone like the skirl of bagpipes filled the air, and suddenly Cap stopped in mid-stride.
Hawkeye, starting to notch an arrow in alarm, froze with his bow half pulled out. Iron Man, his hand raised to spray out weapon-rays, stood as if petrified.
“My best booby trap,” leered Karzz triumphantly. The itch-powder was now losing its potency, allowing him to point at the projector extending from the wall and radiating the skirling beams. “I know you can hear me, though you are immobilized. This is my time-stopping ray. I am the master of time and all its tricks. Briefly, that ray stops time for any object or person it strikes. Since time is not ticking by for you, you cannot make your follow-up move of the next second—which never comes.”
He waved at a monitor screen that showed the magnified flitting form of the Wasp darting into the doorway, holding Ant-Man’s hand, and skirting around the time-ray. Karzz tuned a dial.
“A simple adjustment and the time-ray hits them too.”
The two tiny forms froze, hanging in mid-air.
“The Wasp and the Ant-Man caught in the timeless trap,” Karzz gloated. “That means Goliath can never appear.”
“That’s what we wanted you to think,” boomed a voice outside. “If you look close, you’ll see that the Wasp dragged in some debris that looks vaguely human, while I resumed my giant size out here. And now….”
Goliath’s mighty form came crashing through the side wall, out of range of the time-ray. Picking up a huge chunk of cement, Goliath hurled it at the time-ray projector, smashing it to bits.
The frozen figures came alive and continued where they had left off. Cap’s driving legs propelled him forward, and his rock-like fist clobbered Karzz on the chin, flinging him limply against the wall. Seeing Cap had things under control, Hawkeye and Iron Man relaxed.
“It looks as if one powerhouse punch by Cap knocked him colder’n a mackerel,” crowed Hawkeye-too soon.
For the sagging figure opened its eyes and spoke to them. “You forget my human form is only a disguise for….” His finger jabbed a belt-stud and they watched in revulsion as they saw the transformation that only Iron Man had witnessed before on Mount Everest.
“…for my true alien form.”
The hideous monster with purple-blotched skin, green lips, blue hair, and fiery red eyes stood before them on his hooved feet, looking like a nightmare that had somehow become reality.
“I can stand breathing your poisonous oxygenated air for a few minutes,” the ghastly creature mouthed. “And in this form we have one elusive attribute, that of turning into intangible amorphous material.”
With that, the monster turned milky in color and formed a cloud of smoke that streamed out the door. Goliath futilely tried to seize it, but he grasped nothing solid.
Running out, they saw the smoke-alien pouring down through the dome without need of steps, thence into the water-hatchway and into its own deep-sea vehicle parked next to that of the Avengers. Evidently changing inside to solid form, and back to human-like Karzz, his amplified voice came to them as they all raced down the stairway.
“You have won a minor skirmish,” he snarled, “driving me away from my dome. But you will never capture me when I vanish somewhere in your vast outside world, lost when I mingle among three billion people.”
The Avengers dashed up just as the inner door closed. On the other side, they knew, the sea hatch was filling with water as the outer hatch opened to let in the sea. Then Karzz could speed away in his deep-sea boat, with a long head-start on them before the hatchway could be put through its cycle again.
Panting, Cap called a hurried conference.
“Let’s size up the situation. Even though we didn’t nab Karzz, what advantages did we gain? For one thing, we got control of this undersea hideout of his. Will he have to come back for any reason?”
“I think so,” said Iron Man. “Up in his control room, I noticed another ray device that I think may be his time teleportation machine-his only way of returning to the future. If I’m right, he’ll have to come back for that sooner or later-or die when the world ends.”