Fitch tossed the useless wheel to the side, and grabbed the wizened doctor by the shoulders. "Come on Doc, get your bacon outa the fire!" He then propelled the old man unceremoniously toward the doorway. "Joan, get the base fire department on the horn, tell 'em to send a truck over." Joan took the somewhat dazed old man by the hand, and led him into the next room.
Looking back into the isotope machine, he realized that the two cylinders had developed a constant, shimmering flux line between them, and were pulling themselves together, to the groaning protest of the test rails. "Now ain't that a hell of a note!" He exclaimed. Grabbing a steel pipe from an articulated light fixture, he ran to the machine and opened up the bolted cover. The rod arced and sparked as he wedged it between the cylinder holders, but it seemed to halt the remorseless drive to reach each other. He was startled by a loud voice in his ear, above the now deafening cacophony of malfunctioning equipment.
"The phones are dead, Billy!" Gale shouted above the din. "Dr. Z says maybe we can..."
That was the last he heard, as a large piece of equipment, ripped loose in the gyrating lines of flux dancing around the lab, slammed into his side and hurled him across the room. Pinned under the heavy equipment, he had a sudden moment of clarity, as if the noise had abated and everything was still. There was Joan, standing by the machine, her white dress translucent from the shimmering light behind her, her arms stretched toward him. He could see the steel rod between the cylinders bowing upwards, and then there was a loud noise, a bright light, and darkness.
Joan awoke, lying in the rubble strewn floor of what was once the professor's lab. Sizing up her condition, she decided she felt pretty darn good. "I must be dead then." she said to no one in particular. Sitting up, she realized her white dress was now not much more than tatters hanging from her shoulders, and was about to cover herself in modesty when she saw Lt. Fitch, lying unconscious under one of the doctor's large gizmos. "Billy!" She ran (she thought she ran, but it seemed like she was just there). She tested the piece of equipment, decided it wasn't as heavy as it looked, and lifted up on it.
Fitch awoke, sized up his condition, and decided he had just been run over by a Panzer Division. If there was an unbroken bone in there somewhere, it would take a doctor to find it. As his vision swam into focus, he thought he saw angel standing above him, with a curvy figure and some wisps robes billowing around her as an afterthought. "I must be dead then.” he said to the angel.
"I should be so lucky." Joan mocked, and then softened as she realized the seriousness of his condition. "Just hold still, flyboy, I'll get a doctor."
"Uhh Joanie, uhh could you put that big hunk 'o junk down, I don't wanna get accidentally flattened right after escaping one near death experience."
It took the buxom blonde a second to realize that she was still holding the chunk of equipment over her head with one hand, as if she were carrying a pie. "This old thing? Why it's light as a feather!" She twirled it around a little for effect "See?"
"My word!" Dr. Zofti exclaimed, picking his way through the lab, head darting back and forth at the scene of devastation. "My word!" he repeated, staring at Joan. "Miss Glendale, please put down that oscilloscope! It was very expensive!" Catching himself, he repeated his exclamation a third time, softly. "My word."
-- One week later--
Office of Rear Admiral Joseph "Palooka Joe" Bankford, Head of Special Projects, Office of Naval Research
"Fitch, have a seat son." The tubby admiral stared out of the corner window at the bustling DC traffic below.
The young lieutenant hobbled to an overstuffed leather chair, and gave a little sigh as he set his crutches aside and lowered himself into it. He then winced as his arm cast rubbed the chair arm. His pain was soon forgotten as he a spied a box of Cubans on the admiral's desk, and was soon happily chomping and puffing on one of the aromatic cigarillos.
"Have a cigar." the admiral derided, finally turning away from the window.
"Don't mind if I do." Fitch propelled a few smoky rings toward the paneled ceiling.
"General Griffin was just in here. He's trying to lay claim to that Glendale girl. He says that one of the atomic cylinders belonged to them, and that Army Intelligence therefore should have a say in the matter,"
"Hey now, I took that cylinder fair and square! How'd they find me out, anyway?"
"They complained to the Secretary of War, and he came to me, wanting to know who signed into the Smithsonian Special Storage Facility as 'Popeye, the Sailor Man'."
"Too obvious, huh?"
"Fitch! We’re in a tough position here. Griffin wants this Glendale as a sidekick to their Sergeant Freedom, and it was all I could do to put him off. Apparently he already has the War Department on his side. Do you want to turn this one over to them?
"First of all, admiral" Fitch leaned forward in his, chair, and stubbed out his cigar in an ashtray, "Joan is a person, a friend of mine, not some shiny new Packard for the brass to dicker over!"
The admiral softened a little. "Sorry, Fitch, I wasn't looking at it the right way. She is, however, an asset- someone who can end this damn war that much sooner."
"I know, but she couldn't team with that guy in the star-spangled PJs anyway- super soldier or not, her strength is way beyond his, at least when she first powers up anyway."
"Well, Dr. Z has her up the Philadelphia Navy Yard, doing deep-knee bends with a battleship turret. Pretty strong"
"Wheewwww." the admiral whistled "What else?"
