PREVIOUSLY: Professor Herbert Ludlum and his friends Keith and Judith Bradford were reunited after they all left the corrupt scientific organization called ODESI. Bet before they could begin their greatest experiment of all they were attacked by Mitch Howitzer the former chief of robotics for ODESI. Howitzer, thinking the scientists to have betrayed their country to Australia plans to kill them, even though the Great War with Australia ended nearly a decade ago. Meanwhile Howitzer’s assistant Cyril, seeking help to end his boss’s insane rampage, has contacted another friend of the scientists, the Professor’s former sidekick, Danny Colt. Will they make it in time to save the Professor and company?
The sound of heavy breathing filled Bradford’s ears. It was coming from directly over his right shoulder. Looking in the rear-view mirror, he saw Sissy-Mary, that gargantuan dog, had fallen asleep resting her head on Bradford’s chair. Bradford would swear that thing was more bear than dog.
Beside him, his wife Judith was also asleep. Behind her was the Professor, nodding his head as he watched the scenery scroll past the window. At the moment, the small green car was driving down a highway passing a small community that was called Hope Hills. It was one of those new communities that were springing up over the country, a few dozen farms surrounding a “Nature Machine”, as they called the complex. From the road, Bradford could see a school and a baseball diamond busy with the activity of the community’s population having a midnight game.
Bradford yelped. The car lurched. For a moment they were on the wrong side of the road and Bradford swerved the wheel to correct the course causing another awkward jerk of the car. Judith and the dog had both been startled into consciousness.
“What the Hell was that?” the Professor barked at Bradford.
“My shoulder! Something–!” He slowed down as he looked away from the road to see his shoulder. It was slick with saliva. “Oh. I’m sorry. The dog was drooling on me. I didn’t know what it was. Caught me off guard, is all.”
The Professor laughed. “You idiot! You’re going to get us killed because of drool, aren’t you?”
“Maybe we should stop somewhere for the night,” Judith said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Bradford as he glanced in the side-view mirror. “When running from a senile man with a powerful robotic body and a horde of robotic soldiers, it’s a good idea to put as much distance between yourself and them as possible.”
“You’ve got a point,” said the Professor. “But we’re all tired and we don’t even know where we’re going.”
“At this point all that matters is going,” Bradford said. “We can’t stop anywhere at all until we’ve lost Howitzer’s pursuit. We can’t rest or he will pounce on us.”
“What about going back to the Organization?” Judith suggested. “They’d want to help stop a rogue agent anyway. And they’d certainly have the weaponry to do so.”
“No!” The Professor snarled in a way that made Bradford realize how old he really was now. “I’m not going back there. I’m not giving them the satisfaction.”
“Professor,” Judith pleaded, “be reasonable. This is a matter of life and death.”
“Well, I would choose death!”
“It’s a moot concern anyhow,” said Bradford. “We’re headed the wrong way. To return to ODESI headquarters we’d have to double back. Howitzer would surely have us then.”
“A military base, then,” Offered the Professor. “I still have favors to cash in.”
“No good,” said Judith. “I don’t think there’s an operational military base in the whole state.”
Bradford chuckled. “I guess you should have cashed in your favors before the world reached new heights in peace and cooperation, Professor.”
“Damn this sissy government,” the Professor snarled.
“Perhaps a museum would work,” Bradford mused. “If we could work quickly enough, I’m certain that–”
Judith held up her hand. “Do you hear that?” They all stopped talking and could make out the sound of approaching helicopters. The Professor grabbed his gun.
Professor Ludlum was soaring through the desert sky in a stolen Australian spy plane. Below him was a secret military base that the Australians had set up in the Nevada. He was escaping with important files and was being chased by three Australian assassins with rocketpacks.
“Try all you want, gentlemen!” The Professor shouted, though his words were lost over the sounds of the plane. “But I’m afraid I know some people who would make better use of these notes than you.”
This was the third year since Australia had declared war upon the world at large. The tyrannical President Blake commanded a small yet fiercely devoted army across the ocean and, as unlikely as it seemed, were making incredible progress.
But Professor Ludlum foiled their schemes any time he encountered them. Together with the Organization Devoted to Extraordinary Scientific Ideas, Ludlum had gained a reputation with the Aussies. He was their most significant enemy, the Shotgun Professor.
One of the rocketbound assassins opened fire and a bullet punctured the Professor’s wing. Turning in his seat, Ludlum raised his trademark weapon, a shotgun that he’d been tampering with for years, and fired back. The custom shell exploded and out from the barrel exploded a small round device that latched itself onto the nearest assassin’s rocket. A bluish flash and the Australian fell to the desert below.