"Well, she's nigh invulnerable, and can run or fly about 600- way faster than that Limey rocket man outfit- Air Corps and his Air Commandos. Dr Z says she can probably go faster, but she has, ahhh, wardrobe malfunctions at that speed."
"Hmpph, well from what I've heard, that could be pretty distracting to the enemy itself. Still, we need to be a little more family friendly, if want her for war bond drives and whatnot".
"Agreed, although that outfit she came up with doesn't leave much to the imagination. I tried to get her to add a skirt, but she's a bit of a showoff. Dr. Z is working on some material for an outfit that will let her go faster."
The admiral drummed his fingers on the oak desk thoughtfully "What are her limitations?"
"That's the kicker. It seems these atomic rods take about 4 hours to build up a charge, and then they interact with the energy field that she absorbed in the accident, maxing out her powers. As she uses them, the level of strength, speed and agility decay off- the more she uses them, the faster they go down. She can pretty much put out full output for 30 minutes, or last about 8 hours doing minimal activities. Nominally, four- about the same four hours it takes for the cylinders to charge."
"Can we use the cylinders to make any more like her?"
"Doc Z thought of that, but the cylinders won't charge now unless they are near Joan, and then they will only discharge into her. As mentioned, she's giving off her own atomic field now, albeit a very small one, and that is what the cylinders react to. Perhaps if her field was destroyed, they would latch onto someone else, but while she's around, it's just her."
"What're we gonna call her? I was hoping for 'Navy Lass', you know something catchy" the rotund officer snapped his fingers.
"With all due respect sir, that stinks. She wants to call herself ‘Atom Girl'. I like it."
"Well, I suppose it's a little better, and a little more generic." The admiral looked at Fitch thoughtfully. "Do you wish it happened to you instead, Fitch?"
The young man tilted his head back. "Hell, yes." He looked back at the admiral again “Then again, what kind of hero would I make, a scrawny guy with a flattop and an eye patch?"
They both laughed, and lit up another cigar.
Places everyone! Curtain in Three Minutes!
May 22nd, 1944
Von Bronze stared past his guest, and took a moment to study the girl next to the fireplace. A wonderfully acquisition, really, she had been a young barmaid, appropriately named Heidi. Her almost snakelike pigtails curved around her as if she were doing a twirl, almost a meter each of bronzed braided loveliness. She was looking backward, over her right shoulder, with arms folded at waist level and heels arched ever so slightly, bringing out the definition of her calf muscles. She had been a favorite of the young Wermacht soldiers at the beer hall, who liked to pat her shapely behind as she was sent off to fetch...
"Werner! Are you even paying attention? The High Command needs a status report on your project, and they want it now." The pug faced colonel's eyes shot daggers as he as he stared down the Baron from his padded chair by the fireplace.
"My apologies, Herr Oberst, I was just admiring the artwork." The dapper aristocrat gave a disarming smile and swirled his brandy snifter. "You were saying."
"You can dispense with the Herr Oberst routine. And we are well aware of your activities in the field of art." The officer put a special emphasis on the last word. "Werner, we have known each other a long time, back to the Great War. I'll be honest, if it was not for your contributions to the Reich's Special Science Projects, you would have been arrested long ago."
"Hmmm, for what may I ask? Giving these beautiful creatures a meaning in their petty existence? Saving them from the horrors of a world at war? For granting them immortality?!" Von Bronze shifted forward in his seat angrily.
"No, how about kidnapping, conspiracy, murde..."
"That's a lie!" Werner bolted upright from his chair “I'm no murderer! None of these girls have been harmed! They could be restored at any...
"Yes, could be, but have you ever done it-- restored one?"
"Well, no, but it was easily reversible in the test animals at the University. We had a 100% success rate."
"But they were not coated in metal, or left in a vitrified state for so long."
Werner sat back in his chair and glowered. "You know the ultrasonic metallo-liquifier generates no heat."
"Yes, and it is wonderful for welding U-boat pressure hulls. That is my point, Werner; it is useful to the Fatherland. You are useful to the Fatherland, when you devote your inventions to our purposes, and not to turning the village girls into paperweights!" He gave a wide sweeping gesture to take in Heidi’s metallicized form. "There is something else you should know." The colonel fingered his collar nervously.
"Oh, you are finished lecturing me now?"
"Yes, Werner, finished, just like the Reich."
Von Bronze gave the colonel a shrewd, half lidded look across steepled fingertips. "Things are not going as well as the propaganda minister would have us believe?"
"No." the military man sighed. "The Stalinists are pushing us back along the entire front. You already know that we are being bombed continuously, the Americans by day and the British by night."
"But we are putting up a good fight, and we still control the continent."
"The Luftwaffe is almost completely destroyed, and the Allies are on the verge of opening a second front in
"Well, once we deploy our Rocket Troopers that will change. And my invention will be able to halt any army in its tracks."