The two Australians still airborne split up, then returned firing upon Ludlum from each side. The Professor pulled back and rose higher. A bullet grazed his arm and blood was drawn, but with the wind in his hair, his shotgun in hand and a plan in his mind, he was in his element.
And so it was. The chase. The Professor excelled at it. Not a week went by that the Professor did not live through some chase or another. Throughout that war the Professor had been the target of so many bullets, the prey of so many hunters, that he began to think that it was his lot in life. He was the bull’s eye that could never be hit as long as he fired back.
It had been simple to avoid those assassins. While firing upon one the Professor tilted the plane to reflect the sunlight into the other’s eyes, blinding him. Those particular files has been plans for an Aussie Plot to build robotic exoskeletons to enhance their soldiers that were becoming too old for combat, because every soldier was needed.
When the Professor returned them to ODESI, they became the possessions of Mitchell Howitzer, the head of the Organization’s robotic research. Years later, he would create such an exoskeleton for himself.
Mitch Howitzer hated the Aussies. They had attacked his country and destroyed his home. His family was gone and every day countless other noble young men gave up their lives on the battlefield in the good fight against the scourge from Down Under. As an ODESI scientist Howitzer was always helping out to foil the schemes of various Australian spies, saboteurs and secret forces. ODESI was a top-secret group, of course, so Howitzer couldn’t receive any kind of recognition for his efforts. No praise for keeping the country safe. But that didn’t matter to him. He merely despised the Australians and everything they stood for.
And after years of fighting the Australians, the war ended. The march of the would-be conquerors of the world had been halted and turned back until the corrupt government and vicious military that ran that continent were toppled and removed. The United Countries of Earth took over the matter of running Australia and, having learned much about cooperation during the time spent allied against the villains, managed to raise the poor exploited populace their to a state of good living. Indeed all the world benefited from the united face of the globe that appeared in the aftermath of the struggle for freedom.
After that things became quiet. ODESI still found enemies to fight. There were the robots and the fellow scientists who had gone traitor. There were the criminals and the madmen. And there were always ninjas. There were enemies, but apart from the occasional Neo-Aussie terrorist groups or escaped Aussie War Criminals, there were no foes that Howitzer deemed worthy. And even those terrorists began to fade when they realized that the world really was beginning to approach better days.
It was during the years of peace that Howitzer grew old. He watched the mirror as his reflection, devoid of any noble purpose, became that not of a distinguished scientist who protected freedom, but that of an old man with no good reason to keep living. When his mind started to go, he let it. He wouldn’t miss sanity. It no longer held anything for him.
And so, he was leading an army of robot soldiers into battle against his former colleagues. They had clearly betrayed his country to the enemy, hadn’t they? They must have. So they must be destroyed.
From his helicopter, Howitzer watched as that Professor unloaded that customized shotgun of his into the windshield of the black car nearest him. Howitzer knew the shot must have destroyed the robot-driver with ease, and the car did indeed swerve off the road, slow down and stop as it collided with a sign. A trio of robot-men exited the defunct vehicle and rejoined the chase on foot. Now quite a distance ahead of them, Bradford was maneuvering to avoid two more cars that were closing in, robot-men shooting out their windows at them. The helicopters rained down a torrent of bullets that tore through the pavement when they hit. There was no doubt in Howitzer’s mind that this was the end for these traitors. There could be no escape.
Howitzer gestured to the robot-pilot of his helicopter to move lower to the ground. When it was close enough, Howitzer jumped, his large metal-clad feet indenting the earth where he touched down. Then he ran and in a matter of seconds was alongside the traitor’s car, blurred beyond visibility.
Bradford tried, but could not avoid the onslaught. Before anything could have been done a horde of black helicopters, planes and motorcycles, all operated by robot-men, had attacked. Now, bullets were ripping through the car and the windows were shattering. In the back seat the Professor was holding his dog down with one arm and firing at their pursuers with the other. Judith was shooting too, from her window. But there were too many of the robots coming and Bradford needed more speed.
“Brace yourselves,” said Bradford just before he slammed his car into a robot on a motorcycle. The robot-biker didn’t go down on the first attempt, so Bradford slammed it again. That did it. “One down,” he thought, but he knew that the real threat was above, the helicopters. They were firing wildly, but when they hit their target, they did the most damage would almost certainly prove deal the lethal blow.
Bradford’s car, a 1986 Ford Taurus, was a dinosaur. That had been the last year that cars had been designed with internal combustion engines. This one had been modified, of course, to keep up with the changing times, but it was still an ancient machine too out of date to win this race.
“There’s too many of them,” said Judith, cringing in her seat between shots. “We need a plan”
“The plan is, shoot back,” said the Professor, shifting himself to get a better shot. “As long as we’re shooting back, we’re not dead yet.”