"That's just it Werner," the colonel gave an exasperated look "we have been deploying the Rocket Troopers. We didn't want it known publicly until we are assured it was a success. The British Rocket Force has countered our every move. That damned 'Air Corps' as they call him, makes our men look like fools. If their own rocket packs don't detonate on them first. In all, the Fuhrer is very upset at our scientist's inability to develop analogues to the so called allied 'super-humans'. Even the damned Russians have The Iron Bear. If it were not for that artifact Hitler carries around everywhere he goes, they would have just taken him out long ago.*"
Werner stared down into his drink, and said nothing.
"And the other point is even worse. The second front isn't months from now. It's weeks... days. Perhaps as soon as early June."
The baron's eyes shot up in surprise. "But... I won't be ready- I need at lea...”
"WE aren't ready, Werner, none of us! Not the High Command, not Rommel, no one. Christ, Hitler won't even let the generals make decisions anymore." It was the colonels turn to stare disconsolately into his brandy.
The baron stood up resolutely. "I will redouble my efforts, and concentrate solely on my project. It will succeed!"
"Well, it is good you are so sure of yourself. You can start by moving this project to the Fortress research facility." The colonel said with finality.
"But my work, it is here... my art." He mumbled.
"No art, you cannot be distracted. Besides, we cannot take the chance of the Allies discovering your work and bombing this place off the map. The Fortress is carved into a mountainside, and its automated defenses make it invulnerable to any attack, regular or super-human."
Von Bronze looked at the lovely bronzed Heidi longingly, as her rich metallic-brown finish glowed ruddy orange in the dancing firelight. "If that is how it must be. For the Fatherland!" he stood and clicked his heels, throwing a stiff armed fascist salute.
"Yes. For the Fatherland." The colonel only turned slightly, and stared into the fire.
Joan sat on a bench in the lab, and crossed her shapely legs. "Look Billy!" Joan rubbed the sides of her thighs. "Satin tights! I got them from one of my old roommates- she's a Rockette now. Just like stockings, but they go all the way up!"
"Hey, pretty snazzy, lady! You might be startin' a new fashion trend! Why'd you add those?" Fitch studied the silky gams appreciatively.
Joan paused for a second. "Well, the costume was..." she rose up, put a hand to his ear, and whispered, "riding up on me."
"Heh. That's a ride I'd take for a nickle-oof! Joan clapped Fitch on the back of the head, and he staggered slightly under the blow.
"Oh! Sorry Billy!" she helped him back to his feet.
"Owww, take it easy, puddin!" He rubbed his neck gingerly. "It's a good thing it's been a few hours, or I woulda ended up a Picasso paintin' on the wall."
Atom Girl looked at her boots sheepishly and then back at Fitch. "Watcha think of the cuffs on the boots and gloves, and the tiara. Do you think the atoms are in the right place?" She pointed inwards at the peaks of her impressive cleavage, where the nucleus of each item seemed to highlight the area of her nipples.
"Yeah, that'll be a real hit with the Ladies Temperance Clubs. Seriously though, everything looks swell! Your definitely gonna be the biggest bombshell on the Western Front. Those Krauts won't know whether to shoot first or ask you out." He beamed.
"Yeah." Joan looked pensive. "Billy, I'm worried. I... I'm not a soldier. What's it like to have someone shooting at you? I know I'm pretty tough now, but they still have some big guns."
"Well Joanie, I'll level with you. Having a few thousand men trying to punch your ticket is no cake walk. But you either realize in that moment what it is you have to do, for yourself and your buddies, or you just lock up. Forget about all that mom, apple pie, and flag stuff. You can think about that before, or when it's all over."
"But I've never killed anybody, either."
"This is a war, and that's what happens." He put a hand on her shoulder. "You have more a little more leeway, with your powers, to just subdue the enemy. But don't forget that every day sooner that this war ends is one less day of dying, for both sides. "
"I don't want to lock up, Billy."
"I know you, doll face." He lifted her chin and looked deep into her blue eyes. "You'll do the right thing."
The Field Marshal sat in the staff car and drummed his fingers on leather seat.
"My apologies, Herr Field Marshal, but the starter appears to be broken, and we do not have a spare part available." The young motor pool corporal was visibly nervous addressing the high-ranking officer.
The General sighed and collected his briefing case and field cap.
"I don't suppose there is another car available?" He stepped gingerly out of the low slung black sedan, and onto the rain slicked cobblestones of the chateau's courtyard.
"No sir, the others are either out or already under repair. Again, my apologies." The corporal stood stiffly, trying to avoid eye contact and wishing he could shrink down into his work boots.
"Don't apologize to me!" the officer laughed pleasantly and clapped the young man on his shoulder. "You are going to have to answer to my wife! I guess I'll have just have to spend another dreary day here." He scanned the sky, and saw nothing but grey drizzle and low clouds. "At least with this rotten weather, there's no chance of too much excitement, eh corporal? I had hoped to spend the day with her though; I even bought her some expensive shoes in Paris! It's Mrs. Rommel's birthday you know- tomorrow, the sixth of June."
*The Spear of Destiny
Continued in Chapter 4, A Walk in the Park