“In the meantime,” Bradford spun the wheel again, “I’m going to head off road. It may confuse them for a moment.”
The Professor fired again. The rear windshield was all but destroyed, so the Professor leaned out. His back ached and he was short on breath, but he saw perfectly well, even in the dark. His hands did not tremble as he took aim. His eyes and his hands were his life. As a scientist they allowed him to study the world and to work within it. As the Shotgun Professor, they were the keys to his survival. Aging would not steal them from him.
Bradford had made good on his plan now, and they were now driving through farmland. The Professor saw that the robots had been slowed, only for a second, by the sudden action and made a plan.
His leg was at an awkward angle. He was trying to use it to pin down his dog, Sissy-Mary, so that she’d be safe, but the position caused a spasm of pain to fire up the Professor’s spine. He let out a moan of anguish.
“Professor!” Bradford cried. “Have you been hit?”
“Not yet. Keep driving.”
While Judith was firing, the Professor reached into his pocket the Professor drew a small custom shell and loaded it into his shotgun. When ready, he leaned out the window so that he was looking up. His sore back scraped the broken glass. He closed one eye, aimed and fired.
A small sphere flew from the gun to a helicopter. The helicopter’s blades stopped and the machine fell from the sky. It landed on one of the black cars and a pair of the motorcycles. Warm air rushed over him as the Professor pulled himself back into the car. The explosion of the first helicopter brought down a second, which crushed still more ground vehicles. The crops, the Professor didn’t know what they were, had begun to burn and were slowing the robot march.
Neither Judith nor Bradford had allowed the massive display to distract them. Judith fired upon another helicopter as Bradford moved to a clearing that would allow the car to move quicker and increase the distance between them and their slower pursuers. None were aware however, that Howitzer himself was running alongside them at supernatural speeds, watching with interest. But they were also not aware that another of the helicopters was at that moment being brought down by allies on the road.
Danny drove the motorcycle. He loved driving the motorcycle. But behind him Cyril, the cybernetic man, was armed with a massive gun in each hand and was mowing down robots like they were going extinct and he wanted to kill as many as he could before it was too late. Danny loved motorcycle driving, sure, but he loved great big guns too.
“Hey Cyril. Let’s trade spots. It’s my turn to shoot them.”
Cyril sighed and rolled his eyes, but didn’t slow down his gunwork for a moment. He ignored Danny altogether.
“C’mon, Weird! I’m bored just driving.”
This time Cyril responded, but continued firing. One of the black cars blew up alongside them. “No! We’re not taking turns! We’re just doing this as quick as possible. I helped build these robots and I have cybernetic limbs, so I’m the guy who can take them down quickest. You’re an excellent driver and you have to think of a way to stop Howitzer, so you’re doing that. Now, be quiet and get us to the car before its too late.”
Danny grumbled under is breath. “You’re just mad ’cause I punched you in the head all those times.”
Cyril heard, but ignored the comment.
Several more helicopters, several more explosions, several more close calls, the car stopped. It was perforated with well over three thousand small holes and many more dents and scratches. No glass remained unbroken. All of the occupants of the car, including Sissy-Mary, were bleeding.
“Well, this is it,” said Bradford. “My car is done for.”
“And so are we,” Judith added.
“That’s right.” Everyone in the car turned and saw Howitzer standing next to their vehicle. “I am impressed at how you’ve lasted this long. But now, I’m going to kill you personally. It is more fitting that way anyhow, since I was one of those betrayed by you most of all. All of you out of that car.”
“You’re making a mistake,” said Bradford as he opened his door.
“You’d think so, you Aussie rats. But I know better.”
The Professor thought and thought, but had nothing. The chase had ended and he was caught. He had no plan in his mind. He had no hair at all. He still had his shotgun, but even if Howitzer stayed still long enough, the bullets would do nothing to him. And the Professor could never get close enough to use the Knockout Stunner in the butt of the gun. He had nothing.
“What if I told you we were undercover?” Asked the Professor. Bradford immediately started nodding.
“I’ll not listen to your lies, former allies.” Howitzer raised his good arm in a fist.
Not far away a robot-man shot the back tire of Danny and Cyril’s bike. It bike burst open and they wiped out, but Cyril sprung to his feet and then jumped at the robot-man, punching its head off.
Seeing Howitzer standing over the scientists, Cyril prepared to jump there.
Danny put his hand on Cyril’s shoulder. “Wait just a minute. I’ve got a plan.” He put his hands up to his mouth and yelled. “Howitzer! It’s me! Danny Colt!”
Howitzer cocked his head. His whole torso turned in Danny’s direction. “Danny?”
“Yeah! Way to go on catching the traitors! The boss will see to it that you get a medal for this one!”
Howitzer hesitated for a moment, then “A… a medal? I don’t need any medal. I’m just serving the greater good. Anyone else would do the same.”
Danny began walking closer. Seeing him, Bradford muttered “My word,” Judith sighed “Ah! Danny,” and the Professor said, “Oh thank God in Heaven it’s the kid.”
Danny continued, “You’re modest, man. I like that. But you’ll deserve that medal.”
“Now, we better not go to rough on them now. We’ll want to take them in, see how much they know about the enemy’s plans.”
“But… But I was going to destroy them. They’re traitors.”
“Exactly. They’ve betrayed us to the enemy, so they must know something about what the enemy is up to. We want to gain every advantage we’ve got, right?” Danny was standing next to Howitzer’s metal-encased form now.
“That is true,” he turned to his prisoners. “But I’ll make you pay, don’t think I won’t.”
Danny picked up the pole-like leg of one of the robot-men. “You tell ’em, Howitzer. We don’t want those Aussie rats thinking we’re going soft. I mean, we’re in the greatest country on Earth. We’ve got apple pie and Old Glory and, of course,” he tightened his grip on the leg, “the national pastime,” he swung his arm back, “baseball!” he swung the metal leg back and hit the old man in his face.
Confused, Howitzer raked at Danny with a robotic hand and knocked the younger man off his feet. By now the Professor was standing again and had his shotgun in hand.
“I should have known,” mumbled Howitzer as his nose bled. “I should have known. I should have known.”
The Professor fired into Howitzer’s chest, getting his attention.
“This isn’t over!” yelled Howitzer, spitting some of his own blood. Suddenly he became blurry, as if he were being seen through a window in the rain. And he ran. Not at his ordinary supernatural speeds, but quickly, toward the road.
The Professor pulled a mostly undamaged motorcycle upright. “We’ve got to stop him. Danny, let’s go.”
Danny hopped on the bike and the Professor got climbed on behind him. Cyril was already hopping in the direction of the road.
“Did you see what I did there?” Danny yelled to the Professor. “Since running at such unnatural speeds would damage an ordinary person, his suit has to be able to protect his body when it reaches speed. When I injured him and got blood into the suit it activated a failsafe. Now it won’t let him go fast, because it’s afraid it’ll damage him. He’s still got his hologram blurry thing, but it’s not as effective when he’s moving so slowly.”
“Yes, very good.” The Professor had not seen Danny in six years. His mental image of him had reverted to a younger one, of Danny as his teenaged sidekick. This man before him made the Professor feel even older. But he loved Danny and was truly happy to see him.
Once they made it to the road it was easier to catch up. Howitzer was firing at Cyril and that allowed the motorcycle to make it close almost unnoticed. Their shadows flickered in the light of burning farmland behind them.
“Don’t you love this part?” asked Danny. “The chase?”
The Professor signaled to Danny to get close to and beside of Howitzer and he complied. The Professor took aim at the blurry image of his former colleague and fired. Then again. When it seemed that Howitzer was looking at him, the Professor spun the shotgun around and clubbed Howitzer with it. It made a loud CRACK and there were sparks and Howitzer was out.
Howitzer’s torso came downward and crashed into the road while his legs still ran. The road was broken up for five meters before the exoskeleton had slowed enough to stop. Danny stopped the bike in front of it and got off to see check on Howitzer. “He’s okay. You know, except for where I bammed him in the face.”
The Professor caught his breath as Howitzer’s assistant landed alongside him. “Get him help, Cyril. It pains me to see what time can do to a good man.”
Before long Bradford had pushed his car back to the road. He, Judith, and Sissy-Mary joined the others. Cyril found a few robot-men still active and a working helicopter. He lay Howitzer on board and took as many of the robot-men remains as he could quickly gather. Promising to take care of his boss and, thanking everyone, he took off.
“Now, what about us?” asked Danny.
Bradford looked behind them. “The firefighters are already at the other end of the fire. They’ll be here in an instant. We should probably leave. But my car is dead.”
“Get in one of the robot cars,” said the Professor. “We’ll tow yours. Stop at the first hotel or inn we can find.”
“Oh yeah,” Danny said suddenly. “I should mention, probably, the whole Organization has been slaughtered. They’re just about all dead.”
The others reacted with assorted exclamations of surprise and disbelief.
“Yeah, there was blood and bodies and stuff. Pretty bad scene. Hey, I’ve still got a stamp on my hand from this bar I was at. Anyone want to go?”
NEXT TIME: Corpses and Commandos
Patrick D Ryall, the D is for Jugs
Originally posted on Contains2 Tuesday 07 December 2